Editorial from Irish Political Review, October 2006

Stone Age Democracy

Britain is having its first war-crimes trial. More than three years after the invasion of Iraq a soldier is being prosecuted for brutalising an Iraqi businessman. The reason for the trial is that the deliberate destruction of the apparatus of state in Iraq has brought about a situation from which the British Government sees no clear way of extricating itself.

It collaborated with the USA in setting up a series of puppet Governments, whose lack of connection with the populace made them an aggravating influence. It now has a kind of elected Government which is representative to some degree, even though a lot of pre-election weeding was done by the Occupation authorities. Insofar as it is representative it is hostile to the conduct of the invasion force. Britain cannot afford to ditch it and look for another Government. There is no other Government there to be found. And so it is sticking a flimsy veneer of law over its conduct for propaganda purposes, by prosecuting a few low-level soldiers for committing war crimes by obeying orders.

But why, if democracy now exists in Iraq, is the trial being held in a military court in Britain instead of a civil court where the crimes were committed? Would it not give a great boost to the credibility of the hitherto ineffectual democratic Government of Iraq if it was allowed to conduct its own trials of the crimes of the invasion forces?

There is no doubt that the soldier who pleaded guilty to war crimes is a scapegoat. He was not part of a small, freely-acting, commando group, but part of a regular army in which there is a closely-linked chain of command from the bottom upwards. He did what he did under orders, in the way that orders are issued in such situations. Finding himself on trial for war crimes, abandoned by his superiors, and confronted with a detailed description of his actions in the cold light of day in a court in England, he apologises to one of the people he brutalised.

It is the business of Army authorities to cover over the things that are done by soldiers in action on the ground, and to ensure, by the controls of military discipline, which permeate the Army, that what is done is what it was intended should be done. And we do not doubt that such was the case in this instance—and that the trial is a Show Trial for a political purpose.

The war crimes committed by this soldier are trivial by comparison with the things that have been done by British soldiers all over the world for generations. And not only in the distant past, but in the period since the Nuremberg Trials were held to have established a form of international law which was binding not only on Governments but on individuals. The barbaric treatment of the people of Malaya by the British authorities began the year after the Nuremberg Trials, and their barbarism in Kenya within the following decade. But there was not a single prosecution of a soldier or state functionary in either of these cases, because in both cases Britain succeeded in establishing neo-colonial regimes—and the Kenyan one still survives.

The reason the invasion of Iraq is creating such a disturbance in its aftermath is that it is unlike any other war fought by Britain. It was not a war of defence, even of the most far-fetched kind. It was not an assisted coup d'etat bringing to power a political stratum with which Britain had well-established relations, as was the invasion of Iraq in 1941. It was not a war of annexation, as with the Boer Republics in 1899.

The only definite purpose of the invasion was to destroy a functional state that was no threat to Britain or anybody else outside its own borders, and whose oppression of its own people was wildly exaggerated. Beyond that it was cloud-cuckoo land.

One does not need a long memory to recall the comments of Cabinet Ministers during the early weeks of the invasion, applauding the general looting as a means of destroying the apparatus of the regime and as an expression of freedom. A situation of wild anarchy was deliberately brought about, and the Army was the means of bringing it about.

And then those politicians, accustomed to using the word 'democracy' as a kind of incantation, without thought of its preconditions, thought they could conjure up a functional democracy out of the anarchy, and one which would be obedient to their will.

Alan Johnson, British Secretary for Education, and a contender for the leadership of the Labour Party, was interviewed on BBC Radio Four's Today programme on September 27th. He still defended the invasion as the right thing to have done. Weapons of mass destruction were mentioned, but he brushed them aside. He said he had not been a member of the Government at the time—his rise has been meteoric as the established Blairites burnt out—but the decision to make war had been taken by Parliament an he had supported it, and he could say that weapons of mass destruction were hardly mentioned by the decision makers. The reason for the decision to make war was that Saddam was in breach of a series of Security Council Resolutions stretching over many years, and it was felt that the time had come to implement them.

He was not asked what all those Resolutions had been about, if they had not been about weapons of mass destruction. The BBC is kind to important members of the Parliament which it serves.

As for the mayhem in Iraq that followed the destruction of the State—the British Government was in no way responsible for that. It was down to insurgents and extremists who are against democracy.

When professional politicians in a democracy talk garbage on the subject of Democracy, we would not waste our breath taking issue with them. They know no better. They live within the cocoon of democratic demagoguery and thought of any other kind is alien to them.

But Alan Johnson is an old friend of ours. He lived a life in the real world before taking up the profession of Parliamentary politics. When he was Secretary of the Union of Communication Workers he took up the Northern Ireland issue under the influence of members of his Union in Northern Ireland, and he joined the Campaign for Labour Representation, and he spoke at many CLR meetings at Labour Party Conferences, and he understood very well that democracy does not consist of sticking bits of paper into boxes.

Democracy is a comprehensive political structure in which periodic voting plays a part. Voting which is disconnected from the functional political structure of the state does not constitute democracy. Voting in Northern Ireland was a kind of fetishism because it had no connection with the formation of a Government for the state, and therefore it did not have the kind of effect on society which it had in Britain.

Johnson understood that and was well able to explain it.

In 1991 Kate Hoey, Boyd Black etc., debased the CLR into Unionist Union Jackery. We dissociated ourselves from it. But Johnson didn't. We thought at the time that was because Hoey was one of its Trade Union MPs, but it seems more likely in retrospect to have been because he already had the ambition of a career in Parliament and was therefore unwilling to break any political connections.

Anyhow, he understood then that functional democracy was an intricate political arrangement connected with the operations of a viable state—such as existed in Iraq then. Can he now have become as simpleminded on the issue as if he was a political hack born and bred?

As we go to print there is conflict within the 'War On Terror' between a dictator and a democratically-elected President—between General Musharraf and Mohammed Karzai. But the dictator, who came to power in a military coup, actually governs his state, and is substantially representative of its society. And the elected President does not govern Afghanistan, but lives within a military enclave set up for him by the USA.

Karzai addressed the British Labour Party Conference two years ago and told it that a wedding party wiped out by an American bomb was happy to sacrifice itself in the cause of freedom. He now accuses Musharraf of stirring up his people against him and making it impossible for him to move outside Kabul. Musharraf responds with the contempt of a responsible politician, existing by his own wits and the effective use of power, for a puppet.

Bush had them both to dinner at the White House and tried to manoeuvre Musharraf into shaking hands with Karzai. He failed.

Shortly before this Musharraf was criticised by Bush over an internal treaty which he made with the tribes in Waziristan, under which he agreed not to interfere with them if they would not interfere with him. It is a very sensible arrangement. Eighty years ago the Royal Air Force set out to civilise Waziristan by bombing it. But Waziristan was stubbornly true to itself and survived. And what if Osama is living there? America has had five years of free-ranging action in which to find him, using a combination of terror and bribery, and failed.

The doyen of British political correspondents, John Simpson, led the 'liberation' of Kabul away back then, and in tones of certainty he made a statement which does not deserve to be forgotten. He said that Osama and Mullah Omar would soon be captured because a large reward had been offered for them, and "betrayal is the national culture of Afghanistan".

Well, it proved not to be the case. Another culture has taken root in Afghanistan. And the outcome of four years of Western activity there is the revival of the Taliban (and a huge increase in poppy growing, which the Taliban had curbed when they controlled the state).

Meanwhile, across the mountains, Musharraf is running a state which is Muslim, but without which the 'War On Terror' could not have been conducted.

Or could it? Musharraf, when criticised by Bush over his treaty with Waziristan, reminded us of the days when Bush declared that everyone who was not his ally was his enemy. He let it be known that in those days the White House put it to him that if he failed to be an active ally of the USA, Pakistan would be bombed back to the Stone Age.

This was a repetition of the threat made back around 1970 (by General Westmoreland, as we recall) that any country near Vietnam that helped the Vietcong would be bombed back to the Stone Age. And, in the outcome of the bombing, Cambodia adopted Stone Age politics.

The same threat was made to Iraq shortly before the attack was launched in 1992. Secretary of State Baker told the Iraqi Government that, if it used the weapons it was suspected of having, the country would be nuclear bombed.

And of course the USA is the only state that has ever used nuclear weapons.

Musharraf went further than revealing the barbaric threat made to him by the USA in its war on barbarism. He spokesmen have reminded the world that "Islamic fundamentalism" was cultivated and armed by the USA over many years as part of its campaign against the Communist Government of Afghanistan.


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Editorial Commentary.
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The Mansergh Correspondence.
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Manus O'Riordan (To Be Or IRB, part 3)

The Casement 'Black Diaries', An Overlong Controversy In Outline (Part 3).
Tim O'Sullivan

Notes On Corruption.
John Martin

British Newspapers On Ireland (Part One).
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Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

Towards 2016.


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