Britain is strongly in denial just now about the cause of its transport bombings. It denies that it has brought this "terrorism" down on itself by its conduct in the Middle East. The Prime Minister, his Foreign Secretary, his Home Secretary, and the holder of the office that was once called Secretary for War but is now called Secretary for Defence, all deny that there is any connection between British foreign policy and the bombings, and the Opposition parties support them in this denial. And yet everybody knows that there is the most intimate connection between them. The man in the street knows it. This knowledge is even expressed in public opinion polls, in which people are inclined to say the right thing in such matters rather than the thing they think. And even the politicians, when not addressing the question directly, often say things which show that they take it for granted that the bombings are a small measure of retaliation for the destruction of states in the Middle East. But the official stance remains that there is no connection. That is the lie which it is hoped to make true by success.
But the line was modified in late July in response to pressure from Muslin leaders whom the Prime Minister described as "moderate" and asked to encourage informing. They said that his denial of a connection between the bombing and the destruction of the state in Iraq raised a great problem of credibility for them in their encouragement of moderation. The Prime Minister then began saying that there was no justification for the bombings whatever one might think of Government policy. He did not withdraw his 'no connection' position, therefore it still stands officially. He just started using language that did not mark him out as a fantasist every time he spoke, Nietzsche observed that a liar denies reality to other people while a fantasist denies it to himself. Blair is undoubtedly a fantasist, but his advisers have persuaded him to act cute on this issue.
What has led to the the transport bombings is not the defeat of Iraq, but the utter destruction of the Iraqi state—a secular state which provided for a solid stratum of good bourgeois living, provided the basic means of life for all, maintained a general framework of social order, held the forces of what is called Muslim fundamentalism in check, and drew elements from all the component parts of Iraqi society into the administration. There were no suicide bombings following the defeat of 1991. That sort of thing wasn't in the Baath style at all. In the aftermath of defeat Saddam just got down to restoring the infrastructure required for urban living, which had been deliberately wrecked by the United Nations bombing—effectively US/UK and France. He gave up the attempt to build the weapon of mass destruction (because there is really only one, despite the insistent use of the plural by US/UK propaganda news), even though a state without nuclear weapons is now indefensible. He hoped by this means to gain the lifting of sanctions so that Iraq might resume orderly existence as a state of no major consequence. And the Security Council would have authorised this in the mid-1990s but for the US/UK Veto.
There was much justificatory US/UK propaganda about corruption connected with the Oil for Food programme. But corruption, properly speaking, is the kind of thing done by client dictators of US/UK, such as General Mobutu in the Congo. Whatever cheating was done against UN rules by the Iraqi administration was done in the service of the state which was working against great odds to maintain conditions of civilised life for the populace. Saddam, Tariq Azis etc. did not abscond with millions when the game was up and they are not living in affluence in villas overlooking Lake Geneva.
In 1991 Bush senior and his old regime pulled back from the liberation of Iraq when they saw what was being liberated. Bush junior and the new Trotskyist regime in the White House, along with Blair and the Communist Party/Militant Socialist regime in Whitehall, unleashed the social forces which had been held in check by the Baath regime, and systematically wrecked every piece of the Iraqi state that might hinder them, even encouraging looting so that nothing should remain in place. And they did this even though they had been advised that they would be creating a new base for Al Qaeda. But, when the work of destroying the state had been accomplished, they were not prepared to allow the liberated forces to make their own arrangements for the future of Iraq. They devised a new state system to serve their own interests, made laws for it, and set about forcing the newly-liberated forces of Islam into it. It was intended that it should be a subordinate state, protected by US/UK bases, subject to pre-existing laws which the subordinate democracy would be allowed to amend, and governed under the supervision of the US Ambassador—as "independent and sovereign" Egypt was governed by the British Ambassador for about three generations. When the liberated forces did not immediately toe the line the Occupation forces launched a new war, against them, in which Falluja was bombed to dust.
As we go to print intimidating noises are being made towards Iran by US/UK, and also by the EU, because Iran refuses to be gulled into giving up its nuclear programme while getting nothing in return. It is being denied that there is any intention of invading Iran if it does not capitulate. But one does not need a long memory to recall that the British Foreign Office, a year before the invasion of Iraq, was denying that there was any intention of invading, and even explaining why there were no grounds for invasion. Its present reassurances are therefore not very reassuring, especially when they have much more tangible reasons for wanting the Iranian state destroyed than they had for the destruction of Iraq. Iraq was a spent force when it was invaded. Iran still has the momentum given to it by the popular revolution 26 years ago.
The era of contemporary Jihad was launched 25 years ago. A modernising revolution had occurred in Afghanistan. There was a Communist Government in Kabul. Communism was able to able to exert an attraction on parts that other modernising ideologies could not reach. The Kabul Government asked for Soviet assistance against the internal forces of reaction. The US supported the Afghan opposition, which consisted of the forces of fundamentalist Islam which it is now trying to suppress. Jihad was the only way of developing an internal Afghan resistance to the Communist regime, so Jihad it was. And the theological schools in Pakistan which are now being complained about were lavishly funded with dollars. US foreign policy in recent times has been characterised by reckless incitement of anything that seems to serve the purpose of the moment.
During the 1980s the US/UK were also encouraging, and funding, and arming Iraq for its war on Iran. The Islamic revolution in Iran was threatening to run like wildfire along the Gulf. The only secular force in the Middle East capable of containing it was the Baath regime in Iraq. Saddam was therefore encouraged to engage in the enterprise which is now declared, by the very people who encouraged it, to be a crime against humanity, or one of those things. The Iraqi state was greatly strengthened by its long war with Iran as the champion of the liberal West.
In 1990 the Soviet regime was crumbling and the Iranian revolution had been contained. Kuwait, saved by the Iraqi war on Iran, had availed of Iraqi pre-occupation with Iran to encroach on Iraqi oilfields and was not disposed to negotiate on the matter. Baghdad sought US advise and was given to understand by the US Ambassador that America would not be concerned if Iraq resorted to direct action. This was in circumstances in which an Iraq/Kuwait war was clearly an imminent possibility. Baghdad took the response of the US Ambassador as a green light for direct action. But, when the Iraqi Army crossed the frontier, the US/UK declared that a great breach of international law had been committed, and set about creating a diplomatic atmosphere in which the Iraqi Government could not withdraw without severe loss of face. General Schwarzkopf later explained frankly on Radio Eireann that the "nightmare scenario" was a successful Iraqi withdrawal, thus demonstrating that the object of the 'diplomacy' in the latter half of 1990 was war on Iraq.
US/UK might easily have deterred the Iraqi move against Kuwait by diplomacy of a different kind. If it had informed Baghdad that a move against Kuwait would be a cause of war, there would have been no move against Kuwait. Instead of that, it gave Baghdad to understand that it might move against Kuwait with impunity. One can only conclude from this that Iraq, having served Western purposes against Iran, and strengthened itself in the process, was set up for a war in which its defeat was inevitable.
In March 1991 Iraq had more powerful weapons than it possessed in 2003. Its position was indefensible because it did not have nuclear weapons. But it had some unconventional weapons that the US had given it. It was deterred from using these weapons by the US Secretary of State, James Baker, who met the Iraqi Prime Minister, Tariq Azis, in Geneva in December 1990, about three months before the war was launched, and said that if Iraq defended itself with all its power it would be obliterated. This was understood to mean that nuclear weapons would be used against it.
Iraq moved against Kuwait in the first instance with the limited objective of rectifying Kuwait's frontier encroachments. About a fortnight later, seeing that US/UK and France were intent on making war on it, it declared the incorporation of Kuwait into Iraq. That was a gesture of defiance of Powers which were acting in bad faith towards it. It was the reassertion of a historic claim in a situation in which there was nothing to be lost by it.
Kuwait was part of the province of Basra in the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire induced a local chieftain in the region to make a subversive and treasonable secret treaty with it, in breach of his allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, while it was still at peace with the Ottoman state. Then, after its conquest of Mesopotamia, Britain detached Kuwait from Basra and made it into a puppet state.
Edward Heath, who died during the month, brought Kuwait onto the world theatre as a state. He was utterly shocked in 1990 when he saw that Bush and Thatcher were seriously intent on making war on Iraq on the pretence that Kuwait was a real state whose sovereignty had been wantonly violated. Puppets should be tended to as puppets. Kuwait was a puppet serving a British interest, and it might have been protected by a phone-call to Baghdad in July 1990. Since that was not done, he saw no justification in using it as the occasion for a major war in which thousands would die and the Middle East would be further destabilised. All that was required to remedy the situation was diplomacy whose purpose was not war.
Heath was the statesman of the brief interlude when Britain thought it was giving up Imperialism and becoming a modest European state. His ousting by Thatcher marked the beginning of an imperialist resurgence.
The present War Minister, John Reid, has announced that Britain is back in the business of bending the world to its will. Thirty years ago he was doing battle with Heath as a militant of the Communist Party.
Heath was Prime Minister for four years 1970-1974. He tackled the immense negative power of the Labour movement in two ways. First he introduced a Trade Union law (a thing which the Socialist, Barbara Castle, had tried a year earlier). When the Trade Unions refused to act in accordance with that law, he set up an institution for determining incomes outside the market, in which Trade Unions, Employers and Government would be represented. This was the most advanced socialist measure ever attempted. But the Trade Unions, encouraged by the Communist Party, would not have that either. Heath was brought down by a strike, and Thatcher raised the capitalist banner against him and displaced him as Tory leader. Harold Wilson then tried to introduce a variant of Heath's scheme, but was defeated by a great alliance of Trade Unions, the Communist Party, and the capitalists whose spirit had revived under Thatcher's influence. And then Thatcher came to power, and socialism evaporated from the British body politic. And now the British state is being conducted Communist Party apparatchiks, such as Reid and Charles Clarke (Home Secretary). And the Foreign Minister was the Communist President of the Students' Union for the Revolution.
In Northern Ireland Heath first tested the earnestness of the insurrection with the administrative massacre of Bloody Sunday. Having failed to cow protest, he brought about the best attempt at power sharing there has yet been.
By the time of his death he was comprehensively alienated from the state he had once governed because of its Middle East policy.
The present Middle Eastern situation follows on from a strategic decision made by the British Empire over a century ago that there was to be no place for Islam as a political entity in the structure of the world. But it has proved impossible to eradicate Islam, or even to diminish it. It provides the framework for a way of life whose attractiveness to those involved in it is not receding. It is a strong, and growing, cultural force in the world, but there is no great Muslim state to direct its expression.
Over a century ago an Irish land reformer, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, proposed to the British Liberal movement that it should form an alliance with a modernising movement within Islam instead of acting imperialistically towards it (The Future Of Islam, 1882). His proposal was made with relation to Egypt. In 1908 he surveyed the consequences of its rejection:
"Unfortunately for my pleading, there were financial interests which primed all others at the Foreign Office and in the London Press… A British fleet was sent to Alexandria to coerce them, and a British army to Ismailia. After a brief campaign the Nationalist army was defeated at Tel-el-Kabir and 10,000 Egyptian peasant recruits massacred. Cairo was occupied; the Constitution at a stroke was abrogated; and a regime of absolute power, backed by British bayonets, was re-established. This betrayal of liberty by England sealed the fate of the Reform movement of Islam for a whole generation" (The New Situation In Egypt. 1908).
Around 1900 Germany assisted the Ottoman state in renovating the infrastructure in the Middle East, where many peoples and religions were living under its loose hegemony without nationalist antagonism or religious war. But that did not please Britain, which had extended its Indian Empire into southern Persia (Iran) and was intent on connecting it up with Egypt where its Ambassador was ruling. A well-informed American observer in 1915 was of the opinion that the German alliance with the Ottoman Empire was the decisive factor in determining Britain to make war on Germany. Well, the Ottoman Empire was destroyed, the Arab nationalism brought into being to help in its destruction was swindled and suppressed, and the Middle East was Balkanised for purposes of manipulation, and so "We are where we are", as Brigid Laffan likes to say.
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