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British PM Should Look Before He Leaps

They say talk is cheap -- particularly truisms of the sort enunciated and repeated with digitalized rapidity in the hours and days following the attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed several thousand lives. The world had changed forever, we were told. 

And in the current atmosphere it would be a simple matter to voice another truism: that we are today living through the horrible unfolding of a wave of terrorism announced by the attacks in New York and Washington; that all the world is the terrorist's playground.


The killing of innocent civilians is as odious in Russia as it is in Nairobi or New York or Bali or Madrid or Baghdad or Tel Aviv or Gaza or Cape Town. But it seems clear that such attacks are likely to continue, from a variety of sources and in a variety of countries, for the foreseeable future.


Three years on from September 11, one lesson must be that the world will get nowhere if it targets the symptoms rather than the root causes of such attacks. The latter are more often rooted in long-standing injustices and even slaughters inflicted upon entire peoples.


In contrast, Washington's "war on terror" is fanning the flames of such attacks in the Middle East and around the world.


The most dangerous elements of the so-called Bush doctrine were announced within days of September 11: That countries were either "with us or against us," and that the US military would strike preemptively, wherever and whenever it wanted.


The Bush administration has made good on these promises. It has declared to the world that, in effect, multilateralism is dead for US foreign policy. And, above all, it has created the sort of chaos in Iraq that is likely to fan the flames of resentment for generations to come.


All this inevitably leads to the question -- is the world a safer place today than it was three years ago? Sadly, the answer must be no.


This day, in Lagos, Nigeria, a year and half on from the war in Iraq, the political and security mayhem grows. The past week has been one of the most violent yet in a country that Tony Blair and George W Bush had triumphantly proclaimed was on the road to normality.


In the 12 months leading to the war, Blair was warned time and again of the problems. He was warned about the legality. He was warned about the flimsy intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. He was warned about the consequences for international diplomacy and the stability of the Middle East. And he was warned about the lack of an American plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, beyond the securing of the oilfields and the handing of lucrative contracts to companies with links to the administration.


This was not idle or low-level advice. It came from senior people in the intelligence services, as was brought out during the Hutton and Butler inquiries. It came from senior civil servants, particularly in the British Foreign Office. It came from the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw himself, who had misgivings throughout. Even on the eve of war he suggested to Blair that because of the failure to secure a second resolution at the United Nations, Britain might think again about committing forces to action.


Blair disregarded these warnings because they did not fit his justification for invading Iraq.


But the warnings kept on coming. Once the war had begun, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, gave Blair a confidential memorandum suggesting that the occupation and the reconstruction were not lawful.


Blair was also told by the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence of concerns that the Americans had no understanding of what it would take to nation-build in Iraq. At his two summits with Bush during the course of the war, the PM raised his concerns ever-so-genially and Bush told Blair he would look into it. The Brits invariably emerged from these meetings hoping they had got through to the Americans, but suspecting they had not.


On September 18 further details were provided of official concerns. Confidential documents leaked to the London-based Daily Telegraph reveal how Straw told Blair back in March 2002 that nobody had a clear idea what would happen to Iraq after an invasion. "There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything," the Foreign Secretary wrote, adding that there was no certainty that "the replacement regime will be any better."


The timing of Straw's warning is telling. Blair committed himself to supporting Bush's war plans a few weeks later, at their summit in the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas -- even though he continued to maintain long after that no decision had been taken.


Another secret memo disclosed to the Telegraph warned that there was no legal basis for war. The document, compiled by the Cabinet Office's Overseas and Defence Secretariat, also predicted that British troops would have to be committed for "many years." That line reinforces intelligence assessments that an attack on Iraq might actually increase any threat posed by biological and chemical weapons.


As for WMD, the final verdict of the Iraq Survey Group has concluded that it found no sign of the illegal stockpiles that were presented by Washington and London as the justification for war. Nor did it find evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons program. In other words, the entire premise was false.


The Butler report in July provided coruscating evidence of misdeeds in Downing Street, but chose not to apportion blame. The Prime Minister has emerged supposedly invigorated from his summer, determined to "move on" from Iraq. The death toll of allied forces is now over 1,000. The number of Iraqi casualties is not counted, but is estimated at more than 10,000. Are Iraq and the Middle East more stable? Has the war diminished or increased the threat posed by international terrorism? If Blair had listened to the voices of caution from experienced diplomats, he would not now be having to ask himself these questions.


(China Daily September 20, 2004)

The Day World Order Was Reshaped
Russia Accuses West for Bias
Calling World Leaders to Unite Against Terrorism
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