Meghan has prompted me to finally gather my thoughts on the Iraq war – due to start tonight. In her piece she attempts to clarify her own thinking, both for herself and for her readers. I too am attempting to take all I have read, in books and newspapers, and apply it to form an educated and reasonable opinion on the war that is about to begin.
I may quote heavily from various sources – and hope that such quotes will back the views I express. To make this article easy to digest – I will take a stance of dealing with each of the reasons that, according to the US, make war is necessary.
Firstly I will deal with the main point that Meghan brings up. She brings up the question of the person of Saddam himself – and weighs up his actions or lack thereof.
This leads me to the point that is commonly given by the US and UK – that ‘Saddam is an evil dictator, therefore war is necessary in order to change the regime.’
I do not believe that this is a valid reason for war. The argument says that we must remove Saddam because he is evil, he mistreats his people and evil dictators are bad. This is an essentially ethical question, and one of consistency.
If the US wishes to put this argument forward then we must ask: Was Saddam more, less, or just as evil, when the US was may have been arming him with chemical weapons during the 1980’s? Was Saddam as evil now, as he was when he attacked the people of HalabJa in 1988, afterwhich US food aid to Iraq increased.
“From 1982 Iraq became one of the biggest buyers of US rice and wheat – purchasing some $5.5 billion in crops and livestock with federally guaranteed loans and agricultural subsidies and its own hard cash”. Chomsky, Noam; Deterring Democracy, 195
In 1987 over 40% of Iraq’s food was imported from the United States and in 1989, one year after the massacre of rebels by Saddam, Iraq received $1 billion in loan assurances – the US also became the main market for Iraqi oil. The US barely reacted when purchased US helicopters were transferred to military use, used poison gas against Iranian troops and its own Kurdish citizens, and relocated half a million Kurds and Syrians by force, among other atrocities.
This is not to mention a man known to George W. Bush, Texan congressman Henry Gonzalez – former chairman of the House Banking Committee – who charged that an Atlanta based bank extended $3 billion in letters of credit to Iraq. Gonzalez also noted there was clear evidence that armaments, possibly including chemical weapons, were obtained by Iraq under the deal. And Gonzalez said:
“There is no question but those $3 billion were actually financing the invasion of Kuwait” “There is no question that the greater portion of that was dealing with armaments”
There is also a question of consistency. Are other evil regimes worldwide given the same disdain by the US, or were the supported – implicitly or explicitly – by US foreign policy? If the Saddam argument is the hold water, the same standards must apply worldwide. When the US ignored the plight of the people of East Timor – and allowed, tacitly, a dictator to invade an island, leading to the death of 250,000 people – it was another of Henry Kissingers great diplomaitc coups. But was that dictator not as evil as Saddam, and if so, why no invasion? There must be other reasoning at work here.
I do not believe the ‘Saddam is evil argument’. I think it is propaganda. Saddam is an evil man – but that is not the reason that the US is invading. If it were the US would have to be consistent, for example with Kim Jong Il, and other murderous thugs – both in the past and in the present. It would also have to be have been consistent in not supporting the same evil Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s – however it did. Or in the words of perhaps America’s greatest comedian, also a Texan, Bill Hicks:
You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know during the Persian Gulf war those intelligence reports would come out: “Iraq: incredible weapons – incredible weapons.” How do you know that? “Uh, well… We looked at the receipts Haar.” “Ah but as soon as that cheque clears, we’re going in.” “What time’s the bank open? 8? We’re going in at 9.” “We’re going in for God and country and democracy and here’s a foetus and he’s a Hitler. Whatever you fucking need, let’s go.
Also of interest to some readers may be a book by Lawrence LeShan called the Psychology of War. In it he makes the following point:
There are three ideas that, when they appear in society, should be regarded as signals that we are moving towards war ‘ and that it is time to take strong action against this drift.
1) The idea that there is a particular enemy nation that embodies evil. And that if it were defeated the world would become paradise. (it is the later part of this statement that is crucial as a danger signal. The first part may well be true ‘as with Tamerlane’s hordes or Hitler’s Germany).
2) The idea that taking action against this enemy (now the enemy) is the path to glory and to legendary heights of existence.
3) The idea that anyone who does not agree with this accepted wisdom is a traitor.
LeShan is a research psychologist and spent 5 years as a psychologist in the US army. I think his point drives home the propaganda machine prevalent today – it is important to portray your enemy as evil, and to show the war as the path to glory/freedom/democracy. But as LeShan notes – it is important we take strong action against this drift – we have failed to do that.
The third point is also important – and has been happening quite alot in the US. ‘You are either with us or against us’ to paraphrase Bush.
I dismiss the Saddam is evil argument – it is not the reason war is being waged. I shall have to dig deeper to find the real reason.
Second is the argument that Saddam is hiding weapons of mass destruction, and he must be disarmed. This argument presumes that Saddam still has such weapons – and that these weapons pose a threat to the West.
The UN weapons inspectors have consistently said there is no evidence of these weapons – but that a volume of weapons are unaccounted for. But whether Saddam has these weapons or not, we must ask the question, why now?
What has changed since the end of the last inspections regime in 1998, that has prompted the urgent disarming of Saddam? Bush would say September 11, and fear of proliferation of such weapons into the hands of terrorists.
I do not believe George Bush on this question. I believe that it has been the wish of the Bush administration to invade Iraq since the day of his (supposed) election. The chief hawks within the administration have long sought the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam, either for their own agendas or for the supposed safety of US interests.
Cited in several articles by various authors a letter sent to Bill Clinton in 1998 has made for some interesting reading.
On January 26 1998, these men wrote to President Clinton, urging him “to enunciate a new strategy”, namely “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power”. If Clinton failed to act, “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard”. They acknowledged that this doctrine would be opposed, but “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council”. Monbiot, George; The Guardian.
It seems they were right about the US not being ‘crippled’ by the UN security council. A council, incidentally, that the US spied on over the last 6 months.
Who are ‘these men’ mentioned by Monbiot? Among others they include: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad. All of whom are now senior members of the Bush administration. They are all members of a pressure group called the Project for a New American Century.
In a statement of principles signed by this group of men the following remarks were made:
“to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests”. This requires “a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities”.
Other signatories include author of The End of History Francis Fukuyama, Dan Quayle and Steve Forbes.
So the idea to invade Iraq and change the regime is not a new idea, nor one that was prompted by the events of September 11. Since invasion was, prima facia, a course of action decided long before September 11, we must ask what role the weapons issue does play.
What strikes me is the certainty with which Bush speaks where he talks about Iraqi weapons. If he is so certain, would it not be in his best interests to reveal just how he is so certain – and that any such information should have been passed on to UN weapons inspectors. Surely it would also be in Bush’s interest to reveal how he knows, purely to gain public backing. But then as Seneca noted:
Men are interested in the outcome of war, not its causes.
So I do not believe this war is about removing an evil dictator, I do not believe that the war is being fought to remove Iraqi weapons. I also do not believe the war is being fought to stop the proliferation of such weapons – the links to al-Qaeda are tenuous at best.
The two reasons I have dealt with are, I believe, the two main reasons that are being given. I disagree with both, so what is the reason for war? I believe it is for a number of reasons – many being the reasons most wars have been fought for millenia of human history – greed, power and wealth.
I do not undertand the reaction of some people who dismiss this idea – there has been no sea change in the nature of humanity since either the end of the first world war or the second. Nor has the nature of humanity changed since the end of the Cold War. War is fought for good old fashioned reasons – jingoistic or nationalist sentiment, resources, power, prestige. And that has been the way for literally thousands of years.
Read some Greek literature on the subject of war and you will find that it all sounds strikingly similar to the futility of the Great War in the 20th century.
As the Greek writer Euripides noted in the 5th century BC – 2,500 years ago –
We know what good, what evil is; how far peace outweighs war in benefits to man – peace, the chief friend and cherisher of the Muses; peace, the enemy of revenge, lover of families and children, patroness of wealth. Yet these blessings we viciously neglect, and embrace wars.
How far have we come since then? Not far at all. Indeed I do not think we have changed at all. The only thing that has changed is the power of the weaponry we use.
In his article in the Guardian on the impending war, Martin Amis wrote a stirring piece. It is not currently to be found on their website – but I will quote from it. He says the following of war:
There are two rules of war that have not yet been invalidated by the new world order. The first rule is that the belligerent nation must be fairly sure that its actions will make things better; the second rule is that the belligerent nation must be more or less certain that its actions won’t make things worse. America could perhaps claim to be satisfying the first rule (while admitting that the improvement may be only local and short term). It cannot begin to satisfy the second.
That is the crux of the issue for me – I believe the war may make things far worse – and will further embolden a US administration to carry out action wherever it sees fit, to ignore the United Nations, and to pursue its own interests without regard for the opinions of other nations, or global opinion.
The UN is now dead in the eyes of the United States – and for all intents and purposes the structure of international law that has been built up since Wilsonian times is now at an end.
I fear that we are now on the same slippery slope that prompted the end of the League of Nations – and without the UN, a vestige of global cooperation, humanity may be on a slippery slope to its own destruction.