Marching as to war

I’ve been trying to think straight about the march on Saturday. I shall go, if only to because I regret never bothering to watch the Diana hysteria in Kensington Gardens, and this promises to be the most significant mass demonstration since then. My wife and daughter are completely committed to it. But I feel more reluctance with every passing day.

One reason is that I oppose the war, and if the march has any immediate practical effect, it will be to close off the last chance of peace (assuming peace has a chance at all). It will strengthen Saddam in the belief that he might be able to get away with a war, because his enemies are divided as well as cowardly. It will show Blair that he can’t teeter any longer on the brink, but must risk everything on a quick and overwhelming military victory.

This would be good for the Iraqis. I think it would be very bad for America, and very bad for Britain, in that it would commit both nations to a long-term colonialist project in the Middle East which we don’t really believe in and can’t really afford. The damage to Nato, to the UN, to soft power, and the idea of a universal rule of the law, is immense, of course, and can only grow.

Obviously, once there is a war, it is the worst possible outcome for Saddam to win, or even to survive, so at that point, I stop demonstrating for peace. I don’t see that Britain has any interest in fighting a war to make Ariel Sharon feel safer, nor any moral duty to do so; so the only good to come out of it is a half-decent government for the Iraqis. The Afghan precedent is not encouraging here; but what the Iraqis get can’t be worse than that they’ve got.

By far the strongest moral argument for war is Tony Blair’s: that in the long run, it is better than sanctions; yet war and sanctions are the only two measures that work against Saddam. I opposed sanctions partly becasue I think killing young men in open war is better than killing children in a siege; I wanted a much earlier and better war in Bosnia than the one we got, almost too late, in Kossovo; I remain keenly in favour of invading Rwanda earlier than anyone did. In 1992, I thought we should have gone on to Baghdad.

So I can’t call myself a pacifist, and if it weren’t for the constant stream of lies and arrogance coming out of the war party I might trust them to make the right decision. But I can’t. A good war is better than sanctions: Tony Blair is right. But a bad war — one which ends with Baghdad captured house by house or worse — and a bad peace afterwards, will be worse; and with Bush in charge it seems to me much more likely.

I can’t be certain that it will end badly. I was wrongly pessimistic about the Afghan campaign. I know that the country is neither at peace nor occupied, and Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leaders are still alive. But they have been driven out of their nests, and I didn’t think things would get even that far. The guerrilla war against the Americans has hardly got under way and may never amount to very much.

I supose the strongest reason for marching, though, is that none of this will make any difference. The troops are there. The war will be fought. The British are committed to it. And when I think of this, and of how little democratic control, how little national independence, we have had, my blood simply boils. John Sulston said on Sunday at my book/birthday party, that he was marching to topple Blair, because he didn’t think we’d have any influence on Bush. And I suppose that’s what I will be doing, too; and most of the 500,000 other marchers.

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