|False Dichotomies on Iraq|
The debate about Iraq has centred solely around whether or not the US should invade. Whilst this question is important and the stakes are enormously high, focussing on this question alone without reference to wider foreign policy issues means we cannot come to a satisfactory answer. The decision about whether or not to go to war should be made in terms of whether or not it is consistent with longer term foreign policy goals (such as promoting human rights and international law). The debate should be about what those foreign policy goals should be, whether or not going to war with Iraq is consistent with those goals, and if there are alternative short or long term actions which might be more consistent with them.
In practice, the debate has been narrow, simplistic, and black and white. Whilst many of us have a complex view of the situation, few have had the opportunity to publicly express this. Opinion polls are inherently black and white, and protest marches are generally reported and understood only in quantitative terms. In thinking and debating about this situation, arguments, facts and general points become attached to ‘support’ or ‘opposition’. These arguments, rather than being considered on their own merits in the wider context discussed in the previous paragraph, are then evaluated by whether or not they support the limited question of whether or not we go to war. We are forced into ‘supporting’ or ‘opposing’ this war without regard to our stance on the wider issues. This situation is analogous to the situation we found ourselves in over a year ago when Bush announced that we were either with him or for terrorism. In fact, it is possible to oppose the government and their warlike attitude, whilst remaining unsure about the narrow question of whether or not war on Iraq right now is desirable. Even then, there are good arguments to suggest that it is not.
Firstly, regardless of their ultimate motives, the US and UK governments have not argued their case honestly. They have clung to positions which are attached to a position of ‘support’ and attacked those attached to ‘opposition’ in ways which do not throw any light on the long terms foreign policy goals or even on the limited question of whether or not we should go to war right now. This is manipulation using the false dichotomy between ‘support’ and ‘opposition’. They have made a great fuss of anything which might convince a few more people that we should go to war, regardless of whether it is consistent with the ‘official’ reason for war (UN resolutions), and the implied long term goal (maintenance of international law in the form of the UN). For example, the suggestion that there is a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein is certainly unrelated to UN resolution 1441 (which largely deals with weapons inspections) or any of the other UN resolutions pertaining to Iraq after September 11 (all of which deal with the sanctions). The UK Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, said that “The Government is not prepared to sit idly by until hundreds or thousands are killed before acting…” But a military intervention is itself almost certain to cause this number of deaths (even the smallest estimates of the numbers of direct casualties in the war on Afghanistan were in the thousands and an invasion of Iraq is likely to be bloodier as it will involve fighting in more densely packed areas than in Afghanistan).
As well as manipulating opinion in this way, they have also been more directly dishonest. The link between Iraq and al-Qaeda turned out not to mean that they were collaborating, but that there had been some contact between them, resulting in no collaboration. (Iraq’s crime here was to ‘tolerate’ al-Qaeda, that is to say that they did not pursue them as intently as the US and UK would have done, or in other words a country we have been waging on with bombs and economic sanctions for years is not willing to expend a great deal of effort to fight our enemies for us.) Another example of direct dishonesty is the Iraq dossier. Recently it came to light that whole pages of this dossier were copied verbatim from a twelve year old PhD thesis. This is dishonest on two levels, it is dishonest to quote without acknowledgement and it is dishonest to present twelve year old facts as current.
Secondly, it is difficult to believe rhetoric about human rights and democracy from governments which historically and contemporarily have such little regard for them. US and UK arms companies and governments gave Saddam Hussein the biological and chemical weapons that he used, and perhaps still owns, at a time when human rights in Iraq were in a similar state to today. There is strong evidence that the US government was and is involved in continued coup attempts in Venezuela (against a democratically elected president). A consistent policy of supporting human rights and democracy would have substantial long term benefits to the world, and without such a consistent policy their rhetoric is simply not credible.
Thirdly, it has been clear from the start that they have had little interest in a peaceful outcome. The US withheld intelligence information from the inspections team (even though UN resolution 1441 calls on them to pass any such information to them) so that Powell could reveal to the UN that the Iraqi government had tried to deceive the inspectors. The UN is being used by the US as a justification for war. They are quite happy to get UN approval, but they are also quite willing to invade unilaterally if the UN will not give approval. A peaceful solution was thus ruled out from the start.
Despite these criticisms, the narrow question of whether or not we should go to war remains. Will the Iraqis ultimately be better off after this war than before? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question. Firstly, we can’t know what the outcomes will be, we can only make educated guesses (for example, according to Human Rights Watch one UN official told the Washington Post that “[t]here could be a few million refugees heading to Iran. There could be six million people in Baghdad without access to clean water or electricity. There could be millions more waiting for someone to give them food because that’s what they’ve come to depend on…” . Secondly, it depends on what we would do instead of war, how we would conduct the war, what we would do after a war, and so on. Instead of these questions, we are being asked to choose between sanctions and bombs (“… the alternative [to war] is to carry on with a sanctions regime which, because of the way Saddam Hussein implements it, leads to thousands of people dying needlessly in Iraq every year.” – Tony Blair), and given the horrific human cost of the sanctions some might believe that any alternative is better. Effectively, Blair is saying that unless we let him and Bush bomb Iraq they will do something even more horrendous.
Ultimately, we may decide, perhaps in a moment of cynical despair, that the best we can do is to choose the least worst option from those presented to us. Alternatively, we can try and set our own agenda and demand a consistent policy of support for human rights and democracy around the world.
| ||People have been talking about this Guide Entry. Here are the most recent Conversations:|