Iraq: Time for a People's History

Tony Blair's certainty of historical vindication in Iraq can only be challenged by a people's history of the war.

In interviews accompanying the release of his book Tony Blair has repeated that history will ultimately judge him on Iraq. Meanwhile on the same week that U.S. combat mission 'ended' for the second time in Iraq, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that gauging success in the country will 'really require a historian's perspective'.

Yet there is a danger that an elite's history written by those responsible for the Iraq adventure can create its own reality.

What is needed is a people's history of the war that incorporates descriptions of ignored events and unheard voices. Such a work would be inspired by Howard Zinn, who sought to write "an American history through the eyes of common people rather than the political and economic elites".

This history is not simply aimed at restoring balance to Blair's elite vision but could be a restorative narrative produced by a Iraqi 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission', that is desperately needed to bring together the sections of Iraqi society torn apart by the 2006-8 civil war.

In 2006 Blair told the Daily Mail that "The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naive hope, history will judge."

But history is not a process that adheres to a static deadline whereby a verdict is delivered, but is instead continuously being written. Indeed despite the best efforts of accounts from Hawkish figures such as former-CPA Viceroy Paul Bremer and John Bolton the majority of accounts emerging from Iraq, written by former soldiers, diplomats and journalist, paint a picture of a complete 'fiasco'.

Both Obama's attempts to announce victory in Iraq and the release of Blair's book came as the vacuum that followed Iraq's attempts to form a government approached a six-month hiatus. Democracy in the country is both fragile and barely functional. Meanwhile the progress towards regional democratisation has gone backwards since the 2003 invasion.

As the The Iraq Effect, a U.S. Air Force commissioned RAND history into the regional legacy of the Iraq war, explained "the war has stalled or reversed the momentum of Arab political reform; local regimes perceive that U.S distraction in Iraq and the subsequent focus on Iran have given them a reprieve on domestic liberalization"

Machiavelli in The Prince explained that moral transgressions are at times necessary for creating order or happiness for the people. He claimed that means are justified by the end. Those who look for history to vindicate their mistakes are simply in denial of present reality and enraptured by a speculative future in which an end can justify their means.