Saturday, 30 July 2016

US and NATO in Afghanistan 2016 : Still a War of Energy Geopolitics in the New Great Game .

The Afghanistan War drags on and while the West has managed to extricate itself from a war in which it would pay a publicly unacceptable blood price-and shifted that on to Western trained Afghan troops-there seems to be no explanation as to what it is that the US and NATO are actually trying to achieve in 2016.

One rationale for the US and NATO to remain in Afghanistan in 2016 after official "drawdown" is to defend a central war ambition that was once derided as a "conspiracy theory" -the construction of the TAPI pipeline. The war was never quite only about the stated purposes, from 'keeping Western streets safe' to women's rights.

The gas pipeline plans were mentioned by antiwar critics from the outset back in 2001-2002. However,the way many saw the Al Qaida terrorist attacks as 'allowed' by the Bush administration so as to provide an excuse for sinister 'neocons' such as Dick Cheney to justify invading Afghanistan to build a pipeline led to ridicule.

It was absurd to suggest the US entered Afghanistan just so Cheney's Halliburton company-or other big corporations-could possibly benefit from the construction of what was then known as the UNOCAL pipeline. These theories thus were said to represent 'emotive' arguments that the West was being 'imperialist' against Islamic lands.

Yet even the very idea the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan could ever about long-term economic and political goals was dismissed by the BBC's Malcolm Haslett in October 2001 as not adding up because as regards 'export pipelines' it ' it simply is not true that Afghanistan is the main alternative to Russia'. 

Haslett opined 'very few western politicians or oil companies have taken Afghanistan seriously as a major export route - for the simple reason that few believe Afghanistan will ever achieve the stability needed to ensure a regular and uninterrupted flow of oil and gas'. Yet, if anything was a mere theory, it was Haslett's rationalisation.

Haslett , of course, seems to have taken what politicians said at face value and ignored the very obvious flaw in his argument. If politicians did not believe Afghanistan 'will ever' stabilise Afghanistan ,then that would have come as news to them given the emphasis they were putting on 'nation-building' even back then.

Haslett represented a BBC that was failing in its job to scrutinise the claims of the powerful, something that was later revealed in its failure to challenge the absurd propaganda and spin that accompanied Tony Blair's drive for justifying war in Iraq in late 2002 to March 2003. Oil too was written off as not important.

The idea the occupation of Afghanistan did not have as an aim the construction of a pipeline-because a southern pipeline through the Caucasus was the main ambition at the time-ignores the extent to which the Afghan pipeline was seen as much as a geopolitical interest and development project as a potential source of gas for the West.

All this would have come as a surprise to the Afghan energy minister at that time who freely admitted to Lutz Klevemann, when interviewed, that much of the interest the Western powers were showing in Afghanistan was connected to the clear geopolitical benefits that a trans-Afghan pipeline would bring.

It is recorded in Klevemann's The New Great Game Blood and Oil in Central Asia ( 2003). The collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the creation of new oil rich post-Soviet republics in Central Asia led the US to plan asserting its influence in Eurasia and so to replace Britain's old imperial role in the region in the late nineteenth century.

With Russia trying to reassert its influence once more too, as the Russia Commonwealth of Independent States, Afghanistan occupied a vital piece of strategic real estate as a 'land bridge' connecting Central Asia with the Indian Subcontinent. As such a pipeline between Turkmenistan and India would have great benefits.

For a start a trans-Afghan pipeline would help provide essential energy supplies to Pakistan,a nation with a burgeoning population and so help both it align towards the West rather than with either Iran to the west or else China; this would be part of a broader geostrategy of 'containing' China as well as drawing India away from Russia.

So even before the TAPI project became formalised, this time without the Taliban as in was in the late 1990s, in the period between 2005-2006 ( and it has been set back many times by the hazardous security environment ), it was known that it was a strategic interest that would require a US military presence in Central Asia.

A gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Pakistan and then India, with outlets to the sea and for LNG exports would provide much needed revenue to rebuild the failed Afghan state. However, for TAPI to be secure it needs US and NATO to train forces capable of protecting the pipeline against  insurgents such as the ousted Taliban.

The TAPI pipeline finally started construction in 2016, just over a year since the media recycled official claims of a US-NATO 'drawdown' in Afghanistan. But the clue is in the wording of 'public diplomacy'. 'Drawdown' means in fact reduction and not withdrawal which very much mean to 'draw out' as a final removal of troops.

That has not happened and was never going to and not just because of a 'resurgent Taliban' that has, once more in 2016, mean that the withdrawal ( touted before the end of 2014 as 'drawdown ) has been slowed down. Reduction in troops numbers, in any case, would not mean closing the colossal Bagram Air Base.

The reason is that Central Asia is so strategically important in the New Great Game and because of its great fossil fuel wealth. As such it is set to play a role as one region that could ensure the energy security of NATO states and for it to influence major regional players by offering an alternative locus of power to Russia, Iran and China in Central Asia,

So the war is set to go on indefinitely precisely because the stakes are so high. As with largely oil free Syria, and the need to rollback ISIS, Afghanistan is an important land because of the resources in states adjacent to it and because pipelines through it would connect to huge energy markets. Control over them is a strategic goal.

As Euronews reported in December 2015 ( TAPI: A Pipeline for Peace and Stability )
'TAPI’s progress may be blighted by deadly regional conflicts. The pipeline will pass a dangerous route through Afghanistan’s Kandahar province and the neighboring Quetta region of Pakistan – the heartland of the Taliban militancy.
India’s Vice President, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, told euronews the partners are aware of the challenges that lie ahead: “We must recognise that the forces of violence and disruption can no longer be allowed to threaten the quest for economic development and security of our people.”
Daud Shah Sabah, Afghanistan’s Mines and Petroleum minister said: “We have successfully implemented the security structure of the biggest mining project in Afghanistan. It’s successfully done. We have that model and we will implement it in TAPI as well.”
“We hope that the terrorist groups that are coming from outside into Afghanistan will be expelled by the communities once the community has an asset there for them, which is the TAPI pipeline,” he added.
In order to diversify its natural gas markets, Ashgabad has already reached tentative agreements with Turkey, Japan, and South Korea. The European Union, which is looking to decrease its dependency on Russia, also expects to start receiving natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan by 2019.'
It ought to be remembered too that Helmland ,a key opium growing region controlled by the Taliban and the region through which the TAPI pipeline is set to run. The energy security dimension of this war and the geopolitics is seldom mentioned in the media, though US State Department press conferences state plainly it as an aim.

It has long been recognised that the Taliban is not one force and that there divisions within it that could be exploited so as to bring about a negotiated ceasefire between more 'moderate' Taliban factions and Kabul. This would be the only way in which provinces such as Helmland could be 'pacified'.

So long as the Taliban are excluded from having a role in Afghanistan's political process they have every interest in thwarting Kabul and its economic development projects, not least as the futile 'War on Drugs' crusade in the 2000s alienated poor farmers and pushed them towards the Taliban without reducing the demand for drugs in the West.

It's profits from the lucrative drugs trade, from heroin trafficked through corrupted states from Central Asia through into Europe via the Balkans, that enables the Taliban to keep up its armed insurgency and control the pipeline route regions. That, in turn, raises what's at stake for the US-NATO and Kabul in continuing the war without end.

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 had 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.

It isclear 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 called for speeding up rebuilding work, ramping up security in Baghdad and, 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 2003 : An Ideological Fantasy and Resource War.


‘Iraq was always America’s war. Britain was a mere hanger-on, a tin-pot cheerleader to America’s reckless aggression. ..The true message of Chilcot is that, in foreign policy, lessons are never learned, merely repeated. British governments repeated its misguided interventionism in Helmand and Libya’-Simon Jenkins,The Guardian.


“Old Porteous’s mind, I thought, probably stopped working at about the time of the Russo-Japanese War. And it’s a ghastly thing that nearly all the decent people, the people who DON’T  want to go round smashing faces in with spanners, are like that. They’re decent, but their minds have stopped”.-George Orwell, Coming Up for Air ( 1939 )

Simon Jenkins increasingly comes across as an updated version of Old Porteous from George Orwell's Coming Up for Air, a bemused figure who claims we have all seen it before, there isn't really that much new under the sun, lessons on futile war are never learned and there will be probably more stupid misadventures.

All of that appears true given the recent British history of military intervention in the Middle East. However, the ever more recurring crises and demands for war, euphemised often as mere ‘intervention’, without even the word ‘military’ preceding it, requite explanation beyond the vainglorious nature of politicians.

Jenkins clearly remembers Thatcher’s Falklands War of 1982 as a template in this respect and his mind seems to have stopped with that and the end of the Cold War. Yet the Cold War ended in 1990 followed immediately by the First Iraq War, a resource struggle that heralded a new epoch of conflicts explicitly about the protection of oil supplies.

Jenkins , as an old fashioned moderate patrician Tory journalist, has rejected the oil factor on Iraq no doubt because he thought the explanation for wars based on grabbing resources would seem a bit too Marxoid for his tastes. In fact, it does not take a StWC or SWP ideologue to understand that the Second Iraq War was an oil grab.

The Far Left Exploit the Iraq War and Take Control of Anti-War Protests.

In 2003, protesters in London marched back then with “No War for Oil” placards, as if the grubby materialist motive emphasised this was a ‘war of choice’ only launched by sinister vampire capitalists who craved profits and salivated at the thought of this and doing so through a hideous and ‘premeditated act of mass murder’ ( Harold Pinter ).

However, the slogan ‘no war for oil’ presupposes that if the war could plausibly have been fought for other reasons-which it was as no war is ever fought for just one reason alone-then it might well have had the claim to be the 'moral' and 'just' one that Blair claimed it to be. But many anti-war types are cynical-in contrast to Blair.

Indeed it is usually because Blair is assumed to be the cynic, while anti-war leaders were the idealists and real humanitarians, the Iraq War opened up the beginning of a polarisation on the British left which has had its ultimate consequence in leading Jeremy Corbyn, a leading StWC voice, becoming Labour Party leader in 2015.

Yet the fact is the StWC were never that interested in what was at stake in Iraq because they would have been against any war anyway launched for whatever reason.Their entire purpose is  just to 'stop wars', by which they mean Western Imperialist Wars and then exploit outrage when invariably they fail to build up radical anti-capitalist parties.

The problem a number of anti-war leaders in Britain, from Galloway to German to Rees had with the war, was not that Blair would fail or that they truly cared about civilian casualties or deaths. As the remnants of the old communist left, invigorated with a new sense of purpose after the end of the USSR, for them mass murder was never an issue.

The actual issue was that 'bourgeois imperialists' were bent on a war with the support of the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a New Labour leader who represented the culmination of political forces that had expelled militant socialists and Trotskyists back in the 1980s. The Iraq War could galvanise the revolutionary left again.

The Chilcot Report

Jenkins states the obvious when he points out the Chilcot Report pointed out the obvious as regards the fact there was a rush to war, no credible proof of WMDs, that Saddam provided no credible threat and was contained and that the war was clearly not one of last resort when all other diplomatic options had been exhausted.

The question of why Britain joined the Iraq War in 2003, however, cannot be boiled down only to ‘Blair’s Folly’. There is no evidence, and the Chilcot Report bears this out in fact, that the Iraq War was misguided. On the other hand, nor is there any evidence Blair was a ‘warmongering Bliar’ who made war gladly as a sadistic psychopath.

All the evidence points to a war Blair was genuinely uneasy about in the sense of whether it would ‘work’ or not but that it would be still a ‘moral’ war to remove Saddam Hussein. Morality would then appear to inhere within a determination to act-literally in Blair’s case-once the US really did decide to go in’. Hence ‘I’ll be with you, whatever’.

Blair’s thinking dovetailed perfectly with New Labour’s vulgar utilitarian outlook. ‘The people’ are not that interested in thinking about big questions or ethical dilemmas but in observing Great Leaders being bold enough to rid the world of tyrants and make the world better not just for the few but for the happiness of the many. 

In that sense Blair was perfectly at ease with standing by a decision once he had made it. But he made it because he really did ‘believe’ getting rid of Saddam Hussein had to make the world better and that as the US and UK together represented forces of Global Good, there was no way they could ever make it worse.

Blair himself claims that nobody could have seen the way the Iraq war would pan out with hindsight. Yet that is precisely what the declassified documents and correspondence revealed by Chilcot disprove. Blair himself had fears before Iraq could disintegrate. By 2004 he was panicking that it could ‘fall apart’ if there was no reconstruction plan.

Blair feared if nation-building did not occur, then the war would be portrayed as an oil grab in the way some of his domestic anti-Iraq War opponents accused him. But Blair disbelieved oil as a motive, even claimed it was a conspiracy theory, on the spurious basis he could have 'cut a deal' with Saddam, as if he had that choice. 

The reason is Blair 'believed' that the oil in liberated Iraq would work in a utilitarian way for the mutually beneficial interest of Iraq and the West. 'Democratic Geopolitics' meant the increased supply of oil would bring prosperity to Iraqis and lower high prices in the rich consumer nations such as Britain.

It is often forgotten how this had become a great concern to Blair in the wake of the oil price strike of September 2000 by haulage companies. Supported by the Conservative Partyunder William Hague, it had threatened another Winter of Discontent under a Labour government that the tabloids would spin to his discredit.

If the Iraq War was a war of choice, it was one too for Britain's consumer choice and high octane economy to work into the future as 'business-as-usual'. It is geopolitics and the quest for energy security, along with 'Democracy Promotion', that has driven the recurring trend towards military intervention. 

This does not mean that Iraq was anything less than Blair's responsibility. It does mean, however, that 'the people' may well be getting the politicians they deserve unless they start to understand that our profligate consumerism comes at a price higher than that at the pumps and increasingly in blood through war and terrorist blowback. 

So it isn't not just vainglorious politicians causing wars through stupid choices. It is that the bad choices are made more rather than less likely by the overdependence upon fossil fuels and the role oil plays in fuelling the global economy. That seemed more the case then than since shale oil bought time but time only will tell.

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.