We can still stop this blind march to disaster
The Independent - February 2, 2003
President Bush is impatiently clamouring for war. At his press conference
with Tony Blair, he bluntly declared that diplomacy had a "matter of
weeks" to run its course. The two leaders have decided on a course of
military action – they probably decided months ago. The Prime Minister
continues to play word games, but he is increasingly unconvincing. He
says that "war is not inevitable". In which case why not give the
inspectors more time to complete their job? It would be better to have
them in Iraq for months if there was any chance of avoiding a war. As
long as the inspectors carry out their work, lives are not being lost in
a conflict. Tragically for all of us, there is no sense that George Bush
and Tony Blair regard war as a desperate last resort. Instead, they
contrive frantically to create the circumstances in which they can go
ahead and start bombing.
President Bush said in the two leaders' depressing and illuminating joint
press conference at the White House last week that he would like a second
United Nations resolution authorising military action, but that he would
go to war without one. So, if there is a second resolution there will be
a war. If there is no second resolution there will still be a war. This
farce is undermining the authority of the UN rather than enhancing it.
The UN is being used by Mr Blair to make the war palatable to the Labour
Party, and by Mr Bush to legitimise a decision that he has already made.
The Labour Party, along with the many doubters in rival political
parties, as well as the other members of the UN Security Council, should
make up their minds about whether or not there is a good cause for war.
On this, Mr Blair continues to shift his ground. Early last autumn his
reason for war was Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. He
promised, then, to produce fresh evidence. But his subsequent dossier did
not provide it. The Prime Minister then changed his ground by arguing
that we should not underestimate the importance of the existing evidence.
Sometime soon after that he said that he was convinced of a definite link
between Iraq and al-Qa'ida. There were hints, too, that evidence would be
produced. But, again, no such evidence was forthcoming. Now Mr Blair says
that terrorists might obtain weapons of mass destruction from Saddam
Hussein. At his Downing Street press conference last month he hinted that
the UN inspectors would eventually make a substantial discovery of the
weapons in question. Now he insists that the issue is whether Iraq is
fully co-operating with the inspectors. Instead of playing word games,
why does he not just come out and say it? He wants to get rid of Saddam,
and he believes that war is the only means of doing that.
In the joint press conference George Bush gave a clear reason as to why
he wants a war. After 11 September he unilaterally decided to rewrite
international law: pre-emptive strikes were justified to defend the
United States (at that point he did not mention the United Kingdom, even
when Mr Blair was nodding earnestly a few feet away from him). At the
very least, a pre-emptive strike places the full burden of proof on the
state claiming that it is in jeopardy from an aggressor.
Neither the United States, nor Britain, has produced any overwhelming
evidence. They have relied instead on Mr Blair shifting ground on what
has become an almost daily basis. Last week Colin Powell, the US
Secretary of State, promised to prove Iraq's culpability. Unless he
demonstrates conclusively that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and
that Iraq plans to use them, there is no case for war. We urge members of
all political parties, and those outside, not to be deceived by the Prime
Minister's games at the UN. He has attached himself to President Bush,
with or without a UN resolution. The maximum political pressure should be
placed on him in the next few weeks to prevent him from dragging Britain
into an unjust war.