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Mr Blair

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Widening Atlantic

17 March 2004

Dialogue of the Deaf: The Widening Atlantic

By Gwynne Dyer

The new Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, was very careful in his choice of words. “Military intervention in Iraq was a political mistake,” he said on 15 March. “It divided more than it united; there were no reasons for it. Time has shown that the arguments for it lacked credibility….Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection…you can’t organise a war with lies. The Spanish troops will come back (from Iraq)”.

Mr Zapatero made exactly the same argument a year ago, when the United States was about invade Iraq and then-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar was cheering it on. Over 80 percent of the Spanish people agreed with Zapatero about Iraq then, and they still do today. He did not say a single word about appeasing terrorism, and nor does anyone else in Spain want to do that after a terrorist attack that killed over 200 commuters in Madrid. They are just sick of being lied to, and they don’t believe that Iraq had anything to do with terrorism..

The reaction in the United States, however, has been distinctly ungenerous. “The plain fact is that the Spanish electorate displayed craven cowardice by electing the Socialists. It embraced the wrong-headed notion — so dismayingly popular in Europe — that to adopt any policy more resolute than abject appeasement of terrorists is to invite terrorist attacks,” wrote the ‘New York Post’.

The ‘Post’ is a Murdoch paper and has to say that sort of thing, but what about the ‘New York Daily News’ writing that the terrorists “must be big fans of the democratic process after watching the lemming-like Spaniards do their bidding,” or David Brooks writing in the ‘New York Times’ that Spanish voters had chosen to “throw out the old government and replace it with one whose policies are more to al-Qaida’s liking. What is the Spanish word for appeasement?” Or the ‘Washington Post’ editorialising that “The danger is that Europe’s reaction to a war that has now reached its soil will be retreat and appeasement rather than strengthened resolve.”

On the contrary. The real ‘danger’ is that those European governments that were always able to tell the difference between fighting terrorism and invading Iraq — ‘old Europe’, in US Defence Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s contemptuous phrase — are growing at the expense of those who went along with Washington in blurring the distinction between the two. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces an election in the next year, and runs a similar risk of a rebellion by voters who overwhelmingly opposed his support for the invasion of Iraq. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose day of reckoning is a bit further off, must be feeling apprehensive.

He is right to be, for the Madrid events have only deepened popular doubts about Mr Blair’s Iraq venture. The Murdoch-owned ‘Sun’ predictably praised Mr Blair for his unquestioning support of the Bush administration’s actions, but Steven Glover in the ‘Daily Mail’, traditionally the conservative voice of ‘middle England’, wrote that “Mr Blair…has succeeded in making things worse than they would otherwise have been….This is the story of how a sophisticated modern democracy has been misled by one misguided messianic figure….I do not think that the British people will spare, or forgive, Mr Blair.”

Is there a risk that al-Qaeda would try to deepen this growing alienation from the current governments in London and Rome by ‘doing a Madrid’ on the eve of the next Italian or British elections? Of course there is, for part of its strategy is to isolate the United States from its traditional European allies. It undoubtedly wants Mr Bush re-elected in the United States, since that would perpetuate the US foreign policy of ‘pre-emptive’ military interventions that is the main recruiting tool of radical Islamists in the Muslim world, but it would quite like to break the old trans-Atlantic alliance between the various ‘crusader states’.

Does that mean that those European countries whose governments backed Mr Bush last year must stick with that policy forever or else end up ‘appeasing the terrorists’? Obviously not, although that is the rhetoric that Bush supporters apply to the question. The alliance really is weakening, an the culprits really do live in the White House, not in Europe.

It is generally forgotten in Washington, but all the allies and friends who refused to support the invasion of Iraq willingly backed the counter-strike against terrorist bases in Afghanistan in the first days after 9/11. Germany, France, Canada and even Russia offered troops (although in the end everybody decided that it would be untactful to let the Russians invade Afghanistan twice in twenty years). There was no problem getting UN Security Council authorisation for that one, either. It’s only when the subject changed from terrorism to Iraq that the divisions started growing.

Now the trans-Atlantic alliance is at its weakest in fifty years: ‘Old Europe’ is growing, and in two years ‘New Europe’, the Bush administration’s uncritical ally, may include only a handful of Eastern European countries. The ‘Los Angeles Times’ is a long way from Europe, but it got it exactly right: “The US should read the results (of the Spanish elections) as demonstrating anew that most of the world does not see the Iraq campaign as part of the global war on terror….The sympathy that much of the world felt for the US after the 9/11 attacks has been squandered by invading Iraq with too little global support.”


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 8. (“He is…Mr Blair”; and “Does…Europe”)THIS WEEK marks the first anniversary of the US attack on Iraq.

Blair and the UN

7 March 2004

The UN Is Not A Morality Play

By Gwynne Dyer

“It may well be that under international law as presently constituted a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its own people and there is nothing anyone can do….This may be the law, but should it be?” asked Prime Minister Tony Blair last Friday in a speech that tried to persuade sceptical British voters that he was right to attack Iraq at President George W. Bush’s side. He didn’t answer his own question, assuming that everybody agrees the answer is yes. The correct answer, however, is no.

Mr Blair and Mr Bush have both ended up arguing the moral case for invading Iraq. though it didn’t get mentioned much before the war. Having found no ‘weapons of mass destruction’ nor any connection between Saddam Hussein and the Islamist terrorists who attacked the United States, their sole remaining justification for the invasion is the fact that it removed a vicious dictator. The problem is that it is not a legal justification.

It seems so obvious: there’s a wicked regime; we have the power to destroy it; let’s do those people a favour and invade. We need to change international law so that we can legally invade “when a nation’s people are subject to a regime such as Saddam’s,” as Mr Blair put it.

Who would be the targets? Any regime that is judged to “systematically brutalise and oppress its own people” — North Korea, or Burma, or Zimbabwe, or even China, depending on which countries set themselves up as the judges. That should keep us all busy until the End of Time.

Mr Blair’s argument has a strong emotional appeal. It would be nice if there were some impartial and all-powerful force in the world that would unerringly punish all the wicked while sparing all the innocent. The traditional name for this force, however, is God, and even He has chosen not to act within history in quite so hyper-active a way, postponing the sorting out of the good and the evil to a time shortly after the End of Time. Mr Blair’s offer to bring the Last Judgment forward by a billion years or so is doubtless well-meant, but it is ill-advised.

Even well-educated people like Mr Blair profoundly misunderstand the nature of the United Nations. They imagine that it is a sword of Justice, and maybe even an instrument of Love. They do not understand that the heart of the United Nations enterprise is a brutally realistic attempt to change international law in order to prevent World War III. The UN is a nuclear blast shelter, not the international equivalent of a battered women’s shelter.

When was the UN founded? 1945. What was the situation in 1945? The biggest war in history had just ended: 45 million people were dead, most of the cities of the industrialised world had been bombed flat, and nuclear weapons had just been dropped on cities for the first time. What was the prognosis? Another world war eventually, with every great power holding hundreds or thousands of nuclear weapons on Day One. Five hundred million dead in the first week. So right there, in 1945, the countries of the world decided to try to change that future. They created the United Nations, a new institution whose Charter declared that henceforth war is illegal.

It did not say that henceforth tyranny is illegal, because enforcing such a rule would mean endless war. (First we attack Stalin, then Mao, then….) It was a hundred-year project at the very least, since human beings have been fighting wars since the dawn of civilisation eight thousand years ago, or even before. But it was necessary, because the only alternative, sooner or later, was World War III with nuclear weapons.

The basic UN rule is that you can no longer legally attack another country, and no excuses are accepted. The fact that their ancestors stole some of your country’s territory a hundred years ago doesn’t justify it, nor does a suspicion that they are planning to attack you, nor even the fact that their government wickedly oppresses its own people. Allow those exceptions, and clever lawyers will find a way to argue that every aggression is legal. So the law says no exceptions.

During the 1990s, when the international environment was relatively benign, attempts were made to get round this rule in order justify humanitarian military interventions to stop genocides in Bosnia and Kosovo. The interventions were actually done by NATO on a nod-and-a-wink basis, with the UN renaming the attacking troops as blue helmets as soon as the fighting ended and legalising the entire affair post-facto. They were well meant and they saved lives, but after Iraq that kind of intervention won’t soon happen again: it opened doors that should have stayed shut.

Mr Blair isn’t really trying to change the basic UN law; he’s just trying to justify why he broke it last year by invading Iraq. It is unlikely that he or Mr Bush will be urging us all to invade Burma later this year. But the law is there for a reason, and it is still a good reason.

Countries should be left to deal with their own dictators — and these days there are even techniques available that will let them do so non-violently, if they have the patience to work at it. Foreign invasions are not the solution.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 10. (“Mr  Blair’s…ill-advised”; and “During…shut”)

Barking Up The Wrong Bush

20 November 2003

Barking Up The Wrong Bush

By Gwynne Dyer

As it happened, the two principal sponsors of the invasion of Iraq, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, were together when news came in that 27 more people had been killed in the third and fourth suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul in one week. They had to say something, and so they both tried to twist the atrocities into a justification of their decision to invade Iraq. This would be almost funny if it wasn’t so horrible, because the two incidents probably occurred BECAUSE Bush and Blair invaded Iraq.

“What this latest terrorist outrage shows us is that there is a war — and its main battleground is in Iraq,” said Mr Blair. Mr Bush picked up the theme, declaring that “Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary, and no act of thugs or killers will change our resolve” — as if the men who organised the bomb attacks in Istanbul hadn’t wanted the US and Britain to invade Iraq, or did want them to leave now. And the media lapped it all up, as if Bush and Blair were talking sense and the suicide bombers were ‘mindless killers’.

In the face of the torrent of deceitful propaganda, it has to be said again and again. The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the ‘war on terrorism’. The only terrorism in Iraq is that which was caused by the invasion. The Islamist terrorists of al-Qaeda were delighted by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. And the reason why there have been so many successful terrorist attacks in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and elsewhere in recent months is probably because of the diversion of intelligence effort to the war in Iraq.

One at a time. First of all, there was no more linkage between Saddam Hussein’s repressive but rigorously secular regime in Iraq and the Islamist terrorists of al-Qaeda than there was between the Mafia and the Khmer Rouge. There is absolutely no evidence for it, and the entire American and British intelligence establishments spent the time before the invasion of Iraq desperately signalling to their political masters (and later, off the record, to any media that would listen) that there was no such link.

They were not listened to because Mr Bush’s people were determined to have their war, and Mr Blair — well, that’s still puzzling. But it is clear, if you watch how their lips move, that both men are conscious of having practised a deception on the public. They regularly mention al-Qaeda and Iraq in the same breath in order to foster the illusion that there was a link, but they never actually say it in exactly so many words. Like most politicians, they know that you can fuzz, distort or evade the issue to your heart’s content, but you must never tell an outright lie.

The ‘terrorism’ in Iraq these days bears little resemblance to the almost metaphysical acts of existential hatred that struck New York and Washington two years ago and the global strategy that lay behind them. Iraq is just the mundane, functional terrorism of anti-colonial resistance from Algeria to Vietnam, carried out for the most part by the same sort of people — ex-army officers, political ideologues, young men with big chips on their shoulders — who would be doing the same thing in the United States if foreign troops suddenly took over the country. (You doubt me? Go get ‘Red Dawn’ out of the video store.)

The Iraqis who run this resistance movement doubtless use foreign Islamist fanatics to drive the truck-bombs whenever possible — ‘if the kid wants to die, let’s give him the chance’ — but there is no known link between the war in Iraq and al-Qaeda’s astonishingly ambitious project to seize control of the Arab and even the broader Muslim world. Which brings us, finally, to the question of how the invasion of Iraq has undermined the real ‘war on terrorism’.

Islamist terrorists really exist, although almost none of them are Iraqis. They are not as numerous or rich or well-organised as the propagandists would have us believe, and the damage they can do doesn’t begin to compare with what a real war does, but they are a serious danger that warrants serious attention. Trouble is, they haven’t been getting it.

What matters most in a war against terrorism is intelligence. There is a strictly limited mass of talent in Western intelligence agencies which has the technical proficiency, the Arabic language skills, and the personal attributes needed for the intelligence gathering job — maybe as few as a couple of thousand key people. They should be concentrating their efforts on al-Qaeda. For the past year, most of them have been employed instead on some aspect of the project for ‘liberating’ Iraq (whatever that may mean) — and you can’t be in two places at once.

The Islamist terrorists who plotted the attacks on two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul on 15 November and on the HSBC headquarters and the British consulate in the same city on the 20th, killing fifty people and injuring many hundreds, would have tried to do it whether Iraq was invaded or not. They didn’t need excuses to attack. The difference is that if the intelligence services had been paying attention to al-Qaeda instead of barking up the wrong tree (bush) in Iraq, they might actually have been stopped.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 7. (“They were…lie”; and “The Iraqis…terrorism”). Use ‘tree’ or ‘bush’ as you prefer in the last sentence