Thursday, 12 August 2010

Secrets and Lies: The Planning, Conduct and Aftermath of Blair and Bush's War - Dilip Hiro

Secrets and Lies: The Planning, Conduct and Aftermath of Blair and Bush's War
-Dilip Hiro

It is always a shame to watch a fine mind go to waste. Dilip Hiro, known for his almost-unique history of the Iran-Iraq War (The Longest War) and for his research into Iraq and the Middle East, has finally turned his attention to the Iraq War of 2003. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Bart Simpson, this book is so anti-American – it fairly drips of rancour – that it’s not even funny anymore.

Reading the book, one gets the feeling that the Americans lost the war – it comes as a shock to discover that they won! Hiro chronicles what seems like defeat after defeat, followed by vast incompetence and skulduggery, leaving the reader confused and baffled. Every incident that can be used to blacken America’s name is used with great effect to do just that.

As an example, Hiro refers to the delay in re-establishing the electrical grid in Baghdad, pointing out rather patronisingly that Saddam’s people had it done in a day after the 1991 war. He fails to point out that if there were attacks on Saddam’s people – who also knew Baghdad far better than Americans – Saddam would shrug and order a few dozen people shot. Even the Bush of the left’s nightmares could not do that.

Hiro also makes a far greater fuss about the WMD issue than it deserves. Although he is correct to note that there have been fewer discoveries than expected, he fails to note that the inspectors found a dissembled gun, rather than a smoking gun. He also fails to point out that Saddam had engaged in constant attempts to hide his WMD from US, UN and other inspectors. As both Elkus and Butler point out, Saddam fought bitterly to hold onto what he had, only destroying WMD after it was discovered by the inspectors. While Saddam might have genuinely destroyed his remaining supplies of WMD, in effect the US was no longer inclined to accept his assurances. If you lie more than once, you should not be surprised if you are no longer believed, even if you are telling the truth.

He also fails to discuss the other good reasons for launching the invasion. This is particularly disappointing given his work on the effects of the Gulf Wars on Iraq, where large numbers of the population suffered through sanctions and repression; Hiro makes it sound as if Saddam’s rule was a golden age. Removing Saddam’s regime was a good act in itself; a successful transition to democracy would be even better. Expecting instant prosperity was unreasonable; Germany, Japan and Taiwan took at least fifteen years before they could become democratic – establishing law and order was the first priority.

Finally, Hiro notes that Saddam and Bin Ladin apparently had no connection. While this – as far as the 9/11 commission can discover – is true, he ignores the presence of other terror groups within the country, including Ansar Al Islam, which did have ties to Al Qaida. Iraq has provided support to terror groups in the past; perhaps it would have done so again, if only to keep it’s tattered Islamic credentials.

It is a great pity that Hiro should have chosen to sing the anti-American dirge, but those who have enjoyed his books before can hope that he will one day return to his formerly-fine standard of scholarship.

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