Hard News by Russell Brown

The Bosnian connection

My occasional correspondent Neil Morrison has been back in touch:

"I'm not sure why you have adopted the Listener's penchant for disparaging 'pro-war lefties," he says. "It seems that the intolerance bug is spreading.

"I don't see how you can possible allege that pro-war lefties 'in particular' pay no attention to issues of international law. It is exactly they who, ever since US intervention in Bosnia, have made an attempt to look at the moral and legal issues surrounding military intervention on humanitarian grounds. Has there ever been a Listener article that actually explores these issues rather than being an anti-American rant?"

I appreciate Neil's emails. He's sincere, and his reasoning is sharper than that of many of those pushing for precipitate war in Iraq. He has a viable and genuine point of view.

But he has sequentially advanced at least three firm and confident rationales for what's going on: the US and UK are bluffing to draw out the hidden weapons (I'd love to believe that); the US is seeking to forcibly change the UN by breaking up its old order in favour of a new one more to its liking (a deceitful and undemocratic way to behave, I would have thought); and, now, that the weapons inspections should be a pretext for invasion on humanitarian grounds.

The Bosnian debacle was a serious European failure. But the people of Iraq are not in anything like the clear and present danger that the Bosnian Muslims were - they're not besieged by snipers, being subjected to daily ethnic massacres or being driven from their homes. It's a bullshit comparison.

In one real sense - the eventual relief of sanctions - armed invasion would make Iraqis safer. But, Saddam's hideous record in dealing with political opponents notwithstanding, Iraqis are clearly at much greater threat from an armed invasion and its aftermath than from anything their leader will deliver on them in the short term. As an argument for precipitate war, it's unconvincing.

Yes, there are Iraqis, inside and outside the country, who would like to see an invasion. There are clearly others who wouldn't. There would be no shortage of Palestinians who would wish an invasion of the land where they live to address their humanitarian issues - which, on a day-to-day basis, significantly outweigh those of ordinary Iraqis. But we haven't charged in there.

Perhaps we should re-orient international governance to bring more persuasion to bear on matters of democracy and human rights. But if we do, let's do it with our eyes open, without the need for pretext, and not merely to satisfy one country's strange and risky foreign policy gambit.

Unfortunately, as this intriguing, scary column suggests, that is nothing like where the current US administration is heading.

UPDATE: Public Address reader (and editor of The Listener), Finlay Macdonald, says hello: "Please pass on to our Mr Morrison that if he wishes to disparage the Listener's journalism he can do it via our own letters pages, but that he should be mindful not to misrepresent our coverage in the kind of intemperate, ill-informed, pompous and strangely aggressive way that he seems to be doing if he wants to be taken seriously. We're happy to engage his excuses for an argument any time he wants, which might at least disprove his fuckwitted theory that we're only interested in one side of the 'debate' about killing people. By all means quote me."

UPDATE 2: Here's the Human Rights Watch 2002 report on Iraq ("widespread and gross human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests of suspected political opponents and their relatives, routine torture and ill-treatment of detainees …") and its page on the new US "ally" and host to US troop deployments, Uzbekistan ("systemic torture … human rights abuses on an epic scale").

Oh, and there's also Israel and the Occupied Territories and the United States ("Global support for the war on terrorism is diminishing partly because the United States too often neglects human rights in its conduct of the war …").