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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fools no more

This article of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

The only surprising thing about the news that the British government lied about the whereabouts of the 15 British navy personnel who were captured by Iranian forces last spring is that anyone should find it surprising. For this is a government, which, when it comes to telling porkies, makes Carlo Collodi's famous wooden puppet look like an also-ran.

In December 1998, one and a half years into the shining new era of an "ethical foreign policy", came operation Desert Fox- a four-day bombing of Iraq, which cost the lives of up to 2,000 people. The official reason from Number 10 - and the White House - for the attacks was that Iraq had expelled the team of Unscom weapons inspectors. It was a barefaced lie. As head weapons inspector Richard Butler revealed in his autobiography, it was the US ambassador Peter Burleigh, acting on instructions from Washington, who suggested Butler pull his team out from Iraq in order to protect them from US and British air strikes which had already been planned.

In early 1999, the government's lie machine turned its attention to the Balkans. Slobodan Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia, was, we were told by the British prime minister, "set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during the second world war. It is no exaggeration to say that what is happening is racial genocide - something we had hoped we would never again witness in Europe," Blair went on. But it was an exaggeration to say that what was happening in Kosovo was "genocide". The International Red Cross lists 2,047 persons as missing from the 1998-99 hostilities in Kosovo, including approximately 500 Serbs, 1,300 Albanians and 200 members of other ethnic groups. The "genocide" in Kosovo was a complete fabrication: but it helped Blair and Clinton spin their narrative of a "humanitarian" intervention, to cloak the real economic and strategic reasons for Nato's military intervention.

Four years later, it was back to Iraq. Saddam not only possessed weapons of mass destruction - but ones which "could be activated in 45 minutes". On February 23 2003, Tony Blair, in full Pinocchio mode, told the House of Commons that "I detest [his] Saddam's regime, but even now he could save it by complying with the UN's demands". It was an outrageous fib: the decision to go to war had already been taken. Time after time in the build up to the "shock and awe" campaign, we were told that it was the Iraqis - with their repeated denials that they possessed WMD, who were lying. But the liars were, once again, much closer to home.

Even after the disaster of Iraq, the lies continued to flow, with Iran being the principal target for the government's mendacity. Last spring defence secretary Des Browne repeatedly told the House of Commons that the 15 British navy personnel taken captive by Iran were seized in Iraqi waters.
"There is no doubt that HMS Cornwall was operating in Iraqi waters and that the incident itself took place in Iraqi waters" he claimed. The reason for these statements was clear: to turn public opinion against the Iranians in preparation for another war.

It's said that truth is the first casualty of war; more accurately it's the first casualty in the lead-up to war. Since taking office 11 years ago, the New Labour government has lied us into conflicts across the globe- conflicts which have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people from Belgrade to Baghdad and beyond, and left the already hard-pressed British taxpayer having to foot the bill. But the lies are at long last catching up with them.

As a former US president once said: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

Thank God for that.


Vladimir Gagic said...

Right on. This was an excellent post. It's just a shame that the rest of Europe seems to be headed into the neocon war machine camp as well.

Nick said...

I'm not at all sure that it's true to say that the British government's lies are catching up with them. Slowly some of the lies are coming to light, but it seems that not many people in Britain are really either surprised or bothered; mostly it seems they simply don't care. Sad really.

Karl Naylor said...

One of the more disturbing aspects of the run up to the war on Iraq was NOT that Blair was lying because he was not. As John Gray makes clear in his new book Black Mass, Blair , in fact, inhabited a phantom shadow word where his idealism meant that the facts could be bent to prescriptions of the American creed of spreading regime change by 'miracle weapons', 'shock and awe' and 'surgical strikes'.

To use Raymond Aron's words, Blair created a 'pseudo-reality' where whole societies and states can be radically changed and transformed overnight by incessant propaganda that 'accentuates the positive'.

To this extent, Gray sees Blair as a messianic armed missionary and if his worldview is accepted on its own terms then no lying is necessary. Blair was a lawyer who was able to to take an 'extra-legal' view of international law that should disturb those who know how dictatorships are created.

Dictatorships themselves rely on a fig leaf of legality and a grand orchestrator who is 'of' and for 'the people'. I warned people back in 1997 that there was something unhinged about the cult of the soundbite and the amount of effort that was going into political chreography.

The Kosovo issue is a bit more complex that Neil often tries to portry it: nobody comes off looking good. The KLA were thuggish gangsters, the Milosevic regime wwas utterly corrupt and crudely populist nationalist. But Blair saw overwhelming force as a means of bringing 'closure' to the last stage of the break up of Yugoslavia.

In other words, realpolitik became underwritten by Utopian impulses and the idea that if people are going to die they were going to die anyway and so force could be used to accelerate historical change towards ends that are supposedly accepted as good for all the world's people

That means, of course, a US style neoliberal market economy that removes power from the state and thus the potential for ethnic nationalism ie the 'instability' the Guardians of order in Huxley's Brave New World saw as the worst thing to protect the civilised world against.

So the problem I have with Neil's explanation is that it sees the consequences of the Balkan Wars as a necessary part of its cause ie the imposition of one regime of capitalism whilst it would appear to be a Utopian market led 'solution' to 'instability' once that had been already caused by a variety of different factors.

One of which was ethnic nationalism which Blair did not create any more than other European states did or even fostered. To the extent they did it was because they blundered or were just incapable of dealing with something that came from Europe's dark past.

In Iraq, Blair also ignored ethnic and sectarian differences , believing in a Utopian solution to a nation only kept together by a Stalinist police state. He , like many other, had the absurd idea based on the 'success' of Kosovo that the European experience could be transplanted to the Middle East.

If anything politicians need to be reminded of history and we need far more educated politicians. An Olympian dimwit like Blair was not up to the challenge. Our politicians are just too idiotic to be able to deal with this complex world and so they simplify and peddle panaceas wrapped up in soundbites.

It's really that banal, I'm afraid.