I support Bush on Iraq - but I'll join the protests

Instead of 'No Blood for Oil', the banners this week should read 'No Deaths for Wheat'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When I ponder the anti-Bush protests that will dominate London over the next few days, my initial feeling is a bit like that old war criminal Henry Kissinger about the Iran-Iraq war. "What a shame they can't both lose," he muttered. I didn't know what to do. George Bush's policies of mass destruction are a disaster for America and the world. He upholds a dense international web of agricultural subsidies, IMF-led economic vandalism, drugs prohibition and environmental denial that is debasing America and beating up the developing world.

Yet the bulk of the protesters will not focus on any of this. They will complain about the single good thing President Bush has done: the liberation of Iraq in accordance with the indisputable wishes of the Iraqi people. (I refer you yet again to every single opinion poll of Iraqis.) Of course his motives were not pure - Iraqis are not stupid - but it is their country, and the job of the left is to side with them even if that means allying ourselves temporarily with George Bush.

After much self-indulgent agonising, I decided that the need to show disapproval of Bush is greater than the unpleasantness of being associated with - or indeed being anywhere near - the tyrant-supporting Socialist Workers' Party, the homophobic Muslim Association of Britain, or the openly Stalinist editors of the Morning Star. Together, these political sweethearts organise the Stop the War protests.

We must look at the axis of evil policies upheld and in some cases intensified by the current President. Bush lavishes billions of dollars of subsidy on rich American farmers, yet insists that poor countries (under IMF tutelage) must demolish their own subsidy programmes. He then demands a "free trade" relationship with these poor countries. The effect is that subsidised US products are competing against unsubsidised poor-world products. The result, obviously, is that poor-world farmers go bust or - most of the time - never start at all. At the extremes, they starve in cashless economies.

As Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist for the World Bank, explained to me last month, "I don't know anybody - literally not a single person - who would defend Western agricultural subsidies or say they are fair. The best defence anybody offers is to say, well, it's politics."

And George Bush has unashamedly played politics on this issue. He has massively increased agricultural subsidies (which go to just 25,000 US farms, most of them owned by big corporations) by $4.8bn, and they will rise by 70 per cent over the next decade. Bush's negotiators scuppered any progress at the Cancun trade summit this year. The victims of his destruction will never appear on Fox News or in his briefings from hand-picked right wingers, but they are real enough. They are in the Philippines, Mozambique, South Korea and every continent on earth, apart from our own subsidy-heavy Europe.

They are being crushed by Bush just as surely as the Iraqis who had bombs dropped on them - but this time, no tyranny is being overthrown and so no lives are being saved. Instead of "No Blood for Oil", the banners this week should read "No Deaths for Wheat."

If you go through other pillars of the Bush World Order, you can draw similar straight lines from the West Wing of the White House to hunger and death in the developing world. Tens of economies have been IMF-ed up by structural adjustment programmes that impose a far more extreme and unsustainable form of capitalism than has ever been tried in the United States or Europe. The result is avoidable extreme poverty, bloody rioting and, often, increasingly repressive states. South America has been devastated by a "war on drugs" that includes spraying carcinogens on peasant farmers and driving a major industry into the hands of criminal syndicates who destabilise the region. And the effects of global warming are already being felt, with predictions by respected scientists of over 150 million environmental refugees displaced by 2050. I don't doubt Bush's sincerity about the Iraqi people's freedom - but unless he corrects these policies, he will be giving a great gift with one hand and snatching much of it away with the other.

Once you take this broad look at the impact of US policies, it is surely clear that dubbing all protesters "anti-American" - as though it were an irrational prejudice like anti-Semitism - is silly, and not serious politics. America makes many positive contributions to the world, but decent people cannot be "pro-American" in every sense until these lethal policies are reversed. I have no doubt some protesters will do unhelpful and idiotic things this week, like burning the US flag and calling for the destruction of Israel instead of an end to the occupation and an immediate two-state solution. I will hold my nose and protest anyway, and I hope to see you there.