Today the Guardian published a number of interviews with anti-war activists. We have tried to compile some of the more powerful statements in a manner that makes sense.
We Proceed In Iraq As Hypocrites
The utterly fallacious idea at the heart of the pro-war argument is that it is the duty of the anti-war argument to provide an alternative to war. The onus is on them to explain just cause. The case against is clear. To begin war on Iraq would be to launch a pre-emptive strike on a country we fear will attack us on a future unspecified date, in a future unknown manner, with weapons we have not been able to find. It would be to set the most remarkable international precedent. It would be in contravention of international law and the UN charter. It would be to consolidate a feeling of injustice in the Middle East, the consequences of which we will reap for generations. It would be, simply, illegal.
It is telling that where the pro-war discussion becomes most urgent, most passionate, is precisely where it is least tenable, that is, as a response to September 11. It cannot be simultaneously unconnected (as has been admitted) and the engine of all action (as is endlessly inferred.) Again, it is for the pro-war contingent to clarify their position. We are told that we shall “sweep in and out of Iraq”, “set up shop” there, and then proceed in “sorting out” the Middle East situation.
The reality is that we will be told by television that we “swept in”, but, as in the first Gulf conflagration, there will be massive civilian casualties, unavoidable in a military attack on a nation where children make up more than 50% of the population. If we are committed to the idea that a civilian death in the west is of equal value to a civilian death in the east, then we proceed in Iraq as hypocrites and cowards – and the world knows it. This is what people mean when they say “Not in my Name” – it is not liberal tosh or soft-headed fantasy. It is a repudiation of the responsibility of that blood. It is the pro-war contingent who become fantastical when they imagine a quick or a “smart” war.
The anti-war contingent is accused of being without alternatives, which is rather like being told by a young thug: “I’m going to rob this house, and I’ll be justified in doing so, unless you have a better idea as to how I can make a thousand quid in an hour.” The lack of alternatives to an illegal action does not legitimise that action. “Why now? Why here?” are not idle questions, they are requests for explanations on why a pre-emptive, illegal war has become suddenly become more palatable than the diplomatic stalemate that preceded it. Rather than insane cowboy rhetoric, political fact is requested. The following questions were asked by Senator Byrd two weeks ago in the senate, a speech which made no appearance in any form in the American press. To whom are we handing power after Saddam Hussein? Will our war create chaos in the region and result in a horrific attack on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which, after all, has far closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?
I hope it is not considered anti-American to suggest that when significant questions like these go unreported anywhere in the American media, the pro-war contingent appears to need to add suppression of information to this extraordinary descent into illegal, irrational procedure. Why are the answers to Senator Byrd’s questions being fudged? Why are the questions themselves not discussed in the American press? What exactly is going on here? Anti-war movements are often sentimental, muddle-headed and politically naive. This one merely requests an explanation.
‘Why Should “We” Be In Favor Of Selective Vigalantism”
The speed with which a political agenda decided in Washington for its own purposes (in this case the overthrow of a regime and the occupation of an oil-rich country which sells oil in euros and not dollars) is then imposed on Britain may be nothing new, but is still disturbing. The US determines its needs, the Murdoch media empire approves, and liberal journalists are put on the defensive.
What are “we” to do about Saddam? Who the hell are “we”? And why should “we” be in favour of the selective vigilantism determined by US interests in the region? The Iraqis need democracy, and neither Saddam nor the US will ever give them that.
Democracy in an oil-rich country is a dangerous option for the west (note recent attempts to topple Hugo Chavez in Venezuela). If they elect a government that challenges the west (as happened in Iran), then what? Another regime change.
Saddam was at his worst when he was a staunch ally of the US, unleashed first against local communists, Kurds and trade unionists, and subsequently against Iran, with the open backing of Reagan’s then envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.
Today, he is a weakened and enfeebled dictator. Had his people not been so devastated by western sanctions, they might well have toppled him by now. That is why Blair’s late decision to invoke humanity has a false ring.
The notion that Iraq threatens the US, or its favourite Israel, is truth only for hardcore believers. They want Iraq, partially for the oil and partially to re-map the region. Ariel Sharon is already demanding an assault on Iran after the “liberation” of Baghdad
It is not in the interest of the Iraqi people to simply go back to the position before this crisis. War, comprehensive sanctions and containment are all damaging to Iraqi society and detrimental to people’s ability to challenge tyranny. Here we are, possibly within days of a cataclysm and certain military defeat, yet the regime’s structures are intact.
The alternative to war is not the threat of war, which is implicit and understood. The alternative is to start a political process that empowers the people of Iraq and shifts the domestic balance in their favour. War and sanctions both write off the people and target them. The way to empower the people is by both shifting the agenda and establishing the credibility and authenticity of international concern. Propaganda and spin in the service of war will not convince Iraqis that this is not an imperialist project. The way out of the present impasse is:
1 Maintain weapons inspections to allay western concerns.
2 Introduce human-rights monitors.
3 Lift the economic blockade and demand professionalism and transparency in economic affairs under UN monitoring.
4 Implement Resolution 688, including an end to repression.
5 Genuinely support Iraqis, not by imposing an agenda and stooges on the opposition.
6 Start a process of truth and reconciliation.
7 Relieve debt and remove reparation to enhance moves toward democracy.
8 Move towards UN-supervised elections after a time.
9 Curb Ariel Sharon and move immediately towards a just Middle East peace under resolution 242, with recognition of Palestinian rights.
The Saddam regime is now in retreat and its project is doomed. This is an opportunity to undercut its domestic power base and also to curb extremism. The alternative to a political process is a devastating imperialist war, followed by a bloody liberation struggle.
· Kamil Mahdi is an Iraqi political exile and lecturer in Middle East economics at the University of Exeter.
Hans von Sponeck
I was in charge of the UN humanitarian programme in Iraq, and I resigned in protest over what I perceived to be a criminally faulty UN sanctions policy. It is now well documented that the policy of sanctions are a main cause of the death and destitution in Iraq. The evidence is there to prove it. Plus, sanctions haven’t weakened Saddam one bit, and we know it.
To say I am against war is an understatement. What is required is dialogue and disar mament, with a concurrent lifting of economic sanctions, as well as very strict controls at Iraqi entry points. The best way is to continue with resolution 1441. I totally agree with the French and Russian and German proposal to continue with the disarmament and monitor thoroughly.
Iraq is the most X-rayed country in the world. We need to accept it is a threat to nobody, even if it would be good to have a new government. What is required is a continuation with the disarmament process, a strengthening of monitoring, and the lifting of a punishment from the Iraqi people who have done nothing wrong, while scrutinising tightly what the Iraqi government will do with the greater economic freedom. But there is absolutely no justification to consider Iraq as an imminent threat that would justify a pre-emptive strike – which in any case is against international law.
· Former UN humanitarian controller for Iraq
“What should we do?” The question should be: “What have we done?” The US and the UK couldn’t care less about the Iraqi people. We’ve been killing them for years, through sustained bombing and the brutal sanctions which have deprived hundreds of thousands of children of essential medicines. Many of them are dying and are dead from the effects of depleted uranium, used in the Gulf war. The west has shown total indifference to these facts.
What is now on the cards is further mass murder. To say we will rescue the Iraqi people from their dictator by killing them and by destroying the threadbare infrastructure of their country is an insult to the intelligent. We have no moral position in this matter whatsoever.
The impending war is about testing new weapons of mass destruction (ours) and control of oil. The arms manufacturers and the oil companies will be the beneficiaries. The United States will be making a giant stride towards controlling the world’s resources. The whole thing is about “full spectrum dominance” – a term coined by the US – not me.
Exactly the right question, and in my opinion, we know exactly the right answer to it. It’s useful to remember that Saddam Hussein is not the only monster supported by the present incumbents in Washington until he did something contrary to their interests. There’s a long list that they supported right to the end of their bloody rule – Marcos, Duvalier, and many others, some of them as vicious and brutal as Saddam, and running tyrannies that compare well with his: Ceausescu, for example. They were overthrown internally, despite US support for them. That’s been prevented within Iraq by the murderous sanctions regime, which has devastated the population while strengthening Saddam, and forcing the population to become hopelessly reliant on him for survival.
Solution? Give Iraqis a chance to survive, and there’s every reason to believe that they’ll get rid of him the way that others have. Meanwhile, strengthen measures to ensure that Saddam, or some replacement, doesn’t develop significant military capacity. Not a very serious problem right now, since as is well known, Iraq is militarily and economically the weakest country in the region, but it could be down the road, and in his hands, it would be likely, even without the US and UK to supply him.
· Institute professor at the department of linguistics and philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology