Eight on Iraq

Foreign writers and scholars share their views on an unfolding crisis.


Article 11 in our series on Ethics

dwij Home Forum Ethics
Salman Rushdie
Denis Halliday
John Berger
Pervez Hoodbhoy

John le Carr
David Hare

Roger Scruton

Edwin Morgan
Our store Contact Us

Including the views of eight respected educators and scholars in our segment on Ethics - Statesperson or Politician - seems most appropriate as we transit the second third of January 2003:—Publisher



Salman Rushdie— writer

There is a strong, even unanswerable case for a "regime change" in Iraq that ought to unite Western public opinion and all those who care about the brutal oppression of an entire Muslim nation.

Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it — and "we" includes, until recently, the government of the United States. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks.

Iraqi opposition groups in exile have been trying to get the West's attention for years. Now, there's a change in Washington's tune. Good. One may suspect the commitment of the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to the creation and support of a free, democratic Iraq, but it remains the most desirable of goals.

The complicating factors, sadly, are this U.S. administration's pre-emptive, unilateralist approach which looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. And the United States' new pre-emptive strike policy would, if applied, make America itself a much less safe place, because if the United States reserves the right to attack any country it doesn't like the look of, then those who don't like the look of the United States might feel obliged to return the compliment. It's not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first.

Nor does America's vagueness about its plans for a post-Hussein Iraq and its own "exit strategy" inspire much confidence.

These are some of the reasons why I have remained unconvinced by President Bush's Iraqi grand design. But as I listen to Iraqi voices describing the numberless atrocities of the Hussein years, then I am bound to say that if, as now seems possible, the United States and the United Nations do agree on a new Iraq resolution; and if Hussein gets up to his old obstructionist tricks or refuses to accept the new U.N. resolution; then the rest of the world must stop sitting on its hands and join the Americans and British in ridding the world of this vile despot and his cohorts.

It should be said loudly that the primary justification for regime change in Iraq is the dreadful and prolonged suffering of the Iraqi people, and that the remote possibility of a future attack on America by Iraqi weapons is of secondary importance. A war of liberation might just be one worth fighting. The war that America is currently trying to justify is not.

©Salman Rushdie 2003




Denis HallidayFormer United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq

In relation to Iraq, UN sanctions and now the threat of another American war, I tend to hold the minority viewpoint. Now I find myself in line with the majority view - that is, the majority viewpoint of the Arab community. I base this on recent visits to Tunis, Cairo, Amman and Baghdad. I failed to find one Arab - official or private citizen - who understands the current crisis between the USA and Iraq to be about weapons of mass destruction. The unanimous view from prime minister to taxi driver is that the conflict is primarily about oil - access, control and cheap! Nobody I talked with sees a threat from Iraq, be it in Turkey, Jordan or Egypt. Why is it that the Washington regime is apparently so threatened? Has it swallowed its own spin, propaganda?

Where is the middle ground? How do we find a solution that saves the face of our two ego-players - Presidents George Bush and Saddam Hussein? Let's make sure there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and as required by UN Resolution 687, lets make sure the entire neighbourhood is equally clean. Let's look at US oil needs, recognise the insecurity of the Saudi supply and have the US negotiate with Baghdad, as a trading partner not as a war-threatened state, a plan for the sale of Iraq's oil over the next 30-50 years at a fair market price. This would serve American interests and provide Iraq with the kind of sustained revenue needed for rebuilding the economy, and thereby restoring to the Iraqi people their economic and social rights.

At the same time, Iraq will want to move forward with a multi-party democratic system for which a constitutional change is now being written. The USA must begin to invest massively in renewable sources of energy while also imposing efficient means for reduced consumption of imported oil. Weaning itself from dependency on Middle East oil serves the best interests of Americans. Likewise, the move toward dialogue and trade would begin the process of restoring the lives of the people of Iraq tragically diminished under 12 years of deadly UN sanctions. This could produce a win-win situation for all concerned, including the United Nations, and the Arab community of the Middle East currently so deeply concerned about the catastrophic impact that an American war on Iraq would have on their well-being.

©Denis Halliday 2003



John BergerAnglo-French writer and critic

I write in a night of shame.

Many fear that U.S. military forces will soon be launching its "preventive" war against Iraq. Others hope that this can be avoided. Between the announced decisions and the secret calculations, everything is kept unclear, since lies prepare the way for missiles.

By shame I do not mean individual guilt. Shame, as I'm coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken.

To understand and take in what is happening, an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect the "fields" which conventional arguments keep separate. The precondition for thinking on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. Any such vision is bound to be, in the original sense of the word, political.

I write in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4000 of whom were gassed — with US compliance — by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastry cooks working in Teheran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali, her name is Aya which means Born on Friday, swaying her baby to sleep.

Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the "freedom" of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.

Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation. The new tyranny, like other recent ones, depends, to a large degree, on a systematic abuse of language. Together we have to reclaim our hijacked words and reject the tyranny's nefarious euphemisms; if we do not, we will be left with only the word shame.

This is written in the night. In war the dark is on nobody's side, in love the dark confirms that we are together.

©John Berger 2003.




Pervez HoodbhoyPakistani nuclear physicist

Three horses draw George W. Bush's furiously racing chariot of war. Their names are Vengeance, Greed, and Fear. Vengeance is a young steed born on 11 September 2001, and gallops well. Greed is old but sturdy, can smell oases of oil from afar, and understands his master's corporate compulsions. The third horse, Fear, is weak and anaemic. Despite lashes from the Texan's whip, he is a drag on the team. Nevertheless he is indispensable for convincing the American public that a puny Saddam Hussein, castrated of weapons of mass destruction, remains a mortal threat to a superpower many oceans away. So far the finest spin doctors in Washington have failed to make Fear strong, and Hans Blix has not been totally helpful. Fortunately, Vengeance and Greed have made up admirably well.

The fanatical hordes spilling out of Pakistan's madrasas see not the horses, nor care about them. But they do imagine seeing Richard the Lion Hearted bearing down upon them. It is, for them, a war between Islam and kufr (unbelief). Sword in hand, they pray to Allah to grant war. Belief in final victory is, of course, never doubted by the faithful. They seek the modern Saladin, one who can miraculously dodge cruise missiles and turn them back to hit their launchers. Who will he be? How many decades, or centuries, shall the modern Crusades last? Surely, a lot longer than you and I will be around for.

©Pervez Hoodbhoy 2003




John le Carré English novelist

This is High Noon for American democracy. The rights and freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. A new McCarthyism is abroad. Bush tells us that those who are not with him are against him. I am not with him.

The American over-reaction is beyond everything Osama could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. But this war was planned long before Osama struck, and it is Osama who made it possible. Without him, the Bush junta would have been mired in Enron, electoral scandal and taxation sleeze. Thanks to Osama, Americans are instead being daily misled by their leaders and by their compliant corporate media.

There is a stink of religious self-righteousness in the air that reminds me of the British Empire at its worst. I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect's sophistries to this patently self-interested adventure to secure our oil supplies.

"But will we win, Daddy?"
"Of course we will, child, and quickly, while you are still in bed."
"But will people be killed, Daddy?"
"There will be a few Western casualties. Very few. Go to sleep."
"And after that, will everything be normal? Nobody will strike back? The terrorists will all be dead?"
"Wait till you're older, dear. Goodnight."
"And is it really true that last time round Iraq lost twice as many dead as America lost in the entire Vietnam war?"
"Hush child. That's called history."

Where's the hurry? Iraq is a vile dictatorship, and Saddam is a monster who sits on the world's second largest oil reserves. But there is ample time to consider how to unseat him before we plunge into this predatory and dishonest war. Leave the UN inspectors there. Convene Iraq's neighbours. And consider for a moment where the will came from to make this war in the first place.

Americans can still awake to the shame of what is being done in their name.

Britain is half way there. The French and Russians have been bribed and browbeaten into submission. Only the good Germans have so far succeeded in sticking to their silent guns. I wish profoundly that the rest of us Europeans, in the spirit of a nobler President, would declare ourselves to be citizens of Berlin.

©John le Carré2003


David Hare playwright

I supported the United States in 2001 when it had a clear right to pursue the murderers of 3,000 of its residents and citizens. To me, the invasion of Afghanistan was justified and inevitable.

Shortly after the assault on his own country, President Bush made an explicit promise that he would work to help reinforce the move towards democracy for the Palestinians, and to reinforce security for the Israelis. Since the beginning of the second intifada, nearly 3000 people have also been killed, over two-thirds of them Palestinian, a majority on both sides, like those in the Twin Towers, innocent victims of a violence in which they themselves had no part.

President Bush has since reneged on all his promises. By his failure of purpose in the Middle East, he has sanctioned extremists who pursue mayhem and murder in pursuit of ultimately unobtainable goals — on one side, continued occupation and expansion ; on the other, an end to the state of Israel.

He has been, thus far, the most self-righteous, dangerous and inadequate President in American history.

No exponent of American foreign policy has been able to explain why one UN resolution — that voted through recently against Iraq — should be made a matter of military urgency, while another, far more pressing resolution — the one which demands the withdrawal of Israeli troops to pre-1967 borders — has been allowed to stand for thirty years, unenforced, mocking Western claims of impartiality and justice.

I cannot understand a species of Christian zealotry prevailing in the White House which seeks only to prioritise the strong over the weak and the rich over the poor — an exact reversal of Christ's stated mission on earth.

An unsanctioned invasion of Iraq has no legitimacy. Its arbitrariness is a hearty gesture of encouragement to terrorists all over the world. Like everyone else, I wish an end to dictatorship — in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia, in Burma and in China, as well as in Iraq. But, most of all, I wish for an American government which has the guts and the vision to imagine a policy for justice and peace in the Middle East.

©David Hare 2003



Roger Scruton English philosopher, novelist and composer

When assessing US foreign policy it is important to remember that America has often intervened around the globe, and is unique in seeking instantly to withdraw thereafter.

It withdrew from Europe after the two world wars, and from Korea, Japan, and (wrongly) Kuwait and Iraq last time round. The Americans tried to withdraw from Vietnam, having established what they believed to be a friendly regime in the South.Of course, the Americans do not withdraw, as a rule, until securing a settlement in their own favour. But such a settlement, they believe, will be one in which the people of the countries involved have acquired the right to elect their own governments. It is very difficult to object to a policy of intervention, when the intention is not to enslave a foreign people, but to liberate them.

Of course, Americans are bluff optimists, often insensitive to history, to local culture, to traditional allegiances and to the balance of power. This may mean that things are less stable after an American intervention than before - as was Europe after Woodrow Wilson's input into the Treaty of Versailles.

But compare the Soviets in Ethiopia and North Yemen, in Eastern Europe or the Baltics; compare the Chinese in Tibet or the Syrians in Lebanon. The vices of the USA are always before us; but the virtues are not sufficiently remembered.

America attracts blame because it responds to blame. Criticism of the Soviet Union was always met with a blank wall of indifference, and in any case could not be publicly voiced within the Soviet Empire itself. Hence, during the Cold War, the US was continually singled out as the source of conflict - notably by people on the Left, who often turned a blind, or at any rate myopic, eye, as did Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm to name but two, to the incredible and still unatoned-for crimes of the Soviet Communist Party.

With tyrannical regimes there is no point in criticism from outside, and death or imprisonment is the reward of criticism from inside. That is why intellectuals brought up under tyrannies end up in the USA. It is the one place where they can criticize freely, not just the countries they have fled from, but the country which has offered them refuge. In the face of virtues like these, the Chomskian and Pilgerish criticisms of US foreign policy begin to look, to say the least, one-sided.

US foreign policy isn't always right. But it emerges from a rational process - one in which criticism is permitted, and accountability assumed. The foreign policies of North Korea and Iraq issue from no such rational process: which is one reason for using force in order to prevent them from issuing at all.

©Roger Scruton



Edwin Morgan poet

I deplore the idea of a declaration of war - or even worse, a military attack without such declaration - on Iraq. I retain the rather forlorn hope that diplomacy will still find a way out of the present impasse without the loss of face, but the steady build-up of American forces (tagged by a token tail-wagging British contingent) may already have acquired a momentum of irreversibility. Who thinks of the consequences? 'Regime change'? By imposition? How about regime change in Jerusalem? In Riyadh? In quite a few other places it would not be hard to name? What looks like the arrogance of American selectivity is of course no more than the reality of power, and it is not new in the world. But there is all the more reason to out it, to question it, to satirise it, since the stakes today are so high. The so-called Gulf War was not really a war but a one-sided massacre. Is British public opinion happy to underwrite what President Bush clearly regards as the finishing of unfinished business? Perhaps it is. If so, these are bad times!

©Edwin Morgan 2003

Click the link below to support the work of our volunteer Internet publication:


Editors note:

Our Ethics segment of the Forum is an effort to hear from many in our communities about the quality of performance and decorum expected from those in positions of leadership; we embrace the fact that each of us is a leader. This is a complex and paradoxical subject; simply about human interrelationship and intentioning. We'll be highlighting the views and dreams of many folks, while honoring a broad range of perspectives and insights on this journey.

© dwij 2003
Our storeContact Us

Click on Q&A to send your questions and comments.

Click on Articles for additional essays.

Click on The Well to access our on-line store. It will be opened shortly and feature art, artifacts, CDs, books and workshop information.

Click Contact for information or eMail: