The Spectator

Letters to the Editor | 25 March 2006

Text settings

The neocons’ Iraqi ‘vision’

From Correlli Barnett

Sir: Surely Con Coughlin (‘A bittersweet birthday’, 18 March) is in error when he states that it was only after the fall of Saddam that Washington adopted the neocon vision whereby Iraq should be ‘a beacon of democracy that would shed its light throughout the tired autocracies of the Arab world’. Surely Bush and co. came into office in January 2001 having already bought the idea of ‘the American century’, and having already committed themselves to a mission to spread democracy round the world, starting with the Middle East, and with Iraq as the first target. This is attested by Christopher Meyer’s memoirs, Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack and even William Shawcross’s book Allies. There can be no question but that the Iraq war originated in this neocon vision and mission.

And can Mr Coughlin really believe that the US and UK resorted to the most drastic step of all in foreign policy — war — merely because Saddam was in technical breach of some dusty old UN Security Council resolutions? In that case, what about the other UN security resolutions calling on Israel to evacuate the West Bank, and just as much ignored?

Of course, there is the famous SC1441 of November 2002, claimed by London and Washington as justifying an attack on Iraq even without a second resolution specifically authorising armed action. In fact, SC1441 did not so justify an attack, because in that case the French, Russians and Germans would never have agreed to it. SC1441 was specifically drafted as a compromise which all could sign.

Then again, it is falsely alleged by Blairite apologists that the French had said they would veto any second resolution authorising an attack. But the truth is the French only opposed a second resolution at that time, February–March 2003, when Hans Blix and his team were making progress. The French wanted to wait until Blix completed his search and could make a final report.

According to Blix himself, such a report would in all likelihood have reached the conclusion that Saddam no longer possessed any WMD. This would have destroyed Washington’s and London’s favourite excuse for going to war. But in any case, a further delay of months in order to wait for that report was ruled out by the American military timetable for the invasion, now ticking inexorably.

And so Bush and Blair decided to go to war anyway. Nevertheless, the lack of specific UN authority rendered the war illegal, as was indeed feared at the time by the then British chief of defence staff, and is now agreed to be the case by a consensus of lawyers not drawing official salaries.

Three years on, we can measure the wisdom of the neocon ambition forcibly to democratise the Middle East, starting with the removal of Saddam Hussein. We can equally measure the political and strategic judgment of Bush and Blair in launching us on the road that has led to the present state of affairs in Iraq.

Correlli Barnett


The joys of democracy

From William Shawcross

Sir: Rod Liddle may blithely assert that ‘of course, for the vast majority of Iraqis life was much better’ under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein (‘Let’s just admit that Iraq was a disaster’, 18 March). But no Iraqi I know believes that. Instead they tend to say that, for all the problems, they now have hope — which was impossible under Saddam.

In the period since liberation, which Mr Liddle dismisses with such knowing contempt, a hideous and terrifying one-party state has been dismantled, and millions of Iraqis have participated with unconcealed joy in a series of local and national elections and a constitutional referendum, freer than any elections in the Middle East. Iraqis are of course dismayed by the mistakes and the failures of the Coalition. But I find it astonishing that Mr Liddle should choose to blame the horrific violence that we see in parts of Iraq (only parts) on the US and Britain. The Sunni terrorist leader in Iraq, al-Zarkawi, has made it clear time and again that his policy is to murder as many Iraqis as possible in order to create a civil war and destroy all hope of a better future for the entire Middle East.

How strange that such a clever and humane man as Mr Liddle should prefer to condemn those who are seeking to help Iraqis rather than those who are trying to slaughter them. William Shawcross

St Mawes, Cornwall

Undercover reporter

From Lindsey Hilsum

Sir: No, I was not just having a bad hair week. Charles Moore asks (The Spectator’s Notes, 18 March) why I wore a headscarf while reporting from Tehran during the week of Channel 4 News from Iran. The answer is simple: Iranian law insists that women cover their heads. He suggests that a BBC reporter would not do this — in fact, the BBC’s resident correspondent, Frances Harrison, also wears a headscarf. If we refused, we could not remain in Iran. The alternative would be that only men reported from Iran; you may feel this is acceptable, but I do not.

I have reported from Iran several times since 1998, primarily for Channel 4 News but also for the Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, TLS, Observer and New Statesman. None of these publications seems to have felt that my reporting has been compromised by what I wear on my head.

Lindsey Hilsum

International editor, Channel 4 News

London WC1

No time to buy time

From Nick Hurd MP

Sir: Lord Lawson (‘Climate of superstition’, 11 March) tells us that the threat from climate change is ‘less certain and less urgent that is commonly supposed’. He believes that we should focus on helping countries adapt to climate instability and so ‘buy time’ to develop clearer science and ‘more economic’ technology. This policy is flawed for two reasons. First, it ignores the risk associated with doing nothing in the short term to curb the growth in emissions of carbon that stays in the atmosphere for 200 years. If we wait for greater certainty on what the scientists are already telling us, then the evidence suggests that the problem will only get bigger and the insurance premium ever more expensive. Second, the technology is basically in place today to help us move to a low-carbon economy. The problem is that it is too expensive. Governments have the power now to make that technology cheaper by facilitating roll-out at scale. They also have the incentive. There is significant economic opportunity in being at the vanguard of this new investment frontier. Concerns about energy security and the future price of fossil fuels should only reinforce political will to pursue policies that make sense irrespective of climate-change risk.

Nick Hurd

Member of the Conservative Quality of Life Policy Commission, London SW1

‘Anathema’ of Lib Dems

From Cllr Ron Forrest

Sir: Kenneth Clarke’s belief (‘We must turn to the Liberals’, 18 March) that the Tories should prepare for coalition with the Liberal Democrats will be anathema to councillors like myself who have to confront them daily. A coalition with New Labour, although very unlikely, would be rather less absurd and slightly more workable.

It is at local government level that the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves for what they are: profligate, inefficient and totally lacking in principle. When it comes to fighting elections they stoop to any trick that they think the law, if not common decency, will allow. Most of their policies, which often seem merely to reflect the wishes of the last person they have spoken to, vary from constituency to constituency.

What is certain about their policies is that they are fully signed-up Euro-federalists with a commitment to the European constitution and the euro. Perhaps this is what attracts Clarke t o them?

Ron Forrest

Somerset County Council, Taunton

Doing well without the EU

From Douglas Carswell MP

Sir: David Rennie supposes that Britain has had to ‘sign away great slices of national sovereignty in the hope of prising open other nations’ closed markets’ (‘Eurosceptics against the nation state’, 11 March). Nonsense. Switzerland, relying on a simple bilateral trade accord, sells twice as much per head to the EU from outside as does Britain from inside. Norway and Iceland, through the European Economic Area, also manage to export more, proportionately, to the EU than we do. And countries which have no preferential trade accords with the EU at all, such as the United States, have seen their exports to the EU rise far faster than has the United Kingdom.

Incidentally, we are now in surplus with every continent in the world except Europe. Since joining in 1973, we have run an average trade deficit with the rest of the EU of £30 million a day. Put simply, the other states have a far greater incentive to ensure continued free trade across the Channel than we have. Leaving the EU would not just make us freer; it would make us richer, too.

Douglas Carswell

London SW1

Height of majesty

From Pamela Hill

Sir: I wonder where Paul Johnson got his measurements for Mary Queen of Scots of only 5ft 10in (And another thing, 18 March)? She may possibly have lost height with ageing, as we all do, but in active life she was 6ft tall like her mother, who easily overtopped James V even in his hat. Nor, at that, was Mary ‘taller than all three of her husbands’. Her first, Francis II, was an undersized invalid. But her second, Darnley, from recent measurement of his probable femur and inspection of his long legs from two portraits with his much younger brother by Eworth in the Royal Collection, was 6ft 3in.

Pamela Hill

Radlett, Hertfordshire

Memories of Morley

From Richard Hills

Sir: I think it worth pointing out that Michael Tippett was carrying on a tradition of enterprise and innovation begun by Gustav Holst on his appointment as musical director at Morley College in 1907 (Arts, 18 March). During his time there he established the choir and orchestra that performed, at Morley and his Thaxted Festival, works by Byrd, Weelkes and Purcell, including the first performance since the 17th century of The Fairy Queen. They sang Bach, Palestrina and Vittoria and premiered several of Holst’s own compositions as well as Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G Minor. Imogen Holst’s biography of her father quotes a choir member as saying that Morley ‘was a kind of heaven we go to on Mondays and Wednesdays’ — a view certainly shared by two of my aunts who were members of the choir in the 1920s.

Richard Hills


Strings attached

From Michael Henderson

Sir: Perhaps your guest pop critic (‘Dark Side of the Hoon’, 18 March) should return to those red boxes. Phil Manzanera is not, nor has ever been, a famous keyboard name. For the past 34 years he has played the guitar in a little-known group called Roxy Music.

Michael Henderson

London W13

Absence of laughter

From John McDermott

Sir: Even scarier than the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Ascension and all that stuff is the lack of evidence that Jesus (Books, 11 March) ever laughed.

John McDermott