Gene Kerrigan On Ireland, Ukraine, Iraq, Putin, Bush and Blair

This time, we did the right thing Writes Gene Kerrigan

The people act in solidarity. Children donate their pocket money and adults offer the use of a spare room. Refugee fundraising goes on in all the usual places, with the Late Late Show leading the way. When the Ukrainians needed help, we did the right thing.

The Government offered a fast, visa- free admission process. Again, it was the right thing to do.

We are right to acknowledge our own proper choices, but let’s not kid ourselves that we always do the right thing. It’s not too long since we were on the side of the bombers.

Meanwhile, a somewhat rowdy debate of sorts has erupted on the issue of neutrality. It is led by politicians and EU groupies, with a handful of the usual media suspects. They tell us to “grow up” — and with heavyweight intellectual arguments like that, man, I for one am floored.

My own guess is that neutrality is a goner. For decades, it has been an irritant among politicians and their chums — it gets in the way of cynical deals they like to make to promote our economy.

The anti-neutrality crowd can surely harness our solidarity with Ukraine. They can then gradually sideline neutrality, denigrate it and systematically deny its significance.

Already, the Russian war on Ukraine is used as the clinching argument.

We better abandon neutrality, we’re told, and begin spending €3bn a year on guns, bombs and planes, otherwise we’ll wake up one morning and Vladimir Putin will be motoring around Merrion Square in a tank.

The argument is that Putin might as easily have invaded us as he did Ukraine. Not true.

The Russian/Ukrainian armed conflict began in 2014. It has an even longer political history.

Ireland has no such dispute, with anyone. Ukraine, on the other hand, is heavily armed, with a very effective army and air force, and that didn’t spare it invasion.

The last major war in which our neutrality was raised as an issue was the American invasion of Iraq.

We did not do the right thing.

In the wake of the 9/11 atrocity, US president George Bush created the doctrine of the “rogue state”. Roughly speaking, this meant that a state didn’t have to do anything to harm the USA, it was enough to have the capacity to do so. And that gave Bush the right to do whatever he thought necessary.

He decided to invade Iraq, to remove and kill dictator Saddam Hussein — who allegedly was bristling with weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam was a murderous thug, but he had nothing to do with 9/11 and his regime had previously been a sidekick of the US.

Bush’s people told stories of Saddam’s terrible weapons, the media reproduced these stories as gospel. UN weapons inspectors said Saddam had no such weapons. They were dismissed as fools.

Saddam had no such weapons.

Some of Bush’s advisers had theories about how they would use the takeover of Iraq to rearrange the Middle East. This was crackpot nonsense, but Bush ran with it. The preparations for war began.

So did the protests. About 36 million people worldwide joined protests, to no avail. Here, one demonstration attracted a reported 130,000 marchers through Dublin city centre.

We were dismissed as anti-American and apologists for a savage dictator — the usual casual calumny.

Getting close to the Americans in their hour of need was regarded by the leaders of many countries as a key to prosperity.

Bush was blunt about his intentions — first, he’d flatten Iraq. His “shock and awe” bombing was beyond what we see now in Ukraine, criminal as that is.

Having flattened Iraq, Bush offered a bonus — he’d spend billions in “reconstruction”. And only businesses from countries that backed the invasion could apply for reconstruction contracts.

Sir Christopher Meyer, the British ambassador in Washington, received a blunt “principal instruction” from prime minister Tony Blair: “Get up the arse of the White House and stay there.”

Blair wanted to play God in the Middle East, and the notion of it being good for UK business didn’t hurt.

Poor Sir Christopher. He inserted himself in the position to which he was assigned, only to find it was rather crowded up there.

Those eager to flatter Bush included the leaders of the Gang of Eight — eight European countries that rushed to sign a letter pledging their support for the invasion.

Inevitably, shoulder to shoulder with the Gang of Eight and Sir Christopher, in the bowels of the White House, there was the occasional Irish accent.

The Irish politicians’ priority was ensuring US investment was preserved. Bush had from 9/11 onward laid down the law — Saddam equalled Terrorism. “Are you for or against terrorism?”

To prove you were worthy of Mr Bush’s respect, you had to speak positively of his invasion.

Our neutrality meant we couldn’t actually invade anywhere — so we couldn’t send troops to die for Bush’s ambitions. This meant no reconstruction contracts.

To stress our loyalty to Uncle Sam, our politicians offered Bush the use of Shannon Airport as a hub and refuelling depot to facilitate the invasion.

This was seen by the US invasion planners as a critical asset. So useful was Shannon that they’re still using it, two decades later.

The plan to rearrange the Middle East fell apart. Bush got bored with the whole project, declared “mission accomplished” and pretended it was all a dream.

We had — and to this day have — no idea what the Americans use Shannon for, apart from refuelling.

We know there has been some “rendition” use — rendition is when the CIA kidnaps someone abroad and sends them to a third country, to which the American torture requirement is outsourced.

This involves aircraft criss-crossing continents — we don’t ask. No curiosity at all. Best not to know.

We have no idea how the use of Shannon affects any other aspect of American military planning, including bombing. It would be so embarrassing to ask. It might force them to lie. Worse, they might tell us the truth.

No one kept an agreed body count in Iraq, but the dead were in their hundreds of thousands.

Inevitably, this turmoil resulted in waves of refugees fleeing violence and heading toward Europe.

Given that we had played a small part in creating their plight, it would be nice to say we did the right thing, but — well, it’s complicated.

All those brown faces, the culture significantly different — well, let’s put it this way: the Late Late Show hasn’t done much fundraising for those refugees and the Government doesn’t waive any visas.

We’ve been in no hurry to throw our arms open.

A handful of Afghans made it here, looking for help — we told them to leave and they went on hunger strike, but the law was on our side, so we soon ran them off.

Odd, really. I mean, we had no responsibility for the consequences of Putin’s savagery but — quite properly — we did the right thing.

On the other hand, we had some small responsibility for the effects of the Bush military adventures — and the refugees they created — and we did a runner.

Our neutrality policy originated in a period when Ireland was newly independent, a small nation in a world dominated by colonial states still emerging from the age of empires.

The history of our neutrality is one of pragmatism, self-interest and trying to do the right thing.

Today, our leaders find neutrality to be a nuisance. It gets in the way of their economic horse-trading.

Neutrality isn’t the answer to everything; it mightn’t be the answer to anything.

But it has served us better than the alternative — which usually involves crouching somewhere smelly, in the company of an anxious British ambassador, matching his every obsequious grin as we compete for the favour of the Big Guys.

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