McTernan on politics

Whatever one feels about the process and the decisions which led
the UK to war in Iraq there is no doubt that the prime minister is
passionately convinced of the moral case for the action he is

These convictions inform how he will judge the outcomes of the war.
Those closest to him report that his personal measure of success is
that life should be better for the ordinary Iraqi citizen after
their country has been liberated. This is an ambition we can all
subscribe to, but working out precisely how to measure that
improvement in the quality of life is another thing entirely. It is
surely not enough to argue that, once freed from the dictatorial
regime of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath party, Iraqis will
automatically become happier.

It is critical that roads, airports and seaports are fully
functioning as soon as possible after the war. More difficult will
be the construction of a robust, social infrastructure. Leaked
documents show that the US wants new health and education services
delivered in parallel with large-scale works contracts. This is
hopeful, but it is essential that we learn from experience.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, has been
reflecting on his experience in Bosnia. Six years on he fears that
the framework is still not set properly and he believes that it is
because he failed to understand the need to rebuild from the bottom
upwards. First, establish respect for the rule of law – eliminate
corruption in police and criminal justice systems. Second, build a
functioning social welfare system. Then introduce democracy based
on a renewed civil society.

Some commentators have talked of the de-Ba’athification of Iraq on
the model of the post-war de-Nazification of West Germany. Given
the structure of Saddam’s party and the way it rules Iraq that
analogy has some resonance. A more pertinent model might be the
work in eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is estimated that one in three adults in East Germany were
members of, or informers for, the secret police, the Stasi. Yet
Germans have come to terms with that history. Equally, a lot of
work involving British social services thinkers and practitioners
has gone on in the new democracies of eastern Europe to establish
welfare states.

Perhaps it is time to pool some of that experience and expertise
and think through what will be needed to give Iraq a new set of
social institutions that can strengthen the country and support its
transition to democracy. In the long term this is the key to
fulfilling Tony Blair’s ambition for ordinary Iraqis and their

John McTernan is a political analyst.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.