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Jul 2003 Journal

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No to the nay-sayers! (editorial)

'Here's One We Invaded Earlier' could have been an account of the Wehrmacht's conquest of Poland which Goebbels commissioned after the fall of France. In fact, it was a Channel Four reportage on Afghanistan 18 months after the defeat of the Taliban and screened six weeks after the fall of Baghdad. The snappy title suggested that Britain and America were involved in committing serial aggression against smaller countries simply to assuage their collective aggressive impulses.

The message of the documentary, however, belied its title. It was that all US-UK efforts to improve the situation in Afghanistan were undermined by incompetence and, more crucially, a reluctance to invest the astronomical sums needed to set the country on the path of recovery. Yet, only six weeks earlier, there was a huge clamour in the media when US troops entering Baghdad secured the Oil Ministry at the expense of the Museum of Antiquities. (This skewed sense of values was, incidentally, ascribed to the fact that the C-in-C of the US Army, George W Bush, belongs to a Texan oil dynasty.)

In fact, while saving oil wells at the expense of Sumerian artefacts may appear philistine, it can be argued that, with too few soldiers around, priority had to be given to the country's financial future over its cultural past. Iraq, whose oil wealth is second only to that of Saudi Arabia, should therefore, within a matter of years, be far better off than Afghanistan, which has no natural resources to speak of.

According to the vociferous critics of the coalition's war on Iraq, neither Saddam's weapons of mass destructions have been found nor his involvement in international terror proven. This argument is specious on both counts: in the sphere of global terror, Saddam lavished largesse on the families of Palestinian suicide bombers operating as far afield as East Africa, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were so integral to Iraq's military potential that the third-ranking member of the hierarchy was popularly known as 'Chemical Ali'.

Opponents of April's armed conflict, whose dire predictions about its cost - casualties on the scale of Vietnam, 500 bin Ladens, environmental catastrophe - have all been proved wrong, are now homing in on the WMD issue to vindicate their earlier stance.

Why, one is entitled to ask, should coalition forces succeed in tracking down weapons of mass destruction if they have been quite unable to spring Saddam and his monstrous brood from their hideouts? The search for WMDs is really on a par with the wild goose chase after Hitler's signature on a document authorising the Final Solution. Just as genocide was implicit in Hitler's entire mindset, so was a propensity to deploy poison gas etc. ever-present in Saddam's diseased psyche.

Actually, it is a sad measure of how relatively little Western opinion has progressed beyond the inward-looking isolationism of the 1930s - expressed in Chamberlain's characterisation of Czechoslovakia as a 'far-away' country - that action against Saddam had to be 'sold' to the Anglo-American public on the premise that, above all, his weapons of mass destruction needed to be dismantled.

Surely a government that ranked below only Pol Pot's in its number of internal victims - from poison-gas-infected Alubja in Kurdistan to the drained marshlands around the Shat-el-Arab - deserved to be subjected to regime change. (The charge sheet is, of course, far longer, also comprising two full-scale wars - against Iran and Kuwait - Scud attacks on Israel, and the creation of four million exiles.)

Forcible regime change in Iraq has already had a positive, and entirely pacific, effect on other Middle Eastern trouble spots. Assad of Syria, whose father blithely sheltered the Nazi mass murderer Alois Brunner, has shied away from doing the same for Saddam's henchmen. Among the Palestinian leadership a realist like Mahmoud Abbas has - almost - replaced the appalling intifada-spouting Yasser Arafat as chief spokesman. Likewise, hamstrung Iranian reformers will take heart from the resolve of the Americans not to allow Shiite mullahs to fill the current Iraqi power vacuum. Admittedly, all the above can be characterised as 'accentuating the positive'. However, that is better than being swayed by the nay-sayers baying for Prime Minister Blair's blood over the WMD issue.

The nay-sayers not only got it factually wrong about the war. They were also prepared to sit on their hands while terrible wrong was done by Saddam to the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, by the Taliban to Afghan women, and by Milosevic to Muslims in Bosnia and Kossovo!

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