This seems to have come up in conversation from time to time, so anyway, here goes:
Why I'm not going to march against the `war'
The march, doesn't really seem to have a defined aim with which I can agree. Are the protestors against any military action? Or against military action now? Or against military action without a UN resolution?
The Stop the War Coaltion web page seems very careful not to explain exactly what they are against, which does not inspire any confidence. There's a bit at the bottom of the home page which states that
The aim of the Coalition should be very simple: to stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against `terrorism'.
(It's not obvious to me that this describes the march itself.) Well, hmm. Sure, large elements of the ``war on `terrorism''' are a sham. And I've seen no evidence that Iraq has anything to do with terrorism either: do we really believe that secular tyrant Saddam Hussein, whose Ba'ath party is, so far as I understand it, an Arabised National Socialism, is supporting al-Qaida (or however it's spelled this week)? But I'm certainly not prepared to lend my support to a campaign for unilateral pacifism, which has never worked. Other aims of the campaign, such as
We are committed to opposing any racist backlash generated by this war. We will fight to stop the erosion of civil rights.
I couldn't agree with more. But those issues are completely decoupled from the campaign for pacifism and should be seen as such.
I understand that, for instance, the Liberal Democrats are taking the position that they can participate in this march but protest only against military action unless sanctioned by the UN, but is that how their action will be interpreted by the organisers of the march and the media? I shouldn't have thought so.
Historically, I don't think that popular pressure is a very good way to stop wars. Certainly, I can't think of an example (for instance, US involvement in Vietnam ended not because of peace campaigners but because the Americans lost the fight). Cynically, if our government wants to bomb Iraq, it will bomb Iraq, just like it has been doing this past ten years and more. And yes, of course it is deeply horrible that people will die -- probably in large numbers -- as a result. That's what happens, unfortunately, and while the `rogue states' thing is so much bullshit -- Iraq is a fully functioning country with roads and health care and everything -- bluntly it is the case that the world will be more stable if such countries had more quiescent governments....
We could go into some sort of complicated arithmetic about how many people would die in different scenarios and try to use it as a decision making tool, but that's a pretty dishonest thing to do, and anyway the decision isn't ours to make. In any case, history shows us that the tolerance of people in the West for people dying in far-away lands is almost endless.
- Terminological inexactitude. I don't think that anyone is proposing war, which is a particular legal state of affairs which can prevail between nations. I don't imagine anybody involved in this mess is sufficiently honourable to declare war on any of the others, though you might argue that a UN resolution might take the place of a declaration of war.
It's not at all obvious to me that, if you care about suffering within Iraq, military action to depose Saddam Hussein isn't the best of a set of unpleasant alternatives. After all, sanctions aren't going to get stopped any other way, whereas if the US and Great Britain decide that the Iraqi régime needs `changing', we can be reasonably sure that they'll relax sanctions and supply aid -- to make it look as if their new régime is working out, perhaps, rather than from some genuine humanitarian need. But food and medicine are food and medicine, no matter what political point is being scored by supplying them.
- Will military action in Iraq cause a general conflagration in the Middle East? I have no idea, and neither, perhaps, does anybody else. What I do know is that the Foreign Office, the State Department, the Quai D'Orsay and numerous other departments of government around the world are paid to answer questions like this, and if their warnings are being ignored, everyone else's warnings will be ignored too.
- It's quite possible that opening up Iraq's oil production will produce an economic boom -- here and in Iraq. (The extraction cost is something like $4/barrel and we can probably assume that New Iraq® will not be a member of OPEC....)
``Régime change begins at home.''
Sure. But what's the alternative? I can't imagine that any of the protestors are going to consider replacing Tony Blair with Ian Placeholder Smith a significant advance, especially since the Conservative party supports action against Iraq anyway. Sadly, I don't think that we're likely to see a Liberal Democrat administration any time soon.