If Saddam is such a monster, why did we arm him and trade with him?
[The Independent - 3 December 2002]:
According to the Foreign Office dossier, Saddam Hussein: crimes and human rights abuses, "Iraq is a terrifying place to live". It certainly is, and even the most vociferous anti-war campaigner would have to agree that Saddam heads a brutal, cruel, murderous regime. There is something vaguely pornographic about the Government's little compendium of sadism, with its graphic, stomach-turning descriptions of eye gouging, acid baths and electric drills. But there is no reason to doubt that these things are commonplace in Baathist Iraq, and that the Iraqi people, the Middle East and the world generally would be happier and safer without Saddam.
Why then, one is forced to ask, did the British and American governments show such enthusiasm for supporting and arming this monster during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s? It is not an adequate response to plead the realpolitik that the Iranian ayatollahs were a more potent threat to Western interests, or that, if we didn't arm him, others would (the defence mounted by the late Alan Clark during the Arms-to-Iraq scandal). For Saddam used the very weapons that the West supplied to him to annexe Kuwait, an outcome infinitely worse than anything the CIA imagined the Iranians were about to visit upon the region.
Why, also, were Western governments at the time so utterly indifferent to the fate of the Kurds gassed at Halabja in 1988? One of the images that outrage left behind is reproduced in the Government's dossier. It has retained its chilling quality, but it didn't move the British or American governments of the day to action. The neglect of Iraq, and indeed of Afghanistan, of East Timor and countless other obscure territories, until they became a nuisance, are not just scars on our national conscience, but, on a long-term view, entirely inimical to our national interests. This dossier should remind us of that salient fact.
Tony Blair and Jack Straw are, of course, quite entitled to point out that these instances of British government hypocrisy took place under the previous lot, and were nothing to do with them. Indeed Robin Cook, the shadow Foreign Secretary at the time of the Scott report, did a good deal to expose the hypocrisy and dishonesty of Conservative ministers under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Mr Cook went on to become Foreign Secretary and to experience problems of his own with the "ethical dimension" of foreign policy, but the point now is to remind this government about the central importance that human rights should play in foreign policy.
So we should be impatient when ministers, so energetically pursuing the (familiar) case against Saddam, make excuses for the human rights abuses perpetrated by our "friends". From the Israeli army's abuse of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories to General Dostum's ill-treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan to the endemic cruelty of Algeria's near civil war, we hear little protest from the United States and governments in the European Union. Still less do Western governments dare to criticise abuses by powerful trading partners or close strategic allies such as China, Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan. Indeed the treatment of prisoners at Camp X-Ray and our own policy towards refugees are not exactly a model of liberal practice.
Saddam Hussein may be as mad, bad, and dangerous to know as the Government says he is; but as with so many regimes around the world today, we seemed very content with him for a disturbingly long time