Saturday, 27 August 2016

Tony Blair - Truly a Liar?

As we can see in the picture above, Tony Blair does not look well these days. This is understandable, when you bear in mind that so many people around the world regard him as a liar and a war criminal. He is reviled as the man who, in 2003, sent British troops into Iraq in support of US President George Bush, leading to countless deaths, the destabilizing of the Middle East and the bringing of British democratic institutions into disrepute. But is this a fair picture? Well, by and large, I would say yes, but, later on, I would like to attempt a fuller explanation of his actions over a decade ago. Not by focusing upon what Blair did so much, but why he did it and what went wrong.
I am not going to quote the Chilcot report, which runs into millions of words, although here is a link to that report for those who wish to read it. Instead, for those interested, I recommend reading "Not the Chilcot Report", by Peter Oborne. This is a concise, lucid and informative account of how we went to war in 2003, and is better suited for the general reader than Chilcot's report itself. As Stop the War Coalition says:
"...its (the Chilcot report's) monumental scale makes almost certain that just a few of its contents will reach the public eye, and that much else of interest will be missed. True, academic researchers will pore over it and in due course will publish further analyses; but for most people, and for the more immediate debate over the report's relevance to current wars, that will be too late in the day"
Now, as we know, Blair has no regrets about helping to start the war in 2003, and, as Oborne says in his foreword:
"Tony Blair has consistently asserted that he did not lie in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq...he might have made mistakes...However, he has been adamant that, whatever the faults of others, he himself acted in good faith". (My italics - Blogmeister) The implication here is that he was given erroneous information by the intelligence agencies.
Oborne goes on to destroy this claim, quoting Lord Butler's 2004 report on the war as saying: "...neither the UK nor the USA had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons [weapons of mass destruction]. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that."
 The whole book is a fascinating and blistering expose of the whole disastrous mess. I do not intend to summarise every chapter, but can only encourage all interested to read the book. Instead, I intend here to look at what I believe was going on in Blair's mind in the run-up to invasion. Oborne again:
"In order to claim that he was acting in good faith, defenders of Mr Blair have no choice but to concede that he also took leave of reality"
I am not aiming to defend Blair, but I intend to show that he did take leave of reality, and the way in which it happened is a warning to us all for the future.
The key questions here are, then: why did Blair join in George Bush's invasion to effect regime change in Iraq? Next, why did he ignore all warnings against getting involved in the debacle, and distort intelligence reports about Iraqi weaponry ?
The simple answer to the first question is that Blair wanted to be seen as the "best friend" to the USA after 9/11. As Blair himself said to Bush:
"We were with you at the first, we will stay with you to the last".
Blair does not seem to have bothered assessing the true reasons for Bush's desire to invade Iraq, but his statement does have some rational basis, however wrong and misguided. However, his descent into deceptiveness about the intelligence reports he was receiving, which clearly showed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) requires another approach. In Oborne's words, we must: "...enter the realm of psychology rather than politics".
So, what went wrong? Well, in an earlier blog, I surmised that Bush and Blair's blotting out of warning signs about the invasion was a continuation of their religious commitment. I argued that, as Christians facing doubt, skepticism and opposition hold true to their faith, they clung to their belief that Iraq was an existential threat to the world in the face of contrary evidence. I remembered watching Blair facing a TV audience of mothers in 2003, prior to the invasion, and he did not seem to be hearing them, almost as if he were catatonic. He actually said that the invasion was in line with his Christian principles. As he is now a Roman Catholic convert, I can only wonder what he tells his priest in the confessional box.
All this could be right, but there is more to it than these two points, I believe. I think we should take into account that, until Iraq, Blair had been widely regarded as a successful Prime Minister. His tremendous achievement in 1997 (with help from others) in becoming the first Labour PM since 1979, the national minimum wage, the Good Friday Agreement and humane military interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo could well have made him overconfident. Had he left office after these achievements and before the Iraq fiasco, as Oborne says, we would remember Tony Blair very differently. But, if I am right, and he felt empowered by an overweening belief in himself, this could explain his moment of hubris over Iraq.
The last factors which I think may have affected Tony Blair, and which are appropriate, given the military angle, are evident in two Allied military disasters from 1944 - Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. Market Garden was a dangerously reckless attempt by Field Marshal Montgomery, by using paratroopers, to seize and hold a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem, in north-east Holland. It failed disastrously because, despite intelligence warnings that two SS Panzer divisions had moved into the vicinity of Arnhem, British military planners disregarded them. As Norman F. Dixon, in "The Psychology of Military Incompetence" comments: "...since these ugly facts did not accord with what had been planned they fell upon a succession of deaf ears".
One intelligence officer who showed a General aerial photos of German armour in the area was sent home on medical grounds! How similar is this to the reckless way Bush and Blair ignored contrary evidence to the reasons for launching and chances of success for their planned invasion?
Prior to the launch of the German offensive against American troops in the winter of 1944, Allied intelligence received a number of warnings that would have given indication of German intentions, but ignored them, and the Battle of the Bulge began with a devastating surprise attack by the Germans. As Carlo D'Este says:
"  Lulled by deception measures worthy of Operation Fortitude, the Allies, from Eisenhower on down, were convinced that German intentions were purely defensive. The Allies seemed wedded to the belief that it was Rundstedt who was making the military decisions in the west in December 1944, failing to grasp that they were not the “rational, ‘traditional’ decisions of von Rundstedt but . . . those of Hitler. The Allied High Command,” wrote French historian Jacques Nobecourt, “was indulging in wishful thinking.”
And wishful thinking, I believe, was indulged in by Bush and Blair, to such an extent that dissenting voices and truthful intelligence warnings were ignored. They made the same mistakes as the Allies made in the two examples given above, and disaster ensued in Iraq, just as it did at Arnhem and in the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge.
But should the blame stop with Blair? Why is George Bush never pursued with the same venom? Surely Blair's advisers, which included Alistair Campbell and Jack Straw, deserve censure for not pressing upon Blair the true nature of the intelligence received? MI6 could have leaked their findings to the media, but did not. Oborne, to his credit, owns up frankly to the fact that he, and the rest of the media, did not do enough to expose Blair's deceit:
"...it was perfectly possible for an assiduous journalist at the time to have uncovered many of the lies and falsehoods being uttered by politicians and officials".
As I said, Oborne includes himself in this media failure.
If Tony Blair is a war criminal, and some say he is, he will never stand trial. He seems to have checked on this. In March, 2003, Lord Goldsmith (Attorney General) told him that the ICC (International Criminal Court) had: "...no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression and could therefore not entertain a case concerning the lawfulness of any military action".
That, perhaps, is why Blair backed the invasion of Iraq, which was an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign state that did not menace its neighbours and an invasion which was not authorized by the UN Security Council. This led to the ongoing disaster that is the Middle East today, with an estimated one million dead (so far), and a crisis of terrorism and refugees that is reaching our shores. Like Peter Oborne and millions of others, I believe that Tony Blair lied to Parliament, but it is my contention that he began by lying to himself.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Anjem Choudary and Free Speech

I am completely opposed to Anjem Choudary, his antics and his extreme beliefs. I was outraged by his poppy-burning stunt several years ago, and expressed my anger here. However, while I am not in the least unhappy at his recent trial and incarceration, I am nagged by a feeling that we have underestimated him and that, even now, he may be playing some kind of game. As we know, the authorities have been out to get Choudary for a number of years, but he has always managed to avoid prosecution. Like Robespierre, Lenin and Margaret Thatcher, who were all radicals in their way, he is a trained lawyer and also a skilled operator when it comes to avoiding prosecution. I believe him to be an operator of a different kind as well, but I'll save that for later.
What appears to have clinched the prosecution of Choudary is his oath of allegiance to Daesh, which is illegal. I am puzzled at the fact that he was (apparently) stupid enough to take that oath, but we all slip up at times. It seems that he could not be prosecuted for his other activities, as Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate put it:
'Justice has been a long time coming,' he said. 'For far too long, Anjem Choudary has played a key role as a cheerleader for ISIS, and been allowed to demonise the Muslim community.
'He clearly promoted the disgusting and divisive ideals of the Islamic State, while dozens of his supporters have been connected to terrorist plots, violence or heading overseas to fight in Syria, Iraq and other conflicts. Finally Choudary can now pay for his actions.' 
The media has rightly focused upon the fact that at least 75 (or more) UK citizens convicted of terrorist offences have been members of Al-Muhajiroun, Choudary's own extremist group, including the murderers of Lee Rigby: Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo. Choudary afterwards described Adebowale as "a man of impeccable character" and "a practising Muslim and a family man". Lee Rigby's fiancĂ©e, Aimee West, commented:
'I'm all for free speech, but the BBC is wrong to give such a big platform to hate preachers who are brainwashing young people and inciting such acts of horrific violence.'
Ms West's outrage is understandable, but it highlights another aspect of Anjem Choudary: the fact that the media have made of him a clownish personality who can be relied upon to make an outlandish or outrageous comment. This begs the question: how much free speech should Choudary have been allowed in the first place, and what is the future of free speech now? Some people have pointed out that by imprisoning Choudary, he will simply become a martyr to his followers, and will not stop radicalization anyway. Other hate preachers will step in to fill the gap. As Emma Webb says in "The Spectator":
"Don’t let off your celebratory party poppers just yet! Anjem Choudary may be facing jail, but he is a slippery man – an ex-lawyer always careful to push the boundaries of the law he despised without breaking it – so don’t think he won’t try to play a bad hand to his advantage.
There’s a phrase about ‘never wasting a good crisis’. And I have no doubt that is precisely what Choudary will do. The judge could order him to be suspended, David-Blaine-style, in a glass box and he would probably find a way to radicalise people using semaphore".
Not to mention  the impact he would have on other prisoners and the prison system itself - he cannot be held in solitary confinement for ever. That would be a violation of human rights.
The key issue here is what John Stuart Mill identified in "On Liberty" as being:
"…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
Now, as outlined above, there is much to argue the case that Choudary's activities and speeches cause harm to others. However, there is a body of opinion (including the man himself) which argues that, as he has done no direct physical harm, and incited none, he should not be imprisoned. They also argue that other people who cause public offence by their statements and activities could also be affected. Some could argue that one of Choudary's most virulent critics, the UKIP comedian, Pat Condell, who has argued that Chaudary should be knighted, could be indicted for what might be regarded as his Islamophobic views. I am sure that Choudary would agree. In fact, if it were up to him, life would become very difficult indeed (perhaps no life at all) for anyone who did not share in his current bigotry and fanaticism.
Personally, I think that we need to assess Choudary in a different way. I have no doubt that he means what he says at the present time, but he has not always done so. As the media has reported extensively, Choudary led quite a wild youth, engaging in such non-Muslim activities as drinking cider, smoking dope and reading Mayfair, changing his ways only after encountering the hate preacher, Omar Bakri Mohammed. That being the case, I think it fair to say that people who are capable of one radical change in their views are capable of another. We may yet, in future years, see a very different Anjem Choudary on our TV screens, perhaps as a chat show host, or even a contestant on "Strictly Come Dancing". Unlikely? Impossible? Possibly - but I see Choudary as an operator who knows how to use the system. He may well find it to his advantage to change his mind and allegiances, becoming a "Lost Leader" to his present-day acolytes.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Theresa May - Where are we Bound?

Well, as we know, Theresa May became our new (unelected) Prime Minister on the 13th of July. She made an impressive speech after visiting the Queen which will probably go down as a classic of "One Nation Toryism", in which she highlighted many of our social problems and iniquities, and pledged to fight against them. She closed her speech by saying: "Together, we will build a better Britain." Well, that is a laudable sentiment and, for once, I will not lapse into cynicism (I'll leave it to others). What is of interest to me here is the way in which many people reacted to that speech. One friend of mine commented that, having voted Labour all his life, he could almost find himself becoming a Tory. Other friends of mine commented favourably on the speech on social media. Given the farcical but internecine conflicts in the Labour Party over their leadership contest and other issues, the PM's words, by contrast,  rang out with clarity, sincerity and a clear desire for unity.
I have to say that, personally, I quite like Theresa May - or at least her public persona. When she was Home Secretary, I remember her being almost reduced to tears when speaking of letters she had received from people suffering from anti-social behaviour on council estates - an issue that seems to have been dropped by the media in recent years. In October, 2002, she also, to her credit, drew the attention of the Tory party to the fact that they were seen as "The Nasty Party" (what should we call them now?)
All well and good, but one inspired speech and a perceptive comment do not necessarily make for an effective Prime Minister. After all, President Obama promised military cutbacks upon election to the White House - the opposite happened. The fact is that the most idealistic and well-intentioned of politicians are constrained by political, economic, social and, sometimes, military/security factors that militate against their programmes, however exasperated those politicians become.
Already, the PM has caused dismay by her closure of the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, a move which Ed Miliband has described as "plain stupid".
There are also concerns about her stance on immigration, for which she has drawn a lot of flak in the past. One of her suggestions was to enforce the expulsion of foreign students as soon as they graduated as a measure to curb migration. She also spearheaded a move to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights,  which is a respected safeguard on immigration and other issues. Besides this, she has upset many rank and file police officers by her talk of police reforms and aroused the ire of human rights groups by her advocacy of "The Snooper's Charter", which would bring mass surveillance into British lives.
Her main headache, however, will be the departure of Britain from the EC - "Brexit", to which both she and David Cameron were opposed.Since the referendum on June 23, there has been much confusion about what will happen and how. And, as we know, the leaders of the "Leave" campaign have disappeared from the scene, leaving us with uncertainty, anger and an increase in hate crime. Personally, I would favour scrapping the results of that stupid referendum, but May has said her plan is to carry out the will of the majority.
"(“Brexit means Brexit,” she has said, an extraordinary aphorism in which an invented word is said to denote itself.)"
We should take warning from this. As Yvette Cooper said in The Guardian back in July:
"May believes in justice, but not in social justice; in individual enterprise, but not in uniting communities. Rightly, her Modern Slavery Act promised a crackdown on people smugglers. Wrongly, it left out protection for domestic workers from slavery. Rightly, she criticised poor standards in policing. Wrongly, she destroyed the neighbourhood policing that builds community cohesion and prevents crime. Rightly, she talks about entrepreneurship and getting on in life. Wrongly, she never challenges the deep inequalities and poverty that hold people back."
Owen Jones develops these criticisms by pointing out, in a highly critical short video you can watch HERE, that Mrs May has not always supported rights for gay people and other minorities. He also (surely rightly?) slams her decision to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.
All fair criticism, but I would like to defend Mrs May on one issue. On July 18, the House of Commons debated the retention of Trident. As recorded by many media sources, the following exchange took place between the PM and an SNP MP:
"SNP MP George Kerevan said: "Is she prepared to authorize a nuclear strike that would kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?"
Mrs May relied simply: "Yes".
The response of many people and political groups was incandescent rage. Mrs May was portrayed as a bloodthirsty successor to Dr Strangelove. I understand this, but really, I think it misses the point. If we were at war, and faced by an enemy who sought to invade or destroy us, I would expect my government to take all measures necessary to protect us. This does not mean I would support a nuclear or non-nuclear strike for no good reason, and, to be fair, neither would Mrs May. She went on to say that there was no point in having a deterrent if you were not prepared to use it. In those strictly narrow terms, I would agree. In other words, I think that the Left/SNP/Greens/CND members shot themselves in the foot by their over-reaction. Interestingly, the dust has settled on that debate.
Anyway, off we go sailing into the unknown, with Theresa May as our captain. Let's all watch out for icebergs...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Darlene Horton - A Tragic Catalyst for Action?

I know some people will react to this post by saying: "He's at it again - banging on about violent mental patients". I make no apology for this, as I think it to be a serious issue (deadly serious for the victims) that all too readily gets swept under the carpet. I have noted before how mental health authorities seem to show little sympathy for the innocent people killed by mental patients, and how the media has, at times, taken little interest in the murders committed, regarding them as merely local matters.
I hope that this is about to change. The trial of Matthew Daley this year for the killing of Donald Lock in 2015 brought this issue to the front pages of the national media, and exposed the failings of one mental health authority. The murder of tragic Darlene Horton, I believe, is going to lead to a further spur to action.
The word "tragic" is doubly apposite when we learn that, according to the Guardian:
"Darlene Horton, 64, was hours away from returning home to Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband when she was killed on Wednesday night."
Besides this, she was one of a number of people attacked by 19-year old Zakaria Bulhan last Wednesday evening, but was the only fatality.
This shocking event has devastated Mrs Horton's friends and family, who join the sad fraternity to which the relatives of Jo Cox, Donald Lock and all too many others now belong.
To be fair to the mental health authorites, Bulhan does not appear to have been on their radar, and this act of savagery has surprised everyone. Rather like the reaction of neighbours of Thomas Mair, the alleged killer of Jo Cox, Bulhan's relatives and friends have expressed disbelief. As the Telegraph says:
"Friends and neighbours expressed shock at the arrest of Mr Bulhan, a former student at Graveney School in Tooting, south London.
Neighbour Parmjit Singh Bhamra described Mr Bulhan as a "quiet, academic boy who was a bit of a loner" who liked football, basketball and music.
He said Mr Bulhan, who is unemployed, lived at the flat with his younger brother and his elder sister and their mother."
Given this, it is a wonder to me how the police arrived so quickly at the conclusion that this was not a terrorist attack. After all, the man convicted as a terrorist for the Leytonstone tube station attack, Muhiddin Mire, was thought by many to have attacked, at least partly, for ideological reasons. As The Guardian says: "...the victim, the doctor who treated him and a substantial part of Britain’s security establishment believed Mire’s violence was a result of his acute mental health problems rather than a political motivation.
After further inquiries, Scotland Yard this week publicly said so, but also said Mire had been inspired by Isis propaganda on his phone, the downloading of which appeared to coincide with his mental health deteriorating."
It is a good thing for Bulhan, then, that he did not shout "Allahu Akbar!" as he carried out his knife attacks. In fact, cynical though I may sound, it looks like a very good move on his part. After all, when so many murderous mental health patients get released to kill again (see previous blogs), he could be released in a few years' time to carry out further attacks.
But let us return to the much -loved and now much-missed Darlene Horton. Just how much loved is shown by this quote from The Guardian: "Jane Marks, a neighbour, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Horton was “absolutely lovely. Just one of the nicest, sweetest family-focused people who is very happy in her space and place”.
There is, however, the possibility of some good coming out of this tragedy. Darlene Horton was American. The government - especially this government - will not like the adverse attention abroad that Mrs Horton's death will bring. I hope then, that her murder will act as a catalyst to galvanise the government into urging greater efforts on the part of the mental health authorities to much more vigorous action to protect the public. If this happens (do I see pigs flying in formation over Hounslow?), then I shall stop writing about this melancholy issue.