Debate and discussion: Iraq

Submitted by AWL on 21 February, 2003 - 4:35

The left is wrong about Iraq

By Eric Lee

The left in Britain, and no doubt around the world, is completely caught up in the excitement of a rapidly-growing anti-war movement.
I write these words a week before the 15 February international day of protest — a day which is certain to bring millions out in the streets in all the world’s major cities. I can certainly understand the enthusiasm of many on the left who after so many years out in the cold are delighted to once again be part of — and in some cases, leading — a huge popular movement.

To my comrades on the left I can only say: enjoy it while you can, because it isn’t going to last.
The left is making a number of assumptions about the Iraq crisis which are going to turn out to be misguided and wrong. And by making those assumptions, it is setting itself up for a major defeat — and years in the political wilderness.

Let’s focus on four of those assumptions:

1. Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction, is not working with Al Qaeda terrorists, and does not threaten the West.

2. The US and Britain are isolated diplomatically, and are likely to go to war without UN approval.

3. Public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to the war, and anti-war sentiment grows every day.

4. A war, if it happens, will result in a massive loss of innocent lives and will destabilise the entire Middle East.

What if one of them turns out to be wrong? What if they all are?

I thought that Colin Powell made a fairly convincing case that Iraq is hiding a weapons program. Taken in the context of known Iraqi efforts both before and after the last Gulf War to create chemical, biological and nuclear arsenals, it is certainly not unreasonable to assume that he may be right. Indeed, if Saddam has not taken advantage of four years without weapons inspectors around to rebuild his arms programs, I’d be surprised.

The truth will eventually come out. Maybe one — or several — Iraqi scientists, without their minders around, without their families threatened, will fess up. Maybe the UN teams will actually find something. Maybe the CIA will reveal some more intelligence along the lines of what Powell showed the Security Council. Or, most likely, the truth will come out during and after the next Gulf War — when Saddam either uses such weapons, or, following his defeat, they are revealed.

To stake so much on believing what the Baghdad regime says (“we have no such weapons”) seems incredibly dangerous for the left. And yet the vast majority of the left is saying exactly that. Otherwise, if one believes that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction, one does have to come up with an alternative to war (and the credible threat of war) as a means of getting rid of them.

The notion that the US and Britain are isolated, that Bush and his poodle Blair are a couple of crazy war-mongerers while the rest of the world tries to restrain them, is falling apart even as I write these words. As recently as a few weeks ago, Turkey and Kuwait were being cited as countries which were standing in the way of US plans to attack Iraq — today, they are bases for such an attack. The much touted French opposition to the war is collapsing even now. France is preparing its army for active participation in the conflict, just as they did the previous Gulf War. Of course they will insist on some last-minute manoeuvring, and will claim credit for whatever UN resolution is eventually passed. But there can be no doubt that it is only a matter of time before the Chirac government joins the bandwagon.

Getting the Russians and Chinese on board is not going to be a problem, as all the US needs to do is turn a blind eye to Russia’s barbaric war in Chechnya and China’s extensive record of human rights violations, to get their support. The other members of the Security Council, with the possible exception of Germany, are easily bought off. A second UN Security Council resolution supporting military action is almost a certainty.

Many on the left will agree with that, but while not trusting in Chirac and Putin to stop the war, are convinced that massive public opinion against the war is a factor to be reckoned with. In this they are truly mistaken. Public opinion is a fickle thing. Has everyone forgotten the mass street demonstrations in Germany and across Europe after the September 11th terrorist attacks? One of the banners proclaimed “We are all Americans now”.

What will public opinion be like after another successful, spectacular Al Qaeda attack? Intelligence agencies are now saying that it’s increasingly likely that Al Qaeda has the capacity to produce a “dirty bomb.” What will happen to anti-war sentiment in Britain if such a device were to be detonated in London? It would evaporate. The anti-war movement would be a memory — and a bad memory at that.

What happens to public opinion if Saddam uses chemical and biological weapons in the event of war? What if he once again fires Scud missiles at Israel, as he did in 1991, but this time armed with chemical warheads? What if ricin gets loose in a British city? Or smallpox?

These are all unknowns — the point being that we live in an incredibly dangerous world where at any moment, any of these horrors could easily occur. Knowing that, how can anyone expect that a mass anti-war movement would survive very long?

There are already hints of this happening. As I watched the Colin Powell testimony — knowing that all the anti-war politicians would immediately declare it unconvincing — I checked out the BBC website which had an online poll. Almost always, those polls reflect widespread anti-war feeling — one is certain that some of the anti-war groups deliberately go those sites en masse to strengthen the appearance of an anti-war majority. And to my amazement, a clear majority of those who voted in the poll accepted Colin Powell’s evidence.

Sky News also ran an Internet-based poll immediately after Powell’s testimony and it too showed public support for a more aggressive approach to Iraq.

The final assumption being made by the left is that if a war cannot be prevented and breaks out, things will go terribly wrong. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis will die. Coalition forces will suffer casualties (this must be what’s behind the “no blood for oil” slogan). And worst of all — the Middle East will become a less stable place.

The same predictions could have been made in 1991 on the eve of the previous Gulf War, and indeed were. But the fact is that the most likely scenario is a swift victory for Coalition forces, keeping in mind that Iraqi conventional forces (their weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding) are much weaker than they were twelve years ago. The Coalition’s weapons are more precise. It will not be necessary to carpet bomb Iraq, killing civilians wholesale. And as in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo, it is likely that in addition to a swift military victory, the number of civilian casualties will be far less than it had been in previous wars.

As for the region, let us remember what happened in 1991. The US-led Coalition victory produced immediate results: it forced the Shamir government in Israel, which had resisted participation in an international peace conference, to come to Madrid and begin a peace process which culminated in the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians, the Israel-Jordanian peace treaty, and the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

One effect of a massive Coalition victory might well be to get countries like Saudi Arabia to think twice before covertly supporting terrorists like Bin Laden. And it will almost certainly result in a renewed push for a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The left is betting on continued popular opposition to war, on the UN not adopting a second resolution, on Saddam not having weapons of mass destruction, and on a war having catastrophic results.

But what if all these assumptions turn out to be wrong?

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