Saturday, May 21, 2005

Clash of Civilisations

"[The war on terror] is not just America's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom"
George W. Bush - 20 September 2001
**
"Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.
The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.
"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. "
New York Times - 20 May 2005

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Christian Aid Week

In the UK, this week is Christian Aid Week. The annual event, which started in 1957, is the oldest door-to-door collection campaign in the UK. Last year collectors raised £14.7 million which was used to support the charities work in more than 5 of the poorest countries in the world.

Its worth pointing out, to clear away any misconception, that Christian Aid in no way involves itself with missionary work of any kind. It is strictly an overseas development agency. Moreover, its one of the best around. Its campaigning and advocacy work is highly professional and well targeted. Its also produced a wealth of written material that represents an invaluable resource to campaigners, writers and activists everywhere.

This week Christian Aid released a new report, “Aid, death and dogma”, bringing home details of another glorious triumph for the hallowed “free market”.

Unfettered free trade policies backed by the British government have led to a crisis in Indian agriculture, spiralling rural debt and an epidemic of suicide among poor farmers.

Shocking new research reveals that more than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since the ‘reforms’ of a hard-line liberalising regime, in part bankrolled by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

This support also involved funding the free market fundamentalist Adam Smith Institute to run a privatising scheme that cost some 45,000 Indian public sector workers their jobs.”

In Ghana the report shows how democratic institutions have been subverted by the demands of doctrinaire free market policies, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF), backed by the World Bank, effectively overturned a law to protect poor farmers.

In Jamaica it illustrates how increasing numbers of women have been driven to prostitution and drug smuggling by a continuing round of liberalisation that has wrecked their employment opportunities.

The Christian Aid report also scrutinises the last Labour government’s recent ‘U’ turn on development policy and liberalisation. Earlier this year, both DFID and the Africa Commission, set up by Tony Blair, said that countries should no longer be forced to liberalise and privatise in order to receive aid.

But the report makes clear that the UK’s development policy, along with that of the World Bank and the IMF, is still strongly based on liberalising principles. Legislation is urgently required to turn Mr Blair’s rhetoric into reality, it says.

I posted a few weeks ago on the gap between New Labour rhetoric on third world poverty and the rather less wholesome reality of the policies it pursues. Left to their own devices western governments will treat third world aid budgets strictly as means to pursue their own economic and strategic interests. Any genuine effort to Make Poverty History this year will require NGOs to drag those governments to the negotiating table and wring some firm and meaningful commitments out of them. Christian Aid are more than up to the task, and they’re worthy of your full support.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Strategy of the weak

The Bush administration is having to fight all the way to get its nomination of John Bolton for Ambassador to the UN through the confirmation process in the US Senate. To say that the nomination has raised eyebrows would be something of an understatement. Bolton once said "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only power in the world and that is the United States when it suits our interest and when we can get others to go along". In putting him forward the administration was displaying its profound contempt for the international community, which it sees as an obstacle to US domination. According to the National Defense Strategy of the United States "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism". John Bolton is not a man prepared to allow this axis of weaklings - diplomats, judges and terrorists - to restrain the Godly might of America.

However, the fact that the White House nominated an extreme unilateralist like John Bolton shouldn't necessarily be seen as an expression of total strength or confidence in its position on the world stage. Three significant factors contradict that assessment. First, the ongoing military disaster of the Iraq occupation, where the US still does not control the capital city fully two years after the fall of Saddam; a clear illustration of the limits of US military power. Second, America's growing exclusion from much of world diplomacy as other nations, seeing that they cannot work with the US, simply reorder the world around it. Third, a US economy held hostage by a vast external debt, much of it in the hands of its rival, China. In fact, grand gestures like the Bolton nomination may be deliberately calculated to mask a weakening US position.

Opponents of US hegemony need not feel overly intimidated by the drive to appoint Bolton. But nor should we feel overly encouraged by the obstacles being placed in his way. The fact that Bolton - a man who objects to international law much as a mafia don might object to domestic law - is even being considered for the role of Ambassador to the UN says something rather alarming about how far US politics has lurched to the right.

Furthermore, whatever impediments they face, the fact is that the neo-conservative ultras, of which Bolton is one, still hold sway in the government of the most powerful state in all history. The fanaticism of these officials was spelled out in this chilling quote given anonymously to the New York Times: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do".

A picture is now emerging of a hyperpower damaged by neo-conservative over-ambition. Perhaps grasping too greedily at the opportunities of the post-Cold War era it has, far from "creating new realities", begun to discover the cold reality of its own limitations. But whilst it may have been weakened by the last few years of extremist government, the US still wields massive power over the rest of the globe. Its willingness to use that power malignantly for its own ends, irrespective of the consequences, continues to represent the gravest danger facing the world today. The nomination of John Bolton, and the ongoing struggle to secure his appointment, should be seen in this context.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Contaminating the brand

Medialens campaign to highlight bias in the mass media, applying the Propaganda Model developed by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman to reports in UK press and television news. The Propaganda Model is one of those essential analyses which, whether read here in depth and in action, or here in an abridged version, can truly illuminate one’s understanding of the world around us, let alone the political economy of the mass media. Although I think Chomsky and Herman make the case rather better than Medialens, the group’s work is certainly valuable and well worth regular visits.

In light of this morning’s allegations against George Galloway (more of which soon) I thought I’d post up some correspondence I had with them earlier in the week on the subject of the MP’s treatment by the media. Medialens recently pointed out that while scorn is heaped on Galloway for allegedly lending his support to Saddam Hussein, mainstream politicians who helped maintain the genocidal sanctions regime that killed a million Iraqis and that helped launch an illegal war which killed over 100,000, far worse crimes than those Galloway is accused of, are treated as august statesmen. Although I agree with the substance of their point I was concerned, as I’ve expressed here already, that the slightest association with Galloway, even in this context, can be poisonous if not handled carefully.

Here’s the correspondence. As you can probably guess, I wasn’t 100% persuaded by their last response, but I didn’t feel that I had much more to add.

***

""I am on the anti-imperialist left." The Stalinist left? "I wouldn't define it that way because of the pejoratives loaded around it; that would be making a rod for your own back. If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life"" - George Galloway, 2002 interview with the Guardian
"If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest enemies of socialism, in my opinion, for reasons I've discussed". - Noam Chomsky
Dear Medialens
I greatly admire your work, which I view as vital given the role the media play in suffocating democracy in Britain. I particularly support the practical application of the Chomsky/Herman critique to the day to day actions of the media.
I'm writing to express my concerns about the association between George Galloway and yourselves, as well as his association with the left in general. I realise and accept that the various accusations made against Galloway in the mainstream of political debate are distorted, hypocritical, and occasionally outright lies. In the past its been necessary to defend progressive figures such as Ken Livingstone, Noam Chomsky and others when rationally supportable statements they make have fallen foul of the mass media. It was right to defend those people in those cases, no matter the difficulties. However, some of Galloway's controversial statements have been genuinely problematic from a progressive left-libertarian point of view.
For an example, see the quote above. To my mind there is, for progressives, a rather simpler answer to the question "Are you on the Stalinist left?". The answer would be "No, don't be ridiculous. Stalin was a mass murderer" (hence the pejoratives loaded around the term "Stalinist"). Aside from and independently of the elite criticism of Galloway, the anti-war movement needs to satisfy itself that it shares Galloway's moral and political judgement.
I set out a critique of Galloway from an anti-war left perspective here a few weeks ago. I'd welcome any thoughts you may have.
I am deeply concerned that Galloway will prove to be poison to the anti-war cause during the next parliament. His presence on the platform plays right into the hands of critics who would paint us as apologists for tyranny. Between the left and the right lies an ocean of generally apolitical people. These people saw the moral rightness of our case and swelled our ranks in London in Feb 2003. Galloway will cost us this support. Many people who are repelled by him feel that way for very good reasons (see my article, linked above). The fate of the anti-war movement also has costs abroad so, given events regarding Iran for example, this potential loss of support is serious. To use some rather ugly corporate terminology; Galloway contaminates the brand. The moral case for standing with him should be watertight, as it was with Livingstone and Chomsky in the past.
I realise that your Media Alert was to highlight the double standards that are applied to Galloway as opposed to other public figures - not a simple defence of Galloway himself. But I think that, in order to ensure that your point came across well, you might have pointed out that the man is not unambiguously a hero. This could have been done briefly in parenthesis, but that small statement would have been crucial in defending the moral integrity of your important message. I sense that both myself and Medialens are great admirers of the work of Noam Chomsky. I sincerely doubt that he would have much time for George Galloway. Whilst he might have written something very similar to this media alert, I think Chomsky would have inserted the brief but crucial point that he was arguing a point of principle - not making a partisan defence of Galloway. For example, in respect of the so-called "Faurisson affair", which I'm sure you're aware of, Chomsky did not fail to point out that "My own views in sharp opposition to his [Faurisson's] are clearly on record, as I have said."
Finally, I hope that you accept these remarks in the good faith in which they're intended. I would certainly be very interested in any response from yourselves. Meantime, my very best wishes for all your future work.
Kind Regards
diarist
******

Thanks, diarist.
I'm sure there are many areas where Media Lens strongly differs from George Galloway. You come close to hitting the nail on the head when you write:"I realise that your Media Alert was to highlight the double standards that are applied to Galloway as opposed to other public figures - not a simple defence of Galloway himself."
It was indeed our intention to highlight the double standards. The point is that no matter what Galloway might have said and done, his sins are trivial to the point of invisibility beside the vast horrors committed by the likes of Blair, Straw, Bush et al. And yet whereas these latter are treated as august statesmen worthy of respect verging on reverence, Galloway is treated as very far beyond the pale. This needs to be pointed out. Because Galloway's (alleged) sins are so obviously outclassed by those of establishment politicians there is no need to attempt a defence of his arguments and actions, nor indeed to indicate any reservations we might have about them, for us to make our point.
We do take your comments in good faith. It's a pleasure to receive sincere and well-intentioned criticism/comments of this kind - much appreciated.
Best wishes
David Edwards

*****

David - thanks very much for getting back to me.

I understand the intention - to highlight the media's hypocrisy in this case - and wholeheartedly agree that Galloway's "sins are trivial to the point of invisibility beside the vast horrors committed by the likes of Blair, Straw, Bush et al". However, I do not agree that "Because Galloway's (alleged) sins are so obviously outclassed by those of establishment politicians there is no need to attempt a defence of his arguments and actions, nor indeed to indicate any reservations we might have about them, for us to make our point". On purely rational terms your argument stands. But after the need to construct this argument rationally comes the need to persuade people of its rightness. My criticism was limited to this second concern alone.

As I said, many people are repelled by Galloway for very good reasons. Furthermore, since most people's perceptions are framed by a diet of pure mainstream media, many will think far worse of Galloway than they will of Blair, Straw etc. They will think it quite right that Galloway is given a hard time by Paxman. He's that idiot who supported Saddam isn't he? Why shouldn't Paxman give him hell? That will be the widespread view and it's people who hold such views who need to be persuaded of the rightness of your argument.

My concern is that people holding this popular view will misread your alert as at least partially a defence of Galloway, and that your point will be undermined or even lost as a result. As I've said, it would have been a simple thing - rhetorical housekeeping if you will - to close off this door and thus keep the reader's mind focused on the point. You might simply have inserted words like "One need not be a supporter of Galloway to recognise that......" and go on to point out the rather obvious differences between some verbal support for tyranny on the one hand, and on the other, launching a war of aggression that costs tens of thousands of lives.

In my view there is a need to do this in order to make your point. Since the media frame and restrict popular understanding of the issues, your work in challenging these restrictions is vital to the progressive movement. My suggestion is simply that to do this effectively its important to recognise that arguments from outside this popular framework sound like they're from Mars unless delivered carefully. I don't suggest that the message is changed; only that details like this are crucial to the argument's effectiveness.

Finally, may I ask if you would object to my posting this correspondence on my website?

Thanks very much for your time


****

Thanks, diarist.
The campaign against Galloway has been so appalling, so standard for media performance, and so deeply rooted in the propaganda role of the state-corporate media, that we felt disinclined to add something along the lines of "One doesn't need to be a supporter of Galloway's to recognise..." This would have felt like we were offering a respectful nod in the direction of an utterly cynical and mendacious propaganda campaign. The reason Galloway is +so+ reviled (by some) is that he has been targeted for political destruction by an establishment that finds his honesty on Iraq deeply threatening. That's where we were keen to keep our focus.
Yes, please feel free to use the exchange on your website.
Best wishes

David Edwards

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Some recommended reading

Back after a brief post-election hiatus I'll start off with something you see on many sites like this but which I don't normally do myself - a round-up of some recent articles; all well worth a read.

First up, the smoking gun. On the Sunday before the UK election information was published that should at the least have ended the careers of Tony Blair and Jack Straw. This was the publication in the Sunday Times of the leaked minute of the high level meeting on Iraq dated July 23, 2002. The minute put beyond doubt that the invasion of Iraq was a premeditated act of aggression in which WMD was used a pretext. It said clearly that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy". Every voter should have read the minute. Its contents were shocking - particularly the cynicism of Blair and Straw's contributions. Ray McGovern, veteran CIA analyst, gives his assessment here.

Next, a transcript of Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, talking about the new sham democracy in Iraq and how the anti-war movement can mobilise to help opposition forces in that country bring about the real thing.

Independent reporter Dahr Jamail has been showing extraordinary courage over the past couple of years, risking his life to bring the outside world reports of the true situation in Iraq. This interview with Democracy Now in the US sheds more light on an ongoing disaster which the media is finding almost impossible to cover.

This from the New York Times, describing the "gratuitous violence...routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis" according to one former US Army reservist. Should be read in conjunction with Tom Engelhardt's "Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq"; a brilliant article on the unreported aerial bombardment of that country, which Juan Cole described as "a seminal piece of anti-war journalism".

If the architects of western military projection into the Middle East are genuinely concerned with fighting terrorism, they might consider this article from Christian Science Monitor. Yemen’s Islamic authorities have scored some victories against al Qaeda using methods that do not create more corpses or more terrorists. Those who imagine a fairytale clash of civilisations between the good guys of the western enlightenment and the bad guys of eastern Islamo-fascism, if they can bear to allow some nuance into their worldview, could do worse than to compare the measures described in this article to those described in Englehardt's.

On the indispensable TomDispatch, Michael T. Klare describes the scramble for energy reserves that is shaping global politics in the early 21st Century. Klare describes the global energy equation thus: "Demand is rising around the world; supplies are not growing fast enough to satisfy global requirements; and the global struggle to gain control over whatever supplies are available has become more intense and fractious. Because the first and second of these factors are not likely to abate in the years ahead, the third can only grow more pronounced...Expect a hot couple of decades ahead".

In the New York Review of Books, Thomas Frank looks at the inversion of classic class affiliations in US culture and politics; a phenomenon exemplified by the cleaning lady who voted for George W. Bush because she could never support a rich man for president.

Rahul Mahajan looks at the double anniversary of the fall of Berlin at the end of World War II and the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. His blog's worth returning to on a regular basis.

More of my own articles to follow, including a look back at the UK general election and an examination of how promoting democracy squares with arming Saudi Arabia (here's a taster: it doesn't).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blair's next war

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. (Short pause) And having said that, all options are on the table." (Laughter)
George Bush - press conference, Brussels, 22 February 2005
During the UK election campaign many of New Labour's supporters have stressed that the issue of the war in Iraq, whatever one's view of the government's conduct, belongs firmly in the past. Columnist Polly Toynbee has said that to cast an anti-war vote against the government would be to take "revenge for a war that will never be repeated". Former New Labour minister Robin Cook, who resigned in the run-up to the Iraq war, said that "it is not going to happen again..No 10 knows perfectly well that it cannot repeat the controversy over Iraq". But the case for optimism is tenuous. To present the Iraq war as a unique and unrepeatable event is to fundamentally misrepresent the current global picture and the UK's place within it. In fact Britain could well be involved in further US military action in the near future, perhaps in an assault on Iran as early as next month.
For sixty years Britain's foreign policy has been all but inextricably linked with that of the senior partner in our most significant international alliance; the United States. The nature of US power has tremendous bearing on the fate of the UK. Understanding that power, its motives and our government's relationship with it are essential if we are to properly judge the prospect of the Iraq disaster being repeated.
As US dominance has increased in the post Cold War era, the nature of our closest ally has been changing accordingly. Now in the early 21st century we are faced with an ambitious, militaristic and aggressive hyperpower - one that accepts no limits and tolerates not even the slightest challenge to its dominance. In his recent book "The New American Militarism", Andrew J. Bacevich, West Point Graduate, Vietnam veteran and Professor of International Relations at Boston University, describes these cultural shifts. Bacevich says that American militarism is "a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue" and in the absence of "dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature".
The new American militarism manifests itself in a number of ways. Firstly in its scope: "the United States spends more on defense than all other nations in the world together. By 2009 [the Pentagon] budget will exceed the Cold War average by 23 percent -- despite the absence of anything remotely resembling a so-called peer competitor. The primary mission of America's far-flung military establishment is global power projection". Secondly, in the mindset of the military: "the services have come to view outright supremacy as merely adequate and any hesitation in efforts to increase the margin of supremacy as evidence of falling behind". Militarism also manifests itself "through an increased propensity to use force, leading, in effect, to the normalization of war. During the entire Cold War era, from 1945 through 1988, large-scale U.S. military actions abroad totalled a scant six. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, they have become almost annual events. Altogether, the tempo of U.S. military interventionism has become nothing short of frenetic". The use of force is now seen as a facet, not a failure of diplomacy. Vice-President Dick Cheney says that force "makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems". America no longer fights defensively, nor as a last resort.
Accelerating the new American militarism still further are the neo-conservative officials in charge of the White House's Middle East policy; men that, according to Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years and former editor of the President's Daily Brief, were routinely referred to in high circles in Washington during the 1980s as "the crazies". McGovern recently warned that these officials, whose value system amounts to 'might makes right', are "now focusing on Iran, which they view as the only remaining obstacle to American domination of the entire oil-rich Middle East. They calculate that, with a docile, corporate-owned press, a co-opted mainstream church, and a still-trusting populace, the United States and/or the Israelis can launch a successful air offensive to disrupt any Iranian nuclear weapons programs - with the added bonus of possibly causing the regime in power in Iran to crumble".
The malignant neo-conservative influence should not be underestimated. Andrew J Bacevich argues that "one aspect of the neoconservative legacy has been to foster the intellectual climate necessary for the emergence of the new American militarism." Their task is "spelling out an 'imperial self-definition' of American purpose". He identifies the five founding convictions of this, the dominant ideology of the US government. First, the certainty that American global dominion is benign. Second, that failure to sustain this imperium would inevitably result in global disorder. Third, that domination is best secured by force. Fourth, a commitment to enhancing American military supremacy. Fifth, and most troubling of all, a hostility toward realism, whether manifesting itself as a deficit of ideals or an excess of caution. These are the core beliefs of the government of Britain's closest ally. Even after four years of the Bush presidency it seems that Britain's political classes have failed to grasp the implications this holds for the future of our country.
Why should the US administration now turn its attention towards Iran? Beyond the general drive for ever-greater supremacy lie two specific, pressing concerns: nuclear power and oil. The Iranian government has been pursuing a nuclear fuel drive which it officially maintains are for non-military purposes but which the US and Israel suspect will culminate in Tehran possessing atomic weapons. Iran is Israel's principle strategic rival in the Middle East and Tel Aviv views any challenge to its military dominance (which includes its own significant nuclear capability) as unconscionable. Israelis are now claiming publicly that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within six months, and Israeli officials have been pressing the issue with the US for the past year and a half. According to some defence experts, several of the Iranian facilities are still under construction and there is only a narrow "window of opportunity" to destroy them - a window that will begin to close this year.
But the primary reason for any future military action is the same reason that western powers have always had for their interest in the affairs of Iran: its stupendous reserves of oil and natural gas. Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, recently set out the significance of this factor in current decision making: "Iran houses the second-largest pool of untapped petroleum in the world. With this much oil - about one-tenth of the world's estimated total supply - Iran is certain to play a key role in the global energy equation. And it is not just oil that Iran possesses in great abundance, but also natural gas....approximately 16% of total world reserves. Iran also sits athwart the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway through which, daily, 40% of the world's oil exports pass. In addition, Iran is becoming a major supplier of oil and natural gas to China, India, and Japan, thereby giving Tehran additional clout in world affairs. It is these geopolitical dimensions of energy, as much as Iran's potential to export significant quantities of oil to the United States, that undoubtedly govern the administration's strategic calculations. When considering Iran's role in the global energy equation, therefore, Bush administration officials have two key strategic aims: a desire to open up Iranian oil and gas fields to exploitation by American firms, and concern over Iran's growing ties to America's competitors in the global energy market".
The emergence of new economic competitors such as India and China, the impending peak in world oil production and the added importance peak oil production gives to control over supply all lend added impetus to Washington's plans. But western interest in Middle Eastern energy reserves is nothing new and certainly not something that need be the subject of speculation. The US State Department, as far back as 1945, viewed Middle Eastern oil as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". British planners in 1947 concurred, describing "a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination". In 1956 UK Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd said "We must at all costs maintain control of this oil". And in 1999 Dick Cheney told the Institute for Petroleum that "Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature. We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world's economy. The [1991] Gulf War was a reflection of that reality".
Indeed it was the promise of this "stupendous source of strategic power" that inspired the US and the UK fifty years ago to topple Iran's parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah. Tehran had upset the British by nationalising its oil industry, having taken the view that Iran, not the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP) should be the primary beneficiary of its reserves. Winston Churchill's British government continued covert operations begun by the previous Labour administration to organise a coup with the help of the CIA in 1953. The new US/UK friendly administration was savage in the extreme. Amnesty International reported in 1976 that under the Shah Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture" which was "beyond belief". In Iran "the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror".
Returning to the present day, moves toward a US attack on Iran have already begun. Details emerged first in an article by award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh for the New Yorker and later in the Washington Post. Unmanned surveillance drones have been entering Iranian air-space to search for nuclear facilities and test air-defences since at least late December 2004. Similar incursions have been made by US Special Forces. Both The Times in London and the Jerusalem Post have reported that either the US, Israel in coordination with the White House, or both governments are planning air attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities as early as June 2005. Its often argued that the US infantry is too stretched by its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan for a new occupation to be contemplated - but in any case a ground invasion is not on the agenda. Instead the right-wing hardliners in the US and Israeli governments imagine that a massive air assault on Iran will precipitate regime change from within. John Pike of globalsecurity.org sets out the thinking in stark terms: "they think that they can just blow up what they want to blow up and let the ant-heap sort itself out afterwards".
What will be the UK's role in any future attack on Iran? Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said that the prospects of such an attack occurring are "inconceivable". As we have seen, the prospects are eminently conceivable, but we can hardly take Straw's words at face value in any event. This was demonstrated last weekend, when his involvement in formulating the WMD pretext for toppling Saddam Hussein was revealed in a leaked minute of a Downing Street meeting held on 23 July 2002. That meeting acknowledged that the US had already decided to invade Iraq, recommended that Downing Street "should continue to work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action", and noted that this left only "the legal issues" to be resolved. Straw said that case was thin. "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran". Nevertheless, he continued: "We should work up an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force".

The UK government has shown time and again that it is prepared to plumb the depths of cynicism to an extraordinary degree in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with its US ally. The obvious policy alternative would be to oppose US aggression, and decline to offer the UK's assistance. But this legitimate position, when taken by France, was denounced in shrill tones by Tony Blair as "pathetic" and "dangerous". We need hardly entertain the idea that this "pathetic" and "dangerous" stance is one Blair will adopt in the event of any future US military action against Iran or any other state. The UK has been America's most willing ally for 60 years, and never more so than under New Labour. Even if the political costs were to preclude the direct involvement of UK armed forces, we can certainly expect our government to lend logistical support, as was the case in the Vietnam war, and diplomatic support, at which New Labour excels, to the extent that the Wall Street Journal was moved to describe our Prime Minister as "America's chief foreign ambassador".
Several key factors should lead us to conclude that UK support for US military aggression is far from over. These include the emerging nature of US militarism, the acceleration of this aggressive outlook by a neo-conservative administration, the motives for attacking Iran, the history of US/UK involvement in that country, the plans already being made for such an attack, and the extraordinary depths of London's subservience to Washington. Votes cast in tomorrow's UK elections will not only deliver a verdict on the last war - they will also indicate how easy it will be for New Labour to get involved in the next one.