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"In the British Conservative Party, we have had a long period in opposition but we are now preparing for government again."

I think this is an important phrase and step in the right direction. The Conservative party must appear as if they are a Government in waiting, both to the electorate and other foreign Government powers.

I am glad that Hague has re-affirmed the vital importance of Anglo-US ties and has also dealt with the impression in the States that a United Europe is in US interests. It is clearly not in US interests to have a Europe dominated by an anti-American outlook, which is the goal of Chirac and his multi-polar view of the foreign affairs.

What American moral authority? A nation with it's morality as mixed up as the US can give no lead on that score, surely?

It's okay to call Muslims "Rag Heads", to support truly horrible regimes (such as Bush currently pandering to China, and Saudi Arabia) but show Janet Jackson's left nipple on TV for a nano-second and the whole country falls apart in moral outrage.

Truly mind blowing.

Jon, your "rag heads" comment paints all Americans as Ann Coulter (or her slavish devotees). May I be the first and likely not the last American on here to say that I take such a sweeping and unfair generalization as a personal insult?

Moreover, I don't see any distinction between the US and anyone else with respect to pandering to China and Saudi Arabia. When such pandering does finally come to an end (and the sooner, the better), it would surprise me if the country to take the lead in doing so were not the US. When that happens, one can surely expect many of those who current condemn American pandering to flip 180 degrees and condemn failing to pander as "neo-con imperialist belligerence" or the like. I'm not saying you would. But I am saying I would be stunned if that weren't exactly the response in some quarters.

As for "the whole country fall[ing] apart in moral outrage" over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," a small vocal minority does not "the whole country" make. Most people could've cared less.

Jon White: "Bush currently pandering to China, and Saudi Arabia"

It is Britain that has just signed a multi billion pound arms deal to the Saudis (not the first such deal) and it is Europe (against America's wishes) that wanted to lift the arms embargo against China.

I'm glad William Hague has addressed the Bush administration's 'I'm alright Jack' attitude towards climate change.

If only he would take a similar approach to their Marie Antoinette ('the Africans have no maize? then let them eat Big Macs!') stance on trade...

I'm more concerned about the Bush Administration's new policy of pre-emptive shooting of lawyers.

The problem Hague highlights is real. It's hard to portray yourself as the good guys, bringing freedom and democracy to the "bastions of tyranny", if your own actions there seem little different from those of the tyrant you're deposing.

Are you really saying James that US action in Iraq is at all equivalent to that of Saddam?

Imprisoning people without trial and torturing them is equivalent to Saddam's government imprisoning people without trial and torturing them. I don't think the Iraqi people see a major distinction between them, which is surely one of the problems the coalition has faced in winning the trust of the population.

And Tim, I think you need to draw the distinction between "US action in Iraq" and "some actions of the US" in Iraq and the wider world.

It's not the removal of Saddam and subsequent military action per se, that it the problem, but rather the counterproductive approach taken to securtiy issues in general, which have merely served to antagonise the poopulation the US sought to win the hearts and minds of.

If you really hold that position James I see little point in debating you.


Strictly in terms of international law, the US/UK invasion of Iraq was at least as illegal as Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

The latest pictures revealing the disgraceful behaviour of US troops towards their captives suggests that American forces are much closer to the way Saddam treated captives than any of us dared imagine.

Iraw has unquestionably descended into chaos and terrorism in a way that simply did not exist before.

All in all, I'd say that any moral argument for the invasion of Iraq, put on the basis of 'at least we've got rid of a nasty dictator and are bringing something better for the Iraqi people', is not your best point.


Despite the current mess in Iraq, winning WWII and the Cold War give a nation considerable moral authority.

Most Western governments suck up to the Saudi and Chinese regimes (unfortunately).

Gareth - why do you have such faith in the UN? This is an organisation that the Oil-for-Food scandal has shown to be hopelessly compromised. Do China and Russia etc really have authority to declare military action legal? Not in my book. We need a radically reformed UN.

The prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq were a disgrace but they were not an instrument of policy. They were against coalition policy and US soldiers who committed that abuse are now in prison. US and Saddam behaviour cannot be compared.


It's a strange mind of law that allows you to question the moral rectitude of the Judge before you accept his verdict.

US & the UK are members of the UN and signatories to its charter. They cannot treat its resolutions as some sort of a la carte menu from which they pick and choose, particularly if they cite 'morality' as a explanation for their actions.

I take your point about prisonre abuse in Iraq. The same cannot be said of Guantanamo and prisoner rendition, both of which are very much part of US policy.

"The latest pictures revealing the disgraceful behaviour of US troops towards their captives suggests that American forces are much closer to the way Saddam treated captives than any of us dared imagine."

Let's try and retain a sense of perspective here shall we? The mistreatment of Iraqi citizens under the former regime took place with tacit approval, nay, encouragement from Saddam Hussein and those around him and was commonplace.

The misguided actions of a tiny proportion of Allied troops in Iraq have been rightfully condemned by the respective governments and are the exception rather than the norm.

It's bad enough the likes of Al-Jazeera spouting that sort of nonsense without otherwise sensible people peddling insurgent propaganda here too.

I would suggest everyone reads Murray's book on Neoconservatism (an absolute steal at £20, reviewed elsewhere on this blog). You don't have to agree with him on the wonders of being a neocon (I don't), but there is an excellent section the evils of moral equivalence, and how it now permeates Western 'official culture'.

James Hellyer/Gareth on torture: both sides were awfully beastly to people detained at Abu Ghraib, but whereas with the US this represents a clear failure and falling below the values of their system, under Saddam it was the whole point of the system. The Americans put their abusers on trial. You might want to argue that the individuals carrying out acts of brutality are equivalent but you can't carry that over to the respective systems.

Not an entirely flippant point: I'd rather not be tortured, but if forced I'd choose to be tortured by Bush than Saddam - I'd be more likely to survive, and there's much better prospects of suing them afterwards.

Gareth on legality of invasions: actually, you're wrong. Even someone who believes in the no-war-without-a-UN-resolution theory (I don't) can't maintain an equivalence between Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and Bush's invasion of Iraq. The Kuwait invasion was condemned by UN resolutions and its occupier made it plain he intended to remain (altho' Saddam did commence a withdrawal once attacked by ground forces). In the case of Iraq, Bush has established a form of local self-government and has established a framework (if not a timetable) for withdrawal.

Gareth on chaos: true, Iraq under Saddam did not have people running around committing acts of terrorism against the state, but isn't the point that under Saddam terror was institutionalised in the system? Would you argue for the equivalence of Northern Ireland in the 1970s with Iraq today?

Gareth on removing dictators: I'm quite happy to argue that an Iraq suffering insurgency is better than an Iraq under Saddam. Life there isn't the same as in Surbiton [I hope - or Surbiton's gone downhill since I was last there] but they do have the prospect of something better - whatever chances you give that - which they didn't have before. It's not perfect; it's not ideal; I agree it weakens the West's moral authority; but it's there. One day there may be flowers in the desert.

I struggle with the concept of legal and illegal wars. I find it amusing that those people who were against action in Iraq because it was illegal based on a lack of explicit UN authority were the same people who were in favour of action in Kosovo which similarly had no explicit UN authority. I dont think you will find many of them claiming that war was illegal.

I think that the US generally acts in an upright and honourable fashion, however the problem is two-fold. First there are too many nations viscerally anti-American who will use any pretext however flimsy to bash the US. Secondly the US needs to understand that it must both act and be seen to act honourably. Guantanamo and the Prison abuse scandal and the generalised coyness surrounding this badly lets the US down in the 'seen to' stakes. Secondly the anti-American countries need to get away from the idea that bashing the superpower, it may go down well with the domestic voters but most of these countries would be sunk or badly damaged if the US withdrew support.

I think that a few people here are missing the point. Only the fringe lunatics believe that the US are operating in a way that is as bad as Saddam. The rest of us understand the difference. The problem however is that in Iraq and throughout the muslim world this distinction is not made. The US needs to wake up to the amount of damage being done by these scandals. Simply saying that saddam was worse doesn't cut it.

but whereas with the US this represents a clear failure and falling below the values of their system, under Saddam it was the whole point of the system.

The point here is that the distinction between coalition policy and actual practice is not made in the Arab world. In the eyes of the Iraqis there is no difference between Saddam's men torturing someone and US operatives doing the same.

The only actual distinction is that the Iraqis can openly protest now. For example, earlier this week, the council in Basra announced on the Today programme that they were no longer co-operating with British troops over a separate abuse issue. They didn't see that it was rogue troops who were to blame, but rather the coalition itself.

The US - and UK - need to keep their houses in order. Although prisoner abuse, for example, wasn't US policy, the conduct of the Administration has left many - especially in the Arabic world - thinking that it was policy.

Given the forms of government that most Arabs live under, that belief would be quite logical on their part.

Dave J, I apologise if you felt I was lumping all Americans as devotees of Ann Coulter. That was not my intention. I am well aware that she does not speak for all.
I was in the US however at the time of the Janet Jackson 'incident'. Seemed to me that majority of people did care.

As regards China and Saudi, I suppose that 'Real Politique' comes to mind. But these are both HORRENDOUS regimes, and the west (lead by the US) are trying as hard as possible to ingratiate themselves with them.


I think the attack on Kosovo was, if anything, more reprehensible than the attack on Iraq.

Both however, as you point out, were illegal.


Characterising those who happen to disagree with you like this:

"It's bad enough the likes of Al-Jazeera spouting that sort of nonsense without otherwise sensible people peddling insurgent propaganda here too."

is pretty offensive actually. Not up to your usual standards of debate at all. But perhaps indicative that, if this is the bst you can come up with, this war really is indefensible?

Personally I'm quite happy with Hagues speech.It strikes the right chords here in the UK and hopefully also I hope in the USA.It paints a picture that exists rather than what some in the Conservative party would want it to be.Well done William!

Gareth - I would concur that if you define a legal war as one with UN explicit sanction then both actions were illegal. However is it proper to view war in legal terms? Surely war is the means adopted for resolution of differences outside the legal framework of treaties and concordats? In which case all war is technically illegal or more probably extra-legal.

Gareth, does that argument then apply to the War on Terror? (Which isn't a war of course, as no nation state has declared conflict with any other).

James Burdett: However is it proper to view war in legal terms? Surely war is the means adopted for resolution of differences outside the legal framework of treaties and concordats? In which case all war is technically illegal or more probably extra-legal.

Er, no. "War" is a legal relationship existing between states. It is subject to a law of war which has developed over the years - hence "war crime", for which key Nazis were executed at Nuremburg [GODWIN!]. Life is too short to summarise the subject here, but:
* some people argue that all war is now illegal
* some people argue that war is illegal between members of the UN
* some people argue that war is illegal unless authorised by a UN resolution
* nobody really agrees

The really tricky question: was the Nuremburg Tribunal legal?

* nobody really agrees

And because declarations of war are generally subject to the approval of the legislature of most democracies, there neither the US or Britain have been at War since 1945.

That's why conflicts like the Vietnam War were labelled as "police actions" or an "authorised use of force".

Try telling veterans of Korea, Vietnam, or the Falklands that they were engaged in a conflict or a police action and not a war. I'd love to see the response.

Korea 1950-1953
No declaration of war, for practical reasons: Truman wasn't sure he'd get the vote through Congress; and any way US didn't recognise North Korea as a legitimate state (it didn't join the UN until the 1990s) so it couldn't declare war on them. Attlee didn't declare war because the Cabinet Office weren't sure if the UN Charter had outlawed war and they didn't want to test the question. (NB the "war memorial" in Westminster Abbey refers to the dead as having been in the service of the UN, not the UK.) Instead some Security Council resolutions recommended that all states assist South Korea to repel the armed attack from the North to restore peace, and established a UN command to co-ordinate this.

There has only ever been an indefinite armistice, not a peace treaty: if the Korean War was a war, then legally it is still happening.

Vietnam War 1957-75
No declaration of war: North Vietnam maintained the fiction that the fighting was a spontaneous uprising by southerners; South Vietnam did not recognise the North Vietnamese regime as legitimate. At the start, US was merely sending military advisers to train the South Vietnamese. The Tonkin Resolution of Congress in 1964 following an attack on a US warship authorised the President to take all necessary steps to defend US allies in South East Asia, and was actually repealed in 1970. Arguably covered under the UN Charter collective defence provisions (South Vietnam did ask the US to assist, which is the critical difference with El Salvador/Nicaragua); less clear cut whether Nixon could justifiably bomb Cambodia. The US withdrew from the hostilities through the Paris Peace Accord in 1973.

Falklands War 1982
Thatcher didn't declare war on Argentina - the DTI advised that a state of war would cause unjustifiable disruption in trade if Argentina were legally classified as an "enemy". The Security Council confined itself to a resolution requesting the Secretary General to try to arrange a ceasefire. Legally, the UK was repelling an armed attack upon itself, as allowed under the UN Charter (it does not matter which way the Belgrano was sailing or where it was when it was sunk). Legally equivalent to chasing trespassers out of your garden.

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