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(en) Freedom 6404 22 Feb, 2003 - Flaws undermine timely account

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 29 Mar 2003 08:02:44 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

War Plan Iraq by Milan Rai (Arrow Publications, £12)

Besides being a contributor to this newspaper, Milan
Rai is the founder of Voices in the Wilderness UK and
a consistent critic of Anglo-American policy towards
Iraq. His book, subtitled 'Ten reasons why we
shouldn't launch another war against Iraq', is published
by Active Resistance to the Roots of War (ARROW). It
contains useful material on the historical background
to current events, particularly regarding the weapons
inspections that followed the last Gulf War.

It also details western attempts to manipulate the
Iraqi opposition through military and intelligence
operations Ğ a policy which, Rai concludes, isn't
focused on political reform at all, but only on replacing
Saddam Hussein with someone more accountable and
obedient to western control.

Rai provides persuasive evidence for his claim that
"Washington has consistently undermined both the
democratic Iraqi opposition and the UN weapons
inspectors" throughout the last twelve years, "while
paying lip service to both".

Although Rai's style and presentation of facts serve his
arguments well in these sections, his more basic
arguments are lost in the organisation and structure of
the book. Many different pieces of the puzzle are
presented, but there is no central thread to link them
together. Without clear transitions, he leaps from an
analysis of British policy on Iraq to excerpts from the
families of September 11th victims, to a claim that the
Taliban in Afghanistan agreed to extradite bin Laden
to the US.

This lack of connection also renders much of the book
somewhat difficult to read, as the reader is immersed
in a constant stream of quotations, statistics, names
and dates. War Plan Iraq considers many different
angles, but in doing so it ultimately fails to expose
with any force the true 'roots of war'.

By opening with 12 pages devoted to the tangled
positions of Labour Party politicians and the response
to Blair's support for war, Rai risks directing attention
away from deeper questions that need to be asked.
Political dissent may or may not be enough to avert an
invasion of Iraq for the moment, but plans for war will
always reappear unless its underlying causes are

Ironically, much of the information needed to draw
these larger conclusions is present in the historical
accounts Rai presents. The true motives for going to
war - geopolitical manoeuvring to gain control over the
Middle East, economic interests in militarisation and
the region's oil, the use of fear as a method for
controlling populations in the wake of September 11th
- all these are mentioned in various places but never
singled out.

Despite including the following quotation from his own
earlier work, Chomsky's Politics, Rai unfortunately
seems to have forgotten its message: "That a careful
reader looking for a fact can sometimes find it, with
diligence and a sceptical eye, tells us nothing about
whether that fact receives the attention and the
context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to most
readers or whether it was effectively distorted or

Like its beginning spotlighting the British political
situation, the book's end points to its own underlying
structural weaknesses. The final section, entitled 'Last
words', is written by Robin S. Theurkauf, whose
husband was killed on September 11th. "All societies
rely on the use of force to maintain order and permit
individuals to pursue the widest possible goals", she
writes. "When the activities of one violate societal
norms the police are empowered to legitimately
intervene, with force if necessary, to restore order".
This does in fact represent the basis of current society,
but what is needed is to look beyond this reality and
see whose interests are served by the actions of the
state. Inevitably they are those of the wealthiest and
most powerful members of society.

Ultimately, the book opts to oppose any war on Iraq for
pragmatic reasons rather than because of any
deep-seated opposition to state acts of violence.
Strangely, Rai mentions the risks inherent in this
pragmatism without appearing to pay heed to its
warning. He describes liberal American historian
Arthur Schlesinger, whose opposition to the Vietnam
War was based on his judgement that the USA was
"unlikely to be able to defeat the Vietnamese
resistance at an acceptable cost, not on a question of
principle". He goes on, "Mr Schlesinger and his fellow
'doves' played an important role in reinforcing the
unspoken assumption that the United States (alone of
all nations) should enjoy the right to impose political
arrangements on other societies by force". Most of War
Plan Iraq still seems to adhere to this assumption.
The book's second flaw is its lack of focus on the
people who stand to suffer the most, the people of Iraq
themselves. This is especially unfortunate in the light
of Rai's own longstanding and personally risky
campaign on their behalf. He demonstrates
humanitarian concern, but he doesn't emphasise the
need for autonomous self determination for the Iraqi

Nor does he adequately distance his argument, to my
mind, from the kind of western paternalism described
by Edward Said. Rai ends the book's introduction by
asking, "will we use our freedom to help protect the
peoples of Iraq? Or will we leave them to their fate?"
While doing all that we can prevent war with Iraq, it is
imperative that we don't portray the Iraqi people as
helpless victims in need of western aid.

Noam Chomsky's 'Terror and a Just Response' is
reprinted in War Plan Iraq. Chomsky summarises our
current situation when he writes that "more generally,
the atrocities of 9-11 serve as a dramatic reminder of
what has been long understood: with contemporary
technology, the rich and powerful no longer are assured
the near monopoly of violence that has largely
prevailed throughout history. Though terrorism is
rightly feared everywhere, and is indeed an intolerable
'return to barbarism', it is not surprising that
perceptions about its nature differ rather sharply in
the light of sharply differing experiences, facts that
will be ignored at their peril by those whom history has
accustomed to immunity while they perpetrate
terrible crimes."

There's an opportunity today to hold to account all
those who commit crimes against the people, but one
must look beyond the arguments of War Plan Iraq to
realise it.

War Plan Iraq is available from Freedom Press, price
£12 (please add £1.20 p&p in the UK, £2.40

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