Joe Conason's Journal

Is Tony Blair really interested in a "peaceful solution"? Plus: A prominent Iraqi exile angrily exposes the U.S.'s plans for a postwar Iraq.

Published February 18, 2003 5:29PM (EST)

A war for democracy?
The weekend's historic demonstrations gave a warning to European politicians who have sided with the Bush administration against "old Europe." The fall of conservatives Jose Maria Aznar in Spain and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy certainly would be no loss, but England's Tony Blair is another matter. (Aznar's deflated Socialist opponents have suddenly pulled even with him in the latest polls, while Blair's ratings have dropped "through the floor.") Despite his truckling to George W. Bush, the prime minister has from time to time articulated higher aspirations for his own country and the world. For a while last fall, he seemed to be acting as a brake on the worst impulses of the White House and Pentagon hawks. Instead, he now appears to have taken on the messianism of his new friends in the White House. His speech at the Labour Party conference in Glasgow was not a good sign.

Aside from Blair's attempts to conflate the very different threats posed by al-Qaida and Iraq, his argument reveals a fundamental deception by the war camp. He and his foreign minister Jack Straw have both claimed, as Blair did again in Glasgow, that they yearn for a "peaceful solution" to the Iraq crisis, and that such a solution is still possible if only Saddam will cooperate. Yet they simultaneously insist that the only truly moral outcome is to depose Saddam and relieve the Iraqi people of his murderous rule. Is Blair really interested in an alternative to war? And if so, how would he square a negotiated deal with the moral imperative of ousting the Baathist regime?

Blair's rhetoric about democracy and human rights is already giving way to the more realistic prospects for postwar Iraq: namely, an authoritarian government that squashes the Kurdish and Shia peoples while protecting the Baathist remnant. Kanan Makiya, one of the more respected figures in the Iraqi exile opposition, angrily exposed those U.S. plans in the London Observer on Sunday. This is Makiya's description of the plan presented to him by Zalmay Khalilzad, the former oil company representative who now serves as U.S. envoy, and other American officials:

"The United States is on the verge of committing itself to a post-Saddam plan for a military government in Baghdad with Americans appointed to head Iraqi ministries, and American soldiers to patrol the streets of Iraqi cities.

"The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the U.S. of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government."

Meanwhile, the Turkish government is demanding billions in tribute and the right to invade northern Iraq and crush nascent Kurdistan. The Independent's excellent Patrick Cockburn, reporting from Erbil where he interviewed Kurdish leaders, says they now "fear that a U.S.-led war against President Saddam might be the occasion for a Turkish effort to end the de facto independence enjoyed by Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade." How terribly predictable it is that the supposed friends of Kurdish self-determination would betray them yet again. Critics of the antiwar demonstrators arraigned them for their naiveté -- an accusation always directed at advocates of peace, sometimes plausibly. But how naive are those who believe that the aim of the impending war is to "liberate" Iraq?
[9:33 a.m. PST, Feb. 18, 2003]

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