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Saturday, March 20, 2004

Moral cowardice?

It is true that the decision by the Spanish Government to pull out of Iraq has effectively come too late to halt the thousands of unnecessary deaths that the war there has brought. It is true too, that given the situation from where we now start, we cannot justify leaving Iraq to its own devices. The West has done enough damage and it now has a moral duty not to leave the Country until there is some sustainable stability and a chance of economic recovery. Popular at home as it was therefore, the action of the new Spanish Prime Minister in withdrawing his troops, was most probably the wrong one, though if he can use that decision as a bargaining tool to lever in a UN presence to replace the British and US troops then he may well be proved right in the end.

Too describe the Spanish plan as "moral cowardice" as Michael Howard has done, however, is just total nonsense. The Tory leader repeated the mantra of the moral blackmailers of the right that the result of the Spanish election had appeased terrorism and then went on to make the extraordinary (but not new) claim that the invasion of Iraq was somehow something to do with fighting terrorism. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

It is now clear from opinion polls that the eventual victors of the Spanish election were already two points ahead of the Government in opinion polls the day before the Madrid bombings. Faced with a Government that seemed prepared to use this atrocity for electoral reasons by spinning that it was the work of ETA (or E.T.A. as George W. Bush would have it) and which had defied them in taking Spain into the war in the first place they reacted with the disgust and anger of any other decent people and threw the right wing governing party out on their ear. The Spanish people reacted to terror by voting in greater numbers, in other words they reaffirmed the democratic process in the face of those who would subvert it with violence. Nothing could be further from appeasement. The implications of comments like those from Michael Howard and others on the American right is that actually terrorism should be allowed to interfere with the democratic process. They argue that in the face of atrocity the voters should stick with the status quo. That is the real appeasement of a terrorist act.

As for the implication that the invasion of Iraq was about combatting terrorism, I am afraid that Michael Howard, George W. Bush, Tony Blair et al are becoming victims of their own rhetoric. In truth the goalposts seem to shift from week to week. We were firstly told that we were going into Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction. Then, when WMDs failed to appear, the war became one that was about regime change. Now we are told that we went in to fight terrorism, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of Al Quaeda, that there was no evidence that he was sponsoring terrorism and there was nothing to link him to the atrocity that was 9/11. In addition there is strong evidence to show that Bush was planning the invasion well before the attack on New York and the Pentagon. Like many other wars before it the one waged by the USA on Iraq is about economic and political influence with some element of personal animosity thrown in. In such circumstances it was morally unacceptable for Blair to throw his hat in the ring alongside Bush and completely baffling as to why Michael Howard now wishes to jump on this particular bandwagon. We have to be strong in the fight against terrorism it is true, but surely it is our duty to be effective as well. Rhetoric and moral blackmail does not shield us from bombs and bullets. Perhaps somebody should tell the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition this obvious truth.

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