Saddam must go, but don't lie to me about the reasons

By Boris Johnson
(Filed: 26/12/2002)

The brutal reality of the American electoral cycle means that Saddam Hussein must be gone by 2004. That is when George W Bush is up for re-election.

Given all that Dubya has now said about "regime change", he cannot possibly present himself to the American people if the Butcher of Baghdad is still in office, waving his pearl-handled revolver and making insulting remarks about the Bush family. Never mind the oil, or the potential boost to the American economy, or the security issues: that is the paramount reason why there will be a war sometime between now and then.

It is also a brutal reality that Britain's global role is to do more or less what the Americans want, in order to achieve maximum "influence" in Washington. You can quibble with this cunningly supine approach, which the Foreign Office also uses in Brussels; but it has been followed by every British prime minister since Suez, and Blair is no exception.

If I am right that Bush's electoral fate is now inextricably linked to Saddam Hussein, and if Blair is unlikely to let a chink of daylight between London and Washington, then it follows that America and Britain will in the near-ish future launch a violent attack on Iraq.

If we know the Pentagon, there must be a very good chance that this will be an outstandingly successful and stress-free war, with computerised drones queueing up over Baghdad and Basra to pulverise the relevant silos and barracks.

There must also be a risk, however, that the war will not only involve the deaths of many innocents, but will also cost the British taxpayer considerable sums. The latest figures suggest our bill could be #5 billion, which is almost as much as Labour blew on foot and mouth. That is why it is so important to persuade the public to snap out of their current curmudgeonliness.

With 65 per cent currently opposed to military action, one can see why the Government goes to such lengths to pretend, for instance, that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qa'eda network.

At every key moment in the Iraq drama, there is a little Whitehall-generated drum-roll of alarm about a terrorist threat in London. Last week, the Americans declared that Iraq was in material breach of UN resolution 1441. The war came closer! And offstage, as if by magic, government sources muttered about anthrax on the Tube, smallpox in the water supply, etc.

It is a cynical and ludicrous attempt at Pavlovian conditioning. War in Iraq! Terrorist threat! War in Iraq! Terrorist threat! On it will go until the poor mutton-headed public believes that only the first will obviate the threat of the second.

It is a belief for which, alas, there is no evidence whatever. Try as he may, Blair has been unable to link Saddam with September 11, and we have no good grounds for thinking a war on Saddam will make future al-Qa'eda attacks less likely.

Which brings us to the other grounds for war: the weapons of mass destruction, and the Keystone Kops of the UN fossicking around hopelessly in their search for evidence.

This week Blix and co continued their Cook's Tour of the Mesopotamian Rustbelt, sniffing around a milk factory that has already been blown up twice by allied forces, in 1991 and 1998. They confirmed that, as a producer of milk, the factory was pretty washed up. They did not, it seems, find any weapons of mass destruction.

That's not good enough, say the Americans. Washington, and London, want Baghdad to prove that it has no weapons of mass destruction, which is a singular demand. Suppose you accuse me of having an illegal weapon in my house. You may refuse to believe me. That is your right.

But how on earth am I supposed to prove that I don't? Produce a few non-certificates for my non-revolver? It is up to you to prove that I do have a revolver under the floorboards; and that is why it is utterly demented, now that Saddam has let the weapons inspectors back in, that Blix and co are blithering about, without any decent intelligence to back them up.

If Washington wants our support for military action against the possessor of these weapons, then the world needs to be convinced, as soon as possible, that they are there. That means assisting Blix in distinguishing anthrax from fermented goat's milk. And if America won't help, then the whole business starts to smell worse than one of these devastated desert dairies.

If we are really concerned about the weapons of mass destruction, then let the UN process work itself through, and if Blix finds something, and Saddam won't destroy it, then by all means let's send in the stealth bombers and the cruise missiles and the B52s, and let's do the job ourselves. If I had an illegal revolver in my house, I could hardly object if the police decided to burst in and put it beyond use.

I could hardly protest, especially if they had been waiting for months on my doorstep, in ever increasing numbers, and had given me ample warning of their intentions, and every opportunity to dispose of the thing myself.

But I think I might feel hard done by if the police decided that, in order to accomplish this end, it was necessary to blow up my house, and kill me and many of my relatives. That sense of injustice would be all the greater if they had no real proof that I had the wretched revolver in the first place.

It may be that there is a very good case for getting rid of Saddam without any of these tiresome pretexts about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The world would unquestionably be the better for his removal.

Perhaps America should be encouraged to go around making appropriate adjustments to the geopolitical scene. Many of us would be prepared to listen to such a case. But it would help if someone started to make it honestly.

  • Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator