Tag Archives: war

What did we expect?

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry
Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Depending on what papers you read, or what radio stations you listen to and tv stations you watch, today was due to be one of the most important in the last decade of our political history. Forget Obama’s one year on, or even his election, but Friday 29th January 2010 was the day that the Chilcot inquiry would get to hear from Tony Blair, perhaps the figurehead of our Iraq ideology and the focus of bile and criticism from the anti-war lobby. Having an ex- (and previous) PM give evidence in an inquiry such as this is unprecedented, and even despite its lack of legal standing or recourse from what evidence was heard, the frenzied build up raised almost feverish hope that we would have our Frost/Nixon moment, especially in light of a recent interview with Fern Britton where he appeared to state he’d have invaded with or without proof of WMD.

In reality, of course, this was never going to be the case. Blair, whatever you say about him (and personally his political conduct before, during and since the invasion turned my opinion of him from respected – if not supported – leader to self-important and pious disappointment) was a good leader up to this juncture. One of his main strengths was being able to put his point across, and to debate and discuss, much of which went into his conduct in the run up to the Iraq invasion. He had his convictions, his beliefs, and he stuck to them rigidly. In previous circumstances this was a strength, but this time it clouded his judgement, in the face of advice from the Foreign Office, Attorney General, and criticism from his own Cabinet, not to mention a tidal wave of public opinion, he ploughed ahead, striving to retain the ‘special relationship’ with America, possibly at all costs.Typically, he slipped in a side door and away from the protesters and families of Iran casualties, an action that seemed to preface his performance during the day.

Chilcot protesters await Blair

What we know now is that we had a ‘dodgy’ dossier, a misleading document that overstated intelligence that was patchy from the JIC at best. What we had was a legal opinion from the Attorney General that right up unto the decision to go to war wasn’t convinced of a legal case for war with the existing UN Resolution 1441. And what we had was a plan for war, but no clear plan for post-invasion. There were clear questions that were needed to be asked today, for us to try and finally get some clarity and give at least the public some modicum of truth and respect on how we came to go to war, and with retrospect, what we did wrong.

What we got was another Blair masterclass in bluff and subterfuge, stating his own case, swerving questions and restating his firm belief that he was right. Ignoring whether the intelligence he was given that led him to his ‘beyond doubt’ statement wasn’t strong and if he wasn’t correct in saying what he had, he simply stated that he believed it was beyond doubt. Similarly, he stated that he believed that the case for war was sound, and that the planning for the post-war period was ok (despite multiple criticisms from many parties in the inquiry), blaming it on conditions being different to what had been planned. If regimes with WMD needed to stop using them, why did we not invade Pakistan? China? Korea? It simply isn’t consistent. So many times, his answer started with ‘let me say that….’ where he would revert to pre-prepared answers and statements about, Kosovo, 9/11, Iran, when all we wanted were answers on Iraq.

Don’t let’s get too excited here. We knew this was never going to be a career-wrecking day. Blair wouldn’t have got where he was today by being careless or carefree (he is, let’s remember) a barrister. But he’s deflected every contentious question, at times almost suggesting in the light of others’ criticisms, that there was no issue (and effectively suggesting by that, that everyone else was incorrect). Batting everything back with a stern defence, clinging to the ‘special relationship’, stating his firm beliefs in everything he stood for, and justifying his actions on this. The only chink of light coming where he admitted his interview with Fern Britton wasn’t worded sensibly, but at the same time, denying that he was wrong. He did also concede that the 45-minute claim wasn’t, with hindsight, a sensible move.

For the families sitting in the gallery, that have lost their loved ones in the conflict, this won’t be much closure. If anything, Tony Blair’s performance, while nervous and shaky in the first hour, became more sure-footed, and less revealing as the day went on. The panel made a decent effort of not letting him settle, and after early criticism during the inquiry, they’ve become more steely, but ultimately, with no real legal grounding in their group, they were never going to get one over on the former PM.

Yes, with hindsight we can look at many decisions in a different light, but much of this was being criticised at the time, and there was huge opposition evident, but today started full of hope, and ended with weary resignation. I suppose the only consolation is that, however steadfast his outward rhetoric, Blair will have to live with what happened (and is still happening) in Iraq, and there are hundreds of thousands that have lost their lives as a result of decisions he took. This, sadly, is a situation we will most likely face again in this decade. One can only hope we look back at this inquiry and at least use it to colour our actions in the future, or this will have been a pointless exercise.

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When staying silent is the most shameful act we can use…

Gaza conflict

It doesn’t take much to see the almost minute-by-minute news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our screens, airwaves, webpages this last few weeks. The fact it’s been going on for months, and in fact decades, is less reported or covered. Like with many things in our fractured planet at the moment, the emphasis is on the NOW. And now, right now, it’s a conflict that would only appear to have one side. Hamas, are the bad guys. And that is why this ‘war’ (though with the Palestinians so outnumbered and outgunned, invasion would be more appropriate) is so much an example of how this 2000s planet earth functions.

Hamas are a terrorist group, according to the UK, US, Canada and EU. To their people they are freedom fighters. And since 2006, they are the elected government of Palestine. But, if you believe the media, specifically, the BBC, Sky, ITV, CNN, Fox, NBC et al, they’re the stone-throwing, rocket-launching terrorist instigators of this entire shameful and saddening conflict. Let’s forget the almost laughably disproportionate level of attack (100s of rockets from Hamas, single figure deaths – some figures from their own troops on Israel’s side – to 10 days of aerial and now ground bombardment, 600+ dead, 1000s injured, and lack of electricity, water, food, aid and medicine) and remember that whatever happens, Israel is acting in self-defence. Let’s enjoy the news ‘blackout’ (just because you are in Israel doesn’t mean you can’t report on Palestine) that means in the UK we only see Israeli politicians and soldiers giving their ‘balanced’ accounts of the conflict (though Channel 4 must be lauded for their egalitarian stance alone from all other broadcasters here). After all, if we are fed enough of this ‘truth’ then perhaps we will one day believe it.

To a friend today who said:

As far as i can see it Isreal keep saying they will stop any offensive as soon as Hamas stop firing rockets into their country. All Hamas seem to be bothered about is telling Isreal they will be crushed and killed in Gaza and have no intention whatsoever of stopping the firing of rockets. The only way anything can get sorted out now is by Hamas giving up. As soon as they do all this will end and the world can then look at sorting whatever issues palestinians have in Gaza.

I replied:

Do you agree that the response from Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks (which have killed only a few people) is completely disproportionate?

Do you agree with the blockade of Gaza over the last 18 months by Israel to prevent fuel, money, water, food, medical supplies and general aid (currently less than 10% of the amount needed each day gets through, if at all) thus starving the Palestinian people?

Hamas, while I agree are a terrorist/military organisation as well as (people do sometimes seem to forget) an elected government, are defending the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own country. Did you not see the map Tony posted showing how Palestine has been encroached upon by Israel in the last 60 years? Would you agree with England being gradually eroded to less than 10% of its size by another country?

Israel are happy to use Hamas’ rockets as the excuse to totally destroy Gaza’s infrastructure. While they claim they are destorying Hamas’ system of government (they see a return to the Palestinian Authority that Hamas beat in the elections as a solution) what on earth do they think will happen when there’s a ceasefire? Gaza is being systematically pounded into the ground. Once there’s a ceasefire, Israelis will be going about their daily business while 1.5m Palestinians starve. There’ll be no country left to govern by the time this is finshed.

When this was Bosnia, we called it genocide or ethnic cleansing. What’s the difference here?

This was a person not ignorant or blinkered, just representative of the general population, taking their views of what is fed to them in the media. It’s depressing that we are led so much by those channels, some of which do have agendas, but some of which, like the BBC are publicly funded and are bound by their charter to be ‘impartial’. They should have it challenged, even more so than during the Iraq war.

And while it’s true to say the blockade has made it difficult to report directly, it’s not the whole truth. The BBC does at least have two Palestinian reporters embedded in Gaza, but then they also have reporters stood on the border overlooking the Gaza strip and reporting ‘on the spot’ and pretty much saying almost nothing about the Palestinian side of the conflict. It really is an amazing piece of propaganda and spin from Israel (who set up a political spin department last year for this very sort of issue) that they will counter almost every piece of news…

“the civilians were killed as Hamas have hidden in homes while they fight” (where else do you expect them to hide?)
“we are pursuing military targets but even sometimes civilian targets are hit” (the perfect excuse – though reports from inside the hospitals say the vast majority of casualities are civilian, including women and children)

Today’s blast at the UN-controlled school was particularly shocking – remember that the UN give the Israelis GPS coordinates of all their schools/safe houses so they no where they are and they don’t target them, yet they hit 3 today, one of which resulted in 40 deaths. Israel were on the news almost as soon as it happened claiming that they were only acting in self-defence, and that the explosions “didn’t relate to the ordanance we used” (ie. that Hamas’ had their own explosives in there – a UN safe area – which caused the deaths).

That’s what gets to me the most. The total lack of balance, (Channel 4 is the only one really providing this) and then the almost complete lack of opposition anywhere within the Arab world, UK, Europe (bar France). The UN is therefore appearing weak and powerless. Another blog echoes this desperate situation perfectly.

We can only hope the ceasefire talks and news of a humanitarian corridor are valid and that we shall see an end to the bloodshed. This is genocide by any other name.

4 billion pounds…. money well spent?

Is it really necessary to stump up almost 4 billion (yes, BILLION) pounds for two new huge aircraft carriers for the British Navy when we don’t have the armour to keep our soldiers alive? Ok, so there’s more jobs, for an industry that’s almost dead, but think of what that could’ve done on healthcare, social welfare, inner cities, or even charity. The mind boggles, but hey, we prop up the defence industry and have for the last century, so why stop now?