Today, millions march against war, and in my morning paper a right-wing commentator says that they are in effect marching for Saddam. Here's my optimistic interpretation: I think the millions are marching for truth, and out of nausea and revulsion at all those lies being told by the U.S. Administration.

Because nobody, anywhere, as near as I can tell, is pro-Saddam (and those right-wingers who say that to be pro-peace is pro-Sadam are vicious liars and have earned our contempt).

Suppose the US Administration stood up and said "Saddam is a vile tyrant who is savaging his own people and deserves to die, and because of an accident of history we can currently take him out cheaply, so we're going to do that." I would support that. A lot of people would support that (although to be fair it's not clear that a majority of Americans would, since they'd be the ones who'd have to carry the guns, and I can see their point too).

In fact, today Tony Blair pointed out astutely that while it seems like the inspectors ought to be given more time, a war against Saddam would be a "moral act". Indeed. So why isn't it being presented that way?

Aside from the local benefit to the Iraqis, if there's any chance of getting a reasonably civilized, reasonably democratic government out of the deal, this would be a favor for the Arabs at large; an existence proof that just because you're Arab doesn't mean you have to suffer under a corrupt, oppressive dictatorship. Obviously it's not a sure thing that you'd get a decent government in Iraq, but it might be worth the bet anyhow.

Instead, the US goes on with this moronic mantra about how Saddam is a threat to all of us. Let's suppose the Americans are right and the Iraqis are hiding some chemical-weapons capabilities (nobody in their right mind believes they can be hiding significant nuclear capability - nuclear-weapons infrastructure is physically big and obvious, as anyone who's worked with the US Department of Energy knows). Can the Iraqis actually do anything with their nasties when there are hundreds of UN inspectors crawling the length and breadth of the country? At the current time, Saddam is a threat to nobody except his own oppressed population.

And if you want to keep a tyrant in line, maintaining a few hundred UN inspectors on-site is an immensely cheaper and more civilized way to do it than sending in hundreds of thousand of well-armed kids to flatten the place.

So, I'm sorry, the "Let's go to war because Saddam's a threat" line of argument just doesn't hold any water.

The other important issue is that of multilateralism. The human population generally feels that it's a bad idea for countries to attack other countries because they don't like their governments. In particular, the people of the world get very nervous when the biggest and strongest countries start throwing their weight around. That's why we have the UN. And the tragedy is, if the US and Britain had gone in from day one with a moral argument - since we can get rid of this very bad man, morally we are required to - they might well today have a lot more support on the security council.

When Colin Powell has to sit there and hear Hans Blix point out to the world that Powell (to be charitable) stretched the truth with his aerial-photograph shtick, that sucks, and whoever gave Powell his marching orders ought to hang his head in shame. Let alone Mr. Powell having to sit with a straight face and try to claim that Saddam's in bed with Osama; Saddam is terrified of Osama's militant theocratic fundamentalism almost as much as of the US military.

This current campaign, built on a pack of lies, is meeting the contempt which it deserves, and we're building up some serious bad blood; many intelligent Americans apparently have concluded that Europe is governed by fools and cowards (er, wrong), and many intelligent Europeans have concluded that the US is a bloodthirsty oil-driven neo-imperialist (well, OK, this may apply to one or two members of Bush's cabinet, but in general wrong).

How about trying to move forward on the basis of telling the truth?

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February 15, 2003
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