The ‘British Fox’ and the Limits of Liberal Dissent

“…Whereas we played the card, ‘We very humbly beg you to accept the service we offer to your grand movement’…all the while conspiring like crazy. Very British.”

Tony Blair[1]

Anyone who has ever been influenced or inspired by the radical African-American tradition will not fail to come across warnings or vituperations about mainstream liberals. This warning has never been better articulated than by Malcolm X. He often referred to them as foxes disguised as sheep wanting to make you his meal or as tricksters who want to pull the wool over gullible eyes.

In effect what this insight highlights with this observation are not only the limits of the liberal approach to socio-political issues but also a hidden and far from honest political agenda.

But does this socio-political insight apply to those us, ‘people of colour’, and/or those of us who wish to challenge injustice and imperialist war inEngland? And if it does, how does this trickery manifest itself in this so-called green and pleasant land?

Let’s take the trickery that was involved in the lead up to theIraqwar of 2003 as a case study.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the British government contributed two clear cut fabrications to justify the march to war – firstly the immediate 45 minute threat to Britain and secondly that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Niger for his WMD programme.

However, there is a third fabrication which was shared by both those who agreed withBritaininvadingIraqand those who opposed it.

The third fabrication is rarely challenged. This myth claims thatBritainisAmerica’s junior partner or subservient ally (i.e. “poodle” in derogative parlance) and as such it must always be on the side of theUnited Statesregardless.

A Guardian newspaper editor, Seamus Milne, opts for this explanation in a recent commentary. The Guardian is the crème-de-la-crème of liberal newspapers. Indeed, one could argue that it is the daily Bible of liberal-left inEnglandand beyond. Here is what he wrote aboutBritain’s invasion ofIraq:

            “The British commitment to join the attack on Iraqwas transparently never driven by the supposed menace of Saddam or the legal casuistry advanced at the time, but by an overriding commitment to put Britainat the service of USpower, under whoever’s leadership and wherever that might take it at any particular time. The “blood price”, as Blair called it, for this – David Cameron made explicit last week – subservient relationship had to be paid.”[2]

As can be seen, Milne supports his argument with a quote from Tony Blair from 2002 and by comments made by the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, on his recent summer trip to theUnited States.

Therefore, Milne would like his readers believe thatBritain’s invasion ofIraqcan only be understood within the context ofBritain’s geo-political relationship with theUnited States. The implication is that it has no independent geo-political volition bar those determined for it by theUnited States.

But isBritain’s commitment to a ‘subservient relationship’ or urge to “serve US power”, the actual reason forBritain’s recent invasions? And is there any clear evidence which defies this proposition? There is.

On the eve of the Iraqwar, actually on the 11th March 2003, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield publicly declared the US may have to launch the invasion without Britain.[3]

In the UK, this was perceived as an exit route (i.e. to not “serve US power”) yet Blair publicly insisted on joining the invasion come what may the following day. Theatrically, Milne had claimed that Blair had been “stabbed in the back” by Rumsfield’s announcement because Blair had, “put his leadership on the line” for the Americans.[4]

Actually, what Rumsfield seemed to be doing was rehashing a conversation that took place between Bush and Blair on the 9th March 2003. Bush was concerned that Blair’s government may fall and he didn’t want that to happen, so he offered him a way out. According to Bob Woodward, the highly acclaimed journalist and author of numerous authoritative political bestsellers since the ‘Watergate’ scandal:

“…Bush said he would let Blair drop out of the coalition and they would find some other way forBritainto participate.

“I said I’m with you . I mean it,” Blair replied.

Bush said they could think of another role for the British forces – “a second wave, peacekeepers or something. I would rather go alone than have your government fail.”

“I understand that,” Blair responded, “and that’s good of you to say. I said, I’m with you.”

“Bush said he really meant it that it would be okay for Blair to opt out. “You can bank on that.”

“I know you do,” Blair said, “and I appreciate that. I absolutely believe in this too.

Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s good of you to say that….But I’m there to the very end.”[5]

As one can see, no backstabbing or American arm twisting took place. Milne’s accusation was based on the wrong assumption that Blair was behaving in accordance with US directives and not its own.

Furthermore, a report in the Guardian during this period also claimed that Britain’s withdrawal from the invasion would be “a serious blow for George Bush”.[6] This wasn’t clearly the case. Actually, the Americans from a military perspective, could have initially handled the invasion withoutBritain.

A more glaring announcement was made with the recent publication of Karl Rove’s autobiography. Rove was one of Bush’s closest advisors and the person credited with winning Bush his second election. He claims that Bush would not have invaded Iraqhad he known that the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” claims were untrue.[7] This is in stark contrast to Blair, who has since said that if even there weren’t any WMD’s, other arguments would be have been deployed to justify the invasion.[8] 

On the 12th March 2003, the Guardian, in praise of the British leader but not his opinions, ran an editorial, “Tony Blair at Bay” wherein it asserted that Tony Blair in the run up to the war, cannot be accused of anything but being “less than honest” whereas the French leader, Jacques Chirac, had “murky motives” in opposing the rush to war.[9] Damningly, history, a favourite Blair theme, has borne out who was murky and sinister during this period.

As for the so-called special relationship Milne dubs subservient, this is not only simplistic but cavalierly ahistorical. The British establishment had realised for a long time, probably since the outbreak at the second world war, that it’s international interests can be guaranteed by aUnited Stateswilling to assume the roleBritainplayed during its imperial zenith.

Aneurin (Nye) Bevin, the British Labour Party’s much vaunted first foreign minister immediately after the second world war, made a speech in 1939 recommending there should be an “understanding” with the United States with a view to organising an ‘economic Peace Bloc’.

He recognised that this “understanding” may eventually mean a limitation of British sovereignty. But the ‘Haves’ within this so-called ‘Peace Bloc’ would control 90% of the world’s resources and 75% of the world’s population and be in prime position to exploit this scene for the benefit of mankind of course.[10]

Bevin’s argument had no impact on the United States and it needed the threat of the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s to finally confirm to the Americans the useful continuation of British imperialism as a partner to the new United States western led order.

This American led order allowed Britainto implement counter-insurgency operations in Malaya and Kenyain the 1940’s and 50’s.[11] In Iran, British Imperialism came unstuck by convincing the CIA to come on board to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh.[12]While the United States was unleashing its barbaric firepower on Vietnam, Britain was leading counter-insurgency operations North Yemen[13] and Oman[14] with little fanfare or domestic opposition. 

Contrary to what a British liberal dissenter may write, there is no “blood price” or subservient relationship and most importantly, never has been. Actually, even if there was a “blood price” it was voluntarily donated by Blighty.

More so, the persistence of this third fabrication, thatBritainis subservient to theUnited States, is insulting to those nations and peoples, past and present, which have had no choice but to be subservient to the brutality of American imperialism.

As far as the British commentariat are concerned, the notion of a ‘special relationship’, ‘junior partner’ or ‘subservient partnership’ is no more a smokescreen than the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument. But whereas the latter was an excuse for invading Iraq, the former was the red herring for British involvement.

In other words British liberals and hawks disingenuously positioned this illegal invasion within the context of a ‘special relationship’ or ‘subservient relationship’ rather than in the deep imperialist history of spilling the blood of foreign natives which for so long, more than helped to nourish the economic prosperity of this green and pleasant land.

On this basis, it would be appropriate to end this attempt at clarification of the motives behindBritain’s invasion ofIraq, with a quote from Malcolm X’s ‘Ballot or Bullet’ speech. After exposing the shenanigans between Dixiecrats and Democrats, he had this to say:

“…They have got a con game going on, a political con game… It’s time for you and me to wake up and start looking at it like it is, and trying to understand it like it is; and then we can deal with it like it is…”

The above assessment can equally be said of the tomfoolery between a British liberal fox who argues that we invadedIraqbecause of a twisted and lop-sided commitment to a ‘subservient relationship’ and the British wolf who argued we invaded because of a philanthropic and principled commitment to the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’.

Originally published at Ikhras in December 2010.


[1] Extract from Tony Blair’s autobiography as reported by Robert Winnet and Henry Samuel, ‘French Arrogance’, Daily Telegraph, 1st Septemeber 2010.

[2] Seamus Milne, “Now Afghanistan too shows the limits of American power”, The Guardian, 21st July 2010. I agree with what Mr. Milne writes on Afghanistan per se in this article but if he is going to slip in flawed opinions on the British motives behind invading Iraq and Afghanistan, he should called out for it.

[3] Rupert Cornwell, “Rumsfield: US may have to launch war without Britain”, Independent, 12th March 2003. Robert Watson and Philip Webster, “US would start war without British troops”, The Times, 12th March 2003.

[4] Seamus Milne, “Blair is plunging Britain into a crisis of Democracy”, The Guardian, 13th March 2003.

[5] Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2004), pg.338

[6] E.MacAskill, R. Norton-Taylor and J. Borger, “US May go it alone as Blair is caught in diplomatic deadlock”,  The Guardian, 12th March

[7] David Usborne, “Bush ‘would not have invaded had he known about WMD’”, Independent, 5th March 2010. This essay was written before the very recent publication of Bush’e memoirs.

[8] Riazatt Butt and Richard Norton-Taylor, “Tony Blair admits: I would have invaded Iraq anyway”, The Guardian, 12th December 2009.

[9] Editorial, “Tony Blair at Bay”, The Guardian, 12th March 2003.

[10] John Callaghan, ‘The Labour Party and Foreign Policy: A history’,(London: Routledge, 2007), pg.139-140

[11] ibid. pg. 184-185.

[12] Keay, Sowing the Wind, (London: John Murray, 2003) pg.411-416. Stephen Dorril, MI6, (London:Forth Estate, 2000), pg. 558-599.

[13] Mark Curtis, ‘Unpeople,Britain’s secret human rights abuses’ (London:Vintage, 2004), pg.288-301

[14] Mark Curtis, ‘Web ofDeceit,Britain’s Real Role in the World’ (London:Vintage, 2003), pg.276-280

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