Five years on from the US-UK invasion ofIraqand it is still commonplace in the literature of the British antiwar movement thatBritaininvadedIraqwith theUnited Statespurely out of Blair’s subservient attachment to George W. Bush. In the introduction to the official manual of the anti-war movement, “Stop War: The story of Britain’s biggest mass movement”, written by Andrew Murray and Lindsey German, the President of the movement and former Labour MP, Mr. Tony Benn asserts that Britain was “taken” into the war “at the behest of President Bush and his neo-con apparatchiks…”. The chair of the movement goes on to state thatBritainwas “dragged” into this invasion “at the instigation” of theUnited States. The evidence, as we shall see, simply does not exist for such assertions.
Yet such assertions are more or less repeated ad verbatim in all walks of life in the UK, to the extent that Tony Blair was and is often derogatively, abusively and incorrectly referred to as “poodle”. The notion of Tony Blair’s subservience to George W. Bush’s neo-conAmericaorBritain’s “behest” has found its way into popular culture. In the Richard Curtis’s film, “Love Actually”, we find the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant standing up to the President of theUSA. The implication here is thatBritainis in a subservient and obedient role to the American leadership.
Whether one approved or opposed theIraqinvasion of 2003, both sides of the argument in theUKshare the same foundational premise. The argument was based onBritain’s relationship to theUnited Statesrather thanBritain’s own economic and historical realities. Britain’s participation in the Iraq War is defined and discussed in terms of its relationship to theUS. Both sides lead us to believeBritain’s “esteemed junior” participation or so-called subservient role in the invasion ofIraqin 2003 was a form of militaristic philanthropism on behalf of the Blair government towards theUS.
My brief argument here would like to point out thatBritain’s involvement should be seen in a more historical as well as economic context. It can be quite easily argued that British policy in the Middle East has always been more “neo-conservative” than the current batch of ideologically driven neo-conservatives residing inWashington. Indeed, one could easily argue that the current batch of neo-conservatives in theUSAare the natural successors of British Imperialist policy in theMiddle Eastof the early part of the twentieth century. It was, in the main, British imperial policy which divided and double-crossed Arab lands and people in the secretive Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 and has been struggling to confoundedly maintain this agreement ever since. So, for example, we are all familiar with the current crimes of the neo-conservative driven invasion inIraq, such as the use Depleted Uranium, White Phosphorous and the horror of Abu Gharib amongst others. However, are not all these crimes rooted in British Imperial policy when they were struggling to run the show in theMiddle Eastin the early part of the last century? The first time poisonous gas was used in the Middle East was inGazaby the British during World War 1. Furthermore, T.E.Lawrence provided the justification for the use of gas during the Iraqi uprisings of 1919-1920, (that could have easily been uttered by an American general inIraqover the last five years):
“Bombing the houses is a patchy way of getting the women and children, and our infantry always incur losses in shooting down the Arab men. By gas attacks the whole population of offending districts could be wiped out neatly…”
When objections were raised to this strategy, the then colonial secretary, Winston Churchill, dismissively and derogatively rebuked such concerns as “squeamishness”. It is not yet known how the neo-conservatives inWashingtondismissively rebuke their detractors when gas is used in warfare inIraq.
At around the same time, it was also British Imperial policy to facilitate the creation of a so-called Jewish homeland inPalestine, which in 1917 was inhabited by 98% indigenous Palestinian Arab (both Muslim and Christian) population. It declared this policy to a vocal and well organised fringe group of european Zionist colonial settlers, who had no actual historical relationship with the land. The American “neo-conservative apparatchiks” in Iraq have not yet immersed to the level of British Imperialism by agreeing to facilitate the creation of an alien homeland with a foreign people in someone else’s country.
Naturally, British past imperial deeds in the Middle East in the early part of the last century were simply part of a universal campaign of invasion, war and pillage that stretched back to (arguably) the invasion ofIreland. These deeds tend to be honoured by the British Imperial class. One imperialist who was honoured by the British imperial class was Robert Clive, the main facilitator in the loot and pillage of theBengal. According to the writer, Nick Robins, after Robert Clive militarily opened the Bengal, the (then Halliburton the of its day) British East India Company, “ loaded the country’s gold and silver on to a fleet of more than a hundred boats…Clive netted a cool £2.5m (more than £200m today) for the company, and £234,000 (£20m) for himself.” To this day a proud statue of Robert Clive stands outside the British Foreign and Commonwealth office, probably to signalBritain’s intent to the outside world or as Robins says, it is there to mark “a continued belief that the unrestrained pursuit of market power and personal rewards is to be praised at the highest levels”. Once again, it is not yet known if the USA are to praise the main neo-conservative architects of the loot and pillage of Iraq, such as Pearle, Rumsfield, Cheney, Wolfowitz or any of the other members of the “full spectrum dominance” posse, “at the highest levels” with a statue outside the US state department.
Another reason why Britiain joined the invasion besides that of military philanthropism towards neo-conAmericaor because of what the President of the British anti-war movement refer’s to, as the “behest” of George W. Bush is from economic self interest. The late British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan once commented that economically “Britainwould be lost” without the oil in Arab lands. Moreso, in the current era whenBritainhas become a post-industrial nation. In the pre-invasion ofIraq,Britainwas locked out ofIraqand most of the business was taken up by companies that were not British. Obviously, the situation now has completely changed – or as Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary at the time of invasion said in the early weeks of the subsequent occupation,Britain“cannot let the French and Germans get their noses in the trough.” Putting aside issues of cultural sensitivity, the “trough” here, is Iraqi business in the post-invasion era. Although, the main financial beneficiaries are US corporations, British and British based companies are without doubt reaping the benefit of the invasion too.
British companies are involved in the exploration ofIraq’s oil fields and they seem to have had expectations of this benefit before the invasion. Employees of British Petroleum (BP) were training British military personnel on how to secure the Iraqi oil fields before the invasion actually happened. Shell, another British based multinational, seems to have participated in the writing up the proposed new oil laws which they hope will guarantee any potential investment to be made by the company.
There is also the glaringly gruesome case with military contract workers or mercenaries. In this business vertical British companies are proportionally well ahead of theUnited States. It is reported that a staggering 21,000 of the 44,000 mercenaries inIraqare British nationals. A report published by ‘Corporate Watch’ informs us that “an estimated average of 30% of the budget for all construction contracts” is set aside to these very mercenaries. The Independent newspaper of March 2006 informs us that the financial stake for British business is high to the extent that the reconstruction ofIraqis now done “inBritain’s image”. Indeed, the city ofNajafis to be redesigned by the same company that designedMilton Keynes. Would a British company have won this contract ifBritainhadn’t participated in the invasion?
Another British town that has from time to time macabrely featured inIraq’s misery isBasingstoke. The company that provided the world with the cast for Saddam’s arms for his “victory” arch inBaghdadis now home to the company which is printing and producing Iraqi money. The company, De la Rue, has none other than the former British UN ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the invasion, sitting on its board as a non-executive director. Not only does Sir Jeremy Greenstock offer some non-exective direction at De La Rue but he also officially and professionally provides “special” advice to BP. According to the Independent, the people ofIraq, “have paid British company directors £150m.” Surely, being subservient, “pillion” and “poodle” has never been more fantastically profitable.
On two occasions, just before the outbreak of theIraqwar in 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair, was offered the opportunity to not participate in the neo-conservative led invasion. In the grand tradition of British imperialism and enlightened self interest, he naturally declined. The British populace had the opportunity to pass their verdict on Tony Blair’s political decision making during this period in the general election of May 2005. The British electorate seemed to be content with his policies during this period to the extent that he and his government were re-elected with a larger majority than Margaret Thatcher’s electoral victory in 1979.
The argument, as we have seen, that the British government of Queen Elizabeth the Second or Tony Blair were forcibly straddled, possibly roped or even “dragged” into this invasion at the instigation of a bullying neo-con cowboy is extremely incorrect. Furthermore, if one keeps in mind that we are, after all, talking about perfidious Albion, then we are entitled to say that the central argument of the British Anti-War movement, wherebyBritainis heartlessly bullied, becomes a “poodle” and behaves at the “behest” of theUSAis nothing but pure, unbridled poppycock.
Pubished at Arab Media Watch in March 2008.