PM’s Power to Wage Wars Damages Our Democracy
If Trump were to launch another war today, it’s hard to imagine that May would take a different path to Blair
The damning of Tony Blair in last summer’s Chilcot report might have led some people to think that this would draw a line under the illegal and unnecessary war in Iraq and stand as a warning to future prime ministers not to go down the same path as Blair. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
A recent report by a parliamentary Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee claims that it is still too easy for a prime minister to disregard Cabinet procedures over foreign and military policy.
Blair’s love note to former US president George W Bush before the war began — “We will be with you, whatever” — was sent against the advice of his officials.
However, the committee concluded that there was no mechanism for anyone, even the high-up civil servant the Cabinet Secretary, to prevent this from happening or to enforce greater involvement of the Cabinet or Parliament.
This is just one way in which the findings, let alone the spirit, of Chilcot are being disregarded.
An unrepentant Blair is attempting to re-establish a political career and is feted throughout the media as journalists demand his opinions on everything from Brexit to Martin McGuinness.
While journalists and editors have lost their jobs, while the reputations of those politicians who went along with Blair’s wars have been damaged, Blair and his henchman Alastair Campbell carry on with a perfect sense that they have been right all along.
The truth is that if there were a situation like Iraq arising again, any British prime minister would be able to act with impunity.
Given the traditions of both parliament and the Civil Service, as well as the fundamentally conservative nature of British establishment institutions, opposition would not even be brought out into the open of parliamentary debate, let alone wider society.
That in itself is a travesty of democracy and a denial of all the suffering brought about by the war, all the campaigning and protesting which was ignored, all the illegality which clearly accompanied Blair’s actions.
But this report shows it’s much worse than that. Let’s look at the situation today.
Thankfully, despite his pretensions and the aspirations of his fan club at the BBC and the Guardian, Blair is not in a position to start new wars and the millstone around his neck is Iraq and always will be.
But we have an unelected prime minister who has already done her utmost to act unilaterally, to ignore any discussion in Parliament and to enforce a “hard Brexit” on right-wing Tory terms.
The counterpart of Bush now in the White House is, of course, Donald Trump.
Theresa May’s obsequious desire to follow Trump’s every move was demonstrated by her rush to the White House for a hand-holding session where she ignored the Muslim ban that he was about to impose and instead offered him a state visit to Britain later this year — a visit which has provoked outraged objections across the political spectrum.
The “special relationship” between Britain and the US — a relationship which demands that Britain follows the US in all things military, including spending — was a major factor in Blair following Bush so closely.
So that even when, in February 2003, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Britain that it could sit out the war, given the huge scale of opposition to it domestically, the offer was refused and Blair determined Britain should be fully involved.
It is hard to imagine that May would take a different attitude today. And this isn’t just an abstract question. Trump is already showing himself to be far from the non-interventionist president that some hoped.
He has sent troops into Syria to fight around Raqqa, he is responsible for the heavy bombing of Mosul, with many civilian casualties and he is heading very directly for conflict with North Korea, which also means major conflict with China.
The possibility of future war is therefore real and everything points towards uncritical backing as well as probable direct involvement by the British government.
Take events last week. On Monday, Trump announced a ban on laptops and other electronic equipment in the cabins of planes flying from nine Middle Eastern countries. On Tuesday, the British government added its own ban on planes from six Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On Wednesday, Trump held a Washington meeting for a wide range of countries to discuss defeating Isis. Perhaps more bans will follow.
These bans are extremely controversial and will be widely opposed. Justified as helping the fight against terrorism, they conveniently ignore the dramatic spread of terrorism since the start of US and British wars in 2001.
The balance sheet of the last 16 years of war has been catastrophic. This latest report demonstrates that we cannot rely on the parliamentary system to prevent further catastrophes, or to hold those culpable to account.
The Stop the War Coalition has been campaigning to break the special relationship with Trump.
This campaign is becoming more urgent as May’s support for Trump becomes clearer and as Trump sets himself on a war path.
The movement should mobilise now — with meetings, protests and petitions — to stop this happening. Campaigners nearly stopped the war in 2003 and mobilised in unprecedented numbers.
Tony Blair may not have learned any lessons from his warmongering but public opinion has been increasingly opposed to further interventions.
That is in large part due to the work of anti-war campaigners. We must be prepared to do what it takes this time round.
Source: The Morning Star