Saturday, April 19, 2003


Most of the reaction to Tony Blair's interview with The Sun has focused on the supposed revelation that he "put his job on the line" over Iraq and even took steps to prepare for possible loss of office. That's the spin of course as the PM seeks to quash his image as a follower-of-polls and a man who lacks any principles. Becoming a 'brave man of principle' is obviously the war dividend for Blair and whatever you think of it, it certainly leaves the poor old Tories with one less line of attack for their next general election defeat.

But there was a less noted element to Blair's interview - his first reaction to former Baghdad frequent flyer George Galloway's infamous 'wolves' interview with Arab television when the anti-war MP called for Arabs to rise up and fight against US and British forces.

"His comments were disgraceful and wrong. The Labour Party has got its own rules for dealing with that. The National Executive will deal with it. I am not going to set him up as a martyr to me. Let them look at it on behalf of ordinary Labour Party members. People were very angry.”

In other words, he is out but Blair is not going to give him the glory of being axed by the PM. Instead he will become just one of many ultra-lefts expelled by the NEC of the party over the past decade. On reflection it was probably wise not to expell Galloway during the war and instead to bury his career quietly.

What's next for Gorgeous George then? The Scottish Socialist Party seems, on the surface, to be the most obvious political home for him but he has mocked their call for Scottish independence and more importantly he would look rather pale-faced playing second fiddle to the far more talented operator Tommy Sheridan. Independents don't often win seats in parliament and in any case Galloway doesn't have the charisma needed to pull off a Ken Livingstone. It looks all over for him on the political front.

Luckily for George there is a role in life for former left wing 'rebels' who fail to make political friends - take a peep at the future George.

posted by BA on 12:22 PM link

The horrific story of the torture of Iraqi footballers is told by Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian today. Terrible though this story is it is no shock that Saddam's son Uday took the game under his grip - football has always had an irresistible attraction to dictators and their sons.

Nicola Ceacescu's village team managed somehow to climb four divisions to the Romania top flight before a rapid descent back down again which came, curiously enough after the 1989 revolution. On their way up from the second division they needed to win their final game of the season by 12 clear goals to get promotion - funnily enough they did it.

Serbian paramilitary thug Arkan was president of a Yugoslav first division club, the KGB had their own team in the Soviet Union as did the Stasi in East Germany. Football's mass appeal, particularly among the working class, the mixture of local pride and/or nationalism that the game thrives on and the international profile success can bring is a combination that makes football a sport dictators cannot leave alone.

The story of what became of the great North Korean side that beat Italy in the 1966 World Cup still remains a mystery though.

According to French author Pierre Rigoulot, the players were jailed upon their return home. In his book ''The Last Gulag,'' Rigoulot says North Korean leader Kim Il Sung blamed defeat against Portugal on a night of partying after the Italy game, accusing them of being ''bourgeois, reactionary, symbolic of a corrupt Western imperialism and not worthy of a Communist country.''

Rigoulot says everyone, except one player who missed the party due to sickness, was sentenced to 20 years in an internment camp. To refute the charges, North Korea displayed Myun and the seven surviving players from the '66 team, all decked out in medals in a BBC documentary shown just before last years World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

As with the Iraqi players, it will not be until the fall of the regime in North Korea that we find out the true story.

posted by BA on 6:58 AM link
The BBC's Reporters' Log, a kind of centralised, official Beeb warblog, which was very useful as a resource and an interesting sign of the relevance of a blog-style approach, has now been closed. The reporters give their last reflections and the final contribution comes from their most senior war correspondent John Simpson:

The assumption was that people genuinely wanted to see an end to the nastiest dictatorship on earth and would welcome the coalition forces as liberators. So many of them - perhaps a majority - did, but the extent of religious and nationalist hostility took Washington and London by surprise. Opposition to the occupying forces seems to be growing stronger by the day.

Everywhere you go in Iraq, people are increasingly saying the same thing: they are happy that Saddam is gone but they do not want American or British soldiers in their country. This was not something that Washington had been expecting.

posted by BA on 6:02 AM link

Forgive the self-promotion but I have just discovered this blog comes in at number 10 in Technorati's Top 50 Interesting Newcomers category. Links and visits have increased noticably in the past few weeks with the average daily readership trebling over the past month - many thanks to those who have helped spread the word.

By the way, unlike many other slackers, I shall not be stopping blogging over the Easter holidays - May Day is my 'spring break'.

posted by BA on 5:57 AM link

Friday, April 18, 2003


When North Korea is eventually opened up – when 200,000 people are released from a single gulag – the effect on world opinion will be like the opening of the gates of Auschwitz. We will ask in agonised introspection how we could have stood by and done nothing while this level of suffering was inflicted on our fellow human beings. Any decision today to stand by while the people of North Korea are butchered, battered and starved will be – to coin a phrase – Not in My Name

Johann Hari makes the case for invading and liberating North Korea - should make for an interesting letters page in the Independent on Saturday.

Of course the case for action is unanswerable from a strictly human rights/liberation point of view - human rights abuses in North Korea are Saddam+Milosevic x100. Morally the case is there but of course it comes down to military/political considerations. I am sceptical about whether the US would be prepared for this, for reasons Hari himself outlines in his piece. But the North Korean regime itself appears more willing to believe an attack could be on the cards.

"The Iraqi war teaches a lesson that in order to prevent a war and defend the security of a country and the sovereignty of a nation it is necessary to have a powerful physical deterrent force only," an unnamed spokesman told North Korea's official news agency, KCNA. See North Korea 'reprocessing nuclear fuel'

posted by BA on 2:16 PM link

Good piece from Polly Toynbee on the state of play in the trade union movement, which draws a clear distinction between the two types of new left leaders.

The difference between the awkward squad - Crow, Rix, Gilchrist - and the Curran, Prentis, Dromey sensible left is simple. The sensibles are fiercely focused on what matters to their members - pay, hours, conditions and opportunities: the fight is on the minimum wage settled at the Confederation of British Industry's low rate or on the right to flexible working that was downgraded to a right to "request" it. The awkward squad are politicians, not trade unionists, who use and abuse their members as a political battle-axe. They spend their time politicking about war, student grants and ousting Blair.

She also comes up with a good idea: Yet out there, millions of pitifully, badly treated workers have no protection, fearful of employers. Why not get Labour party members and volunteers to go out and organise workers among their local worst employers? It might breathe new purpose into Labour membership, while turning unions into campaigning organisations for the weak.

posted by BA on 1:59 PM link

Thursday, April 17, 2003


David Aaronovitch was right. The Weekly Worker, newspaper of the 40-strong 'Communist Party of Great Britain' is essential reading. It is top class comedy and certainly provides a better laugh than Mark Steel or any of the other official Trot comedians can manage.

Take this week's edition, where the Party's guru 'Jack Conrad' says "the Iraq phase of US imperialism’s permanent war is virtually over. It is timely therefore to draw up an honest balance sheet." It certainly is.

So what comes next? A refreshingly candid re-assesment of the Weekly Worker's expressed hope of defeat for the UK-US forces in the light of the liberation of Baghdad? A criticial appraisal of the anti-war movements failure to address the rights of the Iraqi people?

Well here are the real lessons of the war according to comrade Conrad:

"Perhaps the biggest failure has been the Socialist Alliance. Despite the explosive wave of radicalisation the SA lackadaisically opted for “business as usual”. The SWP, Workers Power, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the International Socialist Group and most of the so-called independents voted to postpone the annual general meeting till after the war. Already dangerously becalmed, this effectively liquidated the SA."

Ok, but what about the role of the United Nations Jack, has it been made redundant?

"The SWP saw a golden recruiting opportunity for itself - and would brook no competition.....If it is to have a worthwhile future the May 10 - delayed - AGM will have to be a relaunch conference. Gulf War II proves that an on-off SWP “united front” of an electoralist kind is as good as useless."

OK, got you, but it looked like the Iraqi people actually welcomed their liberation didn't it? What about that?

"What of the CPGB? There were definite shortcomings. Our leadership did not move swiftly or decisively enough. Furthermore, sectarian diversions were given far too much leeway and prominence. Eg, objections to the involvement of the Muslim Association of Britain in the anti-war party. Puerile talk of popular fronts went hand-in-hand with brittle moralism about selling out fellow communists in the muslim world. Under the circumstances such nonsense should have been dealt with quickly and firmly."

Right, but what about the casulties Jack, were they less than expected?

"The CPGB actually shed a thin layer of members. Collectively we failed to enthuse and lift them to the tempo exhibited by the mass movement. Either they quit or membership was terminated. Dead wood. An inactive communist is a contradiction in terms. Of course, numbers have been more than made up for by an influx of recruits. But there is no room for crowing."

Indeed not, but is Syria next on the 'hitlist'?

"Take the Weekly Worker. Sales on the numerous protests and demonstrations boosted circulation. But not qualitatively. Readership - in the print and electronic formats - still hovers at just under an average of 10,000. Not good enough. Obviously our paper shuns populism and demands seriousness. More should have been done though to improve accessibility (without watering down hard hitting polemics, etc)."

I certainly hope there is no watering down of Jack's hard hitting polemics but did the anti-war movement really make a difference?

"There is, however, every reason for confidence. Britain is changed forever. The audience for leftwing ideas has multiplied many times over. There is a thirst for knowledge. A prediction - the anti-war generation of 2003 will progressively come to regard the Weekly Worker as required reading".

Well I think some of us have caught on to that already. After all, if you want an insight into the priorities of the Trot left then the Weekly Worker can leave you in no doubt - there is only one - as always, themselves uber alles.

posted by BA on 4:40 PM link
Now and then I zap around American blogs to check out the debates Stateside. To be honest, I usually pack in after about three clicks, desparing at the yah-boo sucks approach and infantile rightism of so many of them. Perhaps that was because until recently I made the mistake of starting off at the extremely over-rated and over-hyped Instapundit whose level of discourse rarely goes beyond 'click here aren't those liberals/europeans dumn, huh?" He has got worse recently and he doesn't even have the volume of links he was once famed for.

But recently I have come across liberal journalist Jeff Jarvis's site Buzz Machine which is a refreshing change. It is lively and chatty but still manages to be thoughtful enough when it matters. That blog gave me enough of an incentive to investigate further...

Another one worth a glance is Talking Points Memo by Josh Marshall which, despite an incredibly pretentious photo by-line, is a tougher, straighter political blog, written by a DC pundit, who I have seen on US political talk shows a few times. Eric Alterman is another liberal left commentator worth checking out.

Nathan Newman is a democratic left activist and former trade union organiser who writes for a paper called the Progressive Populist, a journal I know little about but isn't it a brilliant title?

Matthew Yglesias may be the spitting image of our very own Peter 'Tory Boy' Cuthbertson but the comparison stops there - he is a liberal who has a tendency to drift into rather academic philosphical musings (not my taste really) but his top story today begins with these words "The only political issue that really matters, of course, is whether the Democrats can beat Bush in 2004."

For various reasons, especially his media commentary and sense of the absurd, Matt Welch has long been on my blog list and his own links section are a good starting point for a journey through the LA blogscene.

And finally no round-up of US left blogs would be complete without a mention of this blog's loyal American reader/critic Lawrence Krubner - his latest post is titled "What my girlfriend taught me about 'user friendly' "...he also offers free weblog software for those of you who might be thinking about trying to improve the quality of our little British scene.

posted by BA on 3:14 PM link

Gerard Killoran takes issue with left proponents of war, is the sub-head to an article in the Labour left magazine Chartist - and that really is what he does. He takes issue with the individuals rather than the arguments.

Christopher Hitchens, Johann Hari and Nick Cohen have all written enough articles about the Iraq war to give Killoran an abundant amount of material to criticise yet he never even quotes their arguments and chooses instead to attack them personally.

According to Killoran, Hitchens has: "followed Kingsley Amis’s well-trodden path from youthful leftism to middle-aged, red-faced, saloon bar reaction to end up to the right of his own ludicrous brother."

Nick Cohen has commited the heinous crime of not replying to all of Killoran's emails, so he has obviously lost the argument right? According to that logic, the ultra-prolific Keith Flett, should be Prime Minister.

(If you don't know who Keith Flett is then you must never have read the letters page of any broadsheet paper or left-wing red-top -he is an SWP member and now, apparently, leader of the Beard Liberation Front - I kid you not)

Johann Hari, being under the age of 30, is predictably accused of naiveté and his old Guardian article about sleeping with a neo-Nazi and an Islamic fundamentalist gets dragged up again - quite what relevance this has to Iraq is not explained.

To be fair, the Chartist article does go on to deal with some of the issues made by the pro-war left but these are swamped by these rather childish personal comments. There is nothing wrong with personal attacks per se, George Galloway for example is made for them and left politics often thrives on them - we've all played the game.

But the problem is that it does seem to be a frequent tendency on the left to shoot the messenger rather than deal with the issues. If there is some information in an article in the Times or the Telegraph it is laughed out of court on the left. If someone is perceived as being wrong on one issue, he can't be right on another.

Another element of this thinking is the idea of 'selling out'. The view that if you alter your views it has to be for some material reason. Another way of conveniently ignoring ideas and argument and retreating into the comfort of conformity. Isn't it time the left grew up a bit?

posted by BA on 9:02 AM link

As a lover and one-time amateur collector of obscure leftist publications, I was saddened to read that the curiousPartisan Review has folded.

Sam Tanenhaus in Slate finds it ironic that the Review, credited with leading some on the road from Trotskyist permanent revolution to neo-conservatist permanent regime-change, should go-under just at the time when the neo-con version of utopianism is at its peak.

America has plenty of good quality political periodicals to choose from yet the UK seems poorly served in this area and I am not sure why that is. Perhaps the Sunday papers have so much comment in them that there is no need for weeklies or monthlies? Whatever, I still reckon there is room for and a need for a good centre-left review and debate forum, especially since the New Statesman's shift towards the hard left.

posted by BA on 7:27 AM link
George Galloway MP has surprisingly hinted that he may be returning to Baghdad for the first time since regime change. The extraordinary suggestion comes in comments to the weekly Socialist Worker where Galloway says: "The biggest looting of Iraq is yet to come. It will not be by people dressed in rags from the slums. It will be people in fancy suits and fast cars...

Will they be wearing Kenzo suits and driving a Mercedes I wonder?

By the way, there is a big collection of post-war comments from the likes of Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Benn, Ken Loach etc in this week's soaraway Socialist Worker

posted by BA on 6:38 AM link

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


This article by John Lloyd, who recently resigned as a columnist with the New Statesman, was published in the centre-left Italian newspaper Il Riformista on Tuesday and the author has kindly made the original English version avaliable to readers of this weblog. It is well worth digesting.

A line has been crossed, and politics must deal with its crossing. Tony Blair is the leader who, of all others in the world, has given himself and his country the responsibility of dealing with it. And now the longer test, of him and of us, begins.

The line he crossed that which has gone on since the end of the Cold War: it went under many names, but the one which has stuck is that of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This has been the realisation that, as Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, put it in a speech last February, ‘human rights and the evolving nature of humanitarian law will mean little if a principle (of sovereignty) guarded by states is always allowed to trump the protection of citizens within them’.

This is as clear and concise statement of the dilemma into which our own preoccupation with human rights led us. State sovereignty developed in the 17th century to protect national communities from invasion. But sovereignty could become, and has become, a shield behind which murderous rulers sheltered, ruling in flagrant violation of all principles of human rights. These murderous rulers could generally be dislodged only by invasion. But invasion means a destruction of the principle of sovereignty…

The end of the cold war seemed to offer some escape from this endlessly circular argument, in which, to use Annan’s word, sovereignty always trumped rights. More and more states had come to believe in and observe democratic norms and in the observation of human rights. There had come an end to the bi-polar stasis within which most kinds of brutalities were tolerated as long as the ruling brute in question was at the service of one power or the other. And thus there could be an evolving agreement that brutes would be pressurised, sanctioned and in the end invaded out of existence.

This was not an academic and diplomatic argument alone. The decade of the nineties saw many brutes and brutalities – in Africa, in Europe, in Asia, and in the Middle East. In broad terms, the African ones continued their brutalities until sated or stopped by inter-tribal or inter-state wars (though they continue still, notably in the Congo). The European brute, Slobodan Milosevic, was stopped by US-led intervention in Kosovo, and is now on trial in the Hague. The Asian brutes, the Taliban, were dispatched last year by a US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The largest Middle Eastern brute, Saddam Hussein, has just seen his rule crushed, by a US-led force.

There seems no pattern here. No-one cares enough to intervene in Africa: the US, which had done so in Somalia, suffered a televised (rather than a real) defeat in Mogadishu when marines were captured, and withdrew from further engagement. Europeans were finally goaded enough by the US to intervene in former Yugoslavia- though the Kosovan intervention was bitterly contested by Russia, and by sizable chunks of opinion, mostly on the left, in Europe and North America (and was not sanctioned by the UN). The invasion of Afghanistan was tolerated by the UN because it was reckoned the US was owed some slack after 9/11, and most states had some reason to fear radical Islam, if in very different guises. Most states are against the invasion of Iraq.

But there was an underlying pattern, and it was and is that only the US has the power to determine an intervention of any size. And thus, well before George W Bush came on the scene, a great resentment grew over the power of the superpower – or, as the former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine termed it, the hyperpower. The other powers which could project a large military force beyond their borders – Russia, Britain, France, China – were faced with the problem of living in a world over which one power had military hegemony of a kind never seen before.

The tensions in such a world were bound to be focussed on the use of that military hyperpower, and the reasons for its use. And the tension has burst out over Iraq. For its example - much more than any other intervention taken or baulked – faces all states, especially the second tier military powers, with an urgent question. Do we support this gross breach of national sovereignty (which the invasion of Iraq certainly was)? Or do we oppose it, ultimately in the same of just such a national sovereignty? Do we, in other words, allow the sovereignty to trump human rights, yet again?

Only Tony Blair has decided the former route, of support. I write Blair rather then Britain, for it must be doubtful if another British leader would have done so. For all that the UK is the closest of European powers to the US, that it has more to lose from a chill over the Atlantic than any other large state, it was still Blair’s call and he could have called it differently. He could have refrained from persuading the US to seek the approval of the Security Council, allowed it to procede directly to war with Iraq, and stood aside, while regretting – in the nicest possible way – the haste and crudity of the US invasion.

But he chose more war rather than more jaw. At a certain point – it was probably late last year – he took the big and solitary decision to throw himself behind George Bush. In doing so, in articulating the rationale for a humanitarian intervention against the settled opinion of much of the rest of the developed world and the often militant opposition of the electorates of Europe and of the other substantial military powers, he may have changed the nature of politics forever.

First, he has thrown down the gauntlet to the international system. He has said – stop your endless debates about sovereignty and human rights. Human rights trump sovereignty. Realism would have to add – he sometimes adds himself – that this will not be so everywhere at every time. He would also add – this would only be so if it can also be aligned with British interests. For many, these reservations are proof of hypocrisy. In fact they are evidence only of inevitable restraints. Morality, in world as in human affairs, is rarely pure: it never is when acted upon. Blair has acted for as much of a moral cause as he can square with realism.

Second, he has set the Anglo Saxon cat among the continental pigeons. Discussion of a common foreign and defence policy – an even more leisurely and circular debate than that on human rights and sovereignty- can never have the same fine careless languor it had before. European leaderships – including those candidate members whom President Jacques Chirac told to shape up or shut up – must now decide whether or not they wish to be partners with the US, or counterweights. On these decisions hang the future of Nato, of transatlantic relations and on the long term balance of powers. For if Europe is to be a counterweight it is bound, at times, to use its weight to counter the US. When these circumstances occur, Europe will seek allies – in Russia, in China, in India and elsewhere. A counterweight thus soon becomes opposition. Opposition can become hostile. Who needs reminding of that these days, even if we still may believe that the present rhetorical torpedoes swishing across the Atlantic will be de-fused by time and diplomacy?

Third, Tony Blair has put another stake through the heart of socialism – not, in this case, the theory as much as the sentiment. British socialism, as elsewhere in the democratic world, has been suffused with pacifism since its inception. It was at times a popular pacifism, stemming from the experience of the First World War, and based on the harsh experience that it was the working class which suffered most when war was declared by their rulers. More recently, the remnants of that old feeling have merged with a multilateralist, UN-led view of the world, which sees all conflicts as capable of resolution by talk and all war as failure. That current has in turn tended to merge with the presently hugely popular view that America is the now the world’s evil empire.

The question for Britain, and for the European left is how far a Blairite centre leftism can any longer be a bedfellow with more traditional social democracy which partakes of at least some of that mix of sentiments. Not an ideological bedfellow- it long ceased to be that – but a political one, capable of glossing over differences in the service of gaining and retaining power through a parliamentary majority.

Blair has done what even Thatcher, the most prominent of the post-Churchill British leaders, did not. He has put himself at the balancing point of a series of interlocking international debates which are also real struggles for power and between powers. The irony is that the Conservative leader’s international moment of fame came from persuading President Ronald Reagan to believe the Communist Mikhail Gorbachev could bring an end to the Cold War. Blair has seized the international stage because he is a centre left European leader who is giving a rationale for an invasion led by a right-wing US administration.

Leaders of consequence – good or ill consequence – tend to leave or destroy the political vehicles which brought them to power. Blair is straining beyond his beliefs and the organisation which has sustained him- even beyond the nation which elected him. To follow or not to follow is now our choice: for he has made his.

posted by BA on 4:44 AM link
"Of course we would love to see Saddam's regime overthrown but it should be the Iraqi people who free themselves not the US military machine". How many times have you heard that from anti-war people?

How many times have you, if you are part of the pro-liberation left, replied that "Yes, in an ideal world it would be better if the Iraqis could free themselves from tyranny but unfortunately they are not in a position to do so, given the enormous measures of repression taken by Saddam's regime. Removing Saddam by external force is the only way the job can be done".

I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to that very basic point. Peter Tatchell's call to arm the Iraqi opposition was at least an attempt, but in reality it was an unworkable and potentially disastrous alternative.

The line of the Socialist Workers Party and their Stop the War Coalition consistently remained (whenever they briefly bothered to address the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam) that it is up to the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam.

But today Paul Foot, in his latest attempt at a critique of what he calls the 'LLW - the League of Leftist Warmongers' (that's that famed Trot humour again) inadvertently lets the cat out of the bag.

"There was not even a semblance of a democratic force in Iraq that could make a revolution against Saddam or form the nucleus of a new democratic order there", he writes.

So why have he and his party and his movement spent the last six months dishonestly trying to convince us that there was a real chance of a revolution against Saddam when they knew there wasn't?

Well, lets face it, "There is no chance of a revolution against Saddam but I'm damned if we are going to back the American military doing the job, so sod the Iraqis" was not really going to help rally people to the anti-war cause was it?

The question for those who have followed Foot and his movement in the past few months must be - Ever had the feeling you've been cheated?

posted by BA on 3:04 AM link

Tuesday, April 15, 2003


To stop being romantic about Cuba

And a communist who has had enough of Castro.

posted by BA on 10:36 AM link

Nick Cohen's strong attack on the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Andrew Murray, in the New Statesman has predictably led to a series of letters to the magazine defending Murray from the criticism. Particularly predictable is the reply by Murray's leader, Communist Party of Britain (CPB) General Secretary Robert Griffiths who describes Cohen's article as "shoddy McCarthyite stereotyping".

For those who haven't followed this one, Murray is a CPB member and well-known on the left as being an old-style pro-Soviet communist - a perception he somewhat added to with a column in the Morning Star to mark the occassion of Stalin's 120th birthday.

Now it should hardly be surprising that Murray's nostalgia should be pointed out by journalists at a time when he was leading a mass movement against the war in Iraq - in fact I was amazed it took the media so long to point that out. Nor did Cohen do anything other than observe that Murray's position in the Stop the War movement meant "a living fossil from the age of European dictators was heading the biggest protest of the new century."

Is a writer calling an open communist a communist, McCarthyism? I don't think so. I mean it is hardly as though Murray has sought to hide his politics and been 'outed' by Cohen. After all in the, now infamous, Morning Star article Murray wrote the following:

"If you believe that the worst crimes visited on humanity this century, from colonialism to Hiroshima and from concentration camps to mass poverty and unemployment have been caused by imperialism, then [Stalin's birthday] might at least be a moment to ponder why the authors of those crimes and their hack propagandists abominate the name of Stalin beyond all others. It was, after all, Stalin's best-known critic, Nikita Kruschov, who remarked in 1956 that `against imperialists, we are all Stalinists' "

Now if you write those words as leader of a 'peace movement' you really can't complain when the media repeat your views. Why don't the CPB stop whining and get on with the job of convincing us that "we are all Stalinists" - that would be much more fun.

posted by BA on 10:16 AM link
There are calls by some sections of the anti-war movement for Bush and Blair to face trial for 'war crimes' and the Guardian today has a piece by Richard Overy which claims "there is a strong war crimes case against US and British leaders". Is there really? Is there such a conspiracy of silence among the global media that we haven't been informed of these crimes?

War crimes are defined according to the Geneva Conventions - deaths which result from normal combat can be sad, regrettable and many other things but they are not necessarily war crimes. Overy's article seems to rest purely on the assumption that the war is 'illegal', (which is itself very debatable) as grounds for prosecution. He gives no specific incidents where the Convention has been breached other than the fact that images of Iraqi POW's were seen on television.

The broader danger with such calls is not that US or UK leaders might face trail in the future, because if there is reasonable grounds for prosecution then they certainly should face justice. The danger for the future is that the phrase 'war crimes' becomes devalued and useless. Indeed the fact that such apparently groundless claims are being banded around suggests that, for some at least, the term has already taken on a new meaning.

Have for example, US-UK troops executed Iraqi prisoners of war? Have they carried out rape and torture? Have they carried out chemical or medical experiments on the civilian population? There have been no reports to suggest they have.

The term weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has also been a victim of the war debates. The most widely accepted defintion of the phrase is "nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons." How many times have you read or heard anti-war campaigners claim that there is some 'irony' or 'hypocrisy' that the US and UK are using WMD's to defeat Iraq? But, of course, the US and UK troops have not used nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.

Why is all this a problem? Well, in the future we may need to act to deal with genuine war crimes and real use of weapons of mass destruction. Those who will try and obstruct such attempts may claim that the US-UK committed 'war crimes' in Iraq and used WMD's and if the terms are allowed to be abused and redefined then they may be able to confuse enough of the people, enough of the time. In short, the misuse of these terms will not only assist some to attempt to rewrite history it will make it much harder to press the case to protect the victims of real war crimes and the victims, or potential victims, of real weapons of mass destruction.

It may only be language but careless talk can indeed cost lives.

posted by BA on 7:23 AM link
At the risk of turning this weblog into a fan-site, Johann Hari has yet another well-aimed piece in the Indie today about the 'looting and anarchy' in Baghdad.

The sound of smashing and trashing from the chaos in Baghdad is being drowned out in Britain by the gloating of the most hardline "peace" protesters. A friend of mine who was downcast at the cheering of the Iraqi people on Liberation Day – "it's all going to end in tears, Johann" – called yesterday in much higher spirits. "You see? It's anarchy!" It was a bit odd that my friend was saying this as proof that things have gone wrong, since he is in fact an anarchist – but let that pass. "This is what we said would happen! Chaos! Disaster! Civil war! Would you rather be in Baghdad today, or under Saddam last year? Eh? Hmmm?"

Johann's friend happens to be an anarchist. Anarchists, of course, have been known to see looting as an act of rebellion against oppression, except it seems when it is Iraqis enjoying their moment of rebellion after liberation from such oppression. I have no doubt that as well as the anarchos, the 'revolutionaries' of the ultra-left would 'defend' mass looting in Oxford Street, even if, as so often in the UK, it was students and lifestyle choice drop-outs rather than oppressed masses, who were doing the looting. Yet now they are tut-tutting at the Iraqi looting. These are the same 'revolutionaries' who have spent the past months dressed up as the defenders of international law and order, opposing the liberation of Iraq as illegal. The Trotskyite left as the defenders of property, privilige, law and order.

Of course no-one could feel anything other than sadness at the looting of musuems and hospitals, but as for the rest of it, I agree with Hari when he writes: Once the straitjacket of Baathist tyranny was loosened, there was always going to be some lashing out. Indeed, much of what we have been seeing is a spontaneous redistribution of wealth from the disgusting, corrupt élite who thrived under Saddam towards the wider population. Very few of the people with riches in Iraq today possess them because they have worked hard, or have any skill or talent. They have comfortable houses and stocked fridges because they were especially willing to point out the "disloyalty" of their fellow Iraqis.

I just hope that in the ransacking of ministries the documents that details the orders of torture and executions have not been lost - they will be needed if the new Iraq is to be able to deal out justice to those responsible for the suffering in the reccent past.

posted by BA on 3:16 AM link

Sunday, April 13, 2003


The Socialist Alliance launched their local election campaign last week. Safe in the knowledge that there are no deposits to lose in contests for council seats they have named 160 candidates. Unfortunately it seems they may need to change their publicity. The SA website offers PDF downloads of their campaign leaflets with the following disclaimer:


It will be interesting to see whether the liberation of Baghdad was deemed to have 'affected the relevance' of their critique of the "bloody and unnecessary" war. But it is certainly very revealing to see the line that the Alliance have taken as they seek to turn their anti-war stance into votes.

The SA, like the Stop the War Coalition is dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, but the 'Victory to Iraq' line supported by the SWP and many of the Alliance's affiliated groups is, of course, completely absent from the publicity - even Trots realise that one isn't likely to be much of a vote winner. Instead the line taken is summed up by the much more populist "Welfare Not Warfare" slogan.

"We believe the billions of pounds being wasted on war and the billions the rich and the big corporations have received in tax breaks over the last 20 years, could be used to raise the state pension and to renationalise the rail and give it the investment it needs. This money could be used to abolish student tuition fees and restore student grants, to invest in state education and reverse the rundown of the NHS. It could be used to end low pay for nurses, firefighters and other public servants...."

The list goes on - "swimming pools and sports fields" also get a mention as causes more worthy of support than Iraqi democracy. Of course the whole idea that there needs to be a choice over resources like this is in itself dishonest and demagogic but what is the core message to voters? It is essentially this - why is Blair wasting British taxpayers money on Iraqis when we could spend that money on you and your family? It is a cheap and nasty nationalist message rooted in selfishness. Lets look after the British public sector and sod the poor and oppressed of the world. And they claim it is the pro-war left who have 'given into jingoism'.....

There have been some intelligent arguments made against the war. There are serious people who believe that we have made a mistake in invading Iraq. I don't happen to agree with those views, but I can respect people like Peter Tatchell and others who clearly wish there was another way for us to have got rid of Saddam. But for supposed internationalists and socialists to make a case against war based on imagined lack of resources in one of the most wealthy countries in the world is simply sick. It is also dishonest, because the SWP and co are opposed to the war for entirely different reasons.

In addition to this the SA leaflets reveal a typically condescending approach to working class voters from the middle-class ultra-left. You can imagine the committee of 'human rights lawyers', thespians and civil servants that deliberated over the SA local election manifesto patronisingly thinking that such an appeal to material instincts is the best way to 'win over workers'.

Thankfully most 'ordinary working people' are well aware of the real debate over the war and more than capable of addessing the moral and wider political issues that have been raised. As the polls now show clear backing for the war, there is good reason to be confident that the voters will reject this nationalist garbage.

The SA claim to be the only party who have consistently and fully opposed the war who are standing in the local elections. They are wrong on that as well. The fascist British National Party also opposed the war and like the 'socialists' their message is a nationalist one, attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Lets hope that neither of them get any joy on May 1st - it is after all International Labour Day, a day of global solidarity for working people's rights and freedoms - celebrate the chances now avaliable to Iraqi workers by making sure their British nationalist enemies get no joy at the polls.

posted by BA on 11:00 AM link

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