The UK’s Iraq war inquiry just came to a damning conclusion: Ex-PM Tony Blair led the country into an ill-prepared war under false pretenses. The decision to blindly follow the United-States into Iraq in 2003 “went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the long-awaited Chilcot Report, published Wednesday.

The war in Iraq killed 179 British soldiers, 4500 American ones and at least 150 000 Iraqis. It left the country without a proper army or government and riddled with rising terrorist militias. And according to Chilcot’s findings, it might be now considered an illegitimate act of aggression under the UN charter.

Key Findings

The independent inquiry was ordered by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown (Labour Party) in 2009 and was supposed to last two years.  Half a decade late and £10 million later, Chairman Sir John Chilcot published a 2.5 million word document eviscerating the launching and the planning of the UK’s military involvement from 2003 to 2009.

The report found that Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to gather support for a military intervention in Iraq. The claims that Hussein posed an imminent threat and that all peaceful options had been exhausted were found patently untrue.  Although the report heavily blamed the government for playing up what was actually very shaky intelligence about a possible nuclear threat from Iraq, it did not accuse them of knowingly lying.

Chilcot heavily critiqued the entire military operation. The risks were “neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers,” he wrote.  He was especially critical of the “wholly inadequate” planning for post-conflict Iraq. British troops failed to reach the objectives laid out in 2003 and ended up making “humiliating” deals with local militias to avoid attacks.

In a bewildering two-hour-long press conference, Blair expressed “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” for his decisions, all while resolutely denying their horrible impact in the middle-east and declaring he would do it again.

He insisted that it was “better to remove Saddam Hussein” and does not “believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”

He added “If I was back in the same place with the same information, I would take the same decision because obviously that was the decision I believe was right.”

Tony Blair Facing Trial?

Relatives of soldiers killed in action renewed their calls to prosecute Tony Blair.

“We want to see him in court,”  one father assured.

“There is one terrorist the world needs to be aware of and his name is Tony Blair; the world’s worst terrorist,” said Sarah O’Connor, whose brother died in the war. She was speaking at a press conference called by bereaved families after the report’s release.

The report stopped short of commenting the legality of Tony Blair’s action, but it might have opened the door to prosecution.  It stated that Blair called for an invasion of Iraq at a time when Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat, and that peaceful options to contain him had not yet been exhausted.

This makes the action an illegitimate aggression, according to the UN charter. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Tony Blair will face repercussions. The UN Security Council could apply sanctions, but since the UK and US both have permanent seats on the Council, this is a very unlikely scenario.

The international court, which deals with war crimes, does not have jurisdiction over “acts of aggression.” Bringing politicians or military leaders to court would require proving that

  • a) The army breached laws of war in Iraq and that
  • b) The leaders in question knew about it and did nothing to stop it

No western leaders have ever been indicted by the international court.

Lawyers representing the families of veterans are looking into bringing Blair to civil court on charges of “misconduct in public office.” This law, unused since the 19th century, was recently criticized for its vagueness.

Canada Should Take Note

The Chilcot report must singularly vindicate Jean Chrétien, Canada’s PM at the time. The question of whether or not Canada would join the US-led coalition had generated heated debates in the House of Commons and the population alike.

He and Blair both said that this was the hardest decision of their respective mandates. Chrétien made the right one. The Canadian population can claim partial credit for that. Anti-war protests had taken place across the country, uniting 1000 people in Montreal, 2000 in Toronto and 3000 in Vancouver.

To kill any temptation to feel smug about it, Canadians should remember how close we came to being an integral part of the disaster. You can watch Stephen Harper’s fervent plea for the invasion of Iraq, if you need a reminder. This was in 2003, only a couple of years before he took Chrétien’s place (and stayed there for almost a decade).

As it is, we should face the fact that while Canada avoided the international backlash, it did not do so with a clean conscience. Unofficially, it provided significant practical support to the war. Canadian troops escorted the US navy through the Persian Gulf. They also provided significant military expertise and training for our southern neighbours, as well as airspace and fuel.

Paul Cellucci, then US ambassador to Canada, admitted that “… ironically, Canadian naval vessels, aircraft and personnel… will supply more support to this war in Iraq indirectly… than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting our efforts there.”

“Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.”

-Walter Benjamin

The other day marked yet another milestone within the American political travelling circus. Newt Gingrich took a swing at Fox News for “creating” Donald Trump. What’s fantastic about this is that Gingrich simultaneously took a hit at one of his best political impersonators and attacked a media institution that fed off the environment he fostered while he portrayed himself as the reasonable guy within a sea of demagogy.

And, to add insult to injury the headline: “Newt Gingrich Drops a Truth Bomb on Fox News” was plastered all over Facebook, shared widely and celebrated by progressives of all stripes.

All of this, of course, is but the frantic scramble of an American political class that can’t come to terms with its own demise. Trump’s resounding victories in Nevada and South Carolina have proven that this isn’t some kind of glitch in the system, it’s a systemic prophecy coming true.

Headlines and articles have continued to pop up by disillusioned pundits in dismay about the ascension and popularity of Trump’s hateful rhetoric. At first it was a joke and now it’s a tragedy.

American public debate has turned into a self-caricature to the point that we can have one of the main instigators of the neoconservative counter-revolution come on Fox News and blast them for creating the environment in which Trump’s monolithic World Vision thrives. I guess stone throwers shouldn’t live in glass houses…

trump fox news

Even though Gingrich and other Conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove calling out Donald Trump is ironic, it’s also quite revolting. The media obsession with the Trump phenomenon, in their view the worst thing yet to hit American politics, glosses over despicable track records and heinous crimes.

Trump has been the biggest gift for Bush & Co who have been able to rehabilitate themselves as dignified representatives of some kind of respectable conservative branch. It’s nauseating for me to hear pundits talk about the Bush days with nostalgia and fondness. The recap videos attempting to contrast Trump and Bush’s rhetoric about Muslims and Islam are vomit worthy.

I can feel for the disoriented right-wing pundits, though, and the sense of betrayal and injustice they are feeling over Trump. After all, you can think Islamophobic things, you can be a closet racist and garnish support from KKK bigots in private and you can bomb and send flocks of Drones to the Middle East, but the golden rule is you don’t talk about such things in public.

It’s quite impressive to see the right-wing running to the hills, in a sort of Frankinsteinesque freakout. Newt Gingrich was right about how Fox News fostered a welcoming environment in which Donald Trump’s brand of neo-fascism breeds extremely well. But it would be a mistake to see Donald Trump as some freak side show. After all Republican and Democratic administrations alike have been putting Trump’s word into practise for the past few decades if not more.

Within the American political spectrum no one is better at embodying the pyromaniac firefighter syndrome than the Democratic Party establishment. It’s the Democratic Party’s liberalism, rhetoric of managed expectations and guardianship of the status quo that allowed a space to be opened to right-wing maniacs and an egocentric form of politics that would go on to ignite the flame that has embroiled American public discourse. Those sulfurous fumes are oxygen for Donald Trump’s campaign.

Few western political institutions have represented such a profound betrayal of “progressive” principals as much as the US Democratic Party. It has been such a detrimental force to progressive movements in the United States and throughout the world.

Trump has built his reactionary movement on the ruins of the Social Contract once promoted by New Deal politics and its dismantling through progressive Republican and Democratic administrations. Even though Reagan and his bunch were the first to start destroying most of the social acquisitions that were the bedrock of the idyllic American middle class, this Herculean task wouldn’t have been accomplished without the economic agenda implemented by the Clinton administration.

During the 1990s, Clinton continued Reagan’s economics: in depth deregulation of the American financial system, political financing, strengthening big capital’s grip on the United States. The Clinton administration, however, had carefully crafted a different rhetoric from their Republican counterparts. Well versed in the Liberal ideals of formal equality over substantive equality, the Clintonites and the Blairites in England espoused an idealistic and fundamentally paradoxical third way.

Their rhetoric was of true recognition and emancipation of all minorities and an end to discrimination which would go hand in hand with market liberalization. Whereas conservative forces denied formal rights outright, this rehashed old-new brand of political liberalism acknowledged formal rights but only as residues of past discrimination and unequal access to resources, not a systemic discrimination.

Emancipation would come though liberalization. Exit any notion of reparations, which is fundamental for any form of substantive rights to be implemented.

Meme courtesy of Lee Camp on Facebook, original image from 2005 by Getty Images
Meme courtesy of Lee Camp on Facebook, original image from 2005 by Getty Images

Clinton continued the massive liberalization agenda that was put forward by Reagan and Bush Senior. Bush Junior only exacerbated already deep underlying fault lines and Trump is the direct beneficiary of that. It’s not innocent that Trump has railed against trade deals everywhere he goes. One of the things mainstream political media have for sure left out of their coverage is that Donald Trump has given stump speech after stump speech calling for the “opening-up” of the trade agreements that have destroyed industrial and working-class American communities.

Trump’s popularity among white working-class American families has much more to do with the shortcomings and the political maneuverings of the Democratic Party than with right-wing rage contortionists like Glenn Beck or Fox News. The history of the Democratic Party’s ambivalence about race and divisions in the American working class and the construction of the racist narrative of White American Working Class are the grounds on which Trump’s degenerate xenophobia breeds.

But Donald Trump is also a more direct reaction to the economic crisis of 2008 and failed opportunity that the newly anointed Barack Obama had to effect profound change within the United States, dismantling the too big to fail power structure and removing American democracy from the grip of Wall Street. Fascism, ie. Donald Trump, is simultaneously a reaction against a potential “revolutionary” movement at a precise transformative moment and a movement that feeds off the desolation of that missed opportunity.

To understand the rise of Trump, one must understand that there’s nothing particular about Trump. There’s nothing special about this phenomenon except that Trump has decided not to follow the pre-established conventions of the American political class and there’s surely nothing dangerous about Trump for the American political establishment despite CNN’s lyrical waxing.

Hillary Clinton, earlier this week, made a very revealing remark: “I’ve said for a long time that Trump isn’t a joke.”

Hillary Clinton and most of the American political and media establishment have known for a long time that Trump wasn’t a joke. Trump, after all, is merely a reaction to their policies. In the past four decades, American administrations have followed Trump’s platform to the letter, just in a more discreet, less pompous and extravagant manner.

* Featured image by Gage Skidmore via WikiMedia Commons

In the days following 9/11, then-US President George W. Bush urged Americans to go out and shop. If not, then the terrorists win.

His premise was that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt a culture they hate. It’s simplistic and ignores several mitigating factors and reinforces the Us Versus Them narrative. It was also clearly a pitch to keep American capitalism from falling in the toilet.

However, if you accept his premise and ignore his motivations, then his logic is sound. That is probably the only time I will say that about the most duplicitous and ridiculous President in American history, but if the shoe fits…

(sorry, had to)
(sorry, had to)

If you accept that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt Western culture, then shying away from a key aspect of it does, in fact, mean that they accomplished their goal or that they won.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bringing this up to justify or agree with anything Dubya did or said. Instead I’m trying to point out that his simplistic logic may give progressives a way to preserve the fundamental right to protest in a time of increased political repression operating under the guise of security.

Paris Attacks and the Climate Change Summit

Fourteen years and a few months after Bush urged Americans to shop, the Western World was rocked by another major terrorist attack. The assault on Paris last Friday, while not near the bodycount of 9/11, had a similar jarring effect on the culture in France and around the world.

Now that we are in the initial stages of rebounding from such a tragic assault, we’re getting images of Parisians going out to cafes and other public places, determined to show that their lifestyle, the Western lifestyle, will not be interrupted. Also, the Paris International Climate Summit, or COP21, will go on as scheduled.

Well, not all of it will. The heads of state and their entourages will show up. They will talk, form panels and talk some more and, of course, talk to the press. What we won’t get will be the marches, protests and other “outdoor activities” that usually accompany such global events. The French Government said that such events will not be authorized out of security concerns.

Outrage and Strong Arguments Preached to the Choir

This decision by the Hollande Government, understandably, wasn’t well received by pretty much everyone on the left of the political spectrum. There were social media comments on how this was nothing more than an opportunistic police state taking advantage of a horrible event. There were very intelligent op-ed pieces from people like Naomi Klein on how this would muzzle those most affected by climate change.

paris riot squad

I agree with all of it. The problem is, me and people who think like me or close to how I think aren’t the people that need to be reached. Shouting in the echo chamber that is the political left just won’t cut it this time, no matter how well-formulated and reasonable the arguments are.

When terrorists strike, quite a few otherwise reasonable and intelligent people are, understandably, scared shitless. Nuanced arguments don’t hold the way they do in normal times. Those hoping to establish a police state know this and are always ready.

Time to Dumb it Down, Bush-Style

It’s time for a new tactic. A new argument. One that will stick even with those temporarily thinking with their gut or their fear. The good news is we already have one.

If you want to know why blocking the right to protest at the Paris Climate Summit is terribly wrong, read Naomi Klein. If you want to convince pretty much everyone of this fact, even those on the right or the far right of the political spectrum, look to George W. Bush for inspiration.

The best part is, in this case, it is not just strategy, but the absolute truth. What is more fundamental to our culture than the right to free expression, the right to assembly and the right to dissent from and express your displeasure with the powers that be?

If the terrorists hate “our way of life” then they surely hate our rallies, our solidarity with fellow activists, our ability to protest the government (or multiple governments) in a very vocal and public way and our “freedom” to dissent loud and proud.

The right to protest is far too important to let slide in the face of so-called security concerns. While your anger, and my anger, may be currently directed at those who choose to use public fear to stifle dissent, making them the proverbial bad guy in this case doesn’t help.

It is a far more effective tactic to look beyond and remind those who would seek to cut off protest just who will ultimately benefit from such an action. The right to public dissent is, after all, far more integral to open and democratic culture than people shopping.

If you agree and want to make sure that everyone gets the message, then push aside your loathing for simplistic arguments and repeat after me:

“If we can’t assemble in opposition to the government, then the terrorists win!”

“If we lose our freedom of expression, then the terrorists win!”

“If we can’t protest, then the terrorists win!”