Monday, March 31, 2003

HITCHENS: WE MUST KEEP OUR NERVE

By Christopher Hitchens

HERE we go again: first the phoney war and then the war of the phoneys. In Kuwait, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan - all of the post-Cold War conflicts against regional aggressors and terror-sponsoring states - it was necessary first to endure a lengthy period of apocalyptic warnings.

If the democracies stuck up for themselves or others, there would be intensified chaos and misery, uncountable civilian casualties, intervention from other states to widen the war, legacies of bad blood, massive alienation, etc, etc.

You have read it and I have read it.

The question is - do those who have written this tripe ever dare to go back and see how wrong they were last time?

The second element of the phoney war always takes the form of arguing about how much support a cause needs before it becomes a good one. Let's have Russia on side! Shouldn't we wait for China?

Since the Russians were the patrons of Serbia, it would have been impossible to overcome their veto on Bosnia and Kosovo and so the intervention had to be re-baptised.

Since the French government is in league with Saddam Hussein, the same applies in the present case.

But do you imagine for a single second that the professional "anti-war" scribblers would have changed their tune in the case of a united diplomatic front? In the case of Afghanistan, the vote at the UN was as near-unanimous as such a thing can be.

Yet still the streets filled with the same dreary chant of "Stop the War"(as if it hadn't already started - on September 11, 2001 to be precise). There were Syrian and Egyptian troops fighting in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, which had a full UN mandate, but the same demonstrators showed up with much the same placards.

Just suppose that Vladimir Putin, whose regime is up to its neck in oil-deals with Iraq, had condescended so far as to endorse the intervention against Saddam Hussein.

WE would be hearing on all sides that the butcher of the Chechen Muslims was our bloodstained ally. How gratifying it is that this cause is now not disgraced, either, by the support of Turkey or Saudi Arabia, let alone the hopelessly-compromised regime of Monsieur Chirac.

Anyway, soon the delaying tactics run out and the despot shows that he isn't interested in a life-saving compromise.

At once, the plaintive, alarmist, phoney slogans shift to the human costs of war, and the blame is put only on one side. That's proved to be true even in the present very impressive case, when the "war" for all practical purposes was over as soon as it began.

Evidently betrayed by someone in his own inner circle, Saddam Hussein was at least badly shaken in the very first carefully-chosen moment, and it's been plain ever since that further Iraqi resistance is criminally futile.

The urgent task of the moment is therefore to make the war as brief as possible, and begin to bring in the food, medicine and reconstruction materials that the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples so desperately need.

(Incidentally, and for as long as it served as a change of subject from the vileness of the regime, the peaceniks were against the sanctions, too. Now they are hysterically against the only policy that can lead to the sanctions being lifted.) I object strongly to being addressed, by people with this track-record, as if it does not agonize me to see dead or wounded or bewildered Iraqi civilians.

Or soldiers for that matter - why do we employ the word "innocent" only for those out of uniform?

And I probably could not stand the job of knocking at some door in my old home town of Plymouth, to tell a family that their son or daughter had just been lost in some pointless accident of the kind that could have occurred on a training exercise.

There is no honour in killing Iraqi soldiers who are pointlessly fighting, leaderless and abandoned, out of fear.

And there is no glory in being hit by "friendly fire", as we ludicrously call it.

However, there is both honour and glory in being able to demolish the palaces and cellars of a murdering dictatorship, inflicting so few incidental casualties (and taking such obvious care to minimize them) that the propaganda of Saddam's goons can produce almost no genuine victims to gloat over.

I feel disgust for those who blame this week's deaths on the intervention and not on its sole target: Saddam Hussein.

A few days ago, a US Navy SEAL team allowed its whole attack to be watched live, as it went ashore and painlessly disarmed an Iraqi garrison with orders to blow up oil terminals.

Who would not approve the careful and humane pre-emptive strike that prevented such an atrocity with no loss of life? Who is going to report the numerous other unsung victories in a carefully calibrated conflict?

Is it too obvious to mention that Saddam's side in this war threatens the use of indiscriminate tactics, puts civilians in harm's way, and trashes the Geneva Convention the first chance it gets?

To make an exhibition of captives is a violation of all the known laws of war.

QUESTIONS ought to be asked in the House about the use of cluster-bombs and the employment of depleted-uranium (DU) weapons.

However, there has been a clear evolution towards more discriminating weapons on one side, even as there has been a desperate resort to unscrupulous tactics on the other. Not to see this is to miss one of the chief points of the new strategy. In Afghanistan, Mullah Omar was allowed to get away alive because Pentagon lawyers could not be sure enough about the convoy of SUV vehicles carrying him from Kabul to Kandahar.

In the end, the decision was made that it wasn't decent to take out the whole caravan.

But here's the point to keep your eye on, as you listen to panicky broadcasts and scan instant news, with its freight of immediate tragedies.

By every indication we have, the population of Baghdad was making a secret holiday in its heart as those horrible palaces went up in smoke, and this holiday will soon be a public holiday, and if we all keep our nerve we can join the festivities with a fairly clear conscience.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair

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