Friday, 15 February 1991


Paul Anderson, review of Saddam's War by John Bulloch and Harvey Morris (Faber, £13.99) and Unholy Babylon by Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander (Gollancz, £9.99), Tribune, 15 February 1991

These two instant books on the background to the war over Kuwait, both by pairs of journalists, are complementary. Saddam's War is a clearly written introduction to the pre-history of the current carnage by two experienced British Middle East correspon­dents, both now in the Independent stable. Unholy Babylon, by an Egyptian journalist (also now on the Independent) and a pseudonymous British defence specialist, provides a welter of extra background information, particularly on oil, the history of Iraq's relationship with Kuwait, the development of Iraqi Ba'athism and the world's arms sales to Saddam Hussein.

No heroes emerge from the pages of either book, and the villains are many. Saddam is the main one, and with some reason. On the evidence assembled here, no one could doubt that this street-fighting thug turned torturer turned totalitarian despot heads one of the vilest regimes in the world. Both sets of authors point to the ideological debts owned by Ba'athism to the European fascisms of the twenties and thirties – the fetish of military valour, the cult of the authorita­rian leader, the myth of the betrayed nation – and it is impossible not to note the similarities between Sad­dam's techniques of rule by terror and those of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

But Saddam would never have come close to power, his militarist pan-Arabism would never have had any political purchase, had not Britain, France and the United States made such a pig's ear of the Middle East in the past century. And he would not have stayed in power, let alone been capable of taking on the military might of the United States and its allies, had not those same powers, ably assisted by the Soviet Union, cynically sustained his regime as a bulwark against Iran and Syria. Darwish and Alexander catalogue the giant arms deals, the massive economic aid packages and the diplomatic silences with con­siderable verve.

When and why the US decided that it was time to put an end to its appeasement of Saddam is a moot point. Both books effectively discount the idea that the decision was made long before August 2 and that Saddam was lured into taking Kuwait to provide a pretext for acting against him; the detailed account in Unholy Babylon suggests that the Bush administra­tion, operating on State Department advice, was genuinely surprised by the invasion despite the CIA's warnings. In any case, the Americans responded by sending substantial armed forces to Saudi Arabia, and by November, through inertia or choice, war rather than containment was clearly what the US and its allies were promising Saddam if he did not withdraw.

Here, understandably, both books begin to tail off, their authors unwilling to predict the course of events as the January 15 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait approached. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that Unholy Babylon, on the whole more sceptical about the wisdom of taking military action against Saddam, underplays the possibility that by the end of 1990 (possibly earlier, or even all along) Saddam actually wanted war, calculating that he could at least last long enough to go down in history as a hero of the Arab masses. Saddam's War, which occasionally lapses into trite moralising in its con­cluding chapter, tends to skate over the potentially disastrous political ramifications of attempting to remove Saddam from Kuwait by force. But this is carping: as instant books go, both of these provide plenty of insights.

Friday, 1 February 1991


Tribune, 1 February 1991

Support for the  the former West German Greens collapsed in December's federal elections, yet they doubled their vote to 9 per cent in last month's state elections in Hesse. Paul Anderson wonders whether their sister-party in Britain can stage a similar comeback

Eighteen months ago it seemed as if British politics could be on the brink of a dramatic realignment. In the June 1989 elections for the European Parliament, the Green Party came from nowhere to take 15 per cent of the vote, out-polling the Liberal Democrats nearly everywhere.

Although they didn't win a single seat, the Greens suddenly became a credible political force. Their autumn 1989 conference in Wolverhampton was given blanket coverage by the news media, and the newspaper pundits started suggesting that they might replace the Liberal Democrats as the third party in British politics.

But the breakthrough never came. Membership of the Green Party rose dramatically in the wake of the European elections, then started to tail off again. The 1990 Green conference was barely reported.

Today, the Greens are bumping along at 2 per cent in the opinion polls, ignored or ridiculed by the media. Just about the only time they have hit the headlines recently was when they organised a conference with King Hussein of Jordan on the environmental consequences of war in the Gulf.

Although some Greens insist that nothing has gone wrong – that the party is still on course for slow steady growth – most blame factors outside their control: the unfairness of the electoral system, the superficial Greening of the major parties, the temporary eclipse of Green issues by change in Eastern Europe, the poll tax, mortgage rates and mayhem in the Conservative Party.

There is certainly something in this. The first-past-the-post electoral system does make it difficult for small parties to secure representation. The major parties have gone out of their way since June 1989 to make themselves appear environmentally friendly, largely for fear of losing votes to the Greens. And the environment has slipped down the list of voters' priorities as British economic prospects have become gloomier.

But the Greens cannot escape all responsibility for their own demise. They have faced adversity with quite extraordinary ineptitude.

This is not so much because they have refused to compromise on their aversion to "leaders": whatever their formal status in the organisation, David Icke,: Sara Parkin, Johnathon Porritt and Jean Lambert have been treated as de facto leaders by the media.

The problems have been rather deeper than that. Most importantly, the Greens have proved incapable of working out precisely to whom they are trying to appeal.

Their voters in 1989 were overwhelmingly affluent, educated and middle-class. But they came from all political backgrounds — rural Tories worried about Barrett homes in their back yards, leftists angered by . Labour's policy review (particularly the ditching of unilateralism), radical Liberals disillusioned by their party's merger with the SDP.

That left the Greens in a quandary about where they should pitch their message both for recruiting and for votes. Should they attempt to appeal to everyone, or should they target particular groups? In the event, they chose to go for everyone except the Left. In response to the Bennite Socialist Conference to woo the Greens, the party's "media leadership" made it clear that they were "neither right nor left but ahead" and that leftist defectors from Labour were not welcome. Sara Parkin in particular warned that "parasites" might turn their attentions to the party.

Unsurprisingly, few joined the Greens from the Left. The Association of Socialist Greens, the party's minority left group, was routed at the autumn 1989 Green conference, and then came increasingly under the influence of a Trotskyist entrist group, Socialists for SelfManagement, the British section of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency led by the veteran Trotskyist intellectual, Michel Raptis (Pablo).

SSM's influence had the effect of turning off even more would-be left recruits to the Greens: the group had previously infiltrated the Socialist Society in an unsuccessful attempt to take it over and was notoriously unpopular among precisely those leftists most sympathetic to the Green cause.

Meanwhile, however, once the initial rush after the Euro-elections was over, the Greens were also failing to pick up members from the centre and right and from environmentalist pressure groups. Radical Liberals disillusioned by the merger with the SDP followed Michael Meadowcroft into his reformed Liberal Party or gave up politics; the ex-Tory protest voters returned to the fold.

Activists from the pressure groups were unconvinced that the Green Party offered any better way of doing things than Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

Worse, many who did join the Greens in 1989 soon tired of life in the party, particularly after its dismal showing in the 1990 local elections and its failure to make any impact in parliamentary by-elections. To all intents and purposes, the Greens are now back where they were before 1989.

It would be a mistake to write off the Greens. Their opposition to the Gulf war could easily result in another influx of recruits: in particular, many Labour leftists are disillusioned by the Labour leadership's craven support for the Government's stance on the war and are seeking a new, non-Leninist, political home. But it is clear that with a first-past-the-post voting system the Greens are going to have an uphill struggle if they are to escape complete electoral marginalisation.

They need proportional representation to prosper even modestly as an electoral'party – but they will only ever get it if Labour is persuaded that proportional representation is in its own interests. In the long term, the best hope for the Green Party would be for its members to leave and join Labour to argue for changing Labour's policies on electoral reform – though whether anyone of a remotely pacifist disposition is going to be tempted to take out Labour Party membership in current circumstances is a moot point.