The prevailing paradigm for debate in the British press and beyond vis-à-vis the British invasion and occupation of Iraq with the United States five years ago, continues to singles out two main reasons on why the British joined the invasion. The first reason, upheld by those who advocated the invasion, is that Britain is the United States’s most loyal and principled partner and as such should stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the Americans; the second reason claims that Britain tagged along with the United States because it is a subservient and pliant ‘poodle’. I’d argue that the two contending positions are two sides of the same coin and that to explain away Britain’s contribution to the invasion solely in reference to its relationship with the United States is very misleading.
To begin, in the blue corner, of this never-ending charade of a tussle on whether the UK should have invaded Iraq, we have the ‘partnership posse’ rational. This tag-team is headed by British neo-con sympathisers and liberal hawks, informing us that the UK stood by the US in this noble invasion because of shared values; are jointly taking the European enlightenment to the Middle East; were to establish a democracy which shall be a shining example to the natives of the region and last but not least to promote equality for women in Iraq. In the red corner, is the ‘poodle posse’ tag-team rational, headed by the British anti-war movement and assorted political right-wingers. The heads of this movement, such as Tony Benn inform us the Britain invaded Iraq at the “behest” of the United States neo-con government. Indeed Britain was “dragged” at the “instigation” of the United States according to Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop the War Coalition. They have been slugging out these points on the tired white canvass of the British daily press more or less since the opening bell rang for the ‘War on Terror’. That neither of the verbal contenders can provide evidence for their respective postures is immaterial as long as the only blood that has been mainly shed in this rope-a-dope of a debate is that of Iraqis.
No doubt, for British business it doesn’t matter what purpose is sold to the British public for British involvement in Iraq just as long as they are in the Iraqi (to use the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s word) “trough”. One individual, who surely seems to be having a roly-poly of a financially handsome time, is Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British Ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the invasion. He now holds non-executive directorship at the company which is producing and printing Iraqi money, De La Rue. More so, he is officially offering special advice at British Petroleum, who according to reports and no doubt with intuitive foresight, were training British military personnel on how to secure the Iraqi oil fields before the invasion actually happened. Collectively, British company directors, as of March 2006, have received £150 million from the Iraqi people.
Logically and quite inevitably, both sides in this rope-a-dope of a tussle now perceive the way forward for their respective agendas as a detachment, disassociation or even “liberation” from the stigma of associating with the foreign policy of a neo-con United States. In the red corner, Andrew Murray informs us that Britain needs to “liberate” itself from the ‘special relationship’, without mentioning that the ‘special relationship’ is a British concoction. It was concocted out of the ashes of British Imperialism’s retreat at the genuine “behest” of the United States, from killing and shedding Egyptian blood in 1956. In the blue corner, the current foreign secretary, David Milliband, informs us that the neo-con American led invasion of Iraq and the “mistakes” that followed should not be the template by which to measure future British interventions.
The fact that Britain has a history of gluttonous military interventions and occupations irrespective of who is in power in Washington, eludes these dodgy contenders. By avoiding this ‘elephant in the ring’ as one of the main reasons for British involvement, our protagonists are concealing and maybe helping to revive, a British imperialism which is arguably more militaristically licentious and unabashedly reckless than the foreign policy of neo-con America.