The US right-wing ‘war-bloggers’ are working themselves up into a frenzy at the moment and I am pretty sure they have all pre-typed their “yeah hah!” post ready to upload the moment CNN shows the first of the “fireworks show” over Baghdad (followed no doubt by a boring bragging competition on who had the first link to the first bomb story up after which the losers will then scurry off to be the first to find a Robert Fisk opinion piece to trash).
Yes deadline time for the Iraqi weapons declaration is getting close – “Lies on Saturday should mean Bombs on Sunday” yells Peter Cuthbertson on Conservative Commentary, doing his best to keep pace with his breathless Stateside pals.
In fact the US right-wing pundits are the worst possible advocates for the case for military intervention in Iraq.
The knee-jerk anti-Americans they rightly despise portray the US as a country full of bigoted, ignorant and arrogant fools who get off on bombing other countries – and they need only visit a few of the right-wing US blogs to confirm their prejudice.
There is a strange fashion in US media, old and new, which at the moment seems to believe that the only way to make politics of interest is to set up a straw-doll of the liberal left and then rip it to pieces – if you think it is just an irrelevant weblog phenomenon then watch Fox News for ten minutes.
That channel has a hilarious programme called the O’Reilly Factor – watch and you’ll quickly learn that while we in Europe may consider the Jerry Springer Show to be amusing trash tv, in the States its influence has spread into news and current affairs broadcasting. Make it as loud and as crass as you can and people will watch it – four more years Jerry.
None of this is particularly helpful to those in Europe that are trying to carefully and calmly make the case for action against Iraq. If you are trying to argue, as most European governments are, that you might not like George Bush, but the US is the only force capable of overthrowing Saddam’s dictatorship, there is a danger that you might be drowned out by the noise of the tub-thumping populists of the American right.
Many on the European left are prepared to do the once unthinkable and give backing to US-UK military action in Iraq quite simply because we like the idea of regime change. It worked in Yugoslavia and it worked in Afghanistan and it can work in Iraq. There is a strong strategic and moral case for removing this dictator and introducing democracy to Iraq – and if America is going to help bring that about so be it.
We think it will be for the good of the Iraqi people, we think it might help challenge the opinion of those in the Arab and Muslim world who see the US and the west in general as a supporter of corrupt dictatorships. We think a free Iraq might become a beacon for democracy in the region and a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. And most importantly of all we think the Iraqi people want liberation.
While concerns about weapons of mass destruction are important, the current inspections are in many ways a side issue. There is, after all, no point in disarming Saddam and leaving him in power to build up his weapons again sometime down the road. The only way to make Iraq less of a threat to its neighbours is regime change, or as we on the left prefer to call it – revolution.
And this gets to the crux of the matter and an issue you will hardly find addressed on Fox News or on the hysteria-blogs. What comes after Saddam?
It is not just a question that can be dealt with after military action. The legitimacy of a post-Saddam government will depend a great deal on how it achieved power. If it is installed by a victorious US army it will be seen as a puppet regime and while that may not effect its popularity initially you can be sure that it will later on when the afterglow of liberation has faded.
If however the new government is made up of Iraqis who actively participated, alongside foreign troops, in the overthrowing of the Saddam regime it has a much greater chance of carrying the long-term support of the Iraqi people during the difficult years ahead.
Yesterday a member of the Iraqi opposition grouping the Iraqi National Congress was murdered, almost certainly by an agent of Saddam. There has been very little outcry about this and that adds to my growing suspicion that the US has yet to make firm decision about whether it is really ready to support the Iraqi opposition.
In Afghanistan the US needed the Northern Alliance to fight on the ground for a whole host of reasons – some logistical, some political, some cynical. But does Bush really need the Iraqi opposition? Do they believe that they can overthrow Saddam without local involvement?
Does the Bush administration actually want the complex additional factor of democracy bringing into the equation? Or is it going to revert to the cold-war practice of imposing a pro-American dictator?
The answer is we don’t know. More worrying does the US administration itself know?
Here is part of a transcript of an interview on Tuesday between American journalists and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Myers, Chairman of Joint Chief’s of Staff.
Question: Mr. Secretary, could you bring us up to date on the training of Iraqi opposition forces in terms of the timetable, the numbers, any of those developments?
Rumsfeld: I really can’t. It is — I don’t know precisely where it stands. I do know who is responsible for it and that it’s in process, but where it stands today — do you know?
Myers: What little I could add to that is that we are still in the vetting process for some of the individuals, and we are still trying to finalize the site where the training would take place.
Q: Would that be this month, the month of December?
Myers: It’s possible. I think we just — we haven’t had an update recently.
Rumsfeld: Haven’t heard lately.
For once I have to say I hope that Rumsfeld is just being evasive. Because if he isn’t we have legitimate cause for concern.
After all last time we went to war in the Gulf we were given the expectation that it would be the end of Saddam. But it wasn’t.
The Iraqi people paid with their lives but there was no liberation at the end of it. The opposition were encouraged to rise up by George Bush senior and then left undefended to be slaughtered by Saddam and then to live under years of UN sanctions from outside and repression at home – the kind of cyncial approach that leads us to now speculate about the US’s agenda in Iraq.
Perhaps in place of all the noise the US media might be asking a few more questions about what, to use their language, is the game-plan?
Without one it will be much harder to convince us that the US’s concerns are truly with the Iraqi people.