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The Chilcot Inquiry Report is an Irrelevance

Chilcot cannot touch on the true reason why Britain invaded Iraq in 2003: the dominance of Atlanticist neocon thinking within Britain’s elite.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Chilcot Report into the Tony Blair’s government’s decision to involve Britain in the Bush administration’s war against Iraq is being oversold.  An Inquiry report that needs 12 volumes and an executive summary reported to be 200 pages long to answer a question the answer to which is obvious cannot be other than an exercise in obfuscation.

The question of why Britain invaded Iraq in 2003 has been grossly over-analysed.  There is no mystery about it or about why Blair took Britain to war.  Nor is the fact Britain went to war against Iraq in 2003 important except in Britain.  It is not even important in Iraq itself.

Blair is a grossly overrated politician.  Far from being the political genius his followers claim, the truth about Blair is that he was a shallow and conceited politician with no great political insight or experience who as Prime Minister was completely out of his depth.  Lazy and vain, he took no interest in the details of government, which bored him, and had no vision of the sort of country he wanted Britain to be, and no plan of how to bring that vision into effect.  In this he was completely different from the three other great post-war British Prime Ministers – Attlee, Wilson and Thatcher – who had electoral mandates comparable to his, and who by combining vision with hard work changed Britain for better or for worse in fundamental ways that mark it still.

What Blair did have was an obsession with public relations, which he always confused with having a political and electoral strategy.  What that amounted to in practice was always doing what the most powerful voices in the British media wanted.  In Britain the dominant voices in the media have for a long time been neocon and Atlanticist, and that therefore was where Blair positioned himself. 

Beyond that were three characteristics of Blair’s personality which over the time he was Prime Minister became increasingly dominant: his overweening vanity, his complete indifference to fact or detail and his preference at all times for “narrative”, and his very pronounced gambler’s streak.

When the question of invading Iraq was first posed to him – whenever or however it was done – it was axiomatic for such a personality that he would seize on it.  The image of himself as the great democratic crusader acting alongside his US ally to overthrow the evil tyrant – in this case Saddam Hussein – would for Blair have been irresistible, and the knowledge that the British media would overwhelmingly support him doing it meant that there was never any chance he would not do it.  The fact many people in Britain and in his own party – the Labour party – opposed him doing it, thereby giving him the perfect opportunity to strike a heroic pose in a battle with his party he knew he would win, would have strengthened his determination even more. 

Since Blair could not of course justify going to war on such a basis he hit on the readily available subject of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and managed to persuade George W. Bush – who wanted to attack Iraq for quite different reasons – to base the case for war upon it.  That WMD was simply a rationalisation to justify a decision to go to war that had already been made for entirely different reasons is no longer really disputed by anyone, and Blair’s own convoluted justifications of his decision essentially admit as much.

As to the questions which ever since have vexed so many people – about what Blair really believed about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”) and whether he consciously lied about them, and why he never insisted on a plan to reconstruct Iraq after it had been conquered (or “liberated”) – it is highly unlikely Blair ever gave any of these issues much thought. 

On WMD he almost certainly did think Saddam Hussein had such weapons without concerning himself about the evidence simply because in his mind having such weapons and lying about them is what evil tyrants like Saddam Hussein do.  Almost certainly he expected that once Iraq was conquered proof of the existence of these weapons would be quickly found, leaving him vindicated and his critics discredited. 

As for the absence of a plan to reconstruct Iraq, at no time whilst he was Prime Minister did Blair ever have a plan for anything.  Since the possibility the US might fail in Iraq almost certainly never crossed his mind the idea such a plan requiring his personal attention might be needed almost certainly never so much as occurred to him. 

As it happens there were plenty of reasons in 2002 and 2003 to question whether a war based on Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD made sense.  Not only was the evidence for the existence of Saddam Hussein’s WMD unconvincing to say the least but in light of the failure of these weapons to protect Saddam Hussein’s regime or deter the US and Western attack during the Gulf War of 1991 there was no remotely credible reason why Saddam Hussein would want to keep them.  On the contrary given that Saddam Hussein’s overriding priority after the Gulf War was to get the sanctions imposed on Iraq lifted, his interests were overwhelmingly to get rid of them as soon as possible.  As we now know that is precisely what he did. 

As for the claim Saddam Hussein pretended for some incomprehensible reason to possess weapons of mass destruction he did not have, that is simply a myth fabricated by the war’s advocates and Blair’s apologists once it became clear after the war that the WMD did not exist.  On the contrary Saddam Hussein always categorically denied having them whilst he was in power, and that was always the public position of the Iraqi government.

It is incidentally also a myth that every single intelligence agency operating in Iraq was reporting that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were still in possession of such weapons.  The intelligence agency that was far and away the best informed about the situation in Iraq – because it was able to operate in Iraq in the open on the ground – Russia’s SVR – is known to have reported that Saddam Hussein no longer had such weapons, and it is known this information was passed on by the Russians to Western governments.

A properly conducted intelligence assessment and analysis of the situation concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, bringing together not just intelligence officials but scholars, diplomats, military officials, scientists and other analysts, of the sort at which the British once excelled, would have quickly come to these obvious conclusions.  Such an intelligence assessment and analysis might also have questioned the prospects for a quick and easy military victory.  It would surely have reported the well-nigh insuperable problems of successfully administering a country like Iraq once it had been conquered.  It would also surely have reminded Blair that because of Britain’s colonial history in the region it was settled British policy never to send troops to the Middle East without a UN mandate.

Blair never sought such expert advice because it was not in his nature to.  Three years before he had gambled on a war against Yugoslavia.  Though that had almost ended in disaster in the end – because of the weakness of the Yugoslav political leadership – the gamble had come off.  As is always the case with a gambler, Blair’s narrow escape in Yugoslavia seems to have emboldened him more.  On WMD and the conduct of the war in Iraq he trusted to his luck, which up to that point had never let him down.

The real questions about Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq are not about Blair.  They are about how an individual like Blair was able to land Britain in a such war whilst coming up against no institutional opposition to speak of.  In recent British history that is unprecedented.  The whole British constitutional structure – with its cabinet, politically independent civil service and parliament – is supposed to be designed to prevent a Prime Minister running amok in that way. Instead not only did Blair have the full support of almost his entire cabinet and of most of the members of the British parliament, but Britain’s “deep-state” – its diplomatic corps, its intelligence services, its civil service and its military – who might once have acted to restrain him, instead either actively cooperated with him or were swept along by him (the only officials in the British bureaucracy to speak out against the war were the Foreign Ministry’s lawyers who called it an act of aggression). 

How did it happen?  Most explanations in Britain rely on treating Blair as some sort of political wizard able through charm and guile to seduce the entire British political class and the British people to do his bidding against their own better judgement.

The truth is that Blair’s reputation was already in decline by the eve of the war in 2002 and early 2003.  It is true that it stood higher with the British political class than it did with the British people. However the extent of his influence and support at this time is overstated. 

Blair had briefly been popular after his landslide victory in 1997.  However by 2002 the British electorate in its usual tough-minded and cynical way had long since seen through him.   His popularity by 2002 was a thing of the past.  Between the general elections of 1997 and 2001 the Labour vote fell from 13.5 million votes to 10.7 million votes.  In 2005 – the last election in which Blair led Labour – the Labour vote fell further to 9.5 million votes, only slightly more than the 9.3 million votes Labour won in the supposedly disastrous general election of 2015. 

In 2003 Blair was still winning elections not because he was popular but because the Conservatives at that time were even more unpopular than he was. Far from being the commanding figure he is sometimes made out to be, the prevailing view of him in 2003 was one of cynicism.  Apart from a loyal claque of supporters inside the cabinet and the parliamentary Labour party it is doubtful that by 2003 Blair was persuading anybody.

The dismal truth – and one which the Chilcot report is not going to say – is that the reason the British political class and the British state rallied in 2003 to Blair’s call to go to war – in violation of all their traditional time-honoured procedures and principles – is because of the extent to which Atlanticist neocon thinking had by 2003 already become part of their essential DNA.  The idea of disobeying a US President’s call to arms had by then become unthinkable for huge numbers of British officials, politicians, journalists, intelligence officers and soldiers – just as it was of course for Blair himself.  Far from having to struggle to get these people to come onside and support the war, Blair on the contrary was simply going with the flow.

Since 2003, despite the debacle in Iraq, all the indications are that if anything the situation has got worse.  Whereas in 2003 a British Prime Minister who had opposed the war would have found some support within the British bureaucracy and political class, today – as the plight of Labour’s current leader Jeremy Corbyn shows – political leaders who set themselves against neocon thinking quickly become isolated and exposed to attack.  Former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s successful though opportunist opposition to the attack on Syria in 2013 undoubtedly consolidated hostility to him within the political class and was one of the reasons for the relentless media attacks on him which destroyed his reputation in the run up to the election of 2015.

Since Chilcot is not going to say anything about any of this – whether about Blair or about the rampant neocon Atlanticism within the British elite which is the true cause of Britain going to war – it is useless looking to his report for a genuine explanation of why Britain went to war.  At best gaps in some parts of the story might be filled though the extent to which even that will happen is doubtful.

Chilcot is anyway a distraction.  Blair’s and Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which is the only subject Chilcot is going to report about – is a sideshow.  Even if Britain had held aloof from the war – something which would have required a different sort of Prime Minister than Blair – Iraq would still have been invaded and Saddam Hussein would still have been overthrown. The Bush administration would not have been swayed from the war simply because the British were not involved.  The Iraqi state would still have collapsed, there would still have been an anti American insurgency, the torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib would still have happened, a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia would still have taken place in Baghdad and elsewhere, and Daesh/the Islamic State would still have emerged in Iraq’s western regions.  

The decision to go to war was ultimately made not in London but in Washington, and it was the US military not the British military which defeated Saddam Hussein’s army and conquered Baghdad, causing all the consequences which have followed.

Chilcot is not going to say anything about any of this because his Inquiry’s remit is to look purely at Britain.  He has no power or remit to hold US politicians and officials to account.  However it is to Washington not London – to people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their aides, not Blair  – that one must look for the true answers to why the war happened.  When those answers are eventually provided – which one day they will be – what is already apparent will become obvious: what Chilcot tells is of little value and his whole Inquiry is ultimately an irrelevance.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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