On Iraq from an email to Ben, cross-posted to Free Trinidad. Ben said: There are at least...

On Iraq
from an email to Ben, cross-posted to Free Trinidad.

Ben said:

There are at least two points here:
1. I may think that Saddam needs to be removed, but I am not an Iraqi. This is the same as any other form of totalitarianism: I have no right to decide for the Iraqis who shall or shall not govern them. They are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves, and history suggests peoples are in general capable of removing leaders they are truly unhappy with. Even more worrying is the idea of some bloody Yank who /really/ doesn't understand how things work in Europe marching in and telling people what's best for them.

I said:

In a paragraph you summarise Europe's attitude to the war. Firstly: it's quite clear that the Iraqis were unable to get rid of Saddam themselves: the society was a very cleverly constructed totalitarian state based on paranoia and distrust. The obvious and surprisingly enthusiastic reaction to their sudden liberation (if they call it that, and they do, so will I) is proof enough that what we did in Iraq was a good thing. A good thing is not necessarily the right thing of course, and certainly not the best thing.

But your statement also indicates the *real* reason the public doesn't like the war: the unilateralism of it, but specifically the *US* unilateralism of it. America is far too powerful: that's the thought at the back of everyone's minds. They need to be taken down a peg. But they're having none of it, and that makes people angry.

This is fully reflected by opinion polls. Majorities the world over supported war in Iraq with a UN mandate, but none without. If liberating Iraq was the right thing to do with UN approval, why should it be the wrong thing to do without it? You're still performing the same action: invading a state, against the wishes of that state.

In the case of France, Germany and Russia, their opposition to the fall of the regime was very obvious self interest: France and Russia, in particular, have been trading weapons and training personnel, respectively, for the Hussein regime, in Russia's case until September of last year. French and Russian oil companies had big contracts with the Hussein regime, which are essentially worthless at this point.

As for what gives us the right to invade another country? It is the same principle that gives us the right to invade a criminal's home and arrest him: the wider society imposes its will and impinges upon the rights of an individual because that is for the greater good of society. By committing criminal acts, you waive your rights.

So what exactly were these acts? State-sponsored terrorism? I don't buy that: we'd be invading Saudi Arabia first. WMD? Don't make me laugh. He wanted them, but didn't have them, and what the hell, North Korea has those, and so does Iran, probably. No, Iraq's crime was its treatment of its own people, which was appalling. We were freeing a people who could not free themselves.

Note well that THIS IS NOT WHY THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION DID IT. This is why I think a war on Iraq was a good idea. The bush administration did it for entirely self-serving reasons, just as France & Russia opposed it: a friendly state in the middle east? With a US-installed government? That controls the second-largest oil reserves in the world? Yes please!

But regardless of their motives, it was still the right thing to do.

And does that mean, now, that we should go around correcting the ills in the rest of the world, according to what we think is ill? (In this case: the suffering of populations) God, I wish we would. We could start by fixing the godawful mess that is most of sub-Saharan Africa. But that's not going to happen, because those places don't have nearly enough oil. War is not a profitable venture; it's quite likely that the damage that the US and UK are both wreaking on their economies to pay for this war will push both into recession.

And meanwhile, the enforcement of the Pax Americana has been very effectively demonstrated. It's easy to say, after the fact, that Iraq was a walkover. But it might not have been, and there's no telling how much of that was Iraqi incompetence and how much was the daring tactics employed by the US in the first real land war of this century. And there is no question that other states are going to think twice about their behaviour now that this demonstration has taken place. And that, again, is a good thing. It bruises the egos of Europe to have their lack of military and economic power rubbed in their faces, but Pax is good, no matter who's enforcing it.

Ben said:

2. Regardless of that, in an international context nations must obey international law, and the international legal body which all of Iraq, the US and Britain have agreed to obey is the UN. Yes, Iraq was disobeying the UN, but settling that is for the UN to decide, and *only* the UN.

I said:

You know what? There's only one superpower in the world. And it's not the UN. Countries are just human beings writ large, and human beings, by and large, are a law-abiding bunch, because most of the time obeying those laws is convenient. And what prevents people from disobeying laws when it's convenient to do so is the threat of consequences. These consequences comes from the UN for most countries. But where the US is concerned, there is literally nothing that can be done. They could take us with one hand tied behind their back. Any economic sanctions we imposed would hurt us just as much as them, if not more so, because the US is everyone's biggest trading partner. If the world superpower was us, we'd be doing exactly what the US is doing. If we want the UN to rule, we have to give the UN teeth: as you say, military power. But you know who funds about 50% of the UN? That's right, the US.[Well, it would if it paid] And the EU can't even manage to agree on giving itself a very, very small unified fighting force, far less the UN. Our fragmentation is our weakness, and the US's strength.

Ben said:

By rights, (and I really quite wish this had happened) the rest of the UN ought to have declared war on the US and Britain for invading another UN member state without Security Council approval. The fact that they didn't just shows how much this unilateral action, so far from being to support UN mandates against Iraq, was in fact quite deliberately done to destroy the UN as an international body with any real power.

Predictably, I said:

No, what they *should* have done was backed the war. Having abandoned doing the right thing out of self-interest, at least they didn't block somebody else doing it. The UN's credibility is shattered, it's true: but that's because the UN doesn't deserve any credibility as an international body with any real power. It doesn't have any real power over the US, and the bulk its power over other countries is provided and paid for by the US. I wish that wasn't the case. I wish the US didn't run world. But it does, and it does us no good trying to pretend that's not the case. If we want that situation to change, we have to gang up. Good luck trying to get that to happen. We brought this on ourselves.

You can't seriously wish that we were now at war with the US: we'd die in the first seconds of conflict, and if we didn't, we'd wish we had.

That damn hippy Ben said:

I actually think that all national armies should be disbanded, and the weapons and troops put under the control of a UN international peace-keeping force, answerable only to the UN Security Council.

To which I equally impractically said:

Screw the security council, that's a nightmare. The solution is a world government with a full legislature, courts, and enough military strength to enforce its power. That would be wonderful. But democracy is a dividing force, not a unifying one, into smaller and smaller groups that agree on a wider range of issues. This is why states keep splitting into smaller states.

We find ourselves at the mercy of an imperialistic state, unmatched economically and militarily, with a clearly corrupt government elected under suspicious circumstances. That sucks. But be grateful; at least it likes us. They're not fascists, they're not (er, currently) involved in genocide. They won't last forever: in fact, their sheer power now means they are more likely to overstretch and collapse. Empires rise and fall; I hope the next one's as nice as this.