Editorial from Church & State, Spring 2008 (Number 92)
Iraq: Our Fifth Anniversary
The most truthful and the most subversive thing a small state could say in the present condition of the world is that there is no role for small states in the determination of international affairs, and that it will therefore go along with whatever the great bully who is bearing down on it hardest is intent on doing.
We do not suppose that Bertie Ahern wanted to destroy the Iraqi state. Ireland had extensive trade relations with Iraq in the 1980s, and Irish people who had been to Iraq knew from personal experience that it was a liberal, secular state with a social welfare system provided impersonally by the state rather than under moral supervision of religious authority. It was a European kind of state and was engendering a society of the European kind.
Iraq acted to take possession of Kuwait in 1990. It did so with the permission of the United States. The USA, which had been arming the Iraqi regime for many years, then changed its mind for an undisclosed reason, and demanded in very bellicose terms that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait, and it set about organising a United Nations war against it. The Soviet Union was beginning to fall apart at that juncture and therefore did not veto a UN war on Iraq.
A great United Nations Army was raised and drove the weak Iraqi Army out of Kuwait, slaughtering it from the air during its disorderly retreat. The US and UK decided not to press on to Iraq. A reason given was that the UN resolutions did not authorise invasion of Iraq. But, twelve years later, when deciding to invade and destroy its regime and state, and failing to get a resolution authorising this, they said they did not need a fresh resolution because the old resolutions of 1990-91 gave them the authority to invade and destroy.
In 1991 they called on the people of Iraq to rise up against the state. The call met an enthusiastic response in parts of Iraq. There was nothing surprising in that. When a combination of the strongest states in the world deploy overwhelming military power against a small state, and call on people to rise up against the defeated state under Great Power auspices, it should not be a matter for surprise when they do so in great numbers.
Such a situation is entirely outside Irish experience. It conflict with England was not like that—except perhaps in a small way with the British threat of 1921-2 which caused a majority of the Irish to submit to the Treaty ultimatum. But it should be possible to imagine it in some degree.
Iraq was a progressive state, and it was in the process of establishing a progressive society. Progress is a combination of development and destruction. What was in the process of development in Iraq was a liberal, secular national society. What was being suppressed in the course of this development was the old religious forms of social life. Therefore what responded most enthusiastically to the call for insurrection issued by Whitehall and Washington was the religious underlay that had not been absorbed into the liberal, secular national development—tribalism and what we now call Islamic fundamentalism.
If Washington and Whitehall believed that there was a liberal, secular social stratum that was being suppressed by the 'regime' or 'dictatorship', and that this would assert itself under their protection, they were quickly disillusioned. When they saw what they had unleashed—or revived—they collaborated with the 'regime' in suppressing it. They allowed the regime to act freely in suppressing the fundamentalist insurrection, and in the circumstances to allow was to collaborate.
When the fundamentalist insurrection was suppressed and the regime restored itself, drastic sanctions were imposed against the state.
These sanctions had two purposes. One was military, and was achievable, and was achieved. The other was 'moral' and incoherent and therefore unachievable. The moral purpose was given absolute precedence over the military purpose.
In December 1990 the American Secretary of State, James Baker, met Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Prime Minister, in Switzerland, and warned him that Iraq would be nuclear bombed if it used biological or chemical weapons in defence against the Americans in the war which America was preparing. Baker knew that they had weapons of this kind because he had supplied them. They had been supplied when Iraq was doing America's work against Iran. When Iraq was wrong-footed by the US over Kuwait and America became the enemy, these weapons became useless to Iraq. It could not be doubted that Baker's threat was in earnest. America had nuclear-bombed Japan twice for trivial reasons—merely to accelerate victory for a few weeks, or perhaps even a few days. It had not been condemned for this by any international body, and no subsequent President had criticised Truman for doing it. The threat to obliterate Baghdad was therefore not an idle threat, and America could do so without fear of retaliation in kind.
Whatever biological or chemical weapons Iraq had been given by America were only battlefield weapons. The nuclear threat ensured that they were not used on the battlefield, and so they were useless.
That left the possibility of Iraq making a nuclear bomb and the means of delivering it. It was a highly improbable possibility under the post-1991 UN supervision.
The Iraqi nuclear project was abandoned in the early 1990s. The US was informed of this by somebody who had been engaged in it.
If the purpose of the sanctions was to reduce Iraq to a conventional military power of the third or fourth rank, this was achieved by 1995. Most of the states which voted for the UN sanctions then wanted to lift them. But Britain and the US had the power to veto any proposal to end them. Even though only two states in the world supported the continuation of the sanctions, they were continued in the name of all the states of the world. That is how the United Nations works.
The US made it clear that the sanctions would continue for as long as Saddam Hussein was in place. Those were the terms on which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the death of half a million children as a result of the sanctions was worth it. (The figure was the estimate made by a UN Agency.)
But, in view of the experience of 1991, how might Saddam be got rid of without producing in Iraq a development of the kind that had happened in Iran, and that Saddam had made war against with active US support?
There was no answer to that conundrum. But it didn't matter whether there was an answer or not. Clinton would maintain the sanctions while Saddam was in place, regardless of the unavailability of an acceptable alternative. He flirted with the notion of a coup d'etat to be enacted by dissident Baathists, but he seems to have had the sense to see that they were only resentful fantasists and he didn't try it.
Iraq was invaded and its system of state—its entire state administration—was destroyed as a spin-off response to the attack on the World Trade Centre, with which—as everybody knew, Saddam Hussein had nothing whatever to do: it was done by his enemies. The thing was so made that even France—which likes to be where the fighting is in order to keep in training—would not go along with it.
But Ireland went along with it. Bertie made Shannon Airport available for it. Why? Because the US was intent on destroying Iraq, and Ireland was inconveniently placed on the flight path of the bombers. It would have been a minor inconvenience to the US if it had not been allowed to use Shannon for that war. And the US, great democracy that it is, punishes those who cause it even minor inconvenience. (Note: this is not sarcasm. We are trying to describe the world as it is.)
The Irish Government, though pledged to a peaceful foreign policy—except when the United Nations requires it to make war—made war on Iraq without UN authorisation. And then it lacked the courage to stand by what it had done—and was continuing to do.
The Fianna Fail intellectual—Martin Mansergh—who acquired certain talents in his English Public School, argued that the Government preserved Irish neutrality in the war by abandoning it—as an American General once argued that a Vietnamese village was destroyed as the only way to save it. The argument was that American military planes were accustomed to using Shannon as a stop-over point, and that it would have been a breach of the customary practices of neutrality to deprive them of the use of the airport in this instance just because they happened to be engaged in a war that was not authorised by the UN, and that was being conducted in the face of a failure by the US and UK to get UN authorisation for the war.
The UN has served Irish Governments as a substitute for a foreign policy for almost half a century. It was a diplomatic fig-leaf. The fig-leaf was torn away in 2003, revealing that what it concealed was nothing.
Bertie Ahern went to war without UN authority. That is what he should be remembered for, instead of paltry sums over which the corrupt Mahon Tribunal is hounding him.
US/UK say that their invasion of Iraq, and their systematic destruction of the state, was lawful. They say they did not need a specific UN resolution authorising it in order to make it legal.
They do not say, straight out, that nothing they choose to do can be illegal under the UN system of law. But that is the reality of it. When the UN was being established—and Ireland was being excluded from it in punishment for conducting an independent foreign policy between 1939 and 1945—an essential condition of its establishment was that its founders should not be subject to its laws.
Its founders were the two Great Powers who dominated the world in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union. The British Empire, which started the war, ceased to be a dominating Great Power in the course of it—chiefly because,having started the war, it lacked the will to fight it in earnest, and depended on others to do so. But it was still a major power in 1945, and it played a central part in brokering the deal between Washington and Moscow that led to the formation of the United Nations Organisation. The essential feature of the deal for both Moscow and Washington was that the UN should have no authority over their affairs.
Two other states were included as founding members of the UN with exemption from its authority in order to take the bad look of the thing. China was accorded equal status with the US, the UK and the USSR on American insistence. China, under Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang regime, was an American client state. But three years later the Kuomintang regime collapsed and a new regime was established by Mao Tse-Tung. For the next thirty years Washington vetoed any change in the Chinese representation at the UN. The UN therefore had to recognise the overthrown Chiang regime as the only legitimate government of China even though it held only the island of Formosa (Taiwan). During that period Washington held that Taiwan was an integral and inalienable part of the Chinese state, and that the Chinese Government was residing there while suppressing a rebellion in the rest of the state. And so for half the 60 years of the UN's existence the most populous country in the world was excluded from UN membership.
When the Chinese mainland state was finally admitted to the UN, the US reversed its position on Formosa and demanded that Peking should recognise it as an independent state.
The most likely occasion for the start of a Third World War has at times been, and may again be, a declaration of independence by Taiwan. Peking has declared that it will not allow it, and the US at times indicated that it would use its military power in support of it.
Taiwan cannot cease to be under Chinese sovereignty in 'international law'. Peking, with its Security Council Veto, can prevent it. But if the USA and China went to war over the issue of Taiwanese independence, that war could not be indicted as an unlawful act by either party under UN law, since both parties are exempted from UN law by their Vetoes.
The fifth Veto Power, France, followed Britain in declaring war on Germany in 1939. It also followed Britain's example in not prosecuting its declared war while Germany was occupied with the invasion of Poland. Early in 1940 France again followed Britain in trying to get involved in war against the Soviet Union in Finland, while leaving its declaration of war against Germany in place.
In May 1940 Germany responded to the Anglo-French declarations of war and quickly defeated the Anglo-French army that had been squatting on its frontier for nine months. Britain took the remnant of its Army home but maintained its declaration of war, being made safe from invasion by its still dominant Navy and Hitler's lack of a will to invade. France, its Army defeated and no longer capable of major battle, made an Armistice with Germany. Under it the Government moved to Vichy while part of the country was occupied by Germany pending a settlement with Britain.
The Vichy Government was condemned and made war on by Britain but recognised as legitimate by the US. By means of its collaboration with Germany France preserved its Empire. De Gaulle rebelled against his Government in June 1940 and organised a French army in exile, which exerted a negligible influence on the course of the war. In 1945 it was pretended that the Vichy Government was not a representative continuation of the 1939 Government, but was merely a Quisling puppet. France was not punished for collaboration, even to the degree that Ireland was for neutrality. It was restored to its place amongst the Great Powers, complete with its Empire. It was made a Vetoist member of the UN on Churchill's insistence, as a European counter-weight to Washington's client-state of China. And it immediately resumed the business of making war, using the normal methods—the methods Germany had used against it. In May 1945 an independence demonstration in the city of Sétif in Algeria could not be suppressed by police, so the city was attacked with bombers and tanks. Seventy Europeans were killed along with thousands of Algerians. Dozens of Algerian villages were destroyed. Then there was war against the Vietnamese independence movement. And the later 'police' operation in Algeria was conducted chiefly by means of torture.
Behold the United Nations!
The British wars in Malaya and Kenya, conducted by means of concentration camps and race manipulation, its minor wars in Cyprus and Aden—these are the few wars which we can remember despite the officially-induced amnesia—these were wars of the era of the United Nations. So were the French war in Vietnam, Algeria and wherever else. So were the American overthrow of the Government of Guatemala at the behest of the United Fruit company in the 1950s and all the other interventions in South America, and of course Vietnam. So was the joint Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Suez (Egypt) with which the UN was prevented from interfering but which was stopped by the US for its own purposes.
These wars were not aberrations. The UN did not fall short of its ideal when allowing them. Allowance was made for them when the rules of the UN were being drawn up. If the UN had not allowed for them it would never have come into being. The UN is a Great Power arrangement constructed by Great Power realists.
The astonishing thing—the thing which is so much in conflict with the carefully arranged reality of the UN that it almost inclines one to believe in miracles—is that there is widespread belief in a UN ideal of an entirely different kind—an ideal which can be expressed in the old phrase, "heart of the heartless world". The UN is in fact organised heartlessness. Insofar as there is any reality for the contrary idea of it, that is because some of the agencies created by the League of Nations in the 1930s were continued by it in a strictly subordinate capacity.
The purpose of this cultivated ideal UN is to enable people who believe in it to be strung along by the spin doctors of whichever Vetoist power bears down on them.
Belief in the old Catholic Litanies was much more sensible than belief in this spurious idealised version of the UN. The UN belongs to the here and now, and its structure prevents that idea from being realised. The Catholic Litanies operated in a different dimension of life, unconnected with military power.
US/UK acted without UN authority when invading Iraq but they did not act unlawfully because under UN rules they had the right to act without UN authority in such matters without acting unlawfully. The blunt statement of that indisputable fact that demolishes the UN idea of the idealists. But Britain never puts it that way because it does not want to disillusion the UN idealists. Idealists are manipulable. So it operates by argumentative opinions instead, encouraging the idealists to continue to have faith—and to be manipulable.
Surely it is a good thing that Saddam, a tyrant, was overthrown!
And at a cost of the lives of a million Iraqi civilians, it was still a good thing? Well, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
What is a tyrant? The word had definite meaning once. All it means now is a kind of demon—an individual who somehow dominations millions of people against their will by use of a small, corrupt coterie attached to him. It was obvious long before the invasion that Saddam did not stand in that kind of relationship with the population of Iraq. The Baath system was an organised form of the liberal, secular potential of the peoples thrown together by Britain for reasons of Imperial expediency, which had nothing to do with the possibilities of good government.
But it's now good crying over spilt milk. We are where we are, as Brigid Laffan the voice of the EU, likes to say, and we must move on.
Of course the Baath did move on. It made a liberal, secular state out of the incompatible elements thrown together by Britain. And then Britain and America broke it up with our help. Taking the liberal, secular potential of Iraq to be the milk, it is well and truly spilt and there is no more to be got. The only thing that can be done is cry over it and make way for the Islamic fundamentalism, which the events of 1991 showed to be the alternative.
If anything like the contemplated omelette had been made with the broken eggs, the million dead civilians would lie very easy on our conscience as casualties of progress. But where is the omelette? Never mind the omelette of the liberal, secular state constructed by the Baathists, with party-politics added. Where is even the omelette of a functional Islamic fundamentalist state?
Can even the most hardline idealist keep trotting out the millions allegedly murdered by Saddam in defence of their deadly ideals? Most of those millions died in a war against Islamic fundamentalism in Iran which was supported in one way and another by those who invaded Iraq in 2003. The Amnesty International figures for people killed by 'the regime' in Iraq during the ten years before 2003 are too small to be mentioned any longer—a mere couple of hundred (see box). And Amnesty cannot be accused of being soft on Saddam. It was an instigator of the War of 1991.
The invasion has cost at least a million lives, and counting—though neither the invaders nor their idealist supporters are counting any casualties except their own. And there is still no omelette in sight.
Contents of Number 92
Iraq: Our Fifth Anniversary.
Executions Under Saddam.
The CIA's Afghan War.
Once Upon A Time In Tibet.
Pearse And Casement.
Wikipedia & The War Of Independence.
The Irish Times.
"Coolacrease Complaints Rejected By Broadcasting
A Journey Round Tom Dunne, Part Four.
NIPSA: Palestinian Relief.
The Second American Revolution And The Sense
Problem In The West (Part One).
A Religious View of 9/11.
Iran: Puncturing The Zionist Dream?
De Valera's Fine Ghaedheal.
Quo Vadis?—Thoughts on 2006 Census.
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