Going into Iraq was al-Qa’ida’s mistake

John Rentoul

220px Richard Dearlove2 200x300 Going into Iraq was al Qaidas mistakeWent to hear Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the foreign intelligence service MI6 (right), speak today at the Henry Jackson Society about 9/11.

He said that the surprising thing about the decade since 11 September 2001 was the “relative failure of political Islamism”. He said: “The al-Qa’ida narrative is losing its purchase on the Arab Street.”

In answer to David Davis, the Conservative MP, Dearlove said that the Iraq war accelerated the decline of al-Qa’ida, because it made a strategic error in trying to fight the US in a guerrilla war.

Once again, Dearlove proved himself to be a political supporter of Tony Blair’s post-9/11 world view, which helps explain why they were so close over Iraq: “The right thing to do was to go out and meet that threat militantly – despite the risk of radicalisation of young Muslim men.”

He was not in favour of trying to negotiate with any part of al-Qa’ida, as it is “entirely rejectionist”.

And he ”resented” a question from The Times about the Labour government and his Service’s “cosy” relationship with the Gaddafi regime:

It was not a cosy relationship, it was a pragmatic one. It was a political decision, having very significantly disarmed Libya, for the government to co-operate with Libya on Islamist terrorism. The whole relationship was one of serious calculation about where the overall balance of our national interests stood.

Its success in disarming Libya was “phenomenal”, he said.

I was then involved in an argument with Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman about it on Twitter. (This goes on a bit, but Mehdi lost the argument because he used a Banned List phrase first: “Blood and treasure.”)

Update: Mehdi has written a blog post about it, accusing me of linguistic fascism. And of having lost the argument.

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  • mightymark

    How do you know I don’t think for myself - because I don’t agree with you I suppose? If I’ve learnt one thing in life it is that the more someone bigs something up as “radical!” the less radical it actually is.

  • amazed00again

    Ah, thanks mightymark: you don’t have an opinion of your own to share. It’s far easier for people in your condition to think that they are saying something with an ” in your opinion”. Yes, that’s right dearie, in my opinion. I have one. Try it. Read something and research further if you are not sure what you think, and then try to reach some kind of opinion for yourself. You might like it. 

    You write: ” If I’ve learnt one thing in life it is that the more someone bigs something up as ‘radical!” the less radical it actually is.” I wondered why your chosen moniker is ” mightymark” now with this projection that you have provided all is now clear. Thank you, mightymark. 

    Now get on and try formulating some opinions for yourself. Good luck! You could do try the Mehdi Hasan article as a gesture of open mindedness? Perhaps not…

  • mightymark

    Oh don’t worry I have lots of opnions – loads of them! My sole reason for entering this discusion is, as I said, to emphasise that triumphalist postings about “trouncing” and what have you are not worth the cyber space they are (not) written on.

    Actually those trying to close the debate are those who aim at intimidating people into thinking the debate is over. One other thing I have learnt is that few if any debates are ever really “over”. The guilty parties in this respect on this blog are almost invariably Mr Rentoul’s opponents.

  • erikasalzeck


  • JohnJustice

    I see that Mehdi Hasan’s arguments have not gone down very well at his blog post.

    I would only add this rebuttal.

    There are much wider considerations here than Hasan’s simplistic framing of the question would suggest.

    These include

    1.  9/11 and many other terrorist atrocities occurred before the Iraq war

    2  without the Iraq war, the terrorists would have simply seized on other grievances, particularly the action in Afghanistan which was unavoidable.

    3 they would also have been concentrating  on Bin Laden’s original grievance of US troops being stationed in the land of Islam’s main holy places (Saudi Arabia). The troops had been put there to protect Iraq’s
    neighbours and were no longer needed once Saddam had been overthrown. So the Iraq war removed one of the main causes of previous terrorist activity.

    4  Iraq acted as a honey-trap for killing Islamic terrorists and without the war more terrorists would have been released to commit atrocities in other countries.

    5 Saddam himself was a sponsor of terrorism.

    6  if anyone increased the numbers attracted to the terrorist cause it was those  who played up any alleged atrocities by the allies and played down the confirmed atrocities of the terrorists. In the old days it was called
    encouraging the enemy.

    7  the technique of terrorism is to use any situation where the west is standing up to them (and to Islamic dictators) as a means of recruiting more people to their cause. So according to this logic the only way to stop more recruiting is to give in to their demands.

    8  terrorist propaganda presents Western military action in Islamic countries as a war against Islam whereas the truth is that the west have generally intervened to protect Muslims from other Muslims or from outside non-Muslim threats, as in Kosova. In Iraq western intervention stopped Saddam from persecuting the Muslim Kurds and the Muslim Shia majority. Responsible journalists should be continually pointing this out instead of fanning the flames by perpetuating the myth that allied action is a war on Islam.

  • JohnJustice

    I repeated our exchange to show how you missed the point. Obviously there are still some who don’t get it. So I’ve spelt it out in more detail in my latest comment, although  since this is for the benefit of sensible people I doubt whether it will make any difference to those who have indicated their support for what you say.

  • mightymark

    As I suspected having now read Hasan’s article , all he has done is gather together a number of quotes from people who agree with him. Mr Rentoul began this thread by quoting someone who agreed with him. No doubt he could find others. Incidentally none of Hasan’s quotes include any actual evidence and are all mere assertions – admittedly by people in the know. That I suspected this was the case is partly what led me to make my earlier comments.

    One interesting reposnse to Hasan in the NS blog is from a Julie Harris who quotes the late Samuel P. Huntington (another expert):

    “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors. The question naturally rises as to whether this pattern of the late 20th century conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim groups is equally true of relations between groups from other civilizations. In fact, it is not. Muslims make up 1/5 of the world’s population but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization….Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.”

    You don’t have to agree with all of this to agree the final part “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards” and perhaps that is why Hasan’s “experts” can only asssert it was because of Iraq. They don’t know actually any more than the rest of us whether it was that or any one of the Muslim world’s ”problems” with the rest of us that was cause. It seems to me that whatever the topic of the moment is is “the cause” – today is Saturday – the post is about Iraq so thas is the cause. Tomorrow however it will be Sunday and “Palestine” will be the cause celebre so we will be told that this is the cause of “radicalisation”. Given the number of these disputes it would surely be a brave person who would say without Iraq all would haev been well and amazing that few seem to realise how self serving this tactic is.

    One other point is worth making. The wise Mr Huntingdon also mentions “innards”. Many people who oppoosed the war say that it would have been fine for the Iraqi people to have removed  Sadaam. I know too many of these people to believe they are all apologists for fascism so taking them at their word one has to ask whether the problems with Al Quaeda and others that followed the war would not have ensued had Sadaam gone as a result of a revolution or civil war? ANd onthe point of civil war are we certain that if Al Qaeda did gain any traction as a result of the conflict that it wan’t in the Sunni/ Shia context rather than the in the Islam /Western one?

  • tomkyle

    Mehdi Hassan’s rebuttal of Rentoul’s question was thorough and admirable. Let’s examine your points. 

    1. Yes. 9/11 happened before the Iraq disaster. The capricious and foolhardy decision to go into Iraq was thus all the more reprehensible. This is because Saddam was not responsible for 9/11, nor did he sponsor those in any way, who were. 

    2. You advocate a war in Iraq as a reasonable response to groups of terrorists who are mobile and were not from Iraq but Saudi Arabia. They were not trained in Iraq. They were not sympathetic to Saddam nor he to them. You do not decimate a country to ward off or stymie the scourge of terrorism that flits from place to place. That would be because it doesn’t help. You tend to get bogged down in a place where you have killed hundreds of  thousands possibly, and yet the terrorists move on to fight another day in another place. You are taking a hammer to swat a fly. Clumsy and expensive in innocent lives lost. 

    3. Is absolutely idiotic. Truly, the notion that you shift the focus of bin Laden’s ire from one place to another is going to solve anything is positively Sisyphean. 

    4. The number of proven terrorists killed by our action in Iraq is not known nor is the notion of a honey trap for terrorist explicable or justified in lives lost or saved. The latter only in theory.

    5. Saddam had been a sponsor of terror, but he had become quiet and the sanctions were having some effect on his ability to cause trouble. This is an absolutely feeble excuse for the carnage in Iraq. It reeks of the disproportionate thinking and action of the Israelis. Something that the craven Blair was creepily silent on and seems daily to become more and more of an Israeli agent.

    6. What dishonesty. To suggest that open and honest discourse in our ‘democratic debate’ on the subject of our illegal war is somehow playing into the hands of the ‘enemy’. This is the cancer at the heart of so much thinking in the Blairite regime and his followers. This is precisely the kind of thinking that admits to caving to the threats of the terrorist mentality while insidiously destroying our democratic values and all that is meaningful in the freedom and truth we claim to espouse. This is the weakness that produces the reaction that encourages the terrorism. I think you have inverted the honest argument.

    7. You don’t stand up to terrorism by producing your own disproportionate terrorist response. What Blair has done is act out of fear in a wholly disproportionate and dishonest way. The terrorism did not emanate from Iraq. The terrorists were not in Iraq. Grandstanding to the world with this shock and awe has sent out the clarion call that we are no better than terrorists. We kill innocent Moslems who had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 or any other terrorism, to ensure that we don’t have to stand up to our fear of terrorism in our own country. And lo, what happens? We end up with more radicalised Moslems in our own country; hundreds of thousands of dead innocent Moslems in Iraq and the fomentation of hatred and resentment towards the imperialist and bullying west by many millions of Moslems around the world. Blair has given into their demands by playing into their hands. The foolish, folie de grandeur of this rather scared little man has resulted in more blow back from British Moslems and increased unrest in our country and around the world. 

    8. Of course the terrorists are going to propagandize the motive for the western aggression and many are going to be persuaded. They only need to listen to Bush and his inane wittering about the clash of civilizations for us to understand how this happens. Why blame journalists who rarely agree with Bush and Blair? Why not apportion blame where it is deserved? 

    Sorry, but we disagree profoundly and I think we should agree to disagree. From either perspective in theory, it is not unreasonable to say that in practice the damage has been done. I would suggest…

    P.S. I would suggest that Blair is about to have his cover blown. His relationship with banks, Gaddafi and the Middle East seems to be conflating into something altogether personal and foul. I would not be surprised if he is exposed for the shallow and greedy crook that so many have always thought he was. This would not overly surprise me. It would have some time ago when I felt he was motivated by vanity and the requisite power needed to feed his need for the limelight and feted existence he craves. Now I think he could be yet another corrupted and greedy failed leader responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in financial as well as all the other possible ways that corruption can manifest.

    P.P.S. You could cut out describing those that disagree with you as not being sensible. It makes you appear arrogant and almost messianic in your self belief. Now, who does that remind me of.. You’re not, are you?

    ……………………………… ;0)…………………………………………

  • JohnJustice

    A careful reading of your examination of my points reveals that once again you have not really addressed any of them. I therefore rest my case confident in the knowledge that sensible people will have rumbled the weakness of yours. I use the term “sensible people” btw not to denigrate those who disagree with me but to distinguish those who can see when points are being dodged from those who cannot.

  • ineluctable2u

    I have read your points and would say that your rebuttal of the ridiculous argument offered by JJ is rather good. You tend to more philosophical and general points, but they do dismantle his rather lame repetition of ‘taking the fight to them and distracting them to keep us safe at home’ which is discredited by nigh on everyone.

    The truth is that many young British Moslems have been radicalised and 7/7 bears testimony to this fact along with the FBI’s recent assertion that they are far more worried about homegrown terrorists that have been radicalised by the ‘war on terror’ that was hopelessly misdirected and/or the inspiration they drew from Osama bin Laden, and his reaction to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, the bastardisation of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and the rest of his pronouncements.

    In truth, JJ is following the Blair mantra of staying on message at all costs, and he even argues against free speech implicitly in his exposition which is dangerous. This kind of oppressive control is the cause of so much misery in this world, and, as you argue, the obverse is the answer to the terrorists. Don’t let the ba*tards get you down; be vigilant; cleave to your democratic principles and above all, don’t kill innocent people to ‘take the fight to the terrorists’. As soon as you become a genocidal killer you really have nowhere to hide and no moral argument or strategic validity in terms of the argument. Blair must be learning this…? We pay four million pounds a year to keep his sorry ar*e safe, as he parades around the world making money as a consultant to the likes of Gaddafi. Couldn’t make it up. I wonder if he was always like this..

    The lesson among many that we can take from this is to judge someone by his friends. Gaddafi sure made some awful choices….;0) The Blair Project being his most expensive yet. I am sure this ugly saga as it unfolds is going to produce the denouement of the Blair Reign in a way his hubris would never have allowed him to imagine. Let’s face it- otherwise he would not have been involved in the muck where there is brass that we are learning about. 

    He refuses to reveal anything of his meetings. He didn’t mention them on any of his websites. He has questions to answer. Trouble is, do we have anyone capable of putting the questions persistently enough, and ensuring he doesn’t elide and obfuscate and do his usual slippery sleight of hand. We need some forensic and focused who will stick to the rules of engagement whenever Blair deviates. I think perhaps a Geoffrey Robinson might be a good choice: he could be a little over-general. Perhaps a team would be better. Blair is extremely slippery, but not forensically intelligent nor directly honest.

    See you later.

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