You know that a lot of people don't want you to notice what's new in
the world when they keep talking about what's old in the world. The people
who keep raising the topic of Hitler, the 1930s and the danger of
appeasing dictators, for example, in order to justify an invasion of Iraq.
Political life is lived in history, and understanding politics requires
a historical sense. But this obvious truth means that when the past is
conjured up to illumine the present, the comparison must be accurate. If
it is not, the result will be obfuscation, not illumination. And now that
George Bush has decreed that the countdown to war must be measured in
weeks rather than months, the obfuscators are working overtime.
Yes, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator, just as Hitler was. And yes,
he has in the past threatened his neighbours, just as Hitler did. Unlike
Hitler in the 1930s, he has not got away with it. In 1980, he invaded Iran
and the result was a lot of dead Iranians and Iraqis, but no territorial
gain. In 1990, he invaded Kuwait, and seven months later a UN-sanctioned
coalition evicted him. Since that second Gulf War, Iraq has been subject
to a policy of military containment, including regular bombing sorties,
trade embargoes and the recently revived UN weapons inspectorate.
As a dictator with plans for territorial expansion Saddam Hussein has
caused a lot of misery, but he has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Iraq
has not invaded anywhere since the 1991 Gulf War, and is not threatening
to do so. The policy of containment has ensured that it cannot do so.
There is no parallel with Europe in 1938, because the US-led coalition has
done what Chamberlain and Daladier failed to do when Hitler annexed
Czechoslovakia. It has resisted the dictator, not appeased him.
So why does the US now insist that containment is not enough? That the
dictator must be deposed as well? And, that if the UN will not endorse
this course of action, the US and its more compliant allies such as
Britain and Australia will go ahead and do it anyway, treating
international law with contempt?
These remain the crucial questions, and we are not getting answers to
them. We are getting only the obfuscatory attempts to portray a defeated
tinpot dictator as another Hitler in the making, and a promise that, on
Wednesday, when Colin Powell visits the UN to unveil what US intelligence
knows about the tinpot dictator, the danger will be understood. Perhaps,
but one wonders why, if the danger is so great, we haven't been told
before now. Another question with no answer. George Bush has told us what
he wants and what he will do, and does not care what the rest of the world
thinks of it.
Bush's rush to get rid of Saddam cannot be because the latter is a bad
man. There are other dictators as brutal and unstable as he (Kim Jong-il
is only the most notable among them), and Bush is in no rush to depose
them. Nor can it be because of what the UN weapons inspectors had to say
last week, pleased though the President would have been to hear it. I
rather think the State of the Union address was drafted before the Blix
report was released.
And, in any case, what did the inspectors tell us? That the attitude of
Iraqi officials has been one of sullen non-compliance; that there is no
evidence that Iraq has a nuclear-weapons program; that Iraq may have
missiles of greater range than is legally permitted; and that significant
amounts of chemical and biological agents are unaccounted for. In other
words, Iraq has illegally continued research into chemical and biological
weapons and, perhaps, to produce them on a limited scale, but large
stockpiles have not been found. There is no evidence of a clear and
imminent threat to Iraq's neighbours, let alone to the wider world.
The US Administration, of course, maintains that Iraq is in contact
withal-Qaeda and other terrorist movements, and is capable of providing
them with whatever chemical and biological weapons it may have secreted
somewhere. Again, we await Colin Powell's speech to hear proof. And,
again, it won't matter how persuasive his "evidence" is anyway.
The US Administration has already decided what it will do.
On the President's own testimony, a lot of things have already been
decided. Such as that the administration will no longer be constrained by
the need to identify a clear and imminent threat before launching a
military attack. Since when have dictators given notice of their
intentions, the President asked, blithely ignoring the fact that resort to
pre-emptive attacks of the kind he advocates has in the past been a
characteristic of the rogue states he claims to be protecting us from. If
he feels free to violate international law just because he can, on what
basis does he condemn them? Contempt for international law and the order
it sustains is what defines a rogue state.
And not only will the US make war on whomever it wishes, whenever it
wishes, it is prepared to use "the full force and might" of its
military. This is apparently a declaration that the US no longer regards
its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent only. Is it to be used against those
who possess weapons of mass destruction? The contradictions multiply.
This is what is new in the world: a superpower so enraged at the
September 11 attack upon it, and so convinced of its divine mandate, that
it is prepared to trample on the international order it purports to be
defending. George Bush's America has come a long way from that of Franklin
Roosevelt and his four freedoms. The obfuscators are not only wrong to
compare Hitler and Saddam; they also do violence to history when they
ignore the ideals of those who defeated Hitler.
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