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Britain should not act as a puppet of the US over Iraq. France doesn't By Hugo Young, Thursday January 28, 1999 This evening, Tony Blair will receive President Chirac at dinner. It ought to be an instructive occasion, with Mr Blair as the pupil. The main item on the agenda is Kosovo, but next up must be Iraq. What Iraq needs badly is a little creative French diplomacy, and so does Mr Blair, as he, I believe, is half-aware. His Iraq policy is a disaster. It can now be seen as futile in itself, and a deadly omen for something wider: the delusion that Britain, while seeking a leadership role on her own continent, can continue to behave, whenever required, as Washington's lobotomised puppet. The Brits continue to put up a defiant front, from inside the glove. George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, reels off a litany of the evils of Saddam Hussein, from which none who hear it could withhold Amen. Every tiny questioning - and in Parliament the questioners of the bombing have been very few - is met with parade-ground barking to drown out the case for any alternative policy. Yet behind this lies the knowledge that Operation Desert Fox was the fruit of a series of misjudgments. Consider the accumulation of avoidable error. Even if the bombing had to happen, it could not have been worse timed. Everyone knew that Ramadan was five days away. Everyone knew that the Clinton impeachment was simultaneously reaching its climax. Any informed official could guess that Binyamin Netanyahu was about to throw over the Wye Plantation accords. Each one of these was a potential drain on the credibility and purpose of bombing Iraq. Everyone also knew that the head UN arms inspector, Richard Butler, could have been given three months to submit his report on Baghdad's violations. But Washington insisted he should do it in one, which made its completion coincide with all of the above, and made the bombing that followed just about inevitable. This ridiculous timetable was an American domestic requirement. It's the most persuasive indicator that these really were, as most Arabs claimed, Monica's Missiles. Pressed so soon, the trigger blew apart the UN Security Council - and to what effect? The most Mr Robertson claims is that the bombing damaged Saddam's war machine 'for one year certainly, and perhaps for up to two years'. Enough of it survives, however, to provoke daily hostilities in the no-fly zones, as a result of which a US missile killed many civilians in Basra, which was supposed to be the seat, incidentally, of the most promising internal opposition to the Hussein regime. Any more arms inspections, meanwhile, are foreclosed. Sanctions remain, but the policy is bankrupt. In eight years, sanctions have achieved none of the objectives that were supposed to be accomplished in a few months. Visitors to both Robertson and Blair, who inquire what the purpose of the bombing is, receive no more coherent answer in private than the blazing vacuities the ministers utter in public: Saddam is an evil man, and something must be done. This is the mantra Washington foists on London, the price in intellectual degradation that must be paid for the decades of a special relationship. What Chirac has to offer is, in part, the suggestion of a different policy. It reflects France's intimate commercial and political links with Baghdad, but his challenge to the value of sanctions is coherent on is own. Just as important, he manifests France's freedom to think independently. Such a route away from barren fealty to Washington may be regarded with increasing envy by Tony Blair. For, over Kosovo, that is partly what he wants. Here, he and Chirac have a roughly shared view of what is needed. While Chirac, in the traditional French way, feels positively insulted by American domination of the attempt to make a collective policy for Kosovo, Blair is impressed by its simple inadequacy. Together they want to create a European response. Its absence in the past was the prime reason for Blair's initiative last month to get everyone thinking about European defence policy, with an Anglo-French force at its centre. The shameful knowledge, despite Robertson's bluff bomb-speak, that Iraq was a case of bombing first and thinking later drives Blair, as well as Chirac, to work hard to try and ensure that, in Kosovo, the policy might come before the bombs. Public opinion on the Continent is still reeling from the Iraq events. In Paris at the weekend, I found a fair amount of incredulous disgust in governing circles. But the official expression of it has been muted in most countries, not least because Blair has credit in the bank. His defence initiative, combined with his protestations of good British intent towards the European Union, continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Euros understand that this Anglo-American bomber is not called Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand, neither is his credit inexhaustible. The Ramadan bombing cast another large doubt over his central strategic claim for London as the capital which alone can speak for Europe in Washington, and for the US in Paris, Bonn and Brussels. Over Iraq there was no such interplay before or after the bombing began. Blair and Robertson, with the old leftist Robin Cook alongside, almost embarrassed their European counterparts by the openness with which they played the role of spokesmen for the White House and the Pentagon. Nobody can dispute that Saddam is a dangerous tyrant, who threatens his neighbours and has done terrible things to his people. But there seems, after eight years, to be a proven contradiction within a policy of sanction-and-bomb which rests its hope on encouraging some kind internal opposition to rise up and smite the tyrant down. France, and others, propose more oblique approaches. Though sanctions have sometimes worked, as in South Africa, waving such parallels around, as ministers sometimes do, is the last resort of people insufficiently ashamed of the appalling acts by the Anglo-American military which, in Iraq, have accompanied them. Britain's capacity to address this is paralysed. The man at Blair's table tonight is at least an independent leader. Each of them brings the baggage of history, mountainously accumulated, in Britain's case, in the collective psyche of the FCO, the MoD, the intelligence community. But part of Chirac's world-view is now congruent with Blair's ambition. Though they don't get on - Lionel Jospin is far more acceptable to New Labour - they have common interests to discuss. For Blair, the interest is in how to start a journey of national liberation from subservience to equality. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html