What are you? Some kind of apologist for Saddam? In our binary world it is not an unexpected question; apparently you are either “for” us or “against” us, things are always “right” or “wrong”. It is a way of thinking - indeed a lens through which to view the whole world - that has been vastly encouraged over the past 18 months, during the course of the “war on terror”. It is a very convenient way of approaching problems because it completely avoids dealing with any kind of context or complexity.
Those who have been public in their opposition to war have always been called apologists and appeasers. A handy way of dismissing opposition from within as nothing more than misguided fools at best, and outright supporters of “the enemy”, at worst. But for those who believe that all war is a crime against humanity (irrespective of the polite but rather unworkable “laws of war”), it doesn't matter who the “enemy” is. Could be Saddam, could be Bush, could be Chirac: the “enemy” is always the person, group, party, structure or force, that oppresses, that uses violence to achieve its political aims.
Cycle of violence
There can be no doubt that, like all corrupt and violent leaders, Saddam Hussein is a miserable example of humanity. Yes, he has tortured and killed significant numbers of Iraqi citizens; yes, there were many outrages during the Iran-Iraq war; and yes, the gassing at Halabja is unforgivable. But he is hardly doing anything that other egomaniacal rulers haven't done before or will do again. (This is the place we would normally insert a long list of atrocities carried out by a wide range of states over many years. But you've probably heard it all before.)
Starting from this position it is impossible then not to ask the question: so why go after him, and why now? (As opposed to any of the other contenders for “brutal military dictator of the year”.) And in asking the question we immediately become “apologists” because, by asking, we highlight the fact that there is a context to the proposed war against Iraq.
Don't dodge the question!
But, this question remains: how does one, and who can, go about dealing with the latest public enemy No 1? Well, here it becomes important to make the distinction between one man and his military cronies and a population of 22.5 million people. Unless proven otherwise, all people are our allies. And just because you don't want to see 22.5 million people have their basic infrastructure bombed, or see the poor conscripts being massacred, doesn't mean you support Saddam.
Shockingly some anti-war (as opposed to anti-militarist) campaigners have, perhaps in feeling cornered by this question, been heard advocating sanctions as a way of undermining Saddam. Apart from the fact that they seem to have quickly forgotten the terrible consequences of the 12-year sanctions regime on the people of Iraq, isolating whole countries - as with Yugoslavia - appears to only harden support for men like Hussein and Milosevic and deny their citizens the opportunity of hearing alternative voices.
Without getting into the “why support military dictators in the first place” kind of discussion (because it supposedly ignores the “yes, but what about now?” question, and happens to reflect rather badly on the poor choice of “friends” the “liberal democracies” have chosen), the best ways to siphon power away from all the corrupt, violent, crazy power-hungry men (not that women are incapable of being as horrible, they just don't get that much opportunity under patriarchy) who are currently in power, might include:
- civilian inspections regimes for all weapons (big and small) for all countries;
- citizen's disarmament of all weaponry;
- an end to all country-country direct aid (because it is used as a threat/bribe);
- supported conversion of all arms manufacturing to products that benefit people;
- genuine steps for all nations to end their nuclear weapons programmes;
- an end to the economic exploitation of the many by the few;
- conversion from oil-dependency to alternative sources of energy;
- providing civilian support groups for transition states (not transition to capitalism, but transition from military dictatorships);
- opening up countries to inter-cultural, religious and socio-political contact with the rest of the world;
- the development of autonomous grassroots structures for practising real democracy.
Nothing new then, we just need to get on with it, make it real, and support our allies (people) in doing so. Hardly the behaviour of a bunch of apologists.