Crusading Alone Against Iraq

Washington's crusade against Iraq is worrying, and so is the British New Labour Party's seemingly automatic agreement with President Bush's rabid hawks. However, there is an equally interesting question for fellow worriers about the faith-based warriors of Washington. In principle, what is wrong with overthrowing a tyrant who has used chemical weapons against his own people, invaded two neighbouring countries, and runs one of the most ruthless and efficiently repressive regimes in the world?

However, there is no evidence whatsoever that he was involved in the events of Sept. 11. And our own laws frown upon vigilante action. We need institutions to police our societies and the same is true internationally. Having the UN Security Council approve action against Iraq would be a good source of international legitimacy, although not foolproof. The majority of the world community and all Europe wanted action against Slobodan Milosevic. Washington kept the issue to the UN because of a possible Russian veto, although the Security Council ratified the results of the intervention afterwards.

In fact, Russian diplomats claim that the Americans never asked them and Moscow may not have used the veto. This is somewhat disingenuous, but even so, it is worth remembering in the context of the current crusade that for a long time "American Diplomacy" has been an oxymoron on a par with "Iraqi democracy." The Russian veto threat was in part an attempt to get Washington to pay some respect.

Which brings us to Iraq. The Iraqi dictator is almost certainly cooking up a witches' brew of chemical, biological and very likely nuclear weapons and keeping out inspectors in defiance not only of UN Resolutions that he accepted to save his hide ten years ago, but also of the treaties he had voluntarily signed before. His callousness about his own people's welfare under sanctions more than matches the ruthless insouciance of Madeleine Albright.

However, in the rest of the world, and especially Europe, only Britain has offered total support for the Bush push on Baghdad. When Vice President Dick Cheney went to rally the Arabs to support the march on Baghdad, he began with an assumption of total support. He heard differently. Among other things, they told him to muzzle Sharon first.

It is profoundly disturbing that this was a surprise for the Bush administration. It implies a complete detachment from the rest of the world and reality. On a secondary level, it means that their most fervent ally, Tony Blair, has either not been talking to them; or what is equally disturbing, has not himself been listening to his own Foreign Office, or to the rest of the world, about Israel.

The truth is that the Israeli Prime Minister and the Iraqi President have much in common: a tendency to be around when civilians are massacred; a cavalier attitude to international borders; a tendency to think that military might will solve everything. In short they are both callous, self-righteous megalomaniacs, even though in mild mitigation, Sharon was elected and does not kill his own people (unless they are Israeli Arabs). He just sends them to die in Lebanon and the occupied territories..

It would indeed be disturbing if Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program, no matter how small. However, rational people should find it almost as disturbing that Sharon, with his record, has an undeclared nuclear arsenal much larger than anything Iraq can muster -- and that it was developed in conjunction with the South African apartheid regime. And Israel has defied more than a few UN resolutions itself.

So what's the point? It is that if the United Kingodom has any voice at all, it should be calling for due procedure and a Security Council vote before any action is taken against Iraq. To win that vote, Washington has to start persuading other countries. And the first and indispensable step for that is a commitment to secure peace between Israel and Palestinians, which could include a threat to withdraw financial and military aid to Israel, and to position international military observers, preferably including Americans, on the borders. What is more, those borders need to be very close to those in force before 1967.

This is not being anti-American or anti-Israeli. It is an act of true friendship to throw cold water on friends to calm them down when they are being irrational and showing signs of losing contact with reality. It would probably also please Colin Powell, who is finding it lonely to be the only person in the Bush administration who talks to foreigners about foreign policy.

Then that leaves the problem of Iraq. If not to appease the Gods and the pro-Israel lobby for Bush Senior's mistakes a decade ago, what is the purpose of the mooted military attack? What vision does Washington or its London echo offer the Iraqi people? The end of sanctions and an end to crippling reparations for a new democratic regime? Will they offer aid to rebuild a country that has been battered by both Ba'athists and bombs for so long? It would be nice to think so. But going on present form, such hopes seem, albeit in a different way, almost as faith-based as Washington's policies. We have yet to hear a coherent endgame, let alone a strategy for achieving it from Washington, let alone London.

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