One of the more endearing foibles of political writers in Australia and
the Western world in general is that they persist in thinking that that
the United States has a deliberate, well-thought-out foreign policy shaped
to meet some grand geopolitical end. It does not.
Since virtually the end of World War II American foreign policy has
been at least partially shaped by its domestic politics. Thus America
stayed in the Vietnam War not because of any grand aim to contain
communism but because none of its politicians dared give opponents the
chance to portray them as "soft on Commies". Once American
soldiers happened to be there - and they were there initially with the aim
of containing communism - they could not be withdrawn when it became
apparent that the effort was not worth any likely reward. Instead, for
domestic political reasons, the US had to keep on upping the ante in the
great game of the Cold War, only to eventually lose the whole pot.
Similar pressures, although the eventual result may be a victory rather
than a defeat, can be seen in the on-going, long-running US campaign to
build support for an invasion of Iraq. The US Government is moving against
Iraq not as part of a grand scheme but in response to immense domestic
political pressure to be seen to be doing something after the September 11
attacks. Afghanistan has been cleaned out and cleaned up - sort of - but
without the violent battles and capture of Osama bin Laden that American
public opinion demands. For that outrage, so US public reasoning
undoubtedly goes, there must be some sort of retribution, preferably
violent, bloody and spectacular and on prime-time TV. The last but by no
means least important player in this world drama is the American military,
which must also be seen to be doing something to justify its colossal
With no obvious conventional target to attack, in this peculiar new-age
war against terrorism, the US flicked through the list of likely suspects
to arrive at Saddam Hussein. Saddam's links to the September 11 attacks
are tangential at best but then the September 11 attacks were virtually
random - seemingly inspired by a hatred of America and what it stands for,
rather than for any specific reason.
Faced with this sort of randomness and nuttiness, the US has responded
with its own form of randomness in riding the world of Evil in deciding to
pick on Hussein, albeit with the decided advantage that he is guilty of
almost whatever charge can be brought against him and more besides -
instead of being innocent bystanders like the people in the World Trade
Square and Bali. But commentators of one sort or another persist in
ascribing geopolitical motives, such as the US wanting to extend its world
hegemony or to take control of more oil.
The suggestion that the American government wants control of Iraq for
its own sake can be dismissed out of hand. Who would want it? As for
controlling oil supplies the Americans already have forces in Saudi Arabia
and the Saudis have always been a major factor in controlling the price of
oil. In fact, for long periods they have controlled it directly, either
through OPEC or outside it. In contrast, an embargo against Iraqi oil was
in force for some time (it is now leaking badly) without anyone - or oil
prices - being greatly affected.
So should the US be allowed to invade Iraq and finish off this piece of
business left over for the first Gulf War? One factor that makes Hussein
such an attractive target, over the likes of Pakistan and Iran - which
have more direct links to the Taliban - is that he has no friends
anywhere. No other Middle and Far Eastern countries will lift a finger or
shed a tear over his demise, despite some mutterings the contrary. Not
even the Islamic fundamentalists seem to care (a point which would seem to
make a mockery of the whole exercise).
Another factor in favour of the invasion, from the humanitarian point
of view, is the UN trade embargos against the country, which have killed
many thousands of Iraqi citizens by denying them food and medicines (I
have seen estimates in the hundreds of thousands). A successful invasion
would see that embargo lifted and the country set to rights.
All that makes a nonsense out of the recent peace marches. If America
wants to go the trouble of ridding the Earth of an appalling regime and so
end embargoes that have killed countless thousands then those opposed to
War as such should simply stand aside, muttering, and wait for a better
opportunity to make their point. Further negotiations with a man like
Hussein are a waste of time.
As to the invasion itself, would a successful one kill more innocent
people than, say, the Iraqi secret police in one year? Probably we will
only find out if the invasion goes ahead and someone seizes the Iraqi
secret police's records (assuming they bother to keep any) but I doubt it.
Even the Republican Guard units are likely to do little more than fire a
few shots, for form's sake, before surrendering, despite grim warnings of
guard units fighting house-to-house in urban areas, and blood-thirsty
pronouncements by Iraqi citizens interviewed by Western media. Who would
fight for Hussein? especially as his departure would mean the end of
sanctions. I strongly suspect that instead of planning to fight, the
military and everyone who is anyone is now busy manoeuvring for advantage
in a post-dictator Iraq.
Let's get this invasion over with.
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