The Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 15th January 1991.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Chesham and Amersham 6:48 pm, 15th January 1991

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was very dismissive about the procedure that has been adopted tonight. He may remember that a motion for the Adjournment brought down a Government in 1940, so it is hardly a contemptible way of doing things. The right hon. Gentleman was certainly able to express his views comfortably, and he did so very well.

Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I shall vote for the Government tonight, although I am extremely unhappy with the course of events. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friends do not want war. I am almost equally sure that President Bush and Mr. Baker do not want war. Nevertheless, we seem almost certain to have a war which is likely to have horrendous consequences and which no one except Saddam Hussein wants. That surely shows that something has gone badly wrong with either the strategy or the diplomacy of the allies, or both. Unquestionably, the objective of getting Iraq out of Kuwait is right. Saddam's wholly inexcusable aggression cannot be allowed to stand. It is not the end which is at fault but the means.

A month or two ago a decision was evidently made not to wait for sanctions, backed up by the threat of force, eventually to compel an Iraqi withdrawal but to rely on force alone while demanding unconditional surrender. It was evidently decided that a massive military build-up, not supported by inducements, would force Saddam Hussein to withdraw. That strategy may still work—we have not reached the deadline yet—but it looks more unlikely with every moment that passes. It was always a high-risk strategy and one which, in my view, was unnecessary.

Sanctions were and are working well. The Government now tell us that sanctions would not do the job. However, they have not produced any evidence for that. The CIA thought that sanctions were working well until it was told to go away and think again. It has been shown that 97 per cent. of Iraq's oil has been cut off. The former chiefs of staff who testified to the congressional committee also believed that sanctions were working well.

Iraq has almost 1 million men under arms. For a country of its size, that is far too many for its economy. All in all, Iraq's position is not sustainable for long. Sanctions should have been allowed to continue taking their toll of the Iraqi economy and Saddam Hussein's war machine.

The allies' diplomacy—or American diplomacy—has been even more defective than their strategy, but perhaps it is still not too late to remedy that deficiency. It has been the allies' position that aggression cannot be rewarded—and it was repeated by President Bush in his letter to Saddam Hussein, which Tariq Aziz foolishly refused to deliver. The President wrote: There can be no reward for aggression. Nor will there be any negotiation. Principle cannot be compromised. Those would be unimpeachable sentiments in a perfect world. Certainly Saddam does not deserve any reward for his aggression or for his many subsequent atrocities. But, equally, innocent Iraqi civilians do not deserve to be bombed into oblivion and in any case "deserts" play a limited part in international politics and diplomacy. The Palestinians do not deserve what is happening to them on the west bank and in the Gaza strip and has been happening for a long time.

More importantly, the principle which Mr. Bush now says cannot be compromised has continually been comprised by the United States Government in the middle east for the past 25 years. Saddam Hussein fought an aggressive war against Iran and was duly rewarded by massive sales of arms—although not, I am happy to say, from the Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). He was also rewarded by a great deal of money from countries everywhere around. Similarly, Israel invaded Lebanon two years later causing massive civilian casualties and was duly rewarded by not only masses of dollars but by retaining a so-called security zone on Lebanese soil. So the principle on which the United States now says that it stands is one which it has not hesitated to break in the past.

What is the reward that it is suggested that Saddam Hussein should be offered? It is an international conference on Palestine and the other problems of the middle east. Of course we all know that Saddam Hussein did not invade Kuwait to help Palestine or the Palestinians. Until very recently, he showed a minimum of interest in either Palestine or the Palestinians. Nevertheless, Mr. Perez de Cuellar has been in favour of an international conference on Palestine for the past eight years, as he said recently. In a non-binding statement, the Security Council has said that it, too, favours a conference at an appropriate time. So do a great many other people.

Now the American Government and apparently my right hon. Friends object to the French proposal for an international conference because they are opposed to linkage between the Kuwaiti and the Palestinian problems. Of course there is linkage. As former President Carter said: There is no way to separate the crisis in the Gulf from the Israeli-Palestinian question". Even the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Levi, has courageously admitted that there is "psychological linkage" between the two problems.

Linkage is clear. Apart from anything else, America's behaviour over Israel and Palestine for many years is the reason why many Arabs support Saddam Hussein, however much they may detest him. Of course, I have no idea whether Saddam will accept the French proposals, but surely we ought to find out. Are we really going to go to war in order not to have a peace conference on Palestine? That would be not just the higher insanity but the lower insanity, especially as in any case we are in favour of a peace conference.