Jump to content
The Education Forum

David Clark

Members
  • Content Count

    11
  • Joined

  • Last visited

About David Clark

  • Rank
    Member
  1. It wouldn't be the first time that the Bush administration has played an important role in persuading Tony Blair to sack his foreign secretary. It was little discussed at the time, but Robin Cook's demotion in 2001 also followed hostile representations from Washington and private expressions of doubt in Downing Street about his ability to work with a Republican administration. Again, there may have been other factors, but of those suggested at the time, none seems convincing. Last week's reshuffle helps to put the episode in a new, revealing context. The first signs of what lay ahead came in the run-up to the 2000 presidential elections, when telegrams from the British embassy in Washington started to report an attitude of suspicion towards the Blair government on the part of those likely to fill senior positions in an incoming Bush administration. People such as Dick Cheney and Richard Perle were expressing scepticism about Labour's reliability, citing the presence at senior level of ministers who had supported nuclear disarmament and criticised US foreign policy in the cold war. There was little reason to suppose these telegrams had made any impact until a relatively small incident at Labour's annual conference. Like all cabinet ministers, Cook was commissioned to write a "pre-manifesto" paper, setting out Labour's provisional second-term agenda and illustrating how the government intended to build on its achievements. One proposal was to appoint a special envoy to campaign for global abolition of the death penalty. Switching Britain's position to support abolitionism was one of Cook's early foreign-policy decisions, and he thought that a special envoy would be an uncontroversial, but useful, way of promoting the government's policy. Blair had other ideas. On the day the proposal become public, Jonathan Powell and other Downing Street officials warned Cook that it was unacceptable and must never be mentioned again. The reason? The only one given was that a special envoy would inevitably indulge in "finger wagging" at America, one of the biggest users of capital punishment, and therefore strain diplomatic relations with Washington. Under no circumstances would the prime minister countenance this, especially under a Republican administration. The Foreign Office could continue to support abolition of the death penalty, but not in any particularly active sense. Cook was aware of his vulnerability, especially after the Florida chads ended up hanging in the wrong direction. He sought to replicate the strong relationship he had enjoyed with Madeleine Albright by cultivating her successor, Colin Powell. Indeed, the two men established a relationship of mutual respect even before Bush was sworn in. But in a foretaste of Powell's own marginalisation, this cut little ice. As Cook revealed in his diaries, the neoconservatives never dropped their hostility to him and eventually got their wish. The treatment of Straw seems uncannily reminiscent, but the issue of Iran is of a different order of seriousness to anything Cook was grappling with five years ago. There is a pressing need for Blair to tell Bush what Attlee had the guts to tell Truman in the Korean war: that a decision to breach the nuclear threshold would encourage proliferation and make America an outcast from the community of civilised nations. He may think it clever strategy to put pressure on Tehran by keeping all options open, but the Iranians are not the only ones who need deterring. Once again, Blair seems willing to put the wishes of the US government before those of the British people. That should be reason enough for wanting him out of office as soon as possible. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1769900,00.html
  2. It wouldn't be the first time that the Bush administration has played an important role in persuading Tony Blair to sack his foreign secretary. It was little discussed at the time, but Robin Cook's demotion in 2001 also followed hostile representations from Washington and private expressions of doubt in Downing Street about his ability to work with a Republican administration. Again, there may have been other factors, but of those suggested at the time, none seems convincing. Last week's reshuffle helps to put the episode in a new, revealing context. The first signs of what lay ahead came in the run-up to the 2000 presidential elections, when telegrams from the British embassy in Washington started to report an attitude of suspicion towards the Blair government on the part of those likely to fill senior positions in an incoming Bush administration. People such as Dick Cheney and Richard Perle were expressing scepticism about Labour's reliability, citing the presence at senior level of ministers who had supported nuclear disarmament and criticised US foreign policy in the cold war. There was little reason to suppose these telegrams had made any impact until a relatively small incident at Labour's annual conference. Like all cabinet ministers, Cook was commissioned to write a "pre-manifesto" paper, setting out Labour's provisional second-term agenda and illustrating how the government intended to build on its achievements. One proposal was to appoint a special envoy to campaign for global abolition of the death penalty. Switching Britain's position to support abolitionism was one of Cook's early foreign-policy decisions, and he thought that a special envoy would be an uncontroversial, but useful, way of promoting the government's policy. Blair had other ideas. On the day the proposal become public, Jonathan Powell and other Downing Street officials warned Cook that it was unacceptable and must never be mentioned again. The reason? The only one given was that a special envoy would inevitably indulge in "finger wagging" at America, one of the biggest users of capital punishment, and therefore strain diplomatic relations with Washington. Under no circumstances would the prime minister countenance this, especially under a Republican administration. The Foreign Office could continue to support abolition of the death penalty, but not in any particularly active sense. Cook was aware of his vulnerability, especially after the Florida chads ended up hanging in the wrong direction. He sought to replicate the strong relationship he had enjoyed with Madeleine Albright by cultivating her successor, Colin Powell. Indeed, the two men established a relationship of mutual respect even before Bush was sworn in. But in a foretaste of Powell's own marginalisation, this cut little ice. As Cook revealed in his diaries, the neoconservatives never dropped their hostility to him and eventually got their wish. The treatment of Straw seems uncannily reminiscent, but the issue of Iran is of a different order of seriousness to anything Cook was grappling with five years ago. There is a pressing need for Blair to tell Bush what Attlee had the guts to tell Truman in the Korean war: that a decision to breach the nuclear threshold would encourage proliferation and make America an outcast from the community of civilised nations. He may think it clever strategy to put pressure on Tehran by keeping all options open, but the Iranians are not the only ones who need deterring. Once again, Blair seems willing to put the wishes of the US government before those of the British people. That should be reason enough for wanting him out of office as soon as possible. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1769900,00.html
  3. If the past few weeks have demonstrated anything, it is the frequency with which allegations of anti-semitism surface in modern political debate. Ken Livingstone, the Church of England and the Guardian (over articles comparing Israel and apartheid) are the most recent to find themselves in the firing line. This is the backdrop against which an unofficial parliamentary inquiry on anti-semitism under former Foreign Office minister Denis McShane concludes its hearings in Westminster today. A sober reflection on the nature of the problem is badly needed to take the sting out of the issue and establish groundrules that everyone can respect. But there is a suspicion that others have a different objective. In announcing the inquiry, John Mann, the MP who chairs the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism, said: "Anti-semitism is back in fashion and can be found on the streets of Islington, Aldershot and Bethnal Green." This is no random list: Bethnal Green is included because of its large Muslim population, Aldershot because it is where a Jewish cemetery was desecrated last year, and Islington because it is widely regarded as the spiritual home of Britain's leftwing intelligentsia. It is this last group that has become the target of particular vilification. Variants of this theme have become common since the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, and especially since 9/11. The left is said to be in the grip of what the rightwing American columnist George Will has called an "anti-semitic chic". Instead of declaring its hatred of Jews openly, this new antisemitism is expressed indirectly through criticism of Israel or even opposition to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. A particularly meretricious version suggests that opposition to American foreign policy, or even criticism of neoconservatives, is really a coded form of anti-semitism. This accusation isn't confined to the rough and tumble of the post-9/11 transatlantic debate, either. The normally measured Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has cited "a leftwing anti-American cognitive elite with strong representation in the European media" as one of the main sources of anti-semitism. He doesn't spell it out, but we all know who he means. The argument is not just that there are individuals who harbour anti-semitic views, but that something in the political culture or ideology of the left predisposes it to anti-semitism. This is said to be the real reason why it criticises Israel. There is no shortage of examples, from Karl Marx to George Orwell, of prominent leftwing figures making offensive remarks about Jews. Instances of anti-capitalism spilling into "rich Jew" bigotry are also well documented. More recently, Tam Dalyell blamed government support for Israel on "a cabal of Jewish advisers" - comments that were deservedly condemned. But these personal expressions of prejudice stand out precisely because they conflict so sharply with the left's universalism and its opposition to ethnic discrimination. A more sweeping charge is that this universalism is itself a source of anti-semitism since, in its maximalist interpretation, it denies Israel's right to be a Jewish state. But the few still calling for a single "secular, democratic state" in the whole of historic Palestine are making a statement about the inadmissibility of defining statehood according to religious or ethnic criteria that they apply as a universal norm. Impractical and idealistic this may be, but it is not anti-semitic, and it is plainly dishonest to suggest it is. In any case, this is a minority view on the left, and has been for a long time. Decolonisation forced the mainstream left to incorporate expressions of national and ethnic identity into its worldview. The reaction of the democratic left to Israel's creation was largely positive as a result. It helped that Israel was governed from the left, but the example of a persecuted people creating a successful, independent state inspired a profound admiration for Zionism. So what changed? The answer is 1967 and Israel's subsequent emergence as a power determined to annex territory beyond its legally recognised borders. The unbearable truth is that the left that identifies with the Palestinians today is largely the same left that identified with Israel in the 50s and the 60s. Moreover, it does so for largely the same reason: instinctive sympathy for the underdog. For some, the idea that anyone could see the conflict in these terms is literally unthinkable, so they are forced to impute to Israel's critics the motive of Jew-hatred. At best, this betrays a lack of empathy - at worst, something less forgivable. From Golda Meir's denial that the Palestinians existed to Ehud Barak's dismissal of them as congenital liars, there is a long tradition of prejudice that regards the Palestinians as lesser beings deserving of lesser rights. A more subtle argument accepts that Israel is open to criticism, but complains that it is singled out to an extent that reveals an underlying anti-Jewish prejudice. Or to put it another way: "Others get away with it, so why can't Israel." Despite its cynicism, this argument deserves an answer, and it is provided, as it happens, by Israel's staunchest supporters. Israel, we are rightly reminded, is a democracy. Is it not legitimate, therefore, to expect it to uphold the democratic values we share in common? Far from being held to a higher standard, as its supporters often protest, Israel seems to operate with a greater impunity, and to do so with western acquiescence. This is the real reason why the issue is felt so deeply on the left and why unofficial boycotts are emerging to fill the moral void left by our feeble leaders. A final objection takes issue with the left's supposed "demonisation" of Israel. Although often overdone, one suspects that comparisons with apartheid provoke anger because they contain an uncomfortable element of truth. More clear-cut are analogies with Nazi Germany. These should be deplored on grounds of both historical truth and taste. But are they anti-semitic as opposed to just plain obnoxious? Those who resort to them know they are bogus, but they understand their shock value and hope to shame and anger Israel and its supporters into modifying their behaviour. Indeed, as a debating tactic, it is indistinguishable from the one deployed by those levelling charges of anti-semitism against the left. They do it not because they believe it, but because they know the left takes its anti-racism seriously and is susceptible to this kind of blackmail. There has been enough of this intellectual thuggery on both sides, and it's time someone called a stop to it. This is one way in which the report of the parliamentary inquiry could contribute something positive. Real anti-semitism is a serious and growing problem, and there is a need for political consensus about how to tackle it. But debate is poisoned and consensus becomes difficult when allegations of anti-semitism are bandied about for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting racism. An inquiry that wants to confront anti-semitism should also confront those who cheapen the term through reckless misuse. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1724459,00.html
  4. The reaction to Robin Cook's death shows that he was much more than a great parliamentarian and a reforming minister. In this age of public disaffection there are not many politicians who can expect their funeral cortege to be applauded in the street by hundreds of mourning citizens. As the tributes that have poured in testify, he struck a chord with people from across the political spectrum who feel that British politics has lost its way. Cook was also the standard bearer for an important tradition of Labour thought, and this is perhaps the most significant political issue raised by his passing. What happens to this tradition now may determine whether Labour is able to renew itself in office or is set on an irreversible course back to opposition. The section of the party that identified most strongly with Cook is very far from the old left of lazy caricature: the sort of people who prefer the purity of opposition to the difficult compromises of power. Indeed, its origins lie precisely in the rejection of that outlook in the early 1980s by what came to be known as the "soft left". In a very real sense, it was Labour's original modernisation project and laid the groundwork for the successes that followed. Its starting point was a recognition that Labour's traditional political base was too narrow to sustain progressive change, and that broadening its appeal should be the party's top priority. Cook himself would gently mock those who complained about Tony Blair on the basis that he was attracting Conservative voters. That was a sign of success, not failure. Labour needed to stand on a platform that was electorally viable, but it should also be one that remained rooted in its distinctive political values. By the early 1990s this tendency had coalesced around a fairly clear set of political ideas. Labour should locate itself firmly within the European tradition of social democracy, with everything that implied. Europe and its social model would be embraced as an antidote to the deregulatory, minimal-government dogma of Thatcherism. The state ownership of industry, as opposed to public services, would be abandoned, but social partnership and stakeholderism would be advanced as ways of balancing and humanising market relations. The British constitution, which had come to be seen as a structural impediment to radical change, would be transformed by a new politics based on decentralisation and democratic reform. In its most ambitious variant, supported by Cook, this included electoral reform and a willingness to work with other parties. This was the common sense of mainstream Labour at that time, so much so that Blair continued to identify himself with it, in each of its specifics, for a surprisingly long time after he became leader. Indeed, in its early period in office, New Labour remained remarkably true to this vision, supporting a national minimum wage, adopting the European social chapter and legislating for devolution. It was only gradually, and without discussion, that it was displaced by what we now understand as Blairism, and we realised that the social-democratic baby had been thrown out with the old Labour bathwater. The idea that we knew what we were getting when we voted for him is a cleverly spun myth, just like the idea that Labour was heading for oblivion before he took over. It is a preferred tactic of Blair and his sympathisers to stigmatise their critics on the left as recidivists who wish to return Labour to a failed past. What they hope to obscure is the fact that the argument advanced by Cook, and the disillusioned modernisers who supported him, is that Blairism is failing on its own terms, not old Labour's. The promise of a new politics has foundered on broken commitments to hold a referendum on electoral reform and create a democratically elected second chamber. In many ways, Blair's political style, with its instrumental view of power, and preference for the clever procedural fix over honest debate, reflects the very worst of old Labour. On Europe, Blair has taken a Eurosceptic lurch that has led him to call on our partners to abandon the very social ideals that once made integration attractive to Labour. In fact it has become increasingly hard to see how Blair's European policy differs from the one pursued by John Major. On economic and social policy, the principle that "what works is what counts" is quickly set aside when it conflicts with third-way positioning. In many cases PFI hospitals and schools do not represent good value for the taxpayer. The experiment with privatised rail services has clearly failed, and any sensible government would demand a return to public ownership on pragmatic grounds. Very few of the structural deficiencies that progressives have long identified in British capitalism - short-termism, underinvestment, low productivity, weak manufacturing - have been adequately addressed. Yet shareholder value still rules. Perhaps most importantly, Blairism is proving increasingly unable to sustain the broad coalition that put Labour in power and on which it promised to build a "progressive century". Labour may have a working majority, but it will be making a foolish error if it thinks it can continue as before on a mandate secured with the support of only one in five voters. It needs to restore trust and create some common political ground with its lost voters before it is too late - after all, wasn't that the purpose of modernisation in the first place? The real dividing line in the Labour party is not between old and new, left and right; it is between pessimism and optimism. The Blairites have become fatalistic about the world they inhabit and are no longer willing to take risks by probing the boundaries of what is possible. They think this is just about as good as it will ever get. Their opponents believe, as David Marquand argues in this week's New Statesman, that there are other paths of modernisation, including ones that offer more radical possibilities. It is this optimism that sets Cook and his admirers apart from the Blairites. It's not that this government is bad, even if it has done bad things: Cook himself used to say that this had been a more successful Labour government than any other bar Attlee's, and he was right. It's just that it has proved too timid and unimaginative to make the best of the extraordinary opportunities available to it to forge a new and enduring progressive settlement. Towards the end of his life Cook began to see in Gordon Brown someone who shared this sense of frustration. Of course they did not see eye to eye on every issue. Brown remains in the middle of what we can only hope will prove to be a temporary detour from the European path. But in his talk of a "progressive consensus" and a new constitutional radicalism there is the possibility that Labour could come closer to achieving its real potential. That is perhaps reason enough to hope that he becomes prime minister while there is still time for us to find out. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1549199,00.html
  5. It didn't take long for the bubble of euphoria that accompanied the Iraqi elections in January to burst and make a mockery of Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". In the first half of July alone there were more than 40 suicide bombings in Iraq. This suggests a campaign of extraordinary regenerative force. Whereas most terrorist organisations view the loss of members as an occupational hazard, those driving the violence in Iraq embrace it willingly in the knowledge that more volunteers will always be available. It also suggests that leadership of the insurgency has passed from disaffected Ba'athists to the most extreme Sunni Islamists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There is strong evidence that the Bush administration realises the seriousness of its predicament and is lowering its ambitions accordingly. Gone is the tough-guy "bring 'em on" rhetoric. Instead Donald Rumsfeld now talks about a 12-year campaign in which the insurgency is defeated by Iraqi forces long after coalition troops have departed. The architects of the Iraq war are looking for a way out, but that is unlikely to be the end of the matter. We face years of "blowback" for gifting al-Qaida an active theatre of operations to recruit and train a new generation of jihadists. Our leaders cleared out one hornet's nest of international terrorists in Afghanistan only to create another one in Iraq. Potentially more worrying still is the emerging politics of post-Saddam Iraq. This has gone through three phases, each corresponding with the declining fortunes of the occupation. The first was an attempt to install a government of hand-picked emigres led by the one-time neoconservative favourite Ahmad Chalabi. This plan was dumped when it became apparent that Chalabi enjoyed almost no domestic support. The second was the "Ba'athism lite" option under Ayad Allawi, the Shia strongman and ex-Ba'athist thought capable of reaching out to former Saddam loyalists. This failed when Allawi polled a disappointing 14% in January's election. The third phase, and likely shape of things to come, has been the rise of the Shia Islamist bloc that now controls a majority in the Iraqi parliament. Coalition strategists are putting a brave face on this by stressing the supposedly moderate and democratic credentials of these "new Islamists". But you do not need to look very far into the past to see how unlikely this is. The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was feted on a recent trip to the White House, but his hosts conveniently chose to forget that fact that his Dawa party was suspected of involvement in a string of terrorist attacks against western interests, including the 1983 bombings of the US embassy in Kuwait and the US marine barracks in Beirut. The latter, the worst act of terrorism against the US prior to 9/11, killed 241 American peacekeepers. In those days Dawa acted under the guidance of the Iranian intelligence services. Of course, times change. Al-Jafaari has renounced terrorism and embraced electoral politics. Today both he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), make all the right noises about pluralism and national unity. But this is so out of step with their ideology and backgrounds that it is hard to see it as a sincere account of their plans for Iraq. It is also demonstrably out of step with the reality on the ground. Where they are already in control, the Shia parties are enforcing an increasingly repressive religious code. In Basra, formerly one of the most liberal cities in Iraq, there has been a clampdown on the sale of alcohol, singing in public, short haircuts and women without headscarves. Beatings have been administered to male doctors who treat female patients and students attending a mixed-sex picnic. These measures are enforced by militias such as the Badr Brigade, affiliated to Sciri, which also controls the local police. The encroachment of Iranian-style theocratic rule has been paralleled by a growing alliance with Tehran in areas such as energy and defence. It would be wrong to see Iraq's Shia parties simply as instruments of Iran. But it would also be foolish to ignore the very strong gravitational pull Tehran is likely to exert, for both ideological and strategic reasons, on the fledgling Islamic state to its west. As the Sciri leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said on a recent visit to Basra: "The great Islamic republic has a very formidable government. It can be very useful to us, and it has an honourable attitude toward Iraq." Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries remain hostile to Shia rule in Iraq, so it is perhaps inevitable that they will be drawn to the protective embrace of their coreligionists. All of this presents a grave problem for Bush and Blair. According the Bush doctrine they intervened in order to "create a balance of power that favours human freedom". Instead they are in danger of creating a balance of power that favours Iran, a country still deemed to form part of the "axis of evil". The recent victory for the hardline candidate in Iran's presidential elections and the regime's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons compounds the problem. Bogged down in Iraq and now entirely dependent on the goodwill of its Shia majority to make the place governable, America and Britain have left themselves with few credible options for containing Iran or even influencing its behaviour. The invasion of Iraq has frequently been described as the biggest diplomatic blunder since Suez. This already looks like a considerable understatement. On a worst-case scenario that now seems possible, it could very well come to be seen as one of the greatest foreign-policy own goals of all time. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1540028,00.html
  6. It didn't take long for the bubble of euphoria that accompanied the Iraqi elections in January to burst and make a mockery of Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". In the first half of July alone there were more than 40 suicide bombings in Iraq. This suggests a campaign of extraordinary regenerative force. Whereas most terrorist organisations view the loss of members as an occupational hazard, those driving the violence in Iraq embrace it willingly in the knowledge that more volunteers will always be available. It also suggests that leadership of the insurgency has passed from disaffected Ba'athists to the most extreme Sunni Islamists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There is strong evidence that the Bush administration realises the seriousness of its predicament and is lowering its ambitions accordingly. Gone is the tough-guy "bring 'em on" rhetoric. Instead Donald Rumsfeld now talks about a 12-year campaign in which the insurgency is defeated by Iraqi forces long after coalition troops have departed. The architects of the Iraq war are looking for a way out, but that is unlikely to be the end of the matter. We face years of "blowback" for gifting al-Qaida an active theatre of operations to recruit and train a new generation of jihadists. Our leaders cleared out one hornet's nest of international terrorists in Afghanistan only to create another one in Iraq. Potentially more worrying still is the emerging politics of post-Saddam Iraq. This has gone through three phases, each corresponding with the declining fortunes of the occupation. The first was an attempt to install a government of hand-picked emigres led by the one-time neoconservative favourite Ahmad Chalabi. This plan was dumped when it became apparent that Chalabi enjoyed almost no domestic support. The second was the "Ba'athism lite" option under Ayad Allawi, the Shia strongman and ex-Ba'athist thought capable of reaching out to former Saddam loyalists. This failed when Allawi polled a disappointing 14% in January's election. The third phase, and likely shape of things to come, has been the rise of the Shia Islamist bloc that now controls a majority in the Iraqi parliament. Coalition strategists are putting a brave face on this by stressing the supposedly moderate and democratic credentials of these "new Islamists". But you do not need to look very far into the past to see how unlikely this is. The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was feted on a recent trip to the White House, but his hosts conveniently chose to forget that fact that his Dawa party was suspected of involvement in a string of terrorist attacks against western interests, including the 1983 bombings of the US embassy in Kuwait and the US marine barracks in Beirut. The latter, the worst act of terrorism against the US prior to 9/11, killed 241 American peacekeepers. In those days Dawa acted under the guidance of the Iranian intelligence services. Of course, times change. Al-Jafaari has renounced terrorism and embraced electoral politics. Today both he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), make all the right noises about pluralism and national unity. But this is so out of step with their ideology and backgrounds that it is hard to see it as a sincere account of their plans for Iraq. It is also demonstrably out of step with the reality on the ground. Where they are already in control, the Shia parties are enforcing an increasingly repressive religious code. In Basra, formerly one of the most liberal cities in Iraq, there has been a clampdown on the sale of alcohol, singing in public, short haircuts and women without headscarves. Beatings have been administered to male doctors who treat female patients and students attending a mixed-sex picnic. These measures are enforced by militias such as the Badr Brigade, affiliated to Sciri, which also controls the local police. The encroachment of Iranian-style theocratic rule has been paralleled by a growing alliance with Tehran in areas such as energy and defence. It would be wrong to see Iraq's Shia parties simply as instruments of Iran. But it would also be foolish to ignore the very strong gravitational pull Tehran is likely to exert, for both ideological and strategic reasons, on the fledgling Islamic state to its west. As the Sciri leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said on a recent visit to Basra: "The great Islamic republic has a very formidable government. It can be very useful to us, and it has an honourable attitude toward Iraq." Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries remain hostile to Shia rule in Iraq, so it is perhaps inevitable that they will be drawn to the protective embrace of their coreligionists. All of this presents a grave problem for Bush and Blair. According the Bush doctrine they intervened in order to "create a balance of power that favours human freedom". Instead they are in danger of creating a balance of power that favours Iran, a country still deemed to form part of the "axis of evil". The recent victory for the hardline candidate in Iran's presidential elections and the regime's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons compounds the problem. Bogged down in Iraq and now entirely dependent on the goodwill of its Shia majority to make the place governable, America and Britain have left themselves with few credible options for containing Iran or even influencing its behaviour. The invasion of Iraq has frequently been described as the biggest diplomatic blunder since Suez. This already looks like a considerable understatement. On a worst-case scenario that now seems possible, it could very well come to be seen as one of the greatest foreign-policy own goals of all time. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1540028,00.html
  7. When Tony Blair says we should not "give one inch" to the terrorists, what he really means is that he isn't prepared to give one inch to those who say he blundered by invading Iraq. It's difficult to respect a prime minister who is prepared to put his own hunger for vindication before a serious attempt to understand where the war on terror is going wrong, but it's hard to see what else he could do. To admit an error of such magnitude would leave him in an untenable position. If we are stuck with Blair we are stuck with his policies, however detrimental they may be to our security. Revulsion at the London bombings has produced a rallying effect that has insulated him from criticism, but this may prove to be short-lived. It is surely only a matter of time before admiration for Blair's presentational skills in moments of crisis gives way to sober reflection on the rather more weighty matter of how we got into this crisis in the first place. Iraq is not going away. If anything there are valid grounds for believing that the worst is yet to come. The first of these is the escalating violence in Iraq itself. It didn't take long for the bubble of euphoria that accompanied the Iraqi elections in January to burst and make a mockery of Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". In the first half of July alone there were more than 40 suicide bombings in Iraq. This suggests a campaign of extraordinary regenerative force. Whereas most terrorist organisations view the loss of members as an occupational hazard, those driving the violence in Iraq embrace it willingly in the knowledge that more volunteers will always be available. It also suggests that leadership of the insurgency has passed from disaffected Ba'athists to the most extreme Sunni Islamists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1540028,00.html
  8. Who is Tony Blair? This may seem an odd question to ask about someone who has been prime minister for eight years, but it remains the crucial dividing line of British politics as we enter the election campaign. The answers we give will do more to explain how Britain votes than probably any else. To the editorialists of the Times and the Economist, he is the thinking Conservative's prime minister of choice: the person best placed to preserve the Thatcherite legacy by giving it a human face. Many Conservatives privately agree, even though they portray him as the champion of big government by stealth. That's the main reason why the realignment of the right has so far lacked the urgency and ambition of Labour's modernisation in the 80s and 90s. The foxhunters may be up in arms, but Conservative Britain is broadly content. To his critics on the left, Blair is a market fundamentalist with a coherent, if only partially declared, agenda to privatise as much of our lives as possible: a neoliberal cuckoo in the social democratic nest. The Blairite counter argument states the opposite. He is the ultimate Fabian gradualist, busily transforming Britain in a thousand ways so subtle as to be invisible to the human eye. One day we will all wake up in the New Jerusalem and wonder how we got there. There is evidence to support each of these propositions, but none provides a satisfactory and consistent template for explaining Blair's actions. Someone wishing to privatise public services would have run them down through sustained underfunding, as the Conservatives did, instead of investing billions more in health and education. Conversely, no one seriously concerned with equality would have kept such a low top rate of tax or introduced a policy as socially regressive as top-up fees for higher education. To judge Blair against traditional ideological benchmarks is an impossible task, and not simply because he cultivates ambiguity in order to sustain broad electoral appeal. The confusion arises because he is driven not, as many suppose, by the desire to realise any specific political vision, but by his own peculiar calculus of power. By this I don't mean the power of office so much as the power of those he fears might deny it to him. Blair's experience of opposition led him to conclude that Labour could only govern by making a binding accommodation with power. But what others saw as a necessary expedient of opposition, Blair has transformed into a permanent logic of government. This is the true meaning of "elected as New Labour, govern as New Labour". Labour can govern, but only by deferring to forces more powerful than it. Dismissed at the outset was the idea that government could be used to change power relations in any significant way. Power, and the need to accommodate it, is therefore the unifying principle of Blairism. It explains why the government has cosied up to big business (strong) and marginalised the trade unions (weak). It explains Blair's determination to keep Rupert Murdoch onside, even when it means watering down media ownership rules or backsliding on Europe. It explains both the good and the bad in his approach to public services. The good is the extra investment that comes from the realisation that the nation's electoral pivot, middle England, does not want to pay for private health and education. The bad is reform designed to replicate within the public sector the advantages the aspirant middle classes enjoy in the marketplace. Most of all, it explains Iraq. There is no power quite like a superpower, and Blair's decision to go to war reflected a fear that any deviation from the American position would provoke the vengeful wrath of transatlantic conservatism. He was not emboldened to defy public opinion by the courage of his convictions, but by the calculation that, whatever the risks, it would ultimately prove to be the line of least resistance. The political consequences of this defensive mindset are profound. Just as surely as you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can't build a fairer society without challenging wealth and power. That is something Blair is psychologically incapable of. In the battle against what George Orwell once colourfully described as "the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers", Blair will always be with the liars and bumsuckers - not because he agrees with them, but because he is mesmerised by their power. So the short answer to the question "who is Tony Blair?" is that he is a weak man who bends to power. The mystery is why so few on the left have realised this. Ken Livingstone is one. Faced with a rigged selection that denied him the Labour candidacy for mayor of London, he cheerfully stepped outside the tent, drubbed Blair at the polls and negotiated his readmission from a position of strength. The trade unions appear to have cottoned on, too. A few sharp tugs of the purse strings were enough to secure the "Warwick agreement" to include a clutch of new employment rights in Labour's election manifesto. How widely this realisation is shared will have a significant impact on the election. Behind the panic signals emanating from Labour is the assumption that voters who threaten to rebel are, in the words of one anonymous minister, "bluffing it". As a buttress to this complacency, Labour's critical friends in Fleet Street pen dire warn ings of a protest vote. The recent analogy drawn between disillusioned Labour supporters and stray dogs waiting to be called home by their master's whistle captures the relationship rather well (Fetch! Beg! Roll over! Good girl!!!). This lapdog left barks occasionally, but will always come to heel. For those who aspire to more than the occasional Bonio, the choice is harder. None of them is frivolous in assessing what a Conservative victory would mean, or doubts that a Labour government is essential. It's just that they also understand the consequences of handing New Labour another blank cheque. Their fears are more than justified. Rumours circulating among journalists close to Downing Street suggest that, in the event of another three-figure majority, Blair is preparing to "do a Major": to see off his critics and consolidate his authority by standing for re-election as Labour leader. With another four years in office, he plans to make the Blairite revolution irreversible. Labour supporters are tired of being taken for granted, and increasingly coming to the conclusion that the ballot box is the only place where they have the power to make themselves count. This is why many of them, against their deepest political instincts, will wake up on May 5 with the solemn intention of hurting Tony Blair. It's the only language he understands. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1447014,00.html
  9. David Clark is an independent political analyst based in London. From June 1997 to May 2001 he was special advisor to Robin Cook and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office specialising in European Affairs. Prior to this he worked for the Labour Party in opposition covering foreign and defence policy. His latest pamphlet, The Labour Movement Case for Europe, is available from http://www.britainineurope.org.uk/
  10. Like most parties of the reformist left, Labour long ago abandoned the idea of socialism as a distinct mode of production in which private property and markets would be abolished, and settled for the task of pursuing social justice within broadly capitalist parameters. The decision to rewrite Clause 4 can be seen as the moment when theory belatedly caught up with practice. The significance of Brown's latest attack on Europe as "inward-looking, inflexible and sclerotic" is that it shows how close Labour now is to repudiating social democracy and with it the idea that a different kind of capitalism is possible. In Brown's view, the "varieties of capitalism" debate has been conclusively resolved in favour of the US business model, with its low levels of employment protection, minimal regulation and fixation with shareholder value. Brown's hostility to Brussels reflects the refusal of most continental Europeans to accept what he holds to be self-evident: that the social market economy has had its day. Yet there is no real basis for arguing that the US model is superior. Many of the differences are a matter of choice, such as the willingness of European workers to trade wage growth for more leisure time by working fewer hours. It is notable that French and German productivity levels per hour worked remain comparable to America's and significantly higher than Britain's. Performance also reflects differences in demographic circumstance, such as migration flows, fertility rates and population density, which have nothing to do with levels of market regulation or taxation. The biggest single contribution to America's recent productivity growth has been in the retail and wholesale sector, where an abundance of space has allowed a shift to more efficient out-of-town developments. This is not something our relatively crowded continent can match, however much its apes America's flexible labour markets. Rarely acknowledged is the huge comparative advantage America gains from having a single currency that allows trade across a vast market with continental economies of scale. Even less so, the fact that the dollar's global status allows it to run large external deficits that other countries finance by holding US treasury securities at favourable rates of interest. Tellingly, this is one sense in which Europe's detractors do not want it to emulate America. The attempt to pin Europe's recent underperformance on the supposed failure of its social model has a clear ideological purpose: to shift public policy to the right. Of course, some continental countries have a very real problem with high levels of structural unemployment, but this is not a general or inevitable feature of the European model. Brown is as guilty of peddling the myth of US superiority as any Conservative politician, but it would be wrong to dismiss his motives as straightforwardly rightwing. He hopes that by importing US-style capitalism, Britain can maximise efficiency and growth and generate the revenues needed to raise long-term investment in public services. He seeks, in other words, to marry a neo-liberal economy to the social democratic state. The problem with this approach is that the economy does not form a discrete and separable sphere of human activity. Economic structures generate values and outcomes that help to shape political culture. If they result in ever-widening disparities of wealth, as they are continuing to do in Britain, the ethic of social solidarity from which public services draw their legitimacy will weaken. There are also resource and other limits on the capacity of the state to compensate for the failure of the market to provide security and a decent income when standards are constantly being driven down. We can already see this in our looming pensions crisis. High levels of taxation and public spending are only part of the reason why the countries of northern Europe produce more egalitarian outcomes. Just as important is an economic framework that facilitates social partnership and shares the benefits of growth more fairly. New Labour's unwillingness to grapple with this elementary truth is the main reason why the Third Way has proved to be such a cul-de-sac for progressive politics. The European social model remains the only viable counterpoint to the economic brutalism of the American way. The question for the left should be how best to strengthen it. The answer is for Europeans to work in concert and pool their collective resources more effectively. The European constitution does this by deepening political union, strengthening Europe's capacity to act and declaring in favour of fundamental social rights. It may not go far enough, but it would be foolish to expect that its rejection would lead to something better. The debate on Europe is about much more than constitutions and currencies. It is fundamentally a question of whether an alternative to the Washington consensus remains possible. The left should be in no doubt about what is at stake. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1309652,00.html
  11. On the eve of the publication of Lord Butler's report into the intelligence failure that formed the basis of the government's case for war against Iraq, the demands for answers grow louder and more insistent. How could the intelligence services have been so wrong about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction? That question is certainly high on the list of issues that need to be resolved if the report is to succeed in drawing a line under the affair. Public confidence in the integrity and competence of our intelligence gathering and assessment process is vital to national security, yet it has never been lower than it is today. The gap between what we were told to expect and the evidence that has emerged on the ground in Iraq is simply too wide to be dismissed as an excusable margin of error. No stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons have been uncovered. The mobile weapons laboratories have turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination. Even evidence of ongoing weapons of mass destruction programmes has proved elusive. To be quite blunt, the intelligence services were wrong in just about every significant judgment they made. Given that Iraq by that stage had been one of Britain's top intelligence targets for over a decade, their performance can only be described as woefully inadequate. Without thorough-going reform, there is a risk that they will never be believed again. The conse quences of this should not be dismissed lightly. If there is one thing more dangerous than acting on a false alarm, it is the failure to act against a threat that is real. The credibility of British intelligence matters and the Butler report must set out the steps needed to restore it. But that is not all it must do. A report that ignored the role of politicians and laid all the blame at the door of the intelligence agencies, as the Senate intelligence committee did last week, would be a travesty of justice. The faulty assessments produced by the joint intelligence committee (JIC) were not the only, or even the main, reason for the decision to go to war. For that we must look elsewhere. Consider for a moment one of the government's favourite lines of defence. Tony Blair claims that if his belief that Saddam retained a weapons of mass destruction capability was mistaken, it was one shared by many other world leaders. There is certainly truth in that argument, but it raises the obvious question of why most of them nevertheless opposed America's decision to launch an immediate, pre-emptive invasion. The answer is that the intelligence picture, distorted though it was, simply did not justify it. What's more, evidence unearthed by the Hutton inquiry reveals that the government knew this perfectly well. An email circulated within Downing Street recorded the horrified response of one official who read an early draft of the September dossier and realised the paucity of the intelligence case for war: "Very long way to go. I think. Think we're in a lot of trouble with this as it now stands." Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, noted in another email that a later draft "does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam". These concerns were also evident in the rather desperate last-minute plea issued by Sir John Scarlett for the intelligence agencies to scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything they might have overlooked. It was the realisation of how shaky the government's case was that led to the second, more important stage of Britain's intelligence failure on Iraq: the one that became famous over allegations of "sexing up". In part, this involved the systematic filtering out of anything that might point to a conclusion other than the one the government wanted us to reach. At Powell's behest, a key phrase revealing the JIC's assessment that Saddam would use chemical or biological weapons only in self-defence was struck. The observation that he did not have the capability to strike Britain was similarly removed. At the same time there was intense pressure on the JIC, starting with Alastair Campbell's instruction for it to come up with something "new" and "revelatory". It was in this heightened atmosphere that the notorious 45-minute claim and other intelligence purporting to show that Iraq was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons was passed on to Downing Street without being properly examined by the intelligence officers best placed to assess it. Much of this is now said to have been withdrawn, although ministers have yet to correct the parliamentary record. It is significant because it was this information that allowed Blair to strengthen the language in the dossier and claim in his foreword that the threat from Saddam was "current and serious". http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1259805,00.html
×
×
  • Create New...