The Unexpectedly Benign Consequences of Having Delayed the Conflict in Iraq ; If George Bush's Plans for the Middle East Work, He Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents, and as a Benefactor of All Mankind

By Anderson, Bruce | The Independent (London, England), March 1, 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Unexpectedly Benign Consequences of Having Delayed the Conflict in Iraq ; If George Bush's Plans for the Middle East Work, He Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents, and as a Benefactor of All Mankind


Anderson, Bruce, The Independent (London, England)


Great events confound the minds of men. Eighteen months ago, who would have thought that George Bush would turn into a liberal imperialist, while Tony Blair became a Eurosceptic? This is, of course, a description which the PM would repudiate with incredulity, as would the Foreign Office, still in denial about the significance of recent events, which have destroyed the Government's euro- diplomacy. But Mr Blair is a Eurosceptic, objectively. His Old Labour opponents can tell him what "objectively" means.

One wonders, indeed, whether the Prime Minister now regrets the efforts he made to postpone the Iraq conflict and to give diplomacy the time to work. It has not worked. So the strains associated with war have grown in intensity; Mr Blair's euro ambitions are an early victim.

That is no loss, but here are better reasons for believing that the Americans ought to have launched their military campaign at this time last year. In March 2002, there would have been no trouble with the Turks or the Germans. Confronted by the rapid and irresistible momentum of American will, even Jacques Chirac might have been deterred from deploying his malice, while - much more important - life would have been easier for our allies in the Middle East. From the outset, at least in private, all the friendly regimes except Saudi Arabia were saying that, if the Americans were going to war, they ought to get on with it. For friendly Arabs, a year of delay has meant a year of rising tension.

It has also led to a further year of misery for the Iraqi people. In view of Mr Blair's courage in standing by America and the cause of right, it might seem mean- spirited to cavil. But the cost of a year's futile diplomatic procrastination can be quantified in dead Iraqi children.

Yet there are two consolations. In Washington, the year has not been wasted. The longer the Americans took to prepare for war, the grander their ambitions became for the post-war settlement. As a result, the US is about to embark on the most daring experiment in imperial idealism in the whole of human history. The Bush administration is planning nothing less than a moral reconstruction of the Middle East.

Here again, events will impose themselves on men. Whatever the Israelis think, the logic of his own position will force President Bush to advance the cause of a Palestinian state. Over the next few years the greatest obstacle to achieving that state will not be Ariel Sharon. It will be the pathetically inadequate quality of Palestinian leadership.

Only a hyper-power could undertake such a Middle Eastern enterprise, and even under such direction, it involves awesome risks. George Bush might describe himself as a conservative, but he is embarking upon a profoundly un-conservative course of action. Indeed, nothing more starkly illustrates the divergence between American and European conservatism. On this side of the Atlantic, modern conservatism is founded on a hostility to Enlightenment political projects, which commence in grandiose plans to reconstruct human nature and end up with the scaffold and the Gulag. But America itself is an Enlightenment political project, which succeeded because the abstract ideas of intellectuals from failing European states were mediated through the political instincts of Virginian squires and New England puritans.

European conservatism is cautious, sceptical and pessimistic. American conservatives, like most other decent Americans, take as their motto the unwritten first article of their Bill of Rights: "That this year shall be better than last year, and next year shall be better than this year.

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The Unexpectedly Benign Consequences of Having Delayed the Conflict in Iraq ; If George Bush's Plans for the Middle East Work, He Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents, and as a Benefactor of All Mankind
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