The price of freedom

August 20, 2002 ,

THE temperature seems to be rising again as summer draws towards its close, at least as far as Iraq is concerned. This week, we have heard a series of increasingly hawkish speeches from American government officials, suggesting that war is ever more likely. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compared Saddam Hussein with Hitler, and George W Bush with Winston Churchill, the "lone voice" warning against the dictator's aggression in the 1930s.

Winston Churchill was not always the most popular politician among people in South Wales. His decision as Home Secretary to call in the troops against Welsh miners is still remembered. One Welsh MP, I know, scowls each time he passes the commemorative plaque to Churchill in Westminster Hall.

But to compare Churchill's warnings about Hitler with President Bush's approach on Iraq is absurd.

There is no doubt that, like Hitler, Saddam Hussein is a vicious dictator. He used poisonous gas against his own citizens when they dared to question his power. But the implication contained in the Churchill comparison, that those of us who question US policy on Iraq are appeasers, is offensive and wrong. The word appeasement does not mean a preference for a pursuit of peaceful means and diplomacy over the use of military power.

Churchill himself said: "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war."

The policy pursued by Neville Chamberlain towards Hitler in the 1930s was appeasement, because it involved actively aiding the aggressor against his victims in order to avoid war.
The Munich Agreement of 1938, whereby part of Czechoslovakia was cut off and given to Germany against the will of the Czech government, was a despicable act of appeasement which fed the appetite of Hitler. It encouraged him to go and invade the rest of Czechoslovakia and then Poland, at which point Britain declared war.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations agreed that military force could be used to expel the Iraqis. Not to do so would have constituted appeasement. But the proposition now being put forward by the USA, that the President has the power to order an invasion of Iraq to remove its government without recourse to Congress, let alone the UN, is a deeply dangerous one. The idea that UN resolutions passed in 1990 could be used now to justify war with Iraq in order to remove Saddam Hussein is humbug. There is a deep suspicion that George W Bush regards this as unfinished business, because his father as President failed to press on Baghdad to remove the Iraqi dictator last time around.

Furthermore, Israel is in breach of countless UN resolutions, but is never held to account. The real priority should be to seek a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question, which has the potential to spill into general war in the Middle East.

When this last happened in the 1970s, the direct consequences for Britain included mass unemployment, runaway inflation, power cuts and the three-day week.

I am not a pacifist. As with Hitler, military action in response to aggression is sometimes the painful price of preserving freedom. But it is not appeasement to point out that war against Iraq without United Nations support would be a dangerous and destabilising departure from the rule of international law.