David Morrison / Labour & Trade Union Review – 2007-05-20 22:59:08
LONDON (May 2007) — The crowning achievement of Blair’s premiership is that, by engaging in military action against Afghanistan and Iraq, ostensibly to counter threats to Britain, he has provoked an actual threat to Britain. And in the process, he has caused the deaths of about 200 British soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis. As for the threats to Britain, there were none. And there is no end in sight.
Prime Minister Blair has finally acknowledged that his military interventions in the Muslim world have made Britain less safe. In his resignation speech in Sedgefield on 10 May 2007, he admitted there had been “blowback” :
“Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease.
“But the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn’t and can’t be worth it.
“For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up.
“It is a test of will and of belief. And we can’t fail it.”
It is never easy to be sure what Blair means, but this seems clear enough: British intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced a terrorist “blowback” in Britain and abroad. Because of these interventions, the terrorist threat to Britain, and to British interests abroad, has increased.
Blair justified military intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 on the grounds that there was a threat to Britain from al-Qaida, which had to be countered. There was no threat to Britain from al-Qaida in October 2001. Immediately the British intervention began, Osama bin Laden uttered his first verbal threat against Britain (see my pamphlet The Blair legacy: Hundreds of thousands dead, Britain less safe ).
Blair justified military intervention in Iraq in March 2003 on the grounds that there was a threat to Britain from Iraq, which had to be countered. There was no threat to Britain from Iraq in March 2003. But the intervention in Iraq increased the threat to Britain from al-Qaida. The first al-Qaida action against British interests took place in Istanbul on 20 November 2003.
And it’s not as if Blair wasn’t warned in advance. In February 2003, the British intelligence services warned him that the risk of a blowback of this kind would be increased by taking military action against Iraq.
We know this from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments published in September 2003 , Paragraphs 125-128 of which are concerned with terrorism. On 10 February 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) produced an assessment entitled International Terrorism: War with Iraq, in which, according to the ISC report, it “assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”
The JIC also “assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaida.”
Blair didn’t tell the House of Commons about either of these warnings on 18 March 2003, lest their enthusiasm for military action against Iraq be dampened.
After the US/UK invasion of Iraq, the JIC produced an assessment in April 2005 entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq, extracts from which were published in The Sunday Times on 2 April 2006 . It said:
“We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term.
“It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.
“Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalisation of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against the UK as legitimate.”
A few months after this assessment was produced by the JIC, the London bombings took place. Then, until now, despite all the evidence, Blair steadfastly refused to admit that there is a causal link between British military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and terrorism by Muslims in Britain
In his valedictory speech, he has finally done so.
Maintaining the Cause
You might have thought that, having admitted the existence of such a causal link, Blair would draw the obvious conclusion that the cause – British military intervention in the Muslim world – should be ended. After all, if the cause were eliminated, it is reasonable to assume that the effect would disappear, if not immediately, then eventually.
But, the Blair mind doesn’t seem to work in that way. “I think we must see it through”, he says, because “the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up”.
It appears that Britain must continue as before, maintaining the cause and somehow dealing with the effect. British troops will continue to be killed to no purpose in Afghanistan and Iraq – and immense resources will be expended in an attempt to prevent people being killed by terrorist acts in Britain and abroad, which the Prime Minister now admits are a blowback for British military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is, dare I say it, a win-win alternative. If we don’t spend money and blood invading and occupying Muslim countries, we won’t need to spend money protecting the British homeland from terrorism emanating from the Muslim world in response. And blood will not be spilled on our streets when the protection proves to be inadequate.
At America’s Side
You will search in vain in Blair’s valedictory speech to find any mention of Iraq’s alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction”. That is hardly a surprise. In so far as he gave a reason for invading Iraq, it was because he wanted to be at America’s side. Here’s what he said:
“Then came the utterly unanticipated and dramatic. September 11th 2001 and the death of 3,000 or more on the streets of New York.
“I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. I did so out of belief. So Afghanistan and then Iraq. The latter, bitterly controversial.”
He then went on to admit that there had been a terrorist blowback.
Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell acted as media ambassadors for Blair on the day of his speech, but they gave two very different explanations for Blair deciding to take military action against Iraq.
On BBC’s Question Time, Mandelson stated categorically that Blair’s reason was that America had decided to invade Iraq, and Blair took the only decision possible, namely, that Britain had to be at America’s side:
“I don’t think the Prime Minister was wrong in sticking with the United States in the decision they took. It was primarily a decision and a judgment formed by President Bush and the US administration. The British Prime Minister then had to decide: are the Americans to be forced to go into Iraq, they having made up their mind that that is what they were going to do, alone, with all the damage I think that would do to the transatlantic alliance but also to the international community as a whole, or were we going to stick by the United States because we were their ally. … That’s why I think he [Blair] took the decision, that’s why he took, actually, the only decision that was available to him.”
This is a strange argument for Mandelson to make for several reasons.
First, as Menzies Campbell pointed out, it amounted to saying “my ally right or wrong”, which forced Mandelson to qualify his position, since being a poodle of the US is not defensible.
Second, as Kenneth Clarke pointed out, Blair never used this reason at the time, which meant that Mandelson was saying in effect that Blair had been less than candid about his reasons for invading Iraq. Time after time in the 12 months leading up to the invasion, the Prime Minister left no doubt that, in his opinion, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a threat to Britain. And that’s what he told the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 when he was seeking to persuade it to vote for military action against Iraq. He ended his speech on that occasion as follows :
“Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people. He poses a threat to the safety and stability of the Middle East, and he is in complete breach of his obligations to the United Nations and to the international community. However, the main reason why we will be voting for the motion is that it is in the British national interest. Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to pose a direct threat to our national security [my emphasis]. That is why we will be voting tonight to do the right thing by our troops and the British people.”
Third, all the evidence is that Blair believed in the project of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime every bit as much as President Bush. The famous memo to Blair on 14 March 2002 from Sir David Manning, his Foreign Policy adviser at the time, leaves very little room for doubt. Reporting on discussions in Washington with Condoleezza Rice, who was then President Bush’s National Security adviser, Sir David wrote :
“I said [to Condoleezza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States .”
Blair’s differences with Bush were tactical and nothing more – he needed to have regime change dressed up as disarmament in order to manipulate press, Parliament and public opinion in Britain into supporting military action. For details, see my pamphlet Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament .
Another point: it is by no means certain that the US would have taken military action against Iraq, without Britain at its side. The Bush administration was anxious to get the support of other states for military action, because opinion polls in the US consistently showed that the more the US was seen to be going it alone the less popular was the proposed military action against Iraq. Had Britain – the US’s closet ally – refused to support military action to change the Iraqi regime, there is a good chance that the US would not have taken action at all.
(It is strange that Blair and Mandelson, presumably with Blair’s agreement, have taken to emphasising that standing shoulder to shoulder with America was the motivating factor behind Blair’s decision to take military action against Iraq. Could this be a ploy by Blair to absolve himself of personal responsibility for the awful consequences by saying that, “Iraq was an American project. I just joined in out of friendship with the America.”?)
On BBC’s Newsnight the same evening, Alistair Campbell told a very different tale about the decision to take military action: it was a humanitarian intervention to get rid of Saddam Hussein. His riposte to those who said that the decision was wrong was to say:
“Had your view prevailed, Saddam Hussein would still be there.” To which Polly Toynbee of The Guardian responded: “600,000 people are also not there.”
To which Campbell responded lamely: “There were all sorts of people who died before that, and you never saw them. You couldn’t get in there.”
So, the invasion was a humanitarian intervention to get rid of the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein and save Iraqi lives?
When I hear the invasion justified in those terms, I always remember Blair telling the House of Commons on 25 February 2003 :
“I detest his regime – I hope most people do – but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.”
In other words, Blair would have been content to have Saddam Hussein’s “murderous regime” remain in place, if it had disarmed. Or so he said, and who am I to say he was lying.
A second point: since military action inevitably results in death and destruction, and may make matters a great deal worse, military intervention for humanitarian purposes can be justified only in extreme circumstances to prevent actual, or imminent, killing on a grand scale. It cannot possibly be justified because of killing that took place in the past, since it would simply add to the past death toll.
In March 2003, killing on a grand scale was not going on in Iraq. Amnesty International estimated that “scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed” in 2002 , a similar number in 2001  and “hundreds” in 2000 . And nobody can accuse Amnesty International of being soft on Saddam Hussein.
Military action for humanitarian intervention couldn’t possibly be justified in March 2003. The effect has been to add – massively – to the death toll in Iraq.
Here is account of the Saddamist hell from which Bush and Blair rescued Iraqis:
“I remember Baghdad before the war – one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbours were – we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it, depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.
“It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening: car bombs and militias or having to leave everything you know and love, to go to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.”
This is from a blog  by “Riverbend”, an Iraqi woman, whose family has decided to leave Iraq, like many others, as a result of our “humanitarian intervention”.
Gordon Brown has also been defending the decision to take military action against Iraq. He has taken his cue from his leadership campaign manager, Jack Straw, who morning after morning on the BBC’s Today programme, before and after March 2003, made lengthy legalistic arguments involving Iraq’s alleged breach of Security Council resolutions to justify invading. We were asked to believe that military action was undertaken to enforce the will of the Security Council.
This makes a modicum of sense until you recall that 11 out of the 15 members of the Security Council were opposed to the military action, and wanted UN inspection to continue. The Straw/Brown argument is that the US/UK took action to enforce the will of the Security Council – against the will of the Security Council.
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