Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 22:49
Here is my latest column for the print edition of Counterpunch.
Shamming into Syria
When I saw the news on June 13 that Bill Clinton had joined with John McCain in blasting Obama's "inaction" on Syria and calling for direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict, I knew we would soon hear the other shoe dropping. And lo, just hours later, pat it came, with that reliable old house organ of the power structure, the New York Times, portentously reporting that “intelligence” had “confirmed” the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government -- the flashing "red line" that Obama had declared would be the trigger for more American intervention.
One day later, the New York Times reported that the White House will now supply the rebels with arms -- yet another loose, uncontrollable flood of weaponry washing through the most volatile region on earth, guaranteeing more death, more ruin, more terrorism, more needless suffering not only on the Syrian killing grounds, but far beyond as well -- exactly as we saw in the Libyan intervention. And no doubt the Sunni militants in Iraq -- currently killing dozens of people weekly in the sectarian hell created by the American invasion -- will love the U.S. ordnance they'll soon be getting from their al Qaeda allies in the forefront of the Syrian rebel campaign.
The move by Clinton, the progressive’s beloved “Big Dawg,” move was obviously part of a sham operation to "force" poor, peace-loving Obama into significantly ramping up American military involvement in Syria. (And the sight of this self-infatuated gasbag -- with the blood of half a million sanction-murdered Iraqi children on his hands – now demanding more bloodshed for innocent people was truly sickening. Especially the "reasoning" he gave for urging action, despite that fact that intervention is opposed by 85 percent of the American people: if Obama failed to help kill more people in Syria, Clinton said, he would end up "looking like a wuss." Yes, that really is the level of intellect that drives policy at the highest reaches of the American power structure. Yes, they really are juvenile neurotics with third-rate minds obsessed with their illusory "manhood," which can apparently be expressed only by the large-scale slaughter of human beings and military domination of the whole earth. Christ Jesus, boys -- ain't you ever heard of Viagra? Bob Dole can get it for you wholesale. You really don't have to kill people just to get it up.)
For months, Obama has been playing this rope-a-dope game, stringing along both the rabid interventionists and the remaining "progressives" who still believe, against all evidence, in the president's good intentions. But now the time has come to up the ante. Why?
One reason -- noted by the Times -- is the fact that the Syrian rebels are clearly in danger of losing, despite the best efforts of close American allies like the woman-hating, head-chopping, extremism-abetting religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia to keep the bloodshed going. Indeed, as As'ad AbuKhailil points out, the Saudi and Qatari gun-runners and paymasters of the predominantly Sunni rebels in Syria are increasingly using the conflict to foment a genocidal fury against Shiites and related sects across the Middle East. As in Iraq, Western intervention is fuelling a spiral of uncontrollable sectarian violence at a level unseen in the region for centuries, AbuKhalil notes. And American warmongers love to see Muslims killing each other, especially if it opens up new opportunities for war profiteering and oil deals, as in Libya and now in Syria. For example, just one day before the intelligence apparat “confirmed” chemical weapon use by Syria, the administration eased export restrictions to “help facilitate oil sales from rebel-controlled areas,” Reuters reports. One of life’s little coincidences, I reckon.
Equally coincidental, no doubt, is the fact that this intelligence “finding” comes just as Team Obama is reeling from revelations of the Orwell-surpassing cyber-panopticon it has imposed on the entire populace. What better distraction from domestic skullduggery than the ever-reliable foreign threat: “Look over yonder -- WMDs!” Time to rally round the flag – and fill airtime and newsprint with endless blather and Pentagon propaganda about the noble humanitarian “surge” against Syria.
This is a momentous move -- however juvenile and shallow and irredeemably stupid its perpetrators may be. Syria is not Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, isolated regimes on the outskirts of the Middle East. It is in the very center of the powder keg. And it has powerful allies in Russia and Iran. Expanding the civil war there could draw those countries more directly into the conflict, as well as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, even Turkey. The risk of a wider regional war -- even a world war -- is very real.
This is the reality we are now entering. It's not just blasts of point-scoring partisan rhetoric ricocheting around Capitol Hill, cable news and Twitter. There is a real world out there beyond the various screens that transfix us all, sealing us in an abstract, virtual space of light and pixels. Real people will die from this decision, and from the ludicrous, sinister games played by the stunted power-seekers on every side of the increasingly savage conflict.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 23:57
It is not enough for the Peace Laureate to murder American citizens without charges, without trial and without warning; he must also murder their children too -- in the same cowardly, cold-blooded fashion.
Last week, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki -- an American teenager -- was ripped to shreds by an American drone missile in Yemen. The boy, like his father, Anwar al-Awlaki -- had not been charged with any crime whatsoever, much less convicted and sentenced. So what was his offense? He missed his father -- who had been in hiding from the Peace Laureate's publicly stated intention to assassinate him -- and he went off to find him.
His search took him into one of the areas of Yemen where there are groups opposed to the murderous regime now controlling the country and slaughtering its own citizens in cold blood -- with American weapons, American money, and the full support of the Peace Laureate and his peace-loving administration of peaceful peaceniks. People in such regions -- not only in Yemen but all over the world -- are of course subject to instant, agonizing death from the Peace Laureate's brave, bold robot drones, guided by noble warriors nestled in cushioned chairs behind fortress walls thousands of miles away.
And so a button was pushed, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman -- and his 17-year-old cousin -- were turned into steaming lumps of coagulate gore by the drones of the Peace Laureate. The Laureate's minions and satraps then spread the story that the child was actually a grown man, "suspected" of being a "militant." It was, of course, an arrant and deliberate lie, but it did its work. The first -- and only -- thing the public at large heard about this murder was that yet another dirty terrorist raghead had bitten the dust, and so big fat what?
The boy's family had a somewhat different view:
“To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense,” said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and the boy’s grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. “They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”
The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen. ...
Nasser al-Awlaki said the family decided to issue a statement after reading some U.S. news reports that described Abdulrahman as a militant in his twenties. The family urged journalists and others to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman.
“Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies,” the statement said. “His Facebook page shows a typical kid. A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.” The pictures on the Facebook page show a smiling kid out and about in the countryside and occasionally hamming it up for the camera. Abdulrahman left the United States with his father in 2002.
Nasser al-Awlaki said Abdulrahman was in the first year of secondary school when he left Sanaa to find his father. He wrote a note to his mother, saying he missed his father and wanted to see him. The teenager traveled to the family’s tribal home in southern Yemen, but Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Sep. 30 in Yemen’s northern Jawf province, about 90 miles east of the capital. “He went from here without my knowledge,” Nasser al-Awlaki said. “We would not allow him to go if we know because he is a small boy.” He said his grandson, after hearing about his father’s death, had decided to return to Sanaa.
The American boy went off to find his father. Upon learning that his father had been killed by the Peace Laureate, he tried to go back home to his family. But he stopped to have a meal with some men -- perhaps friends of his father? Perhaps "militants"? Perhaps neither? We cannot know, because the Peace Laureate and his minions do not discuss their arbitrary killings of people without charges or trial.
So Abdulrahman was blown to bits. The "soldier" who pushed the button or squeezed the joystick that fired the missile got up from his comfortable chair and got into his comfortable car and drove to his comfortable home, where -- who know? -- he might have had a delicious meal with his wife and kids, then later kicked back for a little R&R with the Wii. The peaceful Peace Laureate went out on the campaign trail, seeking to extend his mission of peace for another term. And the regime he supports in Yemen with peaceful weapons and peaceful money and peaceful pearls of wisdom about peace went on killing its own citizens.
Methinks the Peace Laureate, long derided by some for his youthful callowness, a dearth of proper gravitas, is growing into his imperial role more and more with each passing day. The outright, open murder of an imperial citizen -- followed by the completely gratuitous slaughter of the victim's son -- has the authentic ring of ancient Rome about it. That's how they did it in the high, palmy days of the Caesars; that's how we do it today. Everything old is new again. Ave, Peacenik!
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 20 April 2014 22:30
In any power structure, at any level, it's not enough -- it's never enough -- that you simply acquiesce to it, or grudgingly accept it, or silently go along with it, or even openly compromise with it. No, you must also sing its praises. It's never sufficient just to obey the system of power; you must love it, you must laud it -- and you must do this sincerely.
This is what power always demands. You must acknowledge that the system is essentially good, doing essentially good things. Of course, it might veer from its essential goodness now and then: mistakes are made, good intentions can go awry, and yes, sometimes bad people can abuse the system and do bad things. But that's when bold voices are needed to step up and spark debate, instigate reforms and return the system to its true moral equilibrium once more.
However, a lack of proper enthusiasm, a failure to appreciate the essential goodness of the system, can leave you under a cloud of suspicion: What are you, some kind of radical? A wrecker? Are you ungrateful, spiteful, envious? Some kind of purist, prig, holier-than-thou? You think you're above the rest of us, who love the system and work so hard to make it better?
You can see this process at work in institutions everywhere, throughout history. From family dynamics to office politics to military hierarchies to every kind of government. After all, what were Stalin's purges but "reforms" of a system whose unquestionable goodness had been traduced by the mistakes and crimes of a few bad apples (or a few million bad apples)? The system hadn't failed; no, it had been failed. The system itself remained inviolate -- and the imperative to praise it, loudly and long, was still in force. Indeed, it was more powerful than ever; the "mistakes" made it even more important to hymn the system, lest people get the idea that it was not good, that its power was not legitimate.
Another example -- on a considerably less draconian scale -- cropped up recently. As Tarzie notes, Glenn Greenwald has been spending some of his post-Pulitzer time tweeting plaudits to oligarchs for their laudable social activism. Glenn sent kudos to the Koch Brothers for "using social media to protest abuses and racism in the criminal justice system." He was referring to an April 16 panel discussion in Austin, Texas, that was sponsored by an institute set up by one of the Koch brothers, Charles. The topic was prison reform, and the Charles Koch Institute had put up a Facebook post about it.
Greenwald linked to a story by another new media outlet, Ezra Klein's Vox. The story itself doesn't say anything about the Koch Brothers "protesting abuses and racism" in the American gulag, nor does the blurb on the Charles Koch Institute website. Here we read about a rather staid panel discussing various options on prison reform. The Koch group does note the vast number of people incarcerated in the United States, and mentions the deleterious impacts of this on society at large. But nowhere does it mention racism or abuses.
However, these topics probably were mentioned at the forum, because of what Vox considered the most newsworthy aspect of the story: along with usual powerful white men, the Charles Koch group had invited an actual black man to speak -- the head of the Texas NAACP, no less. This was unusual, considering the fact that Charles Koch's father, Fred, had been a founder of the rightwing extremist group, the John Birch Society, and that his sons Charles and David have long used the unearned wealth they inherited to roll back civil rights laws at every opportunity.
So yes, I suppose it was unusual that the Koch group let the leader of an African-American institution have a microphone at one of its forums. And I suppose it is laudable that Charles Koch, the sixth richest man in the world, is on record advocating the end of the mandatory sentencing laws that have swelled the American gulag to bursting. I'm not sure what kind of prison "reform" Mr. Koch would support; given his virulent opposition to government activity in almost every form (save corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich), I would venture to guess it would involve an even greater role for the "private prison industry" -- those profiteers of human misery.
But yes, let's grant that it's nice that the sixth richest man on the planet and one of the most powerful right-wing figures in the world since Franco died is interested in prison reform, and actually let a black men speak under his aegis. That's swell. It might be a little surprising that someone who'd just won a Pulitzer Prize would use his newly elevated platform to trumpet this somewhat underwhelming fact, but what the hey.
However, that tweet was coupled with second one lauding yet another oligarch, Michael Bloomberg, for planning to use $50 million of his money to ape the hardball tactics of the NRA and punish politicians who don't vote the way he wants them to. Here, however, Greenwald is more explicit in the point he's trying to make. Linking to the NY Times story on Bloomberg's initiative, he asks: "Is this bad because an oligarch is using his vast wealth to influence political outcomes or good because of the goal?"
Greenwald's answer is implied in the question; it's a rhetorical exercise, not a topic for debate. He now works for an oligarch, Pierre Omidyar, whose profit-driven philanthropy and government connections make him the very model of a modern oligarch. It's obvious that Greenwald approves of oligarchs "using vast wealth to influence political outcomes," if that influence-peddling accords with Greenwald's beliefs. He has no problem with this system of power.
But if his question had been genuine, then the short answer would be, of course: "Yes, Glenn, it's bad. It's another confirmation that we live in a system where a very few titanically rich people decide 'public' policy and control 'public' debate. That is not a democracy."
And what, ultimately, is the "goal" of Bloomberg's initiative? It is to set up a powerful political organization that is explicitly intended to make politicians beholden to the organization and jump to its tune, just as the NRA's political puppets do. And in this case, the organization will be funded and controlled by one man -- a man whose vaulting political ambitions have never been a secret. It's hard to believe that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cannot see the self-aggrandizing angle of Bloomberg's initiative.
What's more, Greenwald's tweets came in the same week that a Princeton University study confirmed what many people already know: "U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy," as the headline on the very mainstream Talking Points Memo aptly put it. From TPM:
A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.
Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.
There you have it, from the very bowels of the respectable Establishment: the United States is now, by any measure, an oligarchy. That is the system of power that controls the country. And, as we know, systems of power must always be praised. Our oligarchs must be praised: "Look, oh look, at their benevolence, look at their concern for us! Look how they let a black person speak in public! Look how they want to buy politicians for us! Look how they want to fund dissident journalism in the system that has made them wealthy and powerful! Are their goals not noble? Should we not encourage our overlords to be merciful toward us? Should we not work with them -- and for them -- to reform the system that they control and manipulate for their own benefit? Praise them, tweet them, for the system is good. Oligarchy is good."
This is what we are seeing now from Glenn Greenwald, with these tweets aimed at exalting the good works of oligarchs. He's not saying, "Well, it's a dirty world, it's a dirty system, but I'm making this compromise -- working for an oligarch -- because I believe it's the least worst option I have in the world I've been given. It's not what I would want to do, and I'm certainly keeping a wary eye on the Boss Man's hijinks -- but I honestly believe it's the most effective way I can try to do at least a small amount of good in the system we have." That's a legitimate position; some might argue against it, some might draw the line of compromise at different places, but it's a choice that people have always had to make in systems controlled by malevolent forces.
But he's not saying anything like that -- not even remotely. He's saying that the system itself is good. Our new, Princeton-recognized system of oligarchy is good; all power is out of our hands now, but the oligarchs can do good things, and we should encourage them to do more. If we can just reform this business of overactive surveillance by the state --- which impinges even on the activities of our oligarchs! -- then all will be right again. The fact that oligarchs control the political system, control the economy, bankroll the destabilization of foreign countries, monetize philanthropy and control the media -- even the "dissident" media -- this is of no concern. The idea that we are seeing this kind of overreaching by the state precisely because there is no longer even a pretense of democratic accountability to the citizenry by a government that is now wholly in the hands of a small, monied elite -- this doesn't even occur to our new-style, oligarch-funded dissidents. How can it? Such a viewpoint would undermine the legitimacy of the oligarchs who are now underwriting "dissent" and other noble goals like gun control and prison reform.
So it's not enough to work for an oligarch -- grudgingly, or warily, or quietly. It's not even enough to praise the particular oligarch who funds your own noble work. No, you must praise other oligarchs. You must laud their work without skepticism or suspicion -- even if they have spent decades funding virulent neo-fascism, racism and the degradation of the common good. You must not even check out their activities before accepting millions of dollars from them -- as Greenwald has proudly hailed his own willful ignorance of Pierre Omidyar's activities before signing on with his media venture.
Power demands your praises -- and it demands them sincerely. I have no doubt that Greenwald now sincerely believes that oligarchy is a force for good. (I'm not as sure that the Greenwald I used to know would have believed this -- but then again, perhaps he did.) But what it is interesting here -- and chilling -- is to watch this age-old dynamic of power-praising being played out yet again, in the super-techno, hyper-modern world of "dissident media."
While finishing up this piece, I ran across a new article by Thomas Franks on a similar theme, taking off from Bloomberg's new initiatives: "Why Elite billionaire liberalism always backfires." Below are a few excerpts:
During the nineteenth century, a long string of saintly aristocrats fought to reform the state and also to adjust the habits and culture of working-class people. These two causes were the distinctive obsessions of the wealthy liberals of the day: government must be purified, and working people must learn to behave. They had to be coerced into giving up bad habits. They had to learn the ways of thrift and hard work. There had to be sin taxes. Temperance. Maybe even prohibition.
On the single greatest issue of the time, however, these sanctimonious reformers were of no use at all. They were in favor of clean government, to be sure, but when it came to organized money’s war on the world, which was then bringing impoverishment and industrial combat and dislocations of every description, they were indistinguishable from the most stalwart conservatives. Describing the patrician “Mugwump type,” the historian Richard Hofstadter writes,
[T]he most serious abuses of the unfolding economic order of the Gilded Age he either resolutely ignored or accepted complacently as an inevitable result of the struggle for existence or the improvidence and laziness of the masses. As a rule, he was dogmatically committed to the prevailing theoretical economics of laissez faire. . . . He imagined that most of the economic ills that were remediable at all could be remedied by free trade, just as he believed that the essence of government lay in honest dealing by honest and competent men.
If that description hits uncomfortably close to home, well, good. We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.
During the Occupy Wall Street protests, he declared that we should stop criticizing investment banks; it would cost us jobs: “If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people.” Later on, when confronted with a successor who didn’t share his views, he graduated to straight-up trickle-down: “The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people.” Only by helping the rich, and helping them more, and then helping them even more, can we ever hope to do something for the poor. ...
To say that there is no solidarity in this form of liberalism is to state the obvious. This is not about standing with you, it is about disciplining you: moving you out of the desirable neighborhoods, stopping and frisking you, prodding you to study the right things. Or, at its very noblest, it is about enlisting you in some fake “grassroots” effort whose primary purpose is to demonstrate the supreme moral virtue of the neo-Mugwump who’s funding the thing—to foam the runway for him as he makes his final approach to Heaven International Airport.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 03 September 2012 03:54
Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to attend a conference last week for a very good reason – he did not want to be publicly associated with a war criminal.
That war criminal was Tony Blair, who had been paid his usual whopping fee ($238,000 in this case) to deliver his usual sanctimonious blather at a South African conference on “leadership.” Tutu – who was speaking for no fee – withdrew from the meeting when he heard Blair was coming, the Guardian reports.
This was a rare – very rare – example of behavior which should be ubiquitous: shunning mass murderers. Blair, like George W. Bush (and Bill Clinton, he whose minions openly accepted responsibility for the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children in the US-UK sanctions regime that devastated Iraq before the US and UK finally launched their outright war of aggression in 2003), swans around the world collecting accolades – and mucho dinero – from the great and good and the high and mighty (and their simpering media sycophants), untroubled by his instrumental role in the Hitlerian invasion and its aftermath, which has left – according to measurement tools used by Blair’s own government – more than a million innocent people dead.
But Tutu did more than a simple shunning. He went on to pen a column in The Observer openly calling for Blair and Bush to be put on trial for war crimes. His indictment (quoted here in the Guardian) is damning:
Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history."
… But it is Tutu's call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and western ones, he says the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.
"On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague," he says.
In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilisation, with no gain. "Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.
"Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?" Blair and Bush, he says, set an appalling example. "If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?" he asks.
"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?"
Blair attempted to reply to this withering blast, with his best ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ shtick, but he only compounded his moral nullity with his defense. He offered, as usual, the facts that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who violently oppressed his people – a situation that has long obtained in many countries around the world (including many of Tony’s pals in the Middle East and Central Asia, who pay him so handsomely for his ‘counsel’). And of course, this oppression had nothing to do with the repeatedly stated “reasons” for the attack offered by Bush and Blair: that Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat of attack on Britain and America.
The knowing falsity of these pre-war charges has been confirmed in a multitude of quarters, but Blair, with the irreality of the genuine psychopath, now claims the opposite, saying “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” The fact is that every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown the complete opposite: that high officials throughout both governments were well aware of the weakness and falsity of the “evidence” of Iraq’s WMDs, and that these weak reeds were bent and shaped to fit the policy approved by both leaders: to invade Iraq, come hell or high water.
But Blair goes even further into the mire. One of the features of his defense is – I kid you not -- how “prosperous” the Iraqi economy is now compared to the situation before the invasion:
"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."
I must admit that, old cynic that I am, even I was taken aback by the brazenness displayed here. Blair was in power for six years of the US-UK sanctions regime against Iraq. He is just as complicit as Clinton and both George Bushes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children (and adults) who perished as a direct result of the devastating sanctions, which denied Iraqis most of the basic elements of life. If Iraq’s economy really is “three times larger now” (that is, assuming this smiling, unctuous, super-Christian liar is not lying in his usual lying manner), it is because it is starting from the “Year Zero” level imposed on the ordinary Iraqi people – by Tony Blair himself, colluding with his bipartisan masters in Washington, Clinton and Bush.
Blair himself helped grind the Iraqi economy – and the Iraqi people – into the dust. And now, after launching a war of aggression against the country which killed a million more people, he takes credit for the “improvement” from lifting the sanctions he himself imposed and sternly policed.
Surely this breaks new ground for war criminals. Not even Adolf Hitler claimed that his murderous invasions were “good” for the Poles and the Russians and the Jews, that by launching baseless wars of aggression and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people he was somehow doing them a favor. But Blair, like Bush and Clinton – and like Obama and Romney and the rest of the American political class – insist that their murders and invasions and black ops and sanctions are altruistic missions of mercy to the very people they are killing or strangling.
And as Tutu notes in his piece, the same dynamic is now being played out against Iran – with the stakes for mass murder, suffering and generations of chaos, hatred and destabilization engulfing the world even higher. Yet our leaders plunge on and on in this berserker frenzy in their impossible quest to dominate the entire world.
I’m writing quickly, on the road, grabbing a few rare moments of internet time, so I can’t do this outrage the justice it deserves. (And no, this is not some blanket endorsement of every position or personal association ever taken or made by Desmond Tutu.) But his shunning of Blair and his call for the instigators of the invasion of Iraq – an atrocity which dwarfs the suffering Saddam inflicted on the people there – are examples that should be emulated by everyone in public life. We can only hope it catches on.
UPDATE: George Monbiot has more on Tutu's humanitarian intervention in the Tony Blair war crimes case. From the Guardian:
When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.
The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.
That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.
His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, "i) there must be an armed attack upon a state or such an attack must be imminent; ii) the use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) the acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack." None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him: "A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists."
Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.
…But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the international criminal court, and all of them are African. (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There's a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war.
Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as "the supreme international crime", several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date.
The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair's lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.
That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – www.arrestblair.org – to promote peaceful citizens' arrests of the former prime minister. … Our aim is the same as Tutu's: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.
That looked, until this weekend, like an almost impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.