The Problem of Iraq

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AT the time of writing it seems quite possible that President Bush will, sooner or later, commit US forces to action against Iraq. In the last two weeks Vice-President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have spoken publicly in terms which make intervention more probable than not. The Head of the National Security Agency (NSA) has spoken in similar terms in a press interview. Officials speaking on behalf of the US Administration have made it clear that there is a de-coupling between their objectives vis-a-vis Iraq and the question of Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council resolutions on Weapons Inspection. What they are seeking is 'regime change', ie, the removal of Saddam Hussein and his replacement by... By what? The best on offer seems to be some sort of coalition of opposition forces currently in exile and hitherto considered as hardly worth the attention of serious governments anywhere.

Internationally there has been growing opposition to US policies. Almost without exception Arab countries of the region have warned against military intervention, fearing the destabilising effects of what might follow. There are - to put it no more strongly - serious misgivings among members of the EU. The public debate in the US is warming up. There are strong reservations in Congress and senior figures, Republicans among them, emphasised the grave risks that the US runs and urged the need for caution, especially against the thought that the US could in the event 'go it alone' if no international support were forthcoming. It is thought that the UK will have a key role to play insofar as Mr Blair is believed to have President Bush's ear. After his outspoken support for joint US-UK action, Mr Blair flew to Washington to confer with President Bush on 8 September. So far as one can judge at this stage UK public opinion is opposed to military intervention in support of the US. There is vocal opposition in the ranks of the Labour Party. Mr Kennedy has distanced the Lib-Dems from the current idea of intervention without international sanction and unconnected to the issue of Weapons Inspection. Mr Duncan Smith however has apparently written in support of action and his Conservative supporters favour action. These positions will clearly continue to evolve over the forthcoming weeks of party conferences and the like. They suggest however that the US Administration still has a lot of persuading to do.

There is of course the world of difference between lack of international support and outright opposition among the regional and other countries concerned, either because they may be asked to commit forces or because they have interests there, as almost everyone does including countries as distant as New Zealand which had in Iraq a profitable market for mutton. Many, Iraq's neighbours perhaps most of all, might be glad to see the back of the present Iraqi regime. As recent events have twice demonstrated beyond doubt, in Saddam Hussein's ambitious and unscrupulous hands, its wealth, pivotal geographic position, potential military capability and human resources pose a threat of continued instability. And yet they have survived his attentions and thwarted his ambitions, Iran by in effect defeating him in an eight-year war and Kuwait by invoking the UN Charter and the aid of its Western and Arab allies. The issue of continued Iraqi non-compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions over Weapons Inspections remains a matter of grave anxiety but it is not in their view one which justifies a military intervention of a kind and on a scale which would be necessary to remove Saddam Hussein. They are in favour of de-coupling, more accurately a reverse de-coupling, for reasons quite different from those of the US but to them quite as valid and important. Better the devil you know...

To the idealist or the ideologue or those of the purity of the newly converted or those inspired with the Churchillian example of the 1930s this might not seem a courageous attitude. …