The United States and Britain have been involved in wars for twenty years. Simon Jenkins asks a simple question: Why? After all, the results have not been not encouraging:
The US has spent a staggering $6.4tn on almost two decades of interventions, with more than 7,000 military dead. Britain has lost 634. In addition, unknowable thousands of civilians have died, and billions of pounds’ worth of property been destroyed. Christianity has been all but wiped out in the region, and some of the finest cities in the ancient world have been bombed flat. No audit has been made of this. The opportunity cost must be unthinkable. What diseases might have been eradicated, what climate crisis relieved?
The wars of 9/11 must rank among the cruellest, most costly and senseless of the post-imperial age. Yet in Britain successive governments have parroted absurdities about “keeping our streets safe from terror”. The opposite is manifestly the case. The threat to London is said to be “substantial” and parts of Westminster look like a pastiche of Guantanamo Bay.
The assumption is that at least the public and the military establishment are “behind the troops”. That is clearly not the case. As long ago as 2004 Lord Bramall, who died this week and was once Thatcher’s favourite soldier, challenged the government to prove that the Iraq war, then just a year old, was worth the cost. It had, he said, already proved “erroneous and counter-productive” despite promises that it would bring democracy to Iraq. He added: “One can but wonder what legal – or, now, even moral – mandate the [western] coalition really has to do that.” Bramall was emphatic that he spoke for many in the military establishment opposed to Tony Blair’s mission, undertaken to please the Americans. In the 15 years since he made that speech nothing has changed.
So why do these wars continue? Jenkins suggests that it's all about not looking foolish:
Thick is the glue that keeps western troops on alien soil. Staying is now an exercise in saving face, in not being seen to cut and run. Downing Street wants any chance to play on the global stage, to keep in with America for after Brexit. None of these objectives seems plausible. Nor are they popular. We are stuck with war, and no one can explain why.
Barbara Tuchman called it The March Of Folly.