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Does BBC’s Jeremy Bowen understand what constitutes a ‘direct link’?

by Robert Harris

Since the release of the Chilcot Report, many have said former UK prime-minister Tony Blair is directly responsible for the rise of Islamic State. In an interview with RTE’s ‘Morning Ireland’ (7th July 2016), the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen reiterated his claim that the 2003 Iraq Invasion is directly responsible for the rise of Islamic State:

Interviewer: “In the last 24 hours or so Jeremy, in response to the Chilcot’s report Alistair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s director of communications, has been giving interviews and writing in his blog. And he said making the link between the invasion, the occupation, and the rise of Islamic State, is not simple and its not straightforward. And he doesn’t agree with it. He says its a very complex situation. Is there any doubt in your mind or the people of Iraq that that link, it is a direct link between both?”

“I think there’s a direct link. And everyone I speak to here thinks there’s a direct link. If you read academic studies, by the likes of the London School of Economics, they will say that there’s a direct link. Alistair Campbell is, you know, he’s the spin doctor extraordinaire. And i think the line they’ve decided, himself and Tony Blair, is that they will admit there were some awful mistakes made, but at least they got rid of Saddam, and that its just wrong to say there’s a link with the current troubles in the region. I heard part of that Today programme interview and Blair was saying just that.

Now, before in the days of Saddam, if someone was a ah an al-Qaeda already got going [sic], in the days of Saddam, if people were that kind of Jihadi religious extremist, he would lock them in prison or possibly kill them. Al Qaeda were not a force in the land. And as the Chilcot Report said, the Chilcot Report contradicts what Campbell says. The Chilcot Report said they were warned that invading occupying the country, creating security vacuums could end up with al-Qaeda coming into the country and using it as a base. That is exactly what happened. And al-Qaeda in Iraq became the Islamic State. It’s a direct link between them. They are one organisation morphed out of the other. So if that’s not a direct link, I don’t know what is.”

Few would not appreciate that the word ‘direct’ indicates an immediate and substantive causal relationship between two things, with, for example, the ‘direct link’ between smoking and lung cancer. The term ‘direct link’ is defined by one online dictionary as “without intervening persons or agencies; immediate: a direct link.”,

It cannot be denied that the Iraq War initiated a phase of immensely destructive instability in Iraq, but it does not follow that the complete unwinding of Saddam Hussein’s security apparatus was a necessary consequence of the war, for which there has been much criticism. Thus, it does not follow that the instability allowing a vicious sectarian conflict to develop between Sunni and Shia, would necessarily ensue as a consequence of regime change, although there is a higher probability of such events taking place. It was a consequence of policy decisions made in the aftermath of war. We can say with certainty that there is a direct causal association between the policy of occupation and the ensuing civil strife, but not the initial decision to go to war.

Islamic State evolved out of ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’, which was hit hard by the US troop surge, which began in 2007, as well as greater political effort by Iraqi leaders to fight the effects of sectarianism. Sectarian conflict almost came to an end, with a dramatic reduction in violence through 2008. Unfortunately, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, would subsequently curry favour with his Shia support base, which alienated the Sunni community. Worse still, the US president, Barack Obama, did not make a substantive effort to renew the right of immunity from prosecution for US occupation forces after 2011, as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has noted.

Within two years, the benefits of the troop surge were reversed, while Islamic State split from the al-Qaeda franchise, allowing for the terrorist group’s rapid military successes during 2014. Jeremy Bowen described George W. Bush II as an extremely ‘incompetent’ US President, but spared no ire whatsoever for Barack Obama’s failed policy of extricating the US from a deeply unpopular war, a move which was surely born of political expediency, rather than military need. Indeed, Obama’s failure, borne of his 2008 presidential electoral promise, is the very ‘direct link’ that Bowen wrongfully ascribes to Blair and Bush.

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