Monday, February 1, 2010

Chilcot Chicanery

Unless you live in the UK, you might have missed the fact that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was questioned Friday by the Chilcot Inquiry. Wait, unless you live in the UK you might not have heard of the Chilcot Inquiry. Well, let's be honest, even if you live in the UK, you probably don't care, while if you were in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre on Friday, you might have mistaken the questioning for a celebrity roast. After all, there's so much more important stuff happening in the world besides figuring out how your country ended up taking part in a conflict that has resulted in a couple hundred thousand deaths and cost trillions of dollars.

The remit of the Chilcot Inquiry is to consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. To consider the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in the future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country. Sounds so nice, doesn't it? Noble almost - to learn from the mistakes of the past about how to behave in the future. Yet, we won't learn much, there won't be a smoking gun, instead of prosecuting politicians for committing illegal acts, a public forum has been created for Mr Blair and his kind to spread their hate, lies and deceit. Instead of fireworks Friday, we got a pop and fizzle; instead of revelations we got the seven techniques of propaganda as only Tony Blair could deliver them.

When was the last time an inquiry such as this has actually produced any results? The 9/11 Commission? The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission? The Copenhagen shenanigan? Any G-7, 8 or 20 meeting? All smokescreens, staged farces that are nothing but transfer propaganda. When public scepticism erupts in response to such extremes of criminality and violence that even the media are powerless to deny, the illusion must be bolstered. Somehow, these meetings still lend a stamp of some sort of approval for a good many people that something's being done, justice being served. Hopes of this were raised just two days before Blair took the stand, a bombshell was dropped by his senior legal adviser of that era, Lord Goldsmith. The counsel had changed his mind over the legality of the conflict on the eve of the invasion after being whisked to Washington for a tete-a-tete with Condaleeza Rice and US government "lawyers". (Is that what we're calling the hired muscle these days?)

Anyway, the scene was set for a showdown between Blair and the hostile inquiry members. Oh, but wait, did I say hostile? Inquisitive perhaps? At least impartial? No, on all counts I'm afraid. If I'd have said hospitable, war-mongerers, handpicked by Gordon Brown to refer to the five members I'd have been on target, which explains the easy questioning of Blair. The biggest lie of the whole inquiry came only 10 minutes into it's first session back in November when Sir John Chilcot said: "My colleagues and I come to this inquiry with an open mind." Let's quickly look at the five members:

Martin Gilbert penned a piece December 26, 2004 on Blair and Bush likening them to Churchill and Roosevelt for their heroic leadership on Iraq. During the run up to war Sir Roderick Lyne was point man in deflecting Russian opposition in his role as ambassador in Moscow. Sir Lawrence Freedman wrote much of the speech Blair delivered in Chicago in 1999 outlining justifications for regime change, then later spoke of the "rather noble criteria" which lay behind the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. During a Chilcot session in December he volunteered the information that he had "instigated" a pre-war seminar for Blair to discuss Iraq because, he said, "I was aware of misgivings among some specialists in Iraq about the direction of policy". Baroness Prashar, another cozy insider who also ticks the female and minority boxes, is governor of the Ditchley Foundation, whose director, Sir Jeremy Greenstock was the UK Ambassador to the UN who presented the lies about Iraqi WMD. And of course Chilcot himself was part of the Butler Review whose job it was to whitewash the fabrication of evidence of said WMD's.

The biggest shock for me reading and watching the Blair testimony from Friday was how many references he made to Iran in an inquiry set up to discover the reasons for invading Iraq. You would think, as the UK's special envoy to the Quartet on the Middle East, he would be promoting what the group claims to promote, peace, instead of excusing atrocities and promoting war. "It's a constant problem for Israel, they use great force in retaliation. Before you've gone two weeks, they're the people that started it all." After saying that in the aftermath of the last Gaza conflict it should have come as no surprise to hear him hammering away using the oldest, most facile propaganda trick known to man, Name Calling. With an election on the horizon and Labour's popularity lagging, Tony's obviously decided to do his best for the team. He managed to squeeze the word Iran in 58 times over his testimony. Here's a transcript. It's even more interesting if you notice the context in which he mentions the Persian state, references to 9/11, WMD and al-Queda are peppered among his soliloquies to Iran. Blair said many of the arguments that led him to confront the "profoundly wicked, almost psychopathic" Saddam Hussein seven years ago now applied to the regime in Tehran. "We face the same problem about Iran today".

What do you do when dealt a bad hand? Well if you're Tony Blair and everything you asserted about Iraq before the war has been proven wrong, you do a little Card Stacking propaganda. This seemed to be his strategy heading in, to convince us that it's a better world thanks to the removal of Saddam Hussein as well as the inevitability of the war. "I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse." More astonishingly, he was then allowed to turn questioner at his own questioning, "What if I had not invaded Iraq? Where would we be then?"

Not recognizing the astonishing insensitivity of saying such a thing in a room in which at least 20 people could have replied: "My son would still be alive today", Mr Blair went on to paint a picture of Iraq emerging blinking and frail from the darkness of despotism into the sunlight of freedom. Most Iraqis, he argued, are better off now, ignoring that the Iraq war made the Middle East less secure, emboldening Iran and making future moves to disarm Tehran doubly difficult. It debased the moral case for humanitarian intervention by undermining the authority of international law, legitimizing unilateral action by imperious governments. Mr. Blair believes the end justified the means. But the methods used to take Britain to war perverted law and democracy. That was not some unfortunate byproduct of a greater moral endeavour, it was a fatal corruption of the diplomatic process that might have led to a better outcome for Iraq. The means sabotaged the end.

The 'I'm gonna puke' moment didn't hit me until I saw Teflon Tony's Plain Folks propaganda gambit. He had previously admitted in an interview that the WMD's hadn't really mattered in his decision to attack Saddam. In this exchange he tries to display that old Blair charm, instead he comes off like a double talking fool.

The out of the blue comments I'll put under the testimonial propaganda banner. Between 2000 and 2002, Blair stated: "[Iraq] had a child mortality rate of 130 children per 1,000, as bad as in the Congo... Now the figure is 40 child deaths per 1,000…" Was this a dig at the Congo for some past slight or simply an attempt to deceive? Of course the statistic fails to take into account the draconian UN blockade of Iraq, under which child mortality more than doubled between 1990 and 1999, rising from 56 per 1,000 live births in the period 1984-89 to 131 per 1,000 in 1994-99. Later, his interlocutors allowed him to answer a question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with a reply about military action taken alongside Bill Clinton in 1998. He was permitted to repeatedly make the claim that Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions in general and 1441 in particular when in fact they weren't.

Apparently, most people were surprised that Iran would try to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq, therefore who would have planned on that? Worse, he played on the surprise that al-Queda moved in post invasion by using the fact that most people were trying to argue they weren't there pre-invasion. Um, yeah, that's the point, the invasion gave them a foothold you pompous fool! "People didn’t think that al-Qaeda and Iran would play the role that they did. It was really the external elements of al-Qaeda and Iran that really caused this mission very nearly to fail." So, though al-Qaeda had, as Lord Blair kept reminding us Friday, "changed everything" with 9/11 and were one of the reasons why the British and Americans invaded Iraq because the Americans said Saddam had links with al-Qa'ida and might give them weapons of mass destruction, when it turned out that the links were as non-existent as the weapons, Lord Blair was surprised to find al-Qaeda turning up in post-invasion Iraq. "People did not think that al-Qaeda and Iran would play the role that they did."

Remember the 'coalition of the willing'? Well Bandwagon propaganda is and was featured in the build up to war, drumming up support, or at least attempting to convey the illusion of support. Blair's zeal as the head cheerleader of the tiny club has always been on display, and the pompoms were out Friday. Blair managed to get in some of that team America spirit at every turn, "I never regarded September 11 as an attack on America, I regarded it as an attack on us. And I had said we would stand shoulder to shoulder with them." Pressed on the subject of the April 2002 Crawford meeting with Dubya in 2002 where some have claimed he signed his name in blood for invasion, he would only admit to "I think what he [Bush] took from that was exactly what he should have taken, which was if it came to military action, because there was no way of dealing with this diplomatically, we would be with him."

Last comes Glittering Generalities, Blair's specialty, a man who obviously has no time for details, only grand gestures. Forgotten by most people today, Friday's session shed a bit of light on an intelligence report, the September dossier, which contained among other things the infamous 45 minute claim. While most American will recognize the dossier for Dubya's State of the Union claim "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa", it was this sexed up report that was used by Blair to convince his ministers and ultimately parliament to go to war. In the foreword to the dossier, Tony Blair said the intelligence shows "beyond doubt" that Saddam was a WMD threat. Not only a vague, nebulous threat, but that Iraqi forces had WMD that could be used within 45 minutes of an order being given.

Of course since then, every claim, every one, has since been proven false. Friday we heard the former prime minister lightly dismiss it by saying that the dossier "assumed a vastly exaggerated importance later". Yet it was Mr Blair, as the panel did not remind him, who invested that document with such importance by recalling Parliament for an emergency session so that he could wave it around to terrify MPs and a nation. He had been told by his own officials that the intelligence was "sporadic and patchy" and yet he represented it to the Commons as "detailed and authoritative". Asked why he had not asked essential questions about the nature of the so-called intelligence, he was allowed to escape with the insouciant shrug, "I didn't focus on it a great deal."

Many had hoped for an "I'm sorry for lying" moment but Blair obviously looked upon his testimony as a chance to road-test the defiant passages planned for the self-justificatory chapters of his memoirs. Yet, if nothing else, Blair's testimony left little doubt that his religious fervor in support of war wasn't diminished by his snap conversion to Catholicism. Sadly, he seems to embody the rule rather than the exception when it comes to his kind showing any kind of remorse or contrition for perpetrating a crime against humanity. Therefore he'll be able to go back to giving economic and political advice to governments and companies such as JP Morgan through his business venture, Tony Blair Associates, as well as giving lectures across the world. This helps soothe any pangs of conscience he might feel as he's believed to have amassed a personal fortune of £15 million since leaving office in 2007, including a significant amount in the Middle East. So, much like Edith...


Phuck Politics said...

At least you guys are talking about the Iraq war. We're too busy bombing innocent Pakistanis.

Shane said...

Yeah PP, the predator strike increase over the past couple of months spells nothing but bad news. As for the UK's "Iraq Inquiry", after watching Blair I was angrier than before and yet it doesn't change a thing. Seemed to be just a forum for Blair to advocate war with Iran!

Even though Clare Short's testimony today was at least a little more fact based, we still didn't learn anything new