Meeting for coffee with one of the Catholic Archbishops of Iraq this morning was very educational for mrs maytrees and I. His English was almost as poor as my Arabic so we mainly communicated through an Iraqi lady who lives near Richmond Park.
He like his cousin, an old friend whose home we met in (she was making the coffee) were initially pleased when led by the USA but supported enthusiastically at the time by Tony Blair, the West sent in the troops to oust the tyrant Saddam Hussein. Looking back at that war and more particularly at its aftermath however, when considering whether the West should intervene again this time in Syria, the clear response he gave was 'no'. The main problem with regard to the first US led war in Iraq, was not so much the initial war itself which did indeed lead to Hussein's over throw but with the aftermath. The West simply failed to lay down a fair universal and strong form of government with the result that the country descended into bloodshed and turmoil which continues today. The West planned for war but failed to plan for peace.
Personally at the time, though Blair and his party did not receive my vote at the UK general elections then and subsequently, I considered that Blair's decision to join the US being based as we were led to believe on the "Weapons of Mass Destruction", was right. Having made that mistake once one would surely expect right thinking intelligent British leaders not to repeat such follies again. The Archbishop's personal view is that Christians were safer then even under Hussain than they are now. Christians like most of the Iraqi population could live largely in peace then even though their freedoms were very constrained. The latter point I think caused him and his cousin to give initial support to the Western invasion.
Now Christians have neither living in peace nor much by way of personal freedoms to enjoy hence sadly life in Iraq for them is far worse, principally because the US, UK and others did not plan well in advance, properly (if at all) for post Hussein war life in Iraq.
The situation in the Middle East is in many ways worse now than it was even then, yet the USA by announcing that it will provide arms to support those who the US says are "the good guys" in Syria is demonstrating that learning by its past mistakes is alas not on its page at all.
Who are the good guys in Syria anyway? The reports that 76,000 have died there so far are tragic indeed but more arms will mean even more deaths and so far as can be judged, there are hardly any men involved in the fighting who are obviously good guys
. I gather that as previously in Iraq, the Christian minority population of Syria does at least have freedom to live relatively unheeded. Once the apparently mainly fanatical people involved with the fighting make more violent headway, local Christians fear becoming less free. Of course Al-Assad the Syrian president is hardly the most reasonable leader but history if nothing else, shows that outsiders becoming involved for whatever motives, make matters worse perhaps far worse - as the aftermath of the previous Iraqi war illustrates.
We in the UK should not become involved. I recalled too that in WWII the USA only became directly involved when the Japanese attacked their Pacific Fleet. Simply joining in to oust the world of a truly dreadful despot was not itself apparently sufficient at the time, to persuade the USA to join in the fight. What has changed since then?
Which brings me on to the situation Afghanistan. On this aspect of our discussion, the Archbishop, his Iraqi cousin and her older friend took slightly different views from my own. They felt that the West should again simply let the local people deal with their own problems however long it takes. I took the view that the negating of all human rights of the female half of the population in Afghanistan rendered the situation there rather different and that standing by and doing nothing did not seem right in those circumstances.
Their view was that even before the current violence and again before the failed Russian involvement, families there were able to and did educate their girls privately. They felt that trying to compel this fairness in education and opportunity to occur more speedily and generally in that country was bound to fail. Perhaps the withdrawal from Afghanistan by Western nations will support their views but I still feel that we were right to try there at least.
A point which saddens me is that despite the fact that he is a Catholic Archbishop of a significant city in Iraq, he found it almost impossible to secure a visa to enter the UK. We in the UK are still at least if the presence of CoE bishops in the House of Lords means anything, a country which has huge historical involvement with Christianity going back well before the C16 Reformation era. Why then does the Archbishop have to secure a Vatican passport before he can obtain a visa to enter the UK?