QUESTIONS AMERICA MUST ANSWER
By Christopher Hitchens
At a reception in Washington a few weeks ago I ran into some
comrades from the Iraqi National Congress, which was once
accused by its enemies of being a mere pliant tool of American
They asked to be introduced to a senior US Administration
official at the event, and I said I'd do my best. When I produced
him for my friends, he turned his back and walked away at quite
an impressive speed.
Concerning the impending or perhaps imminent intervention in
Iraq, we now inhabit a peculiar limbo, where the military options
are known while the political and moral options are not.
It is very evident that some elements within the Bush
Administration are content to give Saddam Hussein ample time to
prepare his defences, but it is less clear why the same sources
become so intensely secretive when asked what they have in mind
for the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples.
Not that this is anything so new - preparation for the last Gulf War
was well in hand before Secretary of State James Baker
announced that its principal rationale was "jobs, jobs, jobs".
There are three simultaneous clusters of argument in play.
First comes the question of justification. Is Saddam to be removed
because he possesses weapons of mass destruction, or because he
used poison gas and chemical weapons in Kurdistan, or because
he has had indirect contact with al-Qaeda, or because he poses a
menace to his neighbours?
Second comes the question of feasibility and advisability.
Might not a military strike against the Ba'athists make a bad
situation worse, not just in Iraq but in the Middle East?
Third comes the question of quo warrant to: By what right would
the United States appoint itself the arbiter of Iraqi and Arab
Even when disentangled, these threads are tenuous.
Still, a supporter of intervention might argue as follows: The
United States, especially after September 11, has a right or even a
duty to act pre-emptively against any regime that even looks at it
in the wrong way. And its opportunist hand-wringing "allies" in
Europe and the Arab world would be secretly delighted if
Washington did away with Saddam.
THE Iraqi people might or might not fill the streets with joyous
demonstrations at their own deliverance, but they would have
been given a chance to have a democratic life, and they would be
free from the sanctions and other obstacles to civilised normality.
As a beautiful but seldom-mentioned side benefit, the influence of
the revolting Saudis, in the region and in America, would be
An opponent might argue that inspections offer a better chance of
containing the deadly weaponry, and observing the rights of
Invasion might cause much death and destruction, and exert a
destabilizing effect on the region. It might also trigger the use of
the very weapons whose removal was its ostensible justification.
Moreover, the US cannot just proclaim itself as the forcible maker
and unmaker of Arab governments, and this caution would apply
with redoubled force to a President who is simultaneously the
patron and armourer of General Sharon.
There is an in-between argument, which can be heard among the
Bush officials in Washington and also among Iraqi and Kurdish
exiles and oppositionists.
In its Bush version, this argument says you can't announce that
you will remove a regime and then not keep your pledge. In its
Iraqi dissident form, it says that you can't subject the Iraqi people
to the cruelty of sanctions for so long while leaving the despot in
The first version is grotesque; the second version has some honour
A dirty secret is involved here. From the US point of view, the
present regime in Iraq is nearly ideal. It consists of a strong Sunni
Muslim but approximately secular military regime. All it needs is
a new head.
Mesopotamia means "between two rivers," and we are, like
Macbeth himself, "in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no
more, returning were as tedious as o'er." The United States had at
least a hand in the coup that brought Saddam to power. It
encouraged him in his attack on Iran.
At the very time of his worst conduct in Kurdistan, Washington
was his best friend.
When he plotted to straighten the Kuwaiti frontier in his favour,
he was given the greenest of lights.
THIS is a record of continuing shame. However - and one cannot
underscore this enough - these, too, were all interventions in the
affairs of Iraq.
And if there can be interventions one way, in favour of the
regime, there is at least a potential argument that an intervention
to cancel such debts would be justifiable.
The "peace" forces may riposte that this is illogical and that all
interventions are equally obnoxious. However, we have before us
the example of liberated Kurdistan.
The Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq is an unintended
consequence of the last bungled Gulf War. In this enclave there
are the rudiments of pluralism, civil society and a free press.
Some part of what we owe the Kurdish people has been repaid,
and as a result of civilian and international pressure rather than
any Western grand design. Could the same success be repeated
across Iraq, without endangering what has been won?
We cannot know for sure, because the US Administration refuses
to say whether it wants a military junta in Baghdad, a monarchy, a
vassal - or even an Iraqi state at all. Given the open rehearsals for
invasion, there can be no "security," excuse for this weird silence.
Citizens should be demanding that our rulers publish a clear
statement both of war aims and political objectives.
The long suffering inhabitants of Iraq deserve to hear and debate
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