Arguments for staying in Iraq, whether put by George W. Bush, John Howard, or Lesley Cannold (On Line Opinion, February 22, 2006), are no basis for convincing debate.
In “There is a case for staying the course in Iraq” Lesley Cannold accuses politicians who propose any action regarding Iraq as doing so self-referentially, whether for escalation, fewer troops or no troops. It is, she says, all about what is best for US prestige, national or world security, or troop injuries and fatalities. She goes on to tar “many commentators” with having adopted “a similar self-referential line”.
Surely this is ironic when at the same time she compares the need for “us” (including the USA and UK presumably) to remain in Iraq with the situation “you” confront when “the fire brigade arrives at your house and, despite any evidence of fire, sprays water everywhere, seriously damaging the building and furnishings”. In such a situation, she says, “you would expect the brigade to accept responsibility for doing whatever you said was necessary to put things right”.
Whoa! The one house conflagration bears no resemblance at all to the havoc wrought in Iraq, nor to the illegality of the invasion: the serious breach of international law engaged in by Australia, the USA, the UK and others who so willingly followed the “lead” of the US administration.
And how more self-referential can one be than in comparing one house with an entire country’s destruction: hundreds of thousands of citizens dead; hospitals, amenities, utilities damaged and destroyed. Not to mention the gross destruction wrought on cultural icons and artifacts, with robberies galore.
And the lies told about pouring money in to rebuild: necessary only because of the bombing and pillaging carried out by the so called great powers - and the minor ones, like Australia. Reconstruction money has been wasted in Iraq, according to the US auditor looking into project outcomes. He documented overruns and failures, until halted by a clause slipped into a US congressional Bill - without notice to the Congress.
What’s more, this is the line we hear every day from George Bush, John Howard and Tony Blair. They say we must remain in Iraq to sustain democracy for Iraqis. They say remaining in Iraq is essential for rebuilding Iraq’s army and police force so that they may take over. They say that Iraqis want us there. They say that what we are doing is for the Iraqis’ sake.
Arguments are made purportedly supporting Iraqis’ rights. Laura Bush said that Iraqi women had been freed, and gained their rights. Bush, Blair and Howard say they’re supporting democracy for Iraqis. This is how the illegal invasion has been sustained at various times. But the problem is that what the Iraqis want is simply not listened to. Just as what the vast bulk of US citizens, UK citizens and Australian citizens also want is given so little regard.
The majority of Iraqis do not want us there. They do not want their country to remain occupied by foreign troops, foreign advisors, foreign controllers, and foreign invaders. They do not want their country to be subject to rules made, not by themselves, but by a government imposed and operating in accordance with the dictate of foreign powers.
Certainly, they want the killings to stop, children to be saved, women and men to go about their business without fear of death or of being maimed. They want hospitals to function, electricity to work for 24 hours a day. They want schools and universities to open without students fearing to attend, because they may be bombed on the way there or the way home - or may never come home because the buildings themselves go up in yet another burning orgy.
Humanitarian aid has no dependency upon a continuing illegal occupation of Iraq. Saving the children is not dependent upon soldiers roaming the streets. Ensuring Iraqi schools, businesses, hospitals and tertiary institutions stay open and running - and running safely - has no nexus with troops remaining in Iraq.
Indeed, the opposite is the case. The sooner the US, UK and Australia decamp and depart, the sooner Iraq has a chance of gaining the beginnings of recovery. As has been said time and again: a civil war is raging in Iraq. It is fuelled by foreign occupation, just as it was given the chance of erupting through foreign invasion.
If we truly care about a moral compass, let us separate soldiers and succour, military and moderation, combat and compassion. These are their direct opposites. So long as there are soldiers, there will be no succour for any Iraqi, and Iraqi children - like Iraqi adults - will continue to suffer. So long as the military remains, there can be no moderation: the military bring with them control, and have brought with them cruelty and torture. So long as combat is the key word for Iraq, there will be no compassionate thinking or acting by any of our governments.
When a country is invaded illegally, international law is breached, UN determinations flagrantly ignored, and truth disappears, the only solution is to get out. Nothing done in the name of the occupation of Iraq can be moral. When based in illegality, lies, untruths and hypocrisy, moral foundations crumble like sand. The Iraqi occupation is immoral. That is the bottom line.
She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.