A predatory and dishonest war

President Bush has rallied his troops for what he calls “The first war of the 21st century”. What is your view of this crisis, where, briefly, do you stand? This is the question we are putting to people around the world, especially those with their own public reputation and following. Our aim, to help create a truly global debate all can identify with.
John le Carré
12 January 2003

This is High Noon for American democracy. The rights and freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. A new McCarthyism is abroad. Bush tells us that those who are not with him are against him. I am not with him.

The American over-reaction is beyond everything Osama could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. But this war was planned long before Osama struck, and it is Osama who made it possible. Without him, the Bush junta would have been mired in Enron, electoral scandal and taxation sleaze. Thanks to Osama, Americans are instead being daily misled by their leaders and by their compliant corporate media.

There is a stink of religious self-righteousness in the air that reminds me of the British Empire at its worst. I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect’s sophistries to this patently self-interested adventure to secure our oil supplies.

    “But will we win, Daddy?”
    “Of course we will, child, and quickly, while you are still in bed.”
    “But will people be killed, Daddy?”
    “There will be a few Western casualties. Very few. Go to sleep.”
    “And after that, will everything be normal? Nobody will strike back? The terrorists will all be dead?”
    “Wait till you’re older, dear. Goodnight.”
    “And is it really true that last time round Iraq lost twice as many dead as America lost in the entire Vietnam war?”
    “Hush child. That’s called history.”

Where’s the hurry? Iraq is a vile dictatorship, and Saddam is a monster who sits on the world’s second largest oil reserves. But there is ample time to consider how to unseat him before we plunge into this predatory and dishonest war. Leave the UN inspectors there. Convene Iraq’s neighbours. And consider for a moment where the will came from to make this war in the first place.

Americans can still awake to the shame of what is being done in their name.

Britain is half way there. The French and Russians have been bribed and browbeaten into submission. Only the good Germans have so far succeeded in sticking to their silent guns. I wish profoundly that the rest of us Europeans, in the spirit of a nobler President, would declare ourselves to be citizens of Berlin.

©John le Carré 2003

Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.

See also Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 2.

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