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Re: A Note on Strategy

Title: Re: A Note on Strategy
The responses by Ben Rempel and Moonirah to my piece A Note on Strategy are very different, but they both pose the same fundamental and difficult problem: to what extent does the Baath régime pose, or still pose, a threat to its neighbours and to the people of Iraq themselves? So, Ben Rempel wants, as part of the deal to end sanctions, ongoing weapons inspections and suggests ways of weakening the Iraqi government with a view to encouraging its overthrow by a more popular government; while Moonirah reminds us of the very important problem of the people missing from Kuwait, many of whom are probably prisoners in Iraq.

It is precisely considerations of this kind ­ that is to say the feeling that President Hussein's administration has to be kept on some sort of leash, constrained to do things it does not wish to do and, ultimately, overthrown ­ that make our task so very difficult. Yes, it is easy to secure agreement that sanctions impose intolerable suffering on the people of Iraq; but most of those who agree to that also agree with the government that the Iraqi régime is monstrously wicked. So we reply, rightly, that Iraq is not 'Saddam', and that a distinction must be made between the people and the régime.

But although this distinction is perfectly valid in moral terms, it cannot be made in practice, and that is the strength of the government's position. To end sanctions means to restore to the present Iraqi government control over the Iraqi economy and therefore to give it much greater freedom of action. We cannot get round that. Oil for Food is an attempt to get round it ­ to feed the Iraqi people without putting greater resources into the hands of the Iraqi government. But this is at best a palliative. It does not rebuild the infrastructure of the country to enable its own people to resume the sort of economic activity which is generally (rightly or wrongly ­ that's another question) assumed to be necessary to their material wellbeing.

If the general perception of the Iraqi government is true ­ if they are a gang of sadistic monsters who are capable only of corrupt business deals and of spraying their own citizens and neighbours with poison gas ­ then our position becomes untenable. The degree of suffering undergone by the Iraqi people is less than the degree of suffering that would be undergone by the whole region (including the Iraqi people themselves) should the beast be let out of its cage.

We are obliged, then, to show that this perception is not true, or at least to argue convincingly that restoring a large degree of economic power to the Iraqi government would not have catastrophic effects. Ben Rempel tries to address the problem by suggesting a war crimes tribunal and greater autonomy for the Kurds as two means of influencing the post sanctions arrangements in a popular (not to say, democratic) direction. As far as Kudish autonomy is concerned, I assume that the present territorial division which amounts to 'independence' in all but name, is an accomplished fact and will continue for the foreseeable future. But then I also assume, perhaps optimistically, that it will be a long time before the Iraqi government feel able to recover the territory by force.

With regard to a war crimes tribunal I am putting out a separate piece on the Indict Saddam idea, but, briefly, I don't see how President Hussein can be put before a war crimes tribunal (I assume that's what its advocates have in mind. Not that Norman Schwarkopf should be put in front of a war crimes tribunal) without a full scale invasion of the country. Or, alternatively, a restoration of sanctions.

The prospect of advocating friendly, or at least correct, relations with the Baath régime may well appear so unattractive that most of us will simply conclude that its better to stick to the vague slogan of lifting sanctions. But a point will come when the problem has to be faced (the point actually comes every time we enter into discussion with the government). For myself it is not too difficult. I have long held the view that, given our conduct of the war and subsequent torturing of the people of Iraq ­ not to mention our past record in Iraq and the exploits of 'Bomber' Harris in the region ­ there was little to choose in terms of moral rectitude between ourselves and Saddam Hussein. I feel morally outraged by the notion that we should be sitting in judgment in the matter.

But I am not a Kurd, a Kuwaiti, or an Iraqi exile. And this is why I think the attitudes of Iraq's neighbours are so very important. The massive American and British presence in the region is the consequence of a catastrophic failure on the part of Arab and Iranian politics (just as the American presence in the Balkans is proof of a catastrophic failure on the part of European politics). And the continuing British and American action finds its justification in the perceived need to defend the other countries of the area and, bizarrely enough, the Iraqi people themselves.

So long as these peoples fail to oppose sanctions loudly and clearly then they must share ­ and to a very large degree ­ the responsibility for the suffering involved. Moonirah says that Kuwaiti hands are tied by Resolution 1284; but even if one is obliged to comply with a man made 'law', one can still express disagreement with it. And it would be very difficult for Britain and the US to defend and maintain Resolution 1284 if the Kuwaiti government were to oppose it (it is in fact obscene that such resolutions can be discussed and passed without any apparent seeking of consent from the powers in the region that is under consideration).

I do not pretend to know the interests of the Kuwaitis better than the Kuwaitis themselves, but it seems to me that such a move would be very intelligent. If, as is rather implicit in CASI's policy, sanctions are lifted against the wishes of the neighbouring governments, then it will certainly be a 'victory for Saddam' and put the others into a very uncomfortable situation. If the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments were to take a lead in the lifting of sanctions, the whole situation would be transformed. And I cannot imagine any situation which would be more favourable to the release of any Kuwaiti prisoners there may be in Iraq.

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