Bangla Mirror Article - The Terrible Choice &The; observer - The Lesser of two Evils

The Terrible Choice - Bangla Mirror

When I became an MP, I knew the job involved hard choices. I never imagined it could be as hard as the choice to take military action against Saddam Hussein. I accept that military action inevitably kills innocent civilians. But if you disagree with military action, you too must accept that inaction also kills innocent civilians. That is not in doubt. Our inaction has allowed Saddam Hussein to kill more Muslims than any other leader alive today - he is responsible for over one million deaths. What about justice for those Muslims? And what about those who are praying to escape his regime? As one Muslim asked my colleague who visited Iraq, 'why don't our bretheren in the UK support us in our struggle to escape tyranny? Why don't they support military action against Saddam?'

There is a good answer to this question: George W Bush. His hypocrisy is astonishing. As I said in parliament, he is in the pocket of the oil industry. He has protected Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister who continues to slaughter Palestinians. He is the king of double standards. He failed to win a free and fair election. He wants oil for the American economy. And he wants to finish his father's business. He has all the wrong motives. But the fact is, only force will disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraqis from tyranny. It is deeply depressing that it is mainly American force. But it is not as depressing as many more Iraqis dying under Saddam, and certainly not as depressing as trying to deal with Saddam when he eventually gets his hands on a nuclear bomb, or when others get their hands on his anthrax and VS nerve agent.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm within 15 days. For 12 years Saddam has refused to comply. The UN Security Council passed its 17th resolution on this subject in November last year, resolution 1441, which gave Saddam one 'final opportunity' to 'fully co-operate' with UN Weapons Inspectors. The UN Weapons Inspectors - Dr Blix & Dr El-Baradei - have said that Saddam Hussein has not 'fully co-operated' with them. They say, for example, that he has 10,000 litres of Anthrax (which they verified in 1998), which he refuses to account for. One cup of anthrax can kill half a million people. Saddam has 'lost' 10,000 litres. No one, not a single member of the Security Council (including France, Russia, Germany or China) claims that Saddam has 'fully co-operated'. He hasn't. The question is, what to do about it. The resolutions say that if he doesn't comply he will face 'serious consequences' (resolution 1441), and 'all possible means' will be used to disarm him (eg military action - resolution 678). So what shall we do? Pass an 18th, 19th, 20th, or 100th resolution? Or act on the resolutions we have already passed? I cannot apologise for feeling that we should act.

In my view we are doing the right thing (disarming Saddam Hussein) the wrong way (without a broader international coalition). But it is better than doing the wrong thing (letting Saddam get away with murder, leaving him with chemical and biological weapons, and signalling that UN resolutions will not be enforced) the right way (with a broader coalition). I am sick of the UN not working. I am sick of UN resolutions meaning nothing. It is the world's poorest and most opressed people who pay the price. I will never forget stepping over the mutiliated bodies of 10,000 murdered civilians at a genocide site in Rwanda - one million people died because that Government's brutal regime knew UN resolutions on genocide prevention were worthless.

Passions are running high on both sides of this debate. Whether you are for or against military action, you must accept that your choice causes the deaths of innocent people. Whichever view you take, you inadvertently help reprehensible men. On one side you inadvertently help George Bush (who, within the boundaries of democracy, is at one extreme). On the other side you inadvertently help Saddam Hussein (who, within the parameters of brutal dictatorship is at another extreme). People must take the view they believe to be right, even if it divides them from their friends and family. In my view, the right thing to do is to disarm Saddam Hussein, help Iraqis escape oppression, set up a UN trust to administer oil profits for the Iraqi people, to prevent the US getting its hands on the oil, and get the US to stop protecting Ariel Sharon. If that happens we have a chance to secure justice for Palestinians, another cause I have long argued for in Parliament.

Some people say to me, 'you mustn't have your own view, you must have our view'. But it is my conscience I must live with, not yours. If you were my MP, you would have to vote with your conscience, not mine. Other people try and draw parallels between now and the Second World War. They argue that anti-war protestors are like appeasers of Hitler. That is absolute rubbish. There is only one comparison I would make, and it is not on the merits of the argument itself. It is this: before the Second World War a petition of 9 million signatures was gathered from constituents, begging politicians not to go to war. The 9 million people who signed the petition genuinely believed that military action was wrong. The fact is, if politicians had made their judgements based on what those 9 million people asked, they would have been very popular in the short-term - but they would have caused ruin, destruction, and greater loss of life in the long-term.

Furthermore, what message do we send other dictators if, 12 years after the UN demanded 'full disarmament', Saddam isn't forced to comply? Are we joking when we ask Saddam to disarm himself of chemical and biological weapons? Do we not take seriously the fact that he gassed his own people - 5,000 on one day? I have always taken these issues seriously. Myself and 4 other MPs secured a parliamentary inquiry into the effect of sanctions on Iraqi civilians in 1999 - two years before September 11th 2001. Yes, there are terrible double standards. But does the fact that Sharon gets away with murder today, mean we should let Saddam get away with murder tomorrow? I have always wanted Saddam to be disarmed, but when asked to vote on this issue with the Government 5 years ago, I refused. I said we hadn't given Saddam enough time; with more time he might disarm. I was wrong. In those intervening 5 years many thousands of Muslims were murdered by Saddam. In some respects I have their deaths on my conscience. As I said, it is my conscience. It is a terrible choice. But I could not make the same mistake again. That is why this time, with a dark shadow over my heart, I voted for military action.

The Lesser of two Evils - The observer

You can almost hear the continental plates shift beneath the surface as the world’s political map is torn apart and re-drawn. As bombs fall on Baghdad, and resentment in the middle east and across the globe simmers, it is unlikely our grave new world will survive the century without an effective global policeman. Both sides in this debate accuse the other of destroying the UN. Britain is divided. When, and how, will we come back together?

Muslim and Christian leaders have jointly urged people to ‘weigh carefully the human costs and other likely consequences of war’, and ‘uphold international law’. As an MP who had to vote on the matter, I thought of little else. It’s difficult - and distasteful - to ‘weigh the human costs ’. Is it a simple equation of flesh? The numbers who die in this war, subtracted from the numbers who die if Saddam is left in peace? If it were, it might be easier. After all, no one alive has killed or tortured more Muslims than Saddam Hussein - he is responsible for over a million deaths. As one Iraqi Muslim asked Ann Clwyd MP who travelled to Iraq, 'why won't our brethren in Britain support our struggle to escape Saddam Hussein? Why won't they back military action?' The answer is for much the same reasons as other British people. I am the MP with more Muslims in my constituency than any other. I listen to their views extremely carefully.

We agree - as I assume you do - on the basics: 1) Saddam Hussein is a murderous tyrant; 2) there is no link between him and the Al-Qaida attacks on America; 3) we want an effective UN; 4) George Bush keeps us awake at night. 5) Chemical & biological weapons - as America proved in Vietnam 40 years ago - cause unspeakable carnage. If one cup of Anthrax can kill half a million people, there is concern that UN Weapons Inspectors say Iraq won’t account for 10,000 litres of the stuff. It wouldn’t be a good idea for an Osama-type to get his hands on it. But people are equally concerned that the Weapons Inspectors asked for more time, and weren’t given it. They should have been. They wouldn't have found anything - without Saddam’s cooperation that's virtually impossible - but that’s not the point. (Closer to home, the British army has been searching for IRA arms dumps in Northern Ireland for 30 years. Northern Ireland is tiny, we know it well, but still we can’t find anything.) Resolution 1441 didn’t ask the inspectors to find a needle in a haystack. It asked Saddam to tell them where that needle was, and to fully cooperate. If he failed to do this, he would face the consequences.

The inspectors say he did not cooperate on substance. Every member of the Security Council accepts he did not cooperate on substance. I can’t stomach our rampant anti-French racism, but nor can I stomach Chirac’s elevation in some quarters to sainthood. Chirac, like Bush, is motivated by his own interests, not least oil contracts. He ruled out a resolution that included an ultimatum, thereby surrendering the agreement in 1441. His intransigence, added to Bush’s, left us a terrible choice: enforce UN resolutions too soon, without a UN coalition, or enforce them not at all. I believe the former represents the lesser of evils. Perhaps this is because I have never recovered from the horror of picking my way through the mutilated bodies of 10,000 people at a genocide site in Rwanda. Why were one million people hacked to death in that country only 9 years ago while UN soldiers looked on? Because the brutal regime knew the UN Convention on Genocide Prevention wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. They knew it would never be enforced - not least because the American, British and French governments at the time had no wish to enforce it.

The UN is not strong enough to be either impartial or forceful. Like our own parliament in its early years, it is not democratic, does not have its own standing army, and is instead run by those who do have the biggest armies. The British parliament battled for centuries against monarchs for supremacy. In our unipolar world today, much the same battle is taking place between the UN and the superpower. The madness of King George reigns. But like our own parliament, the UN will develop - and must develop if we are to survive the century - into a legitimate global policeman. This debate was, at heart, about whether the world's superpower would submit to due process in any form at all through the UN. Tony Blair secured a deal with George Bush: America would work through the UN, and in return, the UN would take action if Saddam Hussein did not comply. America, for all its atrocious double standards, kept its side of the bargain and embarked on the UN process. Granted, Donald Rumsfeld pencilled in an invasion of Iraq on September 12th 2001, or earlier, but that doesn't make it right to pass an 18th, 19th, or 100th UN resolution to disarm Iraq, without ever fulfilling our obligations.

In my view, disarming Saddam Hussein, upholding UN resolutions, and deterring other regimes from developing chemical weapons, is relevant to everyone's security. I am sure that the majority of my constituents, even if they agree with my aims, do not share my analysis of how to secure them. Many who voted for me at the last election, will not do so at the next. They write to tell me so, and also to tell me I will lose my job. Perhaps I will. But this issue is of such importance to the world's future, I must vote for the course of action that I believe will lead to least loss of life, least global instability, and least injustice in the long term. Anyone who thinks I would vote for war because I was 'following orders', doesn't know me in the least. Some constituents say 'you mustn't vote with your view, you must vote with ours'. But this is a matter of conscience, and it is my conscience I must live with, not theirs or yours. There are serious tensions in my constituency at present. Reports of intimidation show that community cohesion is at risk. Instability in the gulf has brought violence to Tower Hamlets before, and a mosque was burnt to the ground in the past. Today others have become the subject of rage and hatred.

In this deeply imperfect world with monumental double standards, I feel I must nonetheless confront the realities around us: a) a superpower can take whichever course of action it chooses; b) a rogue superpower would be more dangerous than a rogue state, and it is critical we retain influence; c) the single biggest grievance in the muslim mind (rightly so) is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and d) there will never be justice for the Palestinians, and the creation of a Palestinian state, until America stops protecting and bankrolling the Sharon Government. Britain is right to link progress in the Middle East with the current action in Iraq. In the real world, it is the only possible way of securing justice for the Palestinians. If securing a Palestinian state is an absolute priority for British foreign policy - and when I asked the Prime Minister last week, he confirmed it was - we have a real chance of securing justice for Palestinians. This isn't pie in the sky. After all, Tony Blair has already got George Bush to be the first American president signed up to a Palestinian state.

After Saddam is gone, people should judge the Government on three key objectives: is oil money put in trust for the Iraqi people and administered by Kofi Anan at the UN, as Tony Blair demands? Does Bush uphold his promise to Blair that instead of an American oligarchy, the UN is given a mandate for the reconstruction of Iraq? Does the British Government make concrete progress on our current objective to secure a Palestinian State by 2005 - around the time of our next general election? Do we slowly begin minimising the double standards crippling international relations? If these things happen, we could begin to bind the wounds in Iraq, at the UN, at the EU, in our country, and in my own constituency. Even more important for the future, we would begin to bind the world's superpower to the UN. During the reign of King George III it seemed unlikely parliament would ever assert itself over the monarch. But it did.