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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Iraq War

Reviewed: January 19, 2005
By: John Keegan
Publisher: Key Porter Books
254 pages, $29.95

Last week we heard the word that the US government had decided to stop looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Most everyone else had long since decided that they weren't going to find any, and that the intelligence which led them to make the search and the invasion in the first place was probably flawed.

As John Keegan says, "Belief in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction not only provided the motivation for the war but, in the preliminary stages, influenced the strategy by which it would be fought."

Keegan, a British historian, doesn't seem to agree with the majority opinion on this issue, suggesting that it would have been easy to hide WMDs in a country as large as Iraq and that the possibility they did exist was real at the time of the invasion.

In dealing with the diplomatic mess that led to the invasion, Keegan gives his opinion that continuing the mandate of the UN inspectors would only have delayed the inevitable. Even if they had continued to find nothing, it would not have been proof there was nothing to find.

Besides, as Keegan indicates, the Americans were going to invade any way, regardless of the outcome of the UN debates.

In the early part of the book, Keegan outlines the career of Saddam Hussein and the history of Iraq since its creation after the Great War. It's easy to build a case for deposing someone like Hussein. He has no apologists in the western world, and even if the rhetoric has been a little over the top, he was not a good ruler.

The question that remains is whether the invasion was justified on the grounds that were given for it, and I don't think Keegan answers that.

In addition, though he does a great job of outlining the phases of the war, dealing with the main action itself, and presenting it all from a British viewpoint, which is different from what we are familiar with, he makes the same mistake George W. made in declaring victory after twenty one days.

"The was was not only successful but peremptorily short," he writes on page 1, "lasting only twenty-one days, from 20 March to 9 April. Campaigns so brief are rare, a lightning campaign so complete in its results almost unprecedented,"

"Complete in its results?" I'm writing this on a day when there were five coordinated car bombings in Iraq; at least twenty-six people died. It's not an unusual day. Over 1,000 US soldiers, a fair number from the nations in the "coalition of the willing" and uncounted numbers of Iraqis have been killed since the day that the President announced that the mission was accomplished.

It wasn't then and it isn't now. The real war started after the dictator was toppled, and has only become more intractable since. Keegan devotes a small chapter to the war's aftermath, but that story is still being written, day by day, in all of our media. What he did relate, in a book first released in May, 2004, is some of the mistakes that were made by the army of occupation, by the administration in charge of Iraq, and by those in Britain who attempted to cover up the intelligence failure.

There's a little bit of space given over to the attempts to "sex-up" the reports from British intelligence, and to the events which led to the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, who was dangled before the public by both the media and the government and who became so distraught that he took his own life.

There is a brief account of Lord Hutton's report, which attacked the media for irresponsible reporting and the government for disowning their own expert.

It's hard to say what Keegan's final opinion of events is. While he appears to accept preemptive strikes as a means of dealing with international issues, he does concede that the research which was used to justify the attack was suspect. He seems to feel that getting rid of Saddam has made the world "undoubtedly a safer place", but on the other hand states that it is "subjectively ... even more divided than it had been ..."

The problem with that kind of analysis is that subjective states of mind (the Bush administration's certainties) can certainly lead to objective actions (Operation Iraqi Freedom) which can have unintended consequences.

I believe the military likes to call that collateral damage.

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