So This Is It. What Are We Going To Do About It?
20 March 2003
Should Britain help the US invade Iraq?
It is going to be hard fitting all the wide-ranging arguments into this one short article, but I will try. This may result in a few skips, jumps and brushes-over for which I apologise in advance. Feel free to contact me if your spleen needs venting too.
One point I won't discuss here is the fact that the war is not supported by the nation, and therefore Mr. Blair should not support war, as a representative of the people. It is an inherent problem with the practicalities of democracy that the public only periodically have direct power over politicians. Even if the nation feels that we have been let down by Labour over Iraq, and that issue is the most important above all others, we still must wait until 2006 before we can un-elect them. That apart, the arguments I lay out here apply whether or not you are the Prime Minister, or Little Johnny No-Shoes. If they are valid, then they are as much an argument for the government to pull back its troops, as they are a call for the rest of us to get out there and try and do something about it.
Let us quickly skim over the varied arguments for war. I will avoid the details, because I haven't many words to spare. Weapons of Mass Destruction: pure possession can not be an argument, otherwise the net should be cast far wider, and much closer to home. Saddam is in league with terrorists: No links have ever been shown. Also, the fact that Iraq had a big bloody war with Iran, the home of the Ayatollah, will not score many points for Saddam with Muslim fundamentalists.
I just saw Tony Blair repeat his mantra that the purpose of the war is to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction. He must have forgotten that the Americans are running this show, and they've effectively discounted this argument by offering peace if Saddam and his family go into exile. What then happens to the weapons of mass destruction? Who takes Saddam's place? If only logic played a role in political argument...
I'll also quickly dispense with a load of old tripe that has been dished out over the past few days and weeks: Europe has not gone through the "psychological paradigm shift" that America has post September 11th. If anything, those attacks brought America into line with everyone else - how many other countries have undergone terrorist attacks or even war on their own soil. Just because the United States has only just woken up to the possibility that their actions overseas may have dire consequences at home, does not mean that the rest of the world has to take on their knee-jerk paranoia and school-yard bully aggression.
Another argument I've heard recently is that the Iraqi regime is nasty, and we have the possibility to remove it, so we should. Pure convenience can never be an excuse for an action. Or is the implication that the United States and Britain would also like in invade China, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan and possibly France, and are only stopped by inconvenient obstacles? In GWB's mind maybe. But convenience can not be purely an argument for war. I will return to this point later.
To round off this quick-fire session of poor arguments for war is the one which says that Iraq has defied UN resolutions, and therefore must be punished. Only in my most utopian dreams could I believe that this could be a morally-valid pre-text to war. The fact that the "coalition" has completely abandoned the UN as a route to a solution shows that this is no valid argument. By going to war, the US and UK are themselves defying the UN.
The only argument I've heard that remains is the argument for war as a way to liberate oppressed Iraqis. I will side-step the difficult ethical position of one value set being imposed on another by admitting that the Iraqi regime is very nasty, and that a democratic alternative is undoubtedly desirable. But again, the arguments here are similar to ones given before: if this is to be the argument for war, then surely it must also be the argument for a hundred more wars. Consistency of application is the core tenet of fairness.
I return now to the point of convenience above. This is an argument that seems to remain valid: Iraq is a nasty regime that we have the opportunity to change through military force, and probably get away with it, and therefore we should go to war. In the context of this article so far, this sounds reasonable, especially since I will avoid the mire of trying to weigh up the value of the lives we are liberating against those whose lives we will extinguish in the course of liberation. Instead of looking in more detail, I will take a step back:
Tony Blair has given the almost laughable argument that by supporting America in its invasion of Iraq, we are discouraging US unilateralism. This is technically true in the fact that because we are going to war too, the overall operation is multilateral. An implication of this argument is that if we didn't support America, then it would take unilateral action against Iraq. That is almost certainly true, especially given the current US administration. His consideration must be this: to support America and therefore create a multilateral operation gives it some sort of international credibility. If the US went for it alone, it would prove once and for all that the rest of the world is powerless to stand up to the last remaining superpower. Instead, we will let America do its thing, give it the impression of respectability, and the rest of the world can get on with living.
Now if anything sounds like the reasoning of the Appeasers, that does. If we let this very big power invade other countries with a mask of legitimacy, then hopefully it will all blow over in a few years time, probably when the prodigal son gets himself unelected. That taken, I ask this: what would it take for Britain to oppose America in a foreign campaign - where do they cross the line between legitimate action and illegal war?
The post-Cold War international paradigm is unbalanced, and therefore unstable. Any economist will tell you that a monopoly is unfair, and the same applies to international power. This disequilibrium will eventually correct itself, and the longer the monopoly on power persists, the more painful the shift will be in the future. It is impossible for statesmen by themselves to solve this situation, with the unlikely exception of a sensitive regime in the US occurring and reversing these trends. In the long-term, the only two possibilities I can see of a rebalancing of power are from the military strengthening of the European Union, or a re-structuring of the United Nations Security Council. The latter is highly unlikely, given the structure of vetoes, so my only hope lies within Europe. I take it as a positive sign that Europe has been a vocal source of opposition to this war, and I hope this is a sign of changes to come.
It is these final points that I must believe are going through Tony Blair's mind. Either that or he has been blinded by his own rhetoric and the Christian fundamentalism of the US President. I fear Mr Blair has been, as with many UK Prime Ministers, made drunk by passively smoking the power of the Oval Office.
Overall, the moral excuses for war we have been fed are at best inconsistent, illogical and hypocritical. The longer-term considerations of Tony Blair will only delay the inevitable re-balancing of the international balance of power. I have done my best to consider the moral arguments as they have been put to us by elected politicians. This careful consideration still leads me to the conclusion that this war is not justified.
And if you agree with me, then the only other possible cases for war are grabbing the oil wells, bloody revenge for 9-11, new Western imperialism, and daddy's unfinished business. I'll see you in Parliament Square.