In the Middle East, the war in Syria has become protracted with no initiatives currently in place to suggest that there is an end in sight. Iraq has seen an increased spiral of violence, which unfortunately much of our media has not covered in any depth. Straddling these two countries and beyond them is ISIS, essentially and an extreme terrorist organization harboring an apocalyptic vision of a theocratic Caliphate.
Two publications in the last few weeks suggest how the two leaders of the U. K. and the U. S. with limited intelligence opened up a Pandora’s box and significantly contributed to the destabilizing of the Middle East.
The first line in the biography of the 43th president of the U.S. by Jean Edward Smith says: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” The last line in the book ends with the following observation: “Whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.”
Across the Atlantic the long awaited Chilcot Enquiry finally published a lengthy document about the U.K.’s involvement in the second Iraq war, which was supported across party lines. The inquiry noted that between 150,000 and perhaps more civilians died and that at least a million people were displaced. It also noted that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat as was suggested by both Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time and the U.S. president George W. Bush, nor was there a satisfactory legal basis for going to war.
Political elites in democracies not only have the potential for good but also have the potential for incredible destruction. The populist movements we have seen in the U. S. and Europe are in large part a reaction to the distance that elites in democratic countries appear to have from their electorate and the political bubble they often enclose themselves in.
Conversely though, information and the expertise to organize a complex modern state is not a simple matter. Bureaucracies do seem convoluted and often self serving but they are important and necessary. Simple, naive solutions can have drastic and deeply negative consequences. Complicated problems cannot be solved overnight.
We can empathize with citizens who become dissatisfied with their democratic governments that have limited and blinkered vision. Yet as citizens, we have the opportunity to be informed. As individuals and groups, we also have the right to bend the government’s ear. It is not always easy, can often be frustrating and the payoffs for such involvement can be mixed. Yet foreign and immigration policies , for instance, are issues we can have an opinion about and share. Foreign and immigration policies are how citizens want to see their government behave towards foreigners, in our case non-Canadians. And similarly with domestic issues. Domestic policies are how we want our government to behave towards us.
We don’t live in an ideal world, never have, never will …. and being both idealistic and pragmatic are not mutually exclusive notions; both help us survive in a complex, confusing world.