'Wake Up, Peaceniks!'

Christopher Hitchens
16 January 2003

Ever since the morning of 11 September 2001, the United States has been at war with the forces of reaction. May I entreat you to re-read the sentence? The government and people of the United States are now at war with the forces of reaction. And this was not willed, on the American side.

Everybody knows how to dilute the statement. Is Saudi Arabia not reactionary? What about Pakistani nukes? Do we bomb Sharon for his negation of Palestinian rights? Were we not on Saddam’s side when he was at his worst? But however compromised and shameful the American starting-point was – and I believe I could make this point stick with greater venom and better evidence than most people can muster – the above point remains untouched. The United States finds itself at war with the forces of reaction.

Do I have to demonstrate this? The Taliban’s annihilation of music and culture? The enslavement of women? The massacre of Shi’a Muslims and Hazaras in Afghanistan? Or what about the latest boast of al-Qaida – that the bomb in Bali, massacring so many Australian holidaymakers, was a deliberate revenge for Australia’s belated help in securing independence for East Timor? (Never forget that the Muslim fundamentalists are not against ‘empire’. They fight proudly for the restoration of their own lost Caliphate.) To these people, the concept of a civilian casualty is meaningless if the civilian is an unbeliever or a heretic.

Confronted with such a foe, which gladly murders Algerians, Egyptians and Palestinians if they have any doubts about the true faith, or if they happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if they happen to be female, exactly what role does a ‘peace movement’ have to play? A year or so ago, the ‘peace’ movement was saying that Afghanistan could not even be approached without risking the undying enmity of the Muslim world; that the Taliban could not be bombed during Ramadan; that a humanitarian disaster would occur if the Islamic ultra-fanatics were confronted in their own lairs. Now we have an imperfect but recovering Afghanistan, with its population increased by more than a million returned refugees. Have you ever seen or heard any of those smart-ass critics and cynics make a self-criticism?

From Afghanistan to Iraq

On the contrary, the same critics and cynics are now lining up to say ‘hands off Saddam Hussein’, and to make almost the same doom-laden predictions. The line that connects Afghanistan to Iraq is not a straight one by any means. But the oblique connection is ignored by the peaceniks, and one can be sure (judging by their past form) that it would be ignored even if it were as direct as the connection between al-Qaida and the Taliban. Saddam Hussein denounced the removal of Slobodan Milosevic, murderer of Sunni Muslims, and also denounced the removal of the Shi’a-murdering Taliban. Reactionaries have a tendency to stick together – and I don’t mean ‘guilt by association’ here, I mean guilt.

If the counsel of the peaceniks had been followed, Kuwait would today be the nineteenth province of Iraq (and on his own recently produced evidence, Saddam Hussein would have acquired nuclear weapons). Moreover, Bosnia would be a trampled and cleansed province of Greater Serbia, Kosovo would have been emptied of most of its inhabitants, and the Taliban would still be in power in Afghanistan. Yet nothing seems to disturb the contented air of moral superiority which surrounds those who intone the ‘peace’ mantra.

There are at least three well-established reasons to favour what is euphemistically termed ‘regime change’ in Iraq. The first is the flouting by Saddam Hussein of every known law on genocide and human rights, which is why the Senate – at the urging of Clinton – passed the Iraq Liberation Act unanimously before George W. Bush had even been nominated. The second is the persistent effort by Saddam’s dictatorship to acquire weapons of genocide – an effort which can and should be thwarted and which was condemned by the United Nations before George W. Bush was even Governor of Texas. The third is the continuous involvement by the Iraqi secret police in the international underworld of terror and destabilisation.

Any ‘peace movement’ that even pretends to care for human rights will be very shaken by what will be uncovered when the regime of Saddam Hussein falls. Prisons, mass graves, weapon sites … just you wait. To say that he might do more terrible things if attacked or threatened is to miss the point. Last time he massacred the Iraqi and Kurdish population, he was withdrawing his forces under an international guarantee. The Iraqi and Kurdish peoples are now, by every measure we have or know, determined to be rid of him. And the hope, which is perhaps a slim one but very much sturdier than other hopes, is that the next Iraqi regime will be better and safer, not just from our point of view but from theirs. The sanctions policy, which was probably always hopeless, is now quite indefensible. If lifted, it would allow Saddam’s oligarchy to re-equip.

Neutrality is not an option

Recently I sat down with my old friend Dr Barham Salih, who is the elected prime minister of one sector of Iraqi Kurdistan. Neither he nor his electorate could be mentioned if it were not for the ‘no-fly’ zones imposed as an unintended result of the last Gulf War. In his area of Iraq, ‘regime change’ has already occurred. There are dozens of newspapers, numerous radio and TV channels, satellite dishes, Internet cafes. Four female judges have been appointed. Almost half the students at the University of Sulaimaniya are women. And a pro al-Qaida group (Ansar al-Islam), recently transferred from Afghanistan, is trying to assassinate the Kurdish leadership, and nearly killed my dear friend Barham just the other day…. Now, why would this gang want to make that particular murder their first priority?

Before you face that question, consider this. Salih has been through some tough moments in his time. Most of the massacres and betrayals of the Kurdish people of Iraq took place with American support or connivance. But the Kurds have pressed ahead with regime change in any case. Surely a ‘peace movement’ with any principles should be demanding that the United States not abandon them again?

Instead, there is a self-satisfied isolationism to be found, across the west. But the option of a quiet life disappeared on 11 September 2001. The United States is now at war with the forces of reaction. Nobody is entitled to view this battle as a spectator. The Union under Lincoln wasn’t wholeheartedly against slavery. The US under Roosevelt had its own selfish agenda even in combating Hitler and Hirohito. The hot-and-cold war against Stalinism wasn’t free of blemish and stain. How much this latest crisis turns into an even tougher war with reaction, at home or abroad, could depend partly upon those who currently think that it is either possible or desirable to remain neutral.

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