Tag: Iraq

The biggest threat to our national security and safety is authoritarian Conservative posturing and their arms deals with despotic states

The recent terrorist attack resulting in the cold-blooded murder of innocent men, women and children has been turned into an inappropriate strategy for the Conservatives to extend partisan politics. Every one of the lives lost is a horrible tragedy. The consequences of the loss for each family will be difficult and painful to bear as it is.

Now really isn’t the time for political posturing and opportunistic electioneering. 

 

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Illustration: Martin Rowson

Theresa May, who has already pledged that the Conservatives will regulate and control the internet, was much more aggressive in her tone than previously. The London Bridge attack had its roots in Islamic extremism, she said: “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide.”

I don’t recall the IRA depending on the internet. Or mobile phones for that matter. There were there no “safe space” online social networks to “radicalise” would-be IRA members, but those terror attacks happened, nonetheless. They ended when we negotiated lasting peace in 1998 through the Good Friday Ageement.

It’s been said many times that terrorists hate our democracy and want to destroy it. However, surely a police state is not the answer. The answer to illiberalism isn’t more illiberalism.

However, a governing system is illiberal when, despite the fact that elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of a lack of civil liberties.  Theresa May is the most illiberal prime minister in living memory.

A government that polices the internet as a response to terror attacks doesn’t bode well for democracy, either, though I do like a “strong and stable” internet connection as much as the next person. 

She continued: “We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning.”

This government are adept at blaming others for their own failure to meet their basic responsibilities towards citizens. What we see time and again is aggressive authoritarian posturing and diversion strategies in the place of genuine and rational problem solving. 

How about ensuring we have a government that puts our safetly first; one that that is not secretly helping countries that support jihadi groups. Theresa May has mentioned working with “allied democratic governments”. But it’s really the undemocratic ones – Saudi Arabia, for example – that would be a good place to start.

The problem of our government’s significant contribution to global instability

May and terrorism

Theresa May, welcomed in Riyadh by Saudi Arabian crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef.

The Conservatives have a long history of selling arms and weapon components to unstable nations and repressive regimes. Information about the Thatcher government’s duplicitous record in selling arms to Iraq emerged in the mammoth Scott inquiry of 1996. The judge found that although Conservative ministers had restricted major “sharp” arms sales to President Saddam Hussein, they had also connived at ways round Britain’s supposed neutrality. As the 1992-93 Scott Inquiry into arms-to-Iraq uncovered, until the time Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Baghdad had been a profitable recipient of UK arms for over a decade.

From 1980 to 1990 under Thatcher’s Cabinet, the United Kingdom provided £3.5 billion in trade credits to Iraq. This support continued on either side of Saddam’s ordering the poison gassing of Iranian conscript troops in 1983-84, and of his own people in Halabja, Kurdistan, in 1988, killing 5,000 innocent civilians. Thatcher sold the components of chemical weapons to Hussein.

Trade export credits to Iraq rose from £175 million in 1987 (before Halabja) to £340 million after Halabja, according to a press release from the then Department for Trade and Industry. Five months after the Halabja massacre, Thatcher’s foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey (now Lord) Howe, noted in a report to Thatcher that with the August 1988 Iran-Iraq peace deal agreed, “opportunities for sales of defense equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable.” 

The UK government is still secretly selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other countries under an opaque type of export licence. The military and defence industry is a major player in the UK economy, worth around £7.7bn a year. 

But many of the countries buying British arms are run by governments with dubious human rights records, even though the destinations of such exports are supposed to meet human rights standards.  

There are also serious questions to be asked about the role of Saudi Arabia in fuelling terrorism and extremism in the region. There is no question that domestic solutions to terrorism are needed, but these are not aided in any way by arming human rights abusing regimes like Saudi Arabia. UK arms export law is very clear. It says that licences for military equipment should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that it “might” be used in serious violation of international humanitarian law. By any reasonable interpretation these criteria should surely prohibit all arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen. 

Saudi Arabia has been widely condemned for its role in the Yemeni conflict, where its airstrikes have been responsible for large numbers of civilian deaths.

Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

More than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export last year to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 “human rights priority countries” – those identified by the government as being where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”, or “where we judge that the UK can make a real difference”. Listed countries that last year bought British arms and military equipment include: 

Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Yemen.

Bahrain, which used troops to quell protests following the Arab spring.

Burundi, which is being investigated by the UN for human rights violations.

■ The Maldives, which in 2015 jailed its former president, Mohamed Nasheed, for 13 years following what critics said was a politically motivated show trial.

Sources: The Guardian.

In 2014 the UK licensed just £170m of arms to 18 of the 27 countries then on the “priority countries” list. The massive increase in sales was largely attributable to sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The largest export licence granted was for £1.7bn of fighter jets, agreed in May 2015. In July 2015 the UK approved the export of £990m of air-to-air missiles. In September, it approved the sale of £62m of bombs to the country. All three sales took place after the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, prompting concerns that civilian buildings have been targeted, and widespread human rights violations taking place.

In 2015 the UK also approved licences of £84m of military equipment to Egypt, despite concerns about the country’s direction since the July 2013 coup that ousted its elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Figures show that in July 2015, a month after the UK refused export licences for the sale to Egypt of components for machine guns and training small arms ammunition, it approved the sale of sniper rifles, ammunition, pistols, body armour and assault rifles.

This is a clear case of the government saying one thing and doing another, and exposes the blatant doublespeak and hypocrisy that lies at the heart of UK foreign policy,” said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which compiled the export sales figures. 

“These arms sales are going to countries that even the Foreign Office accepts are run by some of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world,” he said. “The humanitarian situation in many of these countries is only getting worse, and yet the arms sales are increasing. They aren’t just providing military support for human rights abusers; they are sending a strong political support too.”

Last year, Peter Oborne wrote: “Jeremy Corbyn cannot be faulted for calling a debate on Yemen. For the past 18 months, Britain has been complicit with mass murder as our Saudi allies have bombarded Yemen from the air, slaughtering thousands of innocent people as well as helping fuel a humanitarian calamity.

Corbyn clearly felt that it was his duty as leader of a responsible and moral opposition to challenge this policy.”

Corbyn has said today: “The “difficult conversations” suggested by the Prime Minister in her Downing Street speech this morning should start with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology”.

“Our priority must be public safety and I will take whatever action is necessary and effective to protect the security of our people and our country,” Corbyn told his audience. 

“That includes full authority for the police to use whatever force is necessary to protect and save life as they did last night, as they did in Westminster in March.

“You cannot protect the public on the cheap. The police and security services must get the resources they need, not 20,000 police cuts.

“Theresa May was warned by the Police Federation but she accused them of ‘crying wolf’.”

“It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis, here and in the Middle East.”

The inquiry that Corbyn refers to – an investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups – may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. It is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which the UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to. 

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has written a letter to the Prime Minister pressing her on when the report will be published and what steps she proposes to take to address “one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK”.

He goes on to say: “You will agree with me that the protection of our country, of the British people, is the most important job of any government. Certainly, more important than potential trade deals with questionable regimes, which appear to be the only explanation for your reticence.

“When will this report be finished and published? And what steps do you propose to take to address one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK?”

Brake and others have accused May of adopting a “short-sighted approach” to the funding of violent Islamist groups in the UK and urged that those who fund them should be called out publicly. 

Despite claimed actions by the Saudi government to counter ISIS, the country’s religious establishment follows the same ideology as the terrorist group: wahhabism. Hillary Clinton’s US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, stated: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

This comes after Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested during a leadership debate, that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are “good for industry.” 

Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely right to identify British foreign policy as a proximate cause of – not a justification for – terrorist threats (Guardian report, 26 May). Six weeks ago, the PM led a trade mission to Saudi Arabia. Under fire from Labour, she denied the UK had been selling its principles for the sake of trade deals for the post-Brexit era. Saudi Arabia is primarily important for selling us oil, and spending billions on buying arms. 

Yet many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.

Corbyn has pointed out: “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and held to account for their actions. But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people that fights rather than fuels terrorism.”

The UK, the second-largest arms exporter in the world, approved licences for the sale of £7.7bn of arms last year, but its licensing export regime is under acute scrutiny amid fears British weaponry is being routinely used in Yemen. Last week a British-made cluster bomb, dating from the 1980s, was found to have been dropped on a village in Yemen, even though the use and supply of such weapons is banned under international law.

The Government has recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and a stream of British ministers have visited the kingdom to solicit trade, despite its ongoing involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.

On 5 October 2014, retired General Jonathan Shaw told the Daily Telegraph that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were “primarily responsible for the rise of the extremist Islam that inspires Isil terrorists,” emphasising “This is a timebomb funded by Saudi and Qatari money and that must stop.” 

Foreign policy clearly plays some role in the recent horrific terror events in the UK. Consider the testimony of Jomana Abedi, the sister of the Manchester murderer, who said of her brother: “He saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge,” before adding, rather chillingly: “Whether he got that is between him and God.”

There is also the posthumous video released by Mohammad Sidique Khan, key organiser of the 7/7 bombers, in which he cast himself as an “avenger” for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And recall too the warnings of Britain’s security services, who feared the Iraq war would lead to increased radicalisation.

British foreign policy, including the involvement of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has exacerbated the risk of terrorist attacks by destabilising the Middle East and fuelling suspicion of the west.

In a speech at the Chatham House thinktank in May, Corbyn suggested a Labour government would seek to rely on a “triple commitment” to defence, development and diplomacy, to protect Britain’s interests, rather than a “bomb first, talk later” mentality. He has definitely stuck to is guns, as it were. He presents a genuinely in-depth, rational problem solving approach to protecting UK citizens.

Following the terror attack on Manchester, the Conservatives have seized on the electioneering opportunity to try and paint Labour as somehow “soft on terrorism.” 

But in addition to using diplomacy to address the problem of terrorism and its root causes, Labour pledge to put 20,000 more police officers on the streets. Corbyn said: Labour will reverse the cuts to our emergency services and police. Once again in Manchester, they have proved to be the best of us. Austerity has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap.”

It is Corbyn who is prepared to look at the bigger and deeper picture regarding the causes of terrorism in the UK. The Conservatives prefer to suppress information regarding government contributions to those causes. The suppressed report is expected to reveal links between Saudi Arabia and extremist groups in the UK.  It was commissioned by the last coalition government in 2015 and due to be published last year but has never been emerged. Critics of the government believe it has been suppressed due to the UK government’s ongoing trade relationships with the country. 

Controlling the internet is a logical extension of May’s authoritarian Snooper’s Charter, which won’t stop terror attacks on the UK. Instead it will simply introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.

Government figures compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) show the UK has licenced over £4.1 billion of arms to the Middle East since the last election in May 2015, and that two thirds of UK arms exports go to the Middle East.

The government’s arms deals include £15million in sales over the past five years to Libya, large parts of which are already controlled by the ISIS. 

Saudi is the hotbed of Islamist terror groups across the world. Yet on the televised leader’s debate, Amber Rudd defended Theresa May’s murderous Saudi allies who export an extremism which threatens our national security. She said that it was “good for industry”, a response that has appalled every other political party leader.

Arming the oil rich Islamist regimes may well be a lucrative political business but it really doesn’t matter to the Conservatives how many innocent civilians the Saudis massacre in Yemen using British weapons. Or the potential implications for innocent civilians in the UK.

The conditions created by the West’s war-sanctions-war policy in Iraq since 1991, left the country utterly broken, and a fertile breeding ground for extremism. In 2014, John Pilger wrote: “like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture.”

The Conservatives have remained supremely unconcerned that the ISIS terrorists being bombed in Syria and Iraq by UK forces are filled with Saudi fighters and funded by Saudi cash. After all, selling weapons to both sides of a conflict has got to be more profitable than just selling weapons to one.

Theresa May has indicated that she in favour of the UK joining the US military action against Bashar al-Assad if she wins next month’s election. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has previously indicated that the British Government could bypass the Commons and join Donald Trump’s military campaign in war-ravaged Syria if asked by the US administration. Speaking last month, Johnson said it would be “very difficult to say no” if the US asked the UK to join its efforts against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime in response to another chemical attack. He said “How exactly we were able to implement that would be for the Government, the Prime Minister.” 

Whitehall has a deep, long-standing special relationship with the extremist Saudis: it is arming them, backing them, apologising for them, and supporting their regional policies. At the same time, the Saudis have been helping to create the monster that now threatens the British public. So, too, have the policies of the British government also contributed.

May’s reluctance to disapprove of Trump’s increasingly rash decisions, such as his departure from the Paris Agreement, indicates quite clearly that she is not at all the “strong and stable” leader that she claims to be.

A group of British volunteers fighting Isis in Syria have called on the UK to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its International Freedom Battalion backed the Labour leader’s controversial comments on foreign policy following the Manchester attack.

In a statement sent to the Independent (indy100) they said:

“Only Jeremy Corbyn knows the way to stop Isis – through a foreign policy that cuts off their funding and supplies at the source.

Only he has been outspoken in his condemnation of the oppression of Kurds in the Middle East at this crucial time, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces about to defeat Isis in their capital of Raqqa.

The longer Theresa May is Prime Minister, the less safe everybody is, both here in Syria and back home in the UK.

They accused May of allowing jihadis, including the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, to travel between the UK and Libya during the country’s civil war, as well as selling arms to countries that support Islamist rebels in Syria.

“Along with her toffee-nosed millionaire colleagues in the Conservative Party, she has brought nothing but instability to this region,” their statement read.

Nuclear terrorism is also now a growing threat. In March 2016, it was reported that a senior Belgian nuclear official was being monitored by ISIS suspects linked to the November 2015 Paris attacks leading Belgium authorities to suspect that ISIS was planning on abducting the official to obtain nuclear materials for a “dirty bomb”.

In April 2016, EU and NATO security chiefs warned that ISIS are plotting to carry out nuclear attacks on the UK and Europe. It is also feared that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have obtained a stockpile of former Iraqi short range missiles such as surface to air rockets. There is a “justified concern” that Islamist fanatics in Syria and Iraq are trying to obtain the means of mass destruction such as biological, chemical and radiological weapons.

The risk of nuclear attack is exacerbated by aggressive first strike posturing

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In April, the United Nations (UN) published a major report which highlights the massive risk of both an accidental and the deliberate use of the world’s most catastrophic weapons. The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,”  the report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research says.

The report said: “The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of deadly nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups.” 

It went on: “Nuclear deterrence works – up until the time it will prove not to work. The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.”

“The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

The report added that denuclearisation would require “visionary leadership”, but added this was “sadly rare” as many powerful states have “increasingly turn inward”. Nationalism has certainly grown on a global scale over recent years.

The report goes on to say that new technology and spending on nuclear weapons had “enhanced” the risk of a detonation. However, it acknowledged the secrecy surrounding the programmes made it difficult to accurately assess their true scope. 

Increased reliance on technology has also introduced new problems. In the past, accidental nuclear detonations have been averted by human decisions. Replacing military officers with computers could therefore rule out a potential safety check on the weapons, and open the possibility of hacking a nuclear weapon. 

The report also referenced the January 2017 decision of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science to move the Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes to midnight because of fears of a nuclear event – the most risky position it has been at since 1953.

The politics of megalomania

In April 2017 Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed that the UK would use nuclear weapons in a “pre-emptive initial strike” in “the most extreme circumstances.” He doesn’t specify precisely what those circumstances may be. Nor does he say which country may be the UK’s likeliest target.

In an extraordinary act of aggressive posturing, he added that a first strike may be launched even if Britain itself was not under threat of nuclear attack. He said that national security need not be under threat to warrant a “pre-emptive” nuclear launch. 

Asked in what circumstances the Conservatives would launch a first strike, Fallon replied: “They are better not specified or described, which would only give comfort to our enemies and make the deterrent less credible.”

He clearly doesn’t understand the principle of “deterrence”, then. That is pretty scary. You would hope that a government responsible for the safety of citizens would only ever launch a nuclear attack as a very last resort, once all other options, such as diplomacy and negotiation, had been completely exhausted. How discomforting that Fallon sees the UK public as disposable – collateral damage. Why on earth would anyone trust a defence secretary who makes such an irrational comment – “even if Britain itself was not under threat of nuclear attack. He said that national security “need not be under threat to warrant a “pre-emptive” nuclear launch”. It sounds very much like the Conservatives have a specific target in mind, to me. I don’t think the changed nuclear posture – and without an open review – has come about incidently or on a whim.

That statement doesn’t bode well for democratic accountability, nor is it particularly reassuring that the Conservatives plan to prioritise the safety and protection citizen’s lives and the planet.. That is surely the key strategic value of having a nuclear deterrent – that all parties in a potential conflict would be reluctant to launch a first strike because of the catastrophic consequences of a probable retaliation.

Fallon continued: “The whole point about the deterrent is that you have got to leave uncertainty in the mind of anyone who might be thinking of using weapons against this country.”

No you don’t. The point of deterrence is that it deters because of  an assumed second strike.

Fallon also insisted that critics of Trident – including senior military figures who have ridiculed the idea that it is an effective deterrent – were “absolutely wrong”.

A report – British military attitudes to nuclear weapons and disarmament – by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS) and the Nuclear Education Trust – is a ground-breaking study into military thinking on nuclear weapons. And it is rather startling to find that the military establishment is far from unanimous on the issue of Trident replacement. Some participants in the study, commenting on the exorbitant cost of Trident replacement, stated that “no circumstances justify the large amounts of money required by [Trident] and this money would be better spent elsewhere.”  The problem is that a majority of the wider public generally support having  of a nuclear deterrent.  

Many participants in the NIS survey were also unclear about many aspects of the UK’s nuclear weapons, including their costs, purpose and credibility. Many in the military think Trident is a “political” tool and little more and many would rather see the money spent on equipment which could actually be used: especially at a time when the forces have been faced with spending cuts. 

The Labour party manifesto states a clear commitment to renewing Trident under a Labour government. However, controversy in the media – directed by misleading comments from the Conservatives – has unbelievably problematised Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable caution in commiting to launching a pre-emptive nuclear attack.

Personally I would much rather the prime minister put effort into finding rational diplomatic solutions to protect the UK citizenry, rather than dancing in an unholy, manic glee at the very prospect of our assured nuclear annihilation.  

The debate, being cheerled from the right, has descended into a macabre and somewhat irrational political point-scoring exercise, using a strategy of tension in an attempt at portraying the opposition leader as “weak”. This is a tactic that the Conservatives use at every single election, regardless of who is the leader of the opposition. Usually, though, they don’t show a grotesque display of eagerness to bring about Armageddon to demontsrate a “strong and stable” leadership. 

Deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction: what that actually means

Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is a military doctrine and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. MAD is based on the strategy of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using catastrophic weapons against an enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium (games theory), in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

The deterrence strategy further rests on assumption that neither side will dare to launch a first strike because the other side would launch on warning (also called fail-deadly) or with surviving forces (a second strike), resulting in unacceptably catastrophic losses for both parties. The strategic MAD payoff is therefore an ongoing expectation of a tense global stability and peace. 

The major flaw in a first strike approach is that it encourages the opponent to perform a massive counterforce first strike. If both sides of a conflict adopt the same stance of massive response, it may result in unlimited and globally devastating escalation (a “nuclear spasm”), each believing that the other will back down after the first round of retaliation. This said, both problems are not unique to massive retaliation, but to nuclear deterrence as a whole. 

It is for these reasons that many countries have adopted a minimum credible deterrent/second strike policy. Previously we had a policy of using nuclear weapons only as a defence. 

Many of those arguing both for and against no-first-use misunderstand it: The policy reflects the power to set the rules of war, rather than some wayward pacifist ideal to end all war. Countries that issue no-first-use pledges boast strong conventional militaries. These states want to encourage a model of war where their army meets the enemy on a conventional battlefield with clearly defined rules – the kind of war, in other words, that they usually win. Nuclear weapons upend this model, because they help weaker actors, the North Koreas and Pakistans of the world, produce extraordinary destruction, level the playing field, and cast victory into doubt.

Therefore, a no-first-use pledge could potentially reinforce a powerful state’s strategic advantage by discouraging other countries from developing nuclear arsenals, and by dissuading nuclear-armed countries from pushing the button. This would happen with the assurance that a state would not fire first – thereby keeping war safely bound and safely winnable, on the powerful state’s terms.

In an article published in the Atlantic last year, titled Refusing to Nuke First. Why rejecting nuclear preemption reflects strength, not weakness, Dominic Tierney says:

“Countries that contemplate or introduce a no-first-use policy are almost always strong states that enjoy a conventional-weapons edge. Since its first nuclear test in 1964, China has repeatedly declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” It’s no coincidence that China is the most powerful East Asian country, and would hold the advantage in any conventional war with South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, or Taiwan (assuming, of course, that the United States stayed out). The spread of nuclear weapons in East Asia would diminish China’s strategic advantage; therefore, Beijing seeks to prevent this outcome with a no-first-use policy.

India announced in 1999 that it “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” In 2003, India qualified its no-first-use pledge by stating, “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.” Again, it’s no coincidence that India is very likely to prevail over Pakistan in a future conventional war. India has a history of winning previous contests, and currently spends about $50 billion per year on defense compared to Pakistan’s $9.5 billion. New Delhi can safely issue a no-first-use pledge in the hope of keeping the strategic terrain favorable.

In  2016, General James E. Cartwright, former head of the US Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair, former Minuteman launch officer, co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times in favor of a U.S. no-first-use policy. They showed, explicitly, how power undergirds the proposed doctrine. “Our nonnuclear strength, including economic and diplomatic power, our alliances, our conventional and cyber weaponry and our technological advantages, constitute a global military juggernaut unmatched in history. The United States simply does not need nuclear weapons to defend its own and its allies’ vital interests, as long as our adversaries refrain from their use.”

If a country is willing to use nuclear weapons, it’s also willing to break a promise.

By contrast, weak states don’t even think about a no-first-use policy. Indeed, threatening to push the button early in a conflict is the basis of their deterrent plan. During the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had conventional superiority in Europe, the United States and its NATO allies intended to escalate to nuclear war if the Red Army launched an invasion. Similarly, today, Pakistan explicitly threatens to retaliate with nuclear weapons if it is ever attacked – even through a conventional invasion.

Viewed through a strategic – and perhaps more cynical – lens, the no-first-use doctrine also has a huge credibility problem. For the US pledge to truly matter, a president who otherwise favors a nuclear first strike would have to decide not to press the button because of this policy. But in an extreme national crisis – one involving, say, North Korean nuclear missiles – a president is unlikely to feel bound by America’s former assurance. After all, if a country is willing to use nuclear weapons, it’s also willing to break a promise.

Champions and critics of no-first-use often cast it as a principled policy and a revolutionary step, for good or for ill. But the idealistic symbolism of no-first-use betrays an underlying reality. Disavowing a first strike is a luxury afforded to the strong, and they play this card in the hope of strategic benefit. If Obama made a dramatic announcement of no-first-use, it would probably have less impact than people think because other countries wouldn’t follow suit, especially if they’re weak. And, in any case, the promise may be meaningless because no one can predict a president’s calculus when staring down a nuclear holocaust.

No-first-use is the policy of Goliath, not Gandhi.”

Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry said: “During my period as Secretary of Defense, I never confronted a situation, or could even imagine a situation, in which I would recommend that the President make a first strike with nuclear weapons  – understanding that such an action, whatever the provocation, would likely bring about the end of civilization.”

Perry’s life’s work, most of it highly classified, was nuclear weapons. He played a supporting role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which he went back to his Washington hotel room each night, fearing he had only hours left to live. He later founded his own successful defense firm, helped revolutionize the US way of high-tech war, and honed his diplomatic skills seeking common ground on security issues with the Soviets and Chinese. 

Nuclear bombs are an area of expertise for Perry, who had assumed they would be largely obsolete by now, seven decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead, once again they have become a contemporary nightmare, and an emphatically ascendant one. A Russian president has recently make bellicose boasts about his arsenal. An American president free-associates on Twitter about starting a new nuclear arms race. Decades of cooperation between the two nations on arms control is nearly at a standstill. And, unlike the original Cold War, this time there is a world of busy fanatics excited by the prospect of a planet with more bombs – people who have already demonstrated the desire to slaughter many thousands of people in an instant. 

Perry is now a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. He serves as director of the Preventive Defense Project. He is an expert in US foreign policy, national security and arms control. In 2013 he founded the William J Perry Project (http://www.wjperryproject.org/), a non-profit effort to educate the public on the current dangers of nuclear weapons.

Disarmament has fallen far from the top of the policy priority list. The largest upcoming generation, the millennials, were raised in a time when the problem felt largely solved, and it’s easy for them to imagine it’s still quietly fading into history.  

Since the end of the Cold War, we no longer think about the threat of a nuclear holocaust every day. It’s not embedded in our public psyche. During the Cold War the United States relied on deterrence rather than prevention as the central principle of its security strategy. However, Trump’s recent posturing indicates a far more aggressive stance, implying a shift from a defensive to a rather more offensive approach, making him an extremely unpredictable custodian of the substantial US nuclear arsenal.

The problem is that the threat of a nuclear event and escalation is no longer retreating. Perry said in an interview in his Stanford office: “Today, the danger of some sort of nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”

A report published today, during the UK’s General Election period, seeks to reframe the nuclear debate within the UK. The report comes from the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and the United Nations Association (UNA-UK).

Up until now, the debate has been dominated by the decision about whether to invest in a renewal of the Trident system, linked to political judgements about the responsibilities of governments to maintain strong defence capabilities. As a result, wider questions about how best to tackle global nuclear dangers have been neglected.

This matters, particularly as the crisis with North Korea unfolds, but also as relations with Russia deteriorate and states frustrated with a lack of progress on disarmament begin negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons without any nuclear armed states in the room. Commitment to the bargain at the heart of the nuclear non‑proliferation regime, always a little shaky as interpretations of its priorities have been contested, could easily fray, with drastic risks to global security.

This issue sits within broader questions about the UK’s role in the world. As we move through a period of growing instability, the need for effective international mechanisms to promote security is greater than at any other time since the UN was founded. Their success depends on states’ willingness to work together. The increasingly fractious geopolitical environment, however, is impeding progress and putting further pressure on our post-war international system, already overstretched by the convergence of multiple crises.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear weapon state and one of the largest aid donors, the UK is an important player on the world stage. The international system has delivered prosperity and security for the UK as a whole. Its breakdown could have serious – and, in the context of nuclear weapons, existential – consequences for the country. Unfortunately, the UK has not been immune to the growing reluctance by states to invest in the continuing health of this system. 

Over the past decade, voices calling for a narrower outlook have grown louder in this country, as in many the world over. But the line between national and global interests is disappearing. British foreign policy must embrace this reality and prioritise strengthening collective efforts to create a more peaceful world.

The need for nuclear disarmament through multilateral diplomacy is greater now than it has been at any stage since the end of the Cold War. Trust and confidence in the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime is fraying, tensions are high, goals are misaligned, and dialogue is irregular. 

In Meaningful MultilateralismBASIC and UNA–UK offer 30 multilateral disarmament proposals for the incoming UK Government after the General Election on June 8, themed according to three types of leadership the UK has previously shown in disarmament:

Diplomatic leadership

• Technical leadership

• Leadership by example

The Conservatives don’t fulfil any of these criteria because of their strong authoritarian tendencies, and they certainly haven’t demonstrated a preference for diplomacy or leadership by example in particular.

Whatever one’s position on Trident, there are meaningful steps that can be taken in multilateral disarmament, and the next UK Government should actively take a leadership role.

The current growing global instability is a turn of events that has William Perry, former US defense Secretary, obsessed with one question: Why isn’t everyone as terrified as he is?

Why indeed.

There is a crisis in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with its vision unraveling due to different views on disarmament. If the deterrence principle were to break down, the potential global humanitarian impact would be truly apocalyptic. The strategic offence doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction means just that. In such an exchange, there can’t possibly be a winner. It wouldn’t be a simple act of genocide. A nuclear exchange may well culminate in omnicide – a small word that means the totalising enormity of the end of everything for everyone. Even a restrained tactical exchange would most probably have catastrophic bioecological and wider global impacts, and a devastating breakdown of civilisation. 

Everyone agrees that the risk of nuclear war is bad; if all else were equal, we would rather not have this risk. But all else is not equal. The probability of nuclear war is not zero. Nuclear deterrence can fail. It is a fallacy to presume that just because no nuclear war has occurred since the post-World War II advent of nuclear deterrence, therefore it will never happen. The historical record contains several near-misses in which nuclear war was narrowly avoided due in no small part to luck.  

The argument that nuclear deterrence makes the world a safer place is not particularly persuasive.

First strike posturing is considerably less so.

 

 


 

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Prologue to the Chilcot Report

 

“The children of Iraq have names.
Their names are not collateral damage.”

David Krieger, peace wager, founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live… When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.”

Kherwan. From: Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

Photo journalist Kaveh Golestan, describing the Halabja Massacre, a chemical weapon attack on Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, which was part of the Iraqi Al-Anfal Genocide Campaign.

All lives are equally precious. 

Many good writers have added their own footnotes to the Chilcot report. However, there is a broader context to the war in Iraq, which has been edited from the mainstream narrative. There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about that context. In fact that’s been purged from the conversation. I don’t like to see issues reduced to political opportunism and party politics, but that has happened, too. 

“Lamp post or bonfire for Mr Blair.” Gosh, we get to choose.

But the mainstream column of truth has more than one hole in it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a temporary solace, a curious savage satisfaction and a kind of sublimation value to be had in simply hating Blair. I’ve done it. But it’s rather like trying to put an ocean onto a teaspoon in the long run. Besides, whilst I know emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and as such are important, I also value rational discourse, too. There’s so much more to be said on this, regarding the historic political expedience of successive western governments, which has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences beyond the Iraq invasion. That must not be excluded from mainstream conversation. The UK government also played a part in arming a brutal dictator with chemical weapons, which resulted in atrocities and genocide.

For the record, I protested against the Iraq war. I didn’t like Tony Blair because he betrayed the working-class, he was an advocate of neoliberalism. I didn’t like his anti-terrorism laws or his anti-social behaviour legislation, which were repressive and symptomatic of a horrible “lowest common denominator” type of populism creeping into public policy. But I nonetheless valued some of his social policy programme, most of which the current government are so busy trying to repeal. That’s a clear indication that at least most of his social policies were not ideologically Conservative, even if his economic approach was, albeit a diluted version.

The Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Worker’s Rights and Union laws, the Every Child Matters Policy (repealed the day after the Tories took office in 2010 by Michael Gove), animal welfare legislation and the Gender Recognition Act, repeal of Section 28, were all examples of very good public policies. Saying that does not make me  a “Blairite.” It simply makes me someone who looks critically at policy with a balanced and evidence-based approach. Everyone knows what Blair did wrong, few are prepared to recognise nowadays what he actually got right.

All of this said, as an ideological experiment, New Labour’s dabble with neoliberalism has had profoundly damaging consequences for the Labour Movement, and the Left more generally. It resulted in widespread disillusionment, a sense of working-class disenfranchisement and alienation, factionism, infighting and disunity. But much of this, curiously, only became clearly evident from 2010 onwards, when a much harsher neoliberal government gained Office, imposing a strict and devastating austerity programme and an unprecedented authoritarianism on the UK. 

So, the man who worked with Mo Mowlem, sitting down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to broker peace with the Good Friday Agreement, is now regarded only as a “warmonger.”

Meanwhile I’m utterly bewildered, watching on as Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly anti-neoliberal leader and the thoroughly decent bloke that I voted for, is being hung by the Bolsheviks, on orders from the Mensheviks. No-one is ever good enough to lead the Labour Party, apparently. It beggars belief and shows a fairly widespread lack of joined-up thinking. At the very least, it shows how rubbish the Left are at organisation, strategic thinking and tactical voting, from grassroots level upwards. We really need to learn. Because a class-war waging authoritarian government imposing such an unforgiving ideological brand of Conservative neoliberalism and desolating austerity can never be better than a Labour government, be it under the leadership of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

I digress. 

Some history

In 2003, most of the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives voted to send British troops into military action in Iraq, the Conservative votes carried the motion that authorised the Iraq conflict, since 140 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Robin Cook resigned and there was a memorable backbench rebellion. Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Cook yesterday in parliament, and said that he had: “said in a few hundred words what has been confirmed by this [Chilcot] report in more than two million.” All of the Liberal Democrats voted against military action, too. Let’s not forget the then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who was also an implacable opponent of the Iraq war, despicably demonised by the mainstream media. He’s officially vindicated by the Chilcot Report, like Cook and others. The Tory whip, John Randall, also resigned over his party’s stance on Iraq. Throughout the conflict, Blair remained the strongest supporter of the United States plan to invade Iraq, though originally seeking a UN Mandate. 

Parliament gave Blair the go-ahead for the Iraq war. It highlights a big problem with democracy: we didn’t vote for that. In the end, despite a total of seven resignations from the government, and three from the Tory shadow cabinet, the Iraq war happened. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith had led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war from 2002, too. 

Before the invasion, the (then) UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, advised Blair that the war would be in breach of international law for six reasons, ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix’s continuing search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Ten days later on 7 March 2003, as UK troops were massing in Kuwait, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind, saying:

“I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force … Nevertheless, having regard to the information on the negotiating history which I have been given and to the arguments of the US Administration which I heard in Washington, I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.”

He concluded his revised analysis, saying that “regime change cannot be the objective of military action.”

From John Major’s Commons Statement on the first Gulf War – 17th January 1991: Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

It emerged that during the first Gulf War, “friendly fire” killed more British troops than the Iraqis did – of 16 British soldiers who died, nine were killed by Americans. Of 148 Americans who died, 35 were killed by friendly fire. Iraqi deaths were estimated at 50,000, with 100,000 wounded.

Some more history: when our friend Saddam was gassing Kurdish people.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 with the support of the Arab states, the UK, United States, and Europe. Many viewed Iraq as “an agent of the civilized world.” So they said. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were completely ignored,  Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, and to Iraq’s efforts to develop a nuclear programme. The United States provided diplomatic and military aid, financial aid and also supplied Iraq with “satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

The US had opened full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated: “No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis’] continued involvement in terrorism… The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran, because the West, Russia and China feared the potential expansion of revolutionary Iran’s influence in the region.” 

The biological weapons programme

During the early 1980s, five German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin to Iraq. Strains of “dual-use ” biological agents and material from France also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare programme. From the United States, in addition to exporting the advanced computers, some of which were used to develop Iraq’s nuclear programme, American Type Culture Collection – a non-profit organisation, and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed to need for medical research.

These materials included botulism, anthrax and West Nile virus, camel pox, rotavirus, Brucella melitensis, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene). Some of these were used for vaccine development, whilst others were used in Iraq’s bioweapons research programme. Details of the bioweapon programme surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91)

During UN inspections in 1998, it was evident that Hussein had overseen prisoners tied to stakes and bombarded with anthrax and chemical weapons for experimental purposes. These experiments began in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, after initial experiments had been carried out on sheep and camels. Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in terrible agony during the programme. According to an article in the London Sunday Times:

“In one incident, Iranian prisoners of war are said to have been tied up and killed by bacteria from a shell detonated nearby. Others were exposed to an aerosol of anthrax sprayed into a chamber while doctors watched behind a glass screen. Two British-trained scientists have been identified as leading figures in the programme …”

The deployment of chemical weapons

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons, using a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, 5,000 civilians were massacred, 10,000 more were maimed, disfigured or seriously debilitated. Thousands more died from the after effects of the attack. The massacre was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign – a genocide programme designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of rural northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Hussein’s goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence Hussein’s critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons.

Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and on thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Hussein’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Apparently, the US supported this account of events, changing the story several years later. The Al-Anfal genocide campaign also targeted Assyrians, Turkoman people, Shabaks and Yazidis people and Mandeans, many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also completely destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that some 182,000 Kurds were killed in total.

Iraqi Kurds have been especially critical of the UK, given its support and arms shipments to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. The extent to which Margaret Thatcher’s government was responsible for arming Iraq was revealed in 2011, when secret government files from 1981 were made public. The documents show Thatcher’s approval of large military contracts with Iraq and indicate her turning a blind eye to ongoing private sales of allegedly “non-lethal” military equipment. According to the documents, she sought to “exploit Iraq’s potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment.”  So the “free-markets” of the West aren’t morally discerning at all. Nor are those promoting them. Whilst the world turned a blind eye, many thousands died as a direct consequence. 

John Major’s government faced an ongoing inquiry into how ministers such as Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official UN arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put on trial for breaking the embargo. It’s funny, the things we forget when someone else is drawing all the fire. Despite the interview with John Pilger, and the Scott Inquiry.

The Iraq Arms scandal period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran, when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations prompted the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996. Four directors of Matrix Churchill, a British machine tools manufacturer in Coventry, were put on trial for supplying “equipment and knowledge” to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry’s evidence remain classified.

Sir Richard Scott’s three-year inquiry led him to conclude that the government had secretly “eased” UN and its own guidelines on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The British Cabinet had set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the project, with both the Home Office (MI5) and MI6 ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe and the then PM Thatcher gave the project government approval. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, ex-Minister Alan Clark said “The interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.”

It is inconceivable that Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and somewhat ironically contributed to the victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 1997 general election.

By the end of the 1980s, Baghdad had acquired a massive arsenal – enabling it to fight against Iran and launch offensive operations such as Al-Anfal. 

In 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq were seized at Heathrow Airport. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. A chemical plant which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. 

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was quite properly pressing for controls on such types of exports. He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a “strong plea” from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in support of Mrs Thatcher’s policy of supporting the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.”

Saddam Hussein was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, he pursued an extensive biological weapons programme and a nuclear weapons programme, though as far as we know, no nuclear bombs were built.

However, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nations Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces.” This statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained). The UN confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after dispatching a team of specialists to the area in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1987, to verify the claims of the use.

By 2002, according to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that remained unaccounted for. UN weapons inspectors, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make the weapons in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War. However, there was no evidence of Iraq having built any nuclear weapons.

Oil on troubled slaughter

Declassified UK government documents indicate that the Iraq war was also about oil. At the time that the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves – and government documents clearly state that oil was a consideration before the war. In May 2003, a Foreign Office strategy paper highlighted  government motives which related to Iraq’s oil resources:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

and:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

Bush administration officials quite openly considered proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for a military occupation. Such a move, however, fueled existing suspicion of US motives in Iraq. Officially, the White House agreed that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman. 

But there were strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,” according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the talks. “There are people in the White House who take the position that it’s all the spoils of war,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “We (the United States) take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government.” The source said the Justice Department had doubts about the legality of such a move.

Days after the US invasion, the (then) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for reconstructing the country, ie a cost of the war. “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” he said.

One month before the war, the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, said Iraq “is a rather wealthy country … And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenues. Far from “all oil revenues” being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq’s oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have pointed out that:Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary.

To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it.

Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (denied at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted here. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there” (emphasis in original).

That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story was told in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.

Despite US and UK denial that oil was a war aim, American troops were detailed to secure oil facilities as they fought their way to Baghdad in 2003. And while former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged off the orgy of looting after the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Oil Ministry – alone of all the seats of power in the Iraqi capital – was under American guard.

Chilcot does include references to several pre-war documents that identify a British objective to use Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security”. But the Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot omitted, was even more explicit.

Chilcot also acknowledges that the British government was angling to ensure British oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war. Chilcot’s documentation confirms, for example, that the US and UK worked together to privatise Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.

“By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”

Dick Cheney; US Vice-President, 1999

Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps, contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had possession and knowledge of all the legacy chemical WMD stockpiles and munitions in Iraq. The Operation was classified, most of the armed forces knew nothing about it. Chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned to the task of destroying and disposing of the recovered WMDs. It’s unknown who the individual is, or how the weapons had come into his/herpossession. Nonetheless, the person cooperated with US intelligence and sold all of the chemical WMDs to the units heading Operation Avarice. As a result, the CIA and army intelligence acquired over 400 rockets, missiles, and other chemical weapons in varying states of operational viability.

At one point, 150 separate rockets containing chemical agents were traded. Chemical experts then destroyed the weapons. Some of the weapons analysed had a concentration of nerve agents much higher than military intelligence had expected Iraq held the capabilities to develop, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”, which was considered highly lethal.

The mission resulted in the largest recovery of chemical weapons during the Iraq war. It was confirmed that these weapons were remnants of the Iraqi weapons programme first developed during the Iran-Iraq war and also confirmed that the Hussein government had failed to dismantle and dispose WMDs in its possession. The collaboration between US military intelligence and the unnamed Iraqi proprietor resulted in minimal attacks on US military and coalition personnel or Iraqi citizenry from WMDs on a scale seen during the Iran-Iraq war, although small-scale attacks still occurred. Operation Avarice did succeed, however, in keeping the weapons off the black market.

Conclusions

The West, including the UK, had supplied Iraq with the components for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Prior to Blair taking office, there was the Scott Inquiry and a wake of revelations and scandals from the Thatcher administration regarding the supply of components for the assembly of WMDs (biological and chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs). Had that not been the case, there may well have been a little more clarity about Iraq’s arsenal and capabilities in 2003. Either way, I would never endorse the war. However, it is still worth considering that the UK-funded Falluja 2 featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council. 

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2, identifying it as a chemical weapons site, were previously published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme.” Blair also knew that we (the UK, along with the US and other countries) had sold Iraq the components for building WMDs previously, under the Thatcher/Reagan administrations. 

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant in 2002 and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

Thatcher’s government covertly supplied Iraq with armsfrom spare tank parts, terrain-following radar and Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases, all sold from the UK to Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime. 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan)” wrote Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a key role in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to “free marketeering” efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade. The terrible escalating logic of neoliberalism just sweeps humane, ethical and rational considerations triumphantly out of its way as it advances.

On record is the mercenary and duplicitous Thatcher’s greatest defence coup over the decade, which was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies. The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier. Such are the risks of unregulated “market forces”, and unfettered free-trade.

As mentioned, another consequence was the Scott Report, published in 1996, which gave a very damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s. The released report also shows that some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s “aggressive arms sales policy.”

Monstrous free-marketeering. 

One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that “if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without the US and the UK’s support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it had happened, it could have been reversed without war.

Blair’s actions in initiating an unwarranted, unwanted and unforgivable war are the very tip of a very big shitberg, most of which is submerged in the murky waters of public amnesia, selective focus and party political opportunism. The war prior to that was even more unforgivable. If Blair lied or misled parliament, it can’t ever, nonetheless, touch the utterly monstrous Machiavellianism and psychopathy of his political predecessors. That doesn’t excuse what Blair did, but it would be disingenuous to disregard the broader context and history of successive government’s iniquity that led to the Iraq wars. The UK’s previous involvement in selling arms to a despot has had horrific consequences, most of which are being obscured simply because of a media and public unwillingness to recognise them. 

Most of the many thousands of Kurds that were massacred by Saddam Hussein were women and children. The UK is partly responsible for the Al-Anfal genocide. Not because of Blair’s actions, but because of Thatcher’s.

The first Gulf War probably would never have happened had Saddam Hussein not been armed by the West. It would have been very difficult to justify had Hussein not invaded Kuwait. On the balance of probabilities, nor would the second war, though oil was a significant motivating factor for the Iraq invasion, it would have been much more difficult to justify without reference to Hussein’s previous use of WMDs , which the West had provided illegally in the 80s. That permitted speculation and suspicion that some of those weapons still existed after the Gulf War to be used as a justification. 

We can’t make complete sense of events and learn anything of value if we only take a partial and ahistoric view, because the meaningful context in which events are situated matters a lot, too. Our collective short-sightedness has had terrible and ongoing consequences. 

Kurdish civilians and children matter just as much as Iraqi civilians and children. It would be without heart, hypocritical, compassionless, incoherent and unconscientious of us not to acknowledge that. 

Related

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Margaret Thatcher and Iraq

How £1bn was lost when Thatcher propped up Saddam

CIA Report: Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq

CIA: Biological Warfare. Annex B (2004)

Excerpts from “The Death Lobby. How the West Armed Iraq”

Britain’s dirty secret

Iraqi bio-scientist breaks silence

The real motive for the Iraq war is buried under the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report

 

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A crib sheet of responses to the crib sheet of lies about the Labour Party: Part one

Over the past few years, many of us have spent a lot of time and effort repeating ourselves to dispel Tory lies. However, we have also had to contend with negative campaigning and tiresome lies from UKIP, the Greens, the SNP, the NHA, Left Unity and a variety of other parties, posting on social media sites, in the mainstream media and smearing the Labour Party. The repetition becomes very tedious very quickly.

Each of the offending parties prefer to attack the Labour Party and lie about their policies, rather than promoting their own party by merit – by using positive statements about their own policies and achievements. This strategy cannot possibly help them gain any lasting credibility and support, since credibility cannot be sustained when it’s being built upon a foundation of lies and political grandstanding.

Ultimately, the only beneficiaries of this behaviour will be the Conservatives, left largely unchallenged by the fringe “narxist” parties on the so-called Left. The only party actually meaningfully opposing the Tories is Labour.

Whilst the Left vote is being intentionally diluted by a proliferation of lies and smear campaigns to confuse, demoralise and bolster fringe party support, you can pretty much bank on the fact that Tory supporters will ALWAYS vote for the Tories. No amount of claiming “I’m more socialist than you” will stand up to scrutiny or save this country and those people already suffering terribly if the Tories manage to succeed in May.

I decided to consolidate the frequently encountered lies and construct a crib sheet of facts and evidence for anyone to use in response to lies, propaganda, nonsense and misinformation. Or to simply enlighten.

Here are some of the most frequently used “criticisms” of Labour:

  • All political parties are the same.

A compare and contast of New Labour and Conservative policies and achievements. This demonstrates very well that there are very clear differences, despite the fact that many considered Blair to be further right than Miliband or his predecessors Political parties – there are very BIG differences in their policies.

47 key costed and evidenced policy proposals currently from the Labour Party: 47 more good reasons to vote labour.

I’ve also addressed this issue at length here – The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.

  • Labour took us to war with Iraq. Blair lied about “weapons of mass destruction”.

1. In 2003, Conservatives voted with the Government to send British troops into military action,  the Conservative votes carried  the motion authorising the conflict, since 139 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Iain Duncan Smith led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war as early as 2002. 139 Labour MPs rebelled against the governments’ line and saying there was no moral case for war against Iraq.15 Tory MPs defied their leadership and voted  against the government’s policy.

53 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government. (See: Parliament gives Blair go-ahead for war and How MPs voted.)

It’s also worth noting that the same democratic process prevented a war with Syria in 2013, thanks to Ed Miliband rallying the opposition. Miliband repudiated the Iraq war, and his principled stance regarding Syria drew a clear line under the Blair era. (Another useful link –Ed Miliband Attacks Previous Labour Government In One Nation Speech To Fabian Society.)

2. Saddam Hussein, was internationally known for his use of chemical weapons in the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. This has been classified as an act of genocide. It was known in the 1980s that he pursued an extensive biological weapons program and a nuclear weapons program, though it’s unclear if nuclear bombs were built. Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are all classified as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Both the US and the UK had sold weapon components to manufacture WMDs to Iraq previously, during the 80s, under the Thatcher government.

The chemical weapons which had already been deployed against the Kurds killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians. Thousands more died of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack.

It still remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history. The Halabja attack has been recognised by the UK, amongst other countries, as a separate event from the Anfal Genocide  – also known as “Chemical Ali” due to the use of chemical weapons, too – that was also conducted against the Kurdish people by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.

Furthermore, the New York Times and other sources reported recently that from 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier during Saddam Hussein’s rule. American troops reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. (See also: Iraq and weapons of mass destruction and Do Reports of WMD Found in Iraq Vindicate George W. Bush?) Thatcher’s arms deals with Saddam Hussein ultimately led to genocide and the first Gulf War (1990-91) under John Major.

(For the record, I strongly protested against the Iraq war, however, establishing the facts about how and why it happened is important. I don’t doubt that Persian Gulf oil resources, vested interests and profit incentives contributed significantly to the motivations of some, but I also think there is evidence that others genuinely believed that the war was founded on a humanitarian issue, and that’s regardless of my own perspective on the matter. I don’t agree, but if anything of value is to be learned, we have to take all of the contributing perspectives and debate into account.)

  • “Labour voted for austerity.

This is such a blatant lie. The vote, clearly stated on the Hansard record (see 13 Jan 2015: Column 738, Charter for Budget Responsibility), was pertaining strictly to the motion: “That the Charter for Budget Responsibility : Autumn Statement 2014 update, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.”  That isn’t about austerity.

The charter sets out that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) will continue to monitor our fiscal rules. As we know, the  OBR has written extremely critical economic forecasts and analysis of austerity and the Tory spending cuts, clearly expressing the risks that the Chancellor is running and the scale of the damage his strategy will inflict on what remains of our public services.

It’s worth noting that whilst Ed Balls challenged Osborne, there was a curious silence from the  SNP and the Green Party. It was Ed Balls that challenged Osborne’s outrageous claims regarding “halving the deficit”- such a blatant lie, upon which even the exceedingly Conservative Spectator spluttered contempt. Or any of the other lies, some of which have already earned the Conservatives official rebukes from the Office for National Statistics. (See “bankruptcy lie” for example, on the hyperlinked article)

Furthermore, it’s about time that some MP’s, including Caroline Lucas, amongst others, recognised that there is a fundamental difference between the meaning of the word budget and the word austerity. Conflating the two for the purpose of politicking is unprincipled and dishonest.

It’s also worth noting from the same debate on the Hansard record:

13 Jan 2015 : Column 746

Caroline Lucas: Does the Chancellor agree with me that with the feeble and inconsistent opposition coming from the Labour Front Bench, there is a very good reason for seeing the SNP, the Greens and Plaid as the real opposition on this issue because we are clear and consistent about the fact that austerity is not working?

Mr Osborne: That shows why we want the hon. Lady’s party in the TV debates.

Yes, I just bet they do, to collaborate with the Tories in attacking and undermining the Labour Party, not the Coalition, who are, after all, the ones responsible for introducing austerity measures. I don’t imagine for a moment that Osborne values further challenges to his outrageous claims of efficacy regarding austerity measures.

What is very evident when you read through this debate, is that Ed Balls and a couple of other Labour MPs presented the ONLY challenges to Osborne on this matter, just to reiterate this important point.

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It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ed Miliband established the International ANTI-austerity Alliance. Back in 2012, Miliband said: “There is a grip of centre-right leadership on Europe which has said there’s only one way forward and that’s austerity, and you’ve got to have a decisive move away from that.(See also: Labour leader Ed Miliband’s anti-austerity alliance will fight for the European dream.)

And why would Miliband be attending ANTI-austerity protests if he supported austerity?

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

 Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage to over 150,000 at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

It’s interesting to see the Chicago Tribune’s article: Ed Balls, UK’s anti-austerity finance chief in waiting.  Balls dismissed Osborne as a “downgraded chancellor” after Britain lost its triple-A credit rating.

One of his main charges has been that the government is unfairly spreading the economic pain it deems necessary to fix the economy. Austerity cuts are the burden of the poorest.

Balls says that a decision to cut the top tax rate amounts to an unjustified “tax cut for millionaires”, whilst his party has been scathing of reform of the welfare system.

A point echoed many times by Ed Miliband, too. Accusing the government of making lower or no income groups pay for the recovery while shielding the rich is a claim which strikes a chord with some voters who view Cameron and his government – many of whom were educated at the same top fee-paying school – as out of touch.

Caroline Lucas was born in Malvern to Conservative parents and attended Malvern Girls’ College (which became Malvern St James in 2006), a fee-paying private school. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, went to a comprehensive school.

Polls also show that many voters approve of the government’s drive to rein in welfare costs and the government has demanded that Labour spell out what they would do to fix the economy. They have, but with understandable caution.

Labour’s careful, costed and evidence-based policies include: a Bankers’ Bonus Tax; a Mansion Tax; repeal of the Bedroom Tax; a reversal of the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires; a reversal of the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds; freezing gas and electricity bills for every home a the UK for at least 20 months; the big energy firms will be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging; banning exploitative zero hour contracts; introduction of a living wage (already introduced by some Labour councils); a reversal of the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires; reintroduction of the 50p tax; scrapping George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion; ensuring Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills; breaking up the banks and separating retail banking from investment banking; introduction of measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance, scrapping the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015 and many more.

These are not austerity measures. They are strongly redistributive policies.It’s difficult enough opposing the manipulative, lying authoritarian Conservative-led government, without having to constantly counter lies and smears from fringe parties claiming to be on the Left, whilst propping up the Right. Shame on them.

403898_365377090198492_976131366_nMany thanks to Robert Livingstone.

Old New Labour: some thoughts on myths, strengths and weaknesses.

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Most people like to criticise New Labour. In political debates with the right, and people loosely assembled on the “left” and pseudo-left, with a variety of affiliations, ranging from the Green Party, the SNP, the Socialist party, TUSC, Left Unity to UKIP and the Judean People’s Popular Front, you can bet your bottom, top and middle dollar that Tony Blair will be wheeled out and painted in curses as the High Priest of “neoliberalism” sooner rather than later, I set my watch and warrant on it. But it’s become difficult to separate party politicking and opportunism from the genuine and useful commentaries.

Labour Party supporters and members also criticise Blair, of course. Quite properly so. However, it’s about time we learned that in order to learn constructively and move on, we must also balance those criticisms with some acknowledgement of New Labour’s achievements. We have tended to focus on the negatives. That puts us in a defensive position – apologising endlessly for the same things over and over again, and it’s difficult to advance from such a position. Even the term “Blairite” has become a deprecatory one. Yet Blair gave us the Good Friday Agreement, Every Child Matters, the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Gender Recognition Act, the Fox Hunting Ban, among many others.

This said, much of that depreciation is probably justified, but not fully. I’ve watched centrists and those of us further left polarise more and more, and that can only weaken us and lead to diversionary infighting in the long run. Our focus ought to be on making progress, not on “Progress.” I have nonetheless been concerned that the core of centrists have contributed to negative media campaigns directed at the left of the party. But this said, some of the more aggressive amongst the so-called “hard left” haven’t done the party any favours either, on the whole. For the record, the “hard left” are also in a minority. Most of our membership are anti-neoliberals and occupy a loose left of centre position, which is not the same as “hard left”.

No party is or ought to be above criticism, but it’s not wholly constructive or appropriate for Labour to be placed in a position of endlessly defending itself from critics for the same misdemeanor from years ago, over and over, because New Labour also had some rarely mentioned, outstanding and comprehensive flagship policies and achievements very worth celebrating, such as the Climate Change Act, free prescriptions for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer and many more. Despite the shift towards neoliberal values on an economic level, (and even much of that was a media manufactured consensus) after the heavily and relentlessly neoliberalising Thatcher years, most of Labour’s social policies have never relinquished our core values of equality, inclusivity and valuing diversity, human rights, cooperation, support of public services and all that our post-war settlement entailed.

It’s worth keeping this in mind now that we have moved on and approach the General Election, just a few months away. If we don’t, we will simply see the Tories returned to office, with more devastation being inflicted on the country to follow. We do need to think more strategically here and spend a vote on something better than that.

And no, I’m not a “Blairite”, just someone who likes to analyse in a conscientious, honest, thorough and balanced way. I’m not a “black and white”, reductionist thinker. People are rarely one just thing, they don’t have only one quality or characteristic, political parties possess a similar kind of complexity. I’m much further left than Blair, with some anarchist principles chucked in the mix. I believe in participatory democracy, and I’m also an advocate of prefigurative movements. If we want a society that is more tolerant and equal, for example, we must practice what we preach and treat others with tolerance and regard them as having equal worth. We must be the change we want to see.

Blair’s policy virtues – which are manifold – seem to have dropped out of our collective memory. Ask a psychologist, and they’ll explain this as a cognitive bias whereby certain positive associations, or in this case negative ones, disproportionately colour an overall opinion about someone.

The Iraq war presents the cognitive short-cut when we talk about Tony Blair. Indeed, the aftermath of Iraq has been so appalling that it has even distorted our understanding of Blair’s role in the war itself. Regardless of how it started and worked out, the 2003 invasion evolved from a debated and democratic parliamentary decision. I didn’t like that decision. Many of us didn’t. Many in the Labour party broke ranks and voted against the war, all of the liberal democrats also did. The Tories all voted for the war.

Most major intelligence agencies also believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – many of Saddam’s generals believed he did. This probably wasn’t a lie fabricated by Blair’s inner circle. That doesn’t mean he didn’t get it wrong, however. He very clearly did.

But it’s also worth considering the fact that Thatcher and other western leaders sold Saddam Hussein the materials to build weapons of mass destruction, including the components for chemical weapons, which were used in a genocide campaign against the Kurdish people. Without that, the first Gulf War under John Major would never had been deemed “necessary.” That war was equally unforgivable. I don’t think the second war would have happened either. The Scott Report brought to light the illegal arms sales from the early 80s, and it undoubtedly contributed to the confusion about Iraq’s capabilities and arsenal. There’s a much bigger picture which also needs some scrutiny. Blair was by no means the only one who should be held accountable for what has happened in Iraq.

Of course, a lot of the intelligence was wrong, we learned in hindsight. However the evidence from the UN and other sources showed that Saddam planned to develop nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as soon as sanctions yielded. Chemical weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction, had already been deployed against the Kurds. The attacks killed at least 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians. Thousands more died of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack. Dead livestock, contaminated land and subsequent grinding poverty is still a problem in the villages that were attacked, too.

The incident, which has been now officially defined as an act of genocide against the Kurdish people, was and still remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history. The Halabja attack has been recognised by the UK, amongst other countries, as a separate event from the Anfal Genocide  – also known as “Chemical Ali” due to the use of chemical weapons, too – that was also conducted against the Kurdish people by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.

Furthermore, the New York Times and other sources reported recently that from 2004 to 2011, UK and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier during Saddam Hussein’s rule. American troops reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

140 Labour MPs voted against the Iraq war. I protested against it, as did many of us. But nonetheless I would have an accurate and reasonable account of it, rather than some of the almost hysterical accusations of “war criminal”, “illegal war” “there were no weapons of mass destruction” and so forth, that I very often see. It’s far more complex and horrifying than that.

Like him or loathe him personally, by all means, disagree with and protest the invasion of Iraq, sure, but you ought not let that interfere with being honest and objective about policies and events. It’s great myth that Blair didn’t achieve anything in whilst office; the truth is he fundamentally transformed the country after the Thatcher and Major years. And the Tories really DID leave a “mess”.

It’s not just the Good Friday Agreement, workers rights, tax credits and the minimum wage either, that credit him: he left a vast legacy. Civil partnerships. Bank of England independence. The Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Parliament. Every Child Matters. A mayor of London. A plunging crime rate. Abroad, his brand of interventionism in Sierra Leone and Kosovo successful. He is a hero to Kosovan Albanians, many of whom have named their children “Tonibler” in his honour (well, according to Charlie Burton of GQ fame). Personally I object to wars on principle. But that includes John Major’s Gulf War, which many seem to have forgotten about, and Thatcher’s Falklands war. I also object to illegal arms deals with known despots. I mean, what could possibly go right there? If we want to avoid wars, we need to ensure those most likely to start them aren’t handed weapons of mass destruction from “free marketing” western leaders.

I remember that we didn’t need austerity measures under Blair or Brown, despite the depth of the global depression. That in itself tells us that Tory austerity is entirely ideological. Blair and Brown protected citizens to a considerable degree against the worst ravages of deep global recession. This is something many seem to have forgotten, too. Brown instead proposed an economic stimulus, which is the use of monetary or fiscal policy changes to kick-start a struggling economy. Governments can use tactics such as lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and quantitative easing, to name a few, to accomplish this. Our public services were not cut, Labour continued to invest in them.

I think the myth that Labour “borrowed excessively” has been well and truly exposed, since it’s become common knowledge that the Coalition has borrowed more in just 4 years than the last government, indeed, the Tory-led government borrowing has exceeded that of  every single Labour government combined since 1920.

Thanks to the Labour government’s excellent management of the consequences of the global crash caused by the banks and financial institutions,  we were out of recession by 2009. So the Tory austerity measures, which targeted the poorest people, were completely unjustifiable. Osborne used the “bankrupcy lie” to legitimise an entirely ideological Tory-led program of “shrinking the state“, cutting social support for those who need it and slashing public services. However, whilst the poorest paid dearly, this government handed out £107, 000 each per year to millionaires in the form of a “tax break”.

Cameron has been rebuked twice for lying about “paying down the debt” already. The national debt is still rising. It currently stands at more than twice its level than when the Coalition took office.  Osborne is responsible for more debt than every Labour chancellor in history combined. Even the staunchly Tory Spectator commented that it’s “… a depressing point: the Tory leadership is prepared to use dishonesty as a weapon in this election campaign.”

Miliband denounced New Labour in 2010 and has done so since. He presents a break from the established neoliberal paradigm, which is why the establishment hate him so much. Miliband will extend the best of our long-standing tradition, whilst learning from the worst of our mistakes. His tax proposals, for example, are progressive and fair. His proposal to implement the Leveson recommendations is also a plus. He demonstrated learning from the past when he took a principled stance on Syria in 2013 and led a rebellion that even included some Conservatives, too. Cameron was furious at the time with Miliband, because he was thwarted, and cleverly.

Anyone still believing the biggest myth of all: “allthesame”, needs to actually look at a comparison of policies here, and read this: The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.he

The Labour Party have moved on, progressing since 2010. We need to do likewise. They aren’t perfect and certainly not the solution to everything that’s wrong. But a Labour government would be a start for us to build a strong, united labour movement. We would have a bigger platform from which to push for our common aims of social justice, equality, civil rights and so on. If the Tories remain in power, we will continue to become fragmented, isolated, increasingly silenced and disempowered. My view is that sometimes we have to vote for what’s better for us all, rather than what’s our own prefered best. Taking small steps in a much bigger journey, closing the gap between the ideal and the real is better than seeing the regressive Tory authoritarians returned to office on May 7.

Until ALL of us on the Left learn a little about strategy, learn to look at a bigger picture, learn to organise and unite, the country’s nightmare fate is endless authoritarian neoliberal Tory governments.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes