Tam Dalyell gives reasons for postponing a Te Deum
If you were a Kurd, perched on a mountain hillside, with ailing or dead parents, and suffering children, would you thank Mr Bush? I use his name generically for the British and Americans, and those Arabs who were swept along by us – initially, at any rate, against their better judgment – into a shooting war. The question is rhetorical. You would feel the kind of anger that the Jews felt as they risked their lives to get to Palestine on unseaworthy tubs zig-zagging towards Haifa in the late Forties.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 13 No. 12 · 27 June 1991
Tam Dalyell asks in moving rhetoric (LRB, 25 April) whether the bereaved, deprived, ailing, wounded, dispossessed victims of the Gulf War should thank Mr Bush. Let us just guess: Dalyell hints broadly at his correct answer. No.
His rhetoric is moving, but like the desert at noon in the summer, it is full of hot air. Let us not forget that, although it was led by the US, Britain, France and Saudi Arabia, a coalition of about twenty-eight nations fought with UN approval. To win a war you pursue it: if military targets and civilian installations sit side by side, and if both civilians and soldiers use the same roads and bridges and communication systems and water and electric lines, civilian lives are going to be affected. The coalition had no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they were not being punished for being shown dancing after Saddam’s success or burning US flags or other war propaganda antics for television.
For decades, Palestinians have allowed themselves to be used by Jordan, Syria and other Arab nations as pawns in the Arabs’ implacable hostility toward Israel. The question of basic wrong, who shed the first blood, no longer matters. The PLO cannot allow itself to make a meaningful peace with Israel, for it thereby would lose a weapon against Israel. Turning to Saddam was foolish. Now Mr Bush alone is trying, against almost insurmountable odds, to arrange a Mideast peace.
Dalyell says (parenthetically) that Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait – in the first months – was not as brutal as portrayed. How nice. How very nice. How very comforting. The rest of the occupation certainly made up for that weakness. Dalyell allows some blame for the torching of five hundred oil wells and the befouling of the Gulf to fall on Saddam, but ties the Iraqi dictator’s unconscionable behaviour to the fact that the West sold him arms. A weird linkage. Dalyell seems to think that commercial and diplomatic talk are equivalent, that if an arms dealer could sell Saddam weapons an ambassador could sell him on the idea of leaving Kuwait.
Dalyell’s only mention of oil concerns pollution in the Gulf. He ignores the fact that in over-running Kuwait – a UN member, or is destruction of a sovereign state to be dismissed as merely a legalism? – Saddam gained control of 40 per cent of Mideast oil; in remaining poised to over-run Saudi Arabia he stood to gain control of 20 per cent more. The West deemed such power in the hands of one greedy, unstable person to be intolerable.