As someone who could, until earlier this year, have been persuaded either way about the legitimacy and desirability of the recent Iraq war I decided to explore the “tests for a just war ” which certain anti-war protestors raised before the war actually began. George Monbiot, the apocalyptic Guardian columnist, listed the conditions he would want to see satisfied before he could support an intervention in this article published in November 2002.
In the article he wrote “it is not difficult to conceive of a just war against Iraq” and listed the following five tests which needed to be satisfied before he could give his blessing to such a war:
1. If the purpose of the attack was to replace Saddam with a democratic government
2. If less violent means of doing so had been exhausted
3. If it was legal
4. If the attacker was a nation with no recent record of expansionism and foreign aggression with no special interest in Iraq’s resources
5. If the political class of the aggressor was not talking of a “new imperium”
With the benefit of hindsight we can state that the first condition is well on the way to being satisfied despite the fact that “regime change” was not the most important official rationale for the war (or even an officially sanctioned rationale).
As far as the second test is concerned less violent methods of overthrowing Saddam are an obvious non starter because free and fair elections have never been a feature of Iraq’s recent history. Regime change in Iraq has always involved violence.
The “legality” of the war is certainly debatable but Monbiot appears naive when he quotes without comment the “unequivecol” opinion of a lawyer instructed by CND at Matrix Chambers that the war would be illegal without a further UN resolution. As someone who has instructed barristers over the last five years I should state that “they would say that”. Lawyer’s make a living by advocating their client’s cases. If the UK government had instructed rival chambers for an opinion on the legality of a war the liklihood is that they would have got a very different result. Indeed I understand that Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, did come to a different conclusion. I have seen arguments for and against the legality of the war and neither are without their own particular weaknesses.
That being the case with our learned friends, what about the realpolitik angle ? Monbiot would only support a war if the aggressor had “no special interests in Iraq’s resources”. This would tend to rule out any potential candidate as we all have an interest in the smooth running of the world economy. Perhaps even the potential aggressors of the Nelson Mandela Rainbow Liberation Alliance would have to admit that they wanted the minimum disruption to oil production as much for the sake of the ordinary Iraqi as any of the rest of us. I’m not sure what Monbiot means when he states that the potential aggressor against Iraq should not have any recent “form” as regards expansionism. As far as I’m aware neither the US, Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland or Australia have been expanding recently but perhaps George could clarify that particular point. “Foreign aggression” is a movable feast and could be argued to rule out all the countries who participated in Kosovo. One gets the feeling that this particular test was designed specifically to exclude any country with armed forces with any possibility of defeating the Iraqi army. Just how keen would Switzerland be to take on the Republican Guard if all the other candidates for the job were eliminated because they were too rough ?
The last test is the most silly. George was obviously running out of valid tests by this point. It doesn’t matter what someone says, it matters what they do. Just because some member of the US administration misuses Latin in a throwaway and innapropriate remark doesn’t mean the US army is going to emulate Julius Ceaser and turn up at the white cliffs of Dover. If history is any judge the US likes to effect regime change and then get the hell out of a country as soon as is feasible (see Germany and Japan which weren’t forced into joining the Imperial Federation of Expansionist Amerika or whatever the conspiract theorists want to call it). The Americans don’t historically like sending their men out to “foreign” fights – witness how long it took to get them in the first and second world wars and consider also that the default policy of Republican administrations is “a humble foreign policy”.
The Humble Foreign Policy however has been put on hold and everyone knows this is a direct result of the attacks on the US on 9/11. These attacks marked a very important turning-point in world history, one that I am keen to explore further on this website in the future. Before I do so I want to know if George Monbiot has changed his mind about the war in light of the above facts.