A thick cast iron pot and a shabby old copper kettle are hanging over an open
fire. Both are covered in soot, and the kettle has been crudely repaired at least
Pot: I say, Kettle, old chap, you're awfully
Kettle: Nonsense. I'm as shiny and gleaming as the day I was bought. Which, I might say, is quite a while ago now. I've seen pots come and go in this fireplace, you know.
Pot: Shiny and gleaming? You? You've been hanging in this sooty old fire for years. I'm surprised there's any copper left under all that soot.
Kettle: Speak for yourself, old man. You're dangling right over that big smoky log. Are pots black to start with, or do they simply attract dirt really fast?
Pot: Me? Black? Piffle. The last pot may have been, but I'm not. I have this lovely burnished metallic sheen - as did the pot before last.
Kettle: Now you mention it, you remind me of that pot. You're black, for a start.
Pot: How did we get onto me being black? You're black.
Kettle: If we had hands, I'd give you a mirror so you could see how black you are.
Pot: Well, why don't we ask Hansel the scullery boy to check who's black. He'll know it's you. Hey, Hansel! Take a look at the kettle!
Hansel: The kettle looks filthy! Who let it get like that? I'll go and get some polish...
Hansel: ...but I don't suppose I'll be able to do anything for the pot.
Hansel begins polishing the kettle. A tiny amount of dirt comes off.
Hansel: I'll just damp the fire down so I can make a proper job of this. No point taking risks.
The pot swings to and fro gently, fanning the flames and brushing Hansel's
Hansel: Ah! Keep still, you! You're making it worse.
Pot: Little boys who play with fire get burnt. Swings some more. Hansel backs off.
Hansel: I thought you wanted me to get the polish out. If you keep doing that, I won't be able to do anything.
Pot: I know. Stand clear, boy!
The pot swings wildly, and strikes the kettle, leaving an enormous dent.
Kettle: Is that the best you can do? That other pot you're so fond of dented me once, and I got fixed. And don't get so much soot on me!
The pot strikes the kettle again. A rivet is torn out of the kettle's side, its handle comes off, and it plunges into the fire. Clouds of soot, cinders and torn bits of copper go all over Hansel's nicely scrubbed hearth.
Pot: Now who's black? Hm?
This morning, I awoke to the news that bombing had started in
Iraq. Of course, thanks to the zealous enforcement of the no-fly zones, it had
never really stopped. Nevertheless, this marks the real beginning of the new war.
Looking at the justification offered by the United States authorities for their
actions, it is hard not to agree that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq has
committed many crimes. This is not the problem that I have with this war. The
problem is that the various acts for which George W Bush has condemned the Iraqi
government are ones of which his own is also guilty. The moral basis for this war,
such as it is, is completely undermined by the flagrant hypocrisy of the 'allied'
Weapons of Mass Destruction: This was initially claimed to be
the main issue by the US authorities. After the (unrelated) attacks of September
11, 2001, the US placed increased pressure on Iraq to re-admit the weapons
inspectors who had been expelled in 1998. This was eventually agreed to, and
UNMOVIC under Hans Blix and the International Atomic Energy Authority under
Mohammed el-Baradei entered Iraq to perform weapons inspections. They were looking especially for long-range missiles and 'weapons of mass destruction', which has been understood for these purposes to mean nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Many of these had been destroyed earlier, beginning with the Osirak Nuclear Facility Raid, and subsequently the UN inspections regime following the 1991 Gulf War. A small amount of positive evidence was uncovered by Hans Blix's team, and slow progress made toward decommissioning Samoud missiles. Then the inspectors had to pull out - more on that later.
The USA, meanwhile, has pulled out of anti-ballistic missile treaties. The Pentagon retains the world's largest nuclear arsenal, despite its obligations to disarm under the non-proliferation treaty, and funds chemical and biological weapons programmes. We are often reminded that Saddam Hussein has deployed his weapons against his own people. Indeed, this is one of the most convincing and pressing moral points in favour of deposing Saddam. But there has not yet been any entirely satisfactory explanation of how and why American-produced anthrax came to be used by an anonymous party in the autumn of 2001. Nor has America offered any explanation of why it is acceptable for its own military to produce such lethal biological agents, but not anyone else's. Additionally, Iraq owes much of its capacity to produce such substances to American assistance during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. The definition of Weapons of Mass Destruction given above is somewhat selective, too. America has made much of its MOAB - Massive Ordnance Air Burst - fuel-air bomb, and has armed its tanks with depleted uranium armour-piercing shells. These weapons, while 'conventional' as opposed to 'NCB' are nevertheless dangerous, indiscriminate and massively destructive. Microwave weapons, designed to destroy modern technology, are not conventional weapons by any stretch of the imagination, but also fall conveniently outside the present working definition of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Contempt for the inspection regime: The USA has also criticised Iraq for its obstruction and deception of the United Nations weapons inspectors. The Iraqi authorities have treated both the 1991-8 and 2002-3 with considerable contempt, viewing them, largely unjustly, as foreign spies. Absurd games of hide-and-seek with missile launchers and the like led to the withdrawal of inspectors in 1998. But in 2003, the inspectors had to leave not because the Iraqi regime was preventing them from making further progress - indeed, there had been improvements on the decommissioning front shortly before the outbreak of hostilities. It was the United States government that sabotaged efforts to step up the inspection regime, and the United States government that ordered the inspectors out.
Contempt for the United Nations: George W Bush has frequently
accused Saddam Hussein of contempt for the United Nations. In isolation, this claim is fair enough. The Iraqi government has not been noted for its fondness for the international community. But Bush's own contemptuous attitude to the UN is the marvel of the world. Bush has threatened the UN repeatedly with obsolescence if it fails to do as he demands. In rejecting attempts to produce a second UN resolution to clarify the legal situation with respect to military action in Iraq, Bush has also accused France of contempt for the UN. All that the French had done was to try to avert war by pledging to use their veto - a right given to and exercised by all permanent members of the Security Council - to defeat any second resolution. Regardless of the moral correctness of the French position, it is simply inaccurate to represent it as an affront to the UN. This verbal attack has been backed up by the deliberate whipping-up of anti-French racism in the US. Freedom Fries are now to be found on Capitol Hill instead of French Fries. The expression 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys' has been dredged out of Rupert Murdoch's hilarious back-catalogue of racial taunts. Odious claims have been made about the 'debt of gratitude' owed by France to America. Never mind that the US position has never had the support of the necessary number of Security Council members to pass without a veto. And through all of this, the US government continues to ignore the will and law of the United Nations in prosecuting its war on Iraq.
Harbouring war criminals: Saddam Hussein and his government are responsible for numerous military atrocities. The Halabja gas attack, fifteen years ago this week, is often cited as a good example, but it is only one of many. Almost nobody disputes that Saddam Hussein deserves to be brought to account for his crimes. In 1991, when American and allied forces swept into Iraq following Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, there seemed to be hope that the Butcher of Baghdad was about to be toppled. Regime change was within the allies' grasp. And then George H W Bush ended the attack and allowed America's former ally to survive. Twelve years on, Bush's son is in power and it looks like this time Saddam will not escape. However, it is unclear if the US intends to make any kind of legal case against the Iraqi leader. Donald Rumsfeld and Jack Straw have both offered him protection from prosecution if he had left Iraq before President Bush's deadline expired. I am not sure how the cause of international peace and justice is served by an offer to protect a mass murderer.
While we're on the subject of mass murder, it's worth taking a look at the
composition of the current American administration. Henry Kissinger, who cannot
visit a large number of countries for fear of being arrested for his war crimes in Cambodia and elsewhere, was made head of the enquiry into the September 11
attacks. He resigned the post not because of any sense of shame or hypocrisy, but
because of a conflict of interest with his political consultancy business. Oliver North is not a member of the present administration, but has been acting as an unoffical spokesman for it, in his capacities as special correspondent for pro-war Fox News and head of Freedom Alliance, a charity for the children of service members killed in action. North is most famous for assisting in the sale of arms to Iran and funding terrorism in Nicaragua. North's associate in that business was Admiral John Poindexter, now runs the Information Awareness Office, a government surveillance operation of, to put it mildly, questionable morality. US ambassador to the UN John Negroponte may have had a finger in the Iran-Contra pie too, and covered up human rights violations by US allies in Honduras. The USA has also declined to participate in the International Criminal Court, and has been bribing other nations to refrain from bringing cases against American citizens to the ICC. As the ICC charter is not retrospective, it becomes necessary to ask what crimes within the ICC's remit the US government was expecting its citizens to commit and why it feels they should then be protected from the force of international law.
Backing for Terrorism: Another claim levelled at Iraq is that
Saddam backs terrorism, specifically Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. While it is singularly improbable that a secular fascist leader whose deputy is a prominent Christian would back Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who have called for him to be overthrown, Saddam almost certainly is involved with other organisations that would be regarded as terrorist. But then so is the US government. Noraid, an American organisation which provided funding for the murderous IRA terrorists here in the UK, was mysteriously left off the list of organisations banned for supporting terrorism after September 11. The USA has a long history of backing unsavoury organisations around the world, from Augusto Pinochet's overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile on September 11, 1973 to the Honduras affair already mentioned. The US has a preference for state-sponsored terrorism if it can get it, as seen from time to time in Israel, but the essential principle is the same.
Disregard for Human Rights: I'm not about to pretend that the
United States is a serious competitor with Iraq in this area. The Iraqi regime's
human rights record is abominable. However, the United States does have a fair way to go before it can hold up its head as a paragon of liberty. By inventing an entirely unrecognised class of detainee, it has held hundreds of prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for over a year now without
charge or trial, and without announcing what it intends doing with them. Al-Qaida
operatives captured outside the USA have been subjected to 'torture lite', a
crassly-named set of measures designed to sidestep rules on torturing captives.
Within its borders as well, the USA demonstrates a less-than-ideal human rights
record. Leaving aside the crimes of individual police officers, there are the
serious issues of brutality in prisons and the death penalty. The USA permits the
use of many severe, cruel, unusual and inhumane measures against prisoners, such as electric shock batons and sleep deprivation. The death penalty in the USA, and
especially in the President's home state of Texas, is a matter of international
shame. The state governor of Illinois recently cancelled all pending executions in the state, citing numerous miscarriages of justice in capital cases. In Texas the authorities execute prisoners suffering from severe mental disabilities, and ones whose convictions are manifestly unsafe. In Florida the state electric chair was noted for many years as cooking, rather than stunning, its victims to death. And it is arguable that the extremely long times which condemned prisoners are made to wait on 'death row' is itself a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Since September 11, 2001, numerous residents of the USA have been detained, mainly without charge, as part of anti-terrorism operations - a reprise of a strategy used on Japanese Americans in the Second World War. In the light of these records, the US Army has called on its Iraqi opposition to surrender and be treated as POWs. Theirs is not a choice I envy.
Of course, it's easy to take pot-shots at a target as large as the United States. I'd like to add that several accusations that have been levelled at the USA, such as Imperialist Pretensions and Undemocratic
Leadership are much more true of Iraq. The bottom line is that neither side in this wretched conflict has much to recommend it. Those wishing to be patriotic and support the American fight for liberty have to reconcile this with their country's own record, and those wishing to oppose what is seen as an unnecessary war risk being seen as defending Saddam Hussein, a leader whose rule is among the most corrupt and brutal in the world. This is not an easy or a pleasant choice to make.