Starting the Iraq War (2003)

Bad Saddam and the Very Moral Lynch Mob

By Gwydion M Williams

[This was written back in 2003, around the time the war was beginning.]

The war is necessary because Saddam is a peril to the rest of the world. Or else he isn’t a peril, but his government is so bad that outside powers are morally obliged to remove it. Or if this isn’t quite how International Law is supposed to be, it is still necessary to remove Saddam so as to uphold the authority of the United Nations. As Jack Straw put it in his recent speech on Iraq at Chatham House:

“SCR 1441 [the resolution passed in 2002] hardly marked a sudden rush to war. Iraq was found guilty in 1991. Twelve years of defiance later, Saddam Hussein is not entitled to any presumption of innocence. It is for him to prove that he has, once and for all, given up what we know he has.”

Guilty of what? Iraq was condemned in 1991 for the invasion of Kuwait. Had Iraq then been forced to leave by the authority of the UN, it would have been international politics functioning as most people think it should. And this was what Thatcher and Bush Senior chose to prevent.

Just after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, I thought that Bush had acted correctly when he sent troops to Saudi Arabia. It has since emerged that Iraq never had the least intention of invading Saudi Arabia, and that the Saudis were lied to and shown phoney data to convince them of an imminent Iraqi threat. A US news agency checked the area using civilian satellite data, which showed clearly that Iraqi troops were not massing on the Saudi border. They had done none of the things that they would have done if planning further invasions. The Saudis were lied to, by the same coalition of interests that now ask us to trust them.

Saddam was willing to withdraw from Kuwait on his own terms, mostly a settlement of the vast debts he had accumulated while waging war as a Western ally against the Islamic regime in Iran. To prevent a peaceful outcome, the separate issue of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was tacked onto the issue of Kuwait. There would be no solution short of war, or else an abject surrender by Saddam.

Existing international law does not forbid sovereign states to possess ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Iraq’s repeated and well-documented use of poison gas had not stopped the West from backing Saddam for as long as he was of use to them. Had Saddam been removed, Iraq would have become like most other Middle Eastern states—not in any sense democratic, but an authoritarian system that is content to act as the local agents of US interests. The problem in 1990/1991 was that Saddam was much too independent-minded—much like Ceaucescu in Romania, Suharto in Indonesia and Mobutu in Congo/Zaire, allies who were toppled when it suited Western interests in the post-cold-war world.

Saddam did give the US advance notice that he might invade Kuwait. Either no one back then knew what they were doing, or else there was a plan to ‘decapitate’ the existing Iraqi state structure. Keep it in place to keep down the Shiites and Kurds, but with a leadership that will obey Western wishes regardless of their own people. This makes sense of the otherwise puzzling vagueness of the US response .

The war in fact did not achieve all that was intended. Militarily it was brilliant, but this merely confirms that modern Arabs are not efficient when it comes to waging war using Western methods and equipment. Politically it was much more mixed: Bush Senior stopped it short of the capture of Baghdad, which might have been costly in American lives. Also he did not want to destroy the existing state structure, which is why Saddam and the Baath were allowed to put down the rebellion by Shiites and Kurds. (To suppose it was an accident that helicopters were omitted from the cease-fire agreement is barely believable.)

The problem since then is that the West has been trying to defeat Saddam on his home ground, control of the Iraqi state machine. Weapons inspections have been a pretext, Iraq was never very dangerous even when fully equipped. During the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1960s and 1970s, while Egypt and Syria were serious about fighting Israel, Iraq was theoretically present but never significant.

In any case, most of Iraq’s weapons were destroyed. ‘Non-compliance’ has been used just as an excuse to go on harassing Iraq until Saddam can be replaced.

Even opponents of the war generally think that Iraq would be better off without him. But can Iraq produce anything better than Saddam’s regime? You’ve had lots of examples of the Iraqi opposition being as hostile to each other as to the existing regime. Lots of examples of chaos and violence when Western pressure removes an authoritarian ruler. The Congo is even worse off than it was under Mobutu.

The US ‘presentation of evidence’ at the UN was deeply unconvincing. The USA has been caught lying many times before. They may have been telling the truth about Russian missiles in Cuba, but before that they had lied massively about their role in the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion. And Colin Powell’s rise from soldier to politician has been within administrations that were secretive and deceptive even by US standards:

“Tacit erasure of inconvenient history – including his own – is integral to the warm relationship between Powell and US news media. There’s a lot to erase. For instance, in January 1986, serving as a top aide to Pentagon chief Caspar Weinberger, he supervised the transfer of 4,508 TOW missiles to the CIA, and then sought to hide the transaction from Congress and the public. No wonder; almost half of those missiles had become part of the Iran-Contra scandal’s arms-for-hostages deal.

“As President Reagan’s national security adviser, Powell worked diligently on behalf of the Contra guerrillas who were killing civilians in Nicaragua. In December 1989, Powell – at that point the head of the joint chiefs-of-staff – was a key player behind the invasion of Panama.

“The Gulf War catapulted Powell to the apex of American political stardom in early 1991. When he was asked about the Iraqi death toll from that war, Powell said that such numbers didn’t interest him.” (Norman Solomon, Jordan Times, 19th February, found at

The UN presentation was supposedly ‘from the horses’ mouth’. There are legitimate doubt as to which end of the horse the world community was being presented with.

To object to lynch-law is not to say that the victim is innocent. What I am saying is that the present system is unjust and irrational.

The Reagan administration was a massive sponsor of terrorism. You’re supposed to call it something different when it serves US interests. But most of the people they are fighting now they were sponsoring then. Saddam was very directly backed by US power, and the USA also encouraged the whole growth of Islamic extremism, especially in Afghanistan.

What about ‘global human rights’? I notice that most people are only keen on those aspects of internationalism that won’t cost them anything. It’s a dishonest policy. Either extend human rights to employment, health, education and social security, along with an obligation to pay for it. Or else agree that existing sovereignty be respected—and the UN could feasibly police this.

The “presumption of innocence” applies to criminals who are accused of new crimes, even when they strongly resemble crimes for which they have previously been convicted. When Jack Straw says “Iraq was found guilty in 1991”, the definition of ‘guilt’ can only be that the West decided that Iraq as then constituted was no longer an asset. As Jack Straw put it:

“Iraq differs from the classic failed state in one key respect. Unlike, say Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo where it is the collapse of the state which has led to such misery for their peoples, in Iraq it is an all too powerful state – an authoritarian regime – which has terrorised its population in order first to establish and then to maintain control.”

But it was exactly the same regime when the West supported it. The difference between Iraq and the present governments of Pakistan or China is that the USA does not see any current opportunity to put in place a more friendly regime. I assume that the current Pakistani and Chinese leaderships know this.

[Destroying that authoritarian regime created chaos and helped the rise of something much more brutal and alien, the self-styled “Islamic State”.]

Foreign states are condemned for not creating immediately, what Britain took centuries to create. Could English-speaking culture have achieved its current forms and dominance without the work of the Tudors, Cromwell and George III? Britain was an authoritarian state when it carried through the world’s first industrial revolution in 1760-1830. If the small farmers and craft-workers had had the vote in those days, it’s unlikely that Enclosure or early industrialism would have been allowed. But Britain’s House of Commons was elected by less than one tenth of the adult male population, and the large number of ‘rotten boroughs’ and ‘closed corporations’ meant that even that privileged one-tenth was not really in control. And the reformed parliamentary system after 1832 gave electoral power to just one-seventh of the population, defined by wealth and the possession of property.

Britain was not a democracy until the late 19th century. Let’s take a very loose definition, ‘50/50 democracy’ with at least half of adult males have at least half the effective political power. This was only achieved in Britain in 1885, and by no large margin. Only just over half of adult males qualified, a lot of the working class was excluded, as well as all women.

There was never even 50/50 democracy for the British Empire, as distinct from metropolitan Britain. The Dominions had it for their own self-government, but non-white colonies did not.

And what of the US, currently boasting of how they twice saved Europe during the 20th century? Was this ever anything more than power politics? The USA’s decision to join the war in 1917 caused most of the troubles of the next 30 years. Things might perhaps have been different had the USA joined the League of Nations, but US democracy chose otherwise.

Imperial Germany had been at peace since their wars in the 1870s, and had not been seeking any further expansion into non-German lands in Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire kept the peace between a mix of overlapping East European nationalities, peoples who have fought each other viciously every time they have been left to try to sort of their own affairs. Jews suffered some discrimination in Germany and Austria-Hungary, more than in Britain but no more than in the USA in that era. It was Tsarist Russia, Britain’s ally in the 1914 war, that was the prime source of anti-semitism.

Nothing like Nazism could have emerged from a Germany victorious in a 1914-1917 war. And nor could the current US hegemony. The US and Britain both preferred their own power-political advantage to the general advance of European civilisation.

The USA did not choose war in 1941. The Japanese attacked them, and then Hitler declared war on them. Roosevelt wanted to get involved in the European war, but Congress was against it and it was pure chance that things went the way they did.

The USA did play a decent role between 1941 and 1990. But that was when the world had a choice. And the USA borrowed sexual freedom, state economic regulation and racial equality from its Soviet rival. There was little to choose between the US and Soviet systems in the 1950s, and the USA had to make a lot of concessions to foreign opinion in order to win the Cold War.

The logic of US policies since 1990 has been a system called ‘Military Keynesianism’. Reagan invented it in the 1980s, resuming massive military spending as a way of getting the economy working again. And the threat of another round of the arms race with the ‘Star Wars’ program was the last straw for the Soviet system (which had been disintegrating ever since it smashed internal reformism with the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia).

Keynesianism was for the benefit of the whole society, with the West in the period 1950-1975 growing much faster than it had under Classical Capitalism, and rather faster than ‘Military Keynesianism’ has yet managed. But under the new system, the money can all be spent for the benefit of the rich. In the USA, the bulk of the working poor believe the state is their enemy, while the underclass mostly don’t vote.

The weakness of Military Keynesianism is that the public in the USA and Europe are much less enthusiastic. A determined minority reject the idea of imposing culture as such. A much larger number do not see it as anything worth suffering for.

Britain and the USA are targets, precisely because they are out to homogenise the world. No significant outside forces seriously want to change their internal way of life. There’s not even any strong objection to the USA being Number One, so long as they behaved more modestly. What is offensive is the way that the USA has used its position—a mix of aggression, selfishness and an offensive false morality.

Bush Junior is also useless as a world statesman. His strength lies in that half of the USA that dislikes the rest of the world.

Little Man Bush offends Europeans just by existing. Even Blair probably doesn’t like the creep, he just feels impelled to get as close as possible to the US president, no matter what idiot those vulgar fools elect.

Little Man Bush has somehow lost the support of the Kosovo Klan, the people who thought that it was wonderful stopping Serbia ruling territory that was unambiguously part of Serbia’s sovereign territory. Iraq is no different, but Clinton was slick and knew how to talk to Europeans, Bush does not. So the Kosovo Klan are now against what they used to support.

The USA took risks in Kosovo and got what they wanted without immediate disaster. Likewise in Afghanistan, and a short-term military victory in Iraq is hardly in doubt. But then what?

Russia Roulette is safe in just over 83% of cases. That does not mean that anyone can safely make a habit of it.

First published in Labour & Trade Union Review, 2003

[US efforts at state-building were a pathetical failure.  Western-style democracy applied to non-Westernised people has fragmented the society.  The army trained by the US regularly runs away and abandons equipment.  (Or maybe makes a deal to leave behind valuable weaponry as the price of a safe get-away.)]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s