Published on Saturday, December 21, 2002 by the lndependent/UK
Lies, Damn Lies and the War on Saddam Hussein
Even if Saddam were to parade naked through weapons sites, he couldn't influence events for the better
by Adrian Hamilton
I can't be alone in feeling a gathering sense of disgust, nausea in fact, at the pantomime being played out in the UN.
I don't mean the issue of whether the US will go to war. A million words have been expended on that question and several million more will go the same way before the decision really comes up in a month's time. Nor do I mean Iraq and its development or otherwise of weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad's 12,000-page document is but a tiny fraction of the mountain of reports, photographs and analyses piling up in the intelligence services.
What I mean is the current charade of inspectors, reports and judgments that everyone knows to be a travesty but in which all the participants have to act as if they are playing for real.
Piffle. There is no great mystery about Saddam Hussein and probably not much of a threat either. Go down the street of my local town in Somerset and ask anyone about Iraq's dictator and they will say that he is a thoroughly bad man who would cheerfully use any weapon he could lay his hands on. Then ask them whether he poses a real threat, and they would reply no, no more than when Tony Blair dismissed him a few years ago as a bear rattling his bars. It's a summary that would be repeated in the capitals of the Middle East and Europe, London included.
Only the most ignorant or the most naive can have believed that Saddam was going to produce a full and frank admission of all his sins this month. If he had done, the US would have seized on it to declare war in breach of UN resolutions. The question rather was whether he would agree to jump the series of hurdles set by Washington admission of the inspectors to all sites, production of a report, allowing scientists to be interviewed and so on. Each time he has been set the course Saddam has so far agreed to run, but then each time Washington intervenes to set the next hurdle even higher.
The reason is simple. The hurdles are not primarily intended to get at the facts of Saddam's weapons program. They were, and are, a process of deliberate humiliation aimed at forcing Saddam into a clear breach of UN terms and/or a position where his fellow generals will remove him without the need for invasion.
Thus has the UN, and with it the world community, been pressured into a ritual of bullying, threat and self-righteousness that would not be out of place in one of the black Jacobean comedies the RSC is playing at the moment. It's vicious. It's childish. And it diminishes the reputation of everyone associated with it.
The inspectors are forced into becoming attack dogs for a superpower that really wants them to savage the prey to the point of death. The Security Council members are being made accomplices of a policy when America has not even agreed to abide by any of their decisions. Nobody dares to say no to Washington.
How can they? Russia is so deep in Chechen blood that it welcomes the idea of incorporating any of its enemies under the umbrella term "terrorists." China, busily suppressing the Muslims to the north and the Tibetans to the south, is not going to refuse this opportunity to switch the searchlight from its own actions. France likes to play it both ways, and as for the Syrians? Well, what can they do, pinioned between a desperate need for Western aid and Arab anger. To talk, as Jack Straw does, of a United Nations now united 15-O in this cause is an abuse of language. Not even he believes it.
Which is the most depressing part about the whole shoddy business. Watching President Bush pronouncing his verdict yesterday, and Jack Straw and Colin Powell giving their "considered judgments" on Thursday, was watching a lie, and what is more a lie that the protagonists are knowingly propagating. It's not even as if they think that their audience believes them. Weapons inspectors and reports are irrelevant. This is about America and its desire to change the regime in Baghdad. Nothing else.
Whether Iraq is invaded or not will, in the end, depend entirely on the US. Saddam can influence events for the worse, but it is very doubtful that he can influence anything for the better, even if he and his generals were to parade naked through the suspected weapons sites. American public opinion can change the course and already has by expressing its strong preference for multinational rather than unilateral action. But the rest of us the UN, Britain, America's allies or the Arab world have no say in the matter. And it's fantasy for anyone to say otherwise.
Even so, say the diplomats, at least Bush has come to the UN. Of course it's all play-acting, they agree. But diplomacy has always been about putting rhetoric in place of action, jaw-jaw rather than war-war. And the UN has always been used by great powers. Better the fig leaf of internationalism than open US unilateralism.
True, perhaps. But there is also a truth that is forgotten at our peril. Words are the means of exchange of democracy. They can be stretched, blown up, exaggerated and used to deceive all the faults that politicians are prey to. But when they are used deliberately and simply as having no meaning, a tone to cover the act going on in another town on a quite different script, then we debase the currency, and ourselves.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd