War with Iraq would not end the dangers
By Douglas Hurd
FT - London January 2:
A serious debate is under way about the justification of a pre-emptive war against Iraq. But justification of war is not everything; its consequences must also be weighed.
A pre-emptive attack could be justified on moral and intellectual grounds but would be unwise because of the likely consequences. President Kim Jong-il of North Korea is a brutal dictator who does as much harm to his people as Saddam Hussein. He may indeed be more irrational and is certainly more dangerous to the world, as he possesses a fearsome military capacity for which the Iraqi leader is merely groping. Yet the US wisely is not contemplating a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, for the good reason that Russia and China would oppose it and the consequences might be disastrous.
How would the likely consequences of an attack on Iraq measure against our aims in launching it? Our motives are becoming mixed as extra motives are thrown into the pot. The humanitarian case for rescuing the Iraqi people from a cruel tyrant bubbles in the stew alongside the main ingredient, namely our determination to protect ourselves from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The same mixed motives governed our operation in Afghanistan, with a curious result. The secondary motive, namely rescuing the Afghan people from the Taliban regime, has been achieved. But it would be hard to claim the same of the primary motive, namely safeguarding our own security.
After Bali and Mombasa and the medley of warnings about terrorist attacks that we receive day by day, we do not feel safer now than before the Afghan operation. The "war against terrorism" has become almost as opaque and indefinite as the war on want or disease. It looks as if for the rest of our lives we may be wrestling with individuals and organisations scattered through the Middle East and Asia who are ready to use murderous violence against our way of life.
How would an operation against Iraq fit into this framework? Much would depend on luck: we cannot know how many casualties would result and this would be crucial to its consequences.
But in one way or another we can be sure that in a war Mr Hussein would be overthrown and his weapons programme dismantled. After that an analysis popular in Tel Aviv and Washington predicts that Arabs throughout the region would be encouraged to get rid of their own undemocratic rulers, embrace western-style democracy and make peace with Israel.
Elderly observers should beware of construing their own past experience as a guide to the future. So I may be wrong. But this forecast strikes me as a breathtaking example of the human capacity for self-deception.
A new Gulf war would begin with massive bombardment from the air and continue with ground forces - but in a very different context from the war of 1991. Then a genuine international coalition, including the main Arab states, came together to free Kuwait. Arab governments today are no fonder of Mr Hussein than they were in 1991, knowing him to be thoroughly deceitful and dangerous. But the overthrow of an Arab regime, however odious, by an overwhelmingly Anglo- American military force would seem to them different in principle from the liberation of Kuwait. No friendly countries, Arab or other, would this time pick up the bill for our military expenses, as they willingly did in 1991. The greatest danger might not arise in the fighting with Mr Hussein's forces (which could last only a few days) but in the aftermath of a war across a region that would see itself unmistak-ably under the domination of the US, the protector of Israel.
For another factor looms larger today than in 1991. If you asked almost any Arab to name a country in their region that possessed weapons of mass destruction, followed a policy of oppressive occupation and defied Security Council resolutions, they would name Israel, not Iraq. The US has put into abeyance any serious effort to bring about a peace settlement that would guarantee the security of Israel but create a valid Palestinian state. The Israeli arguments that this cannot be discussed while they are holding an election or while Yassir Arafat still huddles in his ruined compound in Ramallah are not up to the level of events. By this mistake, which is still not irretrievable, the Americans make more difficult their task, and ours, in the rest of the Middle East.
I do not envy the British cabinet or the Bush administration their choice. They have to weigh the undoubted benefits of Mr Hussein's overthrow against the risk of turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism.
Lord Hurd was UK foreign secretary 1989-1995 and is senior adviser toHawkpoint