Our Cynical Foreign Policy: One Day Saddam's a Hero, the Next a Villain

Roundup: Media's Take

Simon Jenkins, in the London Times (Feb. 11, 2004):

Your starter for ten. What is the difference between a sadistic oil-rich Arab dictator who must be backed and feted by the West and a sadistic oil-rich Arab dictator who must be bombed and sanctioned into submission? Answer: none.

The lucky dictator in the 1980s was Saddam Hussein and today it is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The unlucky dictator in the 1980s was Gaddafi and the unlucky one today is Saddam. In the 1980s the Americans and British were selling Saddam materials for his weapons systems. We knew he was massacring civilians with them. During that time American planes took off from British bases to assassinate Gaddafi in his Tripoli palace. The planes were no more accurate than a similar mission to kill Saddam last year. Dozens of civilians died, including one of Gaddafi's children, but not the target.

Had Gaddafi died in 1986, his death would have been hailed as a triumph against terrorism. Had Saddam been killed then, it would have been seen as a blow to stability and anti-fundamentalism in the Gulf region. Twenty years later neither Saddam nor Gaddafi had changed in their essentials. Both tyrants had aged and become less of a menace to the world. Gaddafi had stopped sponsoring terrorists. Saddam had let the UN destroy his weapons stockpiles. Both still killed their enemies, suppressed opposition and impoverished their peoples.

Yet now it is Saddam whose death is sought by the West and Gaddafi who is hailed by Tony Blair as "courageous and statesmanlike"....

The past month has been astonishing. Another dictator, General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, has admitted that his nuclear weapons team have been supplying material to every rogue state in the world, including Iran and North Korea. This has been in defiance of supposedly fierce controls on nuclear dissemination and under the nose of Western intelligence so obsessed with finding non-existent Iraqi bombs that it neglected real Pakistani ones.

Musharraf runs a repressive regime that harbours the Taleban forces out to topple the Kabul regime of Hamid Karzai. The historian of the Taleban, Ahmed Rashid, reports in this month's New York Review of Books that conditions in southern Afghanistan remind him of ten years ago. He is now seeing "history repeat itself, in some respects worse than before". The Taleban is fuelled by unprecedented opium money, released by the US-backed warlords. And what does Musharraf do? He leaves the Taleban in peace and grants a state pardon to his nuclear salesmen, knowing that the West dares not abandon him....

How should we react to a Western foreign policy that is so promiscuously cynical? The answer might be with a weary sigh: it was ever thus. Young diplomats are told that foreign policy is about interests, never morality. I see the recent turn of events as more optimistic. Mr Blair's crusade to save the world has strutted its bloodthirsty hour upon the stage. Its downfall was in being joined to America's search for punitive revenge after 9/11. Both crusade and revenge are now stumbling to a finish in the poppy fields of Afghanistan and the shanty towns of Iraq. We shall not see them again for a generation.


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