As we once again darkly commemorate the anniversary of the British-American invasion and destruction of Iraq launched on 20th March 2003 it is important to revisit one of the more endearing fabrications that was peddled in the lead up to that war. Alongside the ‘45 minute claim’ and ‘Uranium purchases from Niger’, one wing of the British establishment also let it be known that Tony Blair’s involvement was due to his subservience to George W. Bush. The latter was the line enthusiastically propagated by Great Britain’s anti-war movement, “Stop the War Coalition” (StW) and also its leading mainstream journalist, the Guardian newspaper’s associate editor, Seumas Milne.
No lesser figure than anti-capitalist social activist and writer Naomi Klein vouches for Milne’s “sound” anti-imperialism.
A year before 9/11 attacks on American soil and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’, Milne wrote an excellent and aptly titled article “Throwing our weight about”. In it he took to task Tony Blair’s infatuation with military interventionism (or ‘humanitarian war’) specifically in Kosovo, Iraq (1998) and Sierra Leone as well as noting British interference in Zimbabwean domestic issues. Milne further endorses Nelson Mandela’s rebuke of Blair, in that he is, he is “introducing chaos into international affairs” and informs his readers that Blair’s “government has emerged as the most interventionist British administration since decolonisation.” Most of all, Milne hits the nail on the head when he claims Blair’s Chicago address in 1999 was a “clarion call…for a new wave of worldwide intervention.”
But no sooner had George W. Bush launched the so-called “War on Terror” than Milne was compelled for some strange reason to change his tune with regard to Blair’s readiness to join Bush in his military adventurism which ultimately led to the invasion, war and destruction of Iraq. Rather than simply stating that Blair had found a political soul-mate with more power and tools at his disposal, Milne like many others who opposed Bush’s war machine in the UK, began peddling the line that Blair was nothing more than a subservient politician at Bush’s beck and call.
In an article written five months after 9/11 on the 14th February 2002 titled, “Can the US be Deafeated” he argues that Tony Blair lacks an independent spirit to distance himself from Bush:
“Tony Blair has demonstrated none of the limited independence shown by earlier Labour ministers, such as Harold Wilson, and all the signs are that he will once again agree to whatever he is asked to on Britain’s behalf.”
On the 27th September 2002 Milne wrote that what is “actually happening is that Blair, as Bush’s senior international salesman is providing political cover for a policy which is opposed throughout the world.” And concludes that for Tony Blair the Iraq war is about “his ‘article of faith’ in the centrality of the American relationship and the need to pay a ‘blood price’ to maintain it.”
On the 21st November 2002 Milne refers to Blair as Bush’s “faithful lieutenant.” On the 16th January 2003 Blair is once again no more than a salesman for George W. Bush’s anticipated war on Iraq but two weeks later on the 30th January Blair is demoted to a “faithful cheerleader.”
On the 13th February 2003 Milne cleverly turns the tables on the warmongers fondness of associating Saddam with Hitler and ipso facto painting those who oppose war as nothing more than 1930’s quintessential appeasers. He argues it is rather Tony Blair who is ‘appeasing’ George W. Bush:
“But if appeasement – unlike the form it took in the 1930’s – is regarded as an attempt to pacify a powerful and potentially dangerous power, it sounds far more like the behaviour of Tony Blair’s government towards the Bush administration.”
Just before the invasion of Iraq Donald Rumsfeld, the then American Defence Secretary in a press conference let it be known to the world that the United Kingdom’s proposed role in the coming invasion is indefinite and inconclusive, “what will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their [Britain’s] role in the event that a decision is made to use force.” Speaking at the Pentagon, he added “Until we know what the resolution is, we won’t know what their role will be and the extent they’ll be able to participate.”
This frank moment of honesty from Rumsfeld exposed the false narrative peddled by not only Milne but also the entire British anti-war movement about Tony Blair being a “poodle”, “cheerleader” or whatever subservient designation they saw befitting. In that brief moment it was revealed that Blair was acting on his own accord in what he perceived to be the interests of the British establishment. This was later confirmed by Bob Woodward, the acclaimed American political author in his book “Plan of Attack.” He records a conversation that took place between Bush and Blair:
“…Bush said he would let Blair drop out of the coalition and they would find some other way for Britain to 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.”
Rumsfeld’s candour and bluntness on Britain’s potential role threw Milne into panic and theatrics. He bogusly asserts that Tony Blair “had been stabbed in the back by the very US administration for whom he had put his own leadership on the line. By publically calling into question Blair’s ability to join a US attack on Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld was clearly signalling the Pentagon’s impatience with the chaotic diplomatic quadrille in New York and letting it be known that Blair’s usefulness to his US patrons may be close to being exhausted.”
Of course, no such ‘stabbing in the back’ took place. Actually it was most likely Milne who felt betrayed because Rumsfeld had totally undermined the central plank of his and the entire British anti-war movement’s argument for the reason why the UK was joining the USA in the invasion of Iraq. It was a war of Tony Blair own choosing.
On the 10th April 2003 just after American tanks had rolled into Baghdad, Milne was at it again claiming that “Tony Blair is once again seeking to provide a multilateral fig leaf for a policy set by Washington hardliners.”
Many years later Milne, allowed himself to safely revert to the truth about Blair. In February 2008, after Iraq had then been almost forgotten and it was far from people’s concerns Milne (referring to the Chicago address) was able to write that during the NATO bombing campaign over Kosovo:
“Blair set out five tests for intervention as part of his “doctrine of international community”, a catechism for liberal interventionists much admired by the Washington neoconservatives who followed them. Arguably, only one of the five was met in Iraq.”
More so, the fact that Blair’s co-invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with subservience to Bush can be further confirmed by the fact that Blair briefed journalists, including Milne, in late 2002 that if he could he would invade Zimbabwe and Burma. This was later confirmed by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki who has claimed that Blair vouched the idea of jointly invading Zimbabwe in a regime change operation.
The British establishment, and specifically its leading mainstream anti-imperialist writer, clearly found it strategically necessary to individualise Britain’s invasion of Iraq and place all the blame on Blair. Needless to say the vast majority, (by much more than two to one), of British politicians voted in favour of war and only two national newspapers out of at least ten opposed to the invasion – ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Mirror’. The political establishment and its media were firmly behind Blair.
Furthermore, ever since the uprisings that removed the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, the British establishment became the leading advocates of intervening in the Middle East so to mould the political upheavals in its interests. In both Libya and Syria, the UK was the most vociferous in calling for so-called “humanitarian intervention.”
Seamus Milne clearly knew that Blair’s enthusiasm to join Bush in the Iraq invasion was in line with Blair’s own foreign policy agenda as set out in his ‘Chicago address’ yet Milne, just as much as anyone else in the British anti-war movement, continued to peddle the line that Blair was some of low-level ‘salesman’ or ‘cheerleader’. In George W. Bush, Blair had found a kindred soul and fellow complicit with his own reasons to invade Iraq.
Today, Tony Blair today is a much ridiculed figure, widely perceived to be the leading political purveyor of fraudulent claims to launch an imperialist war and far more importantly he is no longer in power whereas individuals such as Milne, and generally speaking Britain’s anti-war movement (StW), continue to be regarded in some esteem. However, the latter have never been held accountable in any way for the falseness of what they propagated in the lead up to the invasion and destruction of Iraq.