April 17, 2004


The sound of rockets in the morning (Andrew Gilligan, The Spectator, 17/04/04)

The loss of credibility is nowhere more apparent than in the promises made, and broken, about the new, postwar Iraq. Waiting in line at the Royal Jordanian ticket counter, I flip through a British government dossier. Not the famous, sexed-up weapons of mass destruction one, nor even the PhD thesis ripped off by Dr Alastair Campbell, but the very final effort, the DeLorean 83 Series, of the legendary Downing Street dossier production line. This dossier, entitled ‘A vision for Iraq and the Iraqi people’, with a foreword by the Prime Minister, plopped on to the newsdesks on 16 March 2003, four days before the outbreak of war. Not surprisingly, it attracted little attention, and was published only on the Foreign Office website, the dossier equivalent of straight-to-video. But it repays reading now.

‘We’ve set out for you that should it come to conflict, we make a pledge to the people of Iraq,’ writes Mr Blair. The pledges were for ‘peace: a unified Iraq living at peace with itself’, for ‘freedom: an Iraq whose people live free from repression and the fear of arbitrary arrest’, and for ‘good government: an Iraq respecting the rule of law, whose government helps rebuild Iraq’s security and provides its people with food, water and high quality public services, especially health and education’. The UN, pledges the Prime Minister, will be heavily involved in Iraq’s reconstruction and will administer the country’s oil revenues.

A year on, none of these reasonably modest promises has been carried out, not even the one about freedom from repression (attacking a civilian city with helicopter gunships, as the Americans did last week, can hardly be described as community policing)...

In the Jumhuriya district of Baghdad, temporary home of thousands of refugees from Fallujah, Iraqi hospitality towards foreigners is strained. But I am eventually offered a glass of tea. ‘The problem with the Americans in Fallujah is that they do not distinguish between friend and enemy,’ said Najim Abdullah al-Azzawi, a building contractor. ‘So everyone ends up as an enemy.’

Later, in a different part of town, I have a chance to observe the truth of this maxim for myself. I am at the al-Mustansria University when it is raided by the Americans for the second time that day. Sausen al-Samir, the head of the English department, is showing me the damage they did on their first visit — smashed doors and windows, broken furniture, a trashed photocopier — when the campus is again surrounded and men in boots burst up the stairs. ‘F—ing get out of here,’ screams one of the soldiers, pointing his gun at us. ‘This is a Coalition operation.’

Al-Samir, furious, stands her ground, demanding to be taken to the commanding officer, Major Williams. ‘I want an apology for this morning,’ she says. ‘Ma’am, I’m not in the apology business given what we found here,’ he replies. Later the major takes me aside and shows me the haul: nine Kalashnikovs, a pistol, a rocket-propelled grenade and leaflets calling for violence against the Coalition. The raid is perfectly justified, but you can’t help thinking they could have done it more politely. Was it really necessary to break all the doors down? Don’t the university staff have keys? How do the soldiers know that the leaflets were produced on the photocopier they smashed — and anyway, don’t rather a lot of other people need the copier, too? ‘We will look into all that, sir,’ says the major. ‘But you do see what we’re up against.’ I do, which is why it makes sense not to manufacture even more difficulties for yourself...

Withdrawal would be an unthinkable humiliation. As this week’s request for more troops showed, the Coalition’s only possible way forward is to get sucked in deeper. Nobody knows when the Iraqi elections will be. The insurgents, on the other hand, know exactly when the US and British elections are going to be. There are now 40 hostages, of 12 different nationalities, held in Iraq. But the real hostages are George Bush and Tony Blair.

Mr. Gilligan is the notorious BBC anti-war toady, but has he not made a good point? Imagine if the huge sacrifices we were asked to make in World War 11 had been presented as being necessary, not to defend democracy but to bring democracy to Germany and Japan. Imagine as well that we entered and fought the war proclaiming throughout that the Germans and Japanese were all innocent victims of tyrants and a small number of their henchmen. Then imagine both the war and the ensuing occupations were judged daily in the court of public opinion by how welcoming and grateful the defeated populations were.

The war on terror is not over, but it is obviously wildly successful--perhaps too successful--and is making the world a safer place. More and more, however, both its defenders and detractors argue as if it 9/11 never happened and it was all an ambitious foreign aid project requiring the ongoing consent and enthusiasm of the recipients. It is bad enough that the West’s will to defend itself is suspect. What may be worse is that it has become so politically difficult to even talk about self-defence that it must be exercised under cover of altruistic rhetoric.

After promising so glowingly to bring freedom and democracy to Iraqis, are President Bush and Prime Minister Blair now forced to defend the war on terror as if it were the war on AIDS? Are they now politically beholden to “public opinion” in a byzantine country fraught with seething hatred? Is the problem not exactly as the Iraqi gentleman says–that Americans cannot distinguish their enemies and friends–but in the exact opposite sense than he meant?

Posted by Peter Burnet at April 17, 2004 7:18 AM

Defending our freedoms and spreading liberty and really two sides of the same coin; they are not unrelated at all.

It is impossible to imagine a world full of nations with booming economies and liberties out the wazoo that is also at risk of many people seething with nihilistic homicidal urges to blow themselves up.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 17, 2004 9:16 AM

The English Department had it's own armory?

That give a whole new meaning to "deconstruction."

Posted by: H.D. Miller at April 17, 2004 11:10 AM