Up in arms - GulfToday

Up in arms

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

An online petition signed by more than a million people has urged the current British prime minister to call on the Queen to revoke the knighthood awarded to Tony Blair, who served in that post from 1997-2007. He as been appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry and is dedicated to St. George, England’s patron saint.

Honouring him is not a popular move because of Blair’s decision to send British troops to join the highly unpopular 2003 US war on Iraq. Nevertheless, politicians who advocated the knighthood thought the honour would redeem him in the public’s eye. According to the latest YouGov poll, just 14 per cent of Britons approve of his knighthood and only three per cent strongly, while 63 per cent disapprove, 41 per cent strongly. A clear 56 per cent of Labour voters disapprove although Blair kept Labour in power for a decade before being compelled to step down. Consequently, Labour voters could think twice before casting their ballots for the party in the next election.

The author of the petition, Angus Scott argues that Blair “is the least deserving person” to be awarded any public honour since he “caused irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society. He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent civilians.. and servicemen in various conflicts. For this alone, he should be held accountable for war crimes.”

The conflicts are, of course, the Afghan and Iraq wars. Britain could, however, claim justification for joining the US in removing from power in Afghanistan the Taliban, which hosted al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The US argued this was self-defence as al-Qaeda could mount further operations in the US and elsewhere in the West.

In 2003, Blair also partnered US President George W. Bush in his personal war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein which was mounted on the basis of lies that he harboured al-Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Saddam Hussein used harsh means to exclude al-Qaeda from Iraqi territory and had dismantled his nuclear programme during 1991, after that US-led war, and disposed of his weapons of mass destruction.

Bush and Blair were informed by UN investigators of these facts ahead of their war but, determined to oust the Iraqi leader, went ahead with an unprovoked war of aggression branded illegal by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Blair was also on thin ice in this venture as the war’s legality was considered questionable by the British attorney general who wrote them a memorandum stating the case for not going to war. Blair and his aides were so determined to have their war that once they read the document they ordered former defence minister Jeff Hoon to burn it. The memo was, instead, stored in a safe in the ministry.

A 2016 probe by Sir John Chilcot said the Blair government had failed to exhaust all peaceful options before joining the US in its invasion of Iraq. “The judgments about Iraq’s [military] capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the report stated in the light of the failure by the US and Britain to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq once they had occupied the country.

Why did Blair collaborate with Bush in a war he was warned was or could be illegal? According to Guardian columnist Steve Richards writing in 2016, having engineered Labour’s victory in the 1997 election after years out of power, Blair sought to remake the party, dubbed “New Labour.” Labour had been deeply mistrusted by the US for its socialist roots and policies. While Blair adopted some standard Labour policies, like legislating a minimum wage, he also strove for US-favoured privatisation of nationalised sectors and a market economy. After Bush junior was elected in 2000, Blair worked to prove to the British electorate that “New Labour” could work with a Republican administration.

As Bush prepared for the Iraq war by deploying thousands of troops in this region, Blair promised to join him in this ill-starred invasion and occupation if the US secured its legitimacy with UN Security Council approval. This was not forthcoming. By that time, Bush had invested US power and prestige in war and could not be persuaded to back down. Blair went along despite massive opposition in Britain and across the world in the expectation victory was ensured and he and Bush would be “war heroes.” He could not have been more wrong.  Blair was forced to resign as New Labour leader and in 2017 a case for aggression was lodged against him by an exiled Iraqi general but was thrown out of court because there is no British legislation covering aggression.

The Iraq war was Bush junior’s personal adventure for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he wanted to prove himself to his dad, ex-President George H.W. Bush (who was responsible for the 1991 Iraq war which he could have avoided by negotiating a deal for the Iraqi army’s withdrawal from Kuwait). The younger Bush had dodged the Vietnam war by joining the Texas national guard, worked in the oil industry, and served as governor of Texas but failed to secure election to Congress. Second, Bush was pushed by right-wing neoconservatives who sought to project US military power around the world, making that country the undisputed global hegemon during a “New American Century.” Third, the neo-conservatives were determined to topple Saddam Husein who led the Arab front against Israel. And, finally Bush was eager to be a “war hero” in order to win a second term in office unlike his father who lost re-election to Democrat Bill Clinton due to a faltering US economy. However, thanks to the 2007-08 economic recession, Bush junior left office in January 2009 with one of the lowest approval ratings of any president.

At least 250,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed during and in the aftermath of the 2003 US-UK invasion and occupation and several million displaced. Al- Qaeda and its offspring took root in Iraq and neighbouring Syria and precipitated a new war which drew in the US, Britain and other Nato countries, resulting in more deaths, displacement and

destruction in both Iraq and Syria and the melt-down of the economies of cash-strapped Lebanon and Jordan which depend on their neighbours for revenue from transit, trade, and tourism.    

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