Casualty lists are usually compiled after the battle. But since the coming
war in Iraq has been so heavily trailed, it is possible to identify its victims
in advance - or pre-emptively, to use one of George Bush's favorite words.
The casualties of Desert Storm II, physical and figurative, will include Iraqi
civilians and combatants on both sides; the people of Israel and of sidelined
Palestine; Kurdish hopes of self-rule; Iran's pro-western civil reform movement;
the entire region's security, living standards and environment if chemical or
biological weapons are used; the Arab and Muslim world's already strained relationship
with "Christendom"; state sovereignty as defined in international law; and democracy.
Of these, the more lasting damage may be to democracy for it is in that cause,
and under that supposedly liberating banner, that this war of "disarmament" will
ultimately be fought. Yet it is dysfunctional democracy of the bowdlerized variety
currently practiced in the US, Britain, the UN and elsewhere that has brought
the world to the brink.
The war's protagonists will claim a mandate that in truth they have not secured
by either vote or argument. They will say their policy, debated and discussed,
has moral and constitutional force. In fact they have manipulated the democratic
machinery and simply rejected opposing views.
They talk of reaching out for greater global understanding but their actions
will widen the gulf. They warn vaguely of terror attacks somehow linked to Iraq
while the "real" freelance terrorists of al-Qaida wait to pounce. In this maze
of suspicion and half-truth, the only certainty is the west's vulnerability at
home as it chases dragons abroad.
Conflating paranoia, propaganda and patriotism, they will demand ever more
unquestioning public support as the self-made crisis deepens. But this travesty
of consultation is both trap and trick, an ostensibly rational, reasonable but
predestined process that by stages and by stealth will be used to justify the
infinitely irrational. Thus by sleight of hand, not show of hands, are we relentlessly
led to the slaughter.
How did this happen? In the US, democracy's bamboozlement came in three installments.
The key Bush decision was to merge the elusive Osama and international terrorism
with the familiar Saddam and the more easily targeted "evil axis" states. Then
came Bush's demand for congressional authority and the mid-term elections. To
get his way in both, Bush played on post-September 11 fear and insecurity, thumped
his bully pulpit as it has rarely been thumped, and implicitly accused opponents
of disloyalty or worse. The result? Bush 3, Democracy 0.
At the UN, the US and Britain sidestepped a massive general assembly anti-war
majority, piling pressure on other security council permanent members. Since the
perpetually unreformed council is more oligarchic than democratic, the outcome
was never really in doubt. The result? Anglo-American XI 15, Rest of the World
0 (Syria, 1 og).
Now, according to the US and Britain at least, the UN can be ignored for all
practical purposes while they (and not Hans Blix) decide whether Iraq has tripped
on one of their many, exquisitely adaptable war-triggering hurdles. And when Saddam
stumbles? Gotcha! they will cry.
In Britain, despite parliament's September recall, there is no evidence that
the subsequent Iraq debate tempered Blair's thinking. The next commons setpiece,
on the UN resolution and its "severe consequences", is likely to be every bit
as inconsequential in policy terms, however much backbenchers shout and pout.
The decision to start a war using British troops, it transpires, rests not
with the people, or parliament, or armed forces chiefs, or even the cabinet. It
is Blair's alone. Just as his basic view has not changed in recent months, nor
has the absurdity of pretending that this is a level playing field, a democratic
process whose outcome can be contested. The probable result? Match abandoned due
to full-pitch invasion.
Whether the contrary view comes from the Arab League or from protesters in
Florence or London, it has made no difference.
The die, they say, is not cast - and yet, it surely is. Constantly, patronizingly
and without shame, the west's warlords sing the same, deceptive siren song: we
are listening, we have made no decisions, we will consult. With every twist in
the downward descent, it becomes ever plainer that this is a mere charade or worse,
a gradual, insidious process of conditioning, coercing, co-opting and entrapping
the public. One day soon, this undemocratic war will start. Don't be surprised
to hear that it is fought in your name.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002