Blair’s Goebbels Justifies Wars of Aggression
The Nazis held the idea of national sovereignty in contempt and would have had little patience with a national sovereignty-based international law. The reasons are obvious. The Nazis needed to justify their wars of aggression and the idea of the inviolability of national sovereignty stood in the way.
In the following essay, Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, embraces Nazi foreign policy, without actually mentioning (or recognizing) it’s Nazi foreign policy he’s embracing. He argues that military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were just, and that interventions elsewhere, including in Zimbabwe, would defend “our” interests and values, and should be pursued without hesitation.
Although he doesn’t say it, “our” does not refer to you and me, but to the dominant economic interests of the US and Britain, who have an interest in Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe adopting IMF reforms, a free market, and safeguarding property rights. Likewise, NATO’s war of aggression on Yugoslavia served dominant Western economic interests in dismantling Yugoslavia’s socialism, while the conquest of Iraq serves US and British oil interests.
The problem is, it’s difficult to elicit popular support for a policy of plunder, despoliation, renewed colonialism and aggressive war. Imperialist aggression has to be dressed up in the rhetoric of a high moral mission, if the public’s consent, cooperation, and at minimum, acquiescence is to be secured. Goebbels played the role of investing Nazi imperialism with a moral gravitas. Powell does the same for Anglo-American imperialism.
Sunday November 18, 2007
The principle of non-interference in other nations’ affairs was established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and brought to an end the 30 Years War. Unprecedented devastation had been visited on the continent by armies trying to impose the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation on neighbouring states and the two sides had fought themselves to a draw. The monarchs of the day decided to bring these wars to a permanent end. In future, it would be OK to defend yourself against attack and OK to fight over territory or succession, but countries could no longer fight for ideas.
The principle of non-interference lasted through the succeeding centuries and was regularly invoked by the Soviet Union. We in the West used it as an excuse to avoid doing anything about the Hungarian Uprising or the Prague Spring. It was morally questionable but probably sensible in a nuclear-backed stand-off.
The world has changed since then. Intervening in another country no longer risks tipping the two superpowers into global war, because there is only one superpower. More important, the force of globalisation has changed the world. With 24-hour news, massive global travel and migration, the world has become a much smaller place.
So whether or not isolationism was ever sensible or moral, it is no longer practical. We can’t protect our industries from competition by erecting tariff barriers and we can’t protect our citizens from terrorist attack simply by better border controls. If we stand by while other peoples are brutally suppressed in other parts of the world, from Kosovo to Iraq, and if we turn a blind eye when countries disintegrate into anarchy, as we did in Afghanistan and Somalia, we will face the consequences at home. And that is why what is happening now in Pakistan is so important to us.
Let me look at the lessons to be drawn from the 10 years of the Blair administration and our four wars. First, Sierra Leone. We could hardly claim self-defence for our military action there. As it was a success, no one questioned its theoretical justification. Now, with a democratic change of government in Sierra Leone, and democratic government established in neighbouring Liberia, there is real hope for the people of that part of West Africa.
Kosovo was trickier. First, the Clinton administration did not want to deploy ground troops after what had happened in Somalia. We applied pressure because we believed, correctly, it was impossible to win the war from the air. They did the right thing and Milosevic crumbled. But we never managed to secure UN support for the war because of the Russian veto. No one in the West questioned that because the operation was a success.
Afghanistan, again, was not self-defence. The ultimatum to the Taliban was clear – give up al-Qaeda or we will topple your regime. And that is what the US did. This time, no one complained, even though the intervention has not yet been a sustained success.
Iraq was the most difficult, even if not very different theoretically from our other interventions. No one in their right mind would wish to see the blood-letting and chaos that is going on in Iraq today. There is no point in trying to pretend it is all a wonderful success. But equally, I don’t think there are many people in Iraq or the rest of the world who want Saddam back. There was, however, a problem with the justification of the invasion – the holding of weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN resolutions. We now know Saddam didn’t have them. But to suggest it was all a conspiracy between Tony Blair and George W Bush to pretend he did is nonsense. We believed he had them, as did pretty much every other government in the world, whatever they say now. We didn’t kit our troops up in chemical warfare suits in the desert every time a missile was fired just for fun. So suggesting it was all a matter of Alastair Campbell cobbling together a dossier to pretend there were weapons of mass destruction is nonsense.
We should have been clear we were removing Saddam because he was a ruthless dictator suppressing his people. But the lawyers said there was no legal basis for proceeding on these grounds, and so we were not able to make this case as wholeheartedly as I would have liked.
Next the UN. The argument goes that we should not have intervened without a second United Nations Security Council resolution. But we intervened in Kosovo without such a resolution. The two crucial differences from Afghanistan and Kosovo were that a) we could not get a majority of countries on our side and b) we were not successful on the ground.
One of the reasons we argued so hard for a second resolution and tried so hard to get countries such as Mexico and Chile on side was that we believed if things got difficult in Iraq, we would do much better if we had the balance of the international community with us. And it is clearly true that if we had secured that support, we would be in a different place today, with a major UN role in Iraq and majority support around the world.
So if success on the ground was one of the big differences with Kosovo, why were we so relatively unsuccessful in Iraq? The biggest failing in my view was not fully to understand the consequences of our intervention. When you remove a brutal dictator who has annihilated all opposition for 30 years, it is inevitable you will face a period of anarchy when he is gone. All the basics of an ordinary society and law and order are not there. And when you superimpose that on a country where the minority, the Sunni, have ruled the majority, the Shia, for centuries, and you are trying to replace that with a majoritarian regime, it takes a long time to shake out the problems.
Let me draw some lessons from our 10 years of experience. We need a rules-based system. As other big countries rise to be superpowers they will have very different value systems from us. So it is in the US interest, as it is in the interest of medium-sized powers like the UK, to have the rule of law applied internationally as it is domestically.
We need a strong and reformed UN Security Council with the addition of Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. We need to make sure we have effective alliances that allow intervention to be undertaken when it can’t be done by medium-sized countries like ours alone. That means working with France to develop effective European intervention forces. And most of all it means trying to ensure that the US does not revert to isolationism. If it withdraws into itself as it did after Vietnam and Somalia, I fear it will face another 9/11 and all the rest of us will suffer.
We need to be better prepared for the aftermath of intervention. We weren’t properly prepared in Kosovo, in Afghanistan or in Iraq. It is no good saying as Donald Rumsfeld did, ‘We don’t do nation building.’ That is exactly what we do need to be able to do.
In making the argument for interventionism, I am not suggesting we should go around invading countries willy-nilly. Tony Blair’s Chicago speech of 1998, in which he made the case for liberal interventionism, set out five conditions in which intervention may be appropriate and I think these still hold:
1. We need to be sure of our case. War is a very imperfect instrument for righting wrongs, but armed force is sometimes the only way of replacing dictatorships.
2. Have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance.
3. Are there practical and sensible military options? Sending gunboats to Zimbabwe won’t work.
4. Are we prepared for the long term? We talk about exit strategies, but we cannot just walk away when a fight is over.
5. Do we have national interests engaged? That does not mean oil, but do we promote our own security better by protecting the rights of others in a particular situation?
I think there are cases today where the application of those tests would lead to a more robust approach.
Take Burma. What about actually doing something about the obscene regime of the generals? Are we just spectators as the monks march and are killed? Of course, the primary responsibility lies in the hands of its neighbours, but we can do far more to encourage them to be more robust in their attitudes.
Or Zimbabwe? Mugabe can use anything we say or do to stir the dying embers of anti-colonialism. And again, the primary responsibility lies with its neighbours, particularly South Africa, but are we really saying we just have to watch while his people suffer?
What are we going to do in Iraq? The first thing is to recognise that the solution is political rather than military. Now the danger of the country splitting apart is past, it is the moment to concentrate on trying to get the Shia and Sunni to come to an accommodation. Once the Sunnis have come to terms with sharing power with the Shia, our task will be done. It is only when there is a political settlement that we will be able to leave.
In Iran, I am not in favour of a military option because I don’t think it is practical. No one is suggesting invading Iran to overthrow the regime. That is the task of the overwhelmingly young population that wants to be rid of the corrupt mullahs. The difficulty we face is one of timelines. The regime will be overthrown. And if there was a democratic and stable regime in place, I suppose, as in the case of India, we would not object so much to a nuclear-armed Iran. But we don’t know when it will be overthrown. In the meantime, they are developing nuclear weapons, helping attacks on our troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan and supporting Hizbollah and Hamas. Western policymakers have yet to come up with a way of dealing with these different timelines and I do not have the answer either, although I suspect it lies in a combination of sanctions targeted on the regime. There is nothing like measures that affect the bank accounts of the Republican Guard to get their attention quickly.
My former boss is fond of saying that the political divide that matters in the world now is not that between left and right but that between open and closed. The threat we face is from those that advocate isolationism, protectionism and nativism – and it is striking how the debate on immigration has taken off in Europe and in the US. The enemy are the people who want to divide us into groups, to turn people against one another and take society backwards. The only hope we have is that those who want openness, tolerance and progress still have the political will to fight that battle and resist the tide of Luddism.
I believe the idea of liberal interventionism will survive as the best way of defending our interests and the moral way of promoting our values.