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Civilised reasons to do something about Saddam Hussein

By Mark S. Lawson - posted Thursday, 24 October 2002

My favourite computer game, Civilisation III, allows its players to win in many different ways. Players taking control of a civilisation at the dawn of time can elect to build it up over the centuries, develop science and culture and remain at peace with the other civilisations, or they get what they want through conquest. As for myself, I am never happy unless I am attacking something and there is no better fun than ripping through the border defences of a previously peaceful civilisation.

Those who know my preference for mayhem, at least where it is safely confined to the computer, may well not be surprised to hear that – before the Bombing in Bali – I was in favour of the Americans invading Iraq, and saw no objection to Australia lending minor forces to the effort.

Since the bombing my personal stance on the issue has hardened.


I do realise that I am now in reality-space (as we gamers say) where people who are killed leave blood on the carpet and angry relatives, and not in game space. I also realise that public opinion in Australia, at least to judge from the opinion polls taken before the bombing, was largely running against such an invasion, partly because no-one could see any pressing need to invade Iraq.

Now, following the bombing, Australians may be mad enough to want to get even, but they may still be puzzling over who or what to get even with. Should we follow the US to Iraq? For that matter why are the Americans going to Iraq?

Why indeed. Before the Bali Bombing comments were being passed in the media to the effect that America wanted to invade Iraq as a way to "extend its hegemony" or to play at being world policeman – all comments grossly unfair to Americans in general and President Bush in particular.

Before September 11 America had been showing a marked distaste for military intervention anywhere. If it meant body bags coming back from places they had never heard of then politicians were not interested. Vietnam killed much of the American enthusiasm for military adventures and events like the 1983 bombing in Beirut which killed more than 230 marines snuffed out most of the rest.

With the notable exception of Gulf War, the general feeling was that it was better to let foreigners to kill each other. Another good reason to stay away, it seemed, was that American judgment in intervening in foreign conflicts varied somewhere between indifferent and disastrous. This reluctance to become involved meant that by the time Kosovo came along in 1999 American politicians were reduced to trying to force the issue by air power alone.

Not only had the Americans become reluctant to be involved in foreign conflicts in general, but by the time of September 11 arguably they had mostly forgotten all about the Middle and Far-East in particular – apart from the Israel-Palestine conflict which had been going on in various forms for decades. Americans especially had no reason at all to think about Afghanistan. Although their secret services had messed around in the area during the Cold War, mostly because the Russians were there, they had long withdrawn. It was the Russians, after all, who invaded and did the bulk of the "foreign" damage to the country.


Then a religious fanatic with a big grudge and lots of money – a dangerous combination – engineered the destruction of the Twin Towers. The initial US response was reasonably measured in that the coalition it led has knocked aside the Taliban with ease, despite dire warnings by military commentators, and has been of some help in restoring the benighted country. So what is the next step in the war against terrorism?

Most of the September 11 terrorists, like Osama Bin Laden, came from Saudi Arabia. However, it would be far more trouble than it is worth to replace the Saudis, ghastly though they are. In any case there are already American troops in the country. Similarly, invasion of other countries implicated in helping the Taliban at one point or another, mostly covertly – namely Iran and Pakistan – is out of the question, not least because both are showing some signs of reform. Pakistan in particular has been trying to shake off its endemic, shocking, official corruption while Iran has been at least less hostile. Another problem is that there is simply no excuse for military force against either country.

That leaves Iraq, and it would be difficult to think of a better place to start in a War Against Terrorism – the one that America decided to have after September 11 – than to remove that rightly despised Iraqi thug Saddam Hussein. Of course there is no more reason to remove him now than at any other time since the Gulf War. Most of the recent public discussion amounts to the US and Britain building a case from what was already widely known. But they are building a case to undertake a particular action in the War Against Terror and their arguments should be seen in that light. An added, unspoken reason for attacking Iraq is that there will be comparatively little fallout in either the Western or even Islamic worlds. No-one will shed tears over Hussein's demise.

Many of the letters to the editor in the Australia media have expressed concern over what effect an invasion will have on the Iraqi people. But the UN sanctions have already killed more ordinary Iraqi people than any number of invasions. If Hussein is deposed – as he is likely to be very easily – then the sanctions can be lifted, in the knowledge the imported goods will not be used to build weapons of mass destruction. The ordinary Iraqi people can start to live again.

Where should Australia stand in all this? Well, like it or not, Australia has been pushed into the front line of the War Against Terror by an almost random act of terror. Like the September 11 attack the bombing does not seem to be linked to anything – Australia was considering joining the US in attacking Iraq before the bombing, but public opinion was shifting markedly against it. In fact, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the bombing was an act of pure hatred against Western Civilisation as such. Australian citizens happened to be in the way. Perhaps we did not want it, as a nation, but the Bali Bombing has given us sufficient reason to enlist in the US side in the War Against Terror. Our one regret about any action against Iraq is that it will be the last-easy military action of that war.

All the other actions will be diplomatic, financial – perhaps combined with a modicum of force. Other operations may even be covert. And it will take a long time.

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About the Author

Mark Lawson is a senior journalist at the Australian Financial Review. He has written The Zen of Being Grumpy (Connor Court).

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