Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Friday, April 18, 2003  

I read with interest the trenchant analysis of the Iraq war at Free Trinidad between Seldo and his friend Ben, which Nicholas (whose permalinks I can't seem to access - I suspect it's a problem inherent to my blog, as people can't seem to access mine) thought to be more intelligent than anything in the local media on the issue.

Seldo argues that the invasion of Iraq was justified, not because of any supposed terror threat, or non-existent WMD, or not even because of a desire to free the Iraqi people. No, Seldo believes the war was justified because of the real reason it was waged: American self-interest.

If nothing else, I admire his forthrightness in calling a cruise missile a cruise missile. And to a large extent I can see his point. Many of America's interests aren't inherently in opposition to Iraq's or the world's interests. The war has removed Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical regime; with American interets taken into account, if a democratic government that fosters and protects basic human rights and individual freedoms can follow, and if the installation of such a government can also foster a better climate for peace and stability in the Middle East and across the globe, then I will say, as much as I opposed the war, it has brought much good.

The problem is that neither Seldo nor anyone else can tell me with any real conviction that all these things are in store. If nothing else, history has shown us that unilateral, self-serving actions such as this one create more problems than they solve. For thousands of years the Middle East has been a staging ground for wars of conquest and domination; today, the region is as unstable and volatile as at any period in its history. Even if you argue (which Seldo doesn't) that this was a war of liberation, not conquest or domination, to millions of Arabs and Muslims worldwide, it's all the same: Us against Them.

With so many forces and divisions at play, divisions that even at this early juncture are showing themselves, how does the US realistically intend to implement democracy in Iraq? Saddam decided that totalitarian rule was the only way to keep Kurds, Shias and Sunnis all in check, with the Sunnis disproportionately enjoying the benefits of the country's resources. These divisions didn't crop up yesterday, which American democracy, relatively speaking, did. Though I don't discount the inherent advantages of a democratic system of government - as Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government, apart from everything else - it's going to take a lot more than a healthy serving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to cure what ails Iraq, the Middle East, and indeed much of the rest of the world.

But more than this, what I opposed about the invasion of Iraq, quite apart from whether it was the right thing to do, was America's hypocrisy and deceit. I can take high-handedness and cocky swagger if at least you're being honest about your motives, though an honest man wouldn't normally need to resort to such tactics. But when you outright lie, as America has done, and continues to do, then your ends are secondary, and they cannot justify the means.

This is not simply a point of ethics, though the question of morality is key. There's a much more pragmatic reason for wanting America to speak the truth, one that Seldo and anyone else who backs America on this discount at their peril: backlash. If America doesn't start being completely above board in its dealings and motives with other nations, then the terror threat that exists at present will turn into palpable, bloody reality. The peace that America seems so bent on establishing may paradoxically bring more war.

"We find ourselves at the mercy of an imperialistic state, unmatched economically and militarily, with a clearly corrupt government elected under suspicious circumstances. That sucks," says Seldo. It not only sucks, but it pisses a hell of a lot of people off. Yes, America rules the world. I'm enough of a pragmatist to accept this, and enough of a lover of much of what culturally and materialistically it has to offer to not really be bothered by that fact. My sister resides in America, is married to an American. In terms of education, employment opportunities and standard of living (not just economic) the US has given her much more than T&T ever could have. Had I not gone to study in the UK my sister's route could easily have been mine. So I really have no problem with the fact that America's in charge.

But millions upon millions of people worldwide do have a problem with that fact. This cannot be denied. It is true, as Seldo says, that the current American empire will fall as it has risen, that and the age of neo-colonialism that seems to be upon us will inevitably end. But the bloody damage to the gossamer-like fabric of global relations that seems quite likely to take place in the interim will count deeply against this empire, no matter how "nice" it is.

posted by Jonathan | 11:56 PM 0 comments


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