Freed from the need to appease the appeasers at the United Nations the talk has turned away from resolutions and material breaches and towards what for many of us on the left consider the key issue – liberation of Iraq.
This is where the debate on the left gets very interesting. I still spend a bit of time debating anti-war lefties on mailing lists such as Red Pepper Debate (you are welcome to come and join the minority of one!) and on the issue there is some genuine and serious discussion.
Putting aside the anti-Americans, the cranks, conspiracy theorists and the pacifists, the debate comes down to whether or not western forces are the right people to carry out the liberation of Iraq.
In an open letter circulated last week, the left-wing activist Peter Tatchell, who does support the idea of liberation for Iraq but opposes war, made some strong criticisms of the lack of interest in the fate of Iraqi democracy shown by the left.
“By offering no alternative strategy for overthrowing Saddam, anti-war campaigners are turning their backs on the Kurds, Shias and other Iraqis who are suffering under Saddam. This do-nothing policy borders on appeasement. It colludes with the Iraqi regime. The Stop the War movement largely ignores Saddam’s murderous human rights abuses. Its leaflets and placards rightly demand ‘Freedom for Palestine’, but not ‘Freedom for the Iraqi people’. This is a shameful betrayal of Iraqis struggling for democracy and human rights.
“We have witnessed leftwing appeasement before, when sections of the left initially denounced the war against Hitler as an ‘imperialist war’ and pursued a strategy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’. George Orwell denounced these de facto fifth columnists who had once ferociously denounced the Nazis and then, when war broke out, opposed military action against the Third Reich. An allied counterattack was the only option after Hitler invaded neighbouring nations.
He then put forward his own alternative to war:
“But today Saddam is invading no one. Moreover, there is a credible alternative to a US-UK war on Iraq. We could provide military aid to the Iraqi opposition. There are already 70,000 Kurdish troops in the north of the country, and at least 5,000 more Shia fighters in Iran. Both armies need more and better weapons. Today, as Iraqi democrats plead for help, we should arm a popular uprising to depose Saddam.”
I see no moral difference between the west sponsoring an armed uprising against Saddam or doing the liberating themselves with the support of the Iraqi opposition. The problem with Tatchell’s arguement is that in practice such an approach would have much less chance of success. Indeed against a heavily-armed fascist dictatorship there is a real danger that the insurgents would be annihiliated as they were in 1991.
Nor would Tatchell’s alternative reduce the risk of heavy loss of life among civilians. Guerrilla war, which is what Tatchell is proposing, carries a very high risk of being protracted and risky to civilians.
The other anti-war arguement often made is that the west will not introduce democracy to Iraq. Those concerns increased after Kanan Makiya, a leading intellectual in the Iraqi National Congress last month publicly attacked the Bush administration for not subscribing to the opposition’s democratic plans.
According to this Washington Post article Makiya believes that the democratic solution has won. “They are beginning to structure a relationship with the new leadership council we have developed. The need for an interim Iraqi authority is becoming clearer to them. They are asking the right questions about involving the inside.”
Indeed the phrase “interim government” was used by both Bush and Blair on Sunday as they made a strong commitment to democracy in Iraq.
Today Tony Blair has issued this welcome pledge to the Iraqi people.
It is not enough for this clear pledge to be simply used to challenge the anti-war position. The job of democrats now is to ensure that our government’s keep their word about post-Saddam democracy in the coming months and years.