The British Government today released its dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The cabinet saw it yesterday, but MPs were given it at the same time as everyone else: 08:00, a generous three hours before the day-long debate started in the House Of Commons.
For the most part, the document gives a fairly factual description of Iraq’s capabilities in the area of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. (I guess politicians like this term so much because “Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear weapons” could serve as a reminder that Britain and the US have all three. Oops! Mustn’t get the cattle thinking about double standards.)
But the document is not intended to be factual. It is intended to appear factual, while slipping inflammatory titbits under the radar of whoever is reading it. Titbits like the little sidebar on page 15, where a victim of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons describes how “[his] brothers and [his] wife had blood and vomit running from their noses and their mouths.”
Yes, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are terrible things. All nations of the world should give them up. But what purpose did that sidebar serve? To remind people–MPs, reporters, but primarily interested doubters who are willing to go to the trouble of reading the document rather than just the headlines–that Saddam Hussein is guilty of truly horrific crimes against humanity. It is intended to sway opinion.
But it is still not an argument for war. Certainly not one in which we strike first, and most definitely not one with the goal of “Regime Change”. Why not? Well, take a look at China. Nuclear weapons: check. Oppressive regime: check. Crimes against humanity, and an appalling human rights record: check, check. Why are we not pressing for war with China?
Because there are other factors involved. For one, there is the balance of military power. US forces could flatten Iraq’s army, no question about it. For that matter, Britain could probably do that on our own. But China? Hmm. They could fight back. They could cause us “unacceptable losses”. So one of the criteria for going to war with Iraq is that it’s a quick win. Go after the low-hanging fruit.
But there are plenty other small countries with armies that could be easily overrun by Western forces. So why are we not going after, say, Zimbabwe? Well here’s point two: we have no significant economic interest in Zimbabwe. Mad Bob Mugabe does his best to antagonize Western leaders who disapprove of his regime, but the sad fact is that the US has no real economic interest in Zimbabwe. So there goes any hope of sending in troops to inflict regime change over there.
Regime Change… Why is this so important? Why is it not enough to forcibly remove Iraq’s weapons capability? The argument being put forward by Bush is that Saddam Hussein has a history of badness, and is likely to perpetrate even more badness until he is removed from power. This is name-calling. This is something out of a fairytale, where the dashing young price destroys the wicked king and marries his daughter.
In the real world, wars are primarily initiated for economic (i.e., selfish) reasons, and they are ended by the opposition defending itself, or more likely being defended by its allies. (Because you have to be pretty stoopid to start a war against a country that can kick your arse on its own.)
Terrorism has nothing to do with the campaign against Iraq. That card just came conveniently to hand after September 11th, and gave the US a nice opening bid. Chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons have nothing to do with it. “The United States is simply not going to allow the world’s worst leader to use the world’s worst weapons.” Uh-huh. This is yet another scare tactic: maybe terrorists are less of a threat now, but this appalling regime still is! Even the Blair dossier admits that Iraq has no nuclear weapons right now, and that its heftiest missiles could only reach Cyprus. Maybe.
No, it all comes down to money again, and oil. The US want to stamp their authority on the Middle East. By standing firm behind Israel, and threatening to stomp on Iraq, the US is saying: “We can pretty much do what we like here. We’re going to make you our biatches. We’re going to 0wnz0r j00.”
But because it is nowadays considered unacceptable to start a war for economic reasons (it didn’t used to be; I wonder why the change?), we now need a rationale. We need a justification to make us think that we’re doing the right thing. We need to be the good guys. We need to have righteous indignation on our side. We need to fight evil, yeah! We need a UN Resolution, cool!
A UN Resolution? Since when did the US acknowledge the UN’s authority over international affairs?
This is the next move in the political game. This may even be the endgame as far as some people are concerned. Bush has been drawn so far down the road of war that he has to find some way to go ahead with it. He doesn’t have equivocal support to move on his own terms. Fortunately, the majority of Americans have the sense to see that unilateral action without an international mandate would be utterly disastrous. But the propaganda machine has driven the Western world so far that no action is also not acceptable. So the compromise is military action, but with a UN mandate.
And not: weapons inspectors under a UN mandate. That will merely be the first step. And this UN mandate will come. There is no way that the US will allow it not to. There is also no way that the US will allow the resolution to be worded in such a way that Iraq can comply with it fully. Regrettably, Saddam Hussein will probably help the US’s cause by prevaricating and generally obstructing any inspectors from doing their jobs properly. And then the bombs start to fall.
Right now, it looks like the only way to get the majority of the British and US public on-side is to make sure that any military action has the backing of the UN. And in order for military action to occur, the resolutions must be broken.
I think that many people will be happy with this. Even people who right now are speaking out against war, and who may be attending the protest march on Saturday. It’s really hard to maintain a principled and solid stance against war when the enemy is a regime as cruel as Saddam Hussein’s. As Tony Blair said to parliament today, “The one thing I find odd are people who can find the notion of regime change in Iraq somehow distasteful. Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing.” And he’s right: it would be. But not by force. (The MP who asked Blair the question about regime change wanted to know if we would pursue military action with the goal of regime change. Blair didn’t answer that question.)
For the sting in the tail, let me now go back to a point I mentioned a few paragraphs ago: getting the US to acknowledge the UN’s authority over this sorry situation. First, Bush thought he would get everyone on board his war train with rhetoric and fear. That didn’t fly. Then he said he the US would go it alone, if necessary. His electorate aren’t happy with that, either. And Bush has to go to war. Not doing so would be political suicide. But the people say that the only way he can go to war is by UN mandate.
Do you think that the UN will grant him this mandate without wringing concessions from his clenched fist? What the concessions will be, we can only wait and see. Acknowledgement that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over US citizens would be nice, but given that Bush explicitly ruled this out in last week’s National Security Strategy, that would probably be too much of a U-turn. No, it’ll take months, if not years for any changes to become apparent.
Finally, there is still a chance that war can be prevented. Saddam Hussein has to give in completely. He has to follow all UN resolutions, new and old, to the letter, and do a damn good job of pretending to be down with the spirit of them, too. Even that may not be enough. But it’s the only chance to stop the war before thousands of people are killed.
That is what the politicians would rather we forget. Innocent people dying as a result of our actions. A UN mandate doesn’t suddenly put a stop to “civilian casualties.” Allowing the UN to legitimise military action does not make their deaths any less our fault. You may decide that those “losses” are “acceptable” in order to have Saddam Hussein removed from power. But ask yourself where you draw the line? A hundred people? A hundred children? How about if you had to be the one to tell their families that they had to die in order to oust the dictator?
I know that this argument can be turned back against me: How many deaths will be caused by Saddam Hussein if we do nothing? Will we be any less to blame if Saddam Hussein decides, at some point in the future, to kill more of his citizens with his chemical weapons?
But doing nothing is not the option I’m advocating. We must seek diplomatic solutions to this problem. We must find ways of working with Iraq, and ways of convincing Hussein that it is in his best interest not to perpetrate violence. There must be a way.
I don’t remember the exact quote, but I think it was Lois McMaster Bujold who invited us to wonder what it would be like if conflicting nations put as much money, effort, and resources into diplomacy as they do into the machinery of war. Surely that is what we should be striving for.