I have left it a long time to express my opinion about the forthcoming Gulf War II. Believe me, it isn’t that I don’t have an opinion. However, I’ve been listening to all the propaganda and trying to work out the facts. There is no unbiased news on this topic, so the best one can hope to do is to read as widely as possible and hope that the truth is hidden somewhere in that vast corpus of obscured data.
Today, I hear on the news that troops will be in place and ready to attack by next week. I get the feeling that, up until now, we have only been waiting while the US and UK get ready, and that nothing makes any difference to the inevitability of war. Maybe Saddam thinks so too, in which case he might also surmise that it is better to hold onto his weapons and fight than to give them away and be attacked anyway. That really doesn’t bode well.
There are many accounts of the historical background of Gulf War I around, and I’m not going to repeat everything here. I’m just going to address the things that concern me about the “case for war.”
LegitimacyAttacking Iraq now would not be a response to attack, but a preemptive strike against a perceived danger. Preemption would be a violation both of the philosophical concept of a “just war” and of international law.
If an attack takes place without a UN resolution, then it cannot be considered legitimate. I realise that the American government claims justification under the resolution that ended the previous war, but given the wide range of differing opinions on this, it cannot be considered to be an authoritative mandate. If an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation (no matter how despicable its internal politics) can be legitimised, then surely only the highest authority can do so. Even if America is the world’s policeman, he must have the backing of the world. Otherwise, the only law is that of the bully. Whilst that may benefit America as the strongest nation around, the consequences for everyone else would be dire.
The threats of the British and American governments to ignore an “unreasonable veto” raises profound and disturbing doubts about the extent of their commitment to the rule of law. If your justification for disarming Iraq rests on UN authority, you had better respect that authority yourself.
AppeasementInevitably in any heated discussion, Hitler is invoked. “Appeasement!” is the accusation. Well, lets look back at the history of Nobel Peace Prize nominee (really!) Adolf Hitler. It would be nice to think that we went to war to save the European Jews, but it doesn’t stand up to inspection. In fact, there was strong support in Britain for turning away the Jewish refugees from the Third Reich. (Then, as now, the British national psyche has proven itself to have an ugly xenophobic streak.) It wasn’t until the German invasion of Poland that Britain entered the war. And as for the Americans? They didn’t even turn up in Europe until a few years later. Not our problem, they said, even as their ships were sunk in the Atlantic.
In the present day, however, what does appeasement really mean? Significantly, accusations of appeasement carry with them the automatic assumption that war is necessary and effective; that it is the only solution. Is it?
Collateral DamageIf you watched TV at the time of Gulf War I, you’ll have seen a lot of precision bombing footage. However, we never really heard anything about the large number of conventional bombs. The ones you just drop; the ones that get blown astray by the wind; the ones that cause “collateral damage”; the ones that apparently made up the majority of the bombs dropped. This time, too, we won’t see all the horrifying
effects of military action, just the ones that look good on TV and make it past the censors. But that shouldn’t lead anyone to think that war is clean or bloodless.
It seems impossible to find out how many people were killed in the last Gulf War, with widely ranging estimates. Credible figures seem to place Iraqi military personnel killed in the tens of thousands. That’s a lot of people. I wonder how many of them were volunteers, and how many conscripts.
People will die. Not just from bombs, of course, but also from side effects. Lack of electricity, food and sanitation. Is the death and destruction that will definitely be caused by a war justified by the potential danger we face? This is not an abstract concept, but the real prospect of killing a large number of people in an action that attracts a large amount of skepticism around the world.
Motivation and TimingThe biggest question for me is, why now? There seems to be nothing new in the behaviour of Saddam Hussein or the Iraqi government that wasn’t there five or ten years ago. What has changed?
One, September 11th 2001. Seeing America, I get the impression of a large and wounded grizzly bear, lurching around in search of a target for its pain and anger. Afghanistan had a strong circumstantial connection to the terrorist attacks, but there’s nothing left to bomb there. The dubious claims of Iraq-Al Qaeda links strengthen my sense of a nation in need of revenge, but unable to find the genuine perpetrator.
Two, George W Bush. The man may not actually be stupid, although it requires a leap of faith to ascribe an analytical and well informed mind to him. It would of course be cheap and unnecessary to point out his alleged former career as a coke snorting alcoholic, trading off his father’s name and connections to get into well remunerated positions in the oil industry. So I won’t. But there is some unfinished business here. Saddam, you’ll recall, is the man who tried to kill his dad.
I know that many people have tried to claim that this is a war about oil. I’m not convinced by that argument. Yes, Bush is an oil man, and the US has an incredible thirst for oil. There would definitely be financial and strategic advantages, but I can’t believe that to be the reason behind the push for war. On the other hand, I do wonder what the motivation is.
Where’s the evidence? When the British government plagiarises a student’s thesis and passes it off as an intelligence dossier, it’s hard to have any confidence. Beyond this, however, we have little to persuade us beyond “we have evidence, but we can’t tell you what it is.” But trust is low and ebbing lower with such ludicrous stunts. Colin Powell’s presentation of evidence was also somewhat unconvincing, in my opinion.
Naturally, I don’t want Iraq to possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But nor do I want to see weapons of mass destruction in the hands of North Korea, Russia, India and Pakistan. Or France, Britain and the US, for that matter. I am also worried about the efficacy of attacking. In the relatively smooth breakup of the Soviet Union, a large amount of nuclear and other weaponry went missing. What’s going to happen to Iraq’s alleged stockpiles?
While it may be noble to claim that “regime change” is necessary to bring democracy to Iraq, it’s disingenuous, especially if those planes are taking off from such a notable democracy (yeah, that’s sarcasm) as Saudi Arabia. The first Gulf War served to reinstall an oligarchy in Kuwait. And from what I hear, democracy isn’t working too well in Afghanistan either, beyond the environs of the capital. I wonder if there will be any more assistance for Iraq than there was for Afghanistan after the initial victory.
FinallyI’ll try to tie it all up here.
It seems that there is no “smoking gun.” Although it is likely that Saddam Hussein has weapons that he is prohibited from having, there is no single action or piece of strong evidence that supports immediate military action.
A preemptive strike would be set a bad precedent.
The US and its allies seem to be presenting war as a fait accompli. Despite their protestations, I don’t believe that they believe that war can be avoided. Of course, it could be avoided, but by this stage, the consequences may be too serious for the politicians. They are committed to action. Can you imagine Mr Bush just calling all the troops home again?
When I consider the large number of people that are likely to be wounded and killed in any war, I can’t understand why there is such enthusiasm from certain politicians and commentators.
It’s possible that the US and UK governments have some significant information that they aren’t sharing with the populace, that would make a strong justification for war. However, unless or until I see it, I’m going to stick to my opinion that now is not the time for war.
However, if I were a betting man, I would—with regret—lay money on there being a war in the next month. Given the level of popular opposition to war, I think that it might really shake things up.