Leading Article: Lives are more important than fuzzy symbolism

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The Independent Online
WHY? FOR WHAT? How much? British forces stand ready in the Gulf. Britain's prestige and international reputation, let alone that of the Prime Minister and his government, are on the line. We have declared our hand as America's junior partner. Yet the purposes of military adventure in Iraq remain fatally unspecific. Until we are given a much clearer idea of exactly what action against Iraq is supposed to accomplish, and where it is to end, the case for British participation remains unmade.

Forty two years ago, a British Prime Minister ordered Britain's armed forces into the Middle East without enough thought about effect or political consequence. As a result, he fell, having scarred the nation. Suez should have taught us that lives are too precious to risk for the sake of fuzzy symbolism or posture. We need to be crystal clear just what air strikes, cruise missiles, or ground forces are going to accomplish.

The ostensible aim of the US is to compel Saddam Hussein to allow United Nations inspectors unfettered access. But we have to ask: is there any reason to suppose that the Iraqi dictator would be any more willing to co-operate after an attack than he is now? Profound errors of judgement are about to be made. Perhaps President Bush should have pursued the defeated Iraqi army to Baghdad seven years ago and overthrown Saddam Hussein. He did not. Yet now the US, with British support, is seeking to exercise a degree of control over Iraq which only works after the conquest of another country.

We are no apologists for Saddam Hussein. He is a bloody tyrant at home and a persistent worry in the region. But the practical question is deterrence. It must involve the neighbours he threatens. The way forward is not to make inspections the trigger issue, but to return to seeking to forge a military alliance, based on the southern Gulf states, aided by the United States and, yes, Britain too.

During the Gulf war, Saddam had biological and chemical weapons. One reason he did not dare use them was the weight of Arab power ranged against him. Until the kind of coalition created during the Gulf War can be recreated, gung-ho Anglo-American militarism is offensive.

Worse still, it is going to be ineffective.