Sep 19th, 2004, 10:48 PM
Iraq's no worse than Ulster. Seriously.
All the good things they never tell you about today's Iraq
By Mark Steyn
The other day, the BBC interviewed Kofi Annan. Don't ask me why. But, in the course of the programme, the United Nations Secretary-General said that the liberation of Iraq did not conform to the UN Charter and therefore was "illegal".
The best response to that comes from George W Bush, after Gerhard Schroder made a similar point last year: "International law?" said the President. "I better call my lawyer. He didn't bring that up to me."
As the Australian Prime Minister John Howard (not to be confused with Michael Howard, ever) observed, the problem with the UN is that it's "paralysed", and that paralysis favours the bad guys, whether in Iraq or Iran, where perpetual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring seems to be barely a hindrance to the full-steam-ahead nuclear programme.
In Sudan, the civilised world is (so far) doing everything to conform with the UN charter, which means waiting till everyone's been killed and then issuing a strong statement expressing grave concern.
As for Iraq, the UN system designed to constrain Saddam was instead enriching him, through the Oil-for-Food programme, and enabling him to subsidise terrorism. Given that the Oil-for-Fraud programme was run directly out of Kofi Annan's office, the Secretary-General ought to have the decency to recognise that he had his chance with Iraq, he blew it, and a period of silence from him would now be welcome.
He's not the only voice from the lost world of September 10, 2001 weighing in. John Kerry, the doomed Democrat, has abandoned any talk of "victory" - in Iraq, I mean; he's still hopeful of holding New Jersey. But instead he is promising to let America's troops "come home", which is another way of saying "surrender".
Then there are the naysayers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who, as we now know, were claiming before the war that nothing could be done, nothing would go right, patently absurd to think Iraq can ever be a democracy, old boy. Topple Saddam, install his replacement, and pretty soon Iraq would be reverting to type. "Military coup could succeed coup until an autocratic Sunni dictator emerged who protected Sunni interests. With time he could acquire WMD."
I have no problem with that. If the best-case scenario is that Iraq winds up as agreeable as my beloved New Hampshire, the worst case was laid out by yours truly in this space three years ago, on September 27, 2001, when I acknowledged that a post-Saddam Iraq might wind up merely with "a thug who's marginally less bloody.
But a new thug is still better than letting the old thug stick around to cock snooks at you. If Saddam had been toppled, the nutter du jour would have come to power in the shadow of the cautionary tale of his predecessor".
That's still the bottom line. It is the stability of the Middle East - the stability of the Ba'athists, Ayatollahs, Sauds, the Arafats and Mubaraks - that has enabled it to export its toxins. At a bare minimum, we need a kind of Sam Goldwyn Doctrine: I'm sick of the old dictators-for-life. Bring me some new dictators-for-life.
But in Iraq we are already way beyond that. After the predictions of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and a mass refugee crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe and wall-to-wall cholera and dysentery all failed to pan out, the naysayers fell back on predictions of imminent civil war. But the civil war's as mythical as the universal dysentery.
There is a problem in the Sunni Triangle and in certain Baghdad suburbs. If you look at the figures for August, over half the 71 US fatalities that month died in one province - al-Anbar, which covers much of the Sunni Triangle.
Most of the remainder were killed dispatching young Sadr's goons in Najaf or in operations against other Sunni Triangulators in Samarra, with a couple of isolated incidents in Mosul and Kirkuk. In 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces, not a single US soldier died.
Do you remember that moment of Fallujah-like depravity in Ulster a few years ago? Two soldiers were yanked from a cab in the wrong part of town and torn apart by a Republican mob. A terrible, shaming episode in the wretched annals of Northern Irish nationalists. But in the rest of the United Kingdom - in Bristol, in Coventry, Newcastle, Aberdeen - life went on, very pleasantly.
That's the way it is in Iraq. In two-thirds of the country, municipal government has been rebuilt, business is good, restaurants are open, life is as jolly as it has been in living memory. This summer the Shia province of Dhi Qar, south-east of Baghdad, held the first free elections in its history, electing secular independents and non-religious parties to its town councils.
The Kurdish North, which would be agitating for secession if real civil war were looming, is for the moment content to be Scotland. The Sunni Triangle, meanwhile, looks like being the fledgling Iraqi federation's Northern Ireland for a while to come.
That's a pity. But, if you can quarantine it, the difference between it and the rest of the country will become starker, month by month.
The "insurgents", meanwhile, so admired by Michael Moore, John Pilger and Tariq Ali, are rather short of supporters closer to home, which isn't surprising given that they are killing many more Iraqis than Americans.
But the beauty of handing over "sovereignty" to Ayad Allawi is that the new Prime Minister has more freedom of manoeuvre than Paul Bremer ever had, and, as he doesn't have to give press conferences on CNN every morning, there will be fewer questions afterwards.
What I find odd about the gloom'n'doom crowd at the FCO is that, for all the condescending cracks about how these blundering Yanks haven't a clue about this colonialism business, it is the Foreign Office wallahs who seem to have lost their collective imperial memory.
The Malayan "emergency", to take one example, lasted from 1948 to 1960, and at the end of it Britain midwifed what can reasonably claim to be one of the least worst Islamic states in the world. The nellies briefing Jack Straw seem to have lost all historical perspective.
That is not to say there are not serious questions about both short-term tactics (Fallujah, Najaf) and long-term goals (a democratic Iraq). But neither the newly parochial post-internationalist Left, unable to get past its "BLAIR LIED!!! PEOPLE DIED!!!!!" nursery rhymes, nor the snob Right - the Max Hastings/Douglas Hurd/Crispin Tickell crowd - has any useful contribution to make to this debate.
Instead, all the discussion is within factions of the American Right - between the "neocons", with their plans to democratise the Middle East, and the more traditional "assertive nationalists", whose hopes for a foetid region are a little less ambitious. That's worth arguing over, but it is not an argument you can enter if you have got no useful proposals of your own.
And, in the end, the reality is this. A few weeks ago, Prof Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Muslim world, told Die Welt that "Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century". That seems demographically unavoidable.
Given that much of what we now know as the civilised world will be Muslim, it seems prudent to ensure that what is already the Muslim world is civilised. And, for those who say that Islam is incompatible with democracy, we might as well try to buck that in Iraq today than in France, Scandinavia and Britain the day after tomorrow.
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