Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Another America hater calls for fellow leftists to admit that the liberation of the Iraqi people, even if it is done by the US, is a worthy goal.

Picture the scene: protesters clog the streets of Washington, London, New York and Sydney, chanting: "Bush is an empty warhead. Stop the war!" US public opinion shifts; Tony Blair, crumbling in the face of domestic opinion and his backbenches, refuses to go along with the war; the US troops are brought home; the American bombs are safely parked back in their bunkers. I know this is virtually impossible, but it is, presumably, what most anti-war campaigners want to see.

Do you think the Iraqi people would be dancing in the streets of Baghdad on such a day? Do you think the 5 million Iraqi exiles scattered across the globe would be jubilant that, once again, their country had been brought within inches of freedom from Saddam Hussein, only to be betrayed by another Western coalition led by a man called George Bush? Do you think the political dissidents – most of them democrats – rotting in Saddam's torture chambers would weep tears of joy? Do you think the Kurds, who have inhaled his poison gas more than once, would be delighted that Saddam was free to gather as many biological and chemical weapons as he likes? Do you think the Marsh Arabs, ethnically cleansed by Saddam from the swamps they had lived on for millennia, would rejoice in their pathetic desert shacks? Would you celebrate the fact that hatred for Dubya had overwhelmed the desire to help the Iraqi people to overthrow one of the worst dictators on earth?

It is perfectly legitimate, however, for you to be sceptical about the US's willingness to build a democracy in Iraq. Isn't this the country that describes Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace" and offers effusive words of praise to the House of Saud? But we do not need to talk in the abstract about the political structures that will follow Saddam's Baathist totalitarianism. There is an existing example that demonstrates clearly what will be built. Following the Gulf War, northern Iraq – where the Kurds were sheltering in the mountains from Saddam's thugs – was not handed back to Baghdad. It became an independent statelet guarded by, yes, US and British military might.

What does it look like 10 years later? Is it governed by another mini-Saddam circa 1980, a cheap pro-American puppet? No. It is a self-determining democracy. It elects, freely, its own leaders. It has freedom of speech and of the press (in Sulaymaniyah alone, there are 138 media outlets, including literary magazines and radio channels). It lives under the rule of law, upheld by both male and female judges.

As Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government in Sulaymaniyah, explained recently: "In 1991, we had 804 schools. Today we have 2,705. We started with one university in Arbil in 1991; today we have three. In 10 years of self-government, we built twice as many hospitals as was built for us in seven decades. Then we had 548 doctors. Today we have 1,870 doctors. I'm not going to tell you that everything is rosy... but it's remarkable what we have achieved."

If it were not for US military power, this democratic entity would not have existed for the last 10 years. Without US military power, it will not be extended throughout Iraq. Of course, it would be far better if we could establish a democratic Iraq without a war that will kill many thousands of innocent people. War is horrendous, but a small number of things are even worse: Saddam's tyranny is one. Has the left really forgotten the fundamental principle that it is worth fighting to free 23 million people from tyranny and to help them to build democracy? What has become of us?

Some people argue that the US is too morally compromised by its own often tyrannical foreign policy to have any right to act in Iraq. A Chilean, Palestinian or Vietnamese person will understandably respond with a cynical snort to the idea of the US as a liberator of oppressed peoples. The people of northern Iraq do not feel that way. Nor do the peoples of Eastern Europe – it is no coincidence that Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, joined with Blair in supporting America. He remembers what it is like to live under an oppressive dictator and to look to America as the only hope for liberation. So the US can act in both good and bad ways. That many figures on the left deny this is a sign that they are blinded by hatred.

Of course, the US is morally compromised. I wish there were a pristine, perfect state with no oil interests and the military power to help the people of Iraq, but there isn't one. Remember: many people on the British left argued in the 1930s that Britain was too compromised by its disgraceful colonial occupation of India, and that our motives for joining the war were far from pure. They had some important points, but if they had prevailed, we would have squabbled among ourselves about our own immorality while Jews burned. We must not repeat that mistake by turning our gaze from those living in the open prison of Saddam's Iraq.

< email | 2/06/2003 08:45:00 PM | link

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