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A Lesson in Alternative History from Tony Blair

A Lesson in Alternative History from Tony Blair

Although Tony Blair has “long since given up trying to persuade people [that the Iraq War] was the right decision,” he has found a convenient new way to justify it in time for the 10th anniversary of the invasion. According to Blair, since Saddam Hussein was “20 times worse” than Bashar al-Assad, it logically follows that had the Iraq War never happened, we would now be witnessing brutal repression in Iraq that would make the carnage in Syria look like a minor sideshow. “I certainly think that if Saddam had still been in power, it’s true there would have been, probably, an uprising amongst his people,” said Blair. “But I think it would look a lot more like Syria and probably a lot worse than Syria.” Connecting the dots in this way is a major feat of mental gymnastics which doesn’t hold up to even a cursory examination.

Blair’s speculation treats the Iraq War as though it took place in a vacuum. We’ll never know how the Arab Spring would have turned out if the Iraq War had never happened, but the fact is that it did happen, and it had such a transformative effect on the Middle East and international policy-making in the region that Blair’s prognostication is utterly meaningless. But let’s indulge him in envisioning this alternative version of events for a moment.

Blair is speculating about what might have happened to Iraq had the invasion never occurred, but he is selectively imagining that the international posture on intervention would remain unchanged under this fantasy scenario. Clearly that is wrong. The U.S., U.K. and other allies would have been far less reluctant to use limited forms of intervention such as enforcing no-fly zones and supplying material support, including weapons, to opposition groups had the Iraq War never happened. So it is far more logical to think that the experience of Iraq has eroded the political will of the international community to intervene in Syria, rather than Blair’s twisted conclusion that the example of Syria vindicates the decision to remove Saddam Hussein by showing just how bad things could have been in Iraq years later.

While other members of the Blair-era Labour Party have admitted that they were wrong about the war, Blair continues to stick to his guns, spinning hopeful arguments about the lessons of Syria which demonstrate at best a startlingly unsophisticated way of thinking, and at worst a cynical and self-serving abdication of responsibility for his role in the devastation of Iraq.



Nick Scott

Nick Scott has a MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He lived in East Jerusalem before moving to New York City where he spent more than a year at the Foundation Center and currently works for Independent Diplomat, a nonprofit diplomatic advisory group.

Follow Nick on Twitter at @Nick_Scott85

Areas of Focus: Politics and Civil Society in the Middle East, Diplomacy, International Development