Bad Man

So the finger-pointing about weapons of mass destruction rages on. Did Iraq have any? If so, where are they? If not, why did Saddam Hussein not co-operate with the inspectors? Did the British and American governments mislead their voters about the evidence? Did the intelligence services mislead the governments? We await further information with bated breath.

In the meantime, though, the pro-war lobby has fallen back on Plan B to justify the whole exercise: Saddam Hussein was a Bad Man. He did Bad Things to the people of Iraq. So we were justified in removing him. For short, I’ll call this the Bad Man doctrine.

The Bad Man doctrine is very appealing. It purports to make the world a better place by removing tyrannical regimes and replacing them with kinder, gentler ones. It is illegal, of course, under international law, but so are so many things that go on in politics.

But there are two very fundamental objections that I can see to the Bad Man doctrine.

  1. The first problem is that one country’s Bad Man is another country’s strong leader, doing the difficult thing in difficult times. Who’s the Bad Man in the Israel-Palestine conflict, for instance? We saw this a lot in the Cold War, when the definition of a Bad Man was mostly based on the political and economic ties between his opposition and the country doing the judging. This led to democratically elected but communist leaders like Allende being deposed for capitalist tyrants like Pinochet. Nor were the Soviet policies any more defensible: think Prague Spring, for instance.
  2. The second difficulty is that, even if we can agree a definition of a Bad Man that is more based in the interests of his victims than his politics or personal fortune, what do we do about it? There is no country in the world with the desire or the resources to sort out every murderous regime in the world. The Coalition of the Willing, for disparate reasons, supported the invasion of Iraq. How big a Coalition are we going to get to displace Mugabi from Zimbabwe, or the military junta in Burma? Unless the Bad Man doctrine is enforced consistently, it’s like the loitering and vagrancy laws in some American states – an excuse for pursuing private agendas, or for arresting people on insufficient evidence. We’d have to invent a Really Bad Man doctrine, and then we’d be back at problem one again.

Count me out.

I’d rather we faced the situation and told the truth. If there were no weapons of mass destruction, then the coalition has egg on its face. If there were, then we can debate the legalities of the war as it was presented to us. And if the politicians lied to the people, or the spooks lied to the politicians, then it’s time for some heads to roll.

(Don’t get me started on the Doctrine of Preemption…)