Johann Hari and why he is wrong
Johann Hari, writing in the Independent today, suggests that we should listen to the Iraqi people, as opposed to politicians and a ‘remote British lawyer’, before we form our opinions over the war. As an example of our ignorance of the Iraqi’s opinions, he cites the television show when June Sarpong interviewed Tony Blair. While debate was raging, and going nowhere, over the non-existence of WMDs, one Iraqi girl spoke up and said that she, and all her family ‘supported the war because there was no other way to get rid of Saddam Hussein’. Hari reports that the audience was silenced for a few moments, before the debate returned to WMDs. He also quotes the new Iraqi President as saying ‘Our struggle for a better, emancipated Iraq is now only possible because of the coalition of the willing.’
This would all seem to suggest that if we actually listened to the Iraqis, we would not be able to oppose the war because they wanted Saddam removed, and the coalition removed Saddam, and that was that.
Unfortunately, Hari misses quite a few key points.
Firstly, he is guilty of a fair degree of selective hearing. He only hears the voices of those who supported the war: what about the voices of the thousands of protestors who have demonstrated against the continued occupation of their country. In the elections in February, most Iraqis voted for the United Iraqi Alliance, whose main policy point (or one of them at least) is the withdrawal of all occupation forces. Bombings and murders are still taking place. One can’t help but feel that the Iraqi people don’t actually seem all that keen on being occupied; and as the occupation is a direct and inevitable consequence of the war, it follows logically that most Iraqis would seem to be opposed to the war.
Secondly, we have heard from Charles Kennedy on Question Time last night (with paraphrasing from Lenin):
After all, the Iraq Survey Group had been into Iraq, studied it closely and found that the regime was ripe for implosion. It would have been sufficient for Iraqis to see how weak Saddam's weapons systems were. He had no more chemical weapons to dump on his people, and his army was a shambles. The Emperor, thus found without his clothes on, would in all likelihood have rapidly fallen on the sword of popular insurrection.
The invasion, then, seems not to be the easiest way of going about the removal of Saddam Hussein. It is reasonable to suggest that Iraqi civilians would not have recognised this at the time, because no effort was made to point it out to them. To continue the Emperor’s new clothes analogy, someone had to play the part of the little boy in the crowd, telling everyone the real state of affairs.
My arguments are a little tenuous, I’ll admit that. But at the same time, so are the pro-war arguments. In that situation, where no clear moral ground can be found, we must fall back onto the legality of military action. This is why Hari is absolutely wrong in suggesting that we should not listen to some ‘remote British lawyer’. People will support and oppose the war, both here in Britain and in Iraq. There are no clear moral grounds regarding the invasion, and that is why we must listen to the lawyers. They do not deserve to be underplayed in the way that Hari does, and should, quite frankly, take centre stage in any decision.