The lesson of unintended consequences

This week we have been treated to a lesson in unintended consequences.

I’m talking about Iraq.

It was somewhat disconcerting to hear a commentator, who had been both a commander on the ground in Iraq and a diplomat in Afghanistan, expressing concern that the uprising in Iraq had the potential for creating a safe haven for international terrorists.

I seem to recall that denying international terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan was the reason for invading that country after 9/11. We are still trying to disentangle ourselves from that adventure, and be under no illusion, despite what we are being told by our governments, that adventure will not end well for us.

It is somewhat ironic that the consequences of the ill-advised and badly managed invasion and occupation of Iraq, that severely diminished the effort in Afghanistan, has led to what we are now seeing on the TV news – international terrorists, aided by local militia, gaining control of large parts of Iraq with surprising ease.

And we are horrified by their brutal tactics, beheading officials and massacring unarmed captured Iraqi soldiers. They seem barbaric because we have become accustomed to death by drone or cruise missile or air strike.

Ask yourself how many unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by the ‘shock and awe’ tactics of the invasion of their country in 2003, and during the subsequent occupation? It was a lot more than the number killed this week – horrible as that is.

Make no mistake. People with guns imposing their worldview on a populace is not restricted to the ones we label terrorists. If we want to be brutally honest, what’s the difference between a State with guns and a group of crazies with guns when it comes to imposing their will with force? Same game – only one group uses more conventional means of terrorising the population.

The lesson today’s terrorists fail to learn from the actions of all previous terrorists, both State sponsored and irregulars, is that although you appear to win the battle, you always lose the war. Gone are the days when you could command loyalty with a weapon or with brutality – no matter how much you believe in your cause.

If you impose your worldview through the abuse of power, the resistance may go underground – it does not go away. It may take a long time to rise up to the surface again, but it will rise. If anyone thinks the revolution in Egypt is over, consider the success of the Inquisition in imposing the will of the Roman Catholic Church on the thinking of Western Europe. They won the day. They lost the hearts and minds of the faithful. It’s the churches that are empty in European cities today – except for the tourists looking at the art work and admiring the architecture.

It’s too late for the current regime in Baghdad. They’ve missed their opportunity for reconciliation and nation building. I weep for the people of Iraq but I hold on to the hope that saner heads will rise from the current round of rubble making.

I’m sure there are some people in Washington, London and Canberra wishing they had never heard of Iraq. 

The mistakes have been made. We can’t undo them but we can learn from them.

Will we learn our own lesson from the unintended consequences of imposing our worldview with guns – before we are tempted to do it again, in someone else’s country? 




I’m praying that we do.

Thanks for dropping by.