War & politics: Sept 11th, bin Laden, Middle East news, from my own perspective.
My reply to the Guardian's leaderMr Blair goes to Washington today. Unlike Mr Smith, the famous Frank Capra movie hero who made a similar journey in 1939, Mr Blair will be no naive newcomer, no greenhorn in the corridors of power. Yet like the James Stewart character, Mr Blair is an idealist. His desire is to do the right thing. For Mr Blair, doing good makes for good politics; more viscerally, his instincts flow from moral imperatives. Our prime minister is not lacking in pragmatism. But ardent faith more than cold reason informs his world view. "The values we stand for (are) freedom, human rights, the rule of law, democracy... all universal values," Mr Blair told Britain's ambassadors this month. "But they have to be pursued alongside another value: justice, the belief in opportunity for all." Without consensus on this, he argued, "the common threat is chaos".
And in Iraq's nepotistic society, ruled be fear, where the ordinary citizen knows that one wrong word will be passed on by busy-bodies and will lead to death possibly death for the person's family too. In despotic cultures, there is no freedom, human rights, law, democracy, justice nor opportunity. If Arab cultures think it right that they should be ruled through a feudal system of absolute power, no wonder they look at the Western civilisation and think it obscene, just like any person looking on a neighbour who has everything and not a care in the world. Jealously, a primitive emotion has done bad things throughout history. This time it is us the rich, carefree neighbour who reverses the jealousy, we must bring good to the suffering, whether they want it or not. We have to stop the jealousy, show that they too can have what we have. As Mr Blair travels to Washington, only hours away perhaps from a final decision to wage war against Iraq, he might reflect that in politics, as in life, the very best of intentions can often produce the very worst of results. Once safely aboard his plane, Mr Blair might consider the thought that cherished aspirations and relentless, rough-hewn reality frequently collide. Iraq is one such case. In seeking fervently and sincerely to do right thing for Britain and the world, Mr Blair could not be more wrong. Whether or not his error, if consummated with George Bush at Camp David tomorrow, proves disastrous will thereafter be largely beyond his control. If he opts for war at this juncture, his quest for universal justice may trigger the very chaos he most fears. If, scorning reasonable alternatives, he decides that military means are the only way forward at this point, he will not only be mistaken. He may also undermine the admirable values and the moral authority by which he sets such store.
When a good man stays silent. Enough of this, poncing around. Sadam has pissed the UN around for 15 years. He'll keep on doing it, and he'll keep on showing those nascent terrorists that there is a way. Individual nations can stand up and defy the rest of the world. Right now, this war is wrong because it weakens the very democracy for which we are summoned to fight. If democracy's good health were the arbiter, Mr Blair would not be currently blocking out the roaring surge of opposition in Britain and around the globe. There would be a free, prior parliamentary vote on any proposal to send troops into combat. Right now, the country is deeply divided on this question, the armed forces under-prepared and equipped, the aims blurred and unconvincing, the likely consequences as incalculable as they are potentially dire, and the exit strategy remains unrevealed. Right now, for the people of Iraq, war promises a still avoidable but otherwise dreadful harvest of death, a bumper crop of the cruelly maimed, the orphaned, the displaced and the crazed. War will mean a prospective destruction far in excess of that wrought in Afghanistan in 2001.
It is not a roaring surge of opposition. It is fear of, for once, doing the right thing. Hey, why worry, it's so far over there, it's only Arabs who are suffering under Sadam's regime, suffering under sanctions. Anyway if we poke him in the eye, all his mates are going to get us. Let's stay quiet, and let him get on with his business. We need to inform the UK and world public, to remind them who Sadam and his henchmen really are. To show that this is for the good of that nation, and for the survival of our culture. The aims are simple. Oust Sadam. Reinstate democracy. With over overwhelming might it can be done, and it can be done quickly and hopefully without too much damage to the citizens. It is their war mongers inside Iraq that have the most to fear from the US/UK forces. But they also have to fear their own forces turning on them. And this is the easiest way out for the man in the street, speak up now. Right now the likely consequences of doing nothing is as incalculable as they are potentially dire. We will show weakness and this will allow the battle to come to us. This is a simple operation. We know that all of the Arab countries, although only the power brokers, and not the man in the street, and have been bribed and goaded by the US's might, but all are alongside our view that Sadam must be ousted. It is only Sadam and his henchmen that want to cling to power. War at this time is wrong because, given Iraq's currently unresolved, ambiguous circumstances, it is not a remotely justifiable or sensible way to conduct our affairs. Does anybody honestly believe that if Baghdad falls to US armour and Saddam is dethroned, that will be the end of the story? Those who enthusiastically support an attack may yet have their "victory day". But even as they turn away in tricked-out triumph, and turn away they surely will, as after the one-day wonder of Kabul's capitulation, the real problems will begin in earnest.
I hope it is not the end of the story, and, this time it won't. 9/11 has woken us up to the stupidity of ignoring the rest of the world. Turn away from all that oil? All those Muslim schools teaching hatred? I doubt it. War cannot and should not always be avoided. Here is no argument for a blanket pacifism; this newspaper supported the Kosovo intervention and the 1991 Gulf conflict. But war must be a means of last resort, when all else fails. That moment has not yet come. It may never do so. War, as in Mr Bush's careless hands, must not be an option of choice, dubiously decreed, pre-emptively and partially prosecuted, and electorally exploited. Have we learned nothing from the past? Did history somehow stop on September 11? Are we, the British people, so vicariously panicked by the Bush administration's global fright that we forget the lessons of reconciliation, humility, tolerance and common sense belatedly grasped at the close of our own imperial era? This is not to be "anti-American". It is to be pro-American in that country's best, egalitarian tradition.
The lessons of reconciliation, humility, tolerance and common sense tell that to the North African terrorists. What grudge do they have? None, other than the usual fashionable hatred of all things non-Muslim. As he speeds across mid-Atlantic skies, pondering perhaps the "special relationship" that brought us to this pass, there are alternative state of the union messages that Mr Blair himself might deliver to his host. This policy is impolitic - because Britain's home and future lies within a unifying Europe, not with the US alone. This administration's multi-faceted importunity could yet force that long-avoided choice. It is inept - given the intensified Muslim anti-western resentment and retaliation that will surely result. It is foolish - in that it will at least delay and may wholly derail British and other efforts to achieve a more vital, pivotal settlement in Palestine.
The anti-western resentment is deep and well routed, already. Nothing we can do except crush it, and crush it hard. We need to ensure that 'it' never happens; no dirty bombs, no small scale gas attacks, or one mad man wandering around an airport with infected with smallpox. The US and ourselves need to be world policemen. Guaranteeing that this pandora's box is never opened wider. Hopefully one day we too will be able to put our weapons away. There will never be peace in Isreal while the Palestinians hold out hope that they can win the media with violence. While Sadam pays the families of 'martyrs.' While the situation in the middle east is so unstable. Even as he touches down, Mr Blair's journey will not be over. The prime minister should think again. This crisis is not primarily about Iraqi weapons of mass death, with which many more powerful, less circumscribed states are better armed. It is not primarily about fighting terrorism, despite the alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaida. But terrorists, our far deadlier foe, will doubtless make of it a new casus belli. For some sceptics, it is about oil, about dreams of American empire and a remade Middle East of Pentagon protectorates. But official hyperbole now rings as hollow as an Iraqi warhead. This war is not primarily about democracy or freedom, much as the Iraqi people deserve both. And it will most certainly not deliver justice for all. It is, fundamentally, about the wilful exercise of unrestrained global power, unfazed by considerations of international law, the principles of collective UN security, and the consequences for everyman. Iraq will form an awesome precedent for what Gerhard Schršder calls the "law of the jungle". Iraq is just the beginning.
The law of the jungle started with 9/11. For sure this will turn into a new crusade, it will have to, and in some ways it will be what Osama's gang always wanted. For the US to attack blindly, angering the rest of the Muslim world to take up arms. Good. Hopefully they'll gather together to fight, all the easier to wipe out. If they don't and fight an asymmetric war, a terrorist war, then we'll take up the style of the Israelis to defeat them, total, bloody recriminations. When Mr Blair finally arrives at Camp David, his choice is plain. Like Mr Smith, he can cling to his endangering, ideal vision of a world forcibly, imperiously and imperviously improved. Or, at last gasp, he can banish illusion. Britain should back the UN route of inspections, containment and diplomacy. It should withhold support for unilateral US action. It's the right thing to do. Or else, at home as well as overseas, chaos threatens.
Chaos is already at our door step with much more to come. It would be nice to bring the UN along with us, but once battle is joined it won't matter.