Fear is in the air. It is being manipulated to ratchet up the fever of war. And yet this time around it is not quite clear exactly where or to whom the fear belongs. This alone, together with all the other reasons for opposing this war, should make us suspicious. We are being told we should be very frightened indeed of Saddam Hussein, although the threat from his regime to Britain and the US is clearly negligible. So we are told we should be frightened of him at some unspecified future date when terrorists will access the weapons he will develop if he is not disarmed.
We are being asked to enter into a state of infinite war. It is in fact far more likely that such weapons are being accessed in Russia right now; it is also far more likely that we will become the object of such attacks as a consequence of this war. In his preface to last September’s National Security Strategy of the USA , President Bush states `The war against terrorists of global reach is a global enterprise of uncertain duration.’ The task is interminable.
One of the most disturbing things about 11 September 2001, was that the attack was so visible in the skies, while its agents were a multiplicity of potentially proliferating invisible cells (the exact reverse of Kosovo where it was not the agent - the strutting boastful Milosevic – but his crimes, the mass graves, that had to be found). So let us take out a villain whom the whole world knows to be a villain – nobody against the war denies this - and whom all the world can see. It is meant to make ‘us’ feel better.
There is, therefore, another fear at play – the fear of impotence - which no one is talking about. In government rhetoric, you only name a fear if you can blast it. When Bush talks of securing a new world order, when supporters of the war speak of liberating the people of Iraq, we should not just be questioning whether this, rather than oil or control of the Middle East, is the true motive. We should also be asking what fantasy we are being required to sustain. America’s aim of `full spectral dominance’, to which Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon seems to be signing Britain in perpetuity, is like the rage of a child when she hits the limits of her powers. Except that unlike the raging child, the US, as the strongest military might in the globe, has the capacity to unleash forces a child can only dream about.
Against the official credo, it is this, I believe, that we – not to speak of the 80,000 Iraqis whose possible deaths we are meant to be able to contemplate with impunity - should be most frightened of.
©Jacqueline Rose 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II