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Rumours of war

BILL KIRKMAN


U.S. President George W. Bush (right) and U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld...'taking all threats seriously`.

WILL the United States invade Iraq? If it does, how many of its allies will support the attack? Specifically, will Tony Blair bring Britain alongside America, in pursuit of the long celebrated "special relationship"?

These questions are being ever more urgently asked as President George W. Bush and some of his closest advisers talk insistently about the need for a "regime change" in Iraq. Among the traditional allies of the United States, the questions have been provoking doubts and reservations, voiced with increasing force.

Much of the analysis, understandably, has concentrated on disagreements, or differences in emphasis, within the countries most directly concerned. There are suggestions, for example, of a deep division of opinion within the American body politic. There are manifestly deep divisions in the United Kingdom, and indeed within the ruling Labour party itself.

If one attempts to stand back from the highly publicised arguments, and the high profile proponents of differing views, it is possible, I suggest, to discern some fundamental questions which need to be addressed.

The first is: would an attack on Iraq be morally justifiable? Deciding the precise point at which international action is morally justifiable is notoriously difficult, not least because the basis for moral judgments is not absolute.

For me, the decision to go to war against Hitler in 1939 was clearly morally justified. By that time, he had overrun a large part of continental Europe, and there was unequivocal evidence that his territorial ambitions were insatiable. If he had not been stopped, much of the civilised world would have been destroyed, and the evil policy of ethnic cleansing (as we would now describe it) which he perpetrated on the Jews would have continued unabated. Civilisation itself was at risk.

If Hitler's policies had been imposed only within the boundaries of Germany if, that is, he had not taken over other countries, I personally feel that the moral justification would have been less clear-cut. (In particular, it has to be recognised that Hitler came to power in Germany through an election.)

There is of course no exact parallel with the current situation in Iraq. Certainly the suggestion by American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Washington's position is like Churchill in the 1930s, and that those who disagree are like the appeasers of the 1930s, shows, to put it mildly, an imperfect grasp of history.


Something to cool the rhetoric...life goes on in Iraq.

The second question is: would an attack be legal? The international lawyers are not unanimous, but what is clear is that the legality of any move against Iraq would be greatly enhanced if it were backed by the United Nations. That, obviously, is why the readmission to Iraq of weapons inspectors "without restriction" is a crucial issue.

My third question would be: would military action be likely to succeed? I do not mean, would it succeed in a purely military sense; if a sufficiently large force was deployed, military success could no doubt be achieved. Much more important are the questions whether it would succeed in replacing an unpleasant regime with a better one, and whether the action would bring an end to international terrorism. In both cases, it seems to me, the answers are extremely doubtful. I cannot think of many examples of "better" governments being introduced by external force, and terrorists are not limited by territorial boundaries.

There is a fourth question. It has little to do with moral right, or legality, but a great deal to do with ultimate success. It is: would military action be politically sensible? It has an international and a national dimension. Internationally, it is clear that in large parts of the world, and particularly in the Central Asia, doubts about American intentions are strong. Saudi Arabia, for example, has warned strongly against acting militarily to oust Saddam Hussein. Action which did not take such doubts seriously could easily exacerbate the problems of an already volatile region.

Nationally, any democratic political leader has to consider whether a policy will win popular support. In Britain, for example, as a generalisation, political leaders do not win votes by foreign policy, but they can lose votes by it if it goes wrong, particularly if the domestic issues (such as education, health, transport and the economy) remain unresolved.

In the last analysis, it seems to me, any decision whether to attack, or to support an attack, on Iraq, is likely to depend more on the third and fourth questions than on the first two. That is more pragmatic than principled, but it is probably realistic.

The writer is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, U.K.. E-mail him at wpk1000@cam.ac.uk

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