Saturday, July 30, 2005


The Spectrum of Violence

Reading about Saddam Hussein's suppression of the Shias in the early 90s- maybe a third of a million killed- throws the current death rate of allied forces plus Iraqi civilians into some perspective. It might be a heavy daily toll but under the dictator now in prison would it have been even worse? We can't say of course but as things have been going over the past few months there is not a lot of difference. Which returns me to the old question about the legitimacy of intervention in the first place. It all depends how Iraq proceeds over the next six months or so but if it stays as present for much longer, the balance of suffering will be such that it would have been better to leave Saddam in charge and seek to remove him by means other than armed intervention.

I recall Dennis Healey, a man well versed in defence questions of course, saying the invasion was a mistake as Saddam could have been disposed of via special forces action. This seemed a bit optimistic when Saddam's survival precautions and record of survival are considered. Democracies moreover, do not use assassination as an instrument of foreign policy though maybe they ought in certain circumstances. More importantly for foreign policy makers perhaps is the need for much greater care in considering violence as an instrument in the first place. I was against the Afghan invasion personally as I feared that entering that highly volatile spectrum of violence might set in train a sequence of unforeseen consequences that made the situation even worse than before. Vietnam is the precedent which haunts the mind. Initial results made me think I was being too timid but more recent analyses from this benighted country suggest the occupation has been mishandled and is again reaching crisis levels. Iraq was another case where I suspected the embrace of violence-however jusified the removal of Saddam- would turn out to be self defeating with the biter eventually being bit more savagely than the bitten.

We should know enough about the passions raised by people being killed, especially by forces of a foreign power, to have exercised more prudence and care than charging into the fraught world of Middle eastern politics with guns blazing alongside US armed forces. At least let us hope that the Iraqi adventure will be the last of its kind for another generation and hope that the UN can eventually be fashioned into a legitimate instrument of armed force to maintain international order and justice, instead of individual states. Some hope I agree, but at least its a direction to aim in.

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