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An Exchange with the Political Editor of the New Statesman


On September 28, we wrote to Martin Bright, the political editor of the New Statesman:

Dear Martin

Hope you’re well. On Newsnight on September 26, you said that Blair’s speech that day had been "very hard, very tough, and very convincing" on "radical Islam". Can you explain which elements of the speech you were referring to? What was it that you found so convincing?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Bright responded on October 1:

"I agree with every word down to ‘if we retreat…’ From then on it’s far less convincing and the messianic nonsense about battling for peace in the middle east is absurd. Blair is not the man to bring peace to the middle east."

We responded again on October 5:

Dear Martin

Many thanks for your reply. You write:

"I agree with every word down to ‘if we retreat…’ From then on it’s far less convincing and the messianic nonsense about battling for peace in the middle east is absurd."

In other words, you "agree with every word" of the following:

"And of course, the new anxiety is the global struggle against terrorism without mercy or limit. This is a struggle that will last a generation and more. But this I believe passionately: we will not win until we shake ourselves free of the wretched capitulation to the propaganda of the enemy, that somehow we are the ones responsible.

This terrorism isn’t our fault. We didn’t cause it. It’s not the consequence of foreign policy. It’s an attack on our way of life. It’s global. It has an ideology. It killed nearly 3,000 people including over 60 British on the streets of New York before war in Afghanistan or Iraq was even thought of. It has been decades growing.

Its victims are in Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkey. Over 30 nations in the world. It preys on every conflict. It exploits every grievance. And its victims are mainly Muslim. This is not our war against Islam.

This is a war fought by extremists who pervert the true faith of Islam. And all of us, Western and Arab, Christian or Muslim, who put the value of tolerance, respect and peaceful co-existence above those of sectarian hatred, should join together to defeat them. It is not British soldiers who are sending car bombs into Baghdad or Kabul to slaughter the innocent.

They are there along with troops of 30 other nations with, in each case, a full UN mandate at the specific request of the first ever democratically elected Governments of those countries in order to protect them against the very ideology also seeking the deaths of British people in planes across the Atlantic." (‘Tony Blair’s speech,’ The Guardian, September 26, 2006; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1881512,00.html)

But almost every word of this is false. Blair says, for example, that al Qaeda terrorism is "an attack on our way of life".

In a September 19, 2001 appearance on the David Letterman show, ABC journalist John Miller described how Osama bin Laden had told him in an interview several years earlier that he had three major grievances against the West: "the US military presence in Saudi Arabia; US support for Israel; and US policy toward Iraq." What is your basis for rejecting this assertion?

This also gives the lie to Blair’s further comment:

"This terrorism isn’t our fault. We didn’t cause it. It’s not the consequence of foreign policy… It [al Qaeda] killed nearly 3,000 people including over 60 British on the streets of New York before war in Afghanistan or Iraq was even thought of."

But, clearly, the September 11, 2001 attacks did +not+ precede the ferocious 1991 assault on Iraq. You will recall that US-UK forces dropped 88,500 tons of bombs on Iraq, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima-size bombs. Nor did September 11 precede the 1990-2003 sanctions regime, driven by America and Britain, which led to the deaths of 1 million Iraqis. Denis Halliday, the senior UN diplomat who set up the ‘oil for food’ programme, described these sanctions as "genocidal".

Wasn’t it absurd, in fact deeply dishonest, of Blair to feign ignorance of bin Laden’s justification for al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks – US-UK foreign policy?

And wasn’t it equally absurd, therefore, for Blair to claim:

"… we will not win until we shake ourselves free of the wretched capitulation to the propaganda of the enemy, that somehow we are the ones responsible".

It’s worth considering some of the ‘propagandists’ responsible for this "wretched capitulation".

In January 2003, the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the US director of central intelligence, predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq "would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict". (Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger, ‘Prewar Assessment On Iraq Saw Chance Of Strong Divisions,’ New York Times, September 28, 2004)

The CIA describes the National Intelligence Council as the intelligence community’s "center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking".

A May 2005 CIA report concluded:

"Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda’s early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban conflict." (Douglas Jehl, ‘Iraq May Be Prime Place For Training of Militants, CIA Report Concludes,’ New York Times, June 22, 2005)

In July 2005, a report released by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) concluded, there is "no doubt" the invasion of Iraq has "given a boost to the al-Qaida network" in "propaganda, recruitment and fundraising", while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. (Guardian Reporters, ‘Ministers warned of Iraq link to terrorist attacks in Britain,’ The Guardian, July 22, 2005)

You will recall that one of the suspects in the failed second attack on the London transport system after July 7 "claimed the bomb plot was directly inspired by Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war". (Tony Thompson, Mark Townsend, Martin Bright and Barbara McMahon, ‘Terror suspect gives first account of London attack,’ The Guardian, July 31, 2005)

On the same day as Blair’s speech, a leaked US intelligence report reflecting a consensus of 16 intelligence agencies found:

"The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide." (Suzanne Goldenberg, ‘Intelligence report blow to Bush’s war on terror,’ The Guardian, September 27, 2006)

How, then, can you agree with Blair’s whitewashing assertion that al Qaeda terrorism is "not the consequence of [US-UK] foreign policy"?

Blair also said of US-UK occupying forces:

"They are there along with troops of 30 other nations with, in each case, a full UN mandate at the specific request of the first ever democratically elected Governments of those countries in order to protect them against the very ideology also seeking the deaths of British people in planes across the Atlantic."

In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings commented on Blair’s speech:

"He lied in asserting that our presence in Iraq has ‘a full UN mandate’." (Hastings, ‘Requiem for a hollow man,’ Daily Mail, September 27, 2006)

How, after all, can the occupation have a "full UN mandate" when Kofi Annan said of the 2003 US-UK invasion:

"From our point of view and from the charter point of view, it was illegal."? (Leader, ‘Kofi Annan on Iraq: The war was illegal,’ The Guardian, September 17, 2004)

It is clear to any honest observer that the UN has been undermined and discredited by US strong-arm tactics. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote in 2004:

"The interim government recognized by the UN, like the Governing Council before it, is a creature of the United States, not the United Nations. By giving a UN ‘bluewash’ imprimatur, the Security Council has undermined the credibility and legitimacy of the United Nations as a whole. It will be difficult to reclaim that credibility after such abject submission to U.S. power." (Bennis, ‘UN resolution on Iraq,’ Jun 12, 2004; http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=5696&sectionID=1)

As for the fanciful claim that the January 2005 Iraqi elections were democratic, Bennis again made the obvious points well:

"An election cannot be legitimate when it is conducted under foreign military occupation; when the country is nominally ruled by, and the election will be officially run by, a puppet government put and kept in place by the occupying army and the election will be under the ultimate control of the occupying army; when war is raging extensively enough to prevent participation by much of the population; and when the election is designed to choose a new assembly responsible for drafting a constitution and selecting a government that will continue to function under the conditions of military occupation." (Bennis, ‘Iraq’s Elections,’ Institute for Policy Studies, December 20, 2004)

How, then, can you agree with Blair’s deceptive and mendacious comments?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Bright responded on the same day:

David

Every word is not false — that is just hysterical. There is an issue with the use of the word "we", because it’s difficult to define who Blair means by this. Otherwise Blair’s comments are fairly uncontroversial and his stance on the dangers of the ideology of radical Islam is one I would support. But clearly al-Qaeda is an attack on our way of life (though not a very successful one), it is global (as a limited and very overstretched franchise) and it has an ideology (Wahabbi Islamism). It killed 3,000 people in New York (unless you belive it was the Americans or Mossad) and its victims are mainly Muslim.

That doesn’t mean I support US/UK action in Iraq (which I don’t) or that I believe a "war against terror" will help matters (which it won’t).

We (he) may be responsible for making things worse, but Blair is not responible for the ideology, which emerged long before he was born.

Best

Martin

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