A victory for the Labour right would take the party back to the neocon agenda of Blair

Andrew Murray

London Anti war demo 2005

Photo: Public domain

From Bloody Sunday to Hillsborough, and now Chilcot – the establishment usually have a stab at revealing the truth about the crimes of government and state about fourth time around.

Initially, cover-up. Then grudging admission of limited errors. Only when the dust has settled do they start to come clean, as much to maintain their own collective credibility as for any other purpose.

Chilcot is different, however, in one respect. This dust has nowhere near settled, even 13 years on from the attack on Iraq.

Least of all has it settled in Iraq itself, where 250 people died this week in terrible suicide attacks in Baghdad organised by ISIS, the latest terrorist outfit empowered by the Anglo-American invasion and occupation.

These latest victims add to the grim casualty toll in Iraq – minimum 150,000 deaths, realistically a multiple of that. It is a country dismembered by the invaders, its people displaced, its unity compromised, its economy destroyed and its society dislocated by western-sponsored sectarianism.

So before plunging into the domestic political ramifications of Chilcot and his report, let’s remember first of all – it’s not all about us. If we describe the war as a crime, it is the Iraqi people who are the victims, a point Jeremy Corbyn made abundantly clear when he apologised on behalf of the Labour Party on Wednesday.

As for the excruciatingly protracted labours of Chilcot and his team – an elephant could have produced a fair-sized family in the time taken – let’s just say no spoiler alert was needed. His key findings:

  • The handling of the legality of the war was “far from satisfactory.”
  • The authority of the United Nations was not upheld, as claimed at the time – it was in fact undermined.
  • Tony Blair made intelligence-based claims which actually had little or no basis in the intelligence.
  • Blair told George Bush “I am with you whatever” while telling his own Cabinet next-to-nothing about what was going on.
  • The disasters which attended the occupation of Iraq were not only apparent in hindsight – they were explicitly warned about in advance.
  • When Blair said not invading Iraq would increase the dangers of terrorism, he should have said that invading Iraq would have increased those very dangers.
  • It was an unnecessary “war of choice”.

Really Sir John only needed to have taken notes at an anti-war rally in 2003 and he would have got all that.

Some will argue, understandably, that the main lesson to be drawn from the devastating litany of government evasions, deceit, misjudgements and blunders affirmed in Chilcot’s report is that Tony Blair should face justice in the Hague as a war criminal.

Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Only, I suppose, the sundry blood-stained despots and oligarchs who would lose the services of their courtier-cum-PR adviser if Blair were to be wrenched away from his money-spinning post-premier career.

And even those must be having second thoughts about the wisdom of handing over a King’s ransom for image advice from someone whose own reputation is so comprehensively self-besmirched. His lachrymose performance on Wednesday – immense ‘regret’ in general, defending every decision in particular – will not have assisted.

Nevertheless, Blair’s fate is now surely only the second most important issue arising. Pride of place must go to maintaining the successful struggle to support Jeremy Corbyn in his post as the Leader of the Labour Party, the same post which put Blair in the position from where he could do so much damage.

Because the best way to stop the British government embarking on wars of aggression is to have a British government that doesn’t want to go there.

Under Corbyn’s leadership, we have the best chance of such a government in more than a generation – a government led by a politician of anti-imperialist conviction. A politician who, of course, not only voted against the Iraq War in 2003 but campaigned ceaselessly up and down the country against the war and the occupation year-in, year-out.

His critics within the Labour Party are, as has been widely noted, of a different cast of mind. The main figures in the attempted coup against Corbyn’s leadership, both centre stage and behind-the-scenes, are unrepentant invaders, interveners and aggressors. That is not just a matter of the votes in 2003 – many tried to sabotage Corbyn’s opposition to the bombing of Syria last December.

Their victory would take Labour straight back to the neo-conservative agenda of Blair and his acolytes. With the next US president likely to be the hardened neo-con Hilary Clinton, herself endlessly scouring the map for places where she can exercise her penchant for “humanitarian intervention”, that is surely a risk too far for the British labour movement.

Defeating the anti-Corbyn coup in parliament, and securing his re-election as Leader should that prove necessary, will be the best sign that Labour has learned the lessons of Iraq and is on the road to rehabilitation. The dignity and sensitivity with which Corbyn delivered his apology for Labour this week can only have helped.

On the other hand, David Cameron – in almost his last gig before he doubtless starts competing against Blair on the dirty-money circuit – was keen to avoid any of the obvious political conclusions being drawn. Don’t distance ourselves from the USA, he said. Military intervention could still work, he argued.

Alas Sir John and his trusty henchpeople have not got enough juice left in them to spend years probing Cameron’s very own intervention disaster – the destruction of Libya, 2011 to date.

But Cameron was here mapping out the red lines for British imperialism. Concede mistakes, of course, but hew fast to the “special relationship” with Washington and to asserting the right to intervene militarily where it appears necessary and possible.

It is fair to say that almost no-one outside of Whitehall and Westminster is buying the message from Chilcot that the lame-duck Prime Minister is trying to sell us. Never again is invasion, occupation and bombardment going to be easily sold as the humanitarian way for dealing with a crisis. However, Cameron’s red lines are the front of political struggle for the anti-war movement in the period ahead.

Finally, many are saying that Chilcot is a vindication of the work of the Stop the War Coalition. And so it is.

But let’s be clear – Stop the War needs no vindication from the establishment. The greater lesson is that we should in fact have no establishment to being with.

For who was wiser – the ministers, the diplomats, the security agencies, the brasshats, the Dearloves, Campbells, Scarletts, Hoons and Straws and all the rest – or the two million who marched against the invasion?

The masses did not need years of testimony, access to secret papers and endless learned cogitation to know that they were at a crime scene. And for those who see the influence of Murdoch and the other media barons as all-powerful remember this – most newspapers backed Bush and Blair, yet it did not silence or divert the wisdom of ordinary people.

So the Chilcot report really ought to be seen as a group admission of guilt on behalf of the establishment. A collective ruling class resignation letter would, of course, be nicer. But it is very rare for any elite to be so obliging. Back to the streets then – the very existence of the Chilcot report proves it makes a difference.

Source: The Morning Star

10 Jul 2016

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