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America's New War: We Should Not Back This Iraq Attack
16 February 2002
Still outraged by the enormity of the September 11 attacks, an implacable and headstrong United States now sees a war against Iraq as the next step in its war against terrorism. A decision to topple Saddam Hussein appears to have been taken by President Bush in late January, around the time that he told Americans in his State of the Union speech that he would not "wait on events" in his battle with the "axis of evil" comprising Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Whether Tony Blair was consulted over this secret decision, or whether he cautioned against it if he was consulted, are points that are not yet clear. What is clear, however, is that a war against Iraq cannot be justified as part of the war against terrorism as it has been portrayed by Mr Blair and his ministers since September 11.
Let us just remind ourselves what kind of war Mr Blair signed us up for. As depicted by the prime minister, especially in his Brighton speech, it was to be a war conducted on the basis of evidence of involvement in the attack on America. It was to be proportionate. It was to be targeted. It would not involve overreaction. It would seek to avoid civilian casualties. It would be the action of a coalition. It was to embody what Mr Blair, at Brighton, called "the moral power of a world acting as a community". Military action would only come if there was no prospect of a diplomatic solution. And even if it did come, military action would have to be buttressed by humanitarian and diplomatic efforts. It did not work out exactly as Mr Blair imagined it, of course. Such things never do. But it was not impossible, in the end, to recognize the war in Afghanistan in this context.
This is a world away from the war that Mr Bush now proposes to wage against Iraq. There is absolutely no firm evidence linking Iraq to September 11. Saddam Hussein, indeed, has kept his head down since the attack on New York. But the Iraqi leader's low profile is not deterring Mr Bush. Nor is anything else. Not the possibility of using diplomacy to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq for the first time in three years; this White House "will not take yes for an answer", a source told our Washington correspondent. Not the threat of Iraqi civilian casualties. Not the humanitarian crisis that would ensue. Not the effect on the wider Arab world. Not the legacy for the Middle East if President Saddam tries to do in 2002 what he did in 1991 and fires his missiles at Israel.
For all of those reasons, and more, any attack by Mr Bush on Iraq would mark the end of the post-September 11 consensus. That Saddam's regime is a vast problem - to put it mildly - for his own people, for the region, and for the international community, is not in dispute. "Regime change", as Colin Powell puts it, could not be more welcome. But, as President Putin also said this week, such problems cannot be solved by one country alone. A full-scale attack of the kind now being contemplated - involving 200,000 US troops and air attacks from Turkey, Bahrain and Diego Garcia in a combined overt and covert campaign coordinated with proxy forces - could not avoid being a classic piece of American unilateralism. It would represent the triumph of the conservative US Republican agenda (and the Bush family agenda) over the international agenda. It would taint the legitimate sense of solidarity which so many feel for America since it was attacked. And it would be a massive mistake for the Blair government, in terms of its own domestic constituency, and in terms of Britain's position in the Arab world and in Europe, to be cast once again as Mr Bush's lone bag-carrier.