Friday 25 October 2002


Dear friends,

There has been a lot of noise lately about launching a pre-emptive war against Iraq and a lot of counter-noise against it. Unfortunately, there has been nearly no mention of any specific and pragmatic alternative that could prove to be a real alternative to war. By offering only arcane and byzantine pseudo-solutions based on UN resolutions and shady diplomatic deals, we are failing to inspire people in general to invest their energies in truly innovative solutions, solutions that can grab the public's imagination.

And by offering only either (war now without the UN) or (war later with the UN), we are behaving amorally and recognizing our powerlessness and lack of political creativity. What is even worse for democracy, we are mobilizing millions of people against war but we then let them down by not presenting to them a solution that is coherent and principled. This is the best recipe to manufacture cynicism and to brainwash people into believing that "nothing can really be done", that the world is doomed by stupidity and that political activism is worthless.

For example, the detailed "Labour Case Against War in Iraq" is well written, but in the end, it is totally irrelevant. It shows how badly the Labour Party (and Democrats in the US) lack political imagination and get lost in details. The Big Picture which people truly care about and could get excited about is freedom and democracy in Iraq, in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, and indeed, even at home.

To argue the minutia of why Bush and Blair are wrong on weapons and how they are trying to spin us into war is a sideshow. It shows how far ahead Bush and Blair are really, since the ultimate justification they give is unchallenged: democracy is needed in Iraq, and the sooner the better, and the more it can serve as an example for the entire region, the better for world stability.

To this, anti-war people have no answer, and indeed, it is not possible to fault that idealistic goal. The only thing that anti-war politicians say is that that goal should not be reached via an unilateral military intervention (leaving open the possibility that a multilateral military intervention is fine, and thereby undermining much of their anti-war stance since much of the anti-war movement is based on religious groups and led by religious leaders).

Ultimately, most objections to pre-emptive war are either morally incoherent as they effectively keep 22 million people under a ruthless dictator ("War is bad in any circumstance, let's negotiate with Saddam instead.") or they basically say, "War is bad except if the UN says so." But since the UN itself is not based on international morality, but on power, it is not a very morally sustainable way to respond to US hawks.

Today, we are presented with the unsavoury alternatives of either diplomacy (which abandons millions of people) or war. But there is a third alternative that is logical and functional: the first step of this alternative is to help the Iraqis to create a MORE LEGITIMATE provisional government in exile, i.e. a maximally legitimate one. This is what we call "Pre-emptive Democracy".

This concept maximizes the legitimacy of an alternative government to Saddam Hussein (based on a completely open and transparent constitutional process open to all Iraqis, but where in practice only those outside Iraq - opposition groups and the diaspora - would participate).

The beauty of a constitutionally democratic alternative is that Saddam cannot counter it, as it will on purpose set standards of legitimacy and transparency that he can never match. And he cannot attack it physically, pre-empt it, launch WMD against it etc.

The political and psychological impact of the mere existence of a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein should not be underestimated (indeed this has been the wish of many Iraqi opponents but no one until now had designed a credible way to create one). The dynamics engendered are such that it is extremely plausible that Saddam Hussein would lose power relatively quickly.

I will not enter into details here but imagining this in practice is an excellent and useful exercise. Imagine also that the new government requests and obtains diplomatic recognition from the international community (the public and political pressure to recognize this legitimate alternative will be overwhelming compared with diplomatic recognition of a dictator), that it takes over Saddam's embassies, receives the billions of US$ now frozen, and, for example, starts to administer parts or all of the no-fly zones, or administers the Oil-for-Food Programme of the UN. Imagine also that this government starts to displace Saddam's government in international bodies, at the UN etc.

Once Saddam becomes isolated diplomatically, his political effectiveness will be hugely clipped, and scenarios from a coup to going into exile become much more possible. Even if in the end, force were required, it would be much less than in today's situation as it would be at the explicit request of the legitimate government of Iraq (to free its country from an usurper), instead of following the unilateral and pre-emptive will of the US. And there would be no dangerous precedent set in international law about pre-emptive war, a huge benefit and in itself worth the creation of this new provisional government.

Of course, the West should only support the constitutional convention if two conditions are fulfilled: first that the new constitution guarantees a free, democratic, secular and unified Iraq, and secondly, that the provisional government once in Baghdad -within a short time- organize free elections to a final constitutional assembly. My conversations with Iraqi opposition leaders indicate that these conditions are not a problem.

I am in London next Tuesday and Wednesday and would like to meet with you or any group of MPs to discuss this and see how this democratic roadmap can be used to provide real meat to the anti-war camp.


Troy Davis, troydavis@post.harvard.edu
President/CEO, World Citizen Foundation/Fondation des Citoyens du Monde