Nick Cohen, an Observer/Guardian columnist (see below) who is way to the Left of the Labour Party mainstream and author of several books scathingly critical of Blair's social policies, writes this week about invading Iraq.
... He is in favour.
So are Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta and Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and the most popular Socialist politician in France. Add ex-Nation writer Christopher Hitchens, philosopher Pascal Bruckner and a few others including, uh, maybe myself, and can we say it's a (mini-)Movement, too?
Surely this discussion should not be taboo .
The only way to peace
Anti-war campaigners believe there is another way to be rid of Saddam. There isn't
Sunday March 2, 2003
Nothing fits. Old guides are useless. American Republicans talk of national liberation while the friends of freedom defend a barbaric status quo. Into the confusion steps José Ramos-Horta. The winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize doesn't help when he announces that war against Iraq may be necessary.
Ramos-Horta was once a hero of the Left. The cause of his East Timorese people was as close to its heart as that of the Iraqi Kurds it wept buckets for until Saddam became America's enemy. In 1975 General Suharto, the Indonesian dictator, secured permission from Henry Kissinger and President Ford to invade East Timor. Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people were murdered. Western governments did nothing to restrain Indonesia. They honoured its leaders and sold them arms.
Freedom came in 1999 when Australian and British troops confronted Indonesian-backed militias. The intervention was a sign of a new world which protesters stuck with Cold War slogans couldn't understand.
Ramos-Horta knows from terrible experience that the trouble with tyrants is that you can't vote them out. Like the leaders of the Iraqi opposition today, the East Timorese 'begged a foreign power to free us from oppression, by force if necessary,' he wrote in the New York Times last week. 'Saddam Hussein has dragged his people into at least two wars. He has used chemical weapons on them. He has killed hundreds of thousands of people and tortured and oppressed countless others. So why, in all of these demonstrations, did I not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq, the removal of the dictator and freedom for the Iraqis and the Kurdish people?'
I'm not sure that the global anti-war movement can answer his question. If you oppose war, you probably believe one or more of the following propositions.
'War is worse than tyranny.'
A tyranny is a form of war, as the Iraqis well know. If it could be shown that more innocent people may die in an assault - or by chemical weapons being dropped by Saddam - than could reasonably be expected to be killed if the regime is kept in place then war should be stopped.
Deserters from the Iraqi army provide a counter argument. They say their comrades won't fight because they don't want to die for Saddam Hussein. Only the murderers close to Saddam have a partial incentive to go down with him. They may hang from lampposts if their victims' relatives reach them before the Americans.
'American power is too great.'
You don't have to be on the Left to worry about a US which isn't satisfied with being the only superpower. America let the world know it wanted its dominion to increase when it began tearing up treaties. Opposing American hegemony is a respectable position, as long as you accept that the consequence is that Iraqis must remain under Saddam's tyranny.
'Our interests come first.'
The Little England case against war is coherent and honest. When asked why Iraqis must be tyrannised by Saddam, the Little Englander says he's sorry but it's not his problem. Iraq doesn't threaten Britain. Al-Qaeda does. If there is money to spare it should be spent on the security services. Many Labour critics of Tony Blair share this position but lack the nerve to be explicit. They have noticed that the PM has secured nothing from George Bush in return for Britain's unequivocal support.
Blair is in trouble because he's going against the deep history of the country. From the 1580s first England and then Britain fought the Habsburgs, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler. Until now Britain has always opposed any nation which threatened to dominate the world - unless that nation was Britain.
'Al-Qaeda will attack us.'
Anecdotes and radio phone-ins suggest that fear of a British 11 September is greater than mainstream media recognise. Taken to its logical conclusion, fear would prohibit the trial and conviction of al-Qaeda suspects because their imprisonment could provoke reprisals. The truth is al-Qaeda is a cult of death whose members would still want to kill us if Saddam was left alone. This isn't a comfort.
'Why poke a snake?'
If war were about oil, conservatives wouldn't oppose it. They worry that it will upset the established order in the Middle East, particularly if the Americans stand by the Iraqi opposition and allow democracy to grow.
'It's a war against Islam.'
In the name of defending Islam the mainly Muslim population of Iraq must be tyrannised by Saddam. The irrationality of this argument doesn't stop Muslims who resent alien interference feeling its force.
'There must be a better way.'
The imaginative failure of an anti-war movement which includes nearly every artiste in the country is a symptom of Britain's cultural impoverishment. My favourite protesters were the Royal Shakespeare Company actors who informed the world that their forthcoming performances of the Merry Wives of Windsor in Michigan would in no way imply that they supported war. Perhaps they will be able to imagine the desperation of Iraqis when they come to play Macbeth .
Four million have gone into exile because they can see no way forward for their country. (Reporters in Baghdad say that more will follow if he survives this crisis.) Every tactic has been tried and nothing has worked.
In the 1980s, the West did what many of today's protesters say it should do now and 'engaged' with Iraq. Saddam invaded Iran and devastated Kurdistan. Sanctions followed his invasion of Kuwait. The elite of apartheid South Africa preferred majority rule to sanctions which cut business off from the world economy. Incomparably harsher sanctions against Iraq have failed to budge Saddam. A tyranny exists to preserve the power of the tyrant, not to please the Chamber of Commerce.
All attempts at revolution have failed. Countless thousands were slaughtered in 1975, 1988, 1991 and 1996. Palace revo lutions met the same fate - Saddam's own sons-in-law couldn't get close enough to take a shot at him, and fled to Jordan. (Stupidly, they returned home and were murdered.) A CIA attempt to organise a coup by Republican Guard officers in 1996 was infiltrated by the secret police. Saddam let more and more men incriminate themselves before he pounced. Conspirators 'died under interrogation'.
'No, really, there must.'
Saddam is 65 and nature will one day do what man has so far failed to do and finish him off. Unfortunately, his sons Uday and Qusay have hands-on experience of running secret police forces and torture chambers and are ready to take over. There is a precedent. In Syria, the other Ba'athist regime, the tyrannical son succeeded the tyrannical father
If engagement, disengagement, sanctions, revolution, palace revolution, coup and natural death are likely to get nowhere, all that's left is...
The suggestion that the West should give the opposition heavy armour and air support is just another way of saying that war is the only answer for those who wish to free Iraq from Saddam. The threat of war may turn one of the men around him into an assassin who as Saddam's killer will be treated as a hero rather than an accomplice of tyranny. For this happy scenario to come to pass, the threat of war must be real. The same caveat applies to those who say weapons inspectors need more time and those who want human rights inspectors.
'They couldn't handle freedom.'
Otherwise scrupulous opponents of racism sigh that Iraqis can't find a way of living together. The Kurds, who have confounded their critics by building a successful autonomous state, will declare independence. (We won't, reply the Kurdish leaders, because the Turks and Iranians will invade if we do.) Shia Arabs who make up the majority of the population are said to be primitive theocrats. In a study for Foreign Affairs , Fouad Ajami replied that militant Shi'ism is dead. Even the Iranians would throw their mullahs from power if they could.
I can't see the future. All I know is that Yugoslavia was an aberration. From Siberia to Chile, most who have experienced state terror don't start civil wars when it is removed. Like José Ramos-Horta, they have learned that you must first rid yourself of tyrants and then prevent the conditions which allow their return.
'There is no moral case.'
Shall we take it from the top again?
Contact the author
Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
[ 03 March 2003: Message edited by: Geneva ]
[ 03 March 2003: Message edited by: Geneva ]