The Middle East protests expose Blair’s hollow doctrine


11:09 am - February 21st 2011

by Claude Carpentieri    


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Imagine if you had a quid each time you hear the dwindling band of blind supporters of the Iraq war reciting that sorry little line as the best justification for Britain’s biggest foreign policy atrocity of the last forty years.

“At least we removed a sanguinary dictator” is a sentence that oozes hypocrisy from each and every pore, a phrase rendered even more vomitous and hollow when you look at the hateful game of “this dictator good, that dictator bad” that Tony Blair played so well during his reign.

And so consider what his good mate and Michael Jackson impersonator Colonel Gaddafi is currently doing to his own people in Libya.

In the last few days we learnt that his troops are “firing on civilians” and that 104 people have been killed in last week’s pro-democracy demonstrations.

Courtesy, in no small part, of British military help agreed at the height of the Blair empire, the bitter irony being that while he was rinsing his gob with sermons on “exporting democracy to Iraq”, Tony was shaking hands with Gaddafi and signing lucrative arms deals.

Our former Prime Minister, the same person who for years pontificated about the importance of removing Saddam the sanguinary, has been a staunch supporter of a selection of brutal Middle Eastern torturers and tyrants, Gaddafi and the “immensely courageous” Mubarak (see this for courage) to mention but two.

The ongoing events in the Middle East are the most painful reminder of Blair’s corrupt morality.

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Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Reader comments


Old song that does remind me of Blair.

“Money makes the world go around”.

Blair was never a politician socialist or anything else, the bloke had his eyes on making money as he has done by the ton.

But hell at least the people will know the bullets that killed them came from a Democratic country.

What a feeble piece of work.

First, any embarrassment to T Blair is as nothing compared to the calamity of Nelson Mandela’s cosiness to Gaddafi over the long years when Gaddafi was developing weapons of mass destruction.

Second, the UK and US worked hard to persuade Gaddafi to stop those programmes, an outcome which was a triumph for intelligent and purposeful diplomacy and a signal contribution to global non-proliferation policies.

The natural result of that success was a normalising of relations with Gaddafi by not only the UK/US but also the EU. Again, a widely hailed good outcome for ‘soft diplomacy’ and all that, with a view to edging the Gaddafi regime slowly but surely towards a more pluralistic outcome as part of the wider EU/Mediterranean family. Anyone here have any better ideas? No, I thought not..

The core problem is that if Western democratic governments try actively to undermine these dictators they get lambasted at the UN and by smug leftists on sites like this for being nasty neo-imperialist neocons.

So Western governments sigh and usually go for ‘constructive engagement’ instead. Inglorious and fraught with risks (not least the fact that these dictators will carry on brutalising their people for far too long), but less provocative. Anything for a quiet life.

It often turns out that these dictators are largely divorced from reality, nervous and incompetent. And that their hold on power depends not on the willingness of ‘the West’ to prop them up, but on the degree of fear among their own people: “the sanction of the victim”. In a bad place there are no good outcomes.

Now Gaddafi is feverishly clinging on to power and using lethal force to do so. We may or may not hope that the Libyan masses are brave enough to take the heavy casualties needed to finish the job, and then start the very long march towards some sort of honest government. After decades in which Gaddafi in all his repressive horror was feted by ‘progressive’ opinion round the planet, the damage done to Libya and to the wider region by his perverted national socialism is beyond calculation.

By the way, which reader of this site knows about the Hama Massacre in Syria in 1983? This was a huge calamity against Muslims which aroused precisely no global interest, as it was just another vile Cold War mass atrocity committed by one heroic anti-imperialist socialist Arab tyranny against its own people. http://charlescrawford.biz/blog.php?single=790 What about a principled if belated campaign led by this site’s principled readers to bring those responsible to justice?

In other words, if you want to start a debate about hypocrisy in the history of Middle East policy, bring it on. But you’ll find that there are plenty of more deserving targets than Tony Blair.

Quote:

“Tony Blair told Fern Britton, in an interview to be broadcast on BBC1, that he would have found a way to justify the Iraq invasion.” [12 December 2009]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/12/tony-blair-iraq-chilcot-inquiry

4. Cynical/Realist?

@2. And our relationship with Libya wasn’t at all about oil and other western business interests at all. Oh no. The last government certainly wasn’t allowing itself to be bent over the sink by Gaddafi in return for a vague dangling carrot of more business contracts. Heavens no.

What a smug lefty argument that would be.

So Western governments sigh and usually go for ‘constructive engagement’ instead.

They do indeed. But constructive for whom?

Like a medieval prince, Blair was accompanied on his journey by a retinue not just of government officials but of merchants—the top executives of several major U.K.-based companies. The companies included General Dynamics U.K., the military-hardware and communications specialists; the missile manufacturer MBDA, which was hoping to sell Qaddafi its Jernas air-defense system; and the petroleum giant BP. All three firms had been assured by the Libyans that their executives would accompany Blair into Qaddafi’s tent, where the colonel would approve the deals they had been negotiating.

As you say…

Gaddafi is feverishly clinging on to power and using lethal force to do so.

And I’m sure he’s delighted that he took our leaders’ recent line of “constructive engagement“…

CAAT figures show that in the third quarter of 2010, equipment approved for export to Libya included wall-and-door breaching projectile launchers, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition and teargas/irritant ammunition. No requests for licences were refused.

we haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory when it comes to Libya, have we.

the following thoughts in no way represent attempts to justify the invasion of Iraq:
1. I wonder if (quasi) democracy in Iraq had anything to do with this wave of protests.
2. If Saddam was still there, I wonder if he’d be toppled in this wave of protests.

Quote from the report of Jack Straw’s last testimony at the Chilcot inquiry:

“Asked whether Blair was ‘going down the track of regime change’, an objective Straw said would be in breach of international law, the former foreign secretary replied that he did not see papers in which Blair asked for regime change in Iraq. ‘Ask him,’ he said referring to Blair.

“Straw said he repeatedly warned Blair that a policy of regime change would be ‘palpably illegal’.” [2 February 2011]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/02/iraq-inquiry-jack-straw-regime-change-tony-blair

I wonder if (quasi) democracy in Iraq had anything to do with this wave of protests.

It’s not impossible, of course, but I don’t see a reason to believe it. Much of the frustrations being exercised have sprung from the regime’s inability to, or lack of interest in, providing jobs, food and services. As far as I’m aware, the Iraqi state has been no more generous and, incidentally, is dealing with protests itself.)

@2 – there is just one problem with your argument.

It’s been the right who have been expressing concerns about the overthrow of these regimes, on the grounds the new regimes may turn out to be islamic regimes and less favourable to Israel. See comments on the Egypt threads here, statements from Melanie Phillips, Kelvin Mckenzie etc.

However, one thing I do think is very challenging to the traditional left wing argument about foreign policy is that it has been the long established relationships between the West and these regimes that have prevented things turning into more of a bloodbath. The reason the Egyption protests worked was I think because of the reluctance of the Egyption military to turn things into a bloodbath. Something I think has a lot to do with the fact the EU is close by to the North (which itself offers significant rewards – weekends in Milan for the generals etc), the fact several African generals and dictators have found themselves in the hague over the past decade, Egypt’s economy needs tourism from western countries, and also I think they probably wanted to continue using US military equipment. Also I think they were looking at the reactions of the US to the protests and – upon seeing it being framed as an issue as democratic protests V an authoritarian regime – decided to side with the protests. Had this been framed as an issue of Islamic protestors V a moderate regime, as seems likely had Bush still been in the white house, then we would have had a bloodbath.

I think this has really shown the true value of having Obama rather than Bush in the white house, as I think he has used existing relationships to achieve a positive outcome. In places where those relationships haven’t been established for long – like Libya – then the outcome is looking a lot more bloodier.

Unless we are going to be cocooned in our own little insular world, doing business and having normal diplomatic relationships with most of the world means dealing with tyrants and various shades of authoritarian regimes. Tyranny and authoritarianism is the default form of government in most of the world for most of human history. Pluralistic liberal democracy is certainly not the default form of government here or anywhere else. We have enjoyed that form of government for a tiny part of our history in a relatively small section of the globe. Should we have diplomatic and economic sanctions against everyone of whom we disapprove? How is that not imperialism? If we kicked out of the UN all the tyrants and undemocratic regimes the UN chamber would be considerably emptier. How would that help?

The world is full of tyranny just like it always was. However, the tyrants are now being undermined by the free flow of information that even the authoritarian are struggling to suppress. Idealistic posturing achieved nothing.

11. alan stoddart

Rather slective reading of the BBC report.

‘Earlier, Tory leader Michael Howard questioned the visit, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I imagine it will cause considerable distress to the families of the victims of Lockerbie.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Steel accused Mr Howard of “crazed opportunism” over the comments.

And Jim Swire, from the UK Families Flight 103 campaign group, told BBC News 24 it would have been a good idea if Mr Howard had talked to the families before making his comments and that as far he knew he had made no effort to do so.

Mixed feelings

Mr Swire said Mr Blair’s visit was the next step in welcoming Libya back into the community of nations.’

“doing business and having normal diplomatic relationships with most of the world means dealing with tyrants and various shades of authoritarian regimes.”

There is a difference between doing business and having normal diplomatic relationships with a country and actively supporting a regime. We should certainly do the former, but not the latter.

Fair enough, Planeshift. Could you define the difference? Something like don’t sell weapons but sell food that the military eat perhaps. I agree we that should not prop up authoritarian regimes but the difference between trading with them and propping up is not always clear cut. We should certainly never be offering them intelligence etc that they can use against their own people.

Luis,

1. I wonder if (quasi) democracy in Iraq had anything to do with this wave of protests.

Probably – the more Arab countries that are generally democratic, the more the rest of the Arab world sees that there can be Arab democracies and that they do not have to live under a dictator. There was a strand of neo-con opinion that reckoned a domino theory would work if you toppled dictators – hate to say it, but they seem to be right about that…

Ben is correct there are protests in Iraq also, although not widely popular ones in the same way as north Africa (and perhaps Bahrain and Yemen). These, and the initial poor handling of them, reflect the fact that Iraq is hardly an ideal democracy yet.

2. If Saddam was still there, I wonder if he’d be toppled in this wave of protests.

Probably not – his people did not have the relative (and looted) prosperity of the North African states or Bahrain (or even Libya) – which includes the media for transmitting information quickly, and he had far greater control than just about any other leader.

The idea that the neocon loons believed in democracy in the Middle East is hilarious. US neoconnery are seething that authoritarian regimes are being undermined. McCain recently called the spread of protests a ‘ dangerous virus. ‘ So much for the domino effect. I doubt that many protesters woke up one day and said would it not be great to be like Iraq.

Richard W,

If you think that John McCain was ever a Neo-con, I can only presume you think the term applies to all Republicans. Why do you think he was selected as the post-Bush Republican candidate – it was not his similiarity to the dominant philosophy of the old regime…

And Senator McCain is correct that this is a dangerous virus (at least as an analogy) – it spreads despite attempts to stop it, and the results are unknown (democracies are not the guaranteed results – see the role of Islamacists in Libya for example). Dangerous is a neutral description, not a perogative term.

“Could you define the difference? ”

I think there is one general principle that should inform the context of all FP. That is to support the development of international law, and enforcement mechanisms against those who violate it. I think the fact many Egyptian Officers felt the eyes of the world on them, and the fact other officers have found themselves in the haugue acted as a significant deterrant.

Having said that, moving onto specifics. Here is where I think the Egyptian outcomes challenge the traditional left wing view. I think it is precisely the fact that we had an established relationship with the Egyptian military that contributed to a positive outcome, and this is very challenging to people who campaign against the arms trade. The old chestnut of if we don’t supply them, somebody else will, holds true here. Can we say for sure that if China had been the main suppliers things would have turned out differently?

But I also don’t think we should under-estimate soft power as well. Egyptian Officials probably enjoy weekends in Milan, training courses in the US and the sense of status that they can enjoy. Their status will no doubt be enhanced by the fact they chose democracy over dictatorship when it came down to it – thus meaning they can think of themselves as ‘western’. I don’t think we should under-estimate that. I think we are also seeing this in the actions of some Libyan officials who are renouncing the regime. They’ve probably got used to the decent food and wine, and want some more. Particularly those who may want a job in a western oil company in the future.

Which leads me to my next point, which is that actually being a member of an elite is more lucrative in a western democracy than it is in a dictatorship. Outside of the dictatorship’s family and inner circle, the pay and conditions aren’t great and you probably always fear the latest purge, and if you are young and already have contacts in western multi-nationals…well Roman Abramovich provides a brilliant role model of what you can become.

So I think there are some general conclusions for the west that are emerging;

(1) Stop under-estimating our own soft power and ability to sell ourselves.
(2) Cultivate relationships with people beyond the inner circle in the country.
(3) In the case of military relationships, establish norms of behaviour in the training programmes – norms such as not firing on civillians and conceptualising security in terms of external agression not internal conflict. Make sure when the officers do come for training they get lots of time off to experience the touristy stuff.
(4) Continue to prosecute and persue war criminals.

Then during periods of unrest and protest, doing the following:

(1) Don’t take sides, or portray protests as a security threat. (note to tony blair – this means not warning of the alleged dangers of the protests and saying the current dictator is somebody you can do business with).
(2) Make sure the media are covering events, and the eyes of the world are upon this.
(3) Be diplomatic and urge the country to resolve its differences peacefully. Express the hope that the people’s aspirations will be fufilled. Always make sure the current regime has an exit strategy if it does the right thing (i.e. has a place where they can go into exile), but that international law will come down on them if they do the wrong thing.

Where of course this becomes more difficult, is if there is no relationship to exploit.

@10: “Unless we are going to be cocooned in our own little insular world, doing business and having normal diplomatic relationships with most of the world means dealing with tyrants and various shades of authoritarian regimes.”

Also, BAE Systems is Britain’s largest manufacturing company and Britain usually comes out to be in the top five in the world league of arms exporters:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_industry#World.27s_largest_arms_exporters

For reasons of history, Germany and Japan have only small armament industries but they have much stronger and relatively bigger engineering industries than Britain. That’s partly because of better systems for skills training and for educating engineers but also because arms industries sell to soft and often corrupt government markets while engineering industries have needed to compete in fairly open international commercial markets to sell their products in order to survive. They have learned and gained from that experience.

“BAE Systems will admit two criminal charges and pay fines of £286m to settle US and UK probes into the firm.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8500535.stm

Labour governments in Britain and the trade unions tend to especially nurture the arms manufacturing companies here because they provide manufacturing jobs and they pay well.

He was using ‘ dangerous and a virus ‘ in terms of being undesirable. Mr Maverick is a neocon to the core and always has been. He has always bought into the neocon doctrine of preemptive war for US empire building.

Here is Robert Parry on Mr Maverick

http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/060808.html

Blair and Bush’s lies have been totally exposed . Curve ball admitted that he made up the whole thing last week, and over the weekend a spokesman for Colin Powell admitted they were deceived by the Bush govt.

Perhaps Andrew Neil and Michaela Portilo should now admit that they were completely conned by the neo cons. Their war, war, war prooganda on the BBC in the months leading up the Iraq war was disgusting. How Neil is still the face of the BBC’s political show I do not know.

As for Blair, he will die rich, and if their is any justice……….. lonely.

I wonder what Claude Carpentieri would have said if Blair had tried to overthrow Gaddafi.

Sorry guys – while it’s possible that the mass uprisings have been inspired by Iraq’s democratic example, just as anything is theoretically possible, I think that the idea doesn’t pass the laugh test.

In short – Iraq has spent most of the decade as one of the planet’s deadliest non-states. It’s been a decade of sectarian death squads, horrific mass murder and torture, brutal devastation of vast swathes of the nation, partition, political infighting and instability, massive American military destruction… Basically, anything and everything that don’t want anywhere near you and your loved ones. I could fill this comments box a hundred times over with the horrors of the period, but I’ll just ask – would you fancy it?

Further, I realise that memories are short in the internet era, but I’d have thought people would remember that Iraq didn’t even have a government for most of last year after allegations of rampant ballot-rigging throughout the country. The political system is spectacularly combative and fractious, because…

Iraq’s government isn’t much like a western political system – it’s far, far closer to Lebanese zuama, what we might call communalism. Basically, we’re talking ethno-religious voting blocs, rather than political ones, with all the unpleasantness that entails… Essentially, all those heavily armed militias and nutters are still there, but are sitting tight for now to see how this politics stuff goes. Hopefully they won’t go digging up the RPGs any time soon and it may yet turn out well, but Lebanon isn’t an encouraging example.

I could go on, but I’ll summarise it this way – anybody who thinks that post-Saddam Iraq is an appealing beacon of democracy should really go there for a holiday before passing comment. Really.

The problem for Blair it was all done for money, Oil and bloody BP, a young dead Police Constable and a few hundred dead in Scotland how quick we forget

24. Luis Enrique

FR

If I am willing to entertain the possibility that Iraq has something to do with these protests, it is not because I take a more rosy view than you on the situation in Iraq. Who knows, perhaps even watching a spectacularly combative and fractious political system, far closer to Lebanese zuama, what we might call communalism, on the telly, changed popular perceptions of what’s possible. Just because you think the invasion of Iraq was an unspeakable, gigantic catastrophe, does not mean you can rule out history moving in mysterious ways. And as I said, even if it is true that Iraq had something to do with it, that hardly amounts to an ex-post justification of it. What matters is what happened in Iraq.

Yes, I think we’ve discussed this before Luis. Like I say, it’s not impossible that the Iraq example has contributed in some way large or small.

My point is that, if you were looking for an incredibly effective advertising campaign/sales pitch for retaining a series of horrible dictatorships rather than taking a chance on change, then Iraq would be the Alexandr Orlov of pro-dictatorship ad campaigns.

26. Luis Enrique

FR I think we are in agreement

“Iraq would be the Alexandr Orlov of pro-dictatorship ad campaigns.”

Pretty much every incumbent leader in the region is using Iraq as an example of why they have to stay in power.

Flying Rodent

“I could go on, but I’ll summarise it this way – anybody who thinks that post-Saddam Iraq is an appealing beacon of democracy should really go there for a holiday before passing comment. Really.”

So, hang on.

Are we suggesting that the Middle East and North Africa, post revolutionary change, might not become a liberal and pluralist democracy?

Are you some sort of neocon?

@28 Are you drawing a deeply silly conclusion from no supporting evidence?

I’ll let LC readers decide on that question themselves… But the answer is, “Yes”.

I think we’ve had enough of you neocons denying that Arabs are capable of democracy.

The entire neocon project was based on the racist assumption that only Westerners were worthy of liberal democracy, and now look at the Middle East!

31. Witchsmeller Pursuivant

I think we’ve had enough of you neocons denying that Arabs are capable of democracy.

I think FR was pointing out the insanity of the Arab people viewing the clusterfuck that is Iraq as a positive reference in their bid to throw off dictatorship.

The entire neocon project was based on the racist assumption that only Westerners were worthy of liberal democracy, and now look at the Middle East!

Are you joking? Massive multi-wrongness compressed into just one comment, made in bad faith and delivered ironically. Of course you are.


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