There is a strong, even unanswerable case for a “regime change” in Iraq that ought to unite Western public opinion and all those who care about the brutal oppression of an entire Muslim nation.
Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it – and “we” includes, until recently, the government of the United States. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks.
Iraqi opposition groups in exile have been trying to get the West’s attention for years. Now, there’s a change in Washington’s tune. Good. One may suspect the commitment of the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to the creation and support of a free, democratic Iraq, but it remains the most desirable of goals.
The complicating factors, sadly, are this U.S. administration’s pre-emptive, unilateralist approach which looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. And the United States’ new pre-emptive strike policy would, if applied, make America itself a much less safe place, because if the United States reserves the right to attack any country it doesn’t like the look of, then those who don’t like the look of the United States might feel obliged to return the compliment. It’s not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first.
Nor does America’s vagueness about its plans for a post-Hussein Iraq and its own “exit strategy” inspire much confidence.
These are some of the reasons why I have remained unconvinced by President Bush’s Iraqi grand design. But as I listen to Iraqi voices describing the numberless atrocities of the Hussein years, then I am bound to say that if, as now seems possible, the United States and the United Nations do agree on a new Iraq resolution; and if Hussein gets up to his old obstructionist tricks or refuses to accept the new U.N. resolution; then the rest of the world must stop sitting on its hands and join the Americans and British in ridding the world of this vile despot and his cohorts.
It should be said loudly that the primary justification for regime change in Iraq is the dreadful and prolonged suffering of the Iraqi people, and that the remote possibility of a future attack on America by Iraqi weapons is of secondary importance. A war of liberation might just be one worth fighting. The war that America is currently trying to justify is not.
Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.