Pro War in Iraq
I do not subscribe to the fashionable notion of moral equivalence between all deeply-held beliefs. I believe in the rights of the individual over the collective. I believe democracy is better than dictatorship, both morally and practically. Not necessarily democracy as we or the Americans or the French practice it, but the idea that in every possible practical way, you should let people make their own decisions, and if these decisions need to be circumscribed in any way, then you should only do it with the explicit approval of a majority of the people in question. And above all that a people must be able to change governments and leaders without resorting to force.
So my ongoing position is that I am not comfortable with a world in which there are prosperous democracies and failing dictatorships, and we are supposed not to notice because somehow it would be disrespectful of the people living under the dictatorships. I don’t buy it.
The problem, of course, is that many peoples currently living under dictatorships might, if asked right now, come up with some deeply unpleasant policy decisions. They might even vote against democracy, saying they don’t want it. This is the worry in many countries with an Islamic fundamentalism problem: if they can get a majority the fundamentalists are committed to democracy under the slogan “one man, one vote, just this once”. That is not democracy.
Democracy needs certain conditions to get started. It is an eco-system, not a single tree, you can’t just plant it and sit back in its shade. But once it is established, it is hard to uproot. People talk about democracy needing a democratic “culture”, but culture is the wrong word, it makes it sound subjective. What it really needs is a universal foundation based on respect for the individual: freedom of speech, freedom of association, primacy of the rule of law, relinquishing the use of political violence, the rights of women to participate fully in economic, social and political life. It may be the case that these values are most clearly held in Northern Europe, North America and the English-speaking world. But they are not western values: they are all founded in the primacy of the rights of the individual. Where these values have had a chance to become established in other cultures, they take root. Southern and Eastern Europe, Japan and other parts of Asia, and most of Latin America.
The introduction of meaningful democracy, nurtured to the point it is self-sustaining, is the third of three “great steps” a state must take if it is to provide an environment in which people can thrive and reach their full potential. The first is they must create a legal system which is separate from their religious system. Any legal system which rests in the hands of religious leaders will inevitably be at best arbitrary and self-interested, at worst violent. The second “great step” is to separate the wealth of the nation from the wealth of its heads of state. The rule of law cannot be guaranteed by rulers who gain personally the outcomes of the laws they pass. Advanced countries have leaders, not rulers, and the head of state cannot get rich by direct taxation or by stealing from his or her people.
It is a tragedy of global proportions that the world’s Arab peoples, practically without exception, live under dictatorships which have systematically impoverished their sociopolitical, cultural and economic development. A report by 30 Arab researchers on behalf of the UN Development Fund in 2002 looked at 22 Arab countries with over 280 million citizens. It found that more than 50% of Arab women are illiterate; spending on scientific research was a pitiful 0.4% of GDP; 0.5% of Arabs had access to the internet; there are more books translated into Spanish each year than into Arabic in the last ten centuries; economic growth over the past decade averaged just 0.5% per annum due to lack of investment. The report also found that the Arab people enjoyed less political freedom even than the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and human rights, though enshrined in constitutions, were routinely ignored. The damning picture of the state of the Arab world painted in this UN report cannot be blamed on America, or Israel, or global capitalism. The blame lies squarely with the dictators under whom the Arab people have suffered, who have over a long period stolen and squandered the region’s wealth, just as Communist apparatchiks did under the Soviet system.
How do they get away with it? Why do the people themselves not rise up? The aspect dictatorship which gets most attention is the brutal suppression of domestic dissent, for which you need to take over the organs of internal security. But you cannot just plant yourself as a dictatorship and suck the wealth out of a country or a people. Dictatorship too is an eco-system. You need a way of legitimizing your rule in the minds of a section of the population, and someone to blame for all of the evils for which evidence emerges. Once you have these things, you are in business with a nice, self-sustaining little earner.
Other dictators tap into other vulnerable beliefs among their people to give them a veil of credibility. It might be nationalism, anti-Semitism, feelings of angst and inadequacy. In the case of most Arab dictators, it happens to be Islam. Islam contains a number of features that can be easily hijacked by unscrupulous leaders: the disrespect for non-believers, the basis for non-independent religious courts, the concept of jihad, and the belief in the afterlife. Under an enlightened leadership, these concepts could be downplayed, interpreted, brought into line with the necessities of life in a modern, interconnected, multi-cultural world. In the hands of a dictator, they render people susceptible, easy meat for indoctrination. So susceptible, indeed, that when the Iranian people did rise up against the Shah, they were fooled into supporting just another dictatorship, which they are only now showing signs of being ready to cast off.
As for foreign adventures and scapegoats, sooner or later in any dictatorship evidence emerges of how the elite is benefiting at the expense of the people ; such evidence, which it can no longer be suppressed, must be explained. It can be laid at the feet of an unpopular, or it can be blamed on surrounding states. This sort of scapegoating is insidious.
So you have a whole region or Arab states living under dictatorships of varying levels of brutality; sustained by an ideology that had been hijacked and put to use in order to sustain a system which has no moral foundation; and using international adventures and blaming Israel and America to explain its failures.
Do we simply accept this situation?
In a world of expensive travel, rigid borders, poor communications, conventional weapons, one could say it was a shame, but not our problem. Personally, I think that hundreds of millions of people living under brutality is always everyone’s problem. But in particular, in an age of ever easier and cheaper travel, permeable borders, rapid communications and unconventional weapons, walking away form the problem is simply not an option.
Hiding behind the supremacy of self-determination and the need to respect national sovereignty is nothing more than moral cowardice. These concepts have never been more than convenient expedients, for the simple reason that there are plenty of examples where different races claimed the same territory, with similar validity.
There is no single point in time at which the international community as a whole is able to say “NOW!,” this is the date on which the clock stopped, and all border changes since then are illegal. Harking back to a mythical time, either one for all the world, or one per region, at which everyone agreed on the borders, is simply fantasy.
I was always thought, if in doubt, go back to first principles. And my first principles in all these cases, as always, are the rights of the individual. And that means ALL the individuals involved NOW. Their rights may be greater or lesser, depending on how they got to be involved in a particular situation and how they have behaved. But there are certain rights that are inalienable: safety, democratic representation, the right to make a living, to make key life choices for themselves. Whatever sovereign power comes to rule over them, whether domestically validated or imposed by others, these are its responsibilities. The people, in turn, can legitimately fight for greater representation in the instruments of government, for a greater share of the economic pie or whatever, but cannot legitimately fight to deprive another people of their basic rights.
That leaves only the narrow question of whether the war is legal, especially in the light of the ongoing UN attempts at arms inspection. I can understand how some people might believe Saddam was in the process of disarming before the invasion, and that Hans Blix’s efforts were succeeding. I personally don’t believe this. I believe he was doing the absolute minimum to keep liberal opinion in the West from endorsing war, as he has for 12 years now. Blix had some successes, notably the destruction of some of Saddam’s Al Samoud missiles. It is worth noting for the historical record that these successes resulted directly from the pressure of 250,000 US military personnel in the region. They were, in essence, successes of the American policy, not the French policy. But Blix was in reality bouncing off the problem, as he has in the past.
In any case, if you were in any doubt before the current conflict began about whether Saddam had or had not disarmed, or whether he was or was not in the process of disarming, and whether Hans Blix was or was not succeeding in disarming him, then surely those doubts should have been dispelled when the first Scuds were fired towards Kuwait. Saddam was not allowed to keep any Scuds, he has consistently denied having them, Blix didn’t find them. What it means is that those who were ready to vote against military action were either naive in believing that Saddam was really disarming, or they were cynically opposed to intervention under any circumstances.
The UN passed 17 resolution demanding Saddam disarm; they contain all the wording required to legalize the use of force in order to enforce them. If, at the last moment, the UN decided not to pass an 18th resolution that does not invalidate the first 17. Legality is not conferred by the number of laws under which an action is legal. If the members didn’t want their resolutions enforced, they shouldn’t have passed them, or they should have passed on saying that Saddam Hussein, having met the requirements previously placed on him by the UN, was now exempt from the previous resolutions. 1441 on its own gives the justification for military force; 1441, taken in the light of 16 other resolutions, and in the light of French unqualified refusal to pass any further resolutions under any circumstances, is unequivocal.
Apart from the obvious point that all UN members are always selective about which resolutions they get involved in implementing, it is worth reading Resolution 242 itself. Sure enough, it requires “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. At the same time, however, it requires “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” The State referred to in the second part is, of course, Israel; the claims, threats, territorial incursions and violence are those visited on it by its neighbors since its creation and acknowledgement by the UN. The resolutions against Saddam Hussein were unilateral and unequivocal. They are materially different from resolutions that present a package of requirements that have to be carried out by both sides in a conflict, and whose implementation is going to require the cooperation of both sides.
And there you have it. I think the intervention is morally justified, practically required, and legally based.