There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Mr Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has done in twenty years.
It has scuppered the biological weapons convention, while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test ban treaty. It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind which included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms treaty, undermined the international criminal court, refused to sign the climate change protocol and, last month, sought to immobilise the international convention on torture, so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Even its preparedness to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the UN Security Council is a defiance of international law far graver than Saddam Hussein’s non-compliance with UN weapons inspectors.
But the US government’s declaration of impending war has, in truth, nothing to do with weapons inspections. On Saturday, John Bolton, the US official charged, hilariously, with “arms control”, told the Today programme that “our policy … insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not.” The US government’s justification for whupping Saddam has now changed twice. At first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was “assisting Al-Qaeda”. This turned out to be untrue. Then the US government claimed that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of mass destruction, and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find out if this were so. Now, as the promised evidence has failed to materialise, the weapons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is Saddam Hussein’s very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.
Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without strategic purpose. The US government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein, however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world than he has done for the past ten years.
But the US government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the flagging “war on terror” is going somewhere. The second is that the people of all super-dominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice-president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be working rather well.
The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex, which is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses.
In other words, if the US was not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The US will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.
Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion. By appeasing George Bush, he placates Britain’s right-wing press. Standing on Bush’s shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain’s anomalous position as a permanent member of the Security Council. Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent role of broker and interpreter of power.
By invoking the “special relationship”, Blair also avoids the greatest challenge a prime minister has faced since the Second World War. This challenge is to recognise and act upon the conclusion of any objective analysis of global power: namely that the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush. The nation which in the past has been our firmest friend is becoming, instead, our foremost enemy.
As the US government discovers that it can threaten and attack other nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries which have numbered among our allies. As its insatiable demand for resources prompts ever bolder colonial adventures, it will come to interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial states. As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other governments, and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement which impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new generation of nuclear weapons, and appears to be ready to use them pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East, into which the rest of the world would be sucked.
The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power. Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming resistance.
To abandon the special relationship would be to accept that this is happening. To accept that the US presents a danger to the rest of the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British government has undertaken for over 60 years.
We can resist the US by neither military nor economic means, but we can resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe should impede, at the diplomatic level, all US attempts to act unilaterally. We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement, gangster capitalism and excessive military spending will reduce America’s power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its doormat. Only when the US can accept its role as a nation whose interests must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a friendship which was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of justice.