Former British PM Blair's answer to a question about the causes for the emergence of ISIS and the war in Iraq are confusing
Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, there have been many questions and discussions about the decision making to go to war and its aftermath and implementation of these decisions by administration officials. These debates not only shed light to one of the most significant instance of U.S. foreign and defense policy, but also influence the political arena in the U.S., as we started to see again in campaigns for the 2016 presidential election.
In 12 years of these debates we have gotten some answers to questions, but there are some others that we are waiting to learn concerning this critical and fateful decision. As a result of the sometimes contradictory and sometimes vague statements of some administration officials and extensive study of this period, due to the availability of so much visual data today we have a vast amount of literature about the war and its aftermath.
We had several different documentaries on this war including "Bush's War" by Frontline and "No End in Sight" by Charles H. Ferguson, and a large number of books by investigative journalists such as "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 and 2005" by Thomas E. Ricks and "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War" by Michael Isikoff. All of these books and documentaries focus on the Iraq war and how many controversial decisions were made by the foreign and defense security decision makers during this period. From most of the interviews with foreign policy makers of the time, we learn of inter-agency disputes, significant problems about the decision-making process, personal rivalry and lots of accusations by former administration officials of one another. In addition to books and documentaries, almost every person who is involved in decision making or had a capacity to impact it has written their memoires about the war. Of course most of these memoires are in some sense a response to accusations and have a "it was not my fault" tone in their main argument.
Before the Iraq war, we probably had similar volumes of debates and questions about the Vietnam War. The war and the controversial decisions of policy makers during these years have served as one of the most significant learning tools for decision makers and crisis managers in the U.S. The literature that the Vietnam War generated, including books such as McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara's narrative of the conflict have been a must-read for decision makers. The debate about this war still continues as we have more archival documents and may be kept alive by the scholars in the field.
The reason for this long introduction about this post-war literature of investigative journalism and decision-making study is the revival of the debate about the Iraq war as a result of new documentaries and discussions among some of the presidential candidates. In one of these documentaries, "Long Road to Hell" by Fareed Zakaria, some former administration officials provided new explanations and accusations about the decisions during the war. However, what overshadowed these debates and accusations was an interview with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair, in one of these mae culpa moments apologized about the war. He said: "I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. ... I can also apologize by the way for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly our mistaken understating of what would happen once you removed the regime." Another major statement was more about the suggested causation by some about the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the war in Iraq. Blair answered a question about this by saying: "I think there are elements of truth in that," but former counterterrorism czar of the White House, Richard Clark, gave a stronger response for that and said: "If it were not for the American invasion of Iraq and subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi army by the United States, there would be no ISIS. ISIS is a direct outgrowth of the American invasion."
When we look at these conversations it is hard to understand the emergence of so many mistakes, miscalculations and misunderstandings from different agencies and personalities about the Iraq war, and as ISIS terror and the situation in Iraq are significantly impacting international security, it looks like we will have more questions about the decisions that were made 12 years ago and will have more documentaries on the war in Iraq.
About the author
Kılıç Buğra Kanat is Research Director at SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie.