Monday, August 12, 2002

I want to draw a few threads together and clarify some thinking that floats about the anti-war movement. And when I say anti-war, it’s pretty clear this means anti-American war.

Over the past 20 years there have been horrendous local wars, civil wars, uprisings, coups, repressions, crackdowns and other nastiness. At no stage have I ever seen a single march by any of the peace movement umbrella groups unless the US or the UK was involved. Iraq vs Iran – one million dead. FARC kills thousands of Colombian peasants yearly. It doesn’t matter to the peace crew, because there aren’t any white folks involved. Let the wogs kill each other, we have bigger fish to fry!

The arguments against pre-emption seem to boil down to a few basic scenarios.

1. We don’t have proof Iraq was involved in has nukes/bioweapons.
Since the only firm proof is the actual explosion of a nuclear device, this is a fairly high bar to set. Once he has a working device, the entire balance of power shifts towards Saddam. He is in a position to dictate terms to his neighbours, and the rest of the world. By threatening to smuggle nuclear bombs into Western cities, he has the ability to kill millions of citizens, and destabilise the world economy. For all intents and purposes he becomes impregnable to attack from within and without. Put simply, once he has nukes he will never be defeated without the use of nuclear weapons. The Iraqi people will suffer worse than ever before, and it will never end.

2. It will hurt the wheat trade
Excuse me? Did I hear people demanding that we resume trading with despotic mass murderers rather than injure our balance of payments? Where are the anti-apartheid warriors of yore? In the 80’s they led a worldwide campaign against South Africa, which to the best of my knowledge did not invade its neighbours, kill millions and use weapons of mass destruction. Now that the oppressor is non-white, the heat seems to have gone out of the issue. Could it be that the only bad guys that rate their attention are whities? That perhaps we shouldn’t hold others to the same standards? How racist is that?

3. The Government should not send young men to die if they’re not prepared to fight themselves.
Oh please. This is tired old 60’s claptrap with an air of “why can’t we all just get along” wishful thinking, and that has no place in discussions about matters that are a matter of life and death to millions. And frankly, unless you are prepared to put out your own house fires and investigate your own crimes, spouting this type of tripe proves you a hypocrite.

4. The US is the aggressor.
Firstly, this is not the US, it’s the UN. Secondly, this is a continuation of containment of aggression on Iraq’s part. Not once but twice he has invaded his neighbours, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Not the relatively few that died in the Gulf War. Saddam sent missiles into Israel, a country with no part whatsoever in the conflict, in a bid to widen the war and shake the coalition against him. Iraq was offered a conditional surrender and cease-fire to suspend hostilities. Not end, but suspend. Think of Iraq as a parole violator. When someone violates parole, their sentence is re-imposed.

5. It’s all about the oil.
Well duh. That’s why Saddam invaded Kuwait in the first place. To get their oil. It’s the oil that delivered Saddam the means to make war on his neighbours in a manner that requires our intervention. Why would the US, or frankly anyone, care about a benighted, backwards part of the world, with an unpleasant climate, poor infrastructure and run by a group of violently right-wing religious governments? If the oil was not there, we would not care all that much. Same as we don’t care all that much about slavery in the Sudan, Syrian occupation of Lebanon or border disputes in Paraguay.

6. The US has no right to effect a change of government in a sovereign state.
Then I have one word for you: Yugoslavia.

7. Pre-emptive strikes are wrong.
When someone pulls a gun and points it at you, should the police wait until he fires before disarming him? Until they shoot, you have suffered no physical harm. Of course they don’t wait, because a crime as been committed. Legally, a threat is assault. The punch/gunshot/nuclear strike is battery. If a police officer shoots someone threatening you with a gun, technically that is a pre-emptive strike. It’s justified because the law views the consequences of waiting to be too high to justify that standard of proof. And when our government is dealing with threats against millions of our citizens, then the stakes rise exponentially. The issue here is the continued existence of millions of humans, none of whom have done anything to deserve death by nuclear incineration.

8. We don’t know what will replace Saddam. Destabilisation is to be avoided.
It’s difficult to imagine how it could be worse. The region is not stable now, it is tipping. To wait means only that it tips further. He will never be replaced by unassisted internal revolution, and his neighbours will not act. He will stay in place until he is replaced by his psychotic sons, or we remove him. More of the same gets you more of the same.

Now why should we go in? What justification is there to back the US, or the UN, in a war to replace Saddam. What is the alternative?

That Saddam is a threat to his neighbours is beyond doubt. He has repeatedly invaded, bombed, gassed, shot and executed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Kurds, Kuwaitis and Iraqis. He has manufactured and used weapons of mass destruction, the only time since World War Two that they have been used. He has violated UN Resolutions on arms inspections that were a condition of the cease-fire at the end of the Gulf War.

Defence planning is always based around capacities, as much as actual hardware. Someone with the means to make a nuke is almost as much of a threat as someone with a working device. Indeed, in some ways more of a threat, since the existing players have presumably reached an accord. A new player destabilises the equilibrium, affecting all others. Our decisions on invasion are not based on Saddam actually having a bomb, since, as I said before, by then it will be too late. Saddam will be able to own the entire Middle East, by virtue of threatening to annihilate the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. No-one in the region will stand up to him, for fear of the consequences.

Deterrence is not really an option either, for two reasons. Firstly, deterrence only works if your opponent is a rational player. That is, he has a reasonable regard for his own welfare, and accepts that your response will not justify his possible gains. Since Saddam gains a measure of victory merely by existing, he will see only upside to threats to use the weapons.

Also, I think there are reasonable questions over his sanity, and his grasp on objective reality outside his intensely clannish and sycophantic ruling clique. There is a saying in Tikrit, his home town: “I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the world”. He has systematically liquidated anyone who questions his rule, or his decisions. The man shoots people during Cabinet meetings. Do you really think he’s getting much reliable advice? If you’re an Iraqi Minister, do you risk certain death, along with your extended family, by standing up to him, or do you roll the dice on what the Americans might do?

Secondly, deterrence only works if your opponent truly believes you will act on the threat. That you will back up your rhetoric with action. Imagine two men with a gun at each other’s head. If one is certain that the other guy’s weapon is unloaded, what’s to stop him pulling the trigger?

If Saddam acquires working nuclear weapons, then the only way he can move forward is to call our bluff. We will draw a line in the sand, and he will cross it. We will respond with massive force, short of nuclear weapons. Saddam will threaten to use the nukes against our civilian population. We will warn him that the result will be the flattening of Baghdad.

At this point, Saddam can do one of two things: surrender or launch. If he surrenders, he knows that he will not live to see out the month. If the mob doesn’t tear him apart, he will be quickly tried and executed. So from a personal point of view, he has absolutely nothing to lose. And the people surrounding him are in the same boat. They are all implicated in his murderous regime, and they know they will all go down with him. So they have little incentive to stop him pushing the button. After all, the West might still back off. They did once, didn’t they?

So he launches. This will be in the form of a nuclear missile attack on Israel, and a smuggled bomb and/or biological and chemical weapons planted in Western cities. At that point, the US, France, Israel, the UK and probably Russia will launch overwhelming strikes against Iraq. The entire population will be killed, the region devastated. The fallout will travel over Iraq’s neighbours, allowing Saddam to inflict one more injury. Tens of millions of people will die horribly, because we failed to recognise that threats have to be met with force before they become actions.

A few years ago, I served on the jury at the trial of a big-time heroin importer. When we looked at the evidence, one of the things that stood out was that they guy had never acted as anything but a drug dealer. At every stage he always chose the path that fitted the crime.

Saddam has never behaved as anything other than a bloodthirsty despot, intent of remaining in power at any cost to his own people or the world. He is a mass murderer of children and innocents, a wilful polluter on a scale seldom seen before, a threat to his neighbours, and a danger to us. Removing him is a positive good.

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