How Britain Broke The World

Popular opinion is that the whole of the UK was against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Over a million people marched in London.

I wasn’t one of them.

I’m not sure that I was as politically engaged then as I am now, but the main reason that I wasn’t there was because I wasn’t entirely against the intervention. Sure, I never believed the justifications that they gave. The whole ability to attack in 45 minutes seemed unlikely, and the connection to Al Qaeda didn’t seem plausible either. Blair deserved all resistance he got for such obvious untruths.

So if I didn’t believe in the reasons given, why was I not against the invasion? Because the regime was abusive to its own population. We talk about choices and democracy and representation, but what can people do when they have such a corrupt, oppressive and violent government?

Other countries tend to say it’s not their concern. Does that mean it’s okay to let people suffer because they were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country? I say no1. The international community has a responsibility to the world’s population, wherever they live2.

I should add that my (limited) support of the policy was about the idea of an intervention. The execution of the idea was clearly a mess, but no one marching knew that.

Anyway, the book.

As I tend to do, I second guess myself. Was my opinion, if not correct then, at least justifiable? If I didn’t know better, should I have known better? I got “How Britain Broke the World” by Arthur Snell to answer that question, and others.

It starts in 1997 with Kosovo and finishes with Brexit in 2021. I do think it strays from the title at times, which comes across as the book equivalent of click-bait. However, it largely answers my questions.

The simple chronological structure helps put the individual events into perspective. I’d forgotten some of them, and the details of many. In the end, I think my opinion on the Iraq invasion is similar to that of many of the interventions: the argument for doing something was there but the execution was poor3.

If there’s something to take away, it’s that we don’t learn.

You can see that because, weirdly, this is a very current book. By which I mean that shortly after reading various sections, I’d come across some contemporary event that was about the same thing. Russia. The Middle East. The US-UK “special relationship.” It’s all there and it’s all ongoing.

I can’t say I’m now an expert on any of these events or situations. It’s all complicated. Many of the challenges we have are from people who are trying to give simple solutions to complex problems4. But I can say that I am better informed than I was. To paraphrase, Donald Rumsfeld, I now have fewer unknown unknowns.

  1. It’s a slightly odd realisation to finally figure out that you don’t believe in the concept of a country. Not as in I deny that they exist, obviously, but in the sense that your potential shouldn’t be constrained by the place you happen to have been born. ↩︎
  2. Deciding what are universal rights has been a challenge, too. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems pretty good to me, though arguably it come from a liberal, western perspective so perhaps I would? ↩︎
  3. I realise this isn’t a wholly original take. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. ↩︎
  4. That’s Brexit in a nutshell. ↩︎