Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ante-bellum thoughts on Iraq

(Written March 2003. I think the most useful bit is towards the end, about the Fall.)

What is the case for war?
This can be simply stated. In 1990 the Hussein regime invaded Kuwait. Following the passing of UN resolutions, the US led a coalition to restore the status quo ante bellum, achieved in early 1991. As part of the ceasefire agreements (between the UN and the Hussein regime) the Hussein regime was required to disarm. A program of sanctions was put in place until that disarmament was effected.

In 1994, the UN inspectors (UNMOVIC) were poised to withdraw from Iraq and recommend the lifting of sanctions, as they believed that the Hussein regime had co-operated fully with the disarmament process and no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, a series of defections from the Hussein regime, notably by Khidhir Hamza, the head of the Hussein regime’s nuclear weapon design program, led to a realisation that the inspectors had been comprehensively misled by the regime. This led to a renewal of the inspection process, which uncovered evidence of nuclear weapons research and biological and chemical weapons capabilities.

From 1996 onwards the Hussein regime progressively reduced its cooperation with UNMOVIC, and this led to the withdrawal of the inspectors in 1998, followed by a short Anglophone bombing campaign.

In November of 2002 the UN, at the promptings of the US government, passed resolution 1441 which provided the Hussein regime with a ‘final opportunity’ to disarm, or suffer ‘serious consequences’ if it did not cooperate fully.

That full cooperation has not been forthcoming. The Hussein regime is still committed to a program of WMD production, and remains a threat to the international order. The UN resolutions must be enforced: therefore there needs to be military intervention in Iraq, to bring to an end the process begun by the Hussein regime’s invasion of Kuwait.

This argument is prima facie plausible, legal and morally acceptable (eg in Christian ‘just war’ terms, see below).

What is the case against the war?

The case against the war is more manifold than the simple case for war presented above.

Milan Rai, in his book ‘War Plan Iraq’ (Verso Press, 2002) gives ten reasons why a war against Iraq would be wrong. They are:
1. There is no evidence that Iraq possesses WMD
2. There is no established link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda
3. The western powers are not motivated by a desire for ‘regime change’ but for ‘leadership change’
4. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
5. The war will endanger the Kurdish ‘safe haven’
6. The war would be illegal
7. Iraq’s neighbours are more afraid of the US than of the Hussein regime
8. Western military establishments are opposed to war
9. Western populations are opposed to war
10. An invasion could trigger a world recession

I would add further arguments against the war that should be considered
11. The war is driven by a short-sighted desire to control oil resources
12. The war is a distraction from more urgent problems in the Middle East (Israel/Palestine)
13. The war is a distraction from more dangerous regimes like North Korea
14. The war would cause regional chaos
15. The strategy of inspection, containment and sanctions is working
16. An invasion of Iraq would trigger a strong renewal of terrorism against the West
17. An invasion of Iraq is the first move in the establishment of an American Empire
18. A war would set a dangerous precedent for pre-emptive military action and probably weaken the UN, depending on when and how it starts

Considering the arguments against war

1. There is no evidence that Iraq possesses WMD.
It is true that, since the inspectors left in 1998, and returned at the end of 2002, no ‘smoking gun’ has been found. Yet it is a truism that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. There is sufficient evidence for Hans Blix to express concern about the Hussein regime’s plans, such that he states (January 03) that the Iraqi regime has not yet evidenced a willingness to disarm. I believe that Blix is as well informed as anyone can be on this question, and I consider this argument absurdly naïve. This argument does not overcome the case for the war. (Note added '06: Ha!)

2. There is no established link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda
I believe this to be true but irrelevant. The case for war, as outlined above, does not depend upon a demonstrated link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda. However, more can be said about this point. A link between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda is not impossible – it is something that may or may not exist. The arguments that such a link will not develop depend upon Hussein making a rational decision and acting in his own best interests, ie that any transmission of WMD to Al-Qaeda would eventually be traced back to him causing massive retaliation. Thus, this argument depends upon the good sense of Hussein in order to have any validity whatsoever. Yet, to put it at its most simple, the record of Hussein’s judgement is not one that gives rise to confidence. Hussein has demonstrated repeatedly that he is prepared to take high risk endeavours with catastrophic consequences: in 1973, 1974, 1980 and 1990 just to mention the most prominent. Reliance upon the good judgement of the Hussein regime is not a viable strategy. This argument does not overcome the case for the war.

3. The western powers are not motivated by a desire for ‘regime change’ but for ‘leadership change’
This criticism has some force. The history of western intervention is not one that reveals a consistently high moral character, and often Western interests have been best served by the presence of a pliable dictator. (I believe one US statesman once commented ‘he may be a s.o.b but he’s OUR s.o.b!’). The situation in Afghanistan, despite the clear benefits of overthrowing the Taliban regime, is not a great advertisement. Yet in the case of Iraq Western leadership, especially European, seems committed to full regime change. Moreover, it is difficult to see how any successor regime could fail to represent a significant improvement over the Hussein regime. I therefore conclude that this argument does not overcome the case for the war, although if the US/UK do not follow through with constructive engagement then the last state will be worse than the first.

4. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
This is the strongest argument against the war: that there will be great suffering consequent to armed intervention. In one sense that is inescapably true – war is hell, and in hell people suffer. Yet there are some grounds for hoping that an armed intervention would not lead to as much suffering as some claim. The destruction consequent to modern warfare is orders of magnitude less than that associated with earlier twentieth century warfare. In some of the major air campaigns against Germany in World War 2, up to 10,000 tons of bombs were dropped in a single night. In contrast to this, from January 17 to February 27 1991, US aircraft dropped a total of 17,109 tons of bombs, an average of 427 tons per day. A bombing campaign against the Hussein regime today would be even more highly focussed: almost all the bombing will be ‘guided’, whereas only some 5% of 1991 bombing was equivalently accurate. In 1991 the vast majority of residential areas were completely spared any destruction, and remained untouched. There are good grounds for hoping that this will also be true today. However, the argument pays no attention to the humanitarian disaster that is the present situation. It is difficult to believe that a situation after a successful war would be worse than the situation that obtains today. However, there is an inherent risk involved, as a long war could overturn complacent assumptions made beforehand. I shall return to this point.

5. The war will endanger the Kurdish ‘safe haven’
The Kurdish safe haven has been established and enabled to flourish due to the maintenance of the No-Fly Zones by US and UK air forces (the French dropped out in the late 1990s). There is a risk of Turkish intervention from the North, although there are some grounds for thinking that the US would be able to keep them ‘in line’. This is a risk to be considered, but on its own I don’t believe it overcomes the argument for intervention.

6. The war would be illegal
This argument can have a number of different applications, dependent upon which idea of ‘law’ is being defended. Yet the most relevant – the international law as practiced in the United Nations – explicitly indicates that ‘serious consequences’, ie war, would follow if the Hussein regime did not disarm. It could be claimed that a second resolution is needed to make this absolutely clear, but so far the Western powers have operated scrupulously through the customary forms of international law. Moreover, if the UN resolutions are not enforced then the authority of international law is destroyed. (A sidenote: the resolutions against Israel have a different legal basis to the resolutions against Iraq and cannot be compared in legal terms). As things stand, this argument is without merit.

7. Iraq’s neighbours are more afraid of the US than of the Hussein regime
It is difficult to know quite how to respond to an argument of this sort. Some authorities claim that other Arab regimes are afraid of the US; other authorities claim that those same regimes are desperate for the US to displace Saddam, and are only terrified that the West will again back down. I do not believe that the vast majority of commentators are in any position to know the truth of this assertion, and in any case, it is a minor point. It seems to depend for its force upon widespread distrust or distaste for the United States, and thus, ultimately, an assertion of moral equivalence between the US state apparatus and the Hussein regime state apparatus. That latter perspective is contemptible and morally vacuous. I conclude that this argument is without merit.

8. Western military establishments are opposed to war
It is undoubtedly true that some former military officers are opposed to the war, yet it is also true that some former military officers are in favour. In any case, in the western democracies military establishments have to follow the decisions of the duly elected authorities. In extreme cases those establishments can either refuse to carry out orders, or use more modern methods of making their discontent plain. I have not seen such evidence of mass discontent from the serving military establishments. However, such dissent as exists indicates that this approach is fraught with risk, and that is indisputable. I conclude that this argument is inconclusive.

9. Western populations are opposed to war
The population of the United States seems settled in favour of a war against the Hussein regime. The populations of European countries seem much more ambivalent or hostile, yet there seems a consistent trend to approve of a war that had been secured by a second UN resolution. Perhaps it is true that a democracy should not go to war unless there is a majority opinion in its favour – yet that is not an argument about the merit of any particular case, but about the pragmatic discernment of politicians. Historically, populations have often been averse to going to war, yet such opposition dissolves once fighting starts. So I conclude that whilst this may be a practical point, it is not a point of principle. I do not see it as sufficient to overcome the case for the war

10. An invasion could trigger a world recession
The most truth that could be extracted from this criticism is that a prolonged war could exacerbate a world recession. In my view the fundamental problems of western economies are more deep rooted and of much longer duration than anything associated with the present Iraq crisis. Yet there is a risk associated with going to war. This needs to be taken account of, although it would be difficult to argue that economic grounds over-ride legal or moral grounds. I therefore consider this argument to have some merit, and I shall return to it.

11. The war is driven by a short-sighted desire to control oil resources
I believe this argument, although popular, to be utterly fatuous. If the concerns of the West were have a reliable supply of oil, then Hussein would be delighted to agree contracts for the further exploitation of Iraqi oilfields. Actually, he has – with the governments of France and Russia in particular, in contravention of the spirit of the UN sanctions regime, if not the letter. The governments that have tried to uphold the authority of the UN system in this regard have been the US and UK, and their perspective is manifestly not driven by a desire for selfish benefits related to Iraqi oil. However, there is an underlying truth buried beneath much of the ignorant invective about oil. The global economy is dependent upon a steady supply of oil from the Middle East; the countries that are most dependent on that oil being China, Japan and the other countries of the Far East. If the supply of oil was seriously disrupted then it would cause havoc and precipitate a great deal of worldwide suffering. In the long term it would be prudent to diminish that dependency, yet that is not something which can be achieved in the short term. In the short term, the Hussein regime is a significant potential threat to that supply, and I believe that it is a legitimate interest of the world community to seek to safeguard that supply. That is part of the case for war. This argument is therefore without merit. (Note added '06: Ha ha ha ha ha.... I have completely changed my mind on this aspect of the question. It's all about the oil, stupid Sam.)

12. The war is a distraction from more urgent problems in the Middle East (Israel/Palestine)
It is undoubtedly true that the situation in Palestine is an urgent problem, yet it is not clear to me that allowing the Hussein regime to continue would aid a solution to that problem (for example, Hussein dispatches monies to the families of suicide bombers, giving them a financial incentive to maintain a bombing campaign) while there seems to be some merit in seeing benefit arising from regime change in Iraq and a wider change in attitudes consequent to a successful war. This point is debatable, but I do not consider it anything like overwhelming against the case for war. I conclude that this argument against war also fails.

13. The war is a distraction from more dangerous regimes like North Korea
It is undoubtedly true that the North Korean regime is potentially much more dangerous to the international order than the Hussein regime. Yet the North Korean regime has not, since the ceasefire in 1953, conducted aggressive campagins against its neighbours, nor has it been the subject of numerous UN resolutions and requirements to disarm. I believe it is legitimate to deal with the problems represented by the Hussein regime first, and that this argument does not overcome the case for war. What it does do, however, is focus the attention on a frightening situation. This will be discussed further in the ‘wider implications’ section below.

14. The war would cause regional chaos
I believe that this argument has merit. There is a risk that armed intervention would precipitate the break up of the Iraqi state, and consequent armed intervention from neighbouring powers, including Turkey and Iran. Hussein may attack Israel or Saudi Arabia, leading to unpredictable consequences. This is therefore an issue that requires careful consideration, but it is not conclusive.

15. The strategy of inspection, containment and sanctions is working
This is the most prevalent of the arguments against the war, and it is one that I believe to be at best naïve and confused, at worst mendacious and hypocritical. The sanctions regime is not working: it is estimated that Hussein receives a ‘private’ income of some $3 billion per year from extra-legal sales of oil. Moreover, it is clear that it is the people of Iraq who suffer the most from the sanctions regime. According to UN figures up to half a million Iraqi children have suffered a premature death as a direct result of the sanctions regime, and that suffering has to be brought to an end. Furthermore, the sanctions regime forms only one part of a broader containment strategy. That strategy depends upon a continued presence of the Western military, to enforce the no-fly zones and the work of UNMOVIC. That approach has not succeeded in twelve years – indeed there is a great deal of evidence to say that it has failed. My view is that this approach cannot continue; that it was, at best, a short term measure, and – as with the issue of German reparations after World War One – it has caused many more problems than it was designed to solve. This is the true ‘humanitarian disaster’ that must be ended. The choice as I see it is between abandoning any attempts to deal with the Hussein regime, and military intervention. Clearly current US diplomacy leaves much to be desired, and it has obscured this fundamental truth, but if you look past the fog of propaganda there is a fundamental choice here. I shall return to this.

16. An invasion of Iraq would trigger a renewal of terrorism against the West
Clearly an attack would confirm Al-Qaeda and their sympathisers in their views, and quite possibly give them greater determination. Yet it is not clear to me that there is anything that would not give such confirmation. September 11th proved that these terrorists are not open to negotiation on terms that we could possibly accept, and a strategy based on appealing to some form of reasoned judgement on their part, as with Hussein himself, is not viable. What can be done is to reduce the underlying resentment against the West, from which the perverted fundamentalism of Al-Qaeda can feed. That resentment can only be addressed by improving the quality of life of the average Middle Eastern citizen over the long term, through a process of political and economic reform. Military intervention in Iraq can clearly be seen (subject to the comments on objection 7 above) as part of a process to ‘drain the swamp’ that feeds the monster of Al-Qaeda. As such, although there might be short-term costs, those costs are highly likely to come about in any case, and the long term costs are reduced. I therefore conclude that this is not a conclusive argument against intervention.

17. An invasion of Iraq is the first move in the establishment of an American Empire
This may or may not be true; it is, in one sense, unknowable, unless to the present US administration. Yet the case for intervention against Iraq needs to be appreciated on its own merits. If those merits are sufficient then the motivation of the present US administration is a separate issue – just as the motivation of the British government was a separate issue to the righteousness of fighting Nazi Germany. Is it possible to enforce freedom at the point of a gun? Probably not. But if tyranny is enforced at the point of a gun, and the gun is then removed, there is then a possibility of freedom. The way I think the US sees it is that the status quo allowed problems to fester in bad regimes, and those bad regimes fostered the terrorism that led to 9/11. Therefore the US is no longer prepared to tolerate ‘bad regimes’ in the world. That is scary – could lead to all sorts of conflicts down the line – but it can still be seen as the lesser of two evils. Once more, I conclude that this is not a conclusive argument against intervention.

In the face of the argument in favour of war against the Hussein regime, I conclude that the following arguments have some substance as objections:

1. The war will probably trigger a humanitarian disaster
2. An invasion could trigger a world recession
3. The war would cause regional chaos
4. The war might endanger the Kurdish safe haven.

In addition, much of the debate has thrown up issues relating to more dangerous regimes like North Korea.

It seems to me that these arguments are essentially about balance of risk. There is a risk that there will be a humanitarian disaster consequent to war, there is a risk that intervention will exacerbate world recession, there is a risk of regional instability. Yet on the other hand, continuance of a containment policy is manifestly insupportable, and ignoring the situation is untenable. To allow the Hussein regime such a clear success would be – in my view – to lay the seeds for future wars and potentially devastating (ie nuclear) conflicts in the medium term. That follows a sober assessment of the established character of the Hussein regime. As such, those in positions of responsibility, principally the US, have a terrible decision to make. Past actions have had unforeseen consequences, and we are now in a situation where no course of action is without risk. It is a situation of extreme jeopardy, and the world will not be the same once war has begun.

Christian language 1: Just War Theory
What has Christianity got to say about the situation – surely Christ would not sanction a war? Possibly not, yet that point is insufficient. Christ is our standard and our criterion for righteousness. Yet sometimes it is impossible for us to be righteous – at which point we are dependent upon grace. It is an illusion to think that we can sort out all our problems, that we can have a definitively ‘right’ answer to problems like this. The Christian tradition has grown up around that central recognition.

To begin with, I would like to outline the elements of traditional ‘just war’ theory, as I understand it:

1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
In my view, this element is met (I think a case could be made that fewer lives would be lost by a short war than by the maintenance of sanctions; obviously that's extremely hypothetical and wholly dependent on the length of any war). The Hussein regime has not lacked opportunities to change its ways and reintegrate itself into the world community, and has for twelve years demonstrated an opposite intention.

2. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
The key question is what constitutes a legitimate authority. Certainly what has taken place so far has been within UN auspices, and I would expect that to continue. However, I personally would think democratically elected governments have greater legitimacy. So this element is, I think, met in full.

3. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient - see next point). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissable objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
This would seem to be the cast-iron element against the currently proposed endeavour. However a) this action cannot be understood separately from the 1990 attack on Kuwait (following which there was a conditional ceasefire, and the Hussein regime is not meeting the conditions) and b) the doctrine or pre-emption is relevant. Again, I think this element is met, although this is perhaps the most arguable point. Certainly the doctrine of pre-emptive attack is open to great abuse.

4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
I think this element is met, although I think the conflict is potentially much more fraught than the 1991 war.

5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
I think this element is met in full - although I acknowledge, in saying that, that events could show that confidence to be misplaced.

6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
I hope that this element will be met. Certainly judging be other comparable recent military actions, the risk to eg civilian life is massively lower than in previous conflicts. However, this hope could be proved totally false – and that is a very scary thought.

7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissable targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.
Again, I think we can have a high confidence that this element will be met - certainly for the US/UK side of things, although there is a reasonable expectation that Hussein will seek to engineer a higher amount of collateral damage than a benign ruler would allow.

Although the just war language is very helpful for thinking through a situation systematically, I don’t believe it goes deeply enough into the present situation to be a final guide. For that, we need to press more deeply.

Christian language 2: living in a Fallen world
I don't think I can explain my position properly without giving a little background in Christian theology, specifically what is meant by 'the Fall', for this is the background against which I am assessing this situation. The Fall, as I'm sure you're aware, is the expulsion from Eden as the result of biting the apple. In other words, we're not in paradise and we're sinners. This is pretty axiomatic for Christians (if there is no Fall, there is no Sin; no Sin, no need for a Saviour; no Saviour, no Messiah, no Christ, no Christianity). What this means in practice is that we live in an environment which is structured sinfully – we are embedded in practices which cause us to sin and there is no way for us to avoid sinning. More than this, we need to recognise this sinfulness as the first stage in moving away from the situation; put differently, it is recognising the light in Christ that allows us to see the darkness for what it is.

Now, in a situation like the one we have at present with regard to Iraq, it is quite clear what the past patterns of sin are which have caused us to be 'mired in sin'. Hussein established himself as a despot on the back of US, specifically CIA, support. Indeed, Rumsfield himself went to Iraq in the eighties as Reagan's special envoy, to provide - well, we don't know for sure, but chances are it wasn't agricultural support. Going further back, the UK is wholly complicit in the creation of Iraq as an artificial state. I think I am right in saying that the UK were the first nation to gas the Kurds (not Churchill's finest hour - I think it was the early twenties).
More recently, the follow-through to the 1991 war was ill-thought and driven by narrow and unenlightened agendas. The West did not want to prolong the war and risk further casualties. Consequently we have the sanctions and inspection process which a) has not inhibited the Hussein regime, b) causes great suffering to the people of Iraq and c) broke down at the end of the 90's. So we are now in a situation where the Hussein regime has been able to develop WMD in the face of repeated UN resolutions.

It seems to me that the principled pacifist position is coherent. This says that the use of force is never justified; that there are various creative and non-violent ways to change the behaviour of those with whom we disagree; and that (as I feel this can only be responsibly held from a religious perspective) we must trust in God for the ultimate outcomes. Crucially, this perspective rules out *all* uses of force, ie all forms of coercion, and therefore - especially in the light of the last decade's experience – the whole sanctions regime needs to be discarded. Thinking imaginatively this discarding of sanctions would be accompanied by a huge multinational investment in Iraq, to rapidly advance the quality of life of the Iraqi people, to ensure that there was a change of heart on the part of the Hussein regime, so that they saw that it was in their best interests to maintain stability etc etc.

As I say, I think this is coherent and also - to a religious person – quite a strong argument. Thing is, I can't bring myself to accept it. That might be due to a lack of faith on my part. I am fond of Cromwell's dictum: "Trust in God... and keep your gunpowder dry." In other words we must trust in God - but that does not excuse a lack of prudence on our part, for God also works through us, when we let him.

If we follow the logic of the Gandhian position through, then there is no point at which we respond to force with force. This would allow all sorts of monstrosities to take place if the opposing forces were sufficiently motivated. Gandhi said (I paraphrase from memory) that 'it is a matter of faith for a satyagrahi that there is no one who is beyond the reach of love' (satyagrahi = seeker after truth). I think I do believe that, but I don't draw from that the conclusion that the use of force against such a person is always wrong (is always a lack of faith). Consider a hypothetical example: you are a police officer in the US. There has been a terrorist threat received against a children's hospital; you are on guard in a particular ward. Two men enter, both with guns. One moves towards you, the other starts shooting children. (Obviously I'm delibarately polarising this presentation to bring out the underlying issue).

It seems to me that a Gandhian perspective would seek to put your own body between that of the person shooting and the children - to try and provoke an awareness of love and the right in that person. Yet the second man prevents you from doing this. So the shooting goes on. At what point does it become right to use force - to draw your own gun and shoot the person killing the children?

You might say that this is too hypothetical and unrealistic, so let us change to a very real situation: was Todd Beamer right to lead a revolt of the hijacked passengers against the terrorists who had siezed control of the Philadelphia flight on September 11? I think that he was - indeed I find his story to be tremendously moving, and one that reveals a difference between the social quality of the typical US citizen and the typical UK or European citizen which is shaming to the latter. But that may be an ignorant comment.

To my mind there is a fundamental contradiction between this Gandhian position and a traditional Christian one, and the difference lies in the way in which the traditional Christian view accepts the inevitability of personal sin - indeed, it makes it central and says that it is a dangerous illusion to think that you can be free of it.

In the hospital example, to my mind, a Christian policeman would be perfectly justifiied in shooting the intruders as soon as there was an apparent threat to the children in his care, but - and this is where the distinctiveness of the Christian viewpoint becomes apparent - _it_is_still_a_sin_to_shoot_the_intruder_. The Christian viewpoint does not say that the use of force is righteous - it says that it is a failure, a failure provoked by all the previous sins in which all the participants and the wider society share. It therefore prevents an ideology being built up around the 'rightness' of that individual decision - for such an ideology would deny that there was any sin involved. Such ideologies are triumphant in the use of violence and ultimately fascist. The use of violence is always a failure and a cause for repentance. So there is a difference between something being 'justified' and something being inherently good or 'righteous'. For a Christian, war is never righteous, but it can sometimes be justified as the lesser of two evils.

Lesser of two evils?
Is that the case in the present context? I don't think our present framework (sanctions and inspections) can continue. The sanctions a) hurt the people of Iraq and b) broke down due to their long-drawn out nature, their impact of on public consciousness, and have not prevented the regime from pursuing WMD. The inspections can only work if there is co-operation from the regime. I agree with Powell completely on this - you can treble the number of inspectors, put in troops, do whatever, but unless there is a commitment from the regime to 'come clean' then they will not be able to succeed in their task.

It is still possible to argue, of course, that this process would be better than the alternative of going to war. That the risks and suffering attendant upon going to war outweigh the risks and suffering attendant upon not going to war. To my mind the key question is what would happen *after* the war. If the US/UK treat it in the same way as they have Afghanistan - ie don't get involved in 'nation building' then I think that the war cannot be justified, for there would not be a significant benefit to the people of Iraq, there would not be anything to justify the suffering consequent to war. Yet I have some room for hope when considering Blair especially, and remembering things that he has said in the past (especially his party conference speech in October 2001). Yet it is true that Blair is not in control of the situation.

Now, there is almost nothing that you and I can do to affect the eventual outcome of this situation - we can comment on it, give our views and the reasons for our opinions, but largely I think our opinions are just that. Moreover, those who are presently entrusted with making the decisions have far higher quality information available to them on which to base those decisions comapred to us. At this point it becomes a matter of judgement and, I would say, of character. My judgement is that Blair in particular is taking a principled stand, one not governed by short-term political calculations but one governed by his perception of what is right. I'm hopeful that Bush has a similar perspective. Blair is, I think, risking everything on this issue - there is a not insignificant chance that he will no longer be Prime Minister in six months time, as a direct result of the stance he is taking.

My understanding of the situation is not without ambiguities, qualms and second, third and fourth thoughts. I could be reading this situation completely wrongly. I don't have a conclusive answer. I just think that the status quo (including any variant on extended inspections) is insupportable, for all sorts of reasons (including Christian ones) and the choice as I see it is between letting Hussein out of his cage or military intervention. I don't see either course of action as clearly correct, hence my discussion of the Fall. We're in a mess of our own making, we are none of us righteous, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).

Concluding thoughts
Christianity teaches that we live in a Fallen world, that is, that we are embedded in an imperfect environment. As a consequence of past mistakes, past sins, we are sometimes faced with choices where we cannot avoid sinning again. We are forced to choose, and we must choose between two or more 'evils'. What makes Christianity distinct is the resolve not to redescribe such 'evils' as ultimately good, and therefore to accept the personal consequences of deliberately choosing to sin. Christians believe that God is merciful to those who repent of such sin, and hold fast to the light and grace that is made available through Christ. This frees Christians to act according to the light which is in them, to do the best that they can, without a necessity to seek personal moral perfection, trusting in God for both the worldly outcome and their own personal salvation. It is clear to me that a decision in favour of armed intervention in Iraq can be justified, and, for what it is worth, I think that it is justified. Yet I could well be wrong.

In this present situation, our leaders are faced with terrible choices, and ultimately nobody else can prejudge their decisions, although clearly time will tell whether the choices made are good or bad. I think we can only make our own decisions, and the primary decision is whether to put our ultimate trust in ourselves and our own powers, or to put our ultimate trust in God. So if the Republicans have become arrogant with power, and are not trusting in God for the ultimate outcome, then I think they are leading the world to ruin. If the decision to attack is motivated by a concern for the weak and defenceless (the Biblical 'widows and orphans') then it is justified; if it is taken from a lust and glorying in power and temporal might - then it is damned and damnable.

I think about Isaiah's critique of the Hebrew nation. Isaiah's principal criticism of foreign policy lies in the fact that the rulers will not put their trust exclusively in God to protect them. To modern ears it may seem that the rulers were prudent to make some practical provision for their people's security, but for Isaiah this is evidence of a lack of faith: 'For thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength." And you would not, but you said, "No! We will speed upon horses," therefore you shall speed away; and "We will ride upon swift steeds" therefore your pursuers shall be swift." (Is 30.15-16)

That prophetic claim, to completely put our trust in God, is effectively quietist, ie you don't get involved in secular struggles. I can't believe that to be Godly, although I readily accept that may merely show my lack of faith. Yet what I think it does mean is that we do what we can, and we trust in God to help or hinder us, and we remain open to changing our perspectives and our actions according to the light that God provides. It is precisely that openness that distinguishes those who place their trust in their own powers, their own rationality, from those who place their trust in the higher power.

So perhaps prayer is the most important thing we can do.

“Almighty God, whose is the eternal only power, and other men’s power but borrowed of thee: we beseech thee for all those who hold office that, holding it first from thee, they may use it for the general good and to thine honour: through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (William Tyndale)

Note added '06. Hmm. I think I should stick to the theological analysis a bit more, but at least I wrote this: "To my mind the key question is what would happen *after* the war. If the US/UK treat it in the same way as they have Afghanistan - ie don't get involved in 'nation building' then I think that the war cannot be justified, for there would not be a significant benefit to the people of Iraq, there would not be anything to justify the suffering consequent to war."

Where I would now, with the benefit of hindsight, argue differently, are on two grounds: 1. that oil was certainly a major factor (if not THE) major factor in the decision to attack both Afghanistan and Iraq; and 2. the Bush administration was clearly not motivated by a concern for the widows and orphans, they did not act in anything remotely resembling a Christian manner, and not only were they malevolent in their intentions, they were also incompetent - and they remain criminally incompetent in this regard. However, I still can't bring myself to see the removal of Hussein as the wrong choice. The status quo was insupportable. Still got a lot to ponder and consider.

The other thing is: I have since discovered Hauerwas, and been greatly impressed by 'The Peaceable Kingdom' amongst other things. (I've also discovered Girard and Alison, which are relevant). Two things from Hauerwas - a) the point about failure of imagination, ie be suspicious of arguments like my one involving the police officer above; and b) what would the world be like if Christians refused to kill each other, if Christians put their common faith above allegiance to a state undertaking? I'm persuaded of that latter point, I think.

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