|War on Iraq - Worse than a crime|
At the beginning of 2003, it seems almost certain that the United States, assisted militarily only by Britain, will soon launch an aggressive war against Iraq. Many critics in many parts of the world are already insisting that the war will be morally wrong. I am afraid it will come to be seen as worse than that.
In 1804, Napoleon ordered the execution of a Bourbon prince, the Duc d’Enghien1, on the grounds that he might be the figurehead for a plot against his rule. It was, said Boulay de la Meurthe, worse than a crime, it was a mistake. I believe that the same will be said of George W. Bush’s impending assault on Iraq. Its justification is unclear. Its price in human life and economic disruption will be terrible. And its long-term consequences may well be catastrophic.
Many are the voices, in Europe and Asia, in Britain and even in the United States, including those of the Presidents of Russia and France, of the German Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even his Holiness the Pope, proclaiming that to attack Iraq would be morally wrong, a crime. In London, for example, 400,000 people turned out on the streets to say as much, and editorials everywhere denounce the ethics of Washington’s war plans.
My own view focuses not so much on the morality of the war as on its apparent motivations and its probable results. Where George W. Bush’s advisers believe a victorious war against Iraq will allow them to rebuild the Middle East to the advantage of everyone, not least of the Iraqi people, I fear it will inflict lasting damage on the Middle East, on the United Nations, on the prospects for world peace — including hopes for nuclear disarmament and of preventing terrorism — and not least on the reputation of the United States for wise and disinterested conduct in the world, and therefore on America’s own vital interests.
Let me say where, as the phrase goes, I am coming from. I am not a pacifist. Five years old when World War II began, and an adolescent during the Cold War, I have always been able to accept the argument that some circumstances can be worse than war, even though since Hiroshima technological developments have made that an increasingly disputable proposition.
A recent BBC radio poll asked whom British listeners would most like to eject from the country and whom we would most like to welcome to it as honorary citizens. Overwhelmingly the most popular choices, it turned out, perhaps surprisingly, were to bring in Nelson Mandela and throw out Tony Blair, a prime minister with a majority of over 160 seats in the House of Commons. Iraq is not the only reason for Blair’s unpopularity, but it is surely one reason why thousands would send him into exile. I am uncomfortable with the current British cartoonist’s portrayal of Tony Blair as ‘George Bush’s poodle’, because I am not surprised that any British prime minister would hesitate before alienating Washington. Britain has been militarily dependent on the United States since the 1940s, and arguably since 1917, and is still dependent today. Few British prime ministers have dared to criticise American policy, and it has not always gone well with those who dared to do so, as Eden found over Suez and Wilson over Vietnam. It is not a cause for national self-congratulation, but there is a pragmatic case for behaving like America’s only reliable ally. Nevertheless, I am still deeply unhappy about an American policy that forces such choices on Washington’s friends.
I can sympathise, of course, with the case for removing Saddam Hussein. Indeed, I remember wishing that George Bush Sr. had taken the opportunity to get rid of Saddam at the end of the Gulf War, when it could have been easily done. (I believe, incidentally, that Bush’s restraint then had more to do with Saudi pressure to prevent the creation of a Shi’a state on the kingdom’s northern borders than with any considerations of international law or United Nations mandate.)
Saddam is a particularly nasty dictator with an appalling human rights record. He is plainly not only a ruthless Machiavellian but a sadist too, who uses torture even more universally than other Muslim governments in the Middle East. In the past, he has shown himself willing to invade Kuwait and to use poison gas, and he certainly planned and probably still hopes to build nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. He represents a continuing threat to the peace of the Middle East, and in particular to the survival of Israel, though the Israelis, who did not hesitate to take out his nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981 and who are thought to have as many as 400 nuclear weapons themselves, can presumably be trusted to take care of their own defence.
We should remember, however, that ‘the West’, and especially America, was quite happy to help and arm Saddam when he was fighting Iran. Like Osama bin Laden, he is an enemy of America who was in part created by cynical, secretive and incompetent American policy.
Having said all of which, I am opposed to a war against Iraq for a number of practical reasons.
Why now, for a start? From 1992 until 2002, Saddam Hussein remained in a state of sullen defiance towards the international community, and Washington did not consider it urgent to destroy him then. United Nations efforts at inspection have not so far come up with any definite evidence that he has acquired nuclear weapons, or that his existing capabilities in chemical and biological warfare have significantly increased. There is apparently no serious evidence that Saddam is responsible for terrorist attacks in the United States or elsewhere. Occasional attempts by American official sources to hint at meetings between terrorists and Iraqi officials do not come close to bearing the weight that is put on them. If there were solid evidence of Iraqi involvement with Al-Qaeda, we can be sure we would have heard it over and over again.
US policy is inconsistent, to say the least. There is more evidence of involvement in international terrorism by several other governments, including those of Syria and Saudi Arabia. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the sudden urgency about the American desire to destroy Saddam has more to do with other events, including the September 11 raids, the Palestinian intifada and even the political situation in the United States, than with hard evidence that the danger to world peace from Saddam has suddenly increased to a critical point. Nor is the United States consistent in regarding an attempt to acquire nuclear weapons as automatically meriting military attack. In the past, South Africa, Argentina and several Middle Eastern states have attempted to become nuclear weapons states, as of course have Britain, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. The behaviour of North Korea’s government, although no doubt genuinely dangerous, is from the point of view of the Iraq crisis almost a satirical comment on a Republican administration’s irrational behaviour. Here are George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and their colleagues, waving their arms in the air and threatening war against a country, Iraq, which may or may not have nuclear weapons in the future, while at the same time being jolted into belated attention by an equally nasty dictatorship that openly proclaims its determination to acquire nuclear weapons and seems far closer than Iraq to getting there. Rumsfeld’s explanation, that the United States could fight both North Korea and Iraq at the same time, while no doubt true, only shows how far removed from the realities of the world outside the Washington Beltway he and his friends are. How many wars does the United States want to fight? Of course the United States spends more — something like thirty times more, according to unofficial American calculations — than its half-dozen most likely antagonists put together. Of course, America could annihilate any other nation in the world. To the rest of the world, that is — as Ronald Reagan said about government — not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
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Godfrey Hodgson is a distinguished print and television journalist, political commentator
and historian of the United States. Until recently Director of the Reuters Foundation Programme, Oxford University, he lives in Oxfordshire