I keep listening to the words coming from the Bush administration about Iraq
and I become increasingly alarmed. There seems to be such confusion, but through
it all a grim determination that they are, at some point, going to launch a military
attack. The response of the British government seems equally confused, but I just
hope that the determination to ultimately attack Iraq does not form the bedrock
of their policy. It is hard now to see how George Bush can withdraw his bellicose
words and also save face, but I hope that that is possible. Otherwise I fear greatly
for the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world.
What is most chilling is that the hawks in the Bush administration must know
the risks involved. They must be aware of the anti-American feeling throughout
the Middle East. They must be aware of the fear in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that
a war against Iraq could unleash revolutions, disposing of pro-western governments,
and replacing them with populist anti-American Islamist fundamentalist regimes.
We should all remember the Islamist revolution in Iran. The Shah was backed by
the Americans, but he couldn't stand against the will of the people. And it is
because I am sure that they fully understand the consequences of their actions,
that I am most afraid. I am drawn to the conclusion that they must want to create
The many words that are uttered about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass
destruction, which are never substantiated with any hard evidence, seem to mean
very little. Even if Saddam had such weapons, why would he wish to use them? He
knows that if he moves to seize the oilfields in neighboring countries the full
might of the western world will be ranged against him. He knows that if he attacks
Israel the same fate awaits him. Comparisons with Hitler are silly - Hitler thought
he could win; Saddam knows he cannot. Even if he has nuclear weapons he cannot
win a war against America. The United States can easily contain him. They do not
need to try and force him to irrationality.
But that is what Bush seems to want to do. Why is he so determined to take
the risk? The key country in the Middle East, as far as the Americans are concerned,
is Saudi Arabia: the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, the country
that has been prepared to calm the oil markets, producing more when prices are
too high and less when there is a glut. The Saudi royal family has been rewarded
with best friend status by the west for its cooperation. There has been little
concern that the government is undemocratic and breaches human rights, nor that
it is in the grip of an extreme form of Islam. With American support it has been
believed that the regime can be protected and will do what is necessary to secure
a supply of oil to the west at reasonably stable prices.
Since September 11, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the US
administration that the Saudi regime is vulnerable. Both on the streets and in
the leading families, including the royal family, there are increasingly anti-western
voices. Osama bin Laden is just one prominent example. The love affair with America
is ending. Reports of the removal of billions of dollars of Saudi investment from
the United States may be difficult to quantify, but they are true. The possibility
of the world's largest oil reserves falling into the hands of an anti-American,
militant Islamist government is becoming ever more likely - and this is unacceptable.
The Americans know they cannot stop such a revolution. They must therefore
hope that they can control the Saudi oil fields, if not the government. And what
better way to do that than to have a large military force in the field at the
time of such disruption. In the name of saving the west, these vital assets could
be seized and controlled. No longer would the US have to depend on a corrupt and
unpopular royal family to keep it supplied with cheap oil. If there is chaos in
the region, the US armed forces could be seen as a global savior. Under cover
of the war on terrorism, the war to secure oil supplies could be waged.
This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq - there isn't one.
It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. Saddam Hussein
is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians
in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and is a pawn
now. In the same way he served western interests then, he is now the distraction
for the sleight of hand to protect the west's supply of oil. And where does this
leave the British government? Are they in on the plan or just part of the smokescreen?
The government speaks of morality and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction,
but can they really believe it?
Mo Mowlam was a member of Tony Blair's cabinet from 1997-2001 firstname.lastname@example.org
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002