Magazine article The Spectator

The Common Enemy

Magazine article The Spectator

The Common Enemy

Article excerpt

The murderous attack on the United Nations in Baghdad has brought some clarity to the situation. It has exposed the essential community of interest between the UN and the United States. Those two entities often disagree so radically about methods that the fundamental similarity of their aims is easily overlooked. In Iraq, they are engaged in a liberal imperialist exercise which has the aim of bringing the blessings of democracy to people who until earlier this year suffered under a most vicious tyranny. The UN and US suffer, therefore, from the paradox which has always afflicted the liberal imperialist, namely that in order to bring freedom to people less fortunate than himself, he must first impose his will upon them, in the first instance by force of arms.

This opens the imperialist to the charge that he is not liberal at all, but a greedy and unscrupulous brute who simply wants to go round conquering other people. He is a foreigner - the unfortunate Sergio Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian - who is meddling in a part of the world where he has no right to be, and where he fails to understand the local customs. The liberal imperialist soon finds that in order to create something that can be called democracy, he must first create a semblance of order, but his enemies just as soon realise that if only they can stop him creating order, they can stop him bringing the very blessings clean water, prosperity, democracy, etc. which would legitimise the original decision to send in the imperialist forces.

Britain supplied an important part of the imperialist forces which marched into Iraq and over Saddam Hussein. The use of the word 'imperialism' may seem old-fashioned and provocative but it is better than the canting pretence, to which even the most admirable of servants to the UN are prone, that there is nothing imperial, or colonial, about the exercise on which they and we have jointly embarked. Mr de Mello came to Iraq in a proconsular role, and that is why he was killed. His mere presence was a dreadful threat to the potentates of that region. He was a harbinger of a system that could, if successful, within a short space of time, see the rulers in Tehran, Damascus and a dozen other capitals swept away. Blowing up Mr de Mello was a kind of compliment. He was a threat.

The UN had declined, unfortunately, to afford its staff the protection they needed in Baghdad. That protection could only have been assured by placing their staff somewhere more defensible than the Canal Hotel, where American troops could keep cement lorries packed with explosives at a safe distance. …

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