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The Iraq issue, part 1
Friday, 14 February 2003 Symeon Charalabides (symeon@systasis.com)

Our local newspaper, the Galway advertiser, is a neat little number packed with smalltown gossip and car advertisements. Its usage has always been strictly limited to placing ads for flatmates and reading the cinema programme. It has hardly ever shown a political temperament, unless related to events that directly affect Galway and is, thus, readily supported by the totality of the local population. Last Thursday, however, one of its standard columns named "Alt.com" came up with this article.

Wow!

I read the Economist as well, but don't go summarizing their articles and stuffing them in the local press. It is a decent magazine that maintains its journalistic integrity even in its most opinionated articles (scarce exceptions notwithstanding). It is extremely informative and reliable. Its morals, however, are... well, the clue's in the title, really.

I had been following the UN-related events for some time and believed it to be my duty as a member of the human race to oppose the proposed war. Suddenly, I found out that not everybody thought alike. I didn't know the columnist in question, Jeff O'Connell, to have taken any sort of political stance before, but I could be mistaken as I had never read his column before (and still don't know anybody who had). I decided to stir up some trouble, so today I sent the following e-mail to the editor:

Sir,

I had not encountered such a biased and selective account as Jeff O'Connell's Alt.com article of 13/2/2003 ("What are France and Germany up to?") since I had to study religion in primary school a respectable number of years ago. In an otherwise lengthy and detailed argument against France and Germany's (and let's not dismiss Belgium just yet) proposal for the extension of arms inspections in Iraq, he fails to acknowledge two key points that seem to deserve more attention than the credibility of NATO his self-discourse argues for:

a) The proposal argues for "more inspections...", but more crucially, "...instead of war". It is interesting to note how the mere word "war" is avoided throughout the article, though it cannot possibly be said to be irrelevant, since the issue has narrowed to either one or the other. Wars are costly. In lives, material, money. They cause destruction of man's labour and the environment. They cause grief, famine, disease, plunge national morales into the abyss, and I would expect an Irish person to be more sensitive to these facts. Wars disrupt business, trade and weaken relations between countries.
Does he consider the loss of "up to half a million" (according the the official UN estimate) lives in the region a fair trade for the public image of the UN? How about the fact that the rest of the Iraqi population will be pushed below the threshold of starvation? Mr. O'Connell may feel safe under Ireland's neutrality and its geographical distance from the Middle East. Is he, however, willing to sit on the pier of Rosslaire, shaking the water frantically with a set of flippers on, while waving a 100x100 m fan with his hands for the rest of his life? Because toxic agents and radioisotopes will dissolve in the seas and air of the earth by the bucketloads, and these mediums are notoriously defiant of UN resolutions, constitutional neutralities and geographical borders alike.

b) The people of the earth massively oppose unsanctioned and ill-justified war against Iraq. The opinion polls and statistics have repeatedly shown this clearly, so much so that I don't feel I have to go over them again. On the strength of this, and hidden agendas aside (and don't we all have one?), France, Belgium and Germany's stance can be said to merely express the will of the peoples that rule them. This is the very definition of the term "democracy".
In the capacity of the above argument, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are demonstrating a blatant disregard for the vows they took along with their respective offices. This is supposing, of course, that when Mr. O'Connell accuses France and Germany of practicing "politics as usual" instead of "a principled stand", he means "in contrast to the noble humanitarian causes the US and UK administrations wish to fight for", the two countries that France, Belgium and Germany are actively opposing in this matter, but which, mysteriously, are also almost totally unmentioned in his article.
Furthermore, the US and the UK administrations, by turning a blind eye, and a deaf ear for that matter, to mass sentiment and common sense and presuming to dictate the opinion their constituents should have, are putting another serious dent in the already bruised face of modern politics. Aesop's tale of the boy who cried wolf would seem to be in order, and I shall extend this point no further.

Allow me to offer some comments on several of the points so expertly monologued in the article in the order they appear in:

- Hans Blix may have found the idea of more inspections lacking (at the time, though we now know this is probably what will follow), but he discredited the US-UK case completely by reporting not a single piece of evidence of live weapons of mass destruction found.

- Even if UN peacekeepers and Iraqi soldiers were to open fire against each other on a localized issue, it would lead to a short-scale, short-term incident. The unmentioned alternative is, of course, full-scale war. It sounds naive at best to suggest that "France's plan could result in a bad situation becoming much worse".

- Saddam Hussein would probably cooperate with UN troop-backed inspectors if his alternative was (which is) to be carpet-bombed to the ground and beyond. Dictatorships are not pretty, but they are efficient. Saddam himself is vicious and relentless, but he hasn't held his place for 25 years by being an idiot or disregarding danger.

- France and Germany wanted the US to involve NATO more in the war against terrorism because they were, quite justifiably as most people seem to believe, afraid of the Bush administration's grabbing that pretext to expand its sphere of influence and possesion. It was not an invitation for the US incl. allies to burst into Iraq guns ablaze. As regards the war against terrorism, funnily enough, and once more strangely absent from the article, there is no evidence of links between the Iraqi regime and Al-Qaeda except for the hearsay of the US, a country with a long and glorious history of using lies and deceit to achieve strategic goals (the acronym "JFK" should suffice), as well as a clear and sufficient reason to badly want to install its own regime on Iraq (the word "oil" should suffice).

- Apparently, the inspections throughout the 90s were "a costly failure". If a few people moving around in cars and helicopters for a few years have proven costly, it should follow logically that thousands of people, heavy vehicles, ships, attack choppers and fighter airplanes moving around in/on bigger airplanes and aircraft carriers would prove even more costly. Of course, they wouldn't be a failure. Obviously, success is the ultimate goal, whatever the price.

- Weapons unaccounted for are not necessarily concealed and ready. You can prove that something exists when it's there, but you cannot prove that something doesn't exist when it's not there - it could always be somewhere else. The US administration may be making maximum use of this, but there is really no evidence to suggest one way or another.

Let's not mince words here: there is no such thing as a pre-emptive strike any more than people have their teeth extracted on the basis that something may go wrong with them at some stage. A war on Iraq at this point would really be an attack on Iraq. The UN is a security council, not a war council, and it's supposed to be an instrument of protection and defence, not the word of God. If it works, it will pull through. If it doesn't, it should be allowed to fail.

Iraq has at no time shown any signs of aggression against any of the countries that have proposed such a strike, nor has it been proven to possess things it's not supposed to. In civil law, one is innocent until proven guilty. Does this not hold true in international relations? An attack on Iraq at this time would be completely and utterly unjustified, morally as well as legally. This would dent the council's authority much more than giving more time for inspection in Iraq, and would inaugurate a new, global, era of terror. Sanctioned, of course. The word "bullying" comes to mind, and it disturbs me a lot.

One last thing: ultima ratio regum. On that note, I shall leave you.
I fare ye well.

Symeon Charalabides (cosmopolite trainee)


This could mark my appointment with fate, though she is just as likely to be found in the swaying hands of a lynch mob. I made myself another cup of coffee for the wait...

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