Friday, May 20, 2005

Spot The Difference

It's taken me the best part of a week to get a chance to write this, but a post regarding the obscene events in Uzbekistan has been brewing all that time. The humanitrian issues involved echoed strongly my worries regarding Iraq, which I've written about in the past.

The reprimand and subsequent dismissal of British ambassador Craig Murray was a curious affair, and one that deeply concerned me at the time. His claims of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan being ignored by Britain, at the behest of their mutual ally the United States, was a scandal, and it was depressing that the story only caught the attention of the Grauniad in any significant manner. While Murray's subsequent parliamentary candidature on an anti-war platform has rather diminished his stature, it seems his interpretation of events is increasingly proved right: that pro-democracy campaigners are being suppressed as "Islamic terrorists", and the UK and USA turning a blind eye because of Uzbekistan's geopolitical significance to their alliance.

The war in Iraq was justified to us on many grounds. The first rumours of his involvement in the September 11th attacks withered away rather quickly, presumably when evidence proved non-existant. In Mr. Campbell's sexy dossier, the emphasis was on Saddam's capability to wage war on the West. It now seems that that dossier made possibilities into certainties, and presented analytical assessments in a dishonest manner. At the time, the rational judgement of an otherwise ill-informed citizen must have been to trust that dossier. I did, and I still opposed the war, believing that Saddam's capability (the same as many other nasty dictators) did not justify a pre-emptive strike at this time. Additionally, as written elsewhere, I have grave concerns about international precedents being set. The morality of an action is not just in its cause and effect, but in the generalised principle you are establishing and endorsing. Hence, procedure matters.

But the default justification for the war since the weapons dossier's debunking has been a humanitarian one. This was left to lie, skulking, in the background, until it became the only justification the Bush and Blair administrations had left. It should always have been centre stage, because it is the best argument to remove Saddam. If discussing the war with someone like Ann Clwyd, who always backed the invasion on a judgement that it would be a net improvement to the humanitarian situation in Iraq, I wouldn't have had a problem. I embrace the principle of intervention by force on a humanitarian basis. I wish we had done so in Rwanda, and it should be a realistic possibility in crisis points such as Darfur. In these cases, we have a judgement call on when military intervention and foreign invasion will make a net humanitarian improvement.

Yet behind that principle, which is now the fig leaf of the Iraq War, is a universalised moral principle of humanitarian action. When we hear George Bush speak of spreading freedom around the world, he sounds like, Jimmy Carter, a greater President than Dubya will ever be. Carter was undoubtedly an unsuccessful President, but that was in many ways because he was too good for America. He offered an altruistic vision of America as a moral superpower, and that vision was rejected. At least America produced such a possibility, even if it did not take it: in such a respect, britain is far worse, for never producing such a leader.

If George W. Bush really matched Carter's principles as well as his rhetoric, I would be his gretatest supporter. But if he did, we would currently be publicly exposing the abuses that are happening in Uzbekistan, and seeking out human rights abuses wherever they are, even if that is within states it would be pragmatically useful to keep happy.

Currently, we are operating on a false claim of humanitarianism in Iraq, if we will not universalize that commitment to upholding human rights by force. The secondary issue of when force is appropriate and when its threat is better, is one to deal with on a case-by-case basis. Sign me up a neo-con, if it actually meant vigorous defense of human rights-- as it is, it seems that our "humanitarian policy" is driven by oil and realpolitic.

The war in Iraq is a stain on the conscience of every citizen of a country which perpetrated it. There's no "not in my name" get-out clause from citizenship; it is in your name and you have to live with that. But what is a greater stain on our conscience is Uzbekistan, for it proves the bankruptcy of the "humanitarian policy" that now stands as the only justification for Iraq.