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.

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