In 1918 the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was given to Fritz Haber: he invented a method for synthesizing ammonia - that is, nitrogen 'fixed' with hydrogen - a chemical vital for organic life. The process was used during the First World War to make munitions: the allies got theirs from South American mines. Without industrial-scale production of ammonia, the war would have been considerably shorter. Verdun, for example - where a service took place today on WWI's 90th annivesary - was bombarded with a hundred thousand shells an hour - an hour! - at the start of the battle. (As well as a hundred thousand gas shells a day: Haber was instrumental in the development of gas warfare. Randomly, I now realise he was the subject of a brilliant Radio 4 play I caught the second half of. His scientist wife committed suicide. If the play is to be believed, this was to shock him into realising the monster he'd become. I buy that: radio 4 fiction will do for me as a factual source.)
Dear Mr. President: we are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime from power.
So begins a letter from Project for a New American Century to Bill Clinton, dated January 1998. It's worth going back to this now we're into year six of the Iraq war. The one lesson I learned from the whole saga was this: there's no need for conspiracies. You can publish your intentions on a website, say the opposite in public, and no-one will care. Truth won't out.
In the run-up to the war, Blair and Bush repeatedly claimed that regime change was not the aim, and that - even right up until the last moment - Hussein had it within his power to stop the war. That's what I found most terrifying - listening to Blair parrot Bush, when I could go to a public website and read, plain as day, the neocons' policy for regime change and the reasons for it. Written by the neocons themselves. They haven't even got the shame to take it down.
The Guardian reported yesterday on Joe Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes upcoming book, The Three Trillion Dollar War. In it, they attempt to audit the whole Iraq war effort. The article is terrifying; I thought I'd pull out some bullet points. The first one is obviously in the title - their estimate of the true cost - and this is just for the US (compared to an official estimate of Â£500 billion.) Other bullet points lifted from the article:
In summary, they fucked things up right and proper. Stiglitz again: 'that's part of being in a global economy. You make a mistake of this order, and it affects people all over the world.' You'd really, really want to think a car-crash of this magnitude would require the incompetents and ideologues who led us there to be held accountable.