Wars present many problems. One is that we never know what’s going to happen. For most of us, and this excludes genuine pacifists and Saddam-sympathisers, such knowledge would determine our support. Assume the ‘best scenario’: the inspectors find overwhelming evidence of the presence of weapons of mass destruction; the United Nations decide to intervene; the subsequent attack on Iraq kills very few people. Foremost among the casualties is Saddam Hussein himself. The whole operation is accompanied by a popular movement which establishes a genuine democracy in Iraq. Unlikely but not impossible.
Take a far darker outcome: though no weapons are found and without UN support, Bush attacks with Blair’s enthusiastic support; the war drags on for weeks, months even, with considerable ‘collateral damage’; what’s worse (from the point of view of western public opinion, so resilient when the dead are not theirs) body bags return in large numbers to London and Washington. And even worse: the inevitable skyrocketing of oil price makes driving prohibitive while the recession turns into a depression. The medium-term outcome is just as catastrophic: ‘friendly’, i.e. pro-Western governments are toppled throughout the Middle East which is swept by an unprecedented wave of Islamic fundamentalism; Israel proceeds to a massive ethnic cleansing of the West Bank; al-Qaida’s recruiting agents are besieged by applicants eager to join and die for the cause. Still gung-ho on the war? I don’t believe you.
The actual outcome is likely to be between these two poles; the precise point impossible to predict. But then, if we knew the outcome, there might never be wars. We certainly would not have had the first, perhaps not even the second, world war. So war is risky. But before you cast your vote, think seriously: who is risking? Whose children? Whose future?
Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.