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Tony Blair

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The Kagame Dilemma

“Whoever betrays the country will pay the price, I assure you,” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame told a rally soon after the country’s former intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya, was found strangled in a South African hotel room last January. Karegeya had quit the government and become a leading opponent of the regime, which President Kagame would certainly see as a betrayal of the country.

It’s not unusual for dictators to see their own interests and those of the country they rule as one and the same thing. It’s not even uncommon for dictators to have people killed. What’s really rare is a dictator who has had quite a lot of people killed, but is congratulated by other countries for his excellent administration and showered with foreign aid. That is the happy lot of President Paul Kagame.

Fewer than half of Rwanda’s 12 million people have personal memories of the terrible genocide twenty years ago, but the country as a whole is still haunted by it. Kagame has ruled Rwanda for all of that time, and he is convinced that only he can stop it from happening again. It’s only a small step from there to believing that he has the duty to maintain his rule by any means necessary, including even murder.

All the murders are officially denied, but nobody believes it. Last week four not very competent assassins, one Rwandan and three Tanzanians, were found guilty by a South African court of trying to kill the former Rwandan army chief of staff, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, in Johannesburg in 2010. They shot him in the stomach, but he survived after months in intensive care – and they didn’t get away.

The South African judge, Stanley Mkhair, said diplomatically that the plot to kill Nyamwasa came from “a certain group of people from Rwanda.” The South African authorities even know how much the assassins were paid: 80,000 rand ($7,500). But it was just not worth naming Kagame.

Last March, when South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe warned Rwanda to stop after another attempt on Nyamwasa’s life, the two countries went through a ritual round of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. Once a year is enough, but at least South Africa complains occasionally. Most other African countries look the other way when Kagame’s hit squads turn up, people like Tony Blair accept lifts in his private jet, and the aid agencies don’t even flinch.

These people aren’t fools or knaves (except Tony Blair, of course), so why are they all giving Kagame a free pass? Because they secretly suspect that Kagame is right: that only he can prevent another genocide in Rwanda. And maybe they’re right.

The 1994 genocide killed an estimated 800,000 people, about 10 percent of the population. There is no reliable estimate of how many of the victims were Tutsis, who were once the dominant caste but by 1994 were a persecuted minority. A fair guess is that more than half of those murdered were Tutsis (the rest were “moderate” Hutus), and that at least half of the total Tutsi population died.

The Tutsi survivors, and more importantly the Tutsi exiles who fought their way home with Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front, still provide the core leadership of the country twenty years later, although Tutsis are now down to around 10 percent of the population. Kagame insists that “we are Banyarwanda” (all Rwandans), and that there are no separate tribes in Rwanda. Technically he is right. But in practice he is wrong, and he knows it.

The Tutsis and the majority Hutus both speak the same language, Kinyarwanda. Once upon a time the Tutsis were herders and the Hutus were farmers, and even longer ago they probably were separate ethnic groups. But in the present, they are better seen as castes defined by their (former) occupations. Indeed, even the herdsman/farmer distinction no longer really applies.

Yet the “caste” distinction is just as strong, and potentially just as lethal, as it was in 1994. That’s why Rwanda is a thinly disguised dictatorship, run by a man who kills people – but only individuals who threaten his rule, not whole groups.

Kagame has produced a very impressive rate of economic growth in Rwanda (an average of 8 percent annually in 2001-12), in the hope that prosperity will ultimately defuse the Tutsi/Hutu hostility. But he dares not allow a truly free election, for the Hutus, still strong in their identity, would vote him out of office. And almost everybody else goes along with his behaviour, because they buy into his belief in his own indispensability.

But all his efforts may ultimately amount to no more than a finger in the dike. Rwanda was already one of the most densely populated countries in Africa in 1994, but its population has increased by half since the genocide. There is little evidence that everybody (or even most people) thinks of themselves as “Banyarwanda”. Kagame is just playing for time.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5, 10 and 11.  (“The South…Kagame”; and “The Tutsis…groups”)v

The Young War Criminal Speaks

Whatever else you may say about the “young war criminal” (as British journalist Alan Watkins used to call former prime minister Tony Blair), he certainly fights his corner with great determination. He is condemned to spend his life defending his part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and last weekend he was at it again.

In a 3,000-word essay on his website, Tony Blair wrote about last week’s conquest of almost half Iraq’s territory by the fanatical fighters of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): “We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t.” What he really meant by “we”, of course, was “I”. And he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But at least give Blair credit for producing an interesting argument. “As for how these (recent) events reflect on the original decision to remove Saddam,” he wrote, “…(the argument) is that but for the invasion of 2003, Iraq would be a stable country today….”

“Consider the post 2011 Arab uprisings. Put into the equation the counterfactual – that Saddam and his two sons would be running Iraq in 2011 when the uprisings began. Is it seriously being said that the revolution sweeping the Arab world would have hit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria…but miraculously Iraq, under the most brutal and tyrannical of all the regimes, would have been an oasis of calm?”

“So it is a bizarre reading of the cauldron that is the Middle East today, to claim that but for the removal of Saddam, we would not have a crisis.”

Blair is employing one of his favourite techniques: winning an argument with a straw man. Nobody is actually saying that if the United States, Britain and some hangers-on had not illegally invaded Iraq in 2003, the country would be an “oasis of calm” today. Of course the “Arab Spring” would have come to Iraq too, and of course there would be huge turmoil in the country today.

If Saddam Hussein had managed to hang on to power in the face of a democratic uprising in 2011 that was initially non-violent, Iraq today might be in a civil war somewhat like that in Syria. And if his dictatorship had been overthrown in 2011, whatever new government emerged in Iraq would certainly be contending with acute ethnic and sectarian rivalries today.

But the living standards, infrastructure, and health and educational services of a quite developed country would not have been massively degraded by a decade of invasion, foreign occupation and popular resistance. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed in these events would still be alive (although Saddam’s secret police would have murdered the usual thousand or so each year). And above all there would be no ISIS, nor anything like it.

There were no terrorists in Iraq in 2003. There were people with radical Islamist ideas, but they kept quiet for fear of Saddam’s torturers and there weren’t very many of them. And there were no “weapons of mass destruction” either. It was an exceptionally dumb war, to borrow Barack Obama’s famous phrase, and it began the destruction of Iraq.

It is the deep sectarian divisions in Iraq’s Arabic-speaking population (the Kurds are a separate issue) that are now completing that process of destruction. However, as with the distinctions between Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims in old Yugoslavia before the break-up and the Balkan wars of the 1990s, most Sunnis and Shias in Iraq before 2003 lived side by side with a fairly low degree of friction.

It was the fight against foreign occupation after 2003 that radicalised people in Iraq and drove so many of them back into narrow sectarian identities. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq”, the original name for what now calls itself ISIS, was born in that struggle, and Tony Blair and George W. Bush were its midwives.

It’s striking that Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s main target during the occupation was to kill large numbers of Shias rather than lots of Americans. Its strategy was to provoke a sectarian war in which Iraqi Sunnis would be losing at first – but then their plight would trigger intervention by Sunni states in the region and lead to a general Sunni-Shia war. It was a convoluted, nasty and deeply unrealistic strategy, but it made sense in terms of their radical Islamist ideology.

If there had been no invasion, and Saddam Hussein had been overthrown by a popular revolution only three years ago, there would certainly be great tension in a newly democratic Iraq now. Sunni Arabs would be having trouble coming to terms with their minority status (which most were unaware of under Saddam). Shias would be tempted to exploit their majority status unfairly. Kurds would be pushing for more autonomy.

But they would be doing so in an atmosphere that had not been contaminated by a decade of sectarian hatred and savagery. There would be no organisations like ISIS dedicated to waging a sectarian war. And even if Saddam Hussein had not been overthrown and Iraq was caught up in a civil war like Syria’s, it would have a far less sectarian character. As would Syria’s, for that matter.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 12. “It is…friction”; and “It’s striking…ideology”)

The Treason of the Attorney

1 July 2010

The Treason of the Attorney

By Gwynne Dyer

Eighty years ago, just after the First World War and with the world rapidly sliding towards the next, the French philosopher Julien Benda wrote a book called “The Treason of the Clerks” – “clerks” in the medieval sense, educated men, intellectuals, who despite their high calling chose to serve the State rather than Truth. They were the ones who provided the justification for the wars and made them possible.

Curiously, nobody has ever written a book called “The Treason of the Lawyers.” Nobody has ever accused Lord Goldsmith of being an intellectual, either. But while the Law is not exactly the same as the Truth, it is certainly possible to betray it in the service of the State. That is what Goldsmith did, and it ended in a war.

Goldsmith was the Attorney General, the chief law officer of the British government, when then-prime minister Tony Blair chose to join the United States in the invasion of Iraq. The particular law he betrayed was the most important law of all: the one that outlaws war. The documents that prove it came spilling out last Wednesday.

They were released by the Chilcot inquiry, an official investigation into the British decision to invade Iraq. The key question was: did Tony Blair understand that this war was illegal? The answer turns out to be: he bloody well should have.

Normally, private communications between the attorney general and the prime minister would remain secret forever, but the Chilcot inquiry has released them because arguments about the legality of the Iraq war have a “unique status.” So there it is at last, in black and white: what Goldsmith told Blair before he betrayed the law.

Goldsmith knew that Blair wanted to join President George W. Bush in the attack on Iraq, and that Bush didn’t care a fig for international law. Britain, on the other hand, did, and the attorney general emphasised that Bush did not have a legal leg to stand on. To invade Iraq without an explicit UN Security Council resolution authorising it would be an act of aggression and therefore a war crime.

On January 30, 2003, only fifty days before the invasion, Goldsmith wrote to Blair: ”In view of your meeting with President Bush on Friday, I thought you might wish to know where I stand on the question of whether a further decision of the [UN] Security Council is legally required in order to authorise the use of force against Iraq.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1441, passed in November, 2002, demanded that Iraq open its borders to UN inspectors looking for its alleged “weapons of mass destruction.” The Iraqi WMD did not actually exist, but the Bush-Blair line was that they did, and that they justified an invasion.

However, Resolution 1441 did not authorise an invasion. As the US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, said at the time, “[T]his resolution contains no “hidden triggers” and no “automaticity” with respect to the use of force.” If Iraq were not cooperating with the UN inspectors, the matter would return to the Council for further discussions.

Goldsmith told Blair in late January, 2003 that Resolution 1441 was not enough: “My view remains that a further [UN] decision is required.” That was certainly not going to happen soon, because the UN arms inspectors in Iraq were not turning up any evidence of banned weapons – and the United States and Britain had scheduled the invasion for March.

There were half a dozen further written warnings from Lord Goldsmith in the months preceding the invasion, all telling Tony Blair that he must have another Security Council resolution before he could act. Blair would scribble notes like “I just don’t understand this” in the margin of Goldsmith’s memoranda. Eventually, Goldsmith understood that he was displeasing his master.

Then, with no new evidence to justify changing his position, Goldsmith did a complete about-turn in only six weeks, and wrote another memo three days before the invasion of Iraq saying that it was lawful even without another UN resolution. He sold out, and he didn’t even get paid extra for it.

Why does this matter? Because the law matters. Above all, this law matters. It is the law the United Nations was created to enforce: Thou shalt not invade other countries. Not even if they are run by bad people, or claim land that you think should be yours, or pose some real or imaginary danger to your “security”. We have fought wars since forever, but now it’s over. In fact, it’s a crime.

That was the law they made after the Second World War, the worst war in history, which killed up to fifty million people. Like most laws, it isn’t about perfect justice, just about making things safer, but it has probably saved tens of millions of lives over the years. Once or twice, when nuclear war threatened, it may have saved us all

That is the law that Goldsmith betrayed, even though he took it seriously. His US counterparts didn’t even believe in it, so there is no need for an American inquiry to reveal what went wrong in the White House. Just as well, because there wasn’t going to be one anyway.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 11. (“Goldsmith…crime”; and “There…master”)

The 2010 Question

4 February 2010

The 2010 Question

By Gwynne Dyer

At the Iraq inquiry in London on January 29, former British prime minister Tony Blair found a new way to defend his decision to join George W. Bush in invading Iraq in 2003: the what-if defence. What if they hadn’t invaded Iraq, and Saddam Hussein had remained in power there?

“What’s important is not to ask the March 2003 Question, but to ask the 2010 Question,” Blair said. “Supposing we had backed off this military action, supposing we had left Saddam and his sons, which were going to follow him, in charge of Iraq – people who used chemical weapons, caused the death of over one million people…If we had left Saddam in power, we would have to deal with him today, where the circumstances would be far worse.”

Blair obviously thought that this was the one argument nobody could disagree with. Maybe he’d cooked the intelligence about Iraq, maybe Saddam actually had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – Blair admits that nowadays – but if he had left this evil monster in power, we would all be sorry now.

Blair is offering only two choices: either he and George W. Bush invade in 2003, or Saddam is still in power in 2010. It’s really more complicated than that. All transfers of power in Iraq since independence have been accomplished by violence, and Saddam could have lost power through an internal coup.

He might also just have died. We know that Saddam would have survived until 2006, because that’s when they hanged him, but if he were alive today he would be almost 73.

Blair clearly thinks that he and Bush were God’s chosen instruments for removing Saddam from power (and so does Bush). But God, if he exists, has many alternative instruments at his disposal. Some of them wouldn’t even involve starting a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and turned four million Iraqis into refugees.

Cut to the chase: what would the world be like if Saddam were still in power in Iraq? Much the same as it is now, in all likelihood.

Many people asked exactly the same question in 1991, after the first President Bush decided not to overthrow Saddam at the end of the first Gulf war. The answer is that in the next ten years, until 2001, Saddam attacked no neighbours, built no weapons of mass destruction, did nothing that gave the world reason to regret that he had been left in power.

Many Iraqis regretted it, partly because the United Nations sanctions against Saddam were impoverishing their country. The sanctions had been imposed to ensure that Saddam could not rebuild his armed forces, most of which had been destroyed in the Gulf war, and that he could not re-start the projects for developing weapons of mass destruction that had been dismantled by UN inspectors during the early 1990s.

The sanctions were still working well in 2003. The proof is that no weapons of mass destruction were found, nor even any evidence that Saddam was trying to revive his pre-1991 WMD programmes, after the invaders arrived in 2003 and ransacked Iraq looking for evidence to justify their actions.

I could have told you that. In fact, if you were a reader of this column seven years ago, I did tell you that. It was obvious to any reasonably well-informed person in 2003 that Saddam no longer presented a military threat even to his neighbours. There is no reason to believe that sanctions would have ended if the US and Britain had not invaded Iraq in 2003, or that Saddam would be any more dangerous today than he was then.

But what about the million people he killed? The great majority of those million people died on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and Saddam only “killed” them in the same limited sense that Blair “killed” several hundred thousand people by invading Iraq in 2003.

The people who actually died in the hands of Saddam’s secret police, or in his suppression of revolts like the Shia uprising of 1991, were much less numerous. The mass killings only happened in response to direct threats to the regime, and none occurred after 1991. The number of people killed in Saddam’s jails in a normal year was probably in the low hundreds. He was just another vicious dictator, not a “monster of evil.”

So why did Bush and Blair invade Iraq? Maybe for American strategists it had something to do with oil, but for Blair, at least, it was pure ignorance. If anybody ever explained to him that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11, he didn’t listen.

Tony Blair didn’t realise that Saddam was a pragmatist who had been happy to accept American support during that war that killed a million people, not some hater of the West on principle. He didn’t understand that Baathists like Saddam were the sworn enemies of religious fanatics like the al-Qaeda bunch, each killing the other whenever they got the chance. For him, they were all Arabs; they were all Muslims; they were all the same.

It’s all history now, and maybe it’s not worth bothering about. Except that people just as ignorant as Blair are now peddling us the same kind of nonsense about Iran.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4-6. (“Blair…refugees”)