By Nu’man Abd al-Wahid
“We insist on the right to bomb n*gg**s.”
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
With the George W. Bush era now finally drawing to a close and as the Barack Obama presidential era begins to gravitate upon us we need to remind ourselves of a moment when George W. Bush spoke a truth about the Iraq War, which is rarely, if ever, acknowledged.
George W. Bush will be rightly remembered for launching the invasion of Iraq 2003 which led to that nation’s almost complete destruction. He was joined by the British state in this criminal and illegal endeavour. Both the American and British governments launched a propaganda campaign to justify war on Iraq. The most imaginative British contribution to this campaign was to authorise the intelligence about Iraq purchasing uranium from Niger. When the CIA refused to endorse this intelligence, Bush had no option but to credit these fraudulent findings to the British government in his State of the Union speech in 2003.
The other allegations in the State of the Union speech were claims, the British had wholeheartedly endorsed: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction programmes and danger was imminent. Indeed, it seems that one of the main British contributions was also to enrich the fabrications produced by the Bush-Cheney democratically elected regime. However, all these allegations proved to be false. 1
That the invasion of Iraq was justified on a complete pack of lies is today rarely contested by anyone. Maybe it was these lies which led Barack Obama to declare in his presidential victory speech, “I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.” 2
However, there is one false justification uttered during the build up to the Iraq war that persists to this day. It is a mistruth peddled by those who are seen to be in opposition to the ‘War on Terror’ and the invasion of Iraq in the United Kingdom. The British anti-war movement and its main leaders claim that the British government, then headed by Tony Blair was taken into this invasion by the United States against its own will. Indeed, this point, that Britain was dragged into the Iraq invasion by the United States, is a central pillar of the British anti-war movement’s explanation on why Britain joined the invasion of Iraq.
The prominent leaders of this movement, mostly left-wingers and progressives, Tony Benn, Andrew Murray and Lindsey German have all made comments that British foreign policy was (and continues to be) beholden to the United States’s neo-conservative government. Tony Benn claims that it was at the “behest” of the US government that Britain joined the invasion. 3 Andrew Murray claims that Britain was “dragged” into the Iraq invasion. 4 While Lindsey German claims that British foreign policy has been “dictated” by George W. Bush. 5 There is no evidence for any of these statements and I doubt if the leaders will be able to produce any. The notion that Britain invaded Iraq purely with its own historical and economic interests in mind seems to be alien to these leaders. The notion that the British government is just as interested in imposing its own imperial design in the region (in conjunction with the US) is simply beyond their comprehension.
Like a trail of blood, this ahistorical lack of honesty has naturally extended into analysing British deeds in the occupation of Iraq. Therefore, a supposedly anti-Iraq war British writer (and foreign correspondent for the Guardian newspaper) who has appeared on anti-war platforms, Jonathan Steele, informs his readership that Tony Blair thought the invasion would lead to “a secular pro-western democracy”. 6 A mere glimpse into the history of British involvement will clearly show that Britain has never supported democracy in the Arab world, secular or otherwise. Indeed, Britain has been one of the major and original Western supporters of family dictatorships and sectarian Islamist groups since it militarily entered the region at the time of World War I. 7
Jonathan Steele may bemoan Iraq’s decent into sectarianism and he rightly points the finger at al-Qaida as one of the main contributors to this state of affairs. Yet he fails to acknowledge that it was Britain who revived the Wahhabi leadership (the forerunners of al-Qaida) once they were in exile, a spent-force, in 1891. After British fostering of the Wahhabi leadership, it was Britain which then wanted but militarily failed to unleash the Wahhabis on Baghdad in 1915. Captain William Shakespeare, a British imperial officer serving with the Wahhabis at the time paid with his life in this campaign and subsequently became the first British Wahhabi martyr. 8
Britain’s first nod to sectarian Islamist upon entering Basra in 2003 was to replace the secular governor of Basra with an Islamist. 9 The justification put forward by Steele that the British army found it more pragmatic to deal with the Islamist because this spared the city of more bloodshed is historically ingenuous. 10 (As an aside, General Zia of Pakistan was said to be “pragmatic” when he agreed to Israeli captured PLO armoury being sent to the Afghan holy warriors in the 1980’s). 11 What is the point of accusing the Bush administration of having no grasp of the history of the region, as Mr. Steele does, when one can only parade one’s own historical illiteracy when it comes to describing Britain’s role in the Iraq occupation? That there were historical reasons behind the Britiain’s acquiescence with the Islamist forces of SCIRI and Dawa in Iraq simply eludes Mr. Steele. It was, after all, the British Embassy in Cairo which immensely helped to found and direct the Muslim Brotherhood in 1920’s Egypt. According to the Iraqi writer, Haifa Zangana the British also wanted to create a sectarian principality with Basra as its centre back in the 1920’s. 12
Furthermore, another example of Mr Steele’s lack of honesty was when British soldiers were caught or as he states “abducted” in late 2005. 13 He fails to mention that one of the soldiers was dressed up as an Arab tribal Shiekh and the other as a religious scholar. And they were caught in a car fully loaded with weaponry. That they may have been agent provocateurs, again, eludes him and he therefore naturally treats their incarceration as symptomatic of the corruption of the Basra police force and generally symptomatic of the failure of the occupation. Following on from this logic, he could argue that if the occupation had been a success, British soldiers secretly driving around, dressed up as Arabs, in a car full of weaponry and explosives would not be caught and would be free to roam as they wish.
Mr Steele, also, quite stunningly, in a book supposedly about the occupation, fails to mention the shooting down of a British RAF Hercules by the ‘1920 Brigade’ resistance group. They most likely called themselves the ‘1920 Brigade’ in memory of the Iraqi uprising against British imperialism in 1920. It seems that an ahistorical analysis of British deeds in the occupation of Iraq is a natural corollary to an anti-war movement which does not analytically recognise Britain’s historical and imperialist reasons for joining the invasion.
That the Iraq invasion provided an opportunity for the British state to further complete its designs for the region which began with the British concocted division of Arabia with the duplicitous Sykes-Picot agreement and the British policy of settling European Jews in Palestine is anathema to this so-called anti-war movement. 14
This is not the first time in history that the British left-wing or progressives in Britain has proffered erroneous and perfidious reasons for a British imperial adventure. In the 1920’s and 1930’s it was the British left as represented by certain members of the Labour Party which argued that the establishment of a colonial European- Jewish majority in Palestine against the will of the indigenous Palestinian Arab population was actually a socialist and progressive project. 15 Whereas, genuine anti-imperialist such as Gandhi saw the British led project to colonise Palestine with European-Jewish settlers as unjust and wrong, 16 British left wing politicians such as William Wedgewood-Benn argued that the British backed zionist colonisation of Palestine was a progressive project which was only opposed by the capitalist elite of Palestinian society. Nepotistically, but all too democratically, it was William Wedgewood-Benn’s son who then as Minister for Technology overlooked the sale of atomic and nuclear material to Israel in the 1960’s. 17
Economically, with the invasion, the British opened up a market and a country for its capitalist that wasn’t available to it before the invasion. A British company, De La Rue, now prints Iraqi money. 18 The city of Najaf is being re-designed by British companies. 19 Oil contracts are now finally on the verge of being delivered to Shell and BP. And even with all the publicity surrounding the unaccountability Blackwater mercenary company in Iraq, Britain disproportionally supplies most of the mercenaries. So, returning to Mr. Steele, he informs his readership that over 300 prominent Iraqis including doctors, academics and engineers were targeted and assassinated within the first year of the invasion. He rightly considers al-Qaida, Ba’thist and even Shi’ites (before the sectarianism had even began) to be culprits but obviously not the disproportionate number of British mercenaries which flooded into the country soon after the invasion. 20
In July 2005, George W. Bush was interviewed by a British television reporter. The reporter attempted to argue to Bush that he should come to Tony Blair’s aid over a certain issue in the manner that Blair supposedly came to the aid of Bush during the Iraq invasion. George W. Bush rightly corrected the interviewer, “Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for the people of Great Britain and I made decisions on what I thought was best for Americans.” 21 In other words there was no arm twisting or bullying. Furthermore, on the eve of war, we know that Bush literally offered Tony Blair to “withdraw from the coalition.” 22 Blair declined and most likely insisted on being part of the coalition of the willing. In other words, again, there was no “dictating” or “dragging.” This simple truth should be acknowledged by the British anti-war movement because there are going to be more wars in the region whereby no doubt British imperialism will be playing a leading part in the justification, preparation and execution of an imperial adventure. George W. Bush goes onto rightly claim that he does not view the relationship between Great Britain and the USA as “quid pro quo”.
George W. Bush has economically, politically and internationally literally bankrupt his country and its image. Yet he can hold his head up high to the main members of the leadership of the British anti-war movement and claim that he is more honest than they when it comes to explaining and justifying Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq. And if they were to meet, a fictionalised transcript of their encounter would read something like this:
Once upon a time, leaders from the British anti-war movement met George W. Bush in Wimbledon Common:
Andrew Murray: “Mr Bush, I despise the manner in which Great Britain was dragged into this conflict.”
Lindsey German: “Mr. Bush, you have been dictating our foreign policy for the last several years.”
Tony Benn: “Mr Bush, the foreign policy of Great Britain should not be at your behest.”
George W. Bush: “Bullshit! We gave Great Britain two opportunities not to be part of the invasion but Blair wanted you to be part of it and you guys voted for Blair again in 2005 so cut the crap out about me dictating and dragging you into war.”
Tony Benn: “Mr. Bush you are an impossible cowboy!”
Jonathan Steele: (attempts to interject on the debate): Erm…erm… erm…
George W. Bush: “Look all I’m saying is that America had its interests in pillaging Iraq and the UK had its interest in pillaging Iraq. Can’t you all face that fact!?”
Tony Benn: “You are an irresponsible person and your father was equally irresponsible when he launched his war on Iraq in 1991.”
George W. Bush: “Look Tony I know you’re supposed to be this great moral figure an’ all in British politics but back off from attacking the old man. You know, that slogan you have on your demonstrations: George Bush, we know you! Your Daddy was a killer too!”
Tony Benn: “I do believe I’m familiar with it but do not necessarily endorse it.”
Jonathan Steele: Erm…erm… erm…
George W. Bush: “Well, here is a slogan for you: Tony Benn I know you! your Daddy was a Zionist too!…I can see you don’t like that one Tony.”
Lindsey German: “You are very difficult to argue with.”
Jonathan Steele: Erm…erm… erm…
George W. Bush: Hey erm-buddy, do you have anything to say or ya’ talkin’ ‘erm’ all day, sounding off like a posh frog?
Jonathan Steele: erm…erm…May I ask, do you solemnly require an ethical shadow writer for your magnanimous biography?
George W. Bush: God Damn, No! I’ll never be a complicit with a Brit in that type of project. Who do ya think I am!? An American version of Tony Blair!…Well, I’m back off to Crawford, Texas, they miss their village idiot over yonder and frankly I’ve had enough of talking with you charlatans about your scam movement with its bullshit central premise. In Texas people are honest with each other.
Andrew Murray: “Mr. Bush, are you alleging that we, the Great British Anti-War movement, are dishonest!?”
George W. Bush: “If your movement was genuine, then why haven’t you spawned off an Obama. The anti-war movement in the US helped to put the only anti-war candidate in the White House. From another angle, even Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italy, possesses the moral honesty to compensate Libya for Italy’s colonial occupation. Which out of the dozens of countries Great Britain pillaged have you ever compensated?”
Silence descends upon the gathered group and George W. Bush realises they have no response to his last points. He then spins around, in the style of a Morris dancer, with his right arm held aloft and his left knee raised, heads towards his car which will take him to the airport. But Lindsey German calls after him: “Mr. Bush, are there any white socialists in Texas?”
George W. Bush turns round with his signature mischievous smirk emblazoned on his face and replies: “There sure are Ma’am, but they sure wear white sheets on their head.”
Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a UK freelance writer specialising in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World.
- See Ron Suskind, The Way of the World, London, Simon & Schuster, 2008, pg. 172-182 for a thorough uncovering of the Niger allegations and for the British governments fabrications see Peter Oborne, The rise of Political Lying, London, Free Press, pg. 184-218 ↩
- Barack Obama, “Obama’s Victory Speech”, BBC Transcript, Wednesday 5th November 2008. Accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/us_elections_2008/7710038.stm on 9th January 2009. ↩
- Andrew Murray and Lindsey German, Stop the War, London, Bookmarks Publications, 2005, pg. “Foreward by Tony Benn.” ↩
- Ibid., pg.198 ↩
- Quoted in Miles Erwin, “Whitehall protest ban imposed for Bush Visit”, The Metro, June 11th 2008. ↩
- Jonathan Steele, Defeat, Berkeley, Counterpoint, 2008, pg.162 and pg.191 ↩
- John Keay, Sowing the Wind, London, John Murray, 2004 ↩
- Gary Troeller, The Birth of Saudi Arabia, London : Frank Cass, 1976, pg120, nt. 24 ↩
- Steele, op. cit., pg. 181. ↩
- Ibid.,191 ↩
- George Grile, Charlie Wilson’s War, London, Atlantic Books, 2002, pg.132 ↩
- Haifa Zangana, City of Widows, New York, Seven Stories Press, 2007, pg.27 ↩
- Steele, op. cit., pg185 ↩
- George Antonious, The Arab Awakening, Florida, Simon Publications, 2001,pg.248-262 ↩
- See P. Keleman, Zionism and the British Labour Party: 1917-1939, Social History, 21, 1, January 1996, pg. 71-87. ↩
- Mohandas Ghandhi, “A Non-Violent look at Conflict & Violence”, Harijan, 26th November 1938. Accessed at http://www.kamat.com/mmgandhi/mideast.htm, on 9th January 2009. ↩
- Meirion Jones, “Britain’s dirty secret”, New Statesman, 13th March 2006 at http://www.newstatesman.com/200603130011. Accessed on 9th January 2008. ↩
- Terry Macalister, “Iraq Helps De La Rue profits”, The Guardian, 3rd December 2008. Accessed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2004/dec/03/4 on 9th January 2009 ↩
- Jonathan Duffy, From the people who brought you Milton Keynes… BBC News Magazine, 20th February 2006. Accessed at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4725742.stm on 9th January 2009. ↩
- Steele, op. cit., pg. 206. The full account of British financial benefit from the invasion is still not known. ↩
- Trevor Macdonald interviewed George W. Bush for the ‘Tonight’ programme on 4th July 2005. Edited transcript at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jul/04/politics.g8. Accessed 9th January 2009. ↩
- Quoted in Gaby Hinsliff, “Bush admits he offered Blair way out of the Iraq conflict”, The Observer, 23rd April 2006. ↩