The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 3.
write this on March 18, 2003, on the eve of war, haunted by my countryman W. H.
Auden’s lines on September 1, 1939.
sit in one of the dives
On fifty second street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire . . .
I know that what I say can make no difference — it will anyway be
overtaken by events before it is published. All I can attempt is the long view.
Whether or not the war in Iraq has nominally ended by the time you read
this, it will not be over. The Islamic world will be plunged into a seething
stew of humiliated resentment, from which generations of "martyrs"
will rise, led by new Usamas. The scars of enmity between Britain and her
erstwhile friends in Europe may take years to heal. NATO may never recover. As
for the United Nations, quite apart from the corrupt spectacle of the world’s
leading power bribing and bullying small countries to hand over their votes, it
is mortally wounded. The fragile semblance of a rule of law in international
affairs, painstakingly built up since World War II, is collapsing. A precedent
is set for any country to attack any other country it happens to dislike and is
strong enough to defeat. Who knows how this may play itself out, if followed by
North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, or India — countries that really do
have weapons of mass destruction.
Usama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, could hardly have hoped for
this. A mere eighteen months after he boosted the United States to a peak of
worldwide sympathy and popularity unprecedented since Pearl Harbor, the totality
of that international goodwill has been squandered to near zero. Bin Laden must
be beside himself with glee. And, Allah be praised, the infidels are now walking
right into the Iraq trap.
was always a risk for bin Laden that his attacks on New York and Washington
might raise world sympathy for the United States, thereby thwarting his
long-term aim of holy war against the Great Satan. He needn’t have worried.
With the Bush junta at the helm, a camel could have foreseen the outcome. And
the beauty is that it doesn’t matter what happens in the war. Imagine how it
looks from bin Laden’s warped point of view:
If the American victory is swift, Bush
will have done our work for us, removing the hated Saddam Hussein with his
secular, un-Islamic ways, and opening the way for a decent theocracy ruled by
Ayatollahs or Talibanis. Even better, as a war "hero" the strutting,
swaggering Bush may actually win an election. Who can guess what he will then
get up to, and what resentments he will arouse, when he finally has something to
swagger about? We shall have so many martyrs volunteering, we shall run out of
targets. Or, if the American victory is slow and bloody, things might be better
still. Admittedly, Bush will probably fall in 2004 and Saddam be seen as a
martyr, but never mind. The hatred that a prolonged war generates will set us up
for the foreseeable future, even if the Americans elect a less gloriously useful
president. How could we have hoped for more?
A handful of the zealous faithful,
mostly Saudis with a few Egyptians, armed only with box-cutters and deep
religious faith, simultaneously commandeered four large airliners and flew three
of them, undisturbed by fighter aircraft or — mysteriously — by any
immediate government attention at all, into large buildings with catastrophic
loss of life. Praise be to Allah. But mark the sequel. It is almost too good to
be true but, as a direct consequence of this attack, the entire might of the
United States Army, Navy, and Air Force is diverted away from us and hurled at a
completely different country, whose only connection with 9/11 is that its people
belong to the same "race"’ and religion as our glorious martyrs.
anyone may say about weapons of mass destruction, or about Saddam’s savage
brutality to his own people, the reason Bush can now get away with his war is
that a sufficient number of Americans see it as revenge
for 9/11. This is not only bizarre.
It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice, given that nobody has made even a
faintly plausible case that Iraq had anything to do with the atrocity. It was
Arabs that hit the World Trade Center, right?
So let’s go and kick Arab ass. Those 9/11 terrorists were Muslims,
right? Right. And Iraqis are Muslims, right? Right. That does it.
official reasons for this war were equally applicable before 9/11, and before
the last election. Yet, though it has certainly lurked, ever since the first
Gulf War, in the dark minds of some of the men behind Bush, it never got a
mention in his election manifesto, nor in that of his stooge Blair.1 Indeed, of
all major world leaders, only Germany's Gerhard Schröder has put the war to an
electorate — he was against it — and consequently he could claim to be the
only one with a democratic mandate for what he is now doing.
for my own country, even the minority who support Tony Blair’s pro-Bush policy
do so with the minimum of enthusiasm. Max Hastings is a veteran newspaper editor
with a stalwart reputation, dating back to even before the Falklands war, as a
right-wing hawk on most issues. If anybody among British opinion-formers could
have been expected to stand with Bush, it is
Hastings. In the Telegraph,
Britain’s most consistently right-wing newspaper, Hastings has written a
remarkable piece, which is worth quoting.
Some of us have
always argued that this is not a crisis about handling Iraq — it is about how
the rest of the world manages the US. Our only superpower possesses the means to
impose its will anywhere, without military aid from anyone. It is vital that
allies should dissuade the US from pursuing a unilateral foreign policy, which
is why I, for one, reluctantly support British participation in the war. . . .2
Hastings explains how Tony
Blair’s desperate efforts to salvage some sort of respectability in
international law were fatally undermined by the Bush administration’s
transparent intention to go to war whatever happened, following a predetermined
This was an irresistible invitation for
others, notably the French, to throw the toys out of the pram. Mr.
Bush and his colleagues have casually insulted half the globe. . . . Watching
[Donald Rumsfeld] in diplomatic action reminds one of an elephant taking a
stroll in a Japanese bonsai garden. . . .3
Hastings hopes for a swift
American victory that will leave the world “a marginally better place without
Saddam.” But he notes:
Mr. Bush has achieved
the near-impossible, by creating an international constituency for Saddam.
Heaven help us; if he persists with his doctrine of the rightness of might after
capturing Baghdad, he could build a coalition in support of Kim Jong Il.
seems sincerely to see the world as a battleground between Good and Evil (the
capital letters are deliberate). It is Us against Them, St. Michael’s angels
against the forces of Lucifer. We shall smoke out the Amalekites, send a posse
after the Midianites, smite them all, and let God deal with their souls. Some of
Bush’s faithful supporters even welcome war as the necessary prelude to
Armageddon and the Rapture. We must presume, or at least hope, that Bush himself
is not quite of that bonkers persuasion. But he really does seem to believe that
he is wrestling, on God’s behalf, against some sort of disembodied spirit of
(like "Sin" and like "Terror," Bush’s favorite target
before the current Iraq distraction) is not an entity, not a spirit, not a force
to be opposed and subdued. Evil is a collection of nasty things that nasty
people do. There are nasty people in every country, stupid people, insane
people, people who, for all sorts of reasons, should never be allowed to get
anywhere near power. Just killing nasty people doesn’t help: they will simply
be replaced. We must try to tailor our institutions, our constitutions, our
electoral systems so as to minimize the chance that they will rise to the top.
In the case of Saddam Hussein, we in the West must bear some guilt. The United
States, Britain, and France have all, from time to time, done our bit to shore
up Saddam and even arm him.
let us look to our own vaunted democratic institutions. The population of the
United States is nearly 300 million, including many of the best-educated, most
talented, most resourceful, most ingenious, most humane people on Earth. By
almost any measure of civilized attainment, from Nobel Prize-counts on down, the
United States leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such
resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to devise a constitution
and an electoral procedure that would ensure a leadership of the highest
quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party
caucuses, after all the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more
of nonstop electioneering bustle and balloons and razzmatazz, who, out of that
entire population of 300 million, has emerged at the top of the heap? George W.
Those of us who marched through London, a
million strong, to oppose Tony Blair’s craven support for the Iraq war are
sometimes accused of anti-Americanism. I vigorously repudiate the charge. I am
strongly pro-American, which is one reason I am passionately anti-Bush. You
didn’t elect him. You deserve better, and so do the rest of us. Even if the
Florida vote wasn’t deliberately rigged, Al Gore’s majority in the country,
reinforcing his majority in the Electoral College but for dead-heated Florida,
should have led a just and unpartisan Supreme Court to award the tie-breaker to
him. Bush came to power by what I can only, if oxymoronically, call a
constitutional coup d’état.
Forgive my presumption, but could it just be
that there is something a teeny-weeny bit wrong with that famous U.S.
constitution? Is it really a good idea, for example, that a single person’s
vote, buried deep within the margin of error for a whole state, can by itself
swing a full twenty-five votes in the Electoral College, one way or the other?
And is it really sensible that money should translate itself so directly and
transparently into electoral success, so that a successful candidate must either
be very rich or prepared to sell favors to those who are? Would you do business
with a company that devoted an entire year to little else than headhunting its
new CEO, from the strongest field in the world, and ended up with George W.
Bush? Think about it, guys.
Many of them are listed on the remarkable Web site of the Project for
the New American Century
Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and the author of numerous best-selling books about science and evolution. He is a regular columnist in
Free Inquiry magazine.