Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 26th August 2002

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- Bush, Iraq and fair-weather friends (29 Aug 2002)

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Bush, Iraq and fair-weather friends (29 Aug 2002)

Over the past few weeks there has been an ongoing and increasingly vociferous war of words - senior people in the US Administration (Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld) have made strident speeches emphasising the need to act soon to thwart Saddam Hussein in what they allege is his ultimate aim to acquire (if he does not already possess) weapons of 'mass destruction' and to use them against the US or its allies. On the other hand numerous world leaders, specially those in the Middle East (Iran, Syria and even Egypt, not forgetting of course the Saudis) and now the French, have become increasingly strident in their opposition to what seems to be the trend of thinking by the US administration.

It is difficult to know what our own Prime Minister thinks (apart from anything else he is on vacation and little has been heard from him in public of late), but what is clear is that many within the Labour Party, even some quite senior government ministers have, at the very least, strong reservations about the possibility of British military personnel participating in any action against the Iraqi President by the US. It is also the case that some senior US politicians, including some within the Republican movement, are concerned that the US might become sucked into a military expedition which will have unforeseeable consequences.

What has appalled me particularly in the past few days was hearing a senior Saudi Prince interviewed on BBC Radio4 'Today' who said that only the Iraqi people should decide who rules their country (fair enough, one cannot quarrel with that, in principle), but added that the Iraqi people would get rid of Saddam Hussein if they decided it was necessary - and because they had not done so, they were obviously content with their political leadership. Such a willful misrepresentation of the reality of life in Iraq for ordinary Iraqis is simply breath-taking; Saddam Hussein has given ample evidence over the past twenty or so years that anyone who dissents is quickly, and often brutally, eliminated. The pusilanimity of the Saudi Arabian leadership is unfortunately not a surprise to me; they are undoubtedly very afraid that one consequence of the removal of Saddam Hussein from leadership in Iraq may well be to push their already fragile regime over the edge. Whatever happens, I don't think the Saudi political regime can continue as it is for very long.

Passing to France and President Chirac - well, what can one say. I am an unashamed Francophile, but I am not blind to the flaws of arrogance and single-minded self-interest that characterise that nation. I suspect, as usual, that if it becomes clear that the US (probably with at least a token participation from the United Kingdom) does embark on measures to carry out 'regime change' in Iraq, the French will realise that the meticulous planning and overwhelming force that is brought to bear will give a very good chance of success. In such circumstances, I suspect that the French will, as they did in 1990-91 and as they have quietly done in the 50-year life of NATO, contribute their undoubted technical and military expertise so that they can be seen to have been on the 'winning side'.

I think Donald Rumsfeld's speech a few days ago, in which he drew parallels with the stance being taken by President Bush and the nay-saying worldwide about this stance, with the struggle Winston Churchill had in the 1930s to convince others, in the UK and elsewhere, of the danger represented by Adolf Hitler, is somewhat far-fetched, but on the other hand it does have some elements in common with the situation faced by Churchill. If the current Iraqi regime does achieve possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and credible means of delivering them, then I think it is highly likely that Saddam Hussein would try to use them if he felt the risk worthwhile - and he is nothing if not a risk-taker in my view. Quite how extensive would be the geographic reach of the danger posed by Iraq in such circumstances is difficult to know, but Israel is highly-likely to be within reach and probably parts of eastern or central Europe too, at the very least.

Is it safe to say, as Prime Minister Chamberlain did of Czechoslovakia in the later 1930s, that Iraq and the countries that are at most risk geographically from Iraq are 'far distant countries of whom we know little'? No! No! No!

Another aspect of this whole affair that does cause me concern, though, is the US itself. Since the debacle of Vietnam, the US public has been very unenthusiastic about committing large numbers of its military personnel to situations where there is a strong risk of high numbers of casualties - and who can really blame them. The situation is analogous to the reluctance of the British and French to contemplate another major war against Germany in the 1930s, having lost so many people in the 1914-1918 conflict, but the analogy is only partially valid because the numbers lost by the US in Vietnam were dwarfed by the numbers lost by the major participants in the 'Great War'. And the United Kingdom did have to battle on alone for two years, paying with the accumulated wealth of two centuries for all that the US provided until the shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II. Would the US have come into that war, and would the United Kingdom have been able to survive if that attack on Pearl Harbor had not occurred? It is impossible to know for sure, but I strongly suspect that the US would not have entered the war and I fear that after the United Kingdom had been defeated, as it inevitably would have been, that the US would have made an accommodation with Germany, and perhaps Japan, to allow it to trade in the world as it would then have been and to 'guarantee' its own neutrality and survival.

Why is any of this relevant today, rather than just simply being 'griping' on my part? After the Gulf War in 1991, the then President Bush encouraged internal rebellion against Saddam Hussein by Iraqi dissidents, implicitly suggesting that US support would be forthcoming to ensure the dissidents' success. There was indeed significant dissent in the Kurdish north of Iraq and in the South of the country, but the outside support essential to success simply did not materialise. Retribution by Saddam Hussein and his supporters followed swiftly. Potential dissidents within Iraq remember this, and I have no doubt others in the region (for example the Saudis and Egyptians - to balance my somewhat dismissive comments about them earlier in this article) have similarly observed and drawn their own conclusions. Whilst I generally support the US administration's strong stance on Iraq at present, and hope that the United Kingdom will participate in whatever action is taken, I am under no illusions that it will be easy to achieve and that there is risk of fracture in US commitment to continuation of the strategy if the number of US casualties starts to grow alarmingly - but I see no alternative because sooner or later we will regret it bitterly if we do not make the attempt.

Strong nerves will be needed over the coming months - I remain convinced that removal of Saddam Hussein from leadership in Iraq is a worthy outcome to aim for.

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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron