A time to remember Iraq and the wedge it drove

Some United States military men have been visiting in recent weeks and militarist Tony Blair will be keynote speaker at a climate change conference in two weeks. It is cause to remember Iraq.

More precisely, it is a time to remember the invasion of Iraq three years ago next Monday by Blair, George Bush and hangers-on .

It is a time to recall the termination of a vicious dictatorship, which was cause for rejoicing anywhere where human rights and dignity are valued — and this is one of those places.

It is a time to remember Bush’s and Blair’s “selective” use of intelligence which turned out to be fiction.

Weapons of mass destruction, the pretext, have never turned up. The claim of Iraqi government links with Al Qaeda which convinced a majority of Americans Iraq had bombed New York’s twin towers on September 11, 2001 was mostly imagination.

It is a time to remember the extra-legal Bush-Blair doctrine of pre-emptive strike against a state that was not about to, nor could, strike them.

It is a time to remember that the invasion war officially ended on May 1 2003 but that for Iraqis the war goes on in bombings, maimings and sectarian violence. The occupation has forged the external terror links Bush-Blair’s “intelligence” conjured up. Iraq, a British construct held together in the past by autocracy or terror, appears to be fracturing.

It is a time to note, nevertheless, that there have been elections in Iraq and that Iraqis, like nearly everyone, relish the opportunity for elections.

But it is also a time to note that holding elections does not equal democracy. Democracy requires, among other things, free speech because laws lack full legitimacy if passed without everyone free to express their opinions, however obnoxious, without fear.

And that, as Ronald Dworkin points out in the latest New York Review of Books, means “no one in a democracy can have a right not to be insulted or offended… only a community which permits such insult as part of public debate may legitimately adopt such laws [defending minorities] … religion must observe the principles of democracy, not the other way round.”

So it is a time to note, on this Iraq anniversary, the intolerable intolerance of jihadist muslims. Danish muslims sought and got from some muslim states orchestrated reprisals against Denmark and mayhem in many places for the sin of publishing irreligious cartoons.

In democratic countries the result was almost certainly to raise levels of incomprehension of and distaste (or worse) for muslims, including toward peaceable minorities within those countries who share none of the jihadists’ intolerance.

So this anniversary is a time to note that Americans’ incomprehension and anger at the attack on New York was a critical ingredient in Bush’s Iraq invasion.

This hurt has transformed a free country into a frightened country: shoes off at airports, innocents fingerprinted even in transit, umpteen security requirements on free countries that aren’t shrivelled with fear. We should note that, too, on the Iraq anniversary.

But it is also a time to remember that along with the Americans’ vengeance and fear went a mission: to implant democracy and democratic freedoms and dissolve the jihad that way.

That is a noble mission, but ill thought-through — and in part undone by anti-democratic roughing up of those deemed the United States’ enemies in the Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan holding pens.

And that intrudes into Defence Minister Phil Goff’s apt recitation last week to United States Air Warfare College visitors of �shared common values of democracy, a commitment to human rights and the rule of law�. Guantanamo is not the rule of law and so not a shared value (though remember Parihaka).

But Goff has a mission of his own. The Solomon islands intervention, he said, �sits very closely with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice�s concept of transformational democracy, building and supporting democratic, governed states that can respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system�.

Then he added: �This operationalises President Bush�s freedom and democracy agenda”.

Really? It stabilises our frontyard so we sleep easier, more like.

Actually, Goff meant: puts into practice a freedom and democracy agenda and Bush also has one of those. His message to the Americans, he told me, was that multilateralist New Zealand works for stability and democracy round the world and it “makes sense to work together”.

Multilateralism goes down a treat in our politics but badly in Bush’s Washington, which judges the United Nations ineffectual and corrupt. Bush’s Washington sees the world through a narrow American lens.

The Solomons intervention proceeded on a basis of understanding of and respect for local sensitivities, perspectives and needs. The Iraq intervention did not.

Three years on, that still divides New Zealanders from Americans as much as nuclear bombs. Goff’s mission is not simple.