This Iraq business. Every few weeks I sit down and try to write something short and sweet on the subject and it soon grows long and ugly. Yesterday I did it again. Today I’ll try it yet again. (And hurrah! Here it finally is. But long and ugly, I’m afraid.)
So. Iraq. Blah blah blah, cut cut cut. And then this:
The USA is not just squaring up to Saddam Hussein because he is a big bad threat, although I’m sure that’s part of it. It is also going to take out Saddam’s Iraq because it is a good place to set about influencing other important places from, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and because it is takeable. Iraq is nasty, but it is also weak. Saddam Hussein is a monster and is known to be a monster, which makes him weak. Arabs aren’t nearly as opposed to the USA taking out Saddam as they would be if it attacked another of their countries, which makes him weak. Even the UN has resolved various things against Saddam over the years. So he’s vulnerable as well as threatening. The benefit of taking him out is big, while the cost of taking him out, by the standards of your average piece of conquest is quite low. I mean, imagine if the USA was instead trying to conquer Iran, or Egypt, or Saudi Arabia. Nightmare. Couldn’t happen.
The point is: USA thinking isn’t only about the rights and wrongs of invading Iraq, liberating the Iraqis, and stopping Saddam-bossed or Saddam-assisted future terrorist attacks. They have many other dishes on their menu besides him. The purpose of taking out Saddam is not just to take out Saddam, but to wrench the whole balance of power in the Muslim world into a different state, a state far less helpful to Islamofascist (and other) terrorists. The key questions are: Will the USA setting up shop right next to the very heart of the Muslim world like this enable it to take out terrorists and terrorist infrastructure more efficaciously than before? Will it persuade potential terrorists that, what with the USA getting so exercised, maybe they’d be better off forgetting about terrorism and becoming accountants and computer consultants? Or will it provoke now reasonably “good” Muslims into becoming terrorists the way they wouldn’t have done if the USA had just carried on Clintonising about it all? Presumably President Bush reckons that the answers to those questions add up to a big gain to the USA if they go into Iraq, and although I am definitely open to persuasion about all that, at the moment, for whatever difference it might make, I strongly agree with him.
Asking “Why Iraq?” and “Why not somewhere else?” is like asking “Why France?” and “Why not somewhere else?” in 1944. Lots of reasons, and meanwhile: be patient. They’ll get there. Basically, Iraq is the next big step that makes the most sense. But don’t confuse taking out Saddam with the endgame of this thing. Oddly enough, in Europe at any rate, it’s the opponents of Bush who are now being rather more public about this than Bush’s supporters. “It won’t end with Iraq”, said the protesters last Saturday. They’re right.
Tony Blair’s problem is that his public support for Bush is based on a diminished idea of what Bush is up to, which comes over as dishonest because it is. But, if Blair were publicly to support what Bush is really up to, that would be honest, but very probably even more unpopular, especially with his own Party, than what he is saying now. A lot – and I mean a lot – of British people think that the USA is quite assertive enough in the world now, thank you very much, without it getting an order of magnitude more assertive. I hope Americans realise what a public pickle Blair is getting himself into over this.
Meanwhile, whatever Blair or the Brits or the French or the Timbuktooans might say or think, the USA plan is to take Iraq, and following that, over the next few years, to make itself a lot safer than now from terrorist attacks by (a) chasing terrorists, absolutely everywhere on the planet, and by (b) putting whatever pressure is necessary on any government anywhere which is now not chasing terrorists to switch to chasing terrorists with comparable zeal to the USA, thereby making the USA, and the West and the World in general, massively safer from terrorist attack than we all are now. And if that also makes the USA a whole lot more of a force in the world even than it is now, well, the Americans can live with that.
Ah, the irony of it. The idea of 9/11 was that it would bring the Great Satan to its knees. Now it looks as if this attack, breaking the Machiavelli rule that if you attack your enemy you had better be in a position then to finish him off, is actually going to result in the Great Satan becoming a lot stronger. By launching that astonishing assault, the Islamofascists have turned the world into a place that the USA now feels it has to control far more completely than it ever has before, in sheer self defence, and in particular it has turned the Muslim world into something that the USA is now determined to plunged into the middle of and severely re-arrange.
I know, I know. Is what the USA is doing right? Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But me? – I sympathise with the USA. If I’m right about what it’s doing and why, well, I think it all makes perfect sense. Plus, frankly, in situations like this, I’m far more interested simply in trying to work out what is happening than I am to inform the world of what ought, in my opinion, to be happening instead if I do not approve.
One final point, which strongly tilts me towards the USA in all this.
The USA is now powerful enough to influence large tracts of the world in a big way, provided it does mostly nice things (like squash terrorism, spread capitalism and spread democracy) and that will be mostly very good news for the world, in my opinion, even for most of the people who will never admit this. And the USA may also be stupid enough to do serious damage to itself in the process. War is the health of the state, etc. But what the USA is not capable of doing, now or for the foreseeable future, is to tyrannise over the world. The USA can’t, in other words, do to the world what Saddan Hussein and his cronies have been doing to Iraq for the last two decades, whatever the USA’s enemies now say. The USA is simply not constituted to do such a thing. It’s not in its nature, flawed though that may be. It doesn’t have either the will or the power to do this. Had the old USSR ever had the power of the current USA, who knows what it might have done, and how many more millions it might have slaughtered in the process? But the USA, no.
If the USA had two billion people in it and an economy twice its present size and growing really fast, and if all its internal checks and balances had either been castrated out of it by a succession of Julius Caesars (and there are some who say that exactly this last bit has already happened or will shortly happen) or else if the USA had never had any checks and balances in the first place – instead of a mere three hundred million (??) people and an economy chugging along okay, and a Constitution and a democratic political tradition that still counts (in my opinion) for a hell of a lot – then I wonder what I would think about the USA hegemonising in all directions the way it is now doing? Power corrupts, and absolute power, … etc. With a USA like that, I might regard even the occasional serious terrorist stunt in places like my own London SW1, even with WMDs, as a price worth paying to avoid such a world.
But as it is: go Uncle Sam. And then keep on going. Just don’t fuck up.