25 MARCH 2006, Page 22

The neocons’ Iraqi ‘vision’

From Correlli Barnett

Sir: Surely Con Coughlin (‘A bittersweet birthday’, 18 March) is in error when he states that it was only after the fall of Saddam that Washington adopted the neocon vision whereby Iraq should be ‘a beacon of democracy that would shed its light throughout the tired autocracies of the Arab world’. Surely Bush and co. came into office in January 2001 having already bought the idea of ‘the American century’, and having already committed themselves to a mission to spread democracy round the world, starting with the Middle East, and with Iraq as the first target. This is attested by Christopher Meyer’s memoirs, Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack and even William Shawcross’s book Allies. There can be no question but that the Iraq war originated in this neocon vision and mission.

And can Mr Coughlin really believe that the US and UK resorted to the most drastic step of all in foreign policy — war — merely because Saddam was in technical breach of some dusty old UN Security Council resolutions? In that case, what about the other UN security resolutions calling on Israel to evacuate the West Bank, and just as much ignored?

Of course, there is the famous SC1441 of November 2002, claimed by London and Washington as justifying an attack on Iraq even without a second resolution specifically authorising armed action. In fact, SC1441 did not so justify an attack, because in that case the French, Russians and Germans would never have agreed to it. SC1441 was specifically drafted as a compromise which all could sign.

Then again, it is falsely alleged by Blairite apologists that the French had said they would veto any second resolution authorising an attack. But the truth is the French only opposed a second resolution at that time, February–March 2003, when Hans Blix and his team were making progress. The French wanted to wait until Blix completed his search and could make a final report.

According to Blix himself, such a report would in all likelihood have reached the conclusion that Saddam no longer possessed any WMD. This would have destroyed Washington’s and London’s favourite excuse for going to war. But in any case, a further delay of months in order to wait for that report was ruled out by the American military timetable for the invasion, now ticking inexorably.

And so Bush and Blair decided to go to war anyway. Nevertheless, the lack of specific UN authority rendered the war illegal, as was indeed feared at the time by the then British chief of defence staff, and is now agreed to be the case by a consensus of lawyers not drawing official salaries.

Three years on, we can measure the wisdom of the neocon ambition forcibly to democratise the Middle East, starting with the removal of Saddam Hussein. We can equally measure the political and strategic judgment of Bush and Blair in launching us on the road that has led to the present state of affairs in Iraq.

Correlli Barnett Norwich