Thursday, 14 July 2016

Britain and Iraq 2003: Blair Joins a War for Energy Security


"We would need to handle this carefully and ensure it was confidential to avoid charges of oil motivations"-UK diplomat in a declassified memo February 2003.

"...the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it"- Prime Minister Tony Blair, TV interview February 2003.

 '....human kind / Cannot bear very much reality- T S Eliot, Four Quartet.

One of the problems that arises whenever the causes of the Iraq War of 2003 are discussed as a war for oil is the way some anti-war activists describe it as being ‘all about oil’. This is usually taken to mean that Blair lied about there being higher motives or defence reasons for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

According to this view, peddled by crowd pleasing populists from the film maker Michael Moore to many in the useless British Stop the War Coalition leadership, it was all about enriching corporations, Dick Cheney and Halliburton, the oilmen and oily spinmasters such as Blair. This then, in turn, is used as 'proof' it is a 'conspiracy theory'.

When the Iraq War is-and was in 2003-depicted as 'all about oil' in such a manner, as though there were sinister vampire-like evil capitalists drooling over carving up Iraq to make profits, it becomes easier for those like Blair to discredit and dismiss the very real role oil played as part of the determination to go to war.

The first thing that requires understanding, as far as Britain was concerned, is that the Bush administration was intent on invading Iraq after 9/11. Al Qaida in the Middle East was feared to provide a potential threat to oil infrastructure and the ‘strategic chokepoints', the sea lanes around the Arab Peninsula through which oil tankers move.

Blair must have known-and in fact did know-that protection of oil supplies was a vital British interest primarily in order to keep oil prices low and head off the possibility of price volatility or a sudden oil price spike. This threat, in Blair’s thinking, could have been caused either by Al Qaida or by Saddam Hussein or by instability in Saudi Arabia.

The Chilcot Report declassified a February 2003 memo in which a U.K. diplomat claimed the British government should "start preliminary work to ensure U.K. companies are well-placed to pick up contracts in the aftermath" of the war. But that only confirms that there had been high level talks to control Iraq’s oil for reasons left unstated.

As early as December 2001, Mark Allen of MI6 wrote a top secret memo with a section entitled Why Move ? It advocated Saddam best go. Allen, who also brokered Blair's deal with Colonel Gaddafi in 2004, and later became a special adviser for BP, claimed 'The removal of Saddam Hussein is a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies'.

Yet Blair’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq was not so much about him serving the interests of BP or Shell. He no doubt 'believed' by involving British oil corporations in the reconstruction of Iraq, he could fulfil the primary goal that the US neoconservatives had also sought-the breaking of the power of OPEC.

Fears of Saudi Instability.

Increased production from Iraq would also mean falling oil prices for the entitled consumer in the West. After the defeat of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Saddam in the First Gulf War in 1990, the US became very much more clearly the hegemonic power in the Middle East with a role in protecting oil supplies.

Economic globalisation and the huge surge in demand, with ever greater economic growth and the benefits of the US-China relationship bearing results, led to an age of profligate fuel use as symbolised in the popularity of the 'gas guzzling' American SUV Hummers ( these had originally been military vehicles in the 1990 conflict ).

However, this entire model of Western led globalisation came under attack with the upsurge of Islamist radicalism and terrorism in the Middle East. This was a consequence of the failure of unaccountable autocratic states to guarantee previous levels of economic well-being from oil profits and the pressure of huge levels of population growth.

The Saudi oil fortunes of the 1970s was diminished by the need to maintain the extravagant lifestyles of fifteen thousand royal prices as well as buy off discontent by spending huge amounts of cash both on state-of-the-art Western weaponry ( primarily American and British ) in order to keep them occupied and loyal to the regime.

The second looming concern for the US was that China was becoming not only an emerging economic superpower in partnership with the US but translating that into military power in ways that could threaten America's global hegemony. This was clear in 2000 before Al Qaida's attack on the WTC in New York 'changed everything'.

Apart from 9/11 2001 and the threat of Al Qaida, in the period between 1997 and 2003, Saudi Arabia had attempted to reassert its leadership over OPEC against overproducing Venezuela by flooding the market with oil so as to lower prices. Unfortunately, this coincided with the decline in demand from Asia following the financial crisis of 1998.

 Tony Blair Fears Oil Price Volatility in the Run Up to the Outbreak of War.

By 2000 Saudi attempts to cut production and increase the price overshot the mark and drove prices up to thirty dollars a barrel. In Britain one consequence of that was the fuel protests of that year when road hauliers went on strike and threatened to tarnish New Labour’s pledge there would be no return to the economic instability of the 1970s.

One of the documents declassified by the Chilcot Report shows how Blair in March 2002 was also concerned at oil price stability if the US embarked on military action. "Oil prices. This is my big domestic worry. We must concert with the U.S. to get action from others to push the price back down. Higher petrol prices really might put the public off".

Hence Blair made the pledge that ‘ We will be with you’ whatever'. It is still not known what exactly Blair said to Bush at the Crawford Meeting in Texas in the following month in April 2002. The Chilcot Report omitted this. What is a fact is they initiated the US-UK Energy Dialogue which stressed increased oil supply from the Gulf as vital.

The idea the Iraq War was ‘all about oil’ to benefit corporations taps into populist  economic globalisation. Yet it explains everything and nothing. Blair himself had serious doubts about whether a war could ensure stability of oil prices. The Chilcot papers reveal he had started to panic by 2004 when reconstruction was delayed.

What is clear is that Blair regarded himself primarily as an advocate. For him, presentation was all because, even if oil was bound to be an important part of Iraq's 'nation-building' as a democratic model state, what mattered was success alone. He claimed he 'did not have a reverse gear'. Once 'delivered' from Saddam, things could only get better.

In this respect Blair's ideology was crudely utilitarian as well as implicitly authoritarian. Embittered by the failure of Labour Party among voters in the 1980s and of his youthful ideals, 'the people', whether in Britain or Baghdad were to be less interested in politics but in consumerism, material goods and in being given 'what they really want'.

Blair's banality and in being utterly out of his depth on foreign policy, indeed as a statesman, is shown by the fact that when he suspected the occupation was going badly he knew “If it falls apart, everything falls apart in the region.”. Warned before March 2003 on this, Blair, had no idea what to do when it did.

In fact, the private correspondence with Washington revealed by the Chilcot Papers shows Blair putting forward 'three point plans' that simply called for speeding up rebuilding work, ramping up security in Baghdad and, most bizarrely ( but true to his banal character ), “putting on TV things people want to watch – local soaps, football etc”.

Blair could have stayed out of Iraq. But it was a war of choice because in the run up to March 2003 he had decided he really 'believed' that if the US was sure it could make the war 'work' to short order, then they had to be 'right'. But whether it is liked or not, the chilling reality is that energy security was a crucial consideration for him.

The Chilcot Report has very much downplayed the role of oil because ultimately, unless there is a movement away from the dependence upon Middle Eastern oil to power the global economy, wars to secure access to oil and gas, as well as protect pipeline routes, are going to become a recurrent feature of Anglo-American foreign policy.

David Cameron, in response to the Chilcot Report, made plain that Blair's 'mistakes' should not mean Britain would not be prepared to launch military interventions in future, not least as he himself- as"heir to Blair"-spearheaded another disastrous one in Libya in 2011. And again a main ambition was the geopolitics connected with energy.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Politics of Authenticity

“.....the most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love”- Ben Okri, cited by Jeremy Corbyn at his acceptance speech after being elected leader of the Labour party in September 2015.

“Can we still seek the lost angels / Of our better natures? … We dream of a new politics / That will renew the world / Under their weary suspicious gaze.”- Ben Okri, A New Dream of Politics

We cry for a politics of authenticity – that is what human beings want more than anything else – but when we have a figure like that, we are conflicted as well … We need to ask ourselves what we really want from them.”- Ben Okri .

When Okri talks about Corbyn in terms of the 'politics of authenticity', it could be that Corbyn is indeed authentic in the same way Chavez was, a figure Gabriel Garcia Marquez though was ambiguous in genuinely wanting social change to benefit the people and yet also somewhat of a populist who traded on hatred of the USA.

When Corbyn opposed Britain's 'humanitarian interventions', he opposed them all on the basis of 'anti-war' stances and 'anti-imperialism' rather than even trying to look at the complexities of such conflicts as those in Yugoslavia and Kosovo where non-intervention had arguably meant civilian deaths.

As regards integrity, many politicians within Britain's Parliamentary system are like actors who position themselves as theatrical impersonations of the types of being that appeal to the section of the electorate they wish to woo. There is, indeed, a market in Britain for 'anti-war' activism among students and radical London.

London as a microcosm of the globe has always harboured messianic radicals who believe that what happens 'here' is a sign of what will change the world later. Corbyn is heir to those traditions through his Islington fiefdom with his Latino wives and interest in 1970s liberation movements and threats of fascist coups.

Corbyn is courting intellectuals and writers like Okri for similar reasons why Chavez tried to woo Marquez as did Castro. It reflects a genuine interest in radical idea of a better world but also adds to his image as a Latin American style radical Líder Máximo directly and democratically ranged against the imperial order.

What relevance any of this sort of politics has for Britain, it is hard to say. Certainly London increasingly appears to be a city dominated by oligarchs and disconnected corrupt rentier elites rather like in Brazilian mega-cities. The settled middle class life it once had has vanished out more into the provinces.

Brexit too could dramatically polarise politics should Theresa May's new government fail to deliver on the verdict of the referendum, an economic recession kick in and Corbyn assert greater control over the Labour party to the point where the liberal-left centrists either split, resign or are purged by mass deselections.

In such circumstances, in a dysfunctional two and a bit Parliamentary Party system, Corbyn and Momentum, fired by street protests, strikes and agitation in Britain's cities could generate a tack of rightist Conservatives towards UKIP positions. Corbyn would be portrayed more and more as national security threat.

After all, with a more unstable global landscape, the rise of China in the Far East, of Russia reasserting control over its Near Abroad-and so gas and oil pipeline routes the West wants-Corbyn's challenge to NATO and to Trident would be seen as the ultimate systemic threat and so repressive police measures used to crush him.

May comes across as a snooping authoritarian obsessed with spying,monitoring and 'taking control'. As there seems to be no end in sight to the geopolitical struggles over pipeline routes and resources in the Middle East, there can be no end to British military intervention and so the threat of Islamist blowback.

With the migrant crisis unfolding further an the EU fracturing, Corbyn would be demonised by the Murdoch media in particular as precisely the sort of Salvador Allende martyr figure he already envisions himself as being. As a terrorist sympathiser. The scene would be set for his forcible overthrow by 2020.

We Are the World: Corbyn, Blair and Post-Imperial Delusions.

“United by a desire to make our world a kinder, fairer place, [Corbyn and Okri] will discuss the forces that have made them what they are, the state of the world today and their belief that we can transform ourselves for the better”
It's curious that the Guardian reports, either with sarcasm or with drippy awe ( it is difficult quite to tell which ) that Jeremy Corbyn is taking time out from damaging party leadership wrangles to discuss with the Nigerian novelist Okri how best to change the world at the Royal Festival Hall.

One thing that unites Corbyn with Blair and the Blairites such as Angela Eagle, or others such as the murdered Jo Cox, is how all share a militant progressive agenda that posits that Britain somehow really can be the Moral Force for Good in the World. That what 'we' do in Britain has demonstrative world transforming potential.

Corbyn clearly believes that Britain's renunciation of military intervention and so of 'imperialism' and Trident and so on would provide the moral impetus for the rest of the world to follow suit. After all, this was, according to historian Peter Clarke, one of the rationales behind CND in the 1950s.

The idea is that all evil,such as terrorism, flows from a reaction to wrongs committed by bigger powers and forces that really ought to know better. To an extent Tony Blair believed that even as he spun around in the 1990s and tempered all the ideals he shared with Corbyn back in the 1980s by 'realism'.

Britain, as Blair once soundbited, 'would never again be great but it can be the best', that is, a model beacon unto all humanity as shown by its diversity and multi-culti harmony, an example of how the world might be re-imagined as be as one. It's just that Blair 'believed' military force could hasten the realisation of this dream.

The Corbynites and Okri believe there is some global 'we' that can act,a Humanity that can be collectively realised and affirmed beyond divisions. New Labour held to that too. It was one reason humanitarianism and military intervention went together especially in places such as Afghanistan, seen as a good war by contrast with Iraq.

The idea that Britain is actually rather a small and insignificant country without the military resources to be an 'imperialist' or even a force capable of changing the world never seems to occur or be contemplated as just a fact to adapt to and accept. On the contrary, it must be 'outward looking' and 'internationalist'.

This neurotic impulse that 'we can change the world' still presupposes Britain as a post-imperial power that matters when, in fact, its 'values' are not are not those of the world and never will be. In fact, the obsession with lecturing the world is increasingly despised by others as meddling hypocrisy.

This is not least the case, because human rights and humanitarianism is seen as an adjunct justifying what is euphemised as 'intervention' and often connected to attempts to rationalise control over resources from Africa to Asia that are needed to underpin Britain's cosy consumerist existence.

Humanitarianism has replaced Christianity as the missionary creed that could justify Britain's role as a Global Player. To retain that position, it needs control over resources to remain rich and so to pretend it can necessarily reconcile that with 'Democracy Promotion' and Human Rights agendas for the Developing World.

The problem with that is it stands to make Britain responsible for all the world's ills-and in some sense guilty-while it is not at all capable of being effective in promoting these worthy causes. And in that sense it will only incur even more resentment from those such as Islamists who detest its hypocrisy from within Britain and without.

Maybe it is time to stop the grandstanding and stop pretending 'we' can solve the world's problems. Certainly 'we' can make ourselves better but from refraining from doing and allowing others elsewhere to solve their problems in their way, as is quite clear in the case of Afghanistan or resource rich Nigeria.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Dubious Future of Britain's Labour Party as The Opposition

The way parts of the PLP attempted to stitch up the removal of Corbyn, through a 'secret ballot' by the NEC to vet candidates for any new leadership race, who was voted for with 60% of the members vote in 2015, was clearly 'counter-productive' and made his rivals look shabby, dogmatic and wary of democracy.

The least rival 'factions' could do is let Corbyn stand in a new election for leadership, as by not doing so the prospect is of Labour splitting or being permanently damaged. Labour could well destroy themselves over this. The Brexit Crisis proves the British political system of two and a half parties is now truly dysfunctional.

Neither Party is truly as one and they are divorced from their rank and file members. But Lucy Powell's claims that even Labour members no longer support Corbyn, so it hardly matters whether the secret ballot removes him, was Orwellian doublethink. If they no longer did so, then there was no reason why Corbyn should not stand again.

In the welter of alleged threats of violence and death and recriminations-and allegations from some Corbynites that these threats and the bricking of challenger Angela Eagle's office was a 'false flag operation' and part of a smear campaign-one thing is certain: the Labour Party could be finished as a serious opposition.

Brexit proved that the Labour Party, irrespective of Corbyn's leadership and ambiguity about the EU, could no longer reach or influence large numbers of its previous voters in northern post-industrial towns. Another Blairite such as Eagle being installed would be even worse for its future prospects than Corbyn.

That's why Powell has called for a 'fresh face' ( Owen Smith ) as Eagle is largely an obsolete remnant of a failed Blarite project, an MP trading on identity politics and stale cliched and mediocre rhetoric alone as well as being a clear hypocrite. She calls for a 'kinder' politics and yet was a leading voice for a Iraq War based on spin and deception.

But it was also hypocrisy of Powell to want to omit Corbyn from a leadership contest he won only a year ago by now switching the rules of the game after he was elected by not even wanting him to stand in a new post-referendum leadership race. It would only confirm Labour MPs are not interested in broadening their support base.

The real problem Labour has is that it would be likely neither to be able to win an election with any of the bland Blair and Brown era clones that were groomed for New Labour style politics nor with Corbyn. While voters might be attracted back to the promise of real social and economic democracy, Corbyn has questionable ideas too.

While Blair's foreign policy and his legacy is ruinous, Corbyn has been able to use the Chilcot Report to destroy Eagle's 'credibility'. However, his attempts to stake out positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict and unclear positions as regards Hamas and Hizbollah-and indeed ISIS-could likewise discredit him.

It is also questionable with the migrant crisis and the potential fallout of Brexit whether British voters are prepared to have a politician who appears to be in favour of mass migration and trying to advocate Britain's moral humanitarian duty across the globe no less than New Labour internationalists.

Even if Corbyn has a very different take on Britain's role as Global Player-one dependent upon Britain setting a moral example, renouncing the use of military force in almost all situations-it is not clear whether voters are going to see that necessarily as better than Blair's attempts to solve them through 'humanitarian intervention'.

Brexit portends a more insular Britain with many preferring an end to 'trying to put the world to right' and a foreign policy based more straightforwardly on a national security agenda at home. Theresa May, the new Conservative PM, is certainly going to reinforce the security message against Corbyn's 'irresponsibility'.

Corbyn has shown radical ideas with which to challenge Trident missile renewal, the rationales or pretexts given to British foreign policies in the Middle East and the dubious benefits of alliances with autocracies in the region. But he lacks the flair and charisma as a leader to make people understand why it matters.

On the contrary, because of this Corbyn's anti-war stances too often come across as intransigent lines and positions dictated by ideological rectitude.Then there is his open past enthusiasm for Hugo Chavez's Venezuela ,a nation that has collapsed into economic chaos, political strife and potential civil war.

Given Corbyn's opposition to Trident, Britain's 'special relationship' with the US and antipathy towards NATO, with the rising prospect of economic volatility undermining May's government, if he were to lead Labour as the only opposition, UKIP could surge and rightists could start to advocate strong measures against him.

A Few Reflections on the Labour Leadership Race 2016

The prospect of street violence, even riots and extra-parliamentary agitation is rising. The way parts of the PLP are trying to stitch up the removal of Corbyn, through a 'secret ballot' by the NEC to vet candidates for any new leadership race, who was voted for with 60% of the members vote in 2015, is 'counter-productive'.

The least they could do is let Corbyn stand in a new election for leadership, as by not doing so the prospect is of Labour splitting or being permanently damaged. Labour could well destroy themselves over this. The Brexit Crisis proves the British political system of two and a half parties is now truly dysfunctional.

Neither Party is truly as one and they are divorced from their rank and file members. But the claims that even Labour members no longer support Corbyn, so it hardly matters whether the secret ballot removes him, is Orwellian doublethink. If they no longer do so, then there is no reason why Corbyn should not stand again.
 
In the welter of alleged threats of violence and death and recriminations-and allegations from Corbynites that these threats and the bricking of challenger Angela Eagle's office was a sinister false flag operation and part of a smear campaign-one thing is certain: the Labour Party could be finished as a serious opposition.

Brexit proved that the Labour Party, irrespective of Corbyn's leadership and ambiguity about the EU, could no longer reach or influence large numbers of its previous voters in northern post-industrial towns. Another Blairite such as Eagle being installed would be even worse for its future prospects than even Corbyn.

That's why Lucy Powell has called for a 'fresh face' as Eagle is largely an obsolete remnant of a failed Blarite project, an MP trading on identity politics and stale cliched and mediocre rhetoric alone as well as a clear hypocrite. She calls for a 'kinder' politics and yet was a leading voice for a Iraq War based on spin and deception.

But it is also hypocrisy of Powell to want to omit Corbyn from a leadership contest he won only a year ago by now switching the rules of the game after he was elected by not even wanting him to stand in a new post-referendum leadership race. It would only confirm Labour MPs are not interested in broadening their support base.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Blair's War in Iraq : A War of Consumer Choice and not "Imperialism"

“I realised out there that I was nothing more than a redcoat”..the determination to maintain that your war was right and justified even in the face of the facts, you become a kind of expression of imperialism – as warped and contradictory as, for example, the Iraq war".
So claims ex-Lance Corporal Joe Glenton in the Guardian. He seems to have realised in the Afghanistan War he was nothing more than a hired mercenary because not fighting a war of liberation but one of "imperialism". Yet it is specifically the claim that Iraq was never a 'just war' that he is directing his ire towards.

Modern wars launched by Britain are always advocated as being in the tradition of World War Two, against maniacal dictatorial madmen from Adolf Hitler, to Argentina's General Galtieri in the Falklands War in 1982, to Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War of 1990, then Bin Laden in 2001 with Afghanistan and Saddam ( again ) in 2003 in Iraq.

Yet not all Britain's wars in recent times are the same and not all fought for the same reasons which can be reduced to "imperialism". The Stop the War Coalition uses that word in its radical and Leninist sense because its leadership has been dominated not by sincere pacifists but those who only dislike Western violence.

While Chomsky has a real point in stating that activists in Western democracies have an obligation primarily to hold power to account in their own nations, where they can actually do something-at least they hope-about their government's unjust wars, that still presupposes that most such wars are unjust.

The great issue in the post-Cold War period where US power became ascendant for a short time after the collapse of the Soviet Union,the last real 'red empire' much mourned by hypocrites in the STWC, was whether and if military force could be used to prevent the sort of ethnic cleansing that went on in Yugoslavia.

Whatever is thought about the decision of NATO to attack Milosevic's Serbia over Kosovo in 1999, it was that and the failure to prevent Bosnian Serb militias in the 1990s from ethnic cleansing in Bosnia that started off earnest discussions in the West about 'humanitarian' or 'liberal' interventionism in the 2000s.

If by "imperialism" it is meant that Western nations use military force or can at any time or that NATO is "imperialist", then the word ceases to have much meaning. After all, NATO was created to keep in check the Soviet Union as it was an expansionist empire that did directly control and dominate Eastern Europe after WW II.

In the decade after NATO was formed in 1949, the Western nations, primarily Britain and France-decolonised and indeed Britain by the 1990s,not least after the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 back to China, could no longer be said to be "imperialist" in any meaningful sense nor could Tony Blair then.

Blair before 9/11 2001 seemed more concerned with using British power to 'prevent evil' in the world where possible and 'right'. Blair, as with many post-war liberal-leftists in Labour, grew up with the dominant idea that empire was over and the template for just wars was the Anglo-American defeat of Hitler's Nazi Germany.

In that sense, Blair regarded himself as a champion of only Good Wars designed to liberate people. That then melded with his own messiah complex, quite evident to sensible observers even back in 1997, and a post-imperial sense of responsibility to 'reorder the world' to make it more as One along with global free trade.

After 9/11 2001 ,neither the US nor Britain sought to colonise Afghanistan. The nations, including even Germany, that formed the international community's attempts at 'humanitarian intervention' and trying to stabilise Afghanistan and improve the life chances of people there and preserve their human rights.

The Afghanistan War, in which Glenton fought, was at least first not fought for resources but primarily because the US had been attacked by Al Qaida, the 'base' which had its location in Afghanistan and for which the Taliban was held responsible for providing and so for fomenting global terrorism.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 has now cast Blair in retrospect as an evil 'warmonger ' and 'imperialist' but this does not seem to ring quite true. Iraq was controversial precisely because it was seen to run contrary to what was still regarded by some opponents of that war as the the real 'Good War' in Afghanistan.

The Chilcot report made plain that Blair after the invasion started to panic about the fact that Iraq could fall apart, that there was seemingly no plan aimed at 'stabilisation' and that he was concerned that the whole venture would make it look as though the US was primarily focused on grabbing Iraqi oil ( which it was ).

Blair could not have been unaware of the geostrategic plan involving oil but he disbelieved it as primary motive for war precisely because he was uncomfortable with the idea of "imperialism". Blair was obsessed with his image and being popular. In so far as oil was important, it would be for reconstructing Iraq.

Though the Iraq War had no chance of achieving its aims of creating a stable reconstructed nation state within a short time scale, this is as much a question of having not understood Iraqi history and that is why 'it was not, it turned out, a force for good or liberation or anything of that kind' as Glenton points out.

As annoying as it is, though, this still does not mean Blair joined in the Iraq war because he thought himself an "imperialist" or was, in fact, a "warmonger" who wanted war because of an inherent attraction to militarism and killing. Britain joined because Blair thought he could replicate his 'successes' in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

After all, it has to be remembered that in the run up to the Iraq war, the Afghanistan War was not even two years old and considered a 'success' by those who thought it showed how terrorism and tyranny could make way for a new nation based on rights and building the right infrastructure. Blair alone is not responsible for such fantasies.

If Blair is to be castigated for having joined the US invasion of Iraq, then it has to be remembered that with or without him it would have happened anyway as the Bush administration was intent upon the war whether WMDs were discovered by Hans Blix or not. So Blair is then responsible for the specific consequences of British involvement.

On that score, Blair is responsible for 179 British soldiers killed. Yet this loss is four times less than those killed in Afghanistan for which there has been no inquiry and where the failures as far as the military campaign and investment in equipment itself or the justifications and often shifting pretexts provided for that war.

So the real issue with the Chilcot Report lies mainly in the way in which the case for war was presented by Blair and whether British involvement was really actually necessary or not. The report made plain that it was not. It was a ‘war of choice’ and the not a ’war of last resort’. This makes a farce of Blair’s claims that he ‘agonised’ over the decision.

Blair’s claims of conscience in this respect are contradicted by the evidence in the Chilcot Report that he had pretty much made up his mind as early as July 2002 that the war was ‘right’. The question he had doubts over was clearly whether it would ‘work’. Despite all evidence to the contrary that it would not, Blair believed ‘morality’ more important.

It looks probable Blair simply just delegated the task of finding the ‘right’ intelligence that would bolster his case to his Prime Minister’s executive office, spin doctors such as Campbell and certain politicised members of MI6 such as John Scarlett and Mark Allen . Blair was simply a method actor who was there to justify ‘regime change you can believe in’.

It has to be remembered that the political culture after 1997 reflected the ‘zeitgeist’ or spirit of the times: casualization, sofa government, being seen as ‘dynamic’ and ‘working individually but also as part of a team’, ‘selling yourself’ and reducing political campaigning and decision making to a form of TV advertising commercial for the masses.

British policy at the time was to align with the US come what may in order to uphold Britain’s status and image as a Global Player, a multicultural microcosm of the world itself which had all the more of a duty to stand by the US for that reason and to forward the project of globalisation: Britain was at One with the World and ‘chilled out’ with it.

None of the generation of progressive liberal left New Labour politicians had had any real experience of war which remained to them an abstraction or else something carried out only by Britain in continuity with leftist struggles against fascism and so evil. Often they transferred their earlier allegiances to communism to neoliberalism.

In that sense, aligning with the US was the new improved way of ‘fast tracking’ the leap from necessity into freedom and creating the One World that New Labour functionaries had dreamed of since the 1960s. Blair ‘really believed’ in that in the same way Trotsky believed in a communist utopia was immanent even in the 1930s.

It is hardly surprising that Blair claimed he was reading Isaac Deutscher’s Prophet Trilogy about Trotsky’s meteoric rise, his sidelining by the Party after the revolution went tragically wrong and then his status as ‘Prophet Outcast’. He is self-identifying himself in such a way the better to position himself now as a tragic and agonised figure.  

Blair is not so much a 'liar' as a deranged political actor who inhabits a fantasy world and one where he constantly seeks to 'triangulate' and find 'middle' or 'third ways'. He would be the bridge between the US and the EU, the unifying figure between 'right' and 'left', the man who would 'transcend' the divisions over 'key' policy issues.

On Iraq, Blair thought he would be both populist and a conviction politician, both the brave global war leader of destiny and the ordinary decent man 'doing the right thing', both the leftist leader and the inheritor of Thatcher's mantle as conservative patriot. As his forlorn and shabby 'stance' after Chilcot revealed, he is now just nothing.




Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Reflections on Blair,the Iraq War and the Forthcoming Chilcot Report

Steve Richards has some important insights into how Blair's domestic agenda and politics had a role in convincing him support the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The problem with the idea he was either a liar, as his enemies suggest, or a crusader, as his supporters claim, is that it supposes a false dichotomy.

Richards suggests Blair was 'out of his depth' when faced with the 'momentous challenge' of a US ally that had already decided on war without a second UN resolution that would authorise war and before Hans Blix had had enough time to complete his inspections in Iraq with regard to weapons of mass destruction.

Yet it was clear that Blair was less interested in a second resolution from a 'moral' point of view that from the need to get the 'international community' onside from a political point of view. Blair told Bush "We’ve got to make people understand we are not going to war because we want to but because there is no alternative."

Blair clearly had convinced himself, as all good actors do, that his position on Iraq was fundamentally the right one to the point where the difference between fact and fiction was blurred. Blair's role was always about 'delivering' and about spin. This created a context in which 'belief' was more important than facts.

Blair's main characteristic was his utter banality. In this he was a typical product of the tacky age of shallow, vulgar consumerism and 'need to believe' that characterised his period in office and which was shown evidently in the weird and ersatz mass hysteria that greeted the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

The period before 2003 was given to a New Labour obsession with style and presentation and appearance over substance, most obviously in what was proclaimed a 'post-political age' by some, in which the Cold War between liberal democracy and dictatorship had been won and global free market historically inevitable.

When Blair claimed 'there is no alternative' he was using exactly Thatcher's words as regards the use of state power to ideologically recast nations according to market principles. He positioned himself also a political leftist and progressive version of Thatcher who had won popularity by being tough towards dictators.

That was as true of Thatcher's victory over Argentina's Galtieri in the 1982 Falklands War and, as Richards suggests, it is true 'Blair had been brought up politically in the 1980s when Labour lost elections partly because it was seen as “soft” on defence and anti-US.' Leaders should be 'decisive' and prepared 'to act'.

The problem with that interpretation alone is that it ignored the fact that by 2003, Blair had already fought three wars from Kosovo ( 1999), Sierra Leone ( 2000 ) and Afghanistan ( 200 1 ). At the time, Afghanistan had been seen as a success in having driven out the evil Taliban and not the sustained failure it later revealed itself to be.

Blair imbibed all the fashionable ideas of the time about the need for 'humanitarian' or 'liberal interventionism'. Polemics raged between the 'decent left' and those they castigated in the 'anti-war movement' as the 'totalitarian left' at worst or else spineless 'appeasers' or 'naive' or 'not caring' about those living under dictatorships.

The retrospective attempt to portray himself as the leader who was prepared to 'do the right thing', when the occupation and invasion of Iraq clearly went so badly wrong and he became unpopular after the 2005 election, was not due to the failure on Iraq of his attempts to 'triangulate' or find a 'third way'.

This way of doing politics was primarily always about hoisting up both his popularity and messianic sense of destiny as though one, both to himself and to Britain and the World. There is no evidence Blair,a failed lawyer, ever applied his forensic intelligence when it came to making any case for war, let alone Iraq.

On the contrary, Blair was, in foreign policy, an ideological neoconservative fanatic after 2001 and the destruction of the WTC and not a pragmatist whose otherwise good judgement deserted him over Iraq. A war against Saddam and the evil of dictatorship was at once one against 'terror' and so, in a broader sense, on evil itself.

Linking together dictatorship and terrorism, Blair believed that by removing dictators and installing democracies that freedom would reign. In Iraq, the opening up and Western corporate assistance in getting the oil flowing would rebuild the nation while ensuring, at the same time, Western energy security.

The Role of Oil in Blair's Decision for War 

The oil factor was a crucial one in the US decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. Blair knew it but did not 'believe' that because it did not suit the rationalisations he had made in pleading the case as one about spreading the triumph of the free market and a bright new shiny globalised world in which the past could be overcome.

Tony Blair clearly could not have not ‘caused’ the Iraq War as some unthinking ‘anti-war’ critic suppose; without the US determination to set their sights on Saddam’s regime after 9/11 and to use it as a pretext to overthrow a regime unrelated to Al Qaida style terrorism there would have been no war.

Even so, the Iraq War was one he wanted as ‘war on choice’ for Blair’s Britain in standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with its ally as part of the ‘special relationship’ and to shore up Western oil supplies and security through controlling Iraqi oil supposedly for the good of all. It was never a 'war of last resort' at all.

In December 2001 in a top secret and later revealed memo Mark Allen of MI6 wrote, in response to the question “Why Move ?” i.e. invade Iraq, that ‘The removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies’. Allen was involved with Blair’s later deal in 2004 with Gaddafi.

So Blair could not have been unaware of oil as a crucial part of the decision to remove Saddam. At the Crawford Meeting of April 2002 in Texas, Blair and Bush launched the US-UK Energy Dialogue which stressed that greater investment was needed to increase the whole of the Middle East’s oil production.

Throughout the 1990s, a cabal of strident neoconservatives after the First Gulf War of 1990, which was about stopping Saddam’s control over regional oil supplies through his invasion and occupation of Kuwait, had advocated knocking his regime out, boosting oil supplies and breaking the power of OPEC.

At Crawford production was said to have needed to double its capacity within thirty years. Britain’s establishment was party to and in agreement with those designs after 9/11 and as discussed in 2002 when Blair is said to have pledged support for a war in Iraq. The rest then was a case of spinnning the case.

It is uncertain how the Chilcot report will further add to this picture or even more on the ultimate reasons why the war was fought that are not already in the public domain. But surely it would show how Blair did in fact spin the case for war and disregard facts that ran contrary to his fundamental ’beliefs’.

The only real question as regards Blair’s case that needs answering is whether he did or did not , in fact, intentionally and deliberately set out to mislead the public and Parliament in order after clearly deciding at Crawford that he would join in the invasion of Iraq ‘no matter what’ on the issue of WMDs

It is unlikely, however, that the public is going to know for a long time unless the Chilcot Report reveals exactly what Blair said to Bush at Crawford and the evidence could no doubt be redacted as a political matter of convenience in order to retain the confidential nature of the special relationship in future.

In fact, lessons can only be really learnt through understanding the Iraq War as another resource conflict in which fears about access to oil and so economic well-being, called energy security, and messianic geopolitical strategies could blend in a potent brew to create a disastrous momentum towards it.

The ‘third way’ strategy was less important in Blair’s decision to join the war, contrary to what Richards thinks, than with his way to sell it to himself first, then the world. Just blaming Blair alone rather than the entire failings of the political culture and establishment at the time is somewhat pointless.

That does not mean Blair has no legal case to answer should it be proved he knew his case for war was based on deceit. But given that the prevailing culture of spin and deceit is entrenched in Britain, it would mean the entire establishment could fall into disrepute if Blair was pursued as so many other must have been complicit.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Brexit Fallout : The Prospect of Plots, Purges and Coups

What is clear from the political fallout from Brexit is that the legacy created by Blair and his regime after 1997 is unravelling. The PLP no longer represents the majority of its members and the Brexit vote in the post-industrial Labour voting northern towns and cities showed its own traditional voting heartlands reject it.

The use of Brexit as a pretext to unseat Corbyn for allegedly not campaigning hard enough for Remain has simply revealed that the PLP has lost the plot. By calling for a new party of the 48%, voices wanting a new centre-left SDP fail could fracture Labour permanently without being assured of a new PR system.

If Labour were to split in the context of an unreformed voting system, it could contend against the Conservatives in alliance with the Liberal Democrats. But so much is uncertain because it is not clear that the Conservatives have to call a General Election before 2020 and its timing is up to them.

But a new SDP would have to contend with the fact the Liberal Democrats were almost wiped out an the 2015 General Election as few could see the point of the Lib Dems in their coalition with Cameron's 'Blairised' Conservatives. Brexit both reflects and will cause the further fragmentation of 'centre ground' politics.

The danger the PLP faces is that if Corbyn stands for re-election and wins according to pre-existing Labour membership votes for the leader, not least as many in the rank and file appear still to back him-as do the trade unions-then he could use that to start a process of imposing order through reselecting MPs.

Blair is a discredited figure and the Chilcot report's publication on Wednesday 6th July 2016. It will be seized upon to further discredit former Blair and Brown acolytes and the entire culture of spin and dissimulation that ultimately backfired in so far as it was also adopted by Remain campaigners in the Brexit referendum.

The fact spin and deception was used by Leave campaign leaders too basically provided the electorate with two forms of 'project fear'. They chose the one they feared less which was a rejection of the entire political status quo in preference for the risks of a new order free from 'Blairism' and arrogant Euro Club class elites.

Corbyn has time to reposition the Labour Party as one more aligned with social democratic economic policies that reject failed neoliberal austerity policies. Should the British economy enter recession-or the political fallout from Brexit cause further economic volatility in the UK and elsewhere-Corbyn's party could benefit.

On the other hand, the mood of prevalent fear and desperate hope that Brexit represented, set against the looming threats of ISIS terrorism and the migrant crisis, could be used by right wing Conservatives and UKIP to portray Corbyn's 'socialist' challenge as a 'national security threat' and lead to plots for a coup.

Despite claims to the contrary, Michael Gove and some very right wing neoconservatives are a strong force who have mastered the darker arts of rhetoric and 'public diplomacy', the slimy new term for propaganda. Even if he does not get the Tory leadership this time, the failure of the next PM could be exploited by him.

While Gove is unlikely to be Conservative leader, the failure to manage Brexit in accordance with the key 'promise' of  'delivery' is bound to be exploited by cabals of ideological fanatics to impose a neoconservative order on Britain as a 'party of order' should political chaos and economic volatility continue in the run up to 2020.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Brexit: Why Michael Gove Wants to Take Control of Brexit Britain.

Michael Gove's brutal and ruthless decision to precision stab Boris in the back just before 'Bo-Jo' was due to launch his leadership bid should not have come as a complete surprise. Gove is the brain of Brexit in the form he wants it to take: 'take control' would appear to have had a double meaning that is apparent now.

Advertised as the people 'taking control', what Brexit under Gove means is he and his patron media baron Rupert Murdoch are taking control. Boris was an amiable front man to conceal Gove's lower key ambitions. All eyes had been on Boris as the next PM. After Brexit went their way, Boris was then completely expendable and failed to 'take control'.

Boris never really completely believed in Brexit: Gove is obsessed by the idea of remodelling Britain as part of an ideological experiment in neoconservatism. Gove has used media e-mail leaks and character assassination to further his ends. Given the fact Gove believes he represents the people the means justify the end
'Gove was never particularly close to Johnson and it was reported that at a dinner with Rupert Murdoch two years ago he told the media tycoon Johnson was not fit to be prime minister. “A ‘tipsy’ Michael Gove has launched an extraordinary wine-fuelled attack on Boris Johnson, saying he ‘has no gravitas and is unfit to lead the nation’,” is how the Mail on Sunday reported it.'
Gove is also a populist, a term reserved for those who usually challenge established power but in other cases do not ( hence the often pejorative use of the word). Gove's on record as stating he was a great fan of Tony Blair and so of spin and the use of soundbites and deception in the pursuit of higher goals.

Gove does this while posing as being humble and 'of the people, for the people' there is, bizarrely, something slightly Leninist about him with the contempt for bourgeois "experts" and 'elite opinion' and belief that the average person can administer things and by liberated from establishment structures.

Aswith many neoconservatives there Gove is a right wing revolutionary of sorts and so, should Corbyn survive ( as it possible ) Gove's skill as a polemicist and ideologue would be deployed against him and the 'red menace' and 'enemy within' to the full just as Thatcher was able to pull that off with the help of Murdoch and The Sun.

Gove does think of himself as a genuine radical outsider, a libertarian who wants to take on the establishment that denies the popular will. Again, it's the credo forged by the 1980s and the class society that post-war Labour was often blamed for entrenching by denying social aspiration, a claim he can level at 'Metropolitan elites'.

It should be remembered Gove was a grammar school boy, so he is tapping into something with his obsession with 'taking back control' from a sinister leftist establishment. The populist streak dovetails with his talent for being a polemicist. Do not underestimate Gove. He could well destroy May's credibility through media spin.

After all, May's 'One Nation' credo is threadbare stuff from Cameron ( and Heath in the 1970s ) and he does lead the right wing drive towards Brexit now, among both conservative and many Labour voters too. He will tack towards UKIP positions more too in order to 'triangulate' and boost his profile as the man who reflects popular will.

Johnson could quite possibly will lend his considerable weight to another challenger such as Teresa May simply in order to have the best chance of thwarting Gove and to spite him for his betrayal, not least given Bo-Jo has even more need now not to have any political principles whatsoever and otherwise, his career is over.

As for UKIP and Farage, a major leave figure, Johnson despises them and is on record as regarding them as part of a 'peasant's revolt', something Gove could use against him given that he knows the Brexit verdict was a 'revolt of the provinces' against London elites. Gove, in this sense,is 'more in touch'.

In the Leave campaign Boris Johnson appealed to the Home Counties. Going off for a Cricket match in the midst of a crisis is a sort of mythical Francis Drake thing to do like playing bowls on the Plymouth Hoe in the face of the Armada. Johnson fancied himself as anew updated patrician Tory with the popular touch, like Churchill.

But Gove represents the far more calculating voice of a really alienated provincial England who want Brexit and for a leading figure to 'take control'. Johnson never quite knew what he was doing while Gove did because,as with Tony Blair, he wants to be and knows he is far more in tune with 'where the people are'.

Even if Gove failed to become the next Conservative  PM, he would surely retain influence once the new leader pushes Brexit forward. If they were to fail to do that Gove would cherish his position as a backseat driver, condemning any attempt to backslide on the Leave verdict he believes he had a vital role in shaping.

Labour are hardly any better than the Tories . At least the PLP. Gove set up Johnson and disposed him once he was no longer required. Corbyn,on the other hand, is being bludgeoned to political death in full frontal view of the public, though MPs were trying to be nice about him a few days ago when advocating he resign.

As the 'coup' against Corbyn gained traction, now there are rumours of death threats coming from Corbyn supporters against MPs trying to overthrow him, though it is possible this is part of a smear campaign against Momentum. After all, they are a direct threat to other MPs should Corbyn be voted for ( again in any election contest. ).

So on the pretext of 'security' the election rules could be changed with some cunning spin and 'public diplomacy' about the Gove-like need to take back control. It is not impossible some hot heads who support Corbyn are acting in rogue ways but, given what is at stake-their precious careers and supposed electability.

Gove would cherish a direct ideological clash with Corbyn as a sort of contest similar to Thatcher's with Foot in the 1983 election. The 'centre ground' of British politics has collapsed and Brexit has intensified political polarisation to a degree not seen since the 1970s, though the upheavals could be far worse than back then.

With economies already fragile and only just recovered after the 2008 crash, the longer the political volatility goes on in Britain, the more the economic impact would be felt in weaker Eurozone nations and this could fragment and polarise politics further there too. There could be greater echoes even of 1930s Europe.

The Blowout from Brexit: The Centre Cannot Hold.

'There is a real danger that we spend the next decade refighting last week’s referendum'.-Former British PM Gordon Brown.
The referendum was lost and the Conservatives now have to deliver Brexit of,with four years in office to go until 2020, call a general Election. Even if the referendum is not legally binding, it would cause outrage and a bitterness against the political elites if the democratic verdict is just ignored.

It was the arrogance of New Labour and then the Blairite style New Tories of Cameron which caused popular disaffection with the EU. That cannot be changed unless elites such as Brown stop warbling on about 'making globalisation work' and producing rhetoric. Many have read the economist Stiglitz and not just Brown.

Peter Hitchens is right that the existing two and a half party system at Westminster has to break up and new parties that reflect the true diversity of political opinion in Britain . The EU is one issue but Brown seems oblivious to the complete failure of the political system to represent a UK that is united in name only.

The Labour struggle with Corbyn and the fact Labour voters in post-industrial towns voted Out reflects the obvious fact the PLP no longer reflects their voters nor the membership which wants Corbyn and more radical social democratic policies instead of unfettered neoliberal free market globalisation.

If Corbyn simply deposed or a leadership election goes his way a second time, the PLP would surely have to reform itself entirely or split to create a new centre-left party.Simply dumping Corbyn without a vote-and he is not going to resign without one-would make Labour look even more undemocratic and not much more electable.

Even if the Conservatives are in disarray at present, they still actually form a government Within Britain the Tories are dominant as there can be no PLP opposition. Blairism is dead and there is no centre ground. He destroyed it over the long term through welcoming too many Eastern European immigrants overnight in 2004.

The impact of the Iraq War after 2003 -for which neither Blair nor Brown have apologised for-has detonated a region wide conflict in the Middle East, spilt over into Syria and caused a colossal refugee and migrant crisis while ISIS is plotting to exploit fears over this with a wave of tactical massacres in Britain.

The events of summer 2015 and Merkel's mismanagement of the influx of migrants into richer EU countries has,in reality, been the final straw for frightened citizens who now reject this as globalisation and want secure borders. Brexit reflects a wider crisis in the EU and the refusal to end the failed Schengen Agreement.

The fact Britain is not in the Schengen zone was hardly enough to staunch anxiety about the migrant crisis. No amount of verbiage and waffle from Yvette Cooper about 'an investigation into immigration' and its impact is going to take away the fact that most British people-and across the EU-want the return of 'proper' border controls.

The fall out from Brexit won't be primarily economic for Britain anyway but political. This is primarily a political crisis of legitimacy and whether nation states can assert sovereignty over matters such as migration and economic policy that are clearly demanded by electors. The EU could fragment if this is not heeded.

Those who cite Parliamentary sovereignty on the decision for Brexit rather than a legally binding referendum are right. Given that Parliament has to decide on Brexit, there is actually time to negotiate the terms of leaving as Britain is not a minor economic power but a major EU economy.

If the crisis drags on without any end in sight, any economic volatility would affect weaker EU economies too even more. So the ball is not only in the court of the EU or, in reality, Germany alone. If Britain leaves, Eastern European states such as Poland would feel Germany and France would have dominant influence.

Poland already has a radical populist far-right regime installing an 'illiberal democracy' and would become even more paranoid and defensive about German dominance if Britain leaves. but EU leaders and Merkel know that if Britain demands further special treatment or Brexit drags on,other states might want the same.

The crisis looks truly intractable.

The Blowout from Brexit: Anarchy in the UK and the Decline of the EU.

'Few UK politicians – fearful of challenging the verdict of an already angry electorate – will articulate such an argument in public. But Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has boldly made the case for a second referendum or another general election on the negotiated terms of exit.'-The Guardian
The General Election option would be far more democratic than a second referendum which would simply make it appear all too clear that Parliament and the political elites would prefer to ignore the electorate. The problem is how a divided Conservative party can deliver that when many Tories are unenthusiastic.

The reality could be that the Conservatives will accept the verdict and rally together, especially if Corbyn refuses to budge or, indeed, wins another leadership election. The Labour membership reject the PLP and its a moot point whether even with a new leader they would actually win an election.

The Conservatives might not want an election and they were voted in again only a year ago, in 2015 and have till 2020 to sort out the terms of exit. Labour looks in an even worse position and its MPs look like sore losers who are intent on thwarting the electorates verdict in a referendum they never wanted.

The longer this political crisis drags on, the worse economically it could be for Britain but even more for the weaker Eurozone states and even the stronger ones led by other walking political corpses such as France's Hollande and Germany's discredited Angela Merkel. Hollande is unlikely to survive after 2017.

Other EU economies that had pulled out of the effects of the 2008 economic crisis could be plunged back into further economic instability in ways that could seriously affect political stability. Greece is the most obvious and Germany shows no sign of abandoning the folly of the Euro that is fueling political extremism via austerity.

Despite what pro-EU and Remain advocates argue, Britain does have a strong bargaining hand in demanding certain EU policies such as unlimited freedom of movement change or are altered. For all the talk of 'values', ultimately it is political and economic stability and power that will decide.

Economist Larry Summers made it clear that while there are indeed economic costs for Britain, there is far more politically at stake, which is not to suggest that over a longer period the political instability could not have further economic consequences for the rest of the EU, even Germany, Britain's biggest trade partner.

As Summers puts it,
'For Britain, the economic effects are two sided. On the one hand, a major jolt has been delivered to confidence, to future unity and down the road to trade. On the other, the currency has become more competitive, and liquidity will be in very ample supply...As suggested by the fact that stock markets in Italy and Spain are down almost twice as much as in the UK, the prospects for Europe may in some ways be worse than for the UK. There is the real risk of "populist exit contagion" in a number of countries. Brexit will rightly be taken as a signal that the political support for global integration is at best waning and at worst collapsing.'
Set against this prospect, the EU is going to have little time for the SNP's attempt to exploit Brexit to push for Scotland doing a deal without London which, in any case, has to agree to another referendum as Alex Salmond, the SNP's former leader clearly pointed out after Sturgeon demanded one.

Basically, the EU has to compromise of face further division and fragmentation. The political consequences of trying to stymie Brexit-and the EU has to show itself as democratic and accepting the verdict as well as needing fairly quick withdrawal to stop Brexit contagion-would be worse in drawing out the crisis in Britain.

If the EU were to do so, it would not only cause further instability in Britain but face the possibilities of further economic decline, greater crisis in the failing Eurozone, a rise in political radicalism from both the far left and right and even precipitate a global economic crisis in a world full of actual and potential wars and conflicts.

The outlook is bleak and Brexit may be the least concern as events start to unfold. There is simply going to be no return to the status quo of neoliberal globalisation, mass migration and the world that has existed since the end of the Cold War in 1989-1990. The quicker political elites deal with reality, the better.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

US Foreign Policy in 2017: Who is Worse Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton ?

Jonathan Freedland, has called for those supporting Bernie Sanders as Democratic nominee for the President in November 2016 elections in the USA-and indeed for Sanders himself-to swing behind Hillary Clinton should he lose in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
'...a deep hostility to Clinton among many on the left, one that has been eloquently channelled by Sanders. They can’t stand her hawkishness, typified by her Senate vote backing the Iraq war. They can’t stand her links to Wall Street. And they can’t stand her long years inside the system'
The domestic implications of having President Trump or Clinton are for Americans to deal with but from an external and global perspective, that in as regards the consequences for foreign policy, the election of either of these two candidates is a chilling prospect and it is difficult to decide who could be worse.

Freedman slyly alludes only to Clinton's vote for the Iraq War while ignoring the more obvious fact that as Secretary of State she was responsible for the foreign policy debacle of Libya and Syria back in 2011. Whatever her credentials as a 'domestic reformer',in foreign policy H Clinton is a staunch progressive nationalist and interventionist.

As Anatol Lieven puts it in A Hawk Named Hillary,
Neither in her book ( Hard Choices ) nor in her policy is there even the slightest evidence that she has, in fact, tried to learn from Iraq beyond the most obvious lesson—the undesirability of US ground invasions and occupations, which even the Republicans have managed to learn. For Clinton herself helped to launch US airpower to topple another regime, this one in Libya—and, as in Iraq, the results have been anarchy, sectarian conflict and opportunities for Islamist extremists that have destabilized the entire region. She then helped lead the United States quite far down the road of doing the same thing in Syria.
Clinton tries to argue in the book that she took a long, hard look at the Libyan opposition before reporting to the president her belief that “there was a reasonable chance the rebels would turn out to be credible partners”—but however long she looked, it is now obvious that she got it wrong. She has simply not understood the fragility of states—states, not regimes—in many parts of the world, the risk that “humanitarian intervention” will bring about state collapse, and the inadequacy of a crude and simplistic version of democracy promotion as a basis for state reconstruction. It does not help that the US record on democracy promotion and the rule of law—including Clinton’s own record—is so spotted that very few people outside the country take it seriously anymore.
While it is thought US voters focus far more on domestic issues than foreign policy, they also focus on issues such as Homeland Security, the costs of foreign entanglements and their obvious decline as a superpower and waning global influence. Trump, by contrast, in seeking to 'Make America Great Again' promises 'America First'. 
This appeals to Americans tired with US global wars and spending billions of dollars on promoting 'regime change' in Arab lands where the locals are considered ungrateful and violent anyway and mentally incapable of democracy. As a consequence, Trump puts forward a foreign policy based only on 'what is in it for us'.

While many leaning towards Sanders would not put their anti-interventionist stance in those terms, the fact that Clinton promises further endless interventions and demonising Putin and his 'despicable' opposition to US foreign policy on Syria for example, is deeply disturbing to a large number of anti-Republican Americans.

The complete inability of H Clinton to have a capacity to understand the perspective of other states and their leaders and diplomats marks her out as shrill and self-righteous to a dangerous degree in a hazardous international context where a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to statecraft is required.

With rising tensions with China over the South China Sea, North Korea and its emergence as an economic and regional military superpower, Clinton's less subtle and more stated ambition of containing China in East Asia, as well as the desire to lecture China on human rights and democracy, could cause confrontation, even war.

Oddly enough, Trump, by contrast, though he is full of undiplomatic brags-such as taking the Chinese leadership to McDonald's-and catastrophic 'public diplomacy' as regards Islam and Muslims,does not appear to know much about global power politics at all. Even so, he recently met Clinton's favoured mentor-Henry Kissinger.

Trump may well be evolving towards a pose as supreme 'realist' in US global policy in away from the idealistic and naive liberal progressive internationalism. As regards entering negotiations with Kim Jong Un in North Korea,Trump was on to something as sanctions have failed and North Korea is, de facto, in 2016 a nuclear power.

H Clinton's campaign team lambasted Trump for a "bizarre fascination with foreign strongmen" as he wanted to open talks with the dictator in Pyongyang. Even so, it could be a better way forward than Obama and Clinton's approach given that neglect of North Korea has led it to develop nuclear weapons since 2011.

As regards North Korea, it is hard to see how Obama and Clinton could have failed more. The overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 signalled to North Korea that no matter what concessions are made on WMD, that would not save a regime from being overthrown by military force, especially after giving them up.

Of course, North Korea's envoy predictably rejected Trump's overtures.This is hardly surprising given that in March 2016 he advocated the insane idea that US allies, from Saudi Arabia to Japan and South Korea should be allowed to have nuclear weapons as a more cost effective way of ensuring global peace.

Trump claimed on Friday that H Clinton was 'lying' and 'I never said that' but it is , in any case, is somewhat hypocritical of her to accuse him of endangering world order by hinting the US could allow its Asian allies to have nuclear weapons when her own policies have contributed towards North Korea having them.

Not only that, H Clinton's lack of ethical realism in the foreign policy approach to China-and she was a key player in pushing for Obama's Pivot to Asia in 2010-11-has played a part in stimulating China's increasingly unilateral assertions of power in staking its claims to the South China Sea, as evidenced in 2016 in its island building programmes.

As Lieven points out, ' Obama and Clinton’s announcement of the pivot to Asia, at least in part, preceded the new aggressiveness of Chinese policy.' Unlike the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, where the US was never seen to be on the side of powers making rival claims to Russian territory,Clinton has been blatantly partisan.

Lieven continued,
 'As a senator, Clinton was entirely complicit in the disastrous strategy of offering NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, which led to the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 (and a de facto US strategic defeat) and helped set the scene for the Ukraine crisis of this year ( 2014 ). This is not to excuse Russia’s mistaken and criminal reactions to US policy; but to judge by her book, Clinton never bothered to try to understand or predict likely Russian reactions—let alone, once again, to acknowledge or learn from her mistakes. On the Georgia War, she simply repeats the lie (which, to be fair, she may actually believe) that this was deliberately started by Putin and not by Georgia’s president at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili.' 
The upshot is that it is difficult to say who is worse on foreign policy, whether H Clinton, who seems terminally incapable of learning from contemporary history, or Trump, whose foreign policy stances are largely about staking himself out as 'different', 'anti-establishment' and even 'anti-neoconservative', so as to put himself in the White House.

Friday, 27 May 2016

North Korea and the Danger of the Spiralling Arms Race in East Asia.

Kim Jong Un's pensive pose in a green rice field in late May 2016 is a piece of cliched political theatre. It mirrors Mao Tse Tung's famous visits to rural China at the time of the Great Leap Forwards after 1958 in which at least 20 million peasants died of famine. Propaganda posters for it too depicted Mao as an agricultural genius in rich fields.

Likewise, North Korea is once more, as it was in the 1990s, on the brink of famine and faced with internal elite discontent given the fact that the limited increase in wealth, for those who have joined the expanded Party, has been threatened by global sanctions, which China too ratcheted up in April 2016.

China's sanctions, placed on essential revenue earners such as coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium and rare earths, reflected Beijing's concern and anger at the North's increased nuclear and ballistic missile tests, moves which have given the US all the more of a pretext to deploy THAAD missiles to South Korea.

While on the face of it summits between President Obama and President Xi Jinping profess their devotion to denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, the real underlying fear in Beijing is that these missiles are part of a missile shield which could be used to downgrade the nuclear deterrent China possesses.

When added to US diplomatic moves elsewhere to the south in Vietnam, where Obama has indicated Washington seeks better relations with Hanoi and to lift sanctions on the sale of lethal weapons-as well as increasing US military presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre-the fear in Beijing is of encirclement.

This is why North Korea remains a deeply destabilising flashpoint in an increasingly volatile geopolitical situation in East Asia. The threat that the North Korean regime could collapse in the near future no longer seems impossible. Pyongyang is investing so much in its nuclear programme and famine looms.

The attempt to shore up the authority of Kim Jong Un since 2011 through using hard currency earnings is failing. The policy of gift giving for service to the regime, along with ruthless purges, has failed to stem resentment in the general population who have received 'toothpaste or a bottle of liquor' for labour service.

At the same time calls for 'an ardous march' would indicate that famine is present again as the term was first used leadership in 1993 as a euphemism for the four-year famine that from 1994 resulted in 3.5 million deaths. Going for full nuclear protection of the regime means it has the ultimate form of blackmail.

For a start, it would signal no matter who hates the regime, it is permanent and no external power can bring about 'regime change'. If the regime were to collapse it would lead to the nightmare of a chaos in which any attempt to end it through reunification would raise the spectre for Beijing of being flanked directly by a US client state.

Alternatively, should the North Korean regime survive, the threat of nuclear proliferation would also increase, not least if it developed an effective nuclear arsenal-and it already has nuclear weapons anyway- then the question would be how best to contain it without allowing possession to stimulate a regional arms race.

In the circumstances, the only option left is for the US to accept that sanctions have failed and that it would be better to work with China to negotiate with Pyongyang and offer economic incentives for it to prevent the nuclear programme developing further and else South Korea and Japan develop them too.

In time, North Korea might be persuaded to rescind its nuclear programme. Yet a spiralling arms race, rising nationalism and potential conflicts between fossil fuel deprived Asian nations and China over sea lanes and the oil and gas reserves in both the East and South China Seas, spells the potential for catastrophe.

Friday, 4 March 2016

PiS , Coal, and the EU and Energy Security.

Unfortunately, PiS, a far right populist political Party and Movement, has inherited, as ironic as this may seem, the mantle of the national-communists that ruled Poland between 1945 to 1990. As a consequence, it exploit the anger at the mass unemployment caused by the 'shock therapy' of the Balcerowicz Plan.
Between 1992 and 1996 productivity and GDP actually fell in Poland and, thereafter, surged. But this was only partially due to the Balcerowiz Plan , one which included rapid and doctrinaire neoliberal reforms that threw far too many of Poland's old working class on to the scrapheap of history.
This is a reason why PiS is hostile to any attempt to reduce dependence upon coal, as the coal industry is associated with the safe, in fact more protected' status of Polish workers under national-communism, an industry regarded as essential to Poland's modernisation back then in which miners were given the best wages.
The second reason is the affinity PiS has with the US Republicans on the supposedly 'sceptical' position towards the proven scientific fact of global warming. It is a 'heresy' to them because their Christian fundamentalist dogmas and so the wish thinking places Man as having the right to dominate Nature.
So, another irony, is that the Catholic religious fundamentalism in theory has much in common with the theory and practice of Communism. The world is there to be dominated and exploited to ensure progress. This dovetails with the other aspects of the regime in Warsaw in 2016 such persecution mania.
The EU will have a problem persuading Poland to phase out coal is not only the the disbelief in scientific evidence and facts that characterises PiS. It is that coal as a form of energy security prevents it from having to depend more on other sources such as oil and gas, much of which would come from a hated Russia.
Germany's politics has hardly helped any more than Greenpace and the Greens. The decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany, in some ways, beats Poland's stubborness on coal for utter stupidity and short-sightedness. The politics of irrationality plays its role in Germany just as much as in Poland.
The idea wind power, as opposed to nuclear power and fracked oil, done carefully and with respect for the environment, would be able to meet Poland's energy needs is farcical, though population decline and mass emigration of the young, caused by a failed and failing neoliberal system, would decrease energy demand.
The failure to drag Ukraine decisively into the sphere of interest of the EU, primarily led by Poland, has meant Putin was able to move in to seize Crimea and its oil and gas reserves. Drilling in Bieszczady proved both fruitless and unpopular with environmentalists, with Greenpeace being smeared as funded by Russia.
Such paranoia is hardly surprising. Greenpeace, apart from the anti-nuclear stance, clearly has failed to engage with the concerns of Poles when it dangles a Polish flag with a banner reading 'Who Rules Poland: The Coal Industry or The People'. The preservation of mining is not considered here an elite concern
On the contrary, keeping the mines open is regarded as part of a general policy of reindustrialising Poland after the deindustrialisation of the 1990s that left manufacturing towns from Bytom to Chrzanow and Trzebinia ( in the south ) decline and die almost overnight in the early 1990s.
PM Szydlo is the daughter of a miner from near Oswiecim. The collapse of the post-communist left and the utter failure of a new left to take off means there is almost no chance Poland is going to embrace wind farms. Towards Wroclaw, near Opole I saw a solitary windmill in a field. Few believe in it.
The EU is bound to be seen as a threat, especially over the environment, when the demand to reduce dependence on coal would mean a closure of mines and the devastation of towns, such as those in Slasks ( Silesia ) , such as Swietochowice, that remain deeply dependent on coal mining to prop up the local economy.
Should Poland shift to more of an an advanced knowledge and technological economy, and so not be regarded as a low wage cheap manufacturing outpost for EU and East Asian economies,-with the wholesale acceptance of the PO and, most likely, the PiS regime-sensible alternatives to coal would be found.
But, as across the world, energy is connnected to security, sovereignty and politics. Even should the EU move towards a low carbon future, there is no guarantee at all that other emerging industrialised nations are going to regard the EU as a role model to emulate, not least as it is already fragmenting.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Korea: Frozen Conflict and the Forgotten Civil War.

As both the US and China come together to create a draft resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for its continued obsession with developing its nuclear programme, differences between the Chinese and Us approach to how to go about preventing Pyongyang attaining nuclear weapons continues

As the Guardian reported,
China and the United States have had different views on how strong the response should be to North Korea since Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January, with Washington urging harsh punitive measures and Beijing emphasising dialogue and milder UN steps that are confined to non-proliferation.

US nationalists tend to blame China for being 'soft' on what is regarded as its 'communist' ally, even though China is only nominally communist and predominantly capitalist and steadily positioning itself to overtake the US as the world's predominant global economy, a great concern in America.

Us nationalists often maintain China is using North Korea as a 'buffer state' between it and US forces in South Korea. This is, of course, partially correct, though what actual purpose US forces have in being stationed in South Korea 60 years after the Korean War finished is not entirely clear.

China indeed fears having US military bases and forces and missile delivery systems running right up to its border. One answer is a withdrawal of US military forces from the ROK so as to lessen tensions. South Korea is more than capable of defending itself from North Korea as an advanced rich industrial society.

In the US , North Korea is either seen sensationally as a Hollywood evil regime or else a semi-comic farcical state. However, the idea that the US military presence is only about protecting the region from the evil of Kim Jong Un and not about maintaining bases to keep China in check is a myth.

Maintaining a military presence in South Korea is neither conducive to regional peace nor is it arguably even in the interests of the US, though as China rises and US imperial overstretch  becomes ever more a reality, the US is getting itself drawn in to potential conflicts. Anatol Lieven, noted this a few years ago.
'There is one region that the U.S. can and should bow out of now: Korea. North Korea's bomb test is obviously a very serious problem for the U.S., given its heavy military presence in South Korea. However, we should ask why, more than 50 years after the Korean War and 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States still has about 37,500 troops on the Korean peninsula.
In the long run, North Korea's nuclear weapons are an overwhelming problem only for its neighbours, and it should be their responsibility to sort this problem out. Of course, they may fail -- but then, the U.S. record in the region over the last decade has not exactly been one of success.
The U.S. is already reducing its troop levels on the Korean peninsula; it should accelerate the process and move rapidly toward ending its military presence. Moreover, it should negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea. This will remove Pyongyang's motive to attack U.S. interests, ensure that China could never again attack U.S. forces in a ground war and allow the U.S. to concentrate instead on maintaining its overwhelming lead over China in naval and air power.
We must be very clear, however, that this withdrawal would also mean ceding to China the dominant role in containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions -- along with Japan, South Korea and Russia -- and in managing the eventual collapse of the North Korean state and the appallingly difficult and expensive process of the reunification of the two Koreas'
The insistence on keeping a strong military presence in South Korea, notwithstanding the idea the South Korean government wants it for ideological and security purposes ( as opposed to offsetting the costs of defence to the US ) is based also on the ignorance in the US as to the reality of the Korean War.

One US nationalist blogger typically wrote in the Guardian,
'the issue is not the US military presence in South Korea, it's the blatant and outright ridiculous behaviour of North Korea (the US wasn't present when NK invaded SK in 1950). To somehow pin this on the US and the South Korean request for their assistance is not only ignorant of history but a delusion of reality'
It is simply not factual to maintain the US entered only in 1950. The US was present in South Korea after the defeat of Japan under a Military Government from 1945-48 It then set about shoring up a ROK regime that was undemocratic and consisted of collaborators with Japan after its occupation in 1910 and in the 1930s against China.

The US government imposed a government led by Syngman Rhee whose regime murdered some 100,000 Koreans in the south, lumping all those who resisted the regime as 'communists' despite the fact many were simply peasant rebels fighting landlords or trade unionists ( as in the Cholla rebellion of 1946 ).

Statistically, the ROK regime, which was not fully democratised until the 1980s, was responsible for more civilian deaths than even the North Korean communist guerrillas under Kim Il Sung managed.  The US ignored all this or turned a blind eye to it as part of its geopolitical strategy in East Asia.

The Truman administration arbitrarily set up the 38th parallel as a means to contain the communist threat and, in so doing, took direct sides in what was after 1945 a civil war within the entire Korean Peninsula between various Korean resistance forces against the Japanese and the elites who had collaborated.

Far from it only being aggression from Kim Il Sung, Syngman Rhee's regime was itching to invade the north and kill off as many in the resistance as possible and that only partially included the Korean communists who had fought along with Mao in China and has infiltrated south by 1949.

There were mutual skirmishes across the 38th parallel throughout the year preceding the outbreak of the Korean War that is remembered in the US as a discrete and time bound period of three years between 1950 and 1953. But it reflected the escalation of a civil war into a Great Superpower contest.

Moreover, though nothing justifies the conduct of the vile and repellant regime in Pyongyang, the arbitrary division of Korea, the failure to strike a peace treaty and the aggressive unilateralist policies of the George W Bush administration, with its 'Axis of Evil' and threats of bombing, retarded any political progress.

Indoctrination and having North Korea on a permanent war footing with its insane belligerence in part results from the collective trauma imposed on North Korea as MacArthur moved north in the war and the USAF blitzed dams and razed cities with incendiaries and napalm. Pyongyang was 75% destroyed.

ROK force atrocities against civilians in 1951 became so embarrassing to the US that it prevented newspaper correspondents reporting from the front. The atrocities carried out by the ROK police against civilians before 1950 occurred mostly in South Korea where the Jeju uprising was crushed with brutality in 1949.

The fact 30,000 South Koreans with no connection to North Korean communists were slaughtered as a the price for creating 'stability' also failed as Rhee's government agitated, against US wishes, to invade North Korea and it was this and North Korean antagonism that sparked off the war.

Apart from the environmental issues, this is why South Koreans have an ambiguous attitude towards US military presence and in the case of the Jeju naval base there has been resistance and criticism that has its origins partly in the historical memory and humiliation of 1949.

South Korea has a radical tradition and many oppose their government.  As the NY Times reported in 2011,
'anti-base activists from the Korean mainland suspect that the naval base will serve less as a shield against South Korea’s prime enemy, North Korea, than as an outpost for the United States Navy to project its power against China.
This is, of course, true as the US attempts, without expressly admitting it, that it is containing China: that is trying to dominate the East and South China seas, partly due to Chinese arrogance and resource grabs for oil and gas but also as the US wants to cut off oil tanker routes from the Middle East if China gets too uppity.