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[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ] Doing nothing about Saddam is not an option Margaret Beckett advises caution, but the left can't dodge the issue of Iraq David Clark Monday August 26, 2002 The Guardian Margaret Beckett's views may not hold much sway with the Pentagon, but her comments yesterday confirmed that August has been a very bad month for hawks, who have held the initiative in the war on terrorism since the collapse of the Taliban last year. The case for moving on to an invasion of Iraq is in danger of being lost before it has even been made. It is one thing to be abandoned by a few flaky Europeans, or even to discover that New Labour is getting cold feet. It is altogether more ominous to find domestic support dropping and senior Republicans breaking ranks to oppose the slide to war. They have no one to blame but themselves. At no point have they come close to articulating either a convincing rationale for invasion or a viable military strategy for achieving it. Suggestions that Iraq sponsored September 11 or that it poses a direct threat to the US lack credibility. Saddam Hussein is an old-fashioned practitioner of state power. The nihilism of Osama bin Laden is almost as alien to his strategic outlook as it is to ours. Saddam is undoubtedly seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, but he will be dead of old age before Iraq acquires ballistic missiles capable of reaching the American homeland. Nor will it do to argue that Iraq should be invaded because it has a nuclear weapons programme and stands in systematic violation of international law - not at a time when Israel, also guilty on both counts, continues to enjoy American patronage. One doesn't need to accept moral equivalence to see the double standards. The military options being touted by the hawks do little more to inspire confidence in their leadership. The suggestion that Saddam could be swiftly dispatched by an expeditionary force of 60,000 airmobile troops does scant justice to the scale of the task. A regime change will involve a fight to the death. Saddam will not make the mistake he made in 1991, and the Taliban made 10 years later, of concentrating his troops on open ground, exposing them to the full force of US air power. He will seek to draw his opponents into a messy urban war in the hope of inflicting casualties at a level that would prove unacceptable to the American people. It is little wonder that senior American generals have started to voice their unease at what is being contemplated. Tony Blair would be well advised to think long and hard before putting British troops under the command of civilian ideologues whose understanding of military affairs appears to be gleaned from reading a few Tom Clancy novels. The political and military risks of a ground invasion may be disproportionate to the nature of the current threat, but there is an equally dangerous fallacy that has gained ground in recent weeks. It is the assumption, latent in much of the anti-war commentary of the British left, that the notion of an Iraqi problem is nothing more than a figment of George Bush's imagination. Many of these voices seem to regard Saddam as a sort of Middle Eastern version of Fidel Castro: an authoritarian, but essentially harmless figure, to be admired, in a sneaking sort of way, for his ability to tweak Uncle Sam's nose. This view took its most egregious form in George Galloway's recent eulogy about Saddam's supposedly Churchillian qualities. It is a travesty of the real picture. There was a time when the British left was clear about the nature of the Iraqi regime and the moral obligation to take action against it. In the aftermath of the Halabja massacre, when Saddam murdered 5,000 Kurdish civilians with mustard gas, Jeremy Corbyn MP spoke for most of us when he denounced the regime as "fascist" and demanded the imposition of comprehensive sanctions; "no trade, no aid and no deals while the present repression continues against people in Iraq". Nowadays he signs motions denouncing those very same sanctions as an act of genocide against the Iraqi people. The reason for this switch is hardly a mystery. It happened almost as soon as the Americans realised that Iraq was a threat to their interests. Many on the left delight in reminding the Americans of their complicity in Saddam's rise to power, but it is utter hypocrisy on the part of those who have done little more than mirror the cynical meanderings of western policy. Statements condemning Iraqi atrocities - a feature of every serious leftwing gathering in the days when Saddam was seen as a western stooge - are dismissed as propaganda now that they fall from the lips of White House spokesmen. But nothing has changed. Our conviction that the people of Iraq and the surrounding region were being menaced by a uniquely aggressive and brutal dictatorship didn't cease to be true just because Washington came to the same conclusion. Those disinclined to accept the word of Condoleezza Rice or Jack Straw should consult the Amnesty International website: "Victims of torture in Iraq are subjected to a wide range of forms of torture, including the gouging out of eyes. Some have been sexually abused and others have had objects, including broken bottles, forced into their anus." Nor can there be any doubts about Saddam's wider ambitions. Since the early 1970s he has pursued the same objective with a singularity of purpose: to achieve a decisive military advantage and a position of regional dominance through the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. In defiance of the Gulf war ceasefire, he has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve residual capabilities in chemical and biological weapons, nuclear research and ballistic missiles, all of which have been detailed by a UN panel of experts. He has done so for only one reason: so that he can resume weapons production when the opportunity arises and use them to intimidate his neighbours once again. There are no easy options for dealing with the threat that Saddam represents. He can either be contained or deposed, and there are unavoidable costs in both. It scarcely matters whether the suffering of the Iraqi people has been caused by UN sanctions or deliberately orchestrated by Saddam in order to blackmail the international community into giving him a free hand. Containment has a human cost either way. Those who have argued that it is unacceptably high have a moral obligation to say which of the alternatives they prefer: to get rid of Saddam or allow him to continue unhindered. There is no shortage of strong arguments for doubting the advisability of a military adventure to change the government of Iraq, but denying that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with is not among them. The anti-war movement would be altogether more effective if it acknowledged some of these uncomfortable dilemmas and dropped the easy sloganising of the past. David Clark is a former Foreign Office special adviser firstname.lastname@example.org _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk