Dovish hawks and hawkish doves

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics World

So it’s definitely war in three weeks, then. Maybe. The one thing we know for certain is that Time Is Running Out for Iraq. But then, we have been told that time is running out three times a day for as long as anybody can remember.

A small sample of BBC online headlines. ‘Blair: time running out for Iraq’ (February 1, 2003); ‘Bush: time running out for Iraq’ (January 14, 2003); ‘Straw: time running out for Iraq’ (15 September, 2002); and how about ‘Time is running out, UK warns Iraq’ -from November 9, 1998? If Saddam Hussein had six weeks for every time he has been given ‘just six weeks’, he would be set for life.

The pro and anti-war camps are each laying claim to the moral high ground over Iraq. Yet, on closer inspection, both sides seem to be lacking something in the way of moral fortitude.

Take the hawks. If, as many appear to believe, the Bush Administration is cynically using Saddam as the pretext for a crusade to dominate the globe, that would be a cowardly excuse for a war. But if the Washington hawks genuinely believe what they say, that Iraq must be blitzed to make the world safe, that sounds just as bad. If the world’s single superpower can seriously be spooked by a ruined, disintegrating state such as Iraq, it suggests a serious lack of self-belief.

The hawks have hardly lived up to their gung-ho reputation. The endless mantra that ‘time is running out and this time we really, really mean it’ has rather reinforced an impression of reticence. A US Administration that came to office pledging to do what it thought right regardless of anybody else has ended up treating unilateralism as a dirty word, returning to the United Nations Security Council time and again in search of some sort of approval.

Despite their efforts at jutting-jawed decisiveness, the US hawks look increasingly uncertain and defensive. And for all Mr Blair’s righteous rhetoric, the British Government appears almost paralysed by uncertainty over Iraq. On Sunday the media’s favourite old soldier, Colonel Bob Stewart of Bosnia, complained: ‘Soldiers thrive on certainty … They need clear leadership and a clear cause for which to fight. But our soldiers preparing to invade Iraq inhabit a state of confusion.’ Little wonder that the public has yet to sign up for a war, if Army commanders don’t know for what they are supposed to be fighting.

Yet the lack of conviction in the pro-war camp is more than matched by the spinelessness of leading figures in the anti-war lobby. Many of them are not really opposed to wars of intervention at all. The resolution that dissident MPs put to Labour’s national executive says that attacking Iraq is unjustified ‘at this current time’ -not so much anti-war, more anti-war-this-week-without-an-OK-from-Kofi-Annan. There is much support among anti-war protesters for the Franco-German ‘peaceful alternative’. Yet that scheme, for UN inspectors, troops and aircraft to occupy and run Iraq, is really just a plan for a nice, peaceful little war, in which the Iraqis agree to surrender without a shot being fired. There is nothing positive or principled about this sort of anti-war movement. It is the voice of cynicism and defeatism, sentiments well captured by the Coldplay singer Chris Martin’s outburst at the Brits music awards: ‘We’re all going to die when George Bush has his way!’

The anti-war lobby seems driven by a fashionable worship of safety-first and fear that doing anything decisive might make things worse. It is as if the irrational campaign against the MMR triple vaccination has somehow been projected on to the Middle East. It is not just that they don’t want to fight for Bush and Blair; many are not keen to fight for any cause. For ‘Not in my name’, read ‘Leave me alone in my bunker’.

With both sides lacking the courage of their supposed convictions, pro and anti-war lobbies have each ended up hiding behind the United Nations, using the weapons inspectors as human shields in the hope that their reports will win the argument for them. As one UN source puts it: ‘Both sides are looking to Hans Blix to solve their problems.’

Dovish hawks and hawkish doves. Maybe it’s just me, but it is hard to support either side, when they have so little faith in themselves. How is anybody meant to be convinced by those who don’t seem to believe in what they say?

However this mess ends up over there, the Iraqi debacle has already revealed the sorry state of public debate over here. When society appears divided into two camps, both marked by uncertainty bordering on moral cowardice, it suggests that we have battles to fight nearer home to save our democracy. And as we should know by now … time really is running out.

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.

Topics World


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