Monday, March 28, 2005


Two Years on.

Two years ago yesterday, I posted the following as my view of the Iraq war. I'd like to revisit it.

Why the UN is to blame for the 2003 Iraq War
Responsibility for this war lies squarely with the UN, despite the last-minute chickening-out. If the UN Security Council had wanted to establish peaceful relations between Saddam Hussein and the rest of the world (which would have been a Good Thing), it wouldn't have set up the stupid "safe havens". You can't make peace with a government while you're protecting a rebel army inside that government's own territory. The only options are
  1. Leave things as they were and wait for Saddam Hussein to find some way of getting revenge on us.
  2. Pull right out and let Saddam Hussein take control of the Kurdish areas, thereby showing up the half-hearted assertiveness of 1991 for what it was.
  3. End the whole mess by changing the government of Iraq by military means.
The UN Security Council plumped for option 1. I favour option 2, but I can see that politicians might see it as politically impossible to watch the Kurds get cut to ribbons again as a result of international dithering. Bush went for 3, which would be my second choice.
Is option 1 so bad? Or, to put it another way, is pre-emptive self-defence the real reason for the war? I think it is.
I have to admit a couple of things first: We have seen no evidence of any friendly contact between the Iraqi regime and anti-US terrorists. They are by no means natural allies; quite the contrary. And secondly, much of the propoganda on WMD's has been misleading or dishonest. Sure, Iraq is months away from making nuclear weapons (if someone else gives them fissionable material). The same goes for the Sons of Glendwyr — getting fissionable material is the only difficult bit.
Having accepted those, let me make the case: Both Saddam Hussein and bin Laden are prepared to make alliances of convenience across ideological barriers. As an example, they have both previously been allies of the U.S.A (against Iran and the U.S.S.R. respectively). There is no question that the U.S.A is now the number one enemy for them both. It is possible that Iraq can be indefinitely prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is not possible that Iraq can be indefinitely prevented from manufacturing chemical and biological weapons. If the current UN-sponsored policy of antagonising but not destroying the Iraqi regime is continued for years, it seems plausible or even likely that at some point Saddam Hussein would supply anti-U.S.A. terrorists with chemical or biological weapons. Bush chose war rather than accept this risk, and I understand and respect that.
This crisis came about as a direct result of UN policy. At the end of the 1991 Gulf war there was an argument. Some people wanted to remove Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. Others opposed this either because they felt it would have bad effects on the region as a whole, or more simply because it would cause unnecessary bloodshed. It was decided, in my view rightly, to end the war with the restoration of Kuwait.
Many who opposed an invasion of Iraq nevertheless hoped that Saddam Hussein would be overthrown. Part of the Iraqi population was already in revolt, and it seemed an easy and harmless thing to help things along a bit. The Iraqi security forces could be prevented from wiping out the rebellion by establishing safe areas and "No-fly zones", which could be justified on humanitarian grounds in any event.
Unfortunately the idea, approved by the UN Security Council, was not thought through. Carried away by the prospect of getting Saddam Hussein overthrown "for free", the long-term situation in the case that the rebellion was unsuccessful was ignored. The United Nations, a body whose purpose is peace, and empowered to sanction war only to prevent wider war, was in fact ordering a perpetual war. It is an act of war to send armed forces into another country to protect a rebel army. The U.S.A. and U.K. have, with U.N. backing, been waging war against Iraq every day for over a decade. This situation should never have been created. Once it was decided in 1991 to allow the Iraqi regime to stay in power, then for consistency's sake Iraq should have been accorded the full sovereign rights of any other country, including the right to use force against "traitors" in its territory.
If I had made this argument at the time (which I didn't), I am sure I would have found little agreement. I would have been told that I was putting inappropriate and outdated principles ahead of the lives of innocent people. It is only with hindsight that we can see what has come of the denial of the basic principle of Iraq's sovereignty. The twelve year war against Iraq, with its blockades ("sanctions"), its bombings and its imminent bitter end has claimed more innocent lives than either of the two logical alternatives in 1991 would have done, even without taking into account that it was the immediate provocation for the worst terrorist massacre in history.
At its root is arrogance. GWB has been widely accused of arrogance in recent weeks, but nothing has matched the arrogance of his father and his UN supporters in believing that they could expect peace and cooperation from a foreign government while openly attempting to overthrow it in defiance of its traditional sovereign rights. GWB has the humility to recognise that to interfere in Iraq to the extent of inspecting its chemical factories and limiting the actions its security forces, he must fight a war, take the responsibility and take the consequences. The UN Security Council still has the arrogance to believe it can achieve the same ends without bloodshed.
If one effect of this crisis is to reduce the power and effectiveness of the United Nations, then I will consider that to be one small blessing come out of the catastrophe.
Two years on, I see little to revise. Talking about the "imminent" end of the 12-year war could be said to be mistaken, but the war since 1991 was against the regime of Saddam Hussein. I repeated the error I criticised in others by not thinking carefully enough about the longer-term effects of the then-current policy. To the extent that the post-conquest violence has been worse than anticipated, that is a further point in favour what was my recommended policy, attempting to bring Saddam over as an ally against the Islamists. On the other hand, if the Bush strategy of democracy spreading from Iraq to other parts of the region succeeds, as seems possible, that would justify the approach actually taken.
What I still stand by is that what I call the "Cook doctrine" (because Robin Cook defended it in his resignation speech), that the "containment" of Iraq was a success and should have been continued, was both morally and strategically indefensible. The plan of keeping Iraq too poor and backward to constitute a threat should be called the "Irish Famine Strategy", in recognition of its successful implementation in 19th century Ireland. The point is not to kill millions with hunger and disease; that's just the inevitable by-product of deliberately imposing poverty on a country. And that would have been the result of success. Failure would have been worse.
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