Democracy strikes

With the world on edge, nervously scratching its head, a heartening blow was struck for democracy in Parliament last night. Tony Blair’s Iraqi war strategy was shaken to the core when 121 Labour backbenchers joined a cross-party revolt to tell the prime minister that case for military action against Saddam Hussein is not yet made.

This follows worldwide anti-war protests, including 1 million Brits converging on Hyde Park; that’s nearly a fiftieth of the entire population getting off their arses and saying ‘No’. In the current climate of apathetic resignation towards politics and politicians, that’s a seriously impressive show of concern.

I reiterate that what the people and their MPs are saying is that we are not yet convinced that waging war on Iraq is justified, nor that it will lead to a suitable solution. To say that anti-war equals pro-Saddam is mendacious bullshit.

The onus lies firmly and unequivocally with those who are about to unleash the terrifying power of modern weapons to prove, not only that they have no other option, but that what will emerge from the smoking ruins will be demonstrably beneficial to the people who survive the bombing, to the country in which they live, to the region and to the world.

So why now? This is the first war we have gone into where there has been no immediate crisis. Wars usually start because someone has been invaded or people have been killed. To begin a war on Iraq now would be to launch a pre-emptive strike on a country we fear will attack us on a future unspecified date, in a future unknown manner with weapons we have not been able to find.

But what about poor, defenceless Turkey? As maniacal as he is, Saddam is not stupid. An attack on a NATO country is deemed an attack on all member states. An attack on Turkey would therefore give the US carte blanche to unleash hell on Iraq, and probably with almost unilateral support (not that that would provide any comfort to ordinary Iraqis on the receiving end).

And the rest of the region under threat from Saddam? I don’t remember hearing Iraq’s neighbours asking for help from the UN or the US. As we’ve seen, Israel for one, is pretty well tooled-up (and it’s got nuclear capabilities). Since the last war, Iraq has become the poorest economic and military power in that part of the Middle East.

Saddam reigns with terror, but he cannot squeeze politics from Iraq forever. Over the last two decades, popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and South Africa have shown that undemocratic governments and dictatorships have a limited lifetime. Given opportunity and the right conditions, they can be overcome, often by peaceful means. This is an opportunity to undercut Saddam’s regime’s domestic power base and also to curb extremism.

In reducing dependence on the regime for handouts, relieving the external pressure of sanctions may help this process. Agencies such as the CIA and MI6, with the might of US military intelligence, could help increase the internal pressure on Saddam’s rule.

Creating the conditions for change has never been easy, as the situation in Ireland has shown. It requires greater vision, statesmanship and courage, rather than the quick fix of military action. Any fool can make war.