The Iraq Question

by Greg Stachowski,
19 August 2002

"War is the continuation of politics by other means." -- Clausewitz
"History is written by the victors." -- Anon.

        Practically all of the current discussions of the question of a second invasion of Iraq and the forced removal of Saddam Hussein consist of both sides arguing about "rights" and "morals". "Saddam is evil, he must be removed." "Iraq is a sovereign state, we have no right to intervene." "Saddam threatens the West, he must be stopped." "The USA has nuclear weapons, it is hypocritical to attack Iraq for the same thing." UN sanctions and mandates are held up as the justification for action -- again, by both sides: "Iraq has ignored UN sanctions and the terms of the ceasefire -- we can attack them." "We cannot, there is no UN mandate to do so."

        As if it mattered. The decision to engage in armed conflict -- war -- is taken on the basis of political and national interests, not on the basis of morality or legal right. Morals and mandates are merely a cover, established often after the fact. Many of those who argue that the example of Hitler shows that Saddam should be removed by force forget that, in 1938 at the time of Munich, it was Hitler who was hiding behind morals and mandates. He justified his entry into Czechoslovakia by the need to protect the German minority there. He should have been stopped -- in the light of what followed -- but in 1938 the politicians of Britain and France took him at his word, and, more importantly, failed to see any national interest for their own countries in attacking him. In 1939 they realised the error, but they also new that Britain and France could not yet stand up to the German military machine. And since history is written by the ultimate victors, Poland was allowed to fall -- with the promise of military aid which was written into the treaties ignored. It was a bitter pill, resented by Poles to this day, but national interests made the decision. Correctly? Perhaps, perhaps not. Germany did eventually lose the war. In the Soviet Union, Stalin was a dictator more powerful and more successfully destructive than Hitler or Hussein, and yet he died naturally after some 30 years in office. It was not in the perceived interests of the West to fight him, at least directly, and the casualties of wars such as Korea only served to prove the point.

        It may seem cynical, but it's the way the world works. If war is to be waged, it must be because that is in the ultimate best interests of the people. All we can hope for from our leaders is that they have the wisdom to see past the short term and plan a way to a future which is genuinely in our interest, and, hopefully, in the interests of most of the rest of the world. It is, unfortunately, too much to ask that everyone benefit -- whatever happens, people will suffer and die. Iraqis are dying today because of Saddam's policies; they are also dying because of the West's policies towards Saddam. But we should demand that our leaders at least plan their course carefully, coldly, without thought of rhetoric, revenge, or electoral gain. It is neither the hawks nor the doves who are most dangerous in an imperfect world, but the fanatical idealists and political opportunists. Hitler was one of them. Is Bush?


        I appreciate that what I have written above may be disturbing, may seem cynical and immoral, so I shall add a more personal note. Is it more ethical to allow Saddam to continue, and cause suffering and death among his own people and others, or to remove him at perhaps equally great cost? Can war, the most drastic and dangerous course of action a people can embark upon, ever be morally justified, or is it always wrong? I don't know. I wish I did, but there are so many arguments one way or the other that I cannot decide. Which is why I have chosen to take the position of a realist, however cynical that may seem, and -- accepting that wars do happen -- have tried to suggest both what the real reasons behind them are, and what we should require from those to whom we entrust our future.


Greg Stachowski is a scientist, currently living in Poland but born and educated in the UK, and hence not indifferent to the question of whether the US and the UK should attack Iraq.