Thursday, March 20, 2008

Iraq In Retrospect

As someone who argued strongly in favour of removing Saddam Hussein from power, I now see that his removal has come at an unacceptable cost in innocent Iraqi lives, estimated to be any number between 80,000 – 1,000,000. By contrast, around 4,500 American soldiers and 175 British soldiers have lost their lives. Figures for wounded soldiers are obviously higher but largely kept under wraps.

It was not Saddam Hussein’s WMD that concerned me. It was clear from numerous documentaries that I saw, most of Iraq’s conventional weapons were largely dated and in a state of disrepair. It was also increasingly evident that whatever WMD he might have possessed hardly posed an immediate or deadly threat to anyone. That is not to say that had he remained in power and given time, he would not have become a serious threat. He almost certainly would and that was another reason to remove him from power.

I was in favour of removing Saddam Hussein’s regime on moral grounds but war was a last resort. I believed and still believe that in a globalised world that pretends also, to be civilised, murderous dictatorships are intolerable and must be dealt with by the international community under international law. We cannot call ourselves “civilised” whilst we continue to tolerate the intolerable. That is as they say, a no brainer. I thought much more could have and should have been done to force Saddam Hussein out without recourse to war. However, to achieve this it was vital for the entire international community to stand as one in condemning Saddam Hussein’s regime and to enforce the necessary measures to neutralise him. Self interest and political expediency and/or skulduggery by some of the major players was always going to make this virtually impossible. Seeing the divisions in the international camp served only to embolden Saddam Hussein and make it less likely that he would go quietly.

The UN Charter prohibits interference in the internal affairs of member states by other member states. Thus regimes such as those of Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe, to name but two, are legitimised by the international community when they take their seats in World forums; making us all complicit in their crimes against humanity. This is a morally reprehensible cop out by the international community. The UN Charter and those of other World bodies such as the IMF, World bank, etc., must be amended to allow for the expulsion of rogue governments on a majority vote. Whilst there is no serious penalty for criminal behaviour against their own citizens, rogue regimes will continue to feel they have carte blanche to do what they like in their own countries. Robert Mugabe continues to thumb his nose at the international community and the dreadful suffering of millions of Zimbabweans continues unabated. Is this the behaviour of a civilised World? You make the judgement.

So, in this respect the UN was and is not equipped or tooled to deal effectively with criminal governments. No wonder then that the U.S. and others decided to act unilaterally to remove Saddam Hussein. The UN was and is impotent when it comes to dealing with rogue governments. This impotence is bound to encourage unilateral action in times of international tension and crisis. America and its allies took matters into their own hands because there was a general unwillingness by the rest of the international community to do the right thing, take the bull by the horns and remove a tyrannical criminal from power.

It is not enough on its own to simply freeze the overseas assets of murderous regimes but I will grant that it is useful as part of a package of wide ranging measures which would include a World travel ban on all members of any governments that abuse human rights or break international law. No country no matter how large or powerful can take on all the nations of the planet. Part of the purpose of enacting an array of punitive measures against rogue regimes (including expulsion from the UN, IMF WB, etc.) is to encourage an internal reaction by more moderate elements within the countries in question to take steps to remove the offending persons from power, without recourse to international military action.

In the case of Iraq however and given the inevitable failure of a concerted international effort to remove Saddam Hussein, the UN should have given Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to step down and go into exile within 48 hours, irrespective of whether or not he possessed WMD. In the event of compliance he would be given immunity from prosecution. Failure to comply would result in his forced removal from power by any means necessary and prosecution at the International Court at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Had this come from the UN, rather than the U.S., it might have given him more pause for thought.

I agree that to give immunity to a man like Saddam Hussein does not seem like justice and it is not, but at least it would have saved the lives of at least 80,000 people and quite probably ten times that figure and that was a price worth paying.

All this raises the question though, given the lack of moral backbone and integrity within the UN and its membership, why should we the people have any faith in any political institution that allows millions of people to be murdered, tortured and raped at the hands of their own governments. If that is not criminal, reprehensible and uncivilised, then pigs really can fly and I’m a generous Dutchman. As long as expediency rather than morality reigns supreme, the vast majority of people around the globe will continue to view our political institutions with deep seated suspicion and outright contempt and rightly so.

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