Why liberals owe a grudging debt to the threat of force

Share
Related Topics
We liberals are never happy. Having fretted about war we are now uneasy about the peace. Having worried about the allies demonising Saddam, we now worry that he is stronger than ever. Having preferred a diplomatic solution all along, we now worry about whether diplomacy has been successful enough. There is a solution to the liberals' dilemma - to be a bit less grudging about the fact that force has shifted Saddam without a shot being fired. That said, it has not been liberalism's finest hour. Consider first, now that the immediate crisis is over, three myths that have built up during the Gulf crisis.

The first myth is that Britain was merely the lapdog of the US. Britain was never, once the crisis began, going to withhold its backing from the US. But it's becoming clearer that London played a significant role in persuading Washington that Kofi Annan's mission was worth trying. At a meeting convened in London, on 14 February, of the Middle East Regional Directors of the State Department, Quai D'Orsay, and the Foreign Office, Britain brokered a deal that made possible the Security Council's decision to sanction a heavily mandated mission by Annan.

The strategy was twofold: on the one hand, it maximised the chances of the diplomatic solution that most British ministers had always preferred. But it also had another, harder-edged benefit: if Kofi Annan were to come back empty-handed then it would have been much more difficult for the French and the Russians, having signed up to the Annan mission, to oppose, much less to veto, air strikes on Iraq. Second, the British were the principal authors, again in the face of some initial reluctance from Washington, of last week's UN resolution significantly increasing the oil-for-aid programme. Diplomatically, this no doubt helped to lure the French and the Russians a little closer to the US/UK position. But the larger virtue was that it was a policy which drew a clear and public distinction between the regime and the people who suffer cruelly under it.

The second myth is that the British government was somehow forsaking its Europeanism by siding with the Americans in threatening Saddam with force. You don't have to accept every dark ministerial hint that France was motivated in its opposition to force against Saddam only by commercial greed to appreciate that Britain was less isolated in Europe than it sometimes looked. Beside France and perhaps Greece, only Luxembourg has directly opposed British backing for the US stance. Luxembourg's egregious foreign minister, Jacques Poos, having excelled himself at the outset of the Balkan war by claiming that this was "the hour of Europe", went on to declare with equal absurdity of the latest Gulf crisis that while it might be desirable to threaten force on occasions, it would be quite another thing to carry the threat out. Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and probably Italy, would have all offered either military or logistical help, while Austria and Finland were showing signs of political support. And this may stem from a larger understanding of the price that has to be paid, on occasions, by the Nato allies for continuing US engagement in Europe.

The third myth is that the US and Britain should never have been prepared to use force against Saddam, and that diplomatic means alone could have achieved this week's solution. That flies directly in the face of experience. Whatever practical deficiencies the Baghdad agreement may turn out to have in its application to Unscom inspections of the all-important presidential sites, it is a huge advance on the position Saddam was taking before the threat of force started to loom and when he was denying any access to the sites at all. Nor, rather importantly, is it the view of the UN Secretary General. Watching Annan's and Tariq Aziz's press conference on CNN in a Brussels office on Monday, the Foreign Secretary and his senior officials displayed palpable tension as Annan went through the elaborate courtesies of thanking the Iraqi regime for its reception of his delegation. It was only when Annan said in answer to a question that diplomacy worked best when it was backed by "firmness and force" that Cook allowed himself the ghost of a smile. When Kofi Annan, the first man to dignify the UN office in recent years, says so, it's worth taking seriously.

This doesn't mean that there are no reasons for apprehension. Britain's representative at the UN was right to press yesterday for a clear explanation of Clause 4b of the agreement which rather opaquely refers to "specified detailed procedures" that will govern the inspection of the Iraqi presidential sites where chemical and biological weapons may be, if not made or stored, at least documented. It will be necessary, but possibly extremely difficult, for Britain and the US to secure in New York a clear mandate for acting against Saddam if he breaks the new agreement he signed this week. Blair was correct yesterday to warn that a "piece of paper signed by the Iraqi regime plainly cannot be enough". Saddam's hyper-spin throughout the Arab world will persuade many that he has tricked the Great Satan yet again. Above all he is still there.

All these are reasons why Blair was right not to be excessively triumphalist in the Commons yesterday. We liberals should be a little less grudging - not least because the UN suddenly matters again. Some of those who oppose the war do their case a disservice when they also denounce the peace. Those who complain that the objectives of bombing weren't clear shouldn't complain too much if achievements made without bombing have some ragged edges, too. It's a matter for quiet rejoicing that force worked, so far, without having to be used. And pace Jacques Poos, that only happens when those wielding the force are ready to use it. Blair and Clinton were; the outcome is something to celebrate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

My limerick response to Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso

Simon Kelner
The number of ring ouzels have seen a 30 per cent decline in the last 10 years  

How the sight of flocks of ring ouzels helps to turn autumn into the new spring

Michael McCarthy
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London