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Time for 'regime change' in Britain

Whatever Tony Blair says or doesn’t say at the Iraq inquiry will not alter the historical record. Blair and George W. Bush went to war on a pretext, pursuing regime change in Baghdad behind the smokescreen of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that existed in imagination only.

“Intelligence” dossiers were, to use that famous phrase, “sexed up” to suggest that Saddam Hussein could launch WMD in 45 minutes and even reach Cyprus with them. Old documents on the internet were cut and pasted and published as gospel. The British passed the Americans “information” about Iraq seeking uranium through Niger that was pure fiction.

The link made by Bush between Iraq and Al-Qaeda was total nonsense, and Blair knew it. Except it is not nonsense now. Where once they had no foothold, Al-Qaeda is now present in Iraq and is partly responsible for the near civil war that exists between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has devastated Iraq. Apart from an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion, as of May 2007 there were 2,255,000 Iraqis displaced inside the country. A similar number had fled to either Syria or Jordan. In June 2007, 28% of Iraqi children suffered from chronic malnutrition while the unemployment rate in some areas was 60%. Four in ten professionals have left since 2003, including 12,000 physicians. The latest figures available show that 70% of Iraqis have no access to adequate water supplies.

Some have got rich out of the war, notably the US defence industry and private sector corporations like Blackwater and Halliburton. By mid-2009, US taxpayers’ funds spent or approved for Iraq totalled a staggering $800 billion, running at $5,000 a second according to Senator Harry Reid.

Congressional hearings found that Halliburton overcharged the Pentagon to the tune of $1.4 billion. But what the hell! Former vice-president Dick Cheney helped to run the corporation before entering the White House so it was natural his old friends should benefit. Iraq is a privatised war, with more than 180,000 private contractors working in support of US troops. They have killed Iraqi civilians with impunity.

Those responsible for visiting this disaster on Iraq include not just Blair but Gordon Brown and the members of the New Labour cabinet and MPs who voted for the war despite massive public opposition. A good number of them are lawyers and quite well understood that the accepted principles of international law stood in the way of regime change. So they ditched them – or rather got the hapless Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, to change his mind when the military top brass said they wouldn’t invade without legal clearance.

A special word should be reserved for the United Nations and its then secretary-general Kofi Anan. Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, reported that his team could find no WMD in Iraq and in all probability that there were none. A word from Anan querying the legality of an invasion might have just held up military action. Unfortunately, it took him until September 2004 – 18 months after the invasion – to say just that!

Iraq, the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, extraordinary renditions, the secret wars waged by US special troops in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, all show that international law is powerless to stop the British and American governments. Their actions continue to reinforce not lessen the threat of terror attacks on ordinary civilians.

There is a strengthening case for “regime change” in Washington and London. These are democratic states in name only, playthings of major corporations and financial interests. Creating a real democracy, with economic and political power in the hands of ordinary people, is the best answer to the warmongers. Then we could have the war crimes tribunal that many people are demanding, with Blair and Brown, Bush and Cheney the top four defendants.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
29 January 2010

Paul responds:

The overwhelming majority of international lawyers hold that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. There was no immediate threat to British or US interests, either from the fabled weapons of mass destruction or other forms of military force. Self-defence was, therefore, not an issue. This view is supported by Lord Bingham, until recently the head of the judiciary, Kofi Anan, the former secretary-general of the UN, and an independent inquiry in Holland among others. The 551-page report chaired by former Dutch supreme court judge Willibrord Davids, said UN resolutions in the 1990s prior to the outbreak of war gave no authority to the invasion. "The Dutch government lent its political support to a war whose purpose was not consistent with Dutch government policy. The military action had no sound mandate in international law," it said.

The idea that there is no conceivable alternative to our present political system implies that that is the end of history as far as democracy goes. History presents a different picture. Before 1832, no ordinary people had the vote. Only in 1867 did male workers in cities get the franchise. So even within capitalism, the struggle for democracy has changed the political system and it's not over yet.

Our point is the present democratic set-up has exhausted itself for a variety of reasons (you only have to look at the contempt in which Parliament is held for verification). Globalisation means power is not even held by the executive but by hedge funds, bankers and transnational corporations. The powerlessness of governments is shown in New Labour's failure to prevent Kraft from shutting factories, Corus from closing its plant in Redcar or Barclays from paying massive bonuses. Our proposals concern the enhancement of democracy by transferring economic and financial power out of the hands of these vested, profit-driven interests.

We are not in favour of transferring these resources to state bureaucrats but placing them under the control of ordinary men and women at community, town, regional and national levels in new Assemblies and a reconstituted Parliament. This would require the involvement of many more people than at present in forms of self-governance. What's wrong with that? Even the Tories are talking about workers' co-ops running public services!

At present, there is a diminishing form of representation without any real power attached to it. The proposals in our Manifesto and in my book Unmasking the State seek to overcome that contradiction, not by resorting to dictatorship but freeing people from the source of their alienation and oppression.

Tim says:

Paul paints the blackest possible picture of the Western Democracies. Presumably he would argue that non interference in other countries affairs should continue to be the principle emphasis in international law. The idea that what countries do internally is their own affair lies at the route of the legal objection to the invasion but there are limits to this principle in many people’s eyes.

Jordanians and other Arabs at the time objected to the the invasion in these non-interventionist and relational terms. I remember one saying to me - “Saddam Hussain is a very bad man but he is the father of his people. I would not expect you to interfere with the way I dealt with my children in my own home.” The trouble is that the Nation State (an entity that has a much weakened reality in our day)has tended to be seen in these familial terms.

I suspect that Paul takes a different view in relation to the internal affairs of countries (including our own) whose politics are different from his own.

In any case my main question - and it is one that genuinely comes to mind at the end of several articles on this site - what exactly does he mean by “a real democracy, with economic and political power in the hands of ordinary people”? Angry attacks on the leadership of the West may have some therapeutic value but unless he can give us an idea of what he seeks to replace it with then it doesn’t help much. It is hard to see how “genuine democracy” can avoid people doing what is already done here – the majority of people who care to vote electing a government with policies they more or less agree with. It isn’t brilliant perhaps but what alternative is there that avoids coercion? I also can’t help wondering if he really wants to put power into the hands of ordinary people? Not, I suspect, if they disagree with him!!

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