Friday, November 17, 2006

Tony Blair and Iraq - William Pfaff

David Seaton's News Links
How Bush got into Iraq is complicated, but we are beginning to have some picture. Ignorance plays a large role in all the hypothesis advanced. In the USA very few people have much of an idea or even care very much about the Middle East, except for the Zionists. Those few knowledgeable people who aren't Zionists are accused of being "Arabists" and generally suspected of being "antisemites", (I put antisemitism in quotes because it is getting increasingly difficult to define the term, it's used for everything from desecrating Jewish cemeteries to criticizing Ariel Sharon and Avigdor Lieberman). But Britain has no such excuse of inbred provincialism. The British actually understand something about the Middle East and the Arab world. It's a mystery why Tony Blair signed on so unquestioningly to Bush's agenda. He might have been listened to, perhaps some of the disaster might have been avoided... at least for Britain. Understanding this mystery will surely teach us much about how the world is organized. DS

Abstract: One continues to be baffled by Blair’s unwillingness, even now, with nearly eight thousand British troops in Iraq, to take an independent line that distinguishes British from American and Israeli interests, and that makes use of Britain’s very considerable expertise and long experience in Iraq and in the Middle East to establish a serious British role as confident and knowledgeable partner of Washington, with ideas of its own. The late East German spy chief Markus Wolf was quoted in one of his obituaries as contemptuously commenting on the “sketchy” knowledge possessed by CIA agents about the countries they dealt with. That certainly can be said in spades about the people in the Bush administration who have dealt so disastrously with Iraq. Fifty years ago we were still in the midst of the Suez adventure, widely said to have broken Britain’s will to independence, reducing it to permanent submission to Washington. (The specific cause, Washington’s threat to force devaluation of the pound sterling if Britain did not halt the invasion of Egypt, has recently been described by one iconoclastic economist as a great lost opportunity, since devaluation would have boosted British exports and prevented a post-Suez economic slump.) The Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Nasserite Egypt was a foolhardy anticipation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, since it too rested on the notion that overturning a single man, Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser, could transform the region: end the crisis in French Algeria, give Israel security, and make Britain once again a Middle Eastern power. In the event, it was better for Britain that the Suez invasion failed, since an effort to re-impose foreign control over the Suez Canal in an Egypt (nominally independent since 1923) that had just seen the departure in 1954 of the last British troops, would eventually have met enormous international resistance. The Egyptian monarchy was toppled by the “Free Officers” in 1953, and the new constitution installed by Colonel Nasser, the inventor of “Arab socialism,” had made him a great regional hero. The Suez invasion would surely have ended in fiasco. Suez can be blamed on the British prime minister of the time, Anthony Eden, who believed that in Nasser he was still fighting Hitler (just as the Israelis today claim to be doing, in the person of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Hitler is no longer an historical personage but an item in the vocabulary of sterile polemics). Eden had an excuse. He was at the time already a seriously sick man, and was also a pure social product of Britain as empire, as well as of pre-war and wartime diplomacy, ill-equipped to understand populist Arab dictators. Blair has no such excuse for ignoring both expert British opinion on Iraq and common sense, so as to trail after George W. Bush, in the latter’s inadvertent and ignorant imitation of Suez, attempting to dominate the Arab Middle East by overthrowing (what was) its most prominent despot. How Bush’s America has needed a confident and self-respecting British government, one that could recognize another Suez when it saw one, and say so. The prime minister’s advice to the Baker-Hamilton Commission on Tuesday – whatever it was -- comes too late. LINK

No comments: