It’s How You Sell The War That Matters
By David Miller
Despite what the anti-war lobby in New Zealand and around the world think or say, the United States and Britain have already made their decision to go to war with Iraq.
This decision was made in 1991 when the US and Britain failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power when they had the chance. Since then they have maintained the pressure on Saddam through economic sanctions and their continued air presence in what has amounted to a kind of ‘periphery strategy’.
However this strategy has failed and the US and Britain have become increasingly isolated in their quest to unseat Saddam. So why has this been the case? It is not that the rest of the world has become blind to Saddam’s human rights abuses, his flaunting of the UN resolutions or even the economic opportunities of doing business with Iraq.
The problem is that the United States and Britain have not sold this war very well at all.
The problem for the US and British governments is that they are running into increasing opposition within their own populations for any Mesopotamian adventure. Tony Blair is already faced with a revolt within his own Cabinet and party. If he is to emerge from this crisis with his political future intact then he needs to be able to justify the war with his own people and to be able to say that the UN was behind it. Even if the allies can scrape together enough votes to pass it through the Security Council and if France and Russia do not exercise their veto, then it will be because they gave in to American economic pressure and the diplomatic victory will ring hollow indeed.
Hence the need for spin and this was the reason why Messrs Bush and Blair met with the Spanish Prime Minister in the Azores over the weekend. It was one last opportunity to try and sell the war to the International community and their own people.
The publicity campaign produced nothing new. Once again the allies gave Baghdad a fresh ultimatum and once again they declared that this would be the last chance. They also made it clear that if the new resolution fails and war is undertaken unilaterally then the opponents of the war are to blame for damaging the reputation and credibility of the UN and allowing Saddam another opportunity to hide his weapons and defy the world organisation. The allies have also argued that resolution 1441 made provisions for war if Iraq was deemed un-cooperative and that if an invasion is not undertaken then the Iraqis can still threaten the stability of the Middle East with their weapons of mass destruction and sponsorship of terrorist organisations.
This line of persuasion is familiar in both its content and effect. The world has heard it for over a decade and instead of embracing it, people have become increasingly sceptical and hostile. The reason is that the claims of large, hidden Iraqi arsenals have not been proved conclusively enough for people around the world to support a war. While the reports delivered by Hans Blix have criticised the Iraqis for not fully complying with UN inspectors they have not produced any serious evidence of stock piled weapons and there is always that element of doubt lingering over the claims of the US and Britain that they actually exist. This element of doubt plays into the hands of those opposed to war and furthers their argument that the inspectors need to be given more time. The case for going to war has also been constantly undermined by the impact that the economic sanctions have had on the Iraqi population and the anti war lobbyists around the world have been strident in their case that Iraqi children are suffering under the ongoing pressure.
The most powerful factor that hinders the allied publicity machine is that one cannot escape the impression that there is a personal edge to this upcoming war. Despite his claims to the contrary, Mr. Bush cannot escape the allegations that he is merely finishing the job that his father started and that having missed the opportunity to remove Saddam in 1991, both governments are not about to let this chance go begging. After all, Saddam has outlasted two previous Presidents and Prime Ministers and this does give him the image that he is a survivor against the power that the US and Britain can bring to bear against him. In other words, he makes them look incapable and inept.
It is to late to sell the case for war and the removal of Saddam in 2003. That job should have been undertaken properly in 1991. Time was always going to be his best ally especially if he can sow any seeds of doubt into people’s minds over his military capabilities attitudes will harden towards conflict. A strong case is always desirable even in the eleventh but ultimately it is not needed. War is coming regardless of how much spin Washington and London put on their case and despite what people here in New Zealand think or write.