It has long been clear that Curveball – the Iraqi defector who provided much of the basis for the US government’s claims about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 – was a liar. But he has now finally admitted that he made up his claims about mobile bioweapons laboratories, which US Secretary of State Colin Powell used as a justification of invading Iraq in his famous presentation at the United Nations Security Council in February 2003. Curveball, whose real name is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, had until now refused to speak to the press. But in an interview with the Guardian earlier this month in Karlsruhe in Germany, where he now lives, he said that he lied in order to help topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. “I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy”, he said. Obviously, this was a huge cock-up with disastrous consequences. The question is: whose fault was it?
Alongside the debate among foreign-policy analysts about a “post-Western world” that I discussed in a recent post, there has also been another, oddly disconnected debate about the future of the West as a normative project that, particularly since 9/11, has been dominated by two opposing groups. On one side of the argument are anti-imperialists, who see the relationship between the West and the rest of the world predominantly in terms of the concept of empire and are therefore critical of Western policy and even of the concept of the West. On the other side of the argument are what might be called “Enlightenment fundamentalists” (the term comes from Timothy Garton Ash, who, in an article in the New York Review of Books in 2006, described the Dutch-Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a “brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist”), who attempt to defend the values of the West, which they see as being under threat.
My colleague Justin Vaïsse has just published an illuminating new history (it was published in French a few years ago but just came out in English) of the American neoconservative movement , which, he argues, can be divided into three distinct phases. First, between 1967 and the mid-seventies, it was a movement of left-wing New York intellectuals who were preoccupied with domestic issues and in particular critical of liberal social policy. Second, from the mid-seventies through to the end of the eighties, it was a movement of centrist Democrat activists who opposed the isolationist turn of the party on foreign policy under McGovern and Carter but also rejected Kissinger’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union. Finally, from the mid-nineties onwards, it was a movement of right-wing Republicans who believed in a “neo-Reaganite” foreign policy and in particular in the use of American power to promote democracy in the post-Cold War world – including, of course, in Iraq.