Unions must break with Blair

Submitted by Anon on 18 August, 2003 - 7:06

Whatever the detailed results of the enquiry into the death of David Kelly, most people in Britain are sure about one thing: the government lied to us about its reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Who said what and when about the "45 minute" claim-that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction with three quarters of an hour's notice-is less important than the simple truth that Blair said that he could, and that he quite patently could not.

Labour, and Blair personally, are very low in the opinion polls right now, trailing behind the Tories. The reason for that is public mistrust. The affair is widely regarded as the biggest challenge faced by the Blair government since it was first elected in 1997-one that, potentially, threatens its survival, and in particular the survival of Blair himself.
Workers' government not bourgeois lies

It seems unlikely that things will escalate to a scandal of that order, however, if only because government is so non-transparent that it is almost impossible to get to the bottom of anything. Obscure, unelected people give advice to ministers, the whole thing is then "spun" by unelected officials like Alistair Campbell (whether he "sexed up" this particular report or not). Parliament is fed half-truths which are the basis on which it then votes…

The whole system is dominated by people who are not elected, who are inaccessible to the public, or those representatives we have elected. Blair is protected by layers of unaccountable bureaucracy.

There should have been a referendum on the war, allowing the population as a whole to decide whether to bomb Iraq.

Of course, even if there had been, we would have been fed the same disinformation as Parliament in order to engineer a "yes" vote. We need an entirely different political system, which is genuinely open to public scrutiny.

Britain, in fact, has a particularly opaque system, even by the standards of existing Western democracies. There is no law of parliament guaranteeing public access to information.

The United States, for example-for all its obvious faults-does have more visibility (or did): for instance, in the famous Watergate scandal an entire administration was brought down by two journalists' investigation into the bugging of one party by another-which turned out to go all the way up to President Nixon. In Britain, it would have been much harder to bring something like Watergate into the open.

Underlying the "sexing up" affair, however, lies another question. Why was Blair so anxious to take us to war in alliance with Bush's America-and in opposition to many of Britain's allies in Europe?

In fact, there is no simple answer. British governments, Tory and Labour, have tended to see themselves as a bridge between Europe and America, but in practice to be pulled more to Washington. Yet the Wilson government in the 1960s, which supported the war in Vietnam, didn't actually send troops.

Whatever the detailed reasons, the increasing impasse in Iraq is something more and more people believe we were cheated into. It was a war to make the region safe for capitalism, to secure control of the oil fields, and to guarantee the future making of profit-not, fundamentally, as was claimed, to remove a vile dictatorship.

Opposition to the mainly-American occupation of Iraq is growing in the United States, also. For Bush, it may prove more of a problem, ultimately, than for Blair. Blair is unlikely to lose the next general election without a seismic shift (even though the Tories are ahead in the polls). Bush could lose the presidential election (and didn't really win the last one).

For the left and the labour movement, Blair's growing crisis poses a real problem. Suppose Blair was forced to go. Suppose Labour did lose the next election. At the moment, there is no alternative except the Tories. We need to fight to build that alternative-and urgently.

America in charge, Iraq in chaos
"If it's not for the oil, what the hell are we doing here?"

Even the deaths of Saddam Hussein's hated, psychotic sons was a public relations disaster. The Iraqi people wanted to see Uday and Qusay, like their father who is still somewhere in hiding, put on trial - not killed in a shoot-out. Still, reports from Iraq suggest, their deaths at least give some reassurance that the Ba'th regime really has gone for good.

Armed resistance, some of it at least from die-hard Ba'thists, continues to claim the lives of American soldiers - with the result that even in America there is increasing questioning both of what Bush is doing now in Iraq, and of why the troops went in to begin with. Fifty-seven US soldiers have been killed since Bush declared the war officially over on 1 May.

Not all the attacks on Americans are from the old regime in hiding. There are large numbers of foreign (non-Iraqi, but mainly Arab) guerrillas, who went to Iraq when the war started, some of them perhaps Islamist militants hoping to turn Iraq into the next "jihad". And growing resentment of the occupying forces from ordinary Iraqis - in a society drenched with cheap guns - is taking its toll. American forces - and British, in the south - have been sharply criticised for heavy-handed dealing with protests. Riots in Basra over the seemingly endless fuel crisis - high prices, and severe shortages - have led to clashes and deaths. That there should be a fuel crisis in a country with one of the world's largest reserves of oil perhaps graphically illustrates the problem, and the frustrations of ordinary Iraqis. It is even more absurd in Basra, which is so close to Kuwait.

Paul Bremer, head of the US administration in Iraq, has said there could be elections by "mid 2004." In the meantime, the Iraqi Governing Council, set up by the US as an advisory and transitional body, has deeply underwhelmed the Iraqi people. Salam Pax, the so-called Baghdad Blogger, reports a conversation with an American marine on guard at the building which holds the Council: "these guys, they work only four days and take the rest of the week off, they should be working 16 hour days to get their constitution going. They have huge lunches, throw tons of food out and they drive stolen cars."

The council is widely criticised for its unrepresentative nature, for not being elected but appointed by the Americans instead, and - interestingly - for being chosen to reflect the country's ethnic and religious divisions. A report commissioned by Occupation Watch comments:

"Although Iraq has been torn apart [in the past] by ethnic, religious and political/factional differences, and there is a very great need to safeguard both minority rights and adequate representation of the Shi'a majority, it's also true that the explicit inclusion of quota systems... has always been a standard part of imperial 'divide and conquer' strategy."

At the beginning of July, very soon after its formation, one of the original Council members, Isam al-Khafaji, resigned, and announced he was returning to Amsterdam, where he had been in exile, working as professor of political economy. (Another widely criticised aspect of the Council is not only the high number of members who have lived abroad for many years, but that the exile/non-exile division is another divide-and-rule factor.) Al-Khafaji is a former communist. He wrote, in his resignation letter:

"Iraq is now in almost total chaos. No one knows what is going on. We're not talking here about trying to achieve an ideal political system. People cannot understand why a superpower that can amass all that military might can't get the electricity turned back on. Iraqis are now contrasting Saddam's ability to bring back power after the war in 1991 to the apparent inability of the US to do so now. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories. Many wonder if the US has a reason for not wanting the electricity back on...

"... Whether the Council is effective or not depends on whether its members are able to reach any consensus. I fear they will be played against one another. To succeed, they must take a unified position on issues and tell Mr Bremer to go to Washington and say 'this is what Iraqis want, now please give your support for that.' Ultimately, the Council must be prepared to say: 'give us full authority and we will ask for your advice when we need t.'"

Unsure why they are there and being shot at, American soldiers are raising doubts. The guard Salam Pax spoke to told him: "I know what we have done is right and we had to do it but there must have been a better way to do it." And added: "They tell you it's the oil but I know it is not the oil, I just can't figure out what the hell it is we are here for."

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