Monday, September 29, 2003

Few sights have been less edifying since the occupation of Iraq than the red-faced demands of warniks: Do you think the Iraqis appreciate your very very principled anti-imperialism? Would you rather Saddam had stayed in power? Shouldn't you be ashamed of opposing something the Iraqis manifestly wanted?

Etc etc ad nauseum.

A few points. If the Iraqi opinion polls showed that a majority currently detested the occupation and wanted it to end immediately, would the warniks surrender their case? If a majority of Iraqis told opinion pollsters that they wanted an Islamist government, would the occupiers be willing to accede to this? When Iraqis told opinion pollsters for the Spectator and Channel Four in their overwhelming numbers that they thought the US had invaded Iraq to help itself to oil supplies and help Israel, did the warniks assent to that proposition?

What I'm driving at is, what is the value of these opinion polls in terms of deciding what we think about the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Let's remember that approximately half of Iraqis asked said they retroactively supported the invasion - the other half was divided between those who actively opposed it and those who were uncertain. Now, that plurality (not a majority) exists because the war went relatively well for the coalition. Had it taken longer, had it claimed even more victims than it already has, had the Americans suffered serious losses and in desperation targetted more of the civilian infrastructure as they did in Serbia when they didn't think they were going to win - then the opinion polls would certainly be skewed in the opposite direction.

If Iraqi wants and needs are paramount in Washington and were at the fore of considerations as to whether war should be waged on Iraq, then what opinion polls did they consult to validate their occupation? It was impossible to know what Iraqis were thinking, although I think it's fair to say they were at the very least trepidatious about yet another foreign intervention into their country. They could have asked the ex-pats, but it seems that the only ones who were prepared to support the war were those already in the employ of the CIA (Chalabi and his bande a parte). They certainly didn't consult Arab opinion.

In addition, those who adduce these polls as evidence for their claim that Iraqis were crying out for occupation all too easily dismiss the other half of the population. We knew before the war, and we now have empirical proof provided by the pollsters, that the Iraqi public is significantly divided over the invasion and occupation of their country. That it is so divided is perhaps remarkable. But since we know that both the antiwar coalition and the warniks can cite a group of Iraqis who validate their arguments, isn't it a piece of intellectual subterfuge to duck behind the nearest Iraqi who supports you?

I could direct you to the website for Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation . I'm not sure that this in itself would be sufficient to prove the the occupation was unjust.

Richard Perle, replying to Daniel Cohn-Bendit in a television debate, insisted that the main issue that America was concerned with was weapons of mass destruction - democracy, he assured the audience, was an "added extra". Doubtless it would be if it were attainable on terms favourable to US designs for the country. But the point is, if those responsible for the war, either directly or indirectly, insist that liberating Iraqis is an "added extra", then this merely obviates the ideological reasons for shifting the argument for war from the primary to the secondary justification. "Weapons of mass destruction" are proving elusive enough for Christopher Hitchens to start pretending he never insisted that Iraq DID have weapons of mass destruction ("Just you wait"), so what remains is Tony Blair's insistence that "we're getting rid of one of the most brutal, repressive, murderous regimes in this world's history" . Notice that Blair has also reversed the order of importance for the two justifications for war:

"It's regime change for a purpose and the purpose is not merely to stop the Iraqi people being killed literally in their thousands but also to make sure that he cannot continue developing the weapons programmes."

Blair must be aware that the case about WMDs is in absolute shreds. If the shrinks, quacks and hacks on "Inside the Mind of Tony Blair" on Channel Four last night are right, then TB selects and orders the facts to fit his case as any lawyer would. Most lawyers, of course, don't internalise their sophistries.

A final note on opinion polls - this is for my comrades. We know that our opponents use them disingenuously, and selectively. They ask the questions they want answered, and they ignore those which are uncomfortable for them (80% opposition to Blair's PFI schemes, for example). Additionally, they treat such information as a snapshot of material to be worked on, not as decisive. Public opinion is not sovereign in the UK any more than it is in Iraq, it is one of many factors in our rulers' calculations, something they will try to manipulate and adjust and then, perhaps, use to buttress the case for something they wanted to do anyway.

But we ought also to be beyond the stage of being unwilling to commit ourselves to a genuine Act, something which might alter the coordinates of the situation which produces a certain poll result or popular will, something which will retroactively justify itself. When France was occupied by the Nazis at an incomparably graver time, it is almost certain that most of the French would have voted for Marshall Petain given the chance to vote in a free election - this did not prevent the Resistance. Additionally, we know how cynically the Americans justified their invasion of Grenada, virtually defenseless island with a revolutionary regime in power. It was, they claimed, a projection of Russian power into the region. And at any rate, the Grenadans would be glad to be "liberated". Polls taken after the invasion showed that most Grenadans were glad that America had intervened and expelled the regime which had deposed their own chosen socialist leader. The US-backed forces won the elections. Do we therefore say that America was right to do it, regardless of their motive, and the cost in human life?

No, it is ridiculous to throw one's support behind an imperial power in the hope that its interests and intentions may just coincide with those of the people whom they are invading. Such coincidences are extremely rare, and also short-lived, Lebanon being an eloquent example. The only correct stance is to oppose the exercise of imperial power and fully accept the consequences of that. These interventions do not occur alone and cannot be judged alone. The invasion of Iraq is part of a so-called "War on Terror" and to judge it outside of the context of this project is to do a serious discourtesy to the facts.

The War on Terror, in both its proximate effects and theoretical explication, is a war for global domination - not by a benign hegemon (a "behemoth with a conscience" as Kagan calls it), but by a self-interested, hypocritical and violent state with a history of support for Third World Fascism. It must be opposed for what it is, not for what opinion polls say about it.