Friday, February 21, 2003
Does It Matter? 21st February 2003.

Never seem to write, indeed!

But although not writing, I have been thinking about the war - impossible to avoid, as a Radio 4 listener. Unfortunately, my deliberations have resulted in no more interesting conclusion than this, that I am not sure the whole thing matters. This may in part be Radio 4 fatigue, it may be the result of a Marvellous retreat from public affairs ("Fair quiet, have I found thee here, / And Innocence thy Sister dear! / Mistaken long, I sought you then / In busie Companies of Men. / Your sacred plants, if here below, / Only among the Plants will grow. / Society is all but rude, / To this delicious Solitude."), but, whatever the motives, there do seem to be justifications for it too.

Take those who think there is a moral case against war. They argue that innocent Iraqi civilians may die - but many more may die if Saddam is not removed. They say that the U.S. has ulterior motives - but doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is still doing the right thing. They say that there are other evil regimes - but better one fewer evil regime than no fewer. They say that the West once backed Saddam - so the West now has a responsibility to remove him. They say that the U.N. may not support war - yet France & Russia are motivated by their wish to protect their commercial interests, which should not be allowed to prevent others from doing the right thing. They say that the U.N.'s authority must be upheld, &, if the U.N. is by-passed, its authority will suffer - yet if horse-trading prevents the U.N. from enforcing its own resolutions, its authority will suffer too. So the moral case against war is a dead loss; yet the moral case for war is little better. However appalling Saddam's regime, it seems unlikely that war is the least life-costly way of removing or restraining him; & in any case, his massacring days seem to be over; but, on the other hand, the world would be a better place without him however he was removed. So there is no compelling moral reason to support or oppose war.

From the point of view of the national interest, there is no evidence that Saddam is a threat to Britain. Even if he weren't Without Means of Delivery, he would never attack a Western European country, because he knows that if he did so, he, his regime, & his country would be utterly annihilated. Even if he attacked one of his neighbours, even if his depleted army overcame the enemy, he knows he would be booted out in short order, as he was in 1991. He would want to do either only if his regime were put in mortal peril by a U.S.-led attack; & even then, he couldn't. Given these obvious disincentives to attack a pacific Britain, clear evidence needs to be provided of his intention to do so - e.g., evidence of his supplying al-Qa'eda with chemical weapons, an inherently unlikely thing for him to do, since a) he would not build an arsenal at enormous risk & expense only to give it away, and b) he is an enemy of Islamic fundamentalists. No such evidence has been provided. So, from the point of view of British national interest, we have no reason to attack Iraq, unless you count staying pally with the Americans, who have a treaty obligation to defend us in the unlikely event we are ever attacked, whose sentiments therefore are immaterial.

But, on the other hand, while there may be no reason for us to attack Iraq, I cannot see it would be all that disastrous if we did. Yes, some soldiers may die; this is certainly not to be taken lightly, but, to put it in perspective, I should be surprised if half as many Britons were killed in Iraq as are killed yearly on our roads. Yes, it would cost a lot of money, but an end to the uncertainty would do wonders for the stock market, & it's not as though any money saved by peace would be well spent on anything else, at least not by this government. Yes, a few more terrorists would be recruited, but at least there would be fewer asylum-seekers from Iraq. These are not trivial matters, but neither are they earth-shatteringly important. So I don't think this is something worth going to the barricades for.


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