Hard News by Russell Brown

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning

So the President of the USA says he's tired of waiting for UN weapons inspectors to finish doing their job. Saddam has been given "ample time to disarm".

But why the hurry? There is no prospect of Iraq amassing, let alone using, weapons of mass destruction while UN inspectors are crawling all over the place, is there? Why not allow a full and proper inspection to take place and then make a decision? Wouldn't that be sensible?

After all, the US spent seven years in technical non-compliance with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. And even now, it's years behind schedule in destroying its own stockpile. Evidence was presented only a few months ago that it was conducting a chemical weapons research and development program in violation of international arms control law.

But let's not have any illusions about the Iraqi regime. Although, as this handy clickable map shows, it's far from the biggest producer of chemical and biological weapons in the Middle East (that's Syria), it stands out for its willingness to use such weapons in the past quarter-century. (For a history of the use of chemical weapons, read this timeline.) Although it offers greater freedoms to women and adherents of non-Islamic faiths than many of its Arab neighbours, its suppression of dissent, particularly amongst ethnic minorities, has been savage.

It is, of course, a matter of record that the known use by Iraq of such weapons took place during the 1980s, when it was a client state of the US. US officials not only knew Iraq was using these weapons but continued to allow American companies to supply materials for their manufacture.

A subsequent US Senate report noted that "These biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction … It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program."

A (long) list of American companies have supplied goods and services related to nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons to Iraq. Such a list was part of Iraq's recent declaration to the United Nations - which was, according to news reports at the time, "edited" by US government representatives.

The December 19 issue of Berlin daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung ran a story headed 'Exclusive: The Secret List of Arms Suppliers - Saddam's Business partners', which apparently contained the passages excised by the Americans. This column from the Sydney Morning Herald offers a partial translation.

The most infamous and most awful of Saddam's deployments of WMD was, of course, their use on Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. Perhaps thousands of Kurds died in these attacks. Of course, it is worth noting that many more innocent Iraqi Kurds have died as a result of cross-border assaults by Turkish forces, using conventional weapons, but, well, that's different. Isn't it?

When it comes to international efforts to control and eradicate chemical weapons, the US has tended to be part of the problem rather than the solution. In July 2001, years of work on devising a verification regime for the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC) was wrecked when it was unexpectedly rejected by the US.

The problem? A verification system would have required the US to submit to independent inspections just like everyone else. As recently as last November, America was still at loggerheads with nearly all of the 145 other nations trying to keep the world safe from such weapons.

And so it goes … it's easy to be facetious with this stuff - the ironies are so rich, the hypocrisy so evident, the institutional memory so shoddy. When this poll could show that two thirds of all Americans fancy themselves to have a good grasp of the issues surrounding the Iraqi crisis - but half of those polled thought Iraqi nationals were involved in the September 11 attacks (none were, of course), it's hard not to feel worried.

The current US government has not only pissed away a vast measure of international goodwill, it has eroded America's moral authority, damaged the unity of Europe (and NATO along with it), systematically undermined the UN arms control process, given power to the arm of Islamic terrorists and - bizarrely - made Saddam an object of sympathy. Thank God for the Germans and the French.

Our own government has, in keeping with its stake in a rules-based world, said we will not support an attack without a UN mandate, and even then our support would not be military. Some, like Nicky Hager in the Listener, regard that as a criminal shame - they want us to be preaching to the world, UN mandate or no.

Frankly, when you balance what good we could do against what harm might befall us (the rather poor climate for truth at present was indicated by Jim Sutton's required withdrawal of a perfectly accurate observation about American "arm-twisting" of other countries) it's hard not to conclude that it would be more prudent to keep our damn fool heads down. Nationalism, sadly, begets itself.

A finally, a word for minor Act Party functionary Reuben P Chapple, whose lead letter in the current Listener seeks to justify war on Iraq by potting the Left for its complicit support of "greater butchers than Adolf Hitler, the Communist dictators" even as it marched against "US imperialism".

What Chapple seems to miss is that he and his chums are the embarrassing Marxists of their era; ever willing to forgive and forget according to the orders of the day. None of them were demanding the invasion of Iraq six months ago (let alone condemning Iraqi atrocities before Gulf War I). But, instructions having gone out from NeoCon Central, it's suddenly the received truth. Don't you just love ideology?