Too scared to fight…

...and too scared not to fight. spiked editor Mick Hume on the Iraqi crisis, in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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Which scares you more today – the consequences of bombing Iraq, or of not bombing Iraq? Fear is the key in the debate about how to deal with Saddam Hussein. Both pro and anti-war lobbies are hitting the panic button rather than offering us rational arguments. The result is a climate of uncertainty and anxiety. This is no way to run an international crisis.

Yesterday the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced the deployment of thousands more British troops to the Gulf. In the absence of convincing evidence to justify war with Iraq (‘documents are not weapons of mass destruction,’ as the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, puts it), the Government is deploying its propaganda weapon of last resort: fear.

War could be the only way, we are assured, to save the world and ‘future generations’ (when in doubt, throw in the kiddies) from the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

But fear is a double-edged sword. It seems to be making some less keen on going to the Gulf, or anywhere else where there might be trouble. The VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), the UK charity that sends skilled professionals to developing countries, has announced a 40 per cent fall in recruitment since September 11, 2001, reportedly because of ‘fear of terrorist attacks abroad and economic uncertainty at home’.

Elsewhere there are reports that fear -whether of being shot at in the Gulf or given the bullet by employers back home -has prompted many British military reservists to ask to be exempted from the call-up.

The creeping fear of what might happen next is influencing public opinion even in the American heartlands. President George W. Bush is not having the easy ride that some expected in selling Gulf War II to the public. The latest polls suggest that 80 per cent of Americans would support a war against Saddam ‘only with the full backing of the United Nations Security Council’.

Since when did the majority of Americans base their world view on what the Russian, Chinese or (worse) French Governments say at the UN? It seems more likely that many are grabbing at the UN argument as a fig leaf, to cover their own deeper discomfort over what a war with Iraq might bring. If there is nervous uncertainty in the US, it starts at the very top. The Bush Administration is proceeding far more gingerly than its gung-ho rhetoric might suggest. White House hawks tell us that Saddam poses a mortal threat to all that they hold dear. If they truly believe what they say, one might expect them to act to oust him without ado (as the US and Britain have done often enough in that region), or to blow Iraq off the map, no matter what Dr Blix and the UN bureaucrats say.

Yet, apparently wary of risking unilateral action, the US has come back time and again to the UN looking for approval. With recent pronouncements suggesting that Washington is unsure whether to send Saddam an invasion force or a free ticket to exile, the placard carrier in San Francisco is not the only American left with the feeling that ‘Bush is an empty warhead’. The US military itself does not seem immune to the mood of anxiety. On the eve of a potential conflict, a fair proportion of the Armed Forces appears preoccupied with the alleged danger posed by its own anthrax vaccine -another Gulf War syndrome in the making, before the war has even started. For their part, British forces are apparently worried about whether their guns and tanks will work in the desert, and the risks of being killed by friendly fire from American pilots popping ‘go pills’.

Expect the court writs to start flying as soon as the bullets stop. Fear has become the most potent weapon of the anti-war movement, too. Prominent critics of the Bush-Blair campaign are not particularly anti-war or anti-intervention at all. They were happy enough to support other wars of foreign intervention, such as that against the Serbs over Kosovo. Their concerns over Iraq have more to do with panic than principle.

‘Not in my name’ is the defining slogan of the anti-war lobby. Presented as a highly ethical stance, it looks more like a low moral cop-out. It is saying, you wage war if you must, but leave me alone in my bunker; less the battle cry of a political anti-war movement than the collective whine of frightened individuals.

Far more than Saddam, fear threatens everything that is civilised in our society. On one side it is a force for foreign wars and illiberal measures at home. On the other it offers an excuse for moral cowardice and defeatism. Fear is the weapon of mass destruction we should fear most of all. And we don’t need any UN inspectors to tell us where to find it.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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