Friday, July 23, 2004

The other case for war 

Whenever media trumpets the supposed knocking down of yet another one of the "pillars" of George W Bush's case for going to war (be it the existence of the Weapons of Mass Destruction, ties with terrorists, and so on), I recline in my chair and think back, as I sometimes do, to the time of the Cold War. On this occasion I imagine the struggle between the Free World and communism through the prism of our recent controversies. Was the fact that the Soviets were in possession of a vast arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons a reason enough to fight them? Yes, to some extent, but also no, because their very possession of these WMD made the prospect of any direct clash suicidal for humanity. Also no, to the extent that the WMDs in the hands of a totalitarian superpower were just one of very many unpleasant aspects of the situation.

What about the Soviet connection with international terrorism? There is no doubt that the Soviet Union and their satellites and proxies maintained varied degrees of contact and cooperation with terrorist groups ranging from the Red Brigades to the PLO. But Kremlin was never the heart nor the brain of anti-Western terrorism, merely an occasional opportunistic participant.

What then of the Soviets and their uneasy relationship with the international law and the United Nations? Communists were quite notorious for breaking treaties they found inconvenient and ignoring the world community where it didn't suit them. But in many ways these were just technicalities, bad in themselves, that's true, but worse for being symptoms of what the communism stood for and how it operated.

In the end, to the extent that war and morality sit uncomfortably with each other, the most important case for facing up to the international communism was a moral one: they were the "evil empire", however Manichean and simplistic that might sound, and we, while not perfect, were better. Thus ultimately the case against totalitarian regimes comes down to a rather simple observation that the world is a better and safer place without them. Yes, the costs always have to be taken into consideration, but no one today argues that fighting Nazis wasn't worth it, and no one should argue likewise in regards to communists. In both cases, the alternatives were far worse and in the end far costlier.

Saddam might or might not have had a WMD arsenal or intentions of acquiring one; he might or might not have had ties with al Qaeda or other terrorist groups; he was clearly in breach of many UN resolutions - of that there was no doubt; the only discussion revolved around the consequences of that fact. But either way, he had to go because of what he has done in the past to his own people and to his own neighbors, and of the possibility of what he might still do in the future.

The Middle East without Hussein - the world without Hussein - are better places; for the Iraqis, for the Kuwaities and Iranians, for us in the West. Everything else (no more WMD programmes, no more contacts with terrorists, no more giving the finger to the international community) is merely a bonus. The media, with their limited attention span, for better or for worse (usually the latter) focuses on the micro; politicians occasionally reach the macro level; only statesmen consistently see the big picture. Thank God for the statesmen.


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