Friday, May 26, 2006

But he's still brilliant...

Since in my last post I criticised Christopher Hitchens, I would like to point out that I often find his writing to be brilliant. It gives voice, in concise and biting prose, to ideas and convictions which I have long held and could never express as effectively as he does. A few weeks ago he had an article in Slate on the war in Iraq, and there is not one syllable in it with which I disagree:
So, now I come at last to my ideal war. Let us start with President Bush's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam's deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that? Here's what should have happened. The other member states of the United Nations should have said: Mr. President, in principle you are correct. The list of flouted U.N. resolutions is disgracefully long. Law has been broken, genocide has been committed, other member-states have been invaded, and our own weapons inspectors insulted and coerced and cheated. Let us all collectively decide how to move long-suffering Iraq into the post-Saddam era. We shall need to consider how much to set aside to rebuild the Iraqi economy, how to sponsor free elections, how to recuperate the devastated areas of the marshes and Kurdistan, how to try the war criminals, and how many multinational forces to ready for this task. In the meantime—this is of special importance—all governments will make it unmistakably plain to Saddam Hussein that he can count on nobody to save him. All Iraqi diplomats outside the country, and all officers and officials within it, will receive the single message that it is time for them to switch sides or face the consequences. Then, when we are ready, we shall issue a unanimous ultimatum backed by the threat of overwhelming force. We call on all democratic forces in all countries to prepare to lend a hand to the Iraqi people and assist them in recovering from more than three decades of fascism and war.
Not a huge amount to ask, when you think about it. But what did the president get instead? The threat of unilateral veto from Paris, Moscow, and Beijing. Private assurances to Saddam Hussein from members of the U.N. Security Council. Pharisaic fatuities from the United Nations' secretary-general, who had never had a single problem wheeling and dealing with Baghdad. The refusal to reappoint Rolf Ekeus—the only serious man in the U.N. inspectorate—to the job of invigilation. A tirade of opprobrium, accusing Bush of everything from an oil grab to a vendetta on behalf of his father to a secret subordination to a Jewish cabal. Platforms set up in major cities so that crowds could be harangued by hardened supporters of Milosevic and Saddam, some of them paid out of the oil-for-food bordello.
Do read the whole thing, which touches on the main issues working up to the war. I was recently trying to make a similar point to a friend of mine: Chirac should have gotten behind Bush's statements before the war, and there probably would have been no war because it would have been unnecessary. Unfortunately this friend of mine has IMHO a disingenuous faith (belied by history) in the workings of international law and therefore claimed that such a strategy would have been wrong because Chirac would have been creating damaging legal precedents by supporting a crime, and that Bush was obviously not interested in humanitarian intervention, otherwise the US would have filed the appropriate legal arguments. I clearly think that's a load of tosh, and this article goes a long way to explain why.

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