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[B]lair and Bush do share a deep Christianity. One senior member of the White House to whom I talked recently said that one of the reasons for the close relationship between Bush and Blair is indeed their shared faith.

Bishops in Britain and in the United States may denounce the war as morally wrong, but Bush has no doubts about the rightness of his cause. After September 11 he reminded us that "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." In his state of the union speech this year, he spoke of the "power, wonderworking power" of "the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." The words "wonderworking power" come from a hymn in which they refer to "the precious blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ."

Bush asserts a worldview that is usually dismissed as a heresy—the myth of redemptive violence, which posits a war between good and evil, between God and Satan. For God to win, evil needs to be destroyed by God's faithful followers.

This is alarming to the increasingly secular Europeans.
    -Allies: The U.S., Britain, and Europe, and the War in Iraq

Leftist opposition to the war in Afghanistan faded in November and December of last year, not only because of the success of the war but also because of the enthusiasm with which so many Afghans greeted that success. The pictures of women showing their smiling faces to the world, of men shaving their beards, of girls in school, of boys playing soccer: all this was no doubt a slap in the face to leftist theories of American imperialism, but also politically disarming. There was (and is) still a lot to worry about: refugees, hunger, minimal law and order. But it was suddenly clear, even to many opponents of the war, that the Taliban regime had been the biggest obstacle to any serious effort to address the looming humanitarian crisis, and it was the American war that removed the obstacle. It looked (almost) like a war of liberation, a humanitarian intervention.

But the war was primarily neither of these things; it was a preventive war, designed to make it impossible to train terrorists in Afghanistan and to plan and organize attacks like that of September 11. And that war was never really accepted, in wide sections of the left, as either just or necessary. Recall the standard arguments against it: that we should have turned to the United Nations; that we had to prove the guilt of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and then organize international trials; and that the war, if it was fought at all, had to be fought without endangering civilians. The last point was intended to make fighting impossible. I haven't come across any arguments that seriously tried to describe how this (or any) war could be fought without putting civilians at risk, or to ask what degree of risk might be permissible, or to specify the risks that American soldiers should accept in order to reduce the risk of civilian deaths. All these were legitimate issues in Afghanistan, as they were in the Kosovo and Gulf wars. But among last fall's antiwar demonstrators, "Stop the bombing" wasn't a slogan that summarized a coherent view of the bombing-or of the alternatives to it. The truth is that most leftists were not committed to having a coherent view about things like that; they were committed to opposing the war, and they were prepared to oppose it without regard to its causes or character and without any visible concern about preventing future terrorist attacks.

A few left academics have tried to figure out how many civilians actually died in Afghanistan, aiming at as high a figure as possible, on the assumption, apparently, that if the number is greater than the number of people killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers, the war is unjust. At the moment, most of the numbers are propaganda; there is no reliable accounting. But the claim that the numbers matter in just this way-that the 3,120th death determines the injustice of the war-is wrong. It denies one of the most basic and best understood moral distinctions: between premeditated murder and unintended killing. And the denial isn't accidental, as if the people making it just forgot about, or didn't know about, the everyday moral world. The denial is willful: unintended killing by Americans in Afghanistan counts as murder. This can't be true anywhere else, for anybody else.

The radical failure of the left's response to the events of last fall raises a disturbing question: can there be a decent left in a superpower?
    -Can There Be A Decent Left? (Michael Walzer, Spring 2002, Dissent)

The media and the Left--but I repeat myself--have rewritten history even faster than usual in the past few years: so we are presented with an imaginary world in which the whole world, traumatized by the events of 9-11, was unified behind America when it deposed the Taliban and attacked al Qaeda in Afghanistan but that unity and good will was pointlessly squandered when President Bush undertook the radically different regime change in Iraq. It is helpful then to refer back to Michael Walzer's essay, written right after our the liberation of the Afghan people, and recall that much of the Left had already bailed out back then. Even more, and much of Europe, followed them off the ship in the run-up to Iraq. Indeed, today it seems like you can count the members of the Decent Left on the fingers of your hands: their leading light is certainly Tony Blair, but then you've got Mr. Walzer himself; Christopher Hitchens; Paul Berman; John Lloyd; and William Shawcross, author of the book under consideration. Not a whole lot of prominent liberal voices spring to mind who have remained steadfast in their determination that the U.S. and Britain are on the side of the angels in ending the brutal tyranny of Saddam Hussein and giving Iraq a shot at founding a democratic state, are there?

The situation is actually stark enough that it calls into question whether the Decent Left even is part of the Left anymore, or whether a belief in the universal applicability of liberal democrat values and that the great democracies of the West have a role to play in applying them--by military force when necessary--must be considered fundamentally conservative. At the very least, the venom directed at these good men by their former allies demonstrates that they are no longer welcome on the Left. Here, for example, is a passage from a New Statesman "profile" of Mr. Shawcross:
"I was very influenced by William's reporting," remembers Margaret Drabble, whose novel The Gates of Ivory features a Shawcross-like journalist who travels to Cambodia in search of the truth about that stricken country, only to be destroyed by a reality he had refused to believe. "The Quality of Mercy," she says, "was an important influence on my fiction. Whenever I used to meet William, I always found him engaging, quick-witted and very interesting. I've only met him once since his conversion. It's very depressing what's happened to him."

The conversion to which Drabble refers is not religious, but political. Like his father - whose eventual alienation from the Labour Party earned him the sobriquet Sir Shortly Floorcross - Shawcross has journeyed from youthful rebellion to late-middle-age reaction. Once a model progressive, he is today a fellow- traveller of US imperialism, a committed Eurosceptic, a powerful advocate of pre-emptive war and an apologist for monarchy and inherited privilege who, following the success of his television series about the royal family, is being paid £1m to write the authorised biography of the Queen Mother.
Note the easy assumption that it is no longer "progressive" to advocate the overthrow of a genocidal totalitarian like Saddam Hussein?

At any rate, Mr. Shawcross came to his hatred of such homicidal dictatorships honestly. His father, who's disparaged above, was a Nuremberg prosecutor and the son made his bones in the devastating book, Sideshow, which presented the prosecution brioef against Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon for their role in the destruction of Cambodia. He also covered, and eventually worked with the U.N. on, genocide in places like the Balkans and Rwanda. His concern with the evil that regimes do to their own people certainly seems constant and it is hardly surprising that his determination to see such killing punished and prevented would bring him into opposition to Saddam. So, in August of 2002, even before George Bush's U.N. speech, Mr. Shawcross wrote an essay for The Guardian calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein by military means, Let's take him out: The threat to the world posed by Saddam Hussein's rule of terror is too great to ignore any longer. There is only one solution, military action:
Faced with the ruthless, terrorist nature of the regime, the Iraqi people alone cannot change their government. Only outside intervention can do that. [...] The first and most important thing is to get rid of Saddam's regime. When he falls there will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad, as there was in Kabul when the US drove out the Taliban. The Iraqis will be rid of a monstrous incubus.

If September 11 and America's response to it had not happened, think of the world we would still be living in: the Taliban would still be in power, terrorising Afghans; Bin Laden and al-Qaida would still be planning other outrages unrestricted. The same is true of Saddam today. He not only oppresses his own people savagely but also represents untold dangers to the region and to the world. His defiance also makes a mockery of the international legal system as represented by the UN. The UN's basic responsibility for the "maintenance of international peace and security" is daily undermined by a dictator of whose malign intent there is no doubt. To appease him endlessly is to weaken the UN. That, too, is both dangerous and immoral.

While it would be preferable to have a new UN security council resolution authorising military action against Saddam Hussein, as Rowan Williams argues, it is not strictly necessary. Saddam is already in defiance of existing resolutions and article 51 of the UN charter provides the right to self-defence against the threat he poses to all of us.

Moreover, we all know that the security council, a political body, does not always provide an adequate defence against evil. The council refused to help Rwandans during the genocide of 1994. Nato's 1999 action in defence of Muslims in Kosovo was conducted without a council resolution - because Russia and China would have vetoed it. Weighing the risks of action against Iraq is entirely proper. It is very difficult for the international community to deal with intransigent evil.
This is the most straightforward and expansive case to be made for intervention, much like the one that the President made a month later, that Saddam Hussein was an especially vile leader, who stood in violation of UN resolutions, and who could only be removed from power by outside armed forces. Mr. Shawcross, like Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, held out hope at this point that the world entire might be summoned to do the right thing, but recognized that it might be down to just a few good nations. He did not shy away from that prospect.

One thing he did do, unfortunately, is that like Tony Blair he tried to win that wider support by using Saddam's WMD programs as a further justification for removing him:
The new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said that it would be immoral and illegal for the British to support an American war against Iraq without UN authority. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned against an attack on Iraq, saying it would open a "Pandora's box" in the Middle East. The prospect of war against Iraq has provided a field day to anti-Americanism. I would argue that, on the contrary, the illegality is all on the side of Saddam Hussein. The real immorality and the greatest danger is to allow this evil man to remain indefinitely in power, scorning the UN and posing a growing threat to the world. Tony Blair is both brave and right to support American demands for a "regime change" in Iraq.

Weapons of mass destruction are the greatest threat to life on earth. Biological weapons are often called the poor man's atomic bomb. Saddam Hussein is the ruler who has for decades been making the most determined and diabolical illegal effort to acquire them.
The problem is not that this justification is inadequate, nor that we haven't yet found enough WMD to satisfy critics, but that it muddied the waters. A true believer in the U.N., carefully based even this argument in the most rigorous legal case:
The inspectors may find some banned materials, by luck, perseverance and good intelligence - and because Saddam has made cunning tactical concessions. They will never find the bulk of the illegal weapons. But that is not their job. That is to monitor his voluntary disarmament. He is not doing that and he never will. He is in clear breach of resolution 1441 and he always will be. The decision the world faces is: will we let him get away with it again? George Bush and Tony Blair say No. They are right.
but it seems undeniable, especially in retrospect, that reliance on the specter of WMD was an unnecessary distraction and was counterproductive for those who believe in a broad right--even obligation--to intervene against evil regimes.

In this book Mr. Shawcross seeks to undo some of the damage by presenting a cogent and thorough history of how the war came about along with a vindication of the rationales that President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and he himself presented for the war. The task is easier where the President is concerned:
By late summer 2003 no [WMD] had been found in Iraq. Blair's critics on both the right and left began to accuse him of misleading the British public and taking the country to war to counter a threat that did not exist. The problem for Blair was that whereas George Bush had always thought that regime change was a good enough reason for attacking Saddam, Blair had always insisted on the legal cover provided by Iraq's flouting of successive UN resolutions and possession of proscribed weapons of mass destruction.
Possession may not be nine tenths of the law, but the lack of possession became the obsession of the war's opponents and did leave proponents, but especially Mr. Blair, in a damn tough spot.

Those proponents and any open-minded reader--assuming such a person still exists on such a divisive issue--will likely be convinced by Mr. Shawcross's reminders of how universal was the belief that the WMD programs were ongoing and the weapons stockpiles still around. But the opponents are probably beyond convincing at this point. They'll certainly catterwaul about his conclusion:
[T]he United States is still the only country that can really change the world for the better.
Nevertheless, anyone looking for a brisk and readable history of the politics that brought us to war and followed thereafter will do no better than this tidy little volume.


Grade: (A)


See also:

William Shawcross Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Allies: The U.S. and the World in the Aftermath of the Iraq War by William Shawcross (Public Affairs)
    -EXCERPTS: from Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross
    -EXCERPTS: from Deliver Us From Evil by William Shawcross
    -LECTURE: AFTER IRAQ: AMERICA AND EUROPE (William Shawcross, 2003 Harkness Lecture, King’s College, London, 27 March 2003)
    -ESSAY: Peace is not the answer: Calls to end Iraq's bloodshed are hardly noble when those who would triumph slaughter teachers as children weep. (William Shawcross, October 9, 2005, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: They should be ashamed (William Shawcross, June 17, 2003, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Why this paper is wrong about Bush and Blair's stance on Iraq: Attacks on the premier and the president are ignorant and simplistic (William Shawcross, 09 February 2003, The Independent)
    -LECTURE: The US, Britain and Australia In The Age of Terrorism (William Shawcross, 2004 The Sydney Institute Lecture, 28 April 2004)
    -ESSAY: WMD did pose a threat (William Shawcross, July 21, 2004, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The cynicism of the defeatists: William Shawcross rebukes Andrew Gilligan and Rod Liddle for their reflections last week on the war in Iraq (William Shawcross, 4/24/04, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The scourge of anti-semitism spreads its venom (William Shawcross, December 14, 2003, The Observer)
    -ESSAY: The UN murderers must never be allowed to achieve their aim (William Shawcross, 26/08/2003, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: Hard Jobs Require U.S. Power (William Shawcross, April 20, 2003, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Pax Americana: Europeans are hypocritical, isolationist and deluded in their attempts to hobble the greatest power on earth (William Shawcross, 4/12/03, The Spectator)
    -ESSAY: Baghdad Day: "April 9 is not just spring, it is for Iraqis eternal spring." (WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, April 10, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Why Saddam will never disarm: the Iraqi leader is prepared to go to any lengths to hold on to his deadly weapons (William Shawcross, February 23, 2003, The Observer)
    -ESSAY: Let's take him out : The threat to the world posed by Saddam Hussein's rule of terror is too great to ignore any longer. There is only one solution military action (William Shawcross, August 1, 2002, Guardian)
    -DIGESTED READ: Queen and Country by William Shawcross: Condensed in the style of the original (June 8, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Stop this racism (William Shawcross, September 17, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Send in the mercenaries if our troops won't fight: think the unthinkable in Sierra Leone (William Shawcross, May 10, 2000, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY: Stopping Wars Before They Start Edited by Kevin M. Cahill (William Shawcross, NY ?Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: The New York Review of Books: William Shawcross
    -PROFILE: William Shawcross (Contemporary Writers)
    -PROFILE: NS Man of the year - William Shawcross (Jason Cowley, 15th December 2003, New Statesman)
    -PROFILE: William the conqueror: As a radical young writer, he took on the US establishment over Vietnam. Now he counts American hawks as friends and has been appointed biographer to the Queen Mother. What will he do with the House of Windsor's secrets? (Ed Vulliamy, July 13, 2003, The Observer)
    -ARTICLE: £1m advance for Queen Mother's biography (Mark Oliver, August 15, 2003, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: America Unlimited: The Radical Sources of the Bush Doctrine (Karl E. Meyer, Spring 2004, World Policy Journal)
    -ESSAY: Bush and Blair have lit a fire which could consume them: The Iraqi uprising will drive home the forgotten lessons of empire (Seumas Milne, April 8, 2004, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Ronald D. Asmus, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (James Traub, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Ronald Radosh, New York Post)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Philip Gordon, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Ed Vulliamy, Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (John J. Miller, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Paul Rogers, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Gary Brown, Online Opinion)
    -REVIEW: of Allies (Mark Easterbrook, MSN Xtra)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross (Max Boot, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us from Evil (Jack F. Matlock Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross (Jonathan Steele, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross (Peter Beaumont, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us from Evil (Donald P. Kommers, America)
    -REVIEW: of Deliver Us from Evil (Robert Kagan, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience by William Shawcross (Donald S. Zagoria, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross (Gaddis Smith, Foreign Affairs)

    -OBIT: Lord Shawcross dies at 101 (Michael White, July 11 2003, The Guasrdian)

Book-related and General Links:

    Neither a Realist Nor a Liberal, W. Is a Liberator: Saddam finally hit upon a president who knows how to beat him (LAWRENCE F. KAPLAN AND WILLIAM KRISTOL, January 29, 2003, Wall Street Journal)

    -ESSAY: The Cost of 'Stop the War'...Why I'm not going wobbly on Iraq. (Tony Blair, 2/17/03, Wall Street Journal)
    -PROFILE: The Prime Minister: A trampled Tony Blair stands up. (Anthony Lane, 2003-03-31, The New Yorker)
    Not too great. Just too greatly liked: a review of Blair By Anthony Seldon (The Economist)

    -ESSAY: Stumbling Into War (James P. Rubin, September/October 2003, Foreign Affairs)

    -ESSAY: Rebuilding the Atlantic Alliance (Ronald D. Asmus, September/October 2003, Foreign Affairs)