Sunday, December 31, 2006

The lessons the West must learn from this tyrant's death

Western intervention in Iraq has been flawed; our reluctance to act in other parts of the world has been equally catastrophic

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[big snip]
Saddam Hussein made his attackers forget the limits of their influence and power. The wish to destroy him erased the fact that Iraq has never been moulded to British will and that enemies cannot easily be vanquished when history and logic are fighting on their side. And now his long shadow hangs over a New Year crowded by much else that the West forgot to remember.

The post-Saddam world splits down many fracture lines, almost all connected to the war on terror. Regions of Africa are facing terrible wars, partly because ancient crises simply slipped out of Western minds. Ethnic cleansing, torture and mayhem in Darfur and Somalia have been airbrushed away by disaster in Iraq, peril in Afghanistan, war in Lebanon and a deepening crisis in Palestine. Of the 'axis of evil' states, North Korea has the bomb and Iran races towards a nuclear deterrent.

So how curious that 2007 is to be a softly-softly year. The doctrine that threats should be eliminated, not managed, is more or less defunct, though nostalgic neocons (and even hawkish Democrats) do not rule out a strike against Tehran. But the watchword is realism, larded with national interest. In America's case, that means co-existence rather than assault. Lie low, stay off the trigger. Prefer the negotiating table to the bullet, bomb and gallows.

By bitter irony, it took Saddam to drill home that reciprocity and compromise are far preferable to the delusion that Western military power can conquer all. But the paradox of 2007 is this. The West is contemplating a switch to tea-and-cake diplomacy at the very moment when parts of the world cry out in vain for muscular solutions.

Take Darfur, where rape and slaughter pass for social dialogue: As many as 300,000 people have died in three years and two million are homeless. The conflict has spilled over into Chad, and the world stands impotently by, in the hope that President Bashir might graciously put out the welcome mat for the peacekeeping force mandated by the UN.

Take Somalia. The Islamic grouping that maintained rough law and order has fled before the Ethiopian troops tacitly backed by George W Bush. Warlords are already moving into the vacuum at the heart of one of the most savage and anarchic capitals on earth, and the cornerstone of a new war of Christian versus Muslim has been laid. Mogadishu urgently needs all-party talks and UN peacekeepers. Recent history suggests that Tolkien's army of Isengard is as likely to ride to its rescue.

This Tuesday, a new UN Secretary General takes up his post. A process so haphazard that it might have been devised to elect a parish council treasurer produced Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean diplomat of unimpeachable obscurity. Though nicknamed 'the slippery eel' at home for his sinuous cultivation of the media, few outsiders have ever previously heard of him. It is possible that Mr Ban is a firebrand. He will need to be and so will others. We get the UN we deserve. When resolutions are reluctantly passed and rarely implemented, then transgressors carry on killing with impunity. The old, great powers are effete and cowed by the dead Saddam. When leaders talk of victory in Iraq, they mean: never again. And so humanitarian intervention, the vital long-stop against genocide, becomes unthinkable.

In Africa, in 2007, such cowardice will not suffice. The sheer scale of bloodshed has anaesthetised sorrow and stopped tears. Who weeps for the Darfurian child whose mother left to pick up firewood and never came home? Not many, when the UN High Commission for Refugees works on a shoestring budget of £550m to care for 21 million people.

War zones need more money, more peacekeepers and less of the military force that is either useless or unusable. That means scaling down Western nuclear weapons and redrafting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Britain, for all the influence it has squandered in Iraq, can help force change in 2007. It can band with Europe and demand concerted action to help Darfur and Somalia. It can lobby for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council to be extended. Its Parliament must stop Trident Two.

These are the lessons of Saddam and of a war that should never have been fought. If the West can reacquaint itself with humanity and history, then some debacles of the past year may yet be laid to rest alongside a dead dictator. As Saddam goes to his grave, it is time to remember who to help, and when to fight, and what to mourn.


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