Tag Archives: David Cameron

How public opinion constrains Britain’s military interventions: Paul Dixon interview

How public opinion constrains Britain’s military interventions: Paul Dixon interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
1 August 2018

The idea that public opinion has little or no impact on British foreign policy is a common view, even held by some on the left.

For example, writing on the New Left Project website in 2012, University of Westminster academic John Brissenden concluded:

“The idea of public opinion … having any influence over” Afghan policy and other British military interventions is “a convenient myth.”

Warrior Nation: War, Militarisation and British Democracy, a new Forces Watch report written by Professor Paul Dixon, suggests a very different reality.

The main focus of the report is the “militarisation offensive” that was launched in 2006 “by a loose and diverse group of politicians, military chiefs, newspapers and pressure groups.”

This offensive included the introduction of Armed Forces Day, a much higher profile for the charity Help For Heroes, boosting the so-called Military Covenant and the expansion of cadet programmes in state schools.

Speaking to me over coffee in central London, Dixon, an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, explains this pro-military public relations campaign was a response to the low level of support the British public had given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Part of this militarisation offensive is to try and generate support for the war in Afghanistan, partly by implying that, if you want to support our boys on the front line, you have to support the war that they are fighting,” Dixon argues.

However, while support for the military increased — polling showed “the military going from a highly popular institution in British society to a spectacularly popular one” — he notes “public opinion is able to distinguish between support for the military as an institution, and support for our boys and girls out there fighting, and support for the war,” which continued to be unpopular with the public.

He notes another aim of the militarisation offensive was “to increase the power of the military within the British state and gain greater control over Afghan policy.”

This is particularly important because, as Dixon sets out in the report, the British military “used its influence to exert pressure on prime minister Tony Blair to adopt the highest level of British military involvement in the Iraq war.”

Similarly, the report highlights how “the military also pushed for an escalation of Britain’s involvement in the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan” in 2006.

“Some people think the extent of Britain’s military deployment [in Iraq] was in order to appease the Americans,” says Dixon.

“But it wasn’t really because the Americans didn’t require the 45,000 British military personnel that were deployed and would have accepted far less.

“It was the army, in particular, looking after its own organisational interests, that wanted to be involved in the invasion and that would give it a stake in defence expenditure. But also give it the high profile that helps to empower it.”

According to Dixon, the British military played a clever game to get the British government to do what it wanted, saying: “They go to the US military and get the US military and the US president to put pressure on the British government — in the case of Iraq to increase the British military contributions to the Iraq invasion and on defence spending increased British defence expenditure.”

The report also sets out several important ways public opinion inhibited the government and military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, public opinion probably influenced the level and location of deployments. The report cites a 2016 article in the Royal United Services Institute journal summarising the key findings of the Chilcot inquiry which noted British troop numbers in post-2003 Iraq were “driven by political constraints rather than military necessity.”

This meant “the UK had had insufficient troops to be effective,” which “forced commanders in-theatre to react to events and not to be able to shape them.”

“The nature of Britain’s deployment being sent into southern Iraq to look after Basra. That was, I think, partly the result of a perception by the Americans of the political constraints operating on Blair,” Dixon argues.

“You can’t send British troops into a heavier area where they are more likely to take greater casualties because of the domestic political constraints on Blair.”

As Dixon repeatedly explains during the interview, public opinion is particularly sensitive to British casualties, a reality the government and military are hypersensitive to.

“In the accounts of generals and soldiers on the ground [in Afghanistan] they are saying: ‘Look, if we lose a Chinook [helicopter] full of British soldiers that could undermine the whole operation’,” he says.

“They think a catastrophe like that, and its impact on British public opinion, would be a disaster and that would generate further and perhaps more active support for withdrawal.”

A November 2009 Guardian report confirms the level of risk the military were willing to take with British soldiers was influenced by concerns about public opinion.

General McChrystal, the then Nato commander in Afghanistan, was reported as saying British troops should be moved out of “harm’s way” because the Taliban would probably target them in the lead-up to the 2010 British general election.

According to the Guardian, McChrystal “holds the view that Britain’s continued participation in Afghanistan will be more acceptable to an increasingly sceptical British public if troops are switched to less dangerous duties, including ‘capacity building’.”

Finally, the opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to have influenced the timing of the withdrawal of British troops from both campaigns. The report references Professor Hew Strachan, one of top military historians in Britain, writing about Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement in 2010 that British troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014. “He [Cameron] explained his timeline not in relation to conditions which he saw as likely to prevail in Afghanistan but in terms of what the British public would demand.”

Looking to the future, Dixon believes Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, should he be elected prime minister, “would have to anticipate that he would get considerable criticism and resistance from within the military to any plans that he might have to tackle militarisation or scale back defence expenditure.”

As Corbyn “would come under attack from a lot of different directions,” Dixon suggests “he might want to be tactical about who he takes on and when he takes them on, rather than taking on simultaneously a lot of vested interests.”

And what advice would he give to peace and anti-war activists looking to have the greatest impact on British foreign policy?

“Coming from a realist perspective what I would say is we need to see the world as it is and not as we would like it to be,” Dixon replies.

“Seeing the world in that way allows us to be more tactical and strategic about how we achieve our goals.”

For example, while peace activists often focus on the effects of the British military on the local population where they are operating, Dixon notes: “One of the powerful constraints on military interventions, where you are going to deploy substantial numbers of troops … is going to be that chauvinism within British public opinion that does not want to see its boys and girls lost in those wars.”

He also highlights how the peace movement often shares similar concerns with the political right. People like former Telegraph editor Max Hastings, the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens and ex-Times Editor Simon Jenkins “understand that it’s important that the military are subordinate to politicians and the government of the day” and “have mounted quite strong critiques” of British foreign military adventures, he notes.

Dixon ends with some hopeful advice for peace activists. “Your activism really matters. If you go out on the streets and you are active, the political elite, even if they don’t admit it, will take notice of that because they are scared and they are worried.”

Don’t just take Dixon’s word for it. Here is General Sir Richard Dannatt, writing as the new head of the British army in 2006. “Losing popular support at home is the single biggest danger to our chances of success in our current operations.”

Warrior Nation: War, Militarisation and British Democracy is available to download from the Forces Watch website www.forceswatch.net.

ISIS: just a murderous death cult?

ISIS: just a murderous death cult?
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
14 January 2016

The language and framing we use to speak about an issue can either illuminate and help to explain or it can obfuscate and limit our understanding, and thus keep possible solutions out of reach.

Driven by the media’s McCarthy-style witch hunt of anyone who does not publicly denounce ISIS in the strongest terms humanly possible, politicians and commentators have fallen into the dangerous habit of simplistically defining and dismissing ISIS. They are an “evil death cult”, the Prime Minister told parliament in December 2015. Following her leader’s example, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called them a “murderous death cult” on BBC Question Time. Not to be outdone the neutral BBC’s Andrew Neil named them “A bunch of loser jihadists” and “Islamist scumbags” carrying out “Beheading, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor… a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages”. The Left has scarcely been better. Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics left-wing writer Owen Jones stated ISIS “is a murderous death cult… that attracts these pathetic, murdering losers”. Challenged on how we should deal with the group, Jones explained “Obviously there is no prospect, ever, of negotiating with this murderous death cult. They don’t want to negotiate, they have an apocalyptic vision of the world which they wish to satisfy.”

These statements certainly describe one, very public, side of ISIS. However, as the retired American General Stanley McChrystal told The Guardian, “If the west see ISIS as an almost stereotypical band of psychopathic killers, we risk dramatically underestimating them.” Charlie Winter, a senior researcher focussing on ISIS at Georgia State University concurs, explaining “Far from being an army of irrational, bloodthirsty fanatics, IS is a deeply calculating political organisation with an extremely complex, well-planned infrastructure.”

Writing about ISIS’s attempted state-building, Charles Lister, author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, notes ISIS’s “standard governance practice” includes “establishing public welfare programs, offering countless forms of social service, commercial good quality inspections, tax offices, transport companies and much more.” In a 2014 article titled ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has a Consumer Protection Office’ Aaron Zelin, a Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, comments the group’s “sophisticated bureaucracy” includes a court system and a roving police force, along with services such as an electricity department, a post office, road repairs, religious schools and healthcare. “ISIS helps run bread factories and provides fruit and vegetables to many families”, Zelin notes. “In Raqqa, ISIS has established a food kitchen to feed the needy and an Office for Orphans to help pair them with families” aswell as conducting polio-vaccination campaigns. Apparently ISIS have set up a Complaints Office (complete with a suggestions boxes) in an attempt to weed out corruption. And last week The Guardian reported on the organisation’s Research and Development Centre run by technicians and scientists and its Communications team, which is staffed by up to 100 people and has “a schedule and workload that could rival a television network.”

Rather than wilfully play into the media’s seedy little game of feigned moral outrage, politicians and commentators need to face up to some very inconvenient facts. According to the EU Commissioner for Justice over 5,000 Europeans have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Numerous reports have noted that many Sunnis have chosen to live under ISIS control rather than the Iraqi Government. According to Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, there is evidence of refugee flows into ISIS controlled territory. Though far from easy, there are positive steps that could be taken in response. To stop ISIS recruiting in the West we need to stop publicly labelling the people who join them “pathetic, murdering losers” and engage and deal with the complex personal, social, economic and political factors that lead them to turn to ISIS in the first place. To reduce ISIS’s power and control in Iraq we need to consider why much of the Sunni population is so wary of the Iraqi Government forces. And to reduce ISIS’s authority in Syria we need to reduce the violence and chaos that the group exploits and push for an end to the war as soon as possible.

The problem is this: all these possible solutions involve coming to terms with our own reprehensible role in the crisis. The West’s military interventions in the Middle East have has undoubtedly played a key role in radicalising Muslims residing in the West. The West has supported the Iraqi Government while it gunned down unarmed Sunni demonstrators, barrel bombed Sunni-dominated areas and let Shia militias run wild, carrying out widespread war crimes. And in Syria the West has helped to escalate the conflict and wrecked attempts at negotiation a peaceful solution to the conflict. So aswell as being deeply unhelpful when it comes to defeating ISIS, calling them “a murderous death cult” also has an important political role – of moving the spotlight away from own destructive actions.

If we are serious about helping to reduce ISIS’s power and territory, what we desperately need is a grown-up, nuanced, evidenced-based debate about the organisation and the reasons behind its growth and continued existence. To take one example, a rational approach would dismiss Owen Jones’s crude assertion that “there is no prospect, ever, of negotiating” with ISIS and ask questions about ISIS’s internal divisions and factions and its external support. Is there a more moderate or pragmatic wing of the group? How might groups or fighters that our currently fighting with or allied to ISIS be persuaded to break away? Could we negotiate with the state and non-state actors currently supporting ISIS? Would it be possible to persuade – that is negotiate with – those who plan on joining ISIS in the future?

And finally we need to remember the simplistic and often hysterical public statements and positions the media demands politicians and commentators robotically parrot are not necessarily good for the wider world and are not helpful if we wish to reduce the terror threat to the UK and other countries.

Pouring more fuel on the fire: the case against UK airstrikes on Syria

Pouring more fuel on the fire: the case against UK airstrikes on Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
August-September 2015

On 26 June, Seifeddine Rezgui, a 23-year-old student, murdered 38 people at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia. 30 of the dead were British nationals. Subsequent news reports have noted Rezgui received training at an Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS) base in western Libya.

Speaking to the BBC a few days later, David Cameron argued IS was an ‘existential threat’ to the United Kingdom which required a ‘full spectrum response.’ Building on the prime minister’s inflammatory language, on 1 July, defence secretary Michael Fallon announced the government would likely seek parliamentary support to extend the current UK bombing of IS in Iraq to Syria.

The discussion in the mainstream media about the proposed intervention has been predictably narrow, focusing on questions of tactics and strategy. Will airstrikes be effective? Who will the UK airstrikes help on the ground? Is the Syrian conflict too complex to intervene? These concerns – what could be called the ‘fight the war better’ school of criticism – certainly deserve serious consideration. However, there are a number of important arguments and facts that are conspicuously absent from the ongoing debate taking place within the media and political elite.

No to war

Considering the horrifying record of UK military interventions in the Middle East since 2001, it’s extraordinary that further military action is now being seriously considered in Syria. The UK – fighting alongside the US and other allies – has decimated Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of people and leaving whole swathes of the Muslim world seething with hatred at the actions of the West.

It is widely acknowledged that the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent occupation, played a central role in the creation of IS.

‘We definitely put fuel on a fire. Absolutely’, retired US army general Mike Flynn, head of the defence intelligence agency until August 2014, told Al-Jazeera when asked about the invasion of Iraq and IS.

In August 2014, the New York Times reported that the leader of IS spent five years in a US prison in Iraq ‘where, like many ISIS fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalised’. General Flynn agrees that the US prison system in Iraq ‘absolutely’ helped to radicalise Iraqis who later joined al-Qa’eda in Iraq and the group that became Islamic State.

Asked by Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan if drone strikes tend to create more terrorists than they kill, Flynn, who had a key role in secret US drone operations, replied: ‘I don’t disagree with that’.

Moreover, an expansion of UK airstrikes on IS would be playing into IS’s overall strategy.

With the Sousse attack likely targeting British nationals (the hotel attacked was well known as a British holiday destination, and the gunman ignored local people), Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, argues that the attack was an attempt by IS to provoke a response. ‘Its strongest recruiting tactic is to present itself as the one true guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces’, Rogers notes.

The Western attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – and the airstrikes on IS since September 2014 – fit this narrative perfectly. Turning to possible responses to IS, Rogers contends ‘the best advice, as with al-Qaida over more than a decade, is not to do what it wants you to do.’

According to the US military, their air campaign against IS has so far struck over 7,000 targets, killing 1,000 IS fighters every month. However, Rogers notes, IS ‘has not only survived these attacks but in many places is thriving, attracting up to a thousand new recruits from across the region and beyond’. This is because, as Rogers intimates above, the Western airstrikes themselves – which no doubt kill civilians – act as a recruiting sergeant for IS. This was confirmed by James Comey, the director of FBI, who told congress in September 2014 that the US bombing of ISIS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

In a joint bulletin issued that same month to local, state and federal law enforcement, the department of homeland security and the FBI warned that while ‘single events generally do not provoke an immediate response’ from homegrown extremists, ‘we believe these [US air]strikes will contribute to homegrown violent extremists’… broader grievances about U.S. military intervention in predominantly Muslim lands, possibly motivating Homeland attacks’.

In terms of self-interest, broadening the UK war on IS to Syria will increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on British people – something the government claims it wants to reduce.

Finally, though Cameron’s spokeswoman was quoted by the Guardian as saying that military strikes in Syria would be legal under international law due to the threat posed by IS to the British people, this is almost certainly incorrect.

Marc Weller, professor of international law at the University of Cambridge, dismisses this argument, noting that although the UK ‘might argue that IS represents a manifest threat to their own security’ this is contradicted by Article 51 of the UN Charter which says ‘self-defence only applies to actual or imminent armed attacks, rather than potential or possible attacks.’

What could work?

There are many actions the UK government could take, short of military action, that would significantly reduce the power of Islamic State, the suffering their rise has caused, and the terrorist threat to the UK.

With the conflict causing a massive humanitarian crisis, the UK should massively increase its support for aid to the region. ‘Quite apart from the humanitarian imperative, there is the risk of greatly increased bitterness on the part of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people displaced from their homes’, Rogers says.

Britain could reverse its policies in relation to Syria. In addition to providing support to the armed rebellion in Syria, Hugh Roberts, the former head of the North African section at the International Crisis Group, recently explained, the US and UK have ‘sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys… to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting’.

Rather than helping to escalate and lengthen the conflict in Syria, the UK should pressure the key actors to agree a negotiated end to the fighting, which would reduce the chaotic and violent conditions that IS thrives in.

In Iraq, the UK should apply pressure on the Iraqi government to end the sectarian policies it has been pursuing, which have been pushing large numbers of Sunni Iraqis to support IS as a defence against the Iraqi state.

With Rezgui reportedly attending an IS training camp in Libya, the UK should fully support international efforts to stabilise Libya – a chaotic mess allowing jihadis to freely operate, in large part, because of the NATO intervention in 2011.

Dr Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, notes that Turkey has turned a blind eye to IS freely moving fighters and materials across the Turkish border into Iraq and Syria. As a NATO member largely armed by the West, diplomatic pressure should be applied to Turkey to immediately close the border to IS.

Diplomatic pressure should also be applied to the Gulf states to push them to clamp down on their citizens funding and supporting IS.

Finally, if any external military action is needed to combat IS or to keep the peace, then the UK should push for this to be done under the authority of the United Nations – an organisation that seems to have been forgotten by everyone discussing how to respond to IS. And if UN troops are deployed there should be minimal involvement from the Western nations who have done so much to destablise the Middle East in recent years and create the conditions for IS to grow so quickly.

Of course, the UK government’s geopolitical interests and alliances in the region and beyond mean they are likely to continue to follow their current counterproductive militaristic actions and are unlikely to sincerely implement these alternative non-military policies. And with the Labour Party having signaled they are sympathetic to the government’s proposal there is unlikely to be strong opposition in parliament (though Labour have said they will make their final decision after their new leader is elected in September 2015).

Therefore, it is up to the anti-war movement and peace activists to apply pressure on both the government and the Labour Party to force their hand. In the immediate future there needs to be strong opposition to the proposed UK bombing of Syria, while in the longer-term there needs to be a push for non-military solutions to the wider conflict.

Defying democracy – Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria

Defying democracy – Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
17 September 2013

The government’s defeat in parliament on 30 August 2013 was an important victory for those opposed to UK military action against Syria. Responding to the vote, the Prime Minister stated,

“it is clear to me the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”

Polls show that not only does a majority of the British public not support British military action but a majority is opposed to US military action against Syria without British support. In addition, a YouGov poll taken a few days before the parliamentary vote found 58 per cent of respondents opposed “sending small arms such as hand guns to the anti-Assad troops”, with just 16 per cent supporting. This opposition has continued after the vote, with an ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll finding just 3 per cent of respondents thought the UK should be “arming Syrian anti-Government rebels.”

However, if you thought the parliamentary vote and Cameron’s statement meant the UK would not support any military strikes against the Syrian Government or would stop the Government acting in ways that militarised the conflict, then you’d be wrong. In actual fact the defeated Government, using a conveniently narrow definition of “British military action”, has continued to assist the US in its aggressive, warmongering policy towards Syria. This is a policy of regime change according to the US Secretary of State, who told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go”.

The day after the parliamentary vote, the Daily Telegraph reported, “the UK’s intelligence-gathering assets based in the Mediterranean are to provide the US military with information, as it prepares to carry out cruise missiles strikes against President Bashar al-Assad. Whitehall sources said Britain’s decision not to take part in attacks punishing the regime for using chemical weapons only covered its Armed Forces, and the sharing of intelligence would continue.”

But it was not just the intelligence services who ignored the will of parliament and public opinion. According to the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour, “the British prime minister acted as one of the most consistent advocates of military intervention” at the G20 summit in St Petersburg on 5-6 September. “Cameron was determined to call others to arms” and to “provide the evidence that Assad’s regime must have used chemical weapons”.

Despite the best efforts of Cameron and co., a series of diplomatic manoeuvres has delayed and possibly stopped a US-led attack on Syria. With Syria pledging to sign an international chemical weapons treaty and admit the scale of its chemical weapons stockpile for the first time, on 10 September the Guardian reported that “the US, Britain and France are preparing a hard-edged [United Nations] security council resolution backed by the possible use of force.”

During all the intense diplomacy, the arming of the Syrian rebels has continued, with a 12 September New York Times report noting that “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria, the rebels say.”

All these efforts by the UK Government to militarise the conflict in Syria have been reported in the mainstream media but the question of whether the government has any moral authority to continue these policies is never discussed.

For those who oppose Western military intervention in Syria the lesson is clear: we cannot be complacent. The parliamentary vote, though an important victory, has not been enough to stop our Prime Minister pushing for war and British intelligence supporting any US military strike and continuing to help arm the rebels. More popular pressure is needed. We might also consider what the Government’s continued defiance of popular will on Syria tells us about how British foreign policy is determined.

Myth vs. Reality: British Troops “did not die in vain” in Sangin, Afghanistan

Myth vs. Reality: British Troops “did not die in vain” in Sangin, Afghanistan
by Ian Sinclair
ZNet blog
18 May 2011

As British forces handed over control of Sangin, Afghanistan to US forces in September 2010, the British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that:

“Our troops have performed magnificently in Sangin and I pay tribute to the thousands who have served, to the over 100 who’ve given their lives and to the many who have been wounded. They did not die in vain, they made Afghanistan a safer place and they have made Britain a safer place and they will never be forgotten.” (‘UK troops in Sangin did not die in vain, says Cameron’, 20 September 2010, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11376603)

The problem for Cameron and all those British forces who served and died in Sangin, is that a recent poll conducted by the International Council on Security and Development of around 1400 military aged males in Afghanistan strongly suggests they did indeed die in vain.

Here are the results of those polled in Sangin:

– 99% of interviewees think NATO military operations are bad for the Afghan people.
– 
46% of interviewees oppose military operations in Sangin.
– 
99% of interviewees think working with the foreigners is wrong.
– 
51% of interviewees believe foreign forces do not protect the local population.
– 
72% of interviewees are more negative about the foreign forces than the year before.
– 
99% of interviewees think foreigners disrespect the religion and traditions.

(‘Afghanistan Transition: The Death of Bin Laden and Local Dynamics’, International Council on Security and Development, May 2011, http://www.icosgroup.net/static/reports/bin-laden-local-dynamics.pdf)

“We are supporting a democratic state”: Propaganda and the new Iraq War

“We are supporting a democratic state”: Propaganda and the new Iraq War
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
24 October 2014

We are in the middle of a propaganda war and you are the target.

To gain public support for bombing Iraq the Government has deployed a range of persuasive strategies, stretching from the extremely crude to the dangerously subtle. First the obvious ones. On Thursday 25 September – the day before the parliamentary vote to authorise the bombing campaign – police carried out a number of so-called anti-terrorist raids arresting nine people, including the well-known preacher Anjem Choudary. On the same day, news broke that the Iraqi Government had ‘credible’ intelligence Islamic State militants planned to launch attacks on the subway systems in Paris and New York City. Both scares, of course, have now been forgotten, though one can’t help think they served their purpose.

Like the ‘Heathrow terrorist plot’ in the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, the recent headline-grabbing announcements likely elicited deep scepticism in many people. However, the Government is also employing far more insidious and successful propaganda, much of which has seeped into and framed the media-driven narrative of the war. One such propaganda meme is the argument we are acting at the request of a “sovereign state” (David Cameron) and/or “democratic state” (Ed Miliband). This has been repeated ad nauseam by those backing the bombing with very little push back.

While this sound bite-sized justification may technically be true and therefore provides cover under international law, it’s worth considering what it misses out.

First, it conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi Government and the West’s role in helping to create it. Writing in The Guardian in June, Professor Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at the London School of Economics, noted Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “first came to power in April 2006 in a deal brokered by the then British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.” This, according to Dodge, “was an Anglo-American attempt to create a facade of democracy in the midst of a vicious post-invasion civil war.” Dodge went onto explain that though Maliki lost the 2010 election the US “backed the continuation of Maliki’s rule… in the name of predictability and order.” Echoing the sub-title of Dodge’s 2013 book on Iraq – ‘From war to a new authoritarianism’ – David Wearing, a researcher on the Middle East at SOAS, notes “Maliki set about concentrating power – particularly power over armed forces, internal security forces and Shia militias – in his hands, and governing on a narrow sectarian basis, eliciting some frustration from Washington but still, ultimately, enjoying its support”. In 2013 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index ranked Iraq 171st out of 177 countries. The whole Iraqi system, argues award-winning Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, is “rotten to the core. Every single soldier is appointed after paying a bribe. Every military officer is appointed after paying a bribe.”

And before we go further, let’s not forget the double standards of the UK government. “It is hypocritical for Mr Cameron to pretend that US and UK intervention are in support of democratic, accountable and inclusive governments when he is in a coalition with the last theocratic absolute monarchies on earth”, argues the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn about the UK allying itself with the Gulf states.

Cameron and Miliband’s justification also ignores the recent aggressive and criminal military actions of the Iraqi Government – armed throughout by the United States.

In May 2014 Human Rights Watch reported the Iraqi Government was dropping “barrel bombs on residential neighbourhoods of Fallujah and surrounding areas” and had “repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions”. According to the report “the recurring strikes on the main hospital, including with direct fire weapons, strongly suggest that Iraqi forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war”. In June 2014 HRW noted the Iraqi Government had carried out indiscriminate air strikes in other cities too – Beiji, Mosul, Tikrit and al-Sherqat – killing at least 75 civilians. Speaking about the Iraqi Government in 2013, Dodge noted “torture is endemic.”

Of course, Maliki was forced out of office in September 2014 but many Iraq observers hold little hope in his successor. Cockburn: “It is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by the more personable Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties.” David Cameron’s “stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians” is “a pipe dream”, Cockburn argues.

For example, though Al-Abadi publicly called a halt to the bombing of civilian areas, HRW’s Iraq Researcher Erin Evers told me the bombing has continued. More broadly, the Financial Times recently explained Shia militias have grown “stronger, bolder and more politically influential” since al-Abadi became Prime Minister. Maliki himself is now Iraq’s Vice-President. Evers recently reported that Shia militias under the control of the former Iraqi Prime Minister are currently laying siege to Latifiyya, a town just south of Baghdad. The militias have carried out summary executions and bulldozed Sunni areas causing “a broader humanitarian crisis” with many women and children unable to access food or desalinated water. Wearing is one of the few UK analysts to take seriously the threat from the Shia militias: “If Shia troops wade into Sunni towns and cities with the USAF and the RAF effectively providing cover, or at least having softened up their targets beforehand, the West won’t be preventing another Rwanda, it will be enabling one.”

Unsurprisingly then, though Sunnis living in Mosul and Raqqa do not like Islamic State, Cockburn explains “they are even more frightened of resurgent Iraqi or Syrian armies accompanied by murderous pro-government militias subduing their areas with the assistance of allied air strikes.”

All this leads to another criticism of the simplistic ‘we are acting to support a democratic government’ propaganda meme – that by refusing to engage with the reality of the present Iraqi state, it ignores a key reason for the rise of Islamic State and the responsibility of the West.

Writing in the latest edition of Survival, the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Dodge argues the Islamic State’s advance across northern Iraq “was the direct result of the contemporary flaws with the political system set up after the regime change of 2003.” Or as Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN special envoy to Syria, recently noted, the Islamic State was “originally and still is mainly an Iraqi phenomenon. And that is a direct result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003”.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair

Protecting British citizens? UK foreign policy in the Middle East

Protecting British citizens? UK foreign policy in the Middle East
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 October 2014

Announcing that the terror threat had been increased from “substantial” to “severe”, in August David Cameron said “my first priority as Prime Minister is to make sure we do everything possible to keep our people safe.” The Home Secretary Theresa May echoed Cameron’s pledge, noting “the first and most important duty of government is the protection of British people”.

As with all government statements it’s always good to remember Eduardo Galeano’s maxim that “in general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions, but to disguise them”. With this in mind, it’s worthwhile looking into the Government’s claim that protecting British citizens is their top priority.

Let’s start with the biggest political issue of recent times – the 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. According to a September 2003 report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, in February 2003 the Joint Intelligence Committee told the government “al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”

This advice was in line with warnings from many others, ranging from the leaders of the burgeoning UK anti-war movement to Tony Blair’s close friend Hosni Mubarak, who claimed a war would lead to 100 bin Ladens. In January 2003 former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd argued an invasion risked “turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism.”

As everyone knows, the Government pushed aside these concerns and marched into Iraq in March 2003. And, as surely as night follows day, the illegal invasion and subsequent bloody occupation massively increased the terror threat to the West, a fact confirmed by the former head of MI5 from 2002-7, Eliza Manningham-Buller. 7/7 and 21/7 was the shocking outcome.

A similar narrative also applies to Afghanistan. Over the last 13 years both Labour and Conservative governments have repeatedly told the public British armed forces are occupying Helmand to keep British streets safe. In contrast, Adam Holloway, Conservative MP, former Grenadier Guards officer and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, has said “put starkly, our current situation is working against the West’s security interest and is making attacks on the streets of Britain more, not less, likely.” The majority of the public seem to side with Holloway, with a 2009 Mail on Sunday poll finding three-quarters of those questioned did not think fighting in Afghanistan was making British people safer from terrorism. Both the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston marathon bombing were justified by the Western occupation of Afghanistan.

Turning to the new Iraq War against ISIS, a plethora of experts have warned that US and UK bombing of Iraq (and Syria) will likely lead to more terrorism directed at the West. Professor Robert Pape, Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, argued in June 2014 that “Far from hurting the terrorists, re-engaging Iraq (and/or engaging Syria) would put us back on the path of a rising terrorist threat that has taken us over a decade to escape.” By intervening militarily in Iraq “We would be seen – again – as foreign occupiers and become a target for terrorist organizations again.” Richard Barrett, the former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations at MI6, concurs, noting that US-UK air strikes in Iraq could “increase the risk” from homegrown terrorists in the West.

The US started bombing Iraq on 8 August and Syria on 23 September (the UK is set to start bombing Iraq any day). The predictable outcome? The Director of the FBI recently told US Congress that support for ISIS increased after US airstrikes began in Iraq. And following the US air strikes in Syria, the radical jihadist rebel group Al-Nusra Front stated the US attacks have “put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world”.

Rather than the safety of British citizens being a top priority for the Government, by disregarding repeated expert warnings the government’s own actions prove the threat of terror is actually a low priority for our rulers. Of course, Cameron and Blair aren’t evil Disney villains sitting at home twirling their moustaches thinking about the best way to harm British citizens. But as prime minister they head a government that has geo-political, military and economic interests that, in the final analysis, trump the safety of the British people.

And we can go one further. Rather than protecting UK citizens, we can say with certainty that UK foreign policy in the Middle East in support of these interests actually endangers British citizens by whipping up hatred of the UK.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He Tweets @IanJSinclair