By David Hare
From the moment it was first mooted, this was, for me, the impenetrable war, the war wrapped in mystery. "It's about oil." "It's about imperialism." "It's about a son avenging the failures of his father." All the answers that are supposed to tell you everything, that are always given to you in a tone of utter contempt, as if you must be a fool not to understand, in fact seem to tell you nothing. The fake certainty, the anger, the exasperation, and now the startling vindictiveness, the personal vitriol in the rhetoric of the west - as if we hated each other far more than we hate Saddam - betray our own bad faith about a conflict whose meaning eludes us.
Why Iraq? Why now? "It's a response to September 11." Oh yes? And is that why you staged your response in a country which had no connection to September 11? "It's about nuclear weapons." Oh yes? "Well, maybe not actual nuclear weapons. It's about weapons of mass destruction." Oh yes? And how many weapons of mass destruction have you found?
What is this war then, which politicians like, which politicians in so many countries favour, and which only the poor bloody people in nearly every country in the world dislike and distrust? Who knows? Who truly can tell? Somebody explain to me: not just the feebleness of the rationale, the evident lies needed to be told by the Americans in order to try - and fail - to persuade international opinion that they had a right to invade. But on the other side, also, explain to me: perhaps 2 million people in Hyde Park, the march inspiring, the solidarity inspiring. And the only disappointment? The speeches. One speaker after another offering feeble jokes about regime change in the White House and Downing Street. Not one single speaker with an analysis that struck to the heart, that made any sense.
And note - no leader. A popular movement of visceral dissent - and no leader. Usually great movements throw up great speakers, people like EP Thompson or Emily Pankhurst whose identity crystallises the common outrage. This time - who? Michael Moore, yes. On the battleground, Robert Fisk, yes. In the columns, Paul Krugman and Julian Barnes, yes. But the great voice, the voice that will tell us "This is what's happening. And this is why." For the first time in my lifetime, a movement with mass, but no tongue. Jacques Chirac? Please.
Those of us who, from the start, opposed this venture on the grounds that it was unnecessary and illegal may now have to face the possibility that it will improve the lives of large numbers of people in large parts of Iraq. We have to face the charge that we are spoilt, that we who already have freedoms have no right to deny even a colonial freedom - if there can be such a thing - to those who have known only brutality and suffering. We are, we are told, callous not to allow that it is a significant advance, at least to those who have known no advance at all, to move a country from dictatorship to anarchy and foreign occupation. But we, in return, have to insist that this release from pain has been bought in the wrong way and at what is already, and at what will only become more clearly, too high a price.
In our hearts, we all know - what's interesting, even supporters of the war know - there was no need for this. Nothing has been achieved which, with common diplomacy and resolve, could not have been achieved with fewer dead babies, less bereavement, less murder, less random slaughter. Three thousand killed in the Twin Towers. Three thousand, at least, already dead in Iraq. Three thousand, a majority bystanders, dead in the reoccupation of Palestine following the second intifada. Is equivalence achieved? Can we stop here?
The answer, it seems, is no. At the beginning of all this I argued for George Bush to go into a wood outside Vienna or St Petersburg with Saddam Hussein. Pistols at dawn, Rumsfeld and Aziz as seconds on either side, a few paces back. Top hats. Handkerchiefs. Let the man who wants to fight fight. But instead the world has been sickened by a cowards' engagement. On one side, Saddam Hussein, instructing his head of protocol to shoot him in the face of capture because he knows he will not have the stomach to do it himself. On the other, in eerie parallel, George Bush, famous as frat-boy draft-dodger; John Ashcroft, draft-dodger; Richard Perle, draft-dodger; Dick Cheney, draft-dodger, his words about Vietnam already the epitaph of this administration: "I had other priorities at the time." Men willing to send others to do what they would not do themselves.
It is a hardy soul who has witnessed without flinching Americans raining down terror from the sky, shooting up Iraqi civilians, British soldiers, children, women - hell, fellow Americans, why not? Inflicting almost as many casualties on their own allies as the ostensible enemy has done. It has been impossible for anyone not to contemplate the disparity between American firepower, the bulk weight of US technology, and the pathetic, disorganised inadequacy of Iraqi resistance and not feel sickened by the unevenness of the fight. And more, beyond that shame at an inequality of means which you cannot even dignify with the name of war, to ask "And to what end? And to what point?"
I understand no more than anyone, no more than this: at some level I believe this administration does not even know why it chose Iraq. I believe it cannot even remember the reasons. The reasons have changed so many times - at least in public - and make so little palpable sense that it is, of course, tempting to believe, as conspiracy theorists will always believe, that there is some hidden reason which is being kept from us. But to me, the more frightening possibility is this: what if no such reason exists? If there is indeed, no casus belli?
If that were the case, then there would be, at least, an explanation for our own inarticulacy, for the failure of our speechmaking. It appears that something so profound is happening in the world that none of us is yet able to grasp it. How can we consider and speak to the possibility that America is deliberately declaring that the only criterion of power shall now be power itself? The introduction of the doctrine of the right to the pre-emptive strike is an event in international history of infinitely more consequence and importance than anything that happened on September 11. Even the transgression of a territorial border and the murder of innocent citizens cannot compare to what is being claimed here: the right to go in and destroy a regime, at whatever cost and without any clear plan for its future, not because of what anyone has done, but because of what you cannot prove they might do.
George Bush is a born-again Christian and a recovering alcoholic. I see in him the uncontrollable anger of the alcoholic, once directed at himself, sluiced away every night into his bloodstream and out into the gutter, now, tragically, directed, via his amazingly aggressive, amazingly triumphant body language, on to whatever poor soul comes into his sights.
The intention to destroy the credibility of the United Nations, and its right to help try and defuse situations of danger to life, is not a byproduct of recent American policy. It is its very purpose. Bush chose Iraq not because it would make sense, but because it wouldn't. He did it, in short, because he could. No better reason than that. "Because I can, I will." The thinness of the justification for this war is, in fact, its very point. As is the arbitrariness of the target. The proliferation of other named targets - Syria, North Korea, maybe Burma, why not China? - adds, in Bush's eyes, only to the deliciousness of the game.
Caught, significantly, chuckling and laughing before a supposedly serious press conference about enemy losses and American advances, Bush comes to represent the man flexing private muscles for no other reason than the feral pleasure of the flex. What is being asserted today is the right to assert, to go in with absolutely no gameplan for how you will get out. Did the Bush administration deliberately omit to put any aid to Afghanistan in its current budget plans? Or, worse, did it simply forget?
Tonight in Jerusalem, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, under cover of war, while the world is not looking, Jewish fundamentalists are moving into an armed apartment block on land which belongs to the Palestinians; in the White House, Christian fundamentalists dream of moving on to murder and mayhem in countries beyond count; and on the stony hillsides of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Muslim fundamentalists dream of moving on to murder and mayhem in countries beyond count. The trade union of international politicians exercises an ever more Stalinist grip, moving countries and armies to wars they do not want. Only the people say no.