Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 October 2002
Like most Tribune readers and contributors, I am against the United States waging a war to topple Saddam Hussein. I am, moreover, against it regardless of whether the US gets support from the United Nations Security Council. I am unconvinced that war will easily get rid of Saddam except at an unacceptable cost in casualties. I am not persuaded that the US has a credible strategy for replacing his regime with one that is civilised and democratic. And I am worried by the potentially disastrous knock-on effects of war elsewhere in the Middle East.
So, on the face of it, the big anti-war protest in London last weekend should have filled me with hope – or at least given me a warm feeling of solidarity. But it did nothing of the sort. Not for the first time, I came away from a giant leftie demo glummer than when I turned up.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly that I’ve had enough of demos and everything that goes with them: the hours of being serenaded by Leninist bores selling dire propagandist papers; the slow trudge through streets of unstaffed offices surrounded by morons shouting witless slogans; the interminable dull speeches at the end – and all for what? Well, we meet a few old friends and have a drink, get a bit of fresh air and (of course) make our point. It’s just a pity it’s only to ourselves and the cops . . .
But my sense of ennui after last weekend’s march wasn’t just the feeling of futility I usually get after such events. It also had a lot to do with the politics of the occasion.
To put it bluntly: where was there any acknowledgment that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous, vicious tyrant whose demise should be an urgent priority for every democrat, humanitarian and peace-lover in the world?
All right, I accept that most people in the anti-war movement have no doubt that Saddam runs a vile totalitarian police state. The problem, however, is that, in the cause of peace, they have conveniently forgotten what’s wrong with Iraq and have joined hands with all manner of dubious apologists for Saddam – the 57 varieties of Leninist “anti-imperialist” (both Stalinist and Trot); a significant section of anti-Israeli British Muslim opinion; the pacifists whose ideological forebears cringed before Hitler in the 1930s; a smattering of useful-idiot journalists and politicians who have travelled to Iraq as guests of the regime and haven’t twigged that “ordinary people” under police-state regimes have no choice but to be effusive to any foreigner about the wonders of their predicament. The horrible truth is that no one in the anti-war movement has raised a squeak about Saddam’s hideous crimes or considered what the Iraqi people themselves want.
Pretty much the same goes for the danger posed by Saddam to the rest of the world. OK, so Tony Blair’s dossier on Saddam’s programme for weapons of mass destruction contains little that is new – and there is certainly an argument to be had about how close Saddam is to reacquiring an arsenal that is an immediate threat to his neighbours or his own subjects.
But it is incontrovertible both that rearmament is his goal and that he has been pursuing it relentlessly in recent years. Has anyone in the anti-war movement even acknowledged that this is a legitimate cause for concerted international action against Iraq that falls short of war – such as (dare I say it?) properly policed sanctions and intrusive weapons inspections?
My point is simple. Saddam is the enemy of everything that democrats and humanitarians hold dear. The argument between proponents and opponents of war should not be about whether the world should act to undermine his despicable regime and deny it the means of waging war, but about how it can most effectively and decently hasten its downfall and its replacement with a pacific democratic polity.
Yet many on the left seems mesmerised by asinine arguments for letting Saddam be. He’s not the only evil dictator in the world, they say, nor even the only one who is developing weapons of mass destruction – as if his crimes were exonerated by those of others. The Americans wouldn’t care if Iraq didn’t have oil, they go on – as if that means that there’s no reason to give a toss ourselves, regardless of the nature of Saddam’s regime and regardless of the whole world’s material interest (lusty proletarians not excepted) in the maintenance of stable and secure energy supplies.
I’m not arguing for precipitate military action to bring down Saddam – honest. But the case against it is not strengthened by stupidity. Until the anti-war lobby accepts that Saddam is a problem and that the world would be a much better place without him, it’s a dead-cert loser.