|Los disidentes britanicos.
Tema la guerra.
The pretext for war is Saddam's disarmament, but there has always been a secondary aim which contained nobler sentiments about the liberation of Iraqis and the introduction of democracy. As President Bush said in February: 'A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.'
However, there are well-founded suspicions that whatever Bush may think he means this is little more than pre-war rhetoric. Strategists in the State Department are set against any democratic experiment in a liberated Iraq, precisely because it threatens the authoritarian governments of the region - principally, Egypt, the Gulf States, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
A classified policy document leaked to the Los Angles Times last week not only doubts the possibility of introducing democracy to the Middle East by 'domino effect' but considers Iraq to be the least likely crucible of reform because of its ethnic and religious divisions. That is why now, when we're perhaps just a few days from war and maybe only weeks from peace, the State department and CIA have still had no meaningful contact with the elected leadership of the Iraqi National Congress, a body which draws from all sects and ethnic groups.
The attitude that informs this document, and the State department's institutional contempt for the INC, is at base racism disguised as hard-headed realism. It says: 'The towel heads can't hack it; the only way to achieve stability in the country is to install another strongman drawn from Saddam's Sunni minority.'
This is exactly the thought which inspired British and US strategists of the early 1990s to hang their Balkans policy around the local strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. Another Sunni tough in Iraq, unrestrained by democratic institutions and the requirements of accountability, is likely to morph into a version of Saddam. Corruption will remain, the torture chambers will be simply rewired and in time the man will start looking to re-equip his army - for purposes of national security of course.
If Bush and Blair are to continue with this very hazardous enterprise of toppling Saddam in the face of so much opposition they must during the course of today's summit in Azores pledge themselves to the cause of democracy in the Middle East. It is crucial that the world understands that the rights and conditions of millions of people in the Arab world may be improved by what many still regard as the illegal invasion of a sovereign territory.
This is a prize worth fighting for, and to reduce the Iraq project to a process of disarmament would signal that the West is only concerned with defending its own freedoms and security. When Western values are being challenged by Islamist groups all over the world, it is an ideological imperative that we demonstrate liberal democracies can work in Muslim countries.
In fact, we don't really need to. Turkey already has a functioning democracy and in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq separate factions are at last working together. According to Human Rights Watch, 'Both the KDP and PUK administrations promulgated laws and adopted decisions aimed at the protection of fundamental civil and political rights, including freedom of expression and of association.'
Of course, the Arab political establishment does not want to see this trend spreading and there can be little doubt that neighbouring regimes have communicated their fears to the US. The State Department has reacted with the usual lack of conviction by accepting the sly self-diagnosis that Muslim states are incapable of providing their citizens with basic rights and freedoms. This is badly wrong-headed, but also inconsistent. The very officials who drafted their secret policy contained in Iraq, the Middle East and Change: no Dominoes also took part in a meeting last December between the US, Russia, the EU and UN which produced The Road Map for Middle East Peace. In its opening statement, the powerful group recognises 'the importance of well-prepared Palestinian elections to the process of building strong, democratic institutions in the preparation of statehood'.
If it's good for Palestine, why not Iraq? It is true that the problems are far from simple in Iraq. There is a deep hostility between the Sunni minority and the Shia majority, which represents 65 per cent of the country but has been completely excluded from power under Saddam; there are tribal groupings, almost too complex for the Western eye to discern; and there are tensions to be resolved between the Kurds and Arabs and Turkish minority in the north. Taken as a whole, Iraqi society is addicted to corruption and bears the scars of a prolonged and dreadful violation.
But none of these things is beyond reform and healing, just as they weren't in Japan and Germany in 1945. It little more than astonishing that the State Department has so consciously neglected the one democratically-elected group which has been working through the problems of reconstruction, representation and reconciliation - that is to say the INC. The point everyone seems to forget is that the US government is actually compelled to fight for democracy by an act of Congress - the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 - which states that America should 'support efforts to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein... and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace it.' The State Department's response was to draw up a secret list of 15 Sunni generals that remain relatively uncontaminated by Saddam's regime and quietly forget any notion of democracy. Meantime CIA officers monitor the democratic opposition leaders in Kurdistan as if they were a terrorist group.
There is one slight ray of hope in all this, and that is the view of Paul Wolfowitz and other conservative hawks in the Pentagon who believe that the best way to defend Western democracy and values is to extend them even to the harshest climates. They may yet prevail and gain the ear of the President, though the signs are that while the Pentagon is in charge of the war, the State Department will design the peace.
The result of the Azores summit must be a recognition that democracy is the fruit of any war and that Iraq will be liberated, not merely conquered. The way to demonstrate this is to return some measure of sovereignty to the democratically-motivated Iraqis the moment hostilities are over. Only then will the alliance be able to prove moral justification for war.