Sunday, January 19, 2003
Confused and Insecure - 19th January 2003, 21.20

The Observer published articles today: the first asking the opinion of designated 'prominent Britons'; the second was a more anecdotal survey of coffeehouses and pubs to air the latest views held by the public about any forthcoming war on Iraq. After reading these articles, one is convinced of the insecurity of the public and their unwillingness to decide whether a war is worthwhile.

The two firm camps on either side of the debate are well represented: the pro-war camp that argues Saddam Hussein will not be overthrown unless it is through military action. Salman Rushdie, surprisingly, provides an articulate voice of moral indignation here.

Salman Rushdie, Writer
There is a strong, even unanswerable case for a 'regime change' in Iraq that ought to unite Western public opinion and all those who care about the brutal oppression of an entire Muslim nation. Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it - and 'we' includes, until recently, the government of the United States. But, as I listen to Iraqi voices describing the atrocities of the Saddam years, I am bound to say that if the US and the United Nations agree on a new Iraq resolution, then the rest of the world must stop sitting on its hands and join the Americans and British in ridding the world of this vile despot and his cohorts.

On the other hand, the anti-war camp views the war as a vendetta for Bush to wipe out the slur on his family's honour and as an opportunity for the United States to assert its power throughout the Middle East. Martin Jacques, former Marxist, consolidates this view.

Martin Jacques, Writer
The threat of war against Iraq has nothing to do with some new-found threat and everything to do with the new era of international relations, in which the US is determined to exercise its global omnipotence in the wake of 11 September. It wants to reorder the Middle East in the cause of oil and to impose its civilisational view of the world, its contempt for those of another colour and religion barely concealed. Contemptible as the Saddam regime is, deploying such overwhelming might against such a poor people is obscene. At least in the Cold War, each superpower acted as a constraint on the other. We are returning to something that looks more like high imperialism where the most powerful nation, the US, carves up the world for its own purposes.Who says history can't go backwards - by almost a century in this case? The fact that the United States and Britain are prepared to act without a UN mandate only serves to emphasise the point.

Most of the contributors involved with international relations from their academic work tended to take a more positive view of the role that the United States and the United Kingdom were playing out, since they argued that a lack of coercive effort would undermine the United Nations and prevent the strengthening or maintenance of a rules-based system in international relations.

Those who belong to the anti-war camp rarely articulate the argument of 'national interest' as a reason for staying out. Their voices are a curious and dated bag of prejudices masquerading as argument: oil, daddy's war, empire, hundreds of thousands of deaths, without ever engaging with the questions that should be asked concerning British involvement with the war. Their mindset gazes at the conflict and cannot focus on the specific issue of British participation except invoking the standard insult of Blairite poodlism.

The British public also stated similar arguments to the anti-war camp in their answers to the Observer reporters - those who were interested enough. Some were honestly recorded as 'don't know, don't care'. Now this article may be biased but polls show that the British public believes it is inevitable that our armed forces will go to war. Yet, public opinion remains confused and divided, spouting prejudice and unable to conclude the proper course of action from a reasoned and vigorous debate.

However, Blair can be criticised for not making more of an effort to persuade the British public that the possible war is a just war. The style of his government has been confirmed in its approach to this war: media manipulation and the publication of dossiers as 'events' to talk up their case: Hussein and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Hussein and Human Rights and so on. There has been no substantive debate in Parliament, apart from last September, and no attempt to counter the fears that the public currently holds. This neglect means that the government could enter a war without substantial public support: an act that convinces one of Blair's courage and faith in his own course of action but raises questions about his custodianship of Britain and how far he recognises that his own actions should reflect the views and willingness of the British electorate. The Prime Minister has not justified to the public that they should be prepared to pay the consquences of his decisions in this regard. For British soldiers, and if terrorists strike, British civilians will pay the 'blood price', which Blair easily invoked as another of his opportunistic soundbites.


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