compulsory reading, Iraq, US Politics

A gruesome In-Between Tuesday.

What a weird day. A day so in-between. Between the announcement of the verdict and its execution. Between the certainty of war and the doubts about its justification.

Watching the media report about the imaginary ultimatum that Bush announced last night was even a bit surreal, especially given Ari Fleischer’s declaration that US forces might enter Iraq even earlier in case Saddam Hussein would clearly state he would not leave Iraq. What does he expect of the Iraqi dictator? A collect call to the White House?

More surreal things have been going on today. Some of the very same EU foreign ministers who met in Brussels to discuss the post-war humanitarian help for Iraq will fly to New York tonight to meet at the Security Council tomorrow in order to discuss the Weapon Inspectors’s disarmament schedule, even though the last weapon inspectors have been flown to Cyprus today. I have to say, this does strike me as slightly shizophrenic.

And it’s risky – imagine the Willing starting to fight during the meeting. Embarrassing doesnt even begin to describe the consequences. But that’s just what might happen if the US should feel the meeting is intended to corner it even further. And what else should it be good for? Oh wait, maybe the Iraq ambassador to the UN, Mohammed A. Aldouri, will use a statement about anthrax-alligations to scare the US forces even further that Iraq could indeed use whatever is left of whatever WMDs it once had. I really can’t see what this meeting is good for. Pictures of sulking foreign ministers in a powerless Security Council will not help anyone, least of all the United Nations. Thus, if war has not started by then, maybe tomorrow will be even more surreal than today.

Earlier, I listened to Tony Blair speak in the Commons. He wasn’t as good as usual, one could literally sense his lack of sleep. But his speech in itself was not all that important. The vote was. And as expected, the British government’s position was confirmed by the House – despite Robin Cook’s applauded resignation. In the end, the rebellion was bigger than last time, but smaller than feared – or hoped for – on either side – 139 Labour MPs dissented. Done. I bet Blair asked Bush to let him get some sleep and see his son before starting the war.

One of the good things of in-between days is that they are a great time to reflect about things. As today was the Iraq-War-In-Between-Day, I thought about the imminent war on Iraq.

My reflections were triggered by a chain email that my good friend Sabina sent me today. It included a link to a site with horrible, gruesome pictures of victims of war. You can find this link at the end of this post.

I am linking to the site because with yet another war looming over our heads and the American forces’ inclination to “shock and awe” their enemies, these pictures are an important reminder of the reality of warfare; of the fact that weapons, however intelligent, are intended to destroy and to kill. They are a stark reminder why there so many people oppposed to any military action, for whichever reason.

I am not one of them. In my opinion, there are instances in which war can be necessary despite the horrors it will inevitably inflict on everybody involved, innocent or guilty, old or young. Sometimes, only horror can end horror, if philosphically just or not. The allied invasion to end the nazi dictatorship in Europe is often cited to illustrate this. The US-led NATO attack on Serbian forces ethnically cleansing Kosovo, however ineffective it was or was not, is another. So what about Iraq?

To state that there are possible cases for war inspite of its horrors implies the necessity to explore any possibilty to avoid armed conflict. Not just to go the last mile of diplomacy, but far beyond. I know that this a problematic statement, given that much of what is going on these days is high-profile game theory, and, of course, sometimes threats have to be executed to remain credible.

A few hours ago, Tony Blair was laughed at in the House of Commons when he he made that point by comparing the current situation to the Munich conference of 1938, when the civilised world thought it had appeased Hitler, while all the effort really signalled that the great powers would not care enough to forcefully oppose him. The problem at hand is that both, Blair and those who laughed at him, are right – and wrong.

Of course, it is historically untenable to compare the question of disarmament/regime change in Iraq to Hitler’s aggressive, ideologically rooted expansionism. But, on the other hand, people still react to the incentives they face. And Saddam Hussein has only been forced into cooperation with UNMOVIC because of the credible threat of a war signalled by almost 300.000 US and British troops prepared to march towards Baghdad and use their Daisy Cutters on the way.

But however important the lessons of history are, they do not really tell us about the future. The latter is, indeed, unknown.

Regime change in Iraq is desirable. And I know that some argue that ‘real’ disarmament is only possible in conjunction with regime change. But given the recent rather positive record of Iraqi cooperation, I believe it was unwise to let the US military calendar determine the political agenda. Even if I accept the possibilty of war as last means, I do not believe that the Weapon Inspector process had arrived at that stage.

However much I agree that Iraq will be better off without the current regime – regardless of the world’s suspicion that the US administration is pursuing a secret agenda of its own – I do not believe that the risks of not fighting this war outweigh the risks of fighting it, especially if one thinks about the days after.

The latter aspect has two finer points. The first one is general – while I believe that it is entirely possible to come to a different conclusion, I don’t believe that violently removing Hussein will jump-start Iraqi democracy. The most promising element of the latter calculation is the demographic srtucture of the middle east: increased alphabetisation and education could indeed have important positive effects. But however young the region may be on average – this is a generational project and so far, no one has offered any convincing reason why ousting Saddam would result in a short cut to modernity for a society in which power is still structured by tribal affiliations, and in which distributional conflicts will in all likelihood result in severe ethnic clashes without strong, and thus likely violent, central control. Moreover, if Iraq is to remain in its current borders (as the US has promised Turkey, which is not too thrilled about the thought of an independent Kurdish state South of the territory inhabited by its own Kurdish minority a majority of which seemed to have at last accepted the idea of living in Turkey, according to one German ARD television correspondent in the area) one opressive regime will likely have to be replaced by another one. But in the end, all that is speculation.

The second finer point I am referring to is of specific nature. Even if I would agree that benevolent ‘colonialism’ and hierarchical modernisation is the right long-term policy, I do not believe that the current US administration is the one to lead the way. Look at Afghanistan. It may be less violent than during the Taliban-Nothern Alliance war, but outside of Kabul, it’s the Warlords’ territory again. Take this and the recent diplomatic record of the Bush administration and it will become very difficult to factually support their policy.

Thus, to cut a long story short, in my personal estimation, all this adds up to the conclusion that this war is not (yet?) necessary.

Even NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman shares this view, but none the less supports the war for he believes in the Western Prometheus, arguing that it is a war of justified choice, albeit not one of necessity. Here, I can’t follow Mr Friedman. Why would anyone choose war if it is not necessary? Even the most adamant hawks would always claim that fighting Saddam is necessary to achieve their argument of the day.

Ironically, Mr Friedman makes this point in order to explain to the American public (and their government) why international support is so important in this case – when he is in fact explaining some of the reasons for the lack thereof. A large part of the global opposition to war believes exactly this – that the Bush administration has chosen a war – without ever really explaining why it is necessary to pay the price, most importantly, in blood.

I believe there’s a lot of moral clarity in this rule of thumb: As long as a war is not really, really necessary, don’t fight it.

And in case anyone is still undecided about the fundamental truth of these last words, check the link my friend Sabina sent me – but I have to warn you with a necessary disclaimer: if you click on this link, be prepared to be shocked to your core by pictures of death inflicted by war. Don’t click on the link if there are kids or any other people looking at your screen who won’t be able to deal with what they will see. I’m *not* kdding here.