I keep listening to the words coming from the Bush administration about Iraq and I become increasingly alarmed. There seems to be such confusion, but through it all a grim determination that they are, at some point, going to launch a military attack. The response of the British government seems equally confused, but I just hope that the determination to ultimately attack Iraq does not form the bedrock of their policy. It is hard now to see how George Bush can withdraw his bellicose words and also save face, but I hope that that is possible. Otherwise I fear greatly for the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world.
What is most chilling is that the hawks in the Bush administration must know the risks involved. They must be aware of the anti-American feeling throughout the Middle East. They must be aware of the fear in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that a war against Iraq could unleash revolutions, disposing of pro-western governments, and replacing them with populist anti-American Islamist fundamentalist regimes. We should all remember the Islamist revolution in Iran. The Shah was backed by the Americans, but he couldn't stand against the will of the people. And it is because I am sure that they fully understand the consequences of their actions, that I am most afraid. I am drawn to the conclusion that they must want to create such mayhem. The many words that are uttered about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, which are never substantiated with any hard evidence, seem to mean very little. Even if Saddam had such weapons, why would he wish to use them? He knows that if he moves to seize the oilfields in neighbouring countries the full might of the western world will be ranged against him. He knows that if he attacks Israel the same fate awaits him. Comparisons with Hitler are silly - Hitler thought he could win; Saddam knows he cannot. Even if he has nuclear weapons he cannot win a war against America. The United States can easily contain him. They do not need to try and force him to irrationality.
But that is what Bush seems to want to do. Why is he so determined to take the risk? The key country in the Middle East, as far as the Americans are concerned, is Saudi Arabia: the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, the country that has been prepared to calm the oil markets, producing more when prices are too high and less when there is a glut. The Saudi royal family has been rewarded with best friend status by the west for its cooperation. There has been little concern that the government is undemocratic and breaches human rights, nor that it is in the grip of an extreme form of Islam. With American support it has been believed that the regime can be protected and will do what is necessary to secure a supply of oil to the west at reasonably stable prices.
Since September 11, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the US administration that the Saudi regime is vulnerable. Both on the streets and in the leading families, including the royal family, there are increasingly anti-western voices. Osama bin Laden is just one prominent example. The love affair with America is ending. Reports of the removal of billions of dollars of Saudi investment from the United States may be difficult to quantify, but they are true. The possibility of the world's largest oil reserves falling into the hands of an anti-American, militant Islamist government is becoming ever more likely - and this is unacceptable. The Americans know they cannot stop such a revolution. They must therefore hope that they can control the Saudi oil fields, if not the government. And what better way to do that than to have a large military force in the field at the time of such disruption. In the name of saving the west, these vital assets could be seized and controlled. No longer would the US have to depend on a corrupt and unpopular royal family to keep it supplied with cheap oil. If there is chaos in the region, the US armed forces could be seen as a global saviour. Under cover of the war on terrorism, the war to secure oil supplies could be waged.
This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq - there isn't one. It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and is a pawn now. In the same way he served western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the west's supply of oil. And where does this leave the British government? Are they in on the plan or just part of the smokescreen? The government speaks of morality and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, but can they really believe it?