On November 20, we received the following email from Johann Hari of the Independent in response to our Media Alert, Friendly Bombs, Part 1 (November 20, 2003):
Dear David and David,
Thank you for your e-mail. While I obviously disagree profoundly with you, I am never less than provoked and stimulated by your alerts, which provide a very valuable function in making journalists justify their position.
As I’m sure you can understand, I am insanely rushed but I hope you will accept this brief response.
We have a legitimate disagreement over what the Iraqi people want. I made clear before the war that we could not know what Iraqi people wanted with the scientific certainty of a MORI poll (I don’t have time to check quotes but all my pre-war articles are amply available on my website, http://www.johannhari.com. Pore through them if you are self-punishing enough and you’ll find everything I mention here). However, the International Crisis Group survey and my own limited experiences with the Iraqi people in Iraq itself and my more extensive experiences with the Iraqi exile community led me to believe that there was support for the invasion.
This was subsequently proven to be correct, because every single opinion poll following the liberation – produced by firms who have successfully predicted the results of general elections across the world – showed that Iraqis wanted the invasion to proceed. I am basing my interpretation of Iraqi opinion on polls, the best source of information that we have. You seem to be basing yours on guesswork, supposition and telepathy.
I was also, of course, basing my view on the experience of Northern Iraq, where, under US and British military protection since 1991, the Kurds have built a thriving democracy. Why do you never mention this? Do you congratulate the Kurds on their incredible achievement – 70 free newspapers, a democratic parliament and Prime M inister (who supported the invasion of the South), and female High Court judges – I know that the Americans allowed Turkish troops to attack Kurdish freedom fighters on a handful of occassions, and I am appalled by that – but does it undnermine the whole achievement and make their democracy meaningless? Of course not.
The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam’s tyranny, and all the factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not occur. How do you explain that? Please don’t just give me quotes from Dennis Halliday and say “he knows better than you”: actually answer the argument.
You ask when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the Muslim countries (as your friend George Galloway has in the past: I refer you to his Mail on Sunday article in which he says that “”in poor third world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. Pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together … Democracy is a means, not an end in itself.”). I refer you to George Bush, who said apologised yesterday for “decades of failed US policy in the Middle East? we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability.” Nor, he
implied, should they fund and arm it. Yes, it will take time to turn around all US policy: we can discuss (and must campaign about) the horrors of Uzbekistan and the House of Saud. But I believe it is beginning.
Do I think the US will promote deep democracy, a form better than our own corporate semi-democracy? Of course not. It will be deeply imperfect and bounded within neoconservative precepts that you and I reject. But it will be a damn sight better than Ba’athist Stalinism, and it was worth fighting for.
It is a shame that you have to imply that every single person who disagrees with you has some sinister mission to corrupt the truth. For example, you act as though you have cunningly exposed that I went to Iraq in September 2002 as part of a holiday tour. Yes: I cunningly disguised this by writing it as a front page story for the Guardian.
I hope you’ll understand if I don’t enter into a lengthy dialogue, although I will be very interested in your response. I also hope you’ll understand that I feel your revelation that you would not have fought a war against Nazism but rather would have spent your energies informing the British people that they were complicit while gay people and Jews were systematically murdered on the other side of the Channel somewhat undermines your ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny.
Lastly, I hope the people who have e-mailed in response to your original message will accept this response.
Thanks again for an interesting media alert,
Many thanks for your kind words. We appreciate your taking the time to respond at such length.
You say that you accept one “could not know what the Iraqi people wanted with the scientific certainty of a MORI poll”, and yet in the Independent you have written repeatedly of “the indisputable wishes of the Iraqi people”. (Hari, ‘The state visit of President Bush: I support Bush on Iraq – but I’ll join the protests’, The Independent, November 19, 2003)
“Indisputable” suggests certainty, does it not?
It is curious that you focus so intensely on the highly uncertain wishes of the Iraqi people, and yet you ignore the very clear democratic wish of the British people +not+ to invade and bomb them. This time last year support for invasion without UN backing stood at barely 10% anywhere outside the United States. In January, 81% of the British public was opposed to unilateral military action by the US and UK, with 47% opposed to war in all circumstances. Only 10% of those polled believed that the war should start regardless of UN backing. (Alan Travis, ‘Support for war falls to new low,’ The Guardian, January 21, 2003)
Surely your respect for the indisputable wishes of the British people means you should have been fiercely opposed to war.
You describe our analysis of Iraqi opinion polls as “guesswork, supposition and telepathy”. In reality, like most journalists we debate with, you have simply ignored the points we made: the poll of Iraqis mentioned by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian, the absence of “concrete evidence” of Iraqi support for invasion, the ICG’s establishment links and sympathies, and so on.
You also ignored our point that the Iraqi people “cheering us on” were in reality facing a miserable choice between war or continued genocidal sanctions that had already claimed one million lives. A reasonable range of options presented by pollsters might, for example, have included:
No invasion but continued genocidal sanctions and bombing with Saddam Hussein retaining power.
US/UK invasion deposing Saddam Hussein.
UN-backed invasion deposing Saddam Hussein by a genuinely international coalition under the auspices of the UN.
Full Iraqi compliance with UNMOVIC inspections leading to 100% disarmament of WMD and the lifting of non-military sanctions, with Saddam retaining power.
In your Independent articles, you have presented no evidence to suggest that the Iraqi people were polled on such a range of options. Even if they had been, Iraqis might well have felt inclined to simply ignore options that avoided war but which were clearly not on the West’s agenda. It is absurd to state that the Iraq people freely chose the invasion while looking down the barrel of a gun.
It is interesting to consider the latest polls of the people you claim were “cheering us on” during the invasion. An October poll by Iraq’s Centre for Research and Strategic Studies showed that 67 per cent of Iraqis viewed “coalition” forces as “occupying powers”, more than 20 per cent higher than a survey conducted shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. According to the poll, the number of Iraqis who viewed the coalition as a “liberating” force had dropped from 43 to 15 per cent, with very few feeling safe in the presence of the police or occupying armies. (Peter Beaumont, ‘US helicopter shot down in Iraq’, The Observer, October 26, 2003)
Oxford Research International (ORI), sampled the views of 3,244 Iraqis interviewed in their own homes in October and early November. They found that 79 percent of people questioned had “no trust” or “very little trust” in the US-led “coalition” – 8 percent said they had a great deal of confidence in the occupying force. 42 percent said they had a great deal of trust in Iraq’s religious leaders.
The authors of the survey said: “The very troops which liberated Iraqis from Saddam are the most mistrusted institution in Iraq today.” http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20031201/ts_nm/iraq_survey_dc&cid=564&ncid=1473
You refer to the situation in Northern Iraq. Echoing familiar government propaganda, you write: “The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam’s tyranny, and all the factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not occur.”
The reality is revealed by considering the issue of child mortality. While it is true that child mortality rates were lower in the autonomous north than in south/central regions controlled by Saddam Hussein, UNICEF noted that, “the difference [in child mortality rates] cannot be attributed to the differing ways the Oil for Food Programme is implemented in the two parts of Iraq”.
The same point was reiterated by UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Tun Myat, who noted on several occasions that the “improvement in nutrition in the north was not due to differences in distribution, or the fact that the United Nations was responsible for implementation of the programme in the north”. (UN Press Briefing, November 19, 2000)
Important differences between the north and the south/centre described by the UN included:
· “that the sanctions have not been so rigorously enforced in the north as the border is more ‘porous’ than in the [south/centre]”. (UNICEF, August 1999)
· that the north, with roughly 15% of Iraq’s population, has 50% of Iraq’s productive arable land. (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, September 2000)
· that the north “received 22% more per capita [than the south/centre] and gets 10% of all UN-controlled assistance in currency” while the rest of the country received only commodities. (UNICEF, August 1999)
· “the fact that the north has received far more support per capita from the international community than the south and centre of the country”. (UNICEF, August 1999)
You write, “The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam’s tyranny.” But Professor Richard Garfield, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University, pointed out in the New York Times on September 13, 1999, that the embargo in the North is “not the same embargo”:
“The North enjoys porous borders with Turkey, Syria, and Iran, and thus is effectively less embargoed than the rest of the country. It benefits from the aid of 34 Non-Government Organizations, while in the whole rest of the country there are only 11…
“Food, medicine, and water pumps are now helping reduce mortality throughout Iraq, but the pumps do less for sanitation where authorities cannot buy sand, hire day laborers, or find many other minor inputs to make filtration plants work. Goods have been approved by the UN and distributed to the North far faster than in the Center or South. The UN Security Council treats people in that part of the country like innocents. Close to 20 million civilians in the Center and South of the country deserve the same treatment.”
Finally, Gabriel Carlyle of Voices In The Wilderness UK, told us, “it is interesting to note that child mortality rates in south/central Iraq were also lower in some of those areas close to the border with the autonomous governorates, where similar conditions prevail and where people have been able to fall back on traditional patterns of life”. (Email to Media Lens, January 16, 2003)
You celebrate “a democratic parliament and Prime Minister (who supported the invasion of the South)” in northern Iraq. This will be Barham Salah, the prime minister who said of the oil-for-food programme that has left Iraq devastated:
“The oil-for-food programme is a good programme; it must continue. It is the best thing that has happened to Iraq since the foundation of the Iraqi state. By the way, not only for the Kurdish areas but also for the rest of Iraq, because we never had it so good – all Iraqis not just Kurds.” (Interviewed in The Mother of all Ironies, by John Sweeney, Correspondent, BBC2, June 23, 2002)
This is crude pro-Western propaganda, but then Salah is doubtless sensitive to the harsh realities of realpolitik in “democratic” northern Iraq. Perhaps he had read the New York Times report in March 2002 noting that the Bush administration had assured its Turkish ally that in the event of an invasion it would “ensure Iraq’s territorial integrity” and not allow the creation of an independent Kurdish state. (New York Times, March 10, 2002)
This makes perfect sense given, rhetorical flourishes aside, the consistent US policy of indifference to the Kurds and their suffering. Ten days after the gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in March 1988, Jim Hoagland made an accurate prediction in the Washington Post:
“Washington’s friendship for Baghdad is likely to survive one night of poison gas and sickening television film. TV moves on, shock succeeds shock, the day’s horror becomes distant memory. The Kurds will stay on history’s margins, and policy will have continuity.” (Hoagland, Washington Post, March 26, 1988)
“Iraq has not paid much of a diplomatic price for its actions,” the Christian Science Monitor noted on December 13 that same year. Indeed, on September 8, 1988, when US Secretary of State George Shultz met with Saadun Hamadi, Iraq’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Washington, he expressed merely “concern” about Halabja. “The approach we want to take [toward Iraq] is that, ‘We want to have a good relationship with you, but that this sort of thing [the Halabja massacre] makes it very difficult,'” a State Department official explained. (Quoted, Anthony Arnove, ‘Convenient And Not So Convenient Massacres’, ZNet Commentary, March 28, 2002)
In explaining “when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the Muslim countries” you refer “to George Bush, who said [sic] apologised yesterday for ‘decades of failed US policy in the Middle East – we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability’.”
It is remarkable that you should present as serious evidence the words of a president who has this year revealed an almost infinite capacity for deceit.
You refer to an alleged revolution in American foreign policy in the above message and also in a second email – we will return to this in our next alert.
We have never suggested that any journalist is on a “sinister mission to corrupt the truth”. We are forever pointing out that we reject sinister conspiracy theories of this kind – the idea that journalists are involved in dark “missions” to deceive people. We’re sure you are sincere in everything you’re saying.
Finally, you write that the fact that we “would not have fought a war against Nazism” undermines our “ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny.”
We are much more interested in fighting tyranny in all its forms than in aspiring to some “moral high ground”.
The essence of Nazism was the belief that violence, fear, hatred of enemies, and deception, could be harnessed as tools of elite aggrandisement and enrichment. One of the terrible ironies of the West’s violent destruction of the Nazi killing machine is that violence thereby became even more deeply entrenched in our own economic and political systems. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when we looked into the abyss of mass violence and total war, the abyss looked into us.
Generally speaking, real solutions to problems rooted in greed, hatred and irrationality can only be found in compassion, restraint and reason.
Part 2 will follow shortly.
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