19 April 2004


Scott Lucas writes:

The problems with the supposed parallels between interwar European fascism and Saddam, the Taliban and al-Qaida are the gaps in between the broad generalisations. "Belligerent expansionist totalitarian police-state characterised by ultra-nationalism" is so sweeping as to rule all "evil" out (arguably, there is no state where a single individual or group had "total" control) or to rule all "evil" in (your category could also include present-day North Korea, post-1949 China, post-1948 Yugoslavia-Serbia, 1970s/1980s Argentina, Putin's Russia, etc, etc). The parallels also eclipse important distinctions - Ba'athism was originally a socialist movement in the 1950s. How did it move from that to a "fascist" movement?

I'd rather deal with the specific cases. Taliban Afghanistan was the first government to denounce the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks; more importantly, it offered to negotiate Bin Laden's handover to Pakistan (as it had offered to hand him over in 1998 before the bombing of Sudan). The US refused any consideration of this. So the possibility of a handover, with an international trial to follow, was passed up at the cost of many thousands of lives. Perhaps a case can be made for this on the basis of "regime change", but this requires a much more thoughtful elaboration than Bush's "with us or against us".

Saddam's Iraq was expansionist and should have been opposed vigorously by the west in the 1980s rather than being aided by it but, of course, Saddam was waging war on Iran, which western governments had tagged as a "belligerent expansionist totalitarian (religious) police-state characterised by ultra-nationalism". On the grounds of "liberal intervention", there is an argument that the troops should have marched to Baghdad in 1991 but, again, there was a pass on the opportunity. In contrast, in 2003, there was no established threat to the region (I take the position that US and British governments knew they were exaggerating the intelligence) and the deaths from Saddam's reign of terror were fewer than in the 1990s, a point recently made by Human Rights Watch. So why go for "regime change" now?

In short, I agree that Saddam and the Taliban (and, indeed, other regimes that are now allies in the war on terror) should have been opposed and confronted. That, however, cannot escape the problem in your second point. US foreign policy never rested on "establishing a decent, civilised, democratic Iraq" or Afghanistan; if it had been, we would not been in the ongoing (and, in some respects) worsening mess that we are today. That's why I always supported international action to deal with al-Qaida, the Taliban and Saddam as opposed to a US-defined "coalition of the willing" which was pretty much US and UK in military terms, US in "legal" terms (rejecting any approach to international law), and US with support from a few other countries (rather than the UN) in diplomatic terms. I think a great opportunity was missed by not pursuing resolution 1441 through coercive inspections - the catch was that the US would never accept this because that would give the UN in the ongoing negotiation with Saddam and the Bush administration had decided on US-led "regime change" in February 2001.

Finally, I suggest that the framing of the SWP as "leading" the anti-war movement did not come from most of us who opposed the war and who voiced our opposition. (Is anyone really contending that those MPs who voted against intervention were just following the SWP?) Instead, it came from those who favoured the war but did not want to acknowledge the depth of or complexity of our objections. Any "untold damage" was manufactured by those who insisted that "our" leaders were George Galloway, Tariq Ali, the MAB, the SWP etc.

I would never reduce the argument for intervention to following "the prominent role" of the Bush administration in its push for war. So why be so reductionist in tagging those who questioned intervention? To me, the labelling was always a political strategy rather than an honest assessment of the critical issues.

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