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War with Iraq: a view from Kenya

The drums of war started beating around Iraq early last year. Today, a full orchestra is in place, led by its conductor-in-chief, George W. Bush. As the music of imminent destruction rises to a crescendo, we must ask ourselves here in Kenya: what is this war about? Does it have a rationale that we can believe in and support?

Let us begin by accepting that which is undeniable. Saddam Hussein is a cruel despot, a man who has committed genocide against his own people. He is a leader with dangerous expansionist instincts who twice invaded neighbouring countries: Iran in 1980, and Kuwait in 1990. He is known to have developed and used chemical weapons, and almost certainly has tried to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Still the question does not go away: why must Iraq be invaded?

Tyrants are not uncommon in our world. Nastier men than Saddam have led more powerful countries than Iraq in recent history. Many of our neighbouring African leaders have committed acts of unspeakable atrocity against their own subjects. At least a dozen of the world’s leading powers are known to have huge stockpiles of the most horrific ‘weapons of mass destruction’, including countries overtly hostile to the USA, such as North Korea. So then, why Iraq?

Deposing the bogeyman: a moral crusade

If you listen to Mr. Bush Jr. and his key ally in this escapade, Tony Blair, the reasons are noble indeed. Iraq is part of an ‘axis of evil’, a country that supports and sponsors acts of global terrorism. Iraq not only has weapons of mass destruction in its hands, it plans to use them against countries friendly to Western interests, such as Turkey. Iraq has refused to behave itself since its failed invasion of Kuwait, and has ignored UN directives to disarm itself. Iraq’s leadership is undemocratic and oppressive, and its people are crying out for international support in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Given all this, Bush’s righteous mission is clear: invade Iraq, destroy all its nasty weapons, demolish its terrorist structures, depose Saddam and install a democratic leader.

Convinced? No, I didn’t think so. Neither is the UN. Its weapons inspectors, who have been conducting inspections in Iraq to verify America’s claims, have singularly failed to find a ‘smoking gun’. The US has failed to document any convincing evidence of a ‘clear and present danger’ emanating from Iraq. Yet Mr. Bush has said that America will go it alone, will invade Iraq regardless of whether the UN joins or endorses such an act. The UN, in other words, is irrelevant.

Mr. Bush has made the issue a moral crusade. America sees the matter in its true light; other countries do not. America has the nerve and determination to do what is right; other countries do not. America is willing to face down terrorism and do difficult things; other countries are not. America has moral certainty. America will do what is right for the world.

Our moral guardian?

Before we allow America to get on its white charger and put the world to rights on our behalf, a brief quiz. Which country has the largest stockpile (by far) of weapons of mass destruction in the world? Which is the only country to have used a nuclear device on a civilian population? Which country used chemical weapons on innocent villagers in the 1960s? Yes, you’ve guessed right: the United States of America.

Now some facts you may not know. In the 1960s, the CIA actively supported Saddam’s Ba’th Party and helped it to ascend to power. During the years that Saddam was gassing Kurds in northern Iraq, the US was providing over 1 billion dollars in subsidies to buy American farm products. Reports indicated that American-supplied helicopters were used to spray chemical weapons on the Kurds. Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and missile technology was supplied by mainly American and British firms. During the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted eight years and cost an estimated 1 million lives, America provided considerable outside support for Saddam (the enemy of choice in those days was Khomeini’s fundamentalist Iran). Moral certainty indeed.

So, America, in its wisdom, built up; America, in its wisdom, now seeks to destroy. But why? There are, in my view, three simple strategic reasons.

Iraq is easy. The CIA knows full well that Iraq has no usable nuclear weapon. Iraq does not have the long-distance capacity to strike back at the heart of the USA. Iraq is a ‘serial aggressor’ with few friends in the world. Most people would agree that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is attractive. Iraq sits on the world’s second-largest oil reserves. But there is a conundrum: for as long as that man Saddam is in charge, the US will not permit the oil to be exploited. The only ‘win-win’ is for a friendly government to be installed (à la Afghanistan) and allow the fields to be harvested. Both the US and UK have oil security as an explicit and paramount strategic objective.

Iraq will send a message. The US is the world’s only true super-power. Not content with this, Mr. Bush aims to implement ‘full-spectrum dominance’. America’s hegemony must be complete, geographically, economically, culturally and militarily. Subduing Iraq will point this out in no uncertain terms to potential malfeasants: “don’t mess with us”.

War as a video game

What, however, does war with Iraq entail? US military strategists have referred to a ‘Shock and Awe’ strategy: raining down 800 cruise missiles on the country in just two days, to shatter Iraq physically, emotionally and psychologically. This is war as a video game: overwhelming military power is exercised at the touch of a button. Few American lives are put on the line; the destruction is short, sharp and dramatic. Afghanistan showed how it can be done.

Beyond this schoolboy vision is the harsh reality of war. Iraq is not Saddam Hussein. It is a community of 22 million people, innocent of any military crime. When the missile rain begins, these are the people who will lose their lives, their limbs, their livelihoods, their emotional stability. The UN estimates that 500,000 people may be killed or injured in a war. In what type of world can the imperative to ‘Get Saddam’ justify such carnage?

Last year, when India and Pakistan were rattling nuclear sabres in a dangerous stand-off, the US played a very important role in preventing war. Mr. Bush dispatched his senior footmen repeatedly to the war zone. His message? War is bad. War will not solve any problems. Hang on, said India: we are suffering terrorist attacks on a weekly basis. We know for a fact that Pakistan harbours, arms and supports the perpetrators. They have even attacked our parliament. The danger is very clear, and very present. Why should we not invade? Because you will initiate an unending chain of violence, was the reply. Because the whole region will be destabilised. Because dialogue is always the preferred option.

Such fine and decent advice, so difficult for the US to itself take! Is war only ‘just’ when it is initiated by America? Is restraint only a pill to be taken by less morally righteous powers?

A fatal blow to human values?

In Kenya, we have known the effects of wars in the Middle East. Every oil-price hike further pummels our already-battered economy. The 1990 Gulf War cost us billions in lost tourists. We have suffered three bomb blasts emanating from the Middle East, as innocent ‘collateral’ victims of other people’s escapades. Like everyone else in this connected world, we suffer the consequences.

If Mr. Bush blows the trumpet that will signal the attack, he will become the first American president to go to war as the aggressor. The most dangerous of precedents will be set. America will lose the moral right to lecture any other country contemplating a first strike to disarm its pesky neighbours. The UN will be forever neutered as an organisation with any role in world affairs. And ten years down the road, a thousand new Saddams, new Osamas will emerge, the blood of revenge in their eyes.

America is not George W. Bush. It is a land that was founded on the highest ideals of society, the noblest human values. These values are enshrined in its constitution. If this invasion happens, it will splatter the blood of innocents onto those venerated pages.

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