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Column: With the benefit of hindsight15 January 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
‘With the knowledge of the facts I had back then, I wouldn’t have acted differently at this moment,’ said the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, after the presentation of the David’s Report about the decision making process that led to the provision of political support for the invasion of Iraq.
Just for a moment he acted in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, ‘the Iron Lady’: ‘The Lady’s not for turning.’ However, after a night fighting to keep his Cabinet together, he declared: ‘With today’s knowledge of the facts, I would have acted differently back then.’
In fact The Netherlands didn’t even take part in the invasion of Iraq, it only supported the US and the UK in their policy on Iraq. Isn’t it amazing that providing political backing almost resulted in a call for fresh elections, just because the current Prime Minister, who was also PM at the time of the invasion, refused to alter his conviction?
I’m glad that our parliamentary debates are not simultaneously translated into English. If this were the case, the world could watch a new reality show. The issue around Iraq had long since ceased to be the point of discussion.
Balkenende first adhered to this line: ‘The invasion in Iraq was sanctified by international law.’ This, however, is not the correct argument in this case. OK, the invasion may not have followed a precedent set in international law but, how about this as piece of evidence in favour, just ask any person of Kurdish extraction how they view the elimination of Saddam Hussein.
Increasingly the view gets aired that this cruel dictator should have been left in office, that way we would have prevented a bloody civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. This is a misconception. Of course, at the same time we do have to do everything possible to end this civil war.
Back then Balkenende took his lead from the US and showed his allegiance. Actually the conflicts in Bosnia and, later, Kosovo were only resolved after the US got involved, and with regards to Kosovo there never was a mandate. These conflicts were not put to rest by Germany or France, and yet these countries opposed the action in Iraq.
What really matters is this: the US and the UK made it clear to Saddam Hussain, and later the Taliban: ‘You have gone this far but this is where we stop you.’ That’s the role these two countries have played since the Second World War.
‘With what I know now I would have acted different in the past.’ Does this backdown by Balkenende make sense?
Recently I ran into my first love, whilst going about my daily business. I would have acted in a completely different way back then, if only I knew then what I know now. Back then I didn’t dare to say a word to her. It was love from afar. With my current knowledge I would simply have told her she was gorgeous.
Is this really the case? She is still beautiful, but also very married with children. A lovely suburban existence that is completely alien to me.
Well, before I had recovered from my youthful love I decamped to the Military Academy in Breda. I served in the army for thirteen years, lived through a war in Bosnia, but eventually decided to become a writer.
Based on my current experience I would have realised much sooner that writing poems is thin on the ground in the army and that my fields of interest were located somewhere else altogether.
Yet, in the army, I met my best friend. We once flew together by helicopter from Split to Tuzla. We experienced heavy shelling, so we said to each other: ‘If we go down we'll at least go together, and that is an enormous relief.’
I have also come into contact with guys from very different walks of life, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Besides, I do know how it feels to be in a war. Without my current knowledge I might have become a writer sooner but would I have been the writer I am now?
Subsequently I fell, completely without mandate, in love with a girl who was already married. This happened during my brief stay at a creative writing school in Amsterdam. This was followed by falling in love with a lesbian who could have been the twin of the lead singer of the band Texas, and after that I fell in love with a blonde who kept me guessing.
Ah, based on what I know now I should never have fallen in love with any of them. It only created problems but yet also a new novel.
I have great advice for Jan Peter Balkenende: ‘Based on what I know now, I would have done exactly the same back then.’ Do you know what I wanted to be when I grew up? No, I am not making this up: Prime Minister! According to my current wisdom, it is a blessing that this never happened.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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