At work the other day I read a copy of The Sun that someone had left lying around. It didn’t take long, of course, but I was struck by one article by Trevor Kavanagh, the Political Editor (I can’t find it online, so you will just have to take my word for this). If you ignore Kavanagh’s usual slagging off of the “many sneering western lefties” who opposed the Iraq war (who he associates with “clerics who claim the Boxing day tsunami was Allah’s vengeance on homosexuals” and who accept “the treatment of women as slaves”) then it actually makes interesting reading. He quotes the Lebanese political leader Walid Jumblatt (via a David Ignatius article), a man noted for many loopy and insanely nasty anti-US and anti-Israeli statements in the past; but this time we are invited to take him seriously. Regarding the current developments in Lebanon Jumblatt says “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world”. He goes on “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it”. Oliver Kamm writes in a similar vein, calling the cause of democracy and liberty “the crux of the case for the grand strategy that the US and UK have pursued since 9/11”.
If this does indeed come to pass and freedom sweeps through the Middle East, where does this leave those of us, like myself, who opposed the war? Since the war is the event that has brought about the democratisation of Iraq, and could therefore bring democracy to the whole Arab world, is it time I just accepted that the war was ultimately a good thing, a bitter pill perhaps, but one that has resulted in a freer world?
Well I don’t, and there are at least two main reasons. Firstly, I still have this quirky idea that invading other countries in an unprovoked attack is wrong, even if that country’s dictator is an evil piece of work. This I feel is more or less an absolute; I am not saying there aren’t any circumstances where such a war could be justified, but in laying down the conditions where I feel such an action could be acceptable I set quite a high bar. The Iraq war, in both the Coalition’s stated war aims, and in what I feel were its real aims, doesn’t meet those conditions.
But secondly, I believe war should only be used as a last resort. This is hardly a revolutionary statement, it is one I think most people would accept, even if we may differ on exactly when all other options have been tried and failed and we have to resort to war. So, with regards the spreading of democracy, can the Iraq War be in any way described as a war of last resort? Even nearly? Was this the only way to spread democracy throughout the Middle East? Are we really saying that all other avenues had been exhausted, and war was the only option left?
I cannot think of many attempts at peacefully spreading democracy through the region, and it is not as if it couldn’t be tried. Leaning on Iran in the hope that they will set elections is unlikely to prove fruitful, but there are pro-western countries in the area who we could at least attempt to persuade to reform their institutions. Wasn’t there a golden opportunity after the 1991 Gulf War when we could have liberated Kuwait on the proviso that, once reinstated, the Kuwaiti royal family would make moves towards democracy and a more open society? If democracy is so important then why wasn’t that ever considered? If Iraq can apparently set off a domino effect transforming the Middle East, then why couldn’t Kuwait? Imagine the TV screens full of Kuwaiti voters, going to the poll, hopefully untroubled by the sort of terror being endured by the Iraqis; why wouldn’t that similarly snowball through the region, triggering election after election? Perhaps if that had been done in 1991 the tremors could even become felt in Saddam’s Iraq, and with support a popular movement could depose the tyrant. Wishful thinking of course, but any more wishful than the theory that Iraq can be the catalyst for a Berlin Wall style makeover? And even if you think my suggestion is silly, can anyone say, with their hand on their heart, that every other peaceful method of spreading democracy has been tried, that they have all run their course, and that war was the only answer?
Anyway, my suggestion didn’t happen, and nothing like it would ever happen. Kuwait was liberated and handed back to the old autocrats, and why not? Far nastier regimes than the emir’s have been supported in the past, and are being supported now. Democracy has its place, and its place is clearly after the self-interests of the Western nations. It has always seemed preferable to have pro-western dictatorships than unreliable democracies.
But we have had our war, and Iraq has had its elections, and I sincerely hope that a democracy can take root there. I hope the theory that there will be a clamour for votes in the neighbouring countries turns out to be true, and will lead to the spread of democracy across the region. Time will tell whether this is a genuine “Cedar Revolution” or just a kind of “Beirut Spring”. I guess the real test will be if Saudi Arabia becomes a democracy and looks like it will “do an Algeria”, but we are a little way off that. Perhaps we will be able to look back in a few years time and see that the war did lead to a much-improved situation in the Middle East, but I will take a lot of convincing to believe there could not be another, less bloody way. For all the comparisons currently being made with the fall of the Berlin Wall, what some people seem to overlook is that it didn’t take a war to bring freedom to Eastern Europe; the most important single factor was probably that a superpower decided to stop interfering and propping up its friendly despots. South America can tell a similar tale.
In the end, though, I think that rather than the onus now being on me to accept that the war was justified, it is up to others to prove that military action was the only way to advance democracy through the Middle East; and until they do I will accept it as a truism that good ends can spring from bad means.