Saddam is neutralised, so why is it necessary to go to war against Iraq?
[The Independent - 26 February 2003]:
Tony Blair yesterday made as clear and powerful a case for military action against Saddam Hussein as he ever has. The Prime Minister was wise to spend as much time as he did talking about the role of the United Nations, for he knows very well that so long as the Parliamentary Labour Party is satisfied that the Prime Minister is intent on working through the UN, it will, on the whole, support him.
The extent to which the UN has for so long been an article of faith in the Labour Party may seem strange to many who have witnessed the UN's sometimes corrupt procedures, dominated, as it is, by the global hyperpower, the United States, in its Security Council. And yet many Labour MPs act as though they would accept the slaughter of the first-born if it had been ordered by the UN and if the soldiers carrying out the policy wore blue helmets. But there is a respectable case to be made against a war on Iraq, even a war sanctioned by the UN.
Even so, when it comes to international law and trying to impose some sort of constraints on America's unilateralist instincts, the UN, flawed as it is, is all we have. When Mr Blair spoke yesterday about the current crisis being a test of the UN's credibility, he was right, if for the wrong reasons. What Mr Blair means by "credibility" is that the UN must agree with him. Hence his remarks in the past about being willing to ignore an "unreasonable" veto by, say, France or Russia, as if Mr Blair were the sole arbiter of what is or is not "reasonable" about another nation's diplomacy.
The suspicion remains that if the UN does not do what he wants it to do – and pass a second resolution with a wording similar to that issued by Britain and the US yesterday – then George Bush will ignore it. To be fair to him, the President has always been plain about a second resolution; he would like one, but it is "not necessary". He was not explicit about these matters, but Mr Blair certainly said nothing yesterday that suggested he might consider not backing his ally in that circumstance.
Of course, the Prime Minister did not dwell upon such eventualities; but he did make plain his distaste for the Franco-Russo-German plan to give the inspectors much more time to complete their work. Hardly a surprise; but it may be that a British or American veto will have to be wielded to prevent this scheme being endorsed by the UN Security Council. It is the duty of all the permanent members of the Security Council to find a way through this crisis that avoids the use of or threat of a veto, and for all to abide by the decisions made by the Council. Given the strength of international opinion in favour of the Franco-Russo-German plan, it deserves rather more attention than either Number 10 or the White House seems inclined to devote to it.
War is always an admission of failure. Saddam Hussein has been a threat to peace and security in the region, and to his own people; the question is whether today, with a strong UN presence in the country and with a formidable deterrent in the shape of Western forces in the region, Saddam poses a clear and present danger to his neighbours. With an even stronger UN force in Iraq, as Jacques Chirac, the French President, suggests, he would be even weaker. Set that against the destabilisation of the whole region from Palestine to Pakistan and the upsurge of terrorism that would ensue if we went to war. An effectively neutralised Saddam is what we have now. It is what Mr Blair and Mr Bush want. The world does not want a clash of civilisations. There is no need for war.