RETRACING OLD GROUND - THOUGHTS ON BUSH VISIT TO UK
Yes, we have seen, at one time or another, the earnest expressions and heard all the "look...."s expressing his conviction for war, despite pre- and post-war public disquiet. Now imagine, instead of giving The Big Speech for War, Bliar had done the opposite and chosen to make The Speech Against Invasion of Iraq on strongly argued grounds. Instead of talking about WMD he would have expressed the view that 9/11 was a criminal act and was to be dealt with through the courts. And, more tellingly, to argue that to go to war over terrorism would be to confirm what the terrorists believe; that their murderous acts are a political prospectus.
Picture : conclave of experts including He of Blessed Memory, Alistair Crowley (...er Campbell). Preparatory discussions. Where will he chose to give the speech? Bush will be apoplectic. We always side with the U.S. in these things. Why change now? What will Bush say in public after hearing it? Will he say, This changes nothing, or, tempered by lack of support, decide to postpone? [Am reminded, for some reason, of processes that go into media food scare: inaccurate reports of science; arguments in media based on inaccuracy; public alarm says media; politicians and govt. officials try to calm public “fears” [three people questioned in the street by TV crew]; scientists defend their science [free publicity for research projects/worrying about funding]; media report the scientists’ complaints; politicians/ officials shift positions; public loses interest: politicians perceived to be manipulating to defend “position” taken. Eg.Vide BSE in UK]
In this defining speech somewhere - significantly neutral, several late nights at No.10 deciding where - Blair impresses the Continentals with his intellectual grasp of the excuses not to intervene militarily in Iraq. Arch pieces in Le Figaro, Le Monde, La Stampa, Der Spiegal, etc., running with The Barrister Bit: admiration for the skill with the ex-barrister defends.
Let us make a preliminary list of excuses/reasons:
(1) Saddam is a murdering nuisance, a charismatic, nasty man who has subjugated and treated many of his people badly; [ good touch this] killed a million Iranians and many thousands of his own people, but he is no immediate threat to the West.
(2) 9/11 go down in history of infamy
BLAIR : Errrr…..perhaps not… Pearl Harbour…
CAMPBELL : Hang(g) on, hang(g)…didn’t Bush use that?
BLAIR : Er…....dunno
CAMPBELL : S’okay, then, we'll use infamy too
(3) The U.S., he carefully explains, will naturally be very upset - we too have lost many in the Twin Towers - and it believes the world will never be the same again, but this is a first reaction. They will realise in time that it is just a big disaster which people will see for what it is: the West's inability to monitor terrorists and pre-empt terrorism large or small.
(4) Support the U.S. desire to stop terrorism. Potted history of our support for the U.S. and theirs for us, including Falklands.
“No country can deny the horror of 9/11. Would they like it to have happened to them? Would we like it to have happened in our capitol city? What would have been the response of our European friends if 3000 Parisians had died in a gas attack in the metro? Or of the Germans if the new Parliament building had been flattened by a suicide helicopter?"
(5) However, we must look at the big picture. Stability in the Middle East. Settling the Palestinian Problem. International Law. Islamic sensibilities. Colonial past..
(6) Sanctions have worked against Iraq and so have the no-fly zones, which Britain has contributed to. 9/11 is not connected to Iraq as far as we able to tell, although there are Islamist groups in the north in areas not controlled by Saddam. [17 July: apparently he said just that in 1998 in the House of Commons, though he was wrong there too according to retired intelligence analyst Mr. Jones.]
(7) Despite Iraq being a secular state, its people are Islamic, divided into Sunni and Shia. We do not want to further antagonise feeling in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world by invading a sovereign state, even if it is controlled by a vile dictator. The time for this has passed.
(8) Evoke, elliptically, the debacle of Suez, 1956, in which U.S. president Eisenhower prevented Britain and France controlling the Suez canal. Mention a series of U.S. interventions that failed. And some that were successes but lacked international legitimacy.
(9) Need time to support the UN mandate by peaceful means.
(10) We have the means to punish Iraq if it uses WMD - Saddam has never used them [July 17..."against us"] because he was warned not to and told what the response would be if he did. He did use rockets against Israel in 1991 but they contained conventional war heads. Again, israel hasd warned him:"Use WMD and we will nuke you".]
Blair - as he was before he had to transpose his vowels or watch his nose grow longer - knows this position will please the French and Germans. They are in no position politically, economically or militarily to wage war. Germany is anti-war through principle, France through expediency masquerading as principle. They both have large Muslim populations.
He knows - as we all do - that the U.S. is top dog and can do what it wants, when it wants, without reference to anyone else. So anything he says will be posturing, but look good on tellie. But Bliar's anti-war stance will not be the final position. He will calculate that it is "a very grave step...." first, then, having pleased the Europeans, as the U.S. moves towards invasion, slowly slip in beside the U.S., arguing that the situation has changed.
This first anti-war speech will be a decoy, a red herring, a side-step, a feint, to lull the Europeans into making soothing statements at the UN. He already knows he is going to have to side with the U.S., as the French and Germans know, after all our nuclear missiles are made in USA and there is Ford, Vauxhall, IBM, [July 17 :massive U.S. investment in the UK]. It is a global economy after all. People, money, goods, services, culture, can more freely round the world. He needs to plump up domestic opinion and molify our immediate neighbours. He knows what people in Britain are thinking focus group-wise... they don't believe in the WMD argument but don't like Saddam either and would like to see him gone.
Trying to imagine the various positions Bliar - as we have to call him as we are only engaged in a thought game and know what he really said and did - would take, the permutations of cause and effect, we soon see that Crowley (er…Campbell) decides Bliar's speech cannot be directly anti-war, making it easier to join the U.S. later). He must be seen to show he understands history: not the history of nation states, his place in history….[joke] He can show how he has been tough before (Kosovo) and that he saw the necessity [July 17 and wad willing to commit to] tackle Al Qeida in Afghanistan.
Siding with the U.S. straight away, making persistently weak cases for war on flimsy grounds and discounting public opinion, he has seen as presenting him as strong, whereas "no war with good reasons" is weak. He will appear to be on the defensive in the anti-war stance; decisive in arguing for action. Being weak and on the defensive about reasons - taking an untenable "position" and sticking to it because of his belief that the sticking to it rather than the position is what has seemed to matter - is less weak than appearing weak with a strong case.
In summary he is told by Crowley that has no choice "action with weak arguments" better than “inaction with strong arguments".
To me, he is a man who decides things because of what he imagines people think of him, or will think think of him, rather than because they are right - despite claiming endlessly the opposite is true - and is therefore a moral and ethical pygmy. But, hey, armchair moral philosophers don’t have to make decisions like this…
I wanted Saddam out, and wanted the invasion, and knew too many Iraqis would die in the war [and, as it has proven, its aftermath]. All these things evoked strong memories of my boyhood Iraq, stimulating me to blog.
We have to use a utilitarian balance asking, Was the death of (?) 30,000 [July 17: It turned out to be about 10,000] Iraqis - "needed" to remove him - a price worth paying? Will the means (and deaths) justify the result (of which we cannot in advance be sure) ? If I was Prime Minister and my Minister of Defence came to me with projections of 25-30,000 Iraq deaths in and after the war, I could not do it. Bliar almost certainly knew roughly how many Iraqis would die and how many British soldiers would die. And yet he could still decide to go to war. All I can guess is that a sort of moral and ethical mist must drop down over leaders faced with such decisions. Certainly one wonders if Churchill, with Dresden, had a "Robespierre moment" (remember the film "Danton", where he lies in bed sweating with a sheet pulled over his head) after he gave the go ahead for the bombers to set off.
Neither Bush nor Bliar can, or will, think or debate openly the point that we think Bush seems almost to believe by default, by failing to mention them, that Iraqi (and indeed Afghani) deaths [ will] cancel out 9/11 deaths, maimings and orphanings. If we are led to believe that Bush doesn’t care about these avoidable deaths - because he never mentions it in public; because he doesn't say he will see the families right; because it is of greater importance to mollify his domestic opinion/feeling because of what he learns from opinion poll and focus group, we can't possibly think too well of him, because we know he had the choice: invade or negotiate.
The invasion of Iraq will, of course, only confirm to the Arab world that the West is happy to continue objectifying them – and anyone else who gets in their way - to achieve their aims. And encourage other Arab states to put into another gear their anti-Semitic/Jewish propaganda, while making soothing noises to the U.S. about their willingness to change. Check out examples of translations of Arab papers in MEMRI.
expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.