Invitation to a war
George W Bush has invited the people of the world to attend the spectacle of a war with Iraq, says Jeremy Seabrook. In this unfolding drama, the UN has a mere walk-on part, a kind of understudy for the US, the real hero of the piece who will pluck the captive people of Iraq from the fangs of their tormentor.
WAR on Iraq has been announced, not declared. George W Bush cordially invites the people of the world to attend the spectacle, thanks to the global media conglomerates already assembling their teams for 24/7 coverage.
It seems wars no longer break out: they are diarised in the timetables of political expediency (climatic, too: we don’t want our boys to suffer in the heat. A nice night in February is the preferred date). Everything has been foretold by Western sybils and seers from their think-tanks and strategic planning centres. The story has already been written. All that remains is for it to play out its fateful course.
In his speech at the Mansion House in early November, Tony Blair was careful to assimilate rogue states (Iraq) to terror-groups(al-Qaeda). He also expressed - the first time a Western leader has done so - a kind of rueful nostalgia for the Cold War. He said, ‘It’s not like the old Soviet bloc versus NATO. There, defensive alliances were formed; crises occurred, often serious, but in a funny kind of way, the world knew where it was.’
How bizarre. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but that is not at all how it all appeared then. It bore an eerie resemblance to the situation we see now. You never knew where you were, with the Red Menace and its ubiquitous empire of evil. Communists lurked in the shadows, forming their subversive cells, wrecking our industry and undermining our way of life. There could be no rational dealing with them. They were in the grip of an ideological madness.
If Mr Blair thinks it was different then, he really ought to encourage Mr Bush to devise a strategy other than the classic war at which our (distant) presence is requested. But the world looks on, as all spectators must, in impotent fascination. Like all good cathartic plays, the known ending makes no difference to the denouement of the tale. Indeed, its inexorable nature only makes it more compelling.
In this drama, the United Nations has a mere walk-on part, a kind of understudy for a US who is the real hero of the piece, the dashing embodiment of freedom and progress, who will pluck the captive people of Iraq from the fangs of their tormentor. The ‘international community’ - that recent usurper of the responsibilities of the United Nations - (or even more nauseatingly, in the homely image of Jack Straw, ‘the family of nations’) knows that the US will countenance no deviation from its purpose, and that it is now the highest duty of that community to provide the moralising fiction that it speaks with one (ventriloquial) voice.
When the powerful set out to crush the weak, there is always one serious problem: how to moralise their work of destruction, how to justify the teaching of a lesson, the bloody nose, the good hiding and all the other accompanying imagery of the playground bully. First, you impose upon the putative enemy conditions impossible of fulfilment. See how reasonable we are, you say with aggrieved innocence to the global media. We have done everything to accommodate them. We have bent over backwards. We have spared no effort to prevent a war that no one wants. The tears of the crocodile would fertilise the arid plains of Ethiopia.
It was not possible for the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, even if they had known where he was. Afghanistan was punished accordingly, and thousands of civilians died. It was not possible for Arafat to prevent the enraged and humiliated Palestinians from going to their murderous sacrificial deaths in Israel. Even when cornered in his compound and surrounded by Israeli tanks, he was still ordered to prevent what had run out of his control.
So it is with the ultimatum to Saddam. He has been ordered to disclose weapons of mass destruction. The US and UK believe - indeed, they know in advance - he will fail ‘this test’. ‘Inspections’ are merely the ritual preliminaries to invasion. Saddam, already captive, is urged to fulfil demands that cannot be realised. No matter what confessions of diabolical weaponry Saddam admits to, he will inevitably be accused of concealment, double-dealing and duplicity. This has been safely written into the programme of sweet reasonableness which the warriors against the Iraqi people have drawn up in advance of their massive invasion. Compliance is impossible. The consequences are known.
The obsessive and bellicose Bush, abetted by a stern and self-righteous Blair, will do their worst. No doubt they will provide images to the world of the secret compounds and concealed places where who can say what malevolent armoury is being prepared against the innocent civilians of the West.
The Blair administration has been busy ‘softening up’ a reluctant public opinion to accept the unavoidable war. Obtusely, a majority has remained opposed to the holy annunciation of Blair’s just war. This government is particularly adept at wrestling with that slippery and suggestible creature called public opinion. It issued and then withdrew an urgent warning of imminent terror attack on Britain. It let it be known that there was a specific threat to bomb a cross-channel ferry by means of explosives concealed in a truck. It then denied that such a threat existed. Finally, the papers published ‘intelligence leaks’ of a planned gas attack on the London Underground, linked to the arrest of three men of North African origin, who had been under surveillance for months. Two or three days later, it was revealed that no such outrage was in the offing. The government stated it didn’t want to cause alarm; but it had spread a sense of insecurity and doubt, a worried and wondering state of mind, calculated to make anything so firm and decisive as war appear like a deliverance. Perhaps Mr Blair took inspiration from his American allies - the White House, the FBI and CIA regularly raised national tension with predictions of doom and disaster, particularly whenever they wanted to pass legislation curtailing freedoms in the name of combating terror.
The gigantic armies at Saddam’s disposal, as well as his mysterious arsenals of annihilation, have been well broadcast: centrespread visuals, images of skull-and-crossbones or radiation danger indicating the localities where these things are stored, have been published daily. In India in September 2002, I met some young Americans who had regretfully concluded that war was necessary. It turned out they believed Iraq to be bigger than Russia, and its population equal to that of the United States. Perhaps this is why the US has had so little trouble with its refractory and minoritised dissenters. With such a well-informed public, their consent to war in Iraq has irrefutable democratic credentials. (It might be remembered that in September 2002, a poll conducted in Britain revealed that only 25% of the population could correctly identify Saddam Hussein. It seems the impulse to war gathers momentum independently of a publicly recognisable adversary.)
It is more than likely that the creative aerial photographs already exist that will ‘prove’ to the world the necessity for actions which it is known will lead to numberless civilian deaths. Accounts of military success are doubtless already being crafted by the victorious allies in the purification rituals they are preparing for the celebration of an illegal regime-change. The occupation of Iraq is already a foregone conclusion. The US is talking of providing supplies to civilians - just as they did before they attacked Afghanistan, when they rained down army rations of peanut butter and biscuits shortly before the thermobaric bombs and daisy-cutters kicked in.
Agents of destiny
The great powers have assumed the mantle, not merely of temporal global power, but have become the very agents of destiny itself. It may be recalled that before the last Gulf War, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf urged his troops to ‘become the thunder and lightning’ in their attack upon Iraq. This mimicry of natural forces is consistent with the expansion of the military machine that inhabits the industrial technosphere, which grows until it fills the cosmos itself.
Bush has himself become godlike, a kind of grim reaper of the harvest of oil that will gush from the stricken soil of Iraq to fertilise the economy of America. He can command the elements. Infantile omnipotence is no longer a disorder of the mind, but an aspect of the realpolitik of the new order.
The objections of France and Russia, the mollifying of the dissidents of the Security Council, far from having tempered the US bloodlust, have merely prolonged the agony. When compliance cannot be ensured - since it will be impossible to say, even with the most minute search of Iraq, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, hidden under some hospital bed or concealed in some unreachable nook or cranny - what must follow is known to the entire world.
Here are lessons for us all; not least confirmation of our own impotence, our inability to intervene in the unfolding drama. Of course, few people want to contemplate their own disenfranchisement in the presence of such enormities. This is why so many opinion formers and influential individuals have decided that, rather than face this disagreeable proposition, it is far easier and more comfortable to acquiesce in the war, to acknowledge that Bush and Blair have truth and wisdom on their side. Let us be part of it. It is astonishing how many intellectuals and luminaries don’t want to feel left out, even of anything so damaging and destructive as a one-sided war. Support for the conflict is, accordingly, rising. The invitation to a war has been placed on the mantelpiece alongside the Christmas party invite and the next gala first night.
And the TV conflict promises even more spectacular pyrotechnics over Baghdad than last time round. We might as well buy in the cans of lager and settle down in front of our screens, to view the didactic lesson, mounted for the melancholy instruction of the peoples of the world, how much wiser it is to incline to power and strength than to resist; and above all, to thank our lucky stars (or whatever deities we must now pray to) that the storm is passing over us. And we hope that the only people who will bleed on TV will be the women, children and elderly population of a poor Third World country whose only crime has been their failure to overthrow a tyrant they never sought in the first place; a tyrant who, until the day before yesterday, was helped and encouraged by those acting in our name, who now, perversely, seek to lay waste their homeland.
No need to RSVP; the event will take place with or without our presence.
Jeremy Seabrook is a freelance journalist based in the UK