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Saturday, March 20, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON The one site you should visit during this weekend is Harry's Place which is running a do-something-for-Iraq campaign, where you can put your money where your mouth is. That is, if, unlike me, you have any money. Otherwise have a look at this posting because it asks some good question about the way in which the right-left terminology doesn't give any indication as to how people view the war on terror and the operations in Iraq.

Talking of the war on terror, Michael Costello explains why we are a target no matter how we stand. Which is all that needs to be said. However, there is an aspect to this that bothers me, because I can't give myself a proper answer and I don't find it gets discussed: It's all very well saying that all Western and democratic countries are a target regardless of their foreign policy, but is it not possible that countries that keep a low profile will be put at the bottom of the target list, whereas those that stand together with their allies, aggressively fighting terrorists, sponsor states and rooting out safe-havens will be the first on the to-do-lists of our common enemies? Something to give some serious thought to, because this is the biggest argument in the ideological dimension of the West's response to al-Quaeda’ism, and it is not being sufficiently addressed.

As for the Iraq anniversary, the Guardian decided to give prime place of honour to Richard Overy. Overy once taught me 20th century history, and I have pleasant memories of someone who was highly professional and who you could really respect. That is why it pains me to say that his piece is an incredible pile of utter rubbish:

We must not accept our leaders' illegal occupation of a sovereign state

Except it's entirely legal, because even if you don't accept that the invasion itself was legal, the occupation was sanctioned and given the blessing of the UN.

There were, as any intelligent observer could have told them, no WMD, no centre of world terrorism, no aggressive intent.

Who are these "intelligent observers" then? It wasn't the UN and Hans Blix, it wasn't the German and French intelligence agencies, all of whom were convinced Saddam had the weapons or at least the programmes.
But the claim that there was no "aggressive intent" on behalf of Saddam? That is just such a risible claim and not borne out by anything of Saddamite Iraq's history, which was a history of dreams of regional domination achieved by brutal wars of aggression. Following the 1991 ceasefire Saddam's behaviour showed no sign whatsoever that he had suddenly changed his intent.

The attorney general has come clean on how he was forced to turn an illegal war into a lawful war of defence against the Iraqi threat.

!?!?! I missed that obviously. There were some theories that he may have changed his mind, but no evidence that he actually did, and that he changed his mind due to political meddling rather than changing circumstances. But one thing he certainly didn't do was "come clean". Where does Overy get his "facts" from?

Not once has [Tony Blair] expressed regret for what a dozen years of sanctions and war inflicted on the Iraqi people. Enough that his cause is just.

So Dickie, no to war, no to sanctions: would it have been better just to keep supplying Saddam with weapons, credits and diplomatic cover after he invaded Kuwait just like we tried assiduously to ignore his campaign against the Kurds in 1987/88, for which Saddam may still be found guilty of genocide for? Strange that Overy, who as a historian is a genius at bringing together a whole multiplicity of factors and different interpretations, fails to mention Saddam Hussein's regime even once in connection with this suffering of the Iraqi people.

I have had many arguments, too, about the vexed question of oil. The view that oil is some kind of Marxist red herring is widespread. But in this case there can be no other conclusion. Oil installations and oil lines were captured and guarded first; the oil ministry was protected while priceless art treasures were being ransacked. The second largest oil reserves are now safe once again for the wider world market and the global oil companies.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The oil installations were protected so well that they were virtually all blown to bits, which is why production is still not at pre-invasion levels, nvermind worl-market-transforming ones. Overy also missed the quite relevant point about the looting of the Iraqi museums, namely that instead of the hundreds of thousands of artefacts that had allegedly been taken away, probably by the occupation troops, only a few dozen actually went missing, most of which were nicked by the museums' staff. Another point missing here is that Iraq may have the world's second largest oil reserves, but there's no infrastructure to actually get the stuff out of the ground, which means that years of investment will be necessary to achieve any impact, which will all be eaten up by the costs of reconstructing Iraq.

The most familiar argument in favour of the war, repeated mantra-like in all circles, is that a much-hated dictator has been overthrown. This week's opinion poll purports to show how grateful the Iraqis now are for their liberation. No one would wish Saddam Hussein back.

Really? Well not wishing him back, but if people like Overy like and the brain-dead idiots demonstrating today had had their way he'd still be in power. Which is a fact.

The problem is that the reason for going to war was quite different.

True, but what difference does it make to the fact that Iraq is better off with him gone? Answer: None.

If unseating tyrants was the priority, Saddam should have been unseated long ago.

True, but why was unseating him in 2003 wrong? I agree that unseating him in 1979 or 1987 or 1991 or 1998, or hypothetically in 2004 or 2007, may or may not have been better. But what does it matter? He had to go, so he might as well have been toppled in 2003.

War in 2003 was about protecting British and American interests, not liberating Iraq, a posture of self-interest rather than magnanimity. This was the same motive for declaring war on Hitler in 1939. It was not dictators that the west could not stomach, but the threat to their interests and way of life (again).

What?! Further at the beginning of the article Overy says that Saddam posed no threat to our interests, but halfway through this article the situation has suddenly changed so fundamentally that Saddam was in fact a threat on the magnitude of Hitler. Odd.

There were honourable motives for declaring war on Hitler, as there are for unseating Saddam, but that is not what, a year ago, we were offered. Liberation was the means to dress war up as legitimate. So much so that there must be a large number in Britain and the US who think that unseating Saddam really was the reason that war began.

Tony Blair, Ann Clwyd, Paul Wolfowitz and the Iraqi Communist Party are amongst some of those I can name off the top of my head who made this case, and in the case of Clwyd who may have been decisive in swinging the vote in Parliament because of the human rights argument. The humanitarian case for toppling Saddam was made ad nauseam, by yours truly as well.
Ok, so the war was dressed up as liberation, supported by many as liberation and the result has been liberation, but to Overy it only matters if the arguments are pure and untainted by any kind of self-interest, which is a bizarre rejection of reality. Also, contradictory, according to Overy, we weren't offered a war of liberation, but the war was sold as liberation? No difference in that? If I had written something along those logical lines in one of my essays back then I don’t think Mr Overy would have been entirely satisfied and given me an A . . .
Overy then trots out some of the lame arguments that al Quaeda is something that can be fought by negotiations and all that other stuff that I don’t have the nerve to into in detail, because it is so fundamentally stupid to believe that aQ can be fought like the IRA.

War should have been avoided and other ways explored to get Iraq to re-enter the world economy, and to feed and supply its population properly.

So, in Overy's opinion the only thing that really mattered in Iraq was getting the country back into the world market and by some miracle get the hideously counterproductive oil-for-food programme suddenly to work. No, this is really fanciful thinking that makes Blair's often-messianic rhetoric sound decisively dry and boring in comparison.

Blair could show that he values a commitment to a common European defence and foreign policy, which might have avoided war altogether.

How? And can't really say anything else, because this is a statement that is truly incomprehensibly.

Terrorists do not blow people up just because they are nihilistic thugs. Terrorism is born of fear, resentment and powerlessness in the face of the massive power and cultural expansion of the west; it is about real issues for those who perpetrate its acts of violence. Palestinians die because they want to free Palestine.

Perhaps some of suicide bomber idiots genuinely want a free and independent Palestine next to Israel, but what rational goal does al-Quaeda fight for?
Enough to make my head pop.
If this is the best anti-war voice the Guardian can assemble on the invasion's anniversary, the anti-war movement is intellectually completely finished.

For some sense see the otherwise quite hyperbolic Mark Steyn, though he doesn’t address some of the strategic issues, over wmds for example. I'll leave that for another posting.

PS: If you're fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

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