Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
60 Days From Disaster [A Nuclear Winter]
Right Sort of Snow, Just Wrong Location [Climate Change]
State Burdens [Spending in the USA]
Kenya – Fishy Law [British Torture in the 1950s]
60 Days From Disaster [A Nuclear Winter]
Britain nearly starved in World War One, and again in World War Two. After World War Two we had three decades in which both Labour and the Tories accepted that food came first and that money was just a tool for social values. In the 1970s this was forgotten. After a long period of peace, Britain went back to assuming that the rest of the world would always feed it.
Large parts of Continental Europe did actually starve in both World Wars, with Germany kept hungry until they signed the Versailles Peace after World War One. The Common Agricultural Policy was created to make sure that Europe never went hungry again, and was brilliantly successful. So successful that people forgot the peril and started making jokes about butter mountains etc. The pressure has been to run down European agriculture again and buy from the rest of the world, including encouraging cash crops in Africa at the expense of the local poor.
No one now worries about what would happen if the weather got really unusual and there was a global crop failure. But that is only one of several possible disasters.
January’s edition of the magazine Scientific American looks at what would happen if there were a nuclear war between Pakistan and the Republic of India, both declared nuclear powers. You might think that this could not hurt Europe, no matter how bad it was for the Indian subcontinent. Wrong. If the big cities were hit, then there would be immense fires that might put seven million metric tons of smoke into the atmosphere. Worse, it would go much higher into the atmosphere than smoke from a regular forest fire, meaning that it would take a lot longer to wash out.
Remarkably, it seems that the total amount of grain stored would feed the earth’s population for only about two months – not really enough to tide us over one bad years. But while the cooling particles from volcanoes remain airborne for about two years, it is expected that the smoke from nuclear fires would last a decade. [C]
Not that an Indian-Pakistan war is the only danger. If Iran really is building atomic weapons, then there’s another possible war there, a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel. Or Pakistan could swing over to militant Islam and use the bombs they already have against Israel.
The Scientific American goes on to suggest it would be the ‘end of civilisation’, which I doubt. It could lead to mass hunger even in Europe and maybe mass starvation in the rest of the world. A very different world would emerge from such a crisis, with a smaller population and a distinct hostility to liberal values of the sort that had left the world unprepared. Anyone who wants to preserve the better aspects of liberal tolerance should start campaigning right now for global food security, storing enough grain to feed the world for a year or two whatever else happens.
Another possibility is a really big solar flair hitting the Earth and causing a major geomagnetic storm. Life as such is in no danger from solar storms, you get remarkable auroras but nothing lethal. But the richer parts of the world are now heavily dependent on electricity grids and modern telecommunication, things that have developed since 1859, the last really big storm.[E] Then, the main effect was that telegraph operators found that their telegraph wires would work fine without batteries, the storm itself was powering them. But modern systems are much more vulnerable. Losing the grid for a couple of days would be an irritation, not a disaster. But the grid depends on massive transformers which would take time to replace, maybe weeks to replace.[D]
Since the 1970s, the West has been converted to an Economic Theology that asserted that asserted that the ‘miracle of the market’ would meet human needs. But markets don’t respond to long-term needs, everyone hopes to have made their fortune and got out before the big crisis hit. That has been exactly what happened with the financial markets, lots of individual traders accumulating millions and leaving behind dubious debts that belonged to the financial institutions they worked for. Alan Greenspan apparently thought that they’d feel some sort of loyalty to their employers, as was usually the case with men of Greenspan’s generation. It just isn’t true now.
What Thatcher said of society is actually true of markets: the market does not really exist, there are just a mass of individuals looking for individual profit. In smooth times there is some sort of cooperation. But a crisis or even the false suspicion of a crisis causes panic.
Or a Slow Decline [Pollution]
Disasters are unpredictable, we might be lucky. But there is a long-term crisis building up.
“The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world’s biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.
“The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils…
“The estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 – a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.
“The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies’ combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others….
“The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major ‘costs’ were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.
“The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the ‘social impacts’ such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.” [F]
That’s global damage. The worst suffering has been in Africa, where governments have been chronically weak and pushed around by the West. Things that the Neoliberals could not do at home were imposed overseas, wherever there was no strong state to defend the national interest:
“Despite good intentions, the push to privatize government functions and insistence upon ‘free trade’ that is too often unfair has caused declining food production, increased poverty and a hunger crisis for millions of people in many African nations, researchers conclude in a new study.
“Market reforms that began in the mid-1980s and were supposed to aid economic growth have actually backfired in some of the poorest nations in the world, and just in recent years led to multiple food riots, scientists report Feb 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“‘Many of these reforms were designed to make countries more efficient, and seen as a solution to failing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure,’ said Laurence Becker, an associate professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. ‘But they sometimes eliminated critical support systems for poor farmers who had no car, no land security, made $1 a day and had their life savings of $600 hidden under a mattress.
“‘These people were then asked to compete with some of the most efficient agricultural systems in the world, and they simply couldn’t do it,’ Becker said. ‘With tariff barriers removed, less expensive imported food flooded into countries, some of which at one point were nearly self-sufficient in agriculture. Many people quit farming and abandoned systems that had worked in their cultures for centuries.’…
“Many people in African nations, Becker said, farm local land communally, as they have been doing for generations, without title to it or expensive equipment — and have developed systems that may not be advanced, but are functional. They are often not prepared to compete with multinational corporations or sophisticated trade systems. The loss of local agricultural production puts them at the mercy of sudden spikes in food costs around the world. And some of the farmers they compete with in the U.S., East Asia and other nations receive crop supports or subsidies of various types, while they are told they must embrace completely free trade with no assistance.
“‘A truly free market does not exist in this world,’ Becker said. ‘We don’t have one, but we tell hungry people in Africa that they are supposed to.'” [G]
Right Sort of Snow, Just Wrong Location [Climate Change]
It’s been a cold winter in Britain, so Global Warming was a false alarm, right? Actually not. The snow that hit Britain and hit parts of the USA is caused by an unusual weather pattern. The world as a whole is warmer than average, cold in some areas matched by unseasonable warmth in others. Which was very unlucky for Vancouver with the Winter Olympics coming up:
“In the mad rush to provide sufficient snow for the Olympic freestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions, only Mother Nature sat idly by, refusing to contribute anything more than occasional snow and continuing to provide record warm temperatures.
“Record snowfalls may be burying the Washington area this winter, but in Vancouver the warmest January in at least 74 years and a historic lack of snow accumulation have stressed out organizers, baffled meteorologists and forced emergency measures more commonly employed to fight forest fires in the days leading up to Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.” [A]
It’s down to a rare weather pattern connected to ‘El Nino’:
“A freezing draught has started coming in through the UK’s door from the North Pole and Siberia.
“As Robin Thwaites of the Met Office describes it: ‘We have a large area of high pressure sitting over Greenland and Iceland and that is a block of cold air. Cold air is very dense and doesn’t like to budge very quickly, so that is acting as a barrier to the normal westerly flow of [milder] weather that we get off the Atlantic.’
“The block has forced our typical weather south: our rain has instead been falling in Spain, which is having an unusually wet winter. ‘They’ve had the rain and instead we’ve had winds either from the Arctic or from Siberia via Scandinavia,’ said Thwaites.
“This phenomenon, known as the Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation, flips around quite a lot but has not been as persistent as it is now since 1981 and before that the winter of 1962-3.” [B]
It’s also possible that continuing global warming will make this rare pattern more common. That remains uncertain, but we should be ready for the worst, and we are not.
Snow is normal enough in Moscow, but the latest snowfall has been an amazing 63cm, that’s more than two feet and the highest ever recorded. [P]
State Burdens [Spending in the USA]
The promise of the 1970s Neoliberals was for smaller government and faster economic growth. Neither promise has been delivered. Britain and the USA did no better economically from the 1980s than they had before the 1970s. Continental Europe did less well. Japan did less well. India and China took advantage of markets open to their low-cost goods and services, without ever opening themselves up as far as the Neoliberals wanted. Globally, the richest 1% got a lot of the benefits. The working mainstream got less than if the 1970s had seen a successful repair of the Mixed Economy.
The Economist – the same magazine that in the 1840s urged the British government to sit back and let the Irish starve – complained recently that Neoliberal gains were being reversed, despite public discontent:
“The impact on the Democratic president of the loss of the late Ted Kennedy’s seat to the Republicans will, no doubt, be significant (see article). Yet the result could be remembered as a message more profound than the disparate mutterings of a grumpy electorate that has lost faith in its leader—as a growl of hostility to the rising power of the state.
“America’s most vibrant political force at the moment is the anti-tax tea-party movement. Even in leftish Massachusetts people are worried that Mr Obama’s spending splurge, notably his still-unpassed health-care bill, will send the deficit soaring. In Britain, where elections are usually spending competitions, the contest this year will be fought about where to cut. Even in regions as historically statist as Scandinavia and southern Europe debates are beginning to emerge about the size and effectiveness of government.
“There are good reasons, as well as bad ones, why the state is growing; but the trend must be reversed. Doing so will prove exceedingly hard—not least because the bigger and more powerful the state gets, the more it tends to grow. But electorates, as in Massachusetts, eventually revolt; and such expressions of voters’ fury are likely to shape politics in the years to come…
“George Bush pushed up spending more than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Britain’s initially frugal Labour government went on a splurge: the state’s share of GDP has risen from 37% in 2000 to 48% in 2008 to 52% now. In swathes of northern Britain the state now accounts for a bigger share of the economy than it did in communist countries in the old eastern bloc. The change has been less dramatic in continental Europe, but in most of those countries the state already made up around half of the economy.
“Demography is set to push state spending up further. Ageing populations will consume ever more public health care and ever bigger pensions. Unless somebody takes an axe to them, entitlements will consume a fifth of America’s GDP in 15 years, compared with 9% now.
“Rising government spending is not the only manifestation of growing state power. The spread of regulation is another. Conservatives tend to blame the growing thicket of rules on unwanted supranational bodies, such as the European Union, and on the ever growing industry of public-sector busybodies who supervise matters like diversity and health and safety. They have a point. But voters, including right-wing ones, often demand more state intrusion: witness the ‘wars’ on terror and drugs, or the spread of CCTV cameras. Mr Bush added an average of 1,000 pages of federal regulations each year he was in office. America now has a quarter of a million people devising and implementing federal rules.
“Globalisation, far from whittling away the state, has often ended up boosting it. Greater job insecurity among the voting middle classes has increased demand for safety nets. Confronted by global market failures, such as climate change, voters have demanded a public response. And the emergence of new economic powers, especially China, has given fresh respectability to the old notion of state capitalism: more and more of the world’s biggest companies are state-owned, and more and more of its biggest investors are now sovereign-wealth funds.” [H]
“Today big government is back with a vengeance: not just as a brute fact, but as a vigorous ideology. Britain’s public spending is set to exceed 50% of GDP… America’s financial capital has shifted from New York to Washington, DC, and the government has been trying to extend its control over the health-care industry. Huge state-run companies such as Gazprom and PetroChina are on the march. Nicolas Sarkozy, having run for office as a French Margaret Thatcher, now argues that the main feature of the credit crisis is ‘the return of the state, the end of the ideology of public powerlessness’…
“In America, George Bush did not even go through a prudent phase. He ran for office believing that ‘when somebody hurts, government has got to move’. And he responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 with a broad-ranging ‘war on terror’. The result of his guns-and-butter strategy was the biggest expansion in the American state since Lyndon Johnson’s in the mid-1960s. He added a huge new drug entitlement to Medicare. He created the biggest new bureaucracy since the second world war, the Department of Homeland Security. He expanded the federal government’s control over education and over the states. The gap between American public spending and Canada’s has tumbled from 15 percentage points in 1992 to just two percentage points today.
“Fear of terrorism and worries about rising crime have also inflated the state. Governments have expanded their ability to police and supervise their populations. Britain has more than 4m CCTV cameras, one for every 14 people. In Liverpool the police have taken to using unmanned aerial drones, similar to those used in Afghanistan, to supervise the population. The Bush administration engaged in a massive programme of telephone tapping before the Supreme Court slapped it down.
“Another form of the advancing state is more insidious. Annual lists of the world’s biggest companies have begun to feature new kinds of corporate entities: companies that are either directly owned or substantially controlled by the state. Four state-controlled companies have made it into the top 25 of the 2009 Forbes Global 2000 list, and the number is likely to grow. Chinese state-controlled companies have been buying up private companies during the financial crisis. Russia’s state-controlled companies have a long record of snapping up private companies on the cheap. Sovereign wealth funds are increasingly important in the world’s markets.
“This is partly a product of the oil boom. Three-quarters of the world’s crude-oil reserves are owned by national oil companies. (By contrast, conventional multinationals control just 3% of the world’s reserves and produce 10% of its oil and gas.) But it is also the result of something more fundamental: the shift in the balance of economic power to countries with a very different view of the state from the one celebrated in the Washington consensus. The world is seeing the rise of a new economic hybrid—what might be termed ‘state capitalism’.
“Under state capitalism, governments do not so much reject the market as use it as an instrument of state power. They encourage companies to take advantage of global capital markets and venture abroad in search of opportunities. Malaysia’s Petronas and China’s National Petroleum Corporation run businesses in some 30 countries. But they also use them to control the economy at home—to direct resources to favoured industries or reward political clients. Politicians in China and elsewhere not only make decisions about the production of cars and mobile phones; they are also the hidden hands behind companies that are scouring the world for the raw materials that go into them…
“The most interesting arguments over the next few years will weigh government failure against market failure. The market-failure school had been gaining strength even before the credit crunch struck. The rise of cowboy capitalism in Russia under Boris Yeltsin persuaded many people—not least the Chinese—of the importance of strong government. And the threat of global warming is an obvious example of how government intervention is needed to deter people from overheating the world. Advocates of market failure have also been advancing a broad range of arguments for using the government to ‘nudge’ people’s behaviour in the right direction.” [J]
Actually an increase in government has always been a normal part of countries getting richer and more civilised. The British state grew faster than the economy as a whole during the 18th century, which was when Britain pulled ahead of the rest of Europe. The rise of anti-state ideology in the mid-19th century went along with a relative decline in Britain’s position.
If the British ruling class had made sure the Irish were fed in the potato famine – it was an unwelcome expense, certainly, but they could have paid for it without undue strain – then maybe Irish nationalism would have remained marginal and perhaps the British Empire would have survived as a more serious Commonwealth with Britain still at the centre. The advocates of market forces are not very smart in their selfishness.
The USA was in a winning position in the early 1990s. If they’d been ready to spend a few trillion to improve life for people in the fragmented Soviet Union, they’d have reaped the same sort of long-term benefits they got from helping Japan, Italy and West Germany after World War Two. But the Neoliberals thought they knew better and it is now too late for them.
It is also quite likely that the USA will further intensify its anti-state ideology. That’s often the case with declining global powers, an increased emphasis on the very things they need to change. Imperial Spain placed increasing emphasis on strict Catholic piety as its strength ebbed away. Britain was losing its position as the ‘workshop of the world’ from the 1850s onwards, and chose to expand the Empire and increase its pomp and circumstance, including making Victoria Empress of India from 1876. Military glory was preferred to science and industry. The British monarch got an empty title, but the non-white population of the subcontinent was kept firmly under the control of a small white elite, missing the change to assimilate the older Indian aristocracy or a rising stratum of those educated in British education.
In the same spirit, I expect the USA to fritter away its remaining strength in pointless military expeditions and further emphasis on anti-state beliefs.
Rule of Law [US Torture]
Lawyers in the USA look after their own, as has always been the case. Faced with a minor threat from Islamic terrorism, they threw away the rule-book, authorising a public policy of Detention Without Trial at Guantanamo Bay and a half-secret policy of torture redefined as not being torture.
Public concern has forced the acceptance that techniques like ‘waterboarding’ were torture and against the USA’s own rules, but nothing much has followed from this.
“An inquiry by the US justice department last night reprimanded two senior Bush era lawyers who approved the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay. The department found the two lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, guilty of poor judgment but not professional misconduct.
“The lawyers wrote controversial memorandums dating from 2002 after the 9/11 attacks that provided legal cover for the CIA to use torture and other harsh interrogation techniques. The conclusion of the report, which marks a significant softening of the original draft, will disappoint human rights organisations. Publication of the report has been delayed for months amid fierce internal debate. If the two had been found guilty of professional misconduct, it would have had consequences for their immediate careers and opened the way for legal challenges.
“The techniques approved by the lawyers included waterboarding, which Barack Obama has described as torture but the former vice-president, Dick Cheney, insisted was not.” [K]
Meanwhile a new ruling has cleared the way for Corporate America to spend as much money as it likes persuading the working mainstream in the USA to vote for policies that favour the rich:
“President Barack Obama launched an extraordinary attack on the US Supreme Court on Saturday, saying a ruling on corporate donations to political campaigns this week ‘strikes at democracy itself’.
“Mr Obama’s broadside was triggered by a 5-4 ruling by the court’s justices on Thursday that removed long-standing campaign finance limits and allowed corporations to spend freely in campaigns for president and Congress. In the ruling, the court’s conservative majority said the limits had violated corporations’ constitutional right to free speech.
“The ruling is expected to unleash a flood of money into this year’s congressional elections. Mr Obama’s fellow Democrats face a struggle to retain control of the U.S. Congress amid voter unhappiness over double-digit unemployment, a record deficit, political gridlock in Washington and other matters.” [L]
I can’t see that is anything very new. The US Constitution was created by a rich elite in the colonies and it oversaw the gradual disappearance of small agriculture and small independent craft production, things that a majority valued but could not find the politics to defend.
Kenya – Fishy Law [British Torture in the 1950s]
On the matter of legal dodges, the UK can match any US shysterism. It is now generally admitted that there was massive brutality by the British Army in Kenya in the war against the Mau-Mau, the first of several African struggles between white settlers and the black majority. But legal responsibility has been neatly evaded:
“The government is invoking an obscure legal principle to dismiss claims of torture and rape by the British colonial administration in Kenya, campaigners claimed.
“The Foreign Office has said four elderly Kenyans alleging that they suffered serious physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the British during the Kenyan ’emergency’ of 1952 to 1960 should not be allowed to proceed with their claim because of the law of state succession.
“The government argues it is ‘not liable for the acts and omissions of the Kenyan colonial administration’, claiming the Kenyan government was now responsible for events that took place while Kenya was a British colony. But a cross-party group of MPs will this week publish an open letter demanding an apology and the creation of a welfare fund to help the alleged victims through old age.
“Allegations that the British abused suspected Mau Mau fighters have continued since the Kenyan government lifted a 30-year ban on membership in 2003…
“But the government decision to have the case struck out on technical grounds of state succession – the principle that countries assume liability for their own affairs after independence – has infuriated human rights campaigners, who accuse the UK of shirking its responsibilities for rights abuses in former colonies.
“The Foreign Office is believed to be arguing on a rule derived from a case over licences to fish for Patagonian toothfish in the South Georgia and South Sandwich islands, British overseas territories.” [M]
Fishy law seems quite acceptable to evade responsibility. It is logical enough for some things pass to the newly independent state when it ceased to be a colony. But hardly guilt for actions intended to keep the place a colony and to delay or prevent independence. It is sheer nonsense yet it seems to have been accepted.
Dalai Lama and Obama
Despite China’s growing power, US presidents go on treating the Dalai Lama with undue favour. If the US is still hoping to Westernise China, then this is the last thing they should be doing, since almost all Han Chinese reject Tibetan separatism. But maybe US politics make it more important to please the section of the US public that think well of the Dalai Lama. (An attitude that is probably due to decades of CIA propaganda boosting the man.)
“President Bill Clinton was so wary of the possible Chinese repercussions that he chose never to have a formal meeting with the Dalai Lama, opting instead to ‘drop by’ when the Dalai Lama was meeting other US officials.
“George W Bush was somewhat more welcoming, becoming the first president to be filmed in public with the Dalai Lama. The obviously warm relationship between the two men when the president gave him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 infuriated the Chinese.
“But even President Bush did not allow TV cameras into his White House meetings with the Dalai Lama, a step which would be even more antagonising to Beijing.
“President Barack Obama seems to have opted for something in between those two approaches.
“He met the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, avoiding the obvious symbolism of the Oval Office. A single photograph was released of the two of them, but the TV cameras were kept well away…
“After his day of meetings, I asked the Dalai Lama if he did not get frustrated having to play out this diplomatic ritual year after year with apparently so little effect.
“‘No!’ he said, forcefully. ‘It doesn’t matter how quickly something is achieved.’
“More important, he said, was that it was a cause worth fighting for, even if success was achieved ‘after my lifetime’.
“And it is clear that the Dalai Lama regards time a little differently from most people.
“Douglas Paal, the senior US official who escorted the Dalai Lama into his first meeting with President George Bush in 1991, asked him if he had ever met a US president before.
“The Dalai Lama laughed and said: ‘Neither I nor any of my 13 previous incarnations have ever met a president.’
“Now he can at least expect a regular invitation – with conditions. Though not about what he wears.” [N]
Encouraged by US support, the Dalai Lama continues to avoid a settlement with Beijing. And is praised by the BBC for a policy of non-violence, but what has he done to prevent violence? He’s distanced himself from violence and from overt secessionism, but not done anything serious to prevent them, in the way that Mahatma Ghandi put his life on the line to prevent Hindu-Muslim rioting and was assassinated on account of it. The Dalai Lama said little about the activities of Khampa forces that the CIA trained in the 1960s – the movement was wound up mostly because it achieved nothing and showed no signs of having support inside of Tibetan territories.
The Dalai Lama is technically not calling for Tibetan independence, but a lot of his supporters make the claim. Thankfully it seems unlikely for the time being. The break-up of either China or the Republic of India would be a massive tragedy, since neither state has any clean lines to split on. You’d have the same sort of chaos as Former Yugoslavia and some of the ex-Soviet territories, but on a vastly larger scale.
British Jews are less than 1% of the population, so it odd that they make up 40% of the Chilcot inquiry. Two out of five members, and one of the others is a Hindu of Kenyan Asian origin. It’s not a matter of questioning people’s loyalty, their undoubted fierce belief that they were right and doing the best for everyone. It’s a matter of making sure a tribunal is both fair and seen to be fair.
The row blew up over an article by Sir Oliver Miles, a distinguished retired diplomat with years of service in the Middle East. Among other things, he said:
“The Prime Minister’s choice of the members of the committee has been criticised. None is a military man, Sir John Chilcot was a member of the Hutton inquiry and has been closely involved with the security services, Baroness Prashar has no relevant experience, Sir Roderic Lyne was a serving ambassador at the time of the war, and so on.
“Rather less attention has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war. In December 2004 Sir Martin Gilbert, while pointing out that the ‘war on terror’ was not a third world war, wrote that Bush and Blair ‘may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill’ – an eccentric opinion that would seem to rule him out as a member of the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is the reputed architect of the ‘Blair doctrine’ of humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
“Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind.
“All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.” [Q]
This was a valid point. My suspicion is that the government dare not appoint a Commission that would approach the matter with an open mind, because there is too much dirt lying hidden or half-hidden. It’s not just left-wingers who’ve been offended by the war, or who were warning that it was totally stupid even before it was launched. And it is extremely odd that the inquest on the strange death of former United Nations weapons inspector Dr Kelly is to be kept secret for seventy years. [S]
The predictable response has been to attack the man who pointed out the inconvenient facts. Thus:
“An article in the Independent lamenting that two Jews had been appointed to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. He triggered a spat that threatens the integrity of the inquiry and exposes the tenacity of prejudice in sections of British society.
“Sir Miles didn’t much approve of the other members, either. But he singled out the choice of Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert. The fact that they were Jews, and that Gilbert was also well known as a champion of Israel, would provide ‘handy ammunition’ for attacks on the committee’s work, especially in the Arab media. Sir Miles was ticked off by the Times a few days later and there the matter might have rested. However, Sir Martin has now reignited the affair by suggesting that the attacks smack of antisemitism. Unaccountably he vented his ire in an interview on a rightwing Zionist online radio station serving Israeli settlers.
“Sir Martin’s retort actually fuels the row and may even overshadow the interrogation of Tony Blair. At another level, the controversy throws into doubt the vaunted multiculturalism of modern Britain and lays bare a stubborn vein of intolerance that has blighted the treatment of immigrants and minorities for centuries.” [R]
There has certainly been plenty of prejudice, but also a lot of Jews who became rich in Britain and / or got top jobs in Britain. Plenty of Jewish MPs, but since they are found right across the political spectrum, this is not an issue except for the lunatic right. The remarkable concentration of Jews and children of immigrants in Thatcher’s cabinets was politely ignored – and of course a lot of her fiercest critics were also Jewish. But everyone knows that most British Jews support Israel’s current hard line and that most of them supported the invasion of Iraq, believed the notion that foreign invaders could reshape an Arab nation into a new model state that would support the US hegemony and all that this implied.
The bizarre thing is, no one’s interests have in fact been served. Saddam wasn’t much of a threat to Israel and Iraq’s army did very little in the various Arab-Israeli wars. He was Westernising Iraq about as fast as was feasible, running a state in which you were safe if you kept the rules, in no danger of being murdered for being non-Muslim or for being the wrong sort of Muslim in the eyes of your neighbours. Saddam’s Iraq had Christian minorities and some obscure sects that may have been there before the days of Christ. But what followed the Western invasion was a resurgence of sectarian Islam.
Saddam wasn’t much of a menace to anyone. Thanks to the invasion, and thanks to a global pattern of abduction and torture that treats Muslims as subhuman, something much more dangerous is now emerging.
[C] Local Nuclear War, Global Suffering. Scientific American, January 2010.