Liberate Iraq on the world’s terms

Paul Hilder
6 March 2003

So the world is split. ‘Yes, war now’ or ‘No, US, wait’ – we are polarising into one or the other camp, like the molecules of a magnet rearranging itself. But the north of that magnet is defined by the US, and the US alone.

“To liberate,” we ask, “or to conquer?” The people of the world believe, rightly or wrongly, that the US will liberate only to reconquer: no liberation at all. Meanwhile, we are more and more nervous. Saying ‘No to war, No to Saddam’ feels like rhetoric without an alternative – and more inspections alone do not do the job.

US unilateralists are served best by such a polarisation. The members of Bush’s posse, even Tony Blair, have little right of initiative: his opponents have even less influence on the ultimate outcome of the war to liberate Iraq.

For our part, we Europeans are caught between two disasters. Both a return to the failed policy of ‘containment’ and a unilateral action will lose the hearts and minds of the Arab world. Not alone – with others – we have missed the mirage of a chance to set the agenda (the opportunity there might have been, in 2002, to drive forward a real third option).

Kirsty Hughes and Paul Hirst sketch two similar outlines of that mirage: it is hard to believe that Saddam would have accepted such a ‘virtual invasion’ by the United Nations (UN), but it should have been tried. And now it is too late.

Such a complex and innovative diplomatic effort cannot be pursued before the heats of summer descend. This is at least partly our responsibility as Europeans: if we had wanted such a policy, why not push it in 1991? In 1998? In 2001? We preferred to leave containment running.

All that remains is a final opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Between idealism and Realpolitik

Liberation and self-determination guaranteed on a multilateral basis are now the least bad solution. The international community, through constraint, must remove any possibility of the US pursuing its much-touted ‘ulterior’ motives. Otherwise multilateralism in international security will be dealt a terrible blow.

The international community must take responsibility for constraining the US – and for post-war nation-building.

What terrifies and infuriates Europeans most about ‘The War’ to come? Not, I suggest, the fact that it will kill many, including innocents. We remember the ravages brought to our continent by war; but we also remember that, in opposition to tyranny, it was necessary. Some of us remember the pain and suffering ‘containment’ of the Soviet Union visited upon some of us from Yalta until 1989.

No: what the European mainstream fears most are US ulterior motives, both Realpolitik and idealism-gone-wrong: we fear the imposition of new tyranny in Iraq; we fear the blowback that unilateral action will wreak. And we are right to fear these things (even if the finger of oil-greed can be pointed at France and Russia as well).

Timothy Garton Ash and Anthony Barnett are painfully dissuaded from support for ‘The War’, not because tens of thousands will die in combat and bombing, but because they believe it is being fought substantially for the wrong reasons, with the wrong working assumptions, and will end in disaster. They do not disagree with the aim of regime change – only with the unilateral means.

And indeed, there is something grotesque about plans being laid for Iraq’s next administration in the Pentagon, in the White House, without the Iraqis. It suggests, as Michael Naumann catalogues in his latest column, that the US has still not learnt from the past consequences of its power projection.

The world – which is to say, Europeans and Kofi Annan – has a last opportunity to propose an alternative.

The ‘Solana Draft’

Who will submit a ‘compromise’ draft to the UN Security Council? I suggest, only half-joking, Javier Solana – the EU foreign minister-in-waiting – for it requires bringing together both France and the UK. In that, Solana will have his work cut out. He cannot act except with a mandate from all fifteen European states, and through those of their number on the Security Council.

But for the sake of multilateralism, the Solana Draft (or the Annan Draft, or even the Blair Draft) must shatter the polarised magnet drawing us ever closer to a terrible outcome in Iraq. It should sequester the supposed ‘good intentions’ of the US (regime change, liberation and democracy for the Iraqi people, disarmament and the prevention of terrorism) from its supposed ‘bad intentions’ (hegemony in the region, control over cheap oil).

(If the US really wants a transitional protectorate in the Middle East, it should look to extend its protecting wing over the majority, not fragments, of the Palestinian territories, as a first step on the road toward a full peace settlement. On sensible interim terms, the Palestinians would welcome them with open arms.)

Only in this way can Iraqis be liberated, blowback averted, and the world brought on board. Regime change and democracy in Iraq – let us say it loud and clear – are legitimate objectives.

However, the distinguishing characteristic of the supposed ‘bad intentions’ is that they relate to the post-war context. So the Solana Draft must state the following:

  • Saddam Hussein is in material breach of UN Resolution 1441 and previous resolutions, and ‘serious consequences’ shall therefore follow.
  • A multinational force (like that in 1991) is empowered to disarm and dismantle the regime.
  • A UN interim administration will be set up immediately to take overall control, with substantial ongoing peace enforcement capacities, working with an interim Iraqi leadership to reconstruct and democratise the country.
  • The interim Iraqi leadership, with technical support from the interim administration, shall take on responsibility for the oilfields.
  • All international military bases in Iraq shall be under UN authority. (They are not staging posts on the way to Iran.)
  • (If this is not a step too far for the sluggish UN:) The Saddam regime, by attacking other sovereign states, repressing and murdering its own people, developing weapons of mass destruction, defying the Security Council under Chapter 7 and sponsoring terrorism, has forfeited sovereignty over Iraq.

Crying foul

Saying ‘No to war’ and ‘No to Saddam’ is a pleasant but pointless enterprise if the latter ‘No’ is invalidated by the former.

Constraint is more than Blair loyally whispering in Bush’s ear, “Let’s go to the UN”. Now we are there, and legislating for the world. Let us recognise the power of multilateralism. Let us use it, before it evaporates. What is more, on post-war reconstruction, we must put our money – and more importantly, our capabilities – where our mouths are.

Europe and the world need to make the US decide. Does it want to act legitimately, and fulfil those ambitions which most of the world accepts? Or illegitimately, confirming its enemies’ suspicions about a less-than-benevolent imperialism?

We need to force the US to make that choice. If it chooses illegitimacy, we can cry foul. So can the US people; and the people of Iraq; and the wider Muslim world; and the wider world.

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