Thursday, July 27, 2006

Give War a Chance

The Times of Thursday 27 July reports that “Israel received tacit approval to continue its campaign to crush Hezbollah yesterday….. At an emergency meeting in Rome of foreign ministers from America, Europe and the Arab world, the United States, with British support, beat off concerted international demands for an immediate ceasefire.”

I’m reminded of the self-proclaimed motto of Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “
give war a chance”, a phrase which sums up exactly the line taken by Britain and the US on the Israel-Lebanon war. Try as Bush and Blair have over the years to present themselves as statesmen of grand moral vision, one somehow doubts that future historians will be talking about them in the same breath as Gandhi.

The Washington Post says that "According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of [Israel’s military] campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."

Elsewhere, “Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasised that the offensive . . . was open-ended. ‘
Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that’ he said.”

Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.” So perhaps “give terrorism a chance” would be a more apt summation of British foreign policy – provided of course that the terrorism in question is being carried out by one of our allies, which by definition is not terrorism at all, but “self-defence”.

Also, note the vast difference between Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, where “nothing is safe”, and the proportionate measures taken strictly in self defence against legitimate targets that would be entirely legal and justifiable if Israel chose to pursue them. But Israel’s actions have by now surely reached the point were talk of proportionality, even of a “response” to Hezbollah’s actions, are little more than a bad joke.

For example, during a recent tour of Beirut, the UN's emergency relief chief
Jan Egeland described the destruction wrought by the Israeli air force as "horrific" and "a violation of international humanitarian law…I did not know it was block after block of houses….It's bigger, it's more extensive than I even could imagine". Patrick McGreevy of the American University in Beirut described in the wrecked southern residential districts of Beirut “a landscape the likes of which no one has seen since Dresden in 1945”.

Human Rights Watch has compiled details on the deaths of more than a quarter of the roughly 400 Lebanese killed so far by Israeli air strikes. "They're hitting civilians time and time again," Peter Bouckaert, an HRW investigator, said. "The Israelis seem to make no discrimination between military and civilian targets."

Tuesday’s Guardian reported an Israeli missile strike on “two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances”, after Monday’s edition had reported a strike on a refugee convoy waving white flags. However, these acts of bravery were dwarfed by Tuesday’s attack on unarmed UN peacekeepers. As they came under bombardment from the IDF, the UN staff had made 10 calls to the Israelis begging them to stop. According to the UN, after each call, it was assured the firing would cease. In fact, the bombing continued until their post – which was clearly marked and had been established for 50 years - was destroyed by a precision guided bomb. Later, UN soldiers who came to retrieve the bodies of their comrades also came under fire. Israel described the incident as “unintentional”.

So far, in this war of self-defence, Israel has killed 391 civilians, as opposed to 18 of its civilians killed by Hezbollah, (see Guardian print edition page 3, 27 July) and driven
600,000 Lebanese people from their homes

Whilst it’s encouraging to see that a substantial majority of the British public oppose what Israel is doing, according to
two polls this week, it’s important that people here focus on our own complicity in the crimes described above As indicated at the top of this article, Britain is currently working to prevent a ceasefire. It is also providing political support by parroting the US-Israeli line that all blame lies squarely on Hezbollah and that Israel is doing no more than responding to terrorism. Finally, it should be noted that Britain is providing material support to Israeli terrorism in the shape of arms sales, which between 2004 and 2005 doubled in value to £22.5 million. It is therefore, not just a question of pointing the finger at the protagonists. What’s important is to understand and to campaign against our own significant role in the conflict.

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Christian Aid Lebanon Campaign

Christian Aid are campaigning to get the Prime Minister to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah war. They say:
"Civilians are bearing the brunt of the latest crisis in the Middle East. More than 400 Lebanese, 40 Israelis and 80 Palestinians have died since the current violence began. Hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes and had their livelihoods destroyed.

The UK government has failed to use its influence to bring about an immediate ceasefire, an end to hostilities and full compliance with international humanitarian law by all sides."
Click here to add your voice to the campaign by emailing the Prime Minister.
And click here to donate to the relief effort to "provide water tanks to affected areas, distribute food or medicines to the poorest families and rebuild communities".

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lebanon latest

I’ll write something myself in the next few days, but for now, here are the better articles I've found on the unfolding Middle East crisis.

Renowned Middle East expert Juan Cole provides a comprehensive summary of events so far at Salon. Also, his blog, Informed Comment, gives you daily analysis on events as they happen, describing the misery Israel is inflicting on innocent Lebanese (and Gazans still), as well as reproducing any correspondence he receives from people in the area. Particularly interesting are these "siege notes" written by a woman living in Beirut.

Paul Woodward's daily selection of news and comment from the world's media at War In Context also rewards regular visits, not least because he punctuates it with his own occasional insights, like this one:

"As each day passes, the Bush administration's role in this frenzy of destruction gets closer to that of Ariel Sharon as he stood by during the Sabra and Shatila massacre. This time around, the Israelis are doing their own dirty work, but American complicity is no less now than was Sharon's, twenty-four years ago".

Similarly, Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar makes the point that Israel has in effect taken the entire nation of Lebanon hostage by severing its links with the outside world, and is now punishing every Lebanese man, woman and child for the actions of one political/paramilitary group.

Israeli academic
Ilan Pappe places events in their historic context, whilst his compatriot, the peace activist Uri Avnery, analyses Israel’s strategic aims.

The Guardian reports that whilst Israel devastates Lebanon, the US and the UK are in the background working against international efforts to bring about a ceasefire. Washington’s UN ambassador John Bolton says “The notion that you just declare a ceasefire and act as if that's going to solve the problem I think is simplistic”. Thus the further application of indiscriminate violence is the preferred solution in Washington and London.

Aid groups like the excellent
Christian Aid are working to mitigate the unfolding humanitarian disaster. Please donate something if you can.

I'll keep posting links to any of the better articles I read about the situation as I come across them.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The politics of happiness

My article "The politics of happiness" is out now on the website of Le Monde Diplomatique.
An excerpt:
"We are told that raising income tax for the wealthiest would remove the material incentives that they require in order to best perform their productive role in society. But we hear less of this point when discussing the incomes of the less well off. Apparently the non-wealthy do not require the incentive of ever-greater material rewards in order to properly play their part in the market economy. The poorer you are the higher proportion of your income is taxed. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, has called for a public sector pay freeze in order to maintain “vigilance in the fight against inflation”. This brave stance apparently need not be taken on pay for top private sector executives, which rose by an average of 16.1% in 2004 — four times faster than average earnings and eight times the rate of inflation."
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Deterring Trident

The British government’s plans to create a successor to the Trident nuclear-weapons system will intertwine British foreign policy with that of the US for decades to come. Britain’s ‘independent’ deterrent will rely on US parts, personnel and firms for its operation. Moreover, as foreign policy expect Dan Plesch points out, “through NATO the US military keeps track of the Trident submarines and has every military, technical and political means of preventing Britain from using the weapons if ever the UK faces a repeat of the predicament of 1940 and ‘stands alone’”.

According to Plesch “The political implication for British citizens is clear. If they wish to support a Trident successor then they surrender their right ever again to complain about having to follow US policy on any issue”. A sobering thought in the wake of the Iraq war and the resulting
increase in the terrorist threat to Britain.

It should also be noted that, as security expert
Paul Rogers recently argued, attempts to present Trident purely as a "deterrent" mask the fact that the possibility of tactical and first use of nuclear weapons has been central to half a century of western military planning.

Finally, any attempt to upgrade Britain’s nuclear weapons capability would be a clear and dangerous breach of the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran is currently being put under enormous pressure to comply with. Efforts to counter proliferation are bound to fail so long as the established nuclear powers break the same rules they demand that others adhere to. Moreover, any upgrade in capability on the part of one state naturally leads to a ripple effect whereby its rivals upgrade their own capabilities in order to maintain the balance of power. For example, any US-UK upgrade can be expected to prompt China and Russia to do likewise, provoking India to upgrade in turn, then Pakistan, then Iran, then Israel. With nuclear weapons systems around the world on hair-trigger alerts (and some of those systems e.g. that of Russia in low states of repair) the chance of an accident or an incident that quickly escalates out of control leading to a grave catastrophe is real and ever present.

Britain currently faces no credible military threat that justifies its retaining nuclear weapons. And any minimal, theoretical benefits are far outweighed by the risks, i.e. the continuation of our relationship with the US in its disastrous current form, and the real danger of nuclear catastrophe. In a recent MORI/Greenpeace poll 54% of the British public said they would oppose a costly replacement of Trident. Please sign the online CND petition today calling for the UK government not to upgrade its nuclear weapons capability. The petition must be signed by 14 July 2006.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No Partner for Peace

The Israeli assault on Gaza continues, with the weakest and most vulnerable of Palestinian civilians bearing the brunt of Israel’s aggression.

In response to Middle East scholar Juan Cole’s post regarding Gaza
last Sunday on his blog 'Informed comment', one reader commented that:
it seems the Israelis were/are more interested in electing leaders who are open to negotiating a solution with the Palestinians. …… the challenge for them is how do you negotiate with a government whose central identity rests on your elimination?

This is a widespread myth that needs to be brought face to face with the facts before any serious discussion can commence. And the facts are that Israel is not remotely interested in negotiation. For even the most ardent believer in the morally pristine Israeli government Dov Weisglass’ interview with Ha'aretz two years ago lays that myth well and truly to rest. Weisglass spelled out unambiguously that his government’s central policy was the elimination of the merest prospect of a Palestine ever emerging.

Weisglass is one of the principal architects of the current disengagement plan. Recounting the interview,
Le Monde Diplomatique said that "according to Weisglass, Sharon decided to give up Gaza, which he had never considered as a national interest, to save the settlements in the West Bank and, more important, to prevent any negotiated agreement with the Palestinians". Anyone still labouring under the delusion that the Gaza withdrawal was an onerous hardship that Israel had volunteered to bear for the sake of peace, or that Israel just wants to negotiate a fair settlement with the Palestinians, should carefully read Weisglass' exact words:

"There was a very difficult package of commitments that Israel was expected to accept. That package is called a political process. It included elements we will never agree to accept and elements we cannot accept at this time. But we succeeded in taking that package and sending it beyond the hills. You know, the term `political process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The political process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The political process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem [i.e. compliance with international law]. And all that has now been frozen.

The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. [It] is actually [suspending the political process in] formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.

It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. There are no more Israeli soldiers spoiling their day. And for the first time they have a slice of land with total continuity on which they can race from one end to the other in their Ferrari. And the whole world is watching them - them, not us. It is making it possible for the Americans to go to the seething and simmering international community and say to them, `What do you want?' It also transfers the initiative to our hands. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote.

[Sharon] doesn't see Gaza today as an area of national interest. He does see [the illegal West Bank settlements of] Judea and Samaria as an area of national interest. The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to only so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza. In regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel. Sharon can tell the leaders of the settlers that he is evacuating 10,000 settlers and in the future he will be compelled to evacuate another 10,000, but he is strengthening the other 200,000, strengthening their hold in the soil. [Sharon] can say honestly that ....out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place. Will not be moved

I found a device, in cooperation with the management of the world [the US government], to ensure that there will be no .... timetable to implement the settlers' nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers? They should have danced around and around the Prime Minister's Office.
" (Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv, 8 October 2004)

(Weisglass’ jokes that Palestinians “can race from one end to the other [of the Gaza strip] in their Ferrari”. Of course, he knows full well the levels of
extreme poverty, child malnutrition, etc that Gazans suffer from as a result of his government’s policies – as demonstrated by his expressed wish to put Palestinians on a “diet”. Note that this rock-solid ally of the west, friend of Condoleeza Rice, enjoyer of unrivalled access to the US Government, is an unashamedly out-and-out racist who relishes Palestinian suffering as a source of great amusement).

The fact is that, with the full backing of the US, Israel has consistently refused to negotiate anything other than the terms of Palestinian subjugation. See
this article by Noam Chomsky for the full, miserable record. Israel must have been terrified by the emergence of a Hamas government, which could not be bribed into collaboration like Fatah, and which has for some time been making clear its willingness to negotiate a two-state solution on the basis of the 67 borders, in accordance with international law and the international consensus. Its latest agreement signed with Fatah which implicitly recognises Israel goes farther than it has gone before and would be a clear basis for a fair settlement, if that was what Israel wanted. But instead, yet another Israeli government has rejected a generous offer of peace and embraced terrorism as a means, not to peace, but to victory.

Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7: Rooting out extremism in Westminster

A year on from the bombings here in London, whilst Tony Blair lectures the Muslim community on its responsibility to "root out extremism", his government continues to take the extremist position of denying any connection between the Iraq war and the increasing terrorist threat to this country. Nevertheless, the facts are clear, as Bradford University security expert Paul Rogers describes:

“Even now, and in spite of repeated warnings from many analysts in and out of government service [linking the Iraq war to the 7/7 bombings], the blunt refusal to acknowledge a chain of binding events persists.

[Jihadist propaganda]...strikes a chord with millions of people.....for numerous reasons, but one is that partial truths are embedded in so much of it. The situation in Gaza really is dire; US planes do bomb Afghan villages; the massive use of airpower and artillery in Iraq is causing huge numbers of casualties; rendition, torture, prisoner abuse and tens of thousands of detentions without trial are the order of the day in George W Bush's global war on terror.

The British government's insular refusal to register the impact of these events on the radicalisation of many young Muslims contrasts with numerous leaks from security sources and policy specialists within its ranks confirming the reality. An example is the substantial home office/foreign office study, Young Muslims and Extremism, published in April 2004:

"It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived 'double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US…

"Perceived western bias in Israel's favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a key long-term grievance of the international Muslim community which probably influences British Muslims.

"This perception seems to have become more acute post-9/11. The perception is that passive 'oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to 'active oppression' – the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam" (see FCO/home office paper published in the Sunday Times, available at
www.times-archive.co.uk/onlinespecials/cabinet2.pdf .)

The first anniversary of the London attacks is rightly a time for reflection and sympathy, but the memories of those killed might be much better served if there was at last some awareness at the top of the British government of the connection between its policies and the costs to its own citizens.”

Last year, in response to the bombings I wrote an article entitled “
Ignoring the Intelligence: How New Labour Helped Bring Terror to London” in which I described what the government knew when it launched its war of aggression against Iraq. There I wrote:

“During an interview with the BBC, when it was becoming obvious that banned WMD would never be found in Iraq, Blair said that, "
You can only imagine what would have happened if I'd ignored the intelligence and then something terrible had happened". That Blair's government had twisted the WMD intelligence deliberately as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq is a matter of record. What should now be focused upon is the intelligence New Labour chose not to distort, but to ignore entirely; the intelligence telling them that the chances of "something terrible" occurring - i.e. a terrorist attack on the UK - would be greatly increased if Britain proceeded to invade Iraq.

Five weeks before the invasion Britain's intelligence chiefs warned Blair's government in strong terms that military action would increase the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain by groups such as al-Qaeda. As the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee noted in 2003: "The JIC assessed that al-Qa'eda 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".

As Britain's involvement in the occupation of Iraq continued, the government's advisers continued to warn of the possible consequences. A joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier, ordered by Tony Blair following the train bombings in Madrid, identified Iraq as a "
recruiting sergeant" for extremism. The analysis was that the Iraq war was acting as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism. It said: "It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived 'double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US. The perception is that passive 'oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to 'active oppression'. The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam."

In 2005, the government was warned yet again. Just weeks before the London bombings, the
Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre - including officials from MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the police - explicitly linked the Iraq war with an increased risk of terrorist activity in Britain. The report, leaked to the New York Times, said that "Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK".”

Given the advice we know the government has received from its security advisers across the board, the approach now taken to question of links between Iraq and last year’s bombings gives us the measure of New Labour as much as any of the sordid episodes that have characterised its time in office. Blair’s frequent posturing as a tolerant liberal who has read the Qur’an and who wishes to reach out to “moderate Muslims” contrasts sharply with his cowardly attempt
earlier this week to hold those same “moderate Muslims” responsible for the continuing terrorist threat, knowing full well of his own culpability.

In a way, the government is forced to project this fantasy worldview – with
Blair bemoaning British Muslim’s "false sense of grievance against the west" – because to acknowledge reality would be to admit a connection between its own actions and the deaths of 52 UK citizens on 7 July 2005.

Still the plain fact remains that the government is deliberately and repeatedly ignoring the advice of the UK’s intelligence services, departmental advisers and independent experts, and pursuing policies that are increasing the threat of terrorist attacks on Britain. With 52 innocent people dead, many more injured, and the threat of
further atrocities hanging over the country, the government continues to strenuously avoid any honest discussion of the problem, preferring to obscure the issues with self-serving mendacity. By uncontroversial reference to the plain facts, New Labour is clearly failing to discharge its basic duty of care towards the population and as such has rendered itself unfit to govern in the most fundamental sense of the term.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The mythical centre-ground

Last week I posted a short piece discussing where the political centre ground really lies in this country. I said that polls like the British Social Attitudes survey show that public opinion is to the left of the political classes on many significant issues, e.g. privatisation, taxation etc. When politicians and commentators talk about the centre-ground they’re plainly not including the views of the public in their assessment of the political spectrum, which seems odd in a democracy.

This week some new polling data was published indicating that this principle also applies to Foreign Policy, specifically with regards to our principal ally on the world stage; the United States. Again, views that are marginalised and disparaged in mainstream political debate are entirely commonplace amongst the general public.

According to a YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph, (results described here by
AFP) “more than two-thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests. Just one percent [rate George W. Bush] a "great leader" against 77 percent who deemed him a "pretty poor" or "terrible" leader.” US policy in Iraq was similarly derided, with only 24 percent saying they felt that the US military action there was helping to bring democracy to the country.”

Of course, opinion polls should always be approached with a degree of caution. One should look carefully at the way questions are framed, the sampling methodology, and other factors.
YouGov have had their methods questioned in the past by more traditional polling organisations, but point out that their results in the run-up to the UK general election last year, for example, predicted the actual result far more accurately than those other organisations. However, in this particular instance, the results come down so decisively in one direction that even allowing a particularly generous margin of error would still show profound opposition to the way the US government conducts itself.

Recall that to Britain, US foreign policy is not the foreign policy of Bulgaria or the Philippines. In a number of key areas the Britain allows the US to dictate foreign policy to all intents and purposes. As the
Royal Institute of International Affairs pointed our last year, Britain "has been conducting counter- terrorism policy 'shoulder to shoulder' with the US, not in the sense of being an equal decision-maker, but rather as a pillion passenger compelled to leave the steering to the ally in the driving seat". Foreign policy expert Michael MccGwire put it rather less delicately, describing Tony Blair as the “spear-carrier of the Pax Americana”.

The fact that views held by overwhelming numbers of people barely find expression in political debate, let alone the fact that these polling figures will come as a surprise to many people, says something stark and revealing about the quality of our democracy. Apparently those nations that declare themselves to be missionaries for democracy abroad demonstrate their devotion to these high ideals by defying the clear wishes of their own populations in the foreign policies they pursue.

The UN route for Iraq: Practical and Ethical Concerns

Menzies Campbell, leader of the Uk’s third party the Liberal Democrats, has proposed bringing in the UN to lead a reconciliation process in Iraq. Its good to see a leading member of the political class finally going some substantial distance toward accepting the reality of the situation in Iraq – namely that the US-UK presence is the major part of the problem, not the solution to the unfolding disaster.

Since the overwhelming majority of Iraqis see the coalition presence as an occupation - and a
brutal one at that - a large proportion of them support attacks on the occupying armies that have killed and tortured so many thousands of them, and destroyed their country. For all the talk of civil war, the conflict in Iraq is first a colonial counter-insurgency conflict, which in turn has opened the way to a second, intertwined sectarian bloodbath (e.g. by creating a failed state for the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to operate in).

The root of this dynamic is the occupation, and only ending the occupation can offer the slightest hope that the sting can be drawn from the sectarian strife it has helped to create. It has been clear for some time that the Sunni insurgency is split between the religious extremist foreign fighters such as Zarqawi, who are prepared to target Shia civilians deliberately, and aggrieved Iraqis of a more nationalist bent whose aim is the end of the occupation, not the pursuit of sectarian war, and who direct their attacks at occupation forces. The split is not a clean one by any means, and appears to be a divide between individuals as much as different insurgent groups, but it exists, and is frequently recognised by Iraqi politicians across the board, for example in the formal declaration at the
Cairo reconciliation conference last year. To isolate the terrorist extremists from the wider resistance and from the population (which is the only way they’ll ever be defeated) it is essential to address the legitimate grievances that fuel the insurgency. Legitimate grievances should of course, by definition, be addressed in any case, which leads me on to the fundamental point that Campbell misses in his article.

Arguments around the practical benefits of leaving or remaining in Iraq ignore the two important facts that should be the bottom line for any genuine democrat. Firstly and most importantly the Iraqis simply
do not want our armies in their country. There’s no serious doubt about this. We may have our own views about withdrawal, which is nice for us, but its irrelevant. That’s if we’re serious about democracy. Its for the Iraqis to decide whether US-UK forces should remain, and their views on that issue are not in doubt.

The second point is that if a country needs outside help to deal with something as serious and fundamental as the creation of an entirely new framework of governance – including a constitution, a parliamentary system, an economy and so forth – then it is absolutely illegitimate (and illegal under international law) for an occupying power to interfere in that process, let alone lead it as the US has done. This will inevitably be done to serve the interests of the interfering country, and no nation has the right to create or mould another to serve its own self-interest. Note the fact that US proconsul
Paul Bremer moved quickly on his appointment to cancel elections in Iraq, only agreeing to them after thousands poured onto the streets demanding democracy. This can hardly be surprising given the popular view of the occupation in Iraq. Note the subsequent US attempts to manipulate the elections. Note the devastating effects of the US attempts to shape the Iraqi economy to serve its own interests. The only external body that can legitimately involve itself in nation-building is an impartial one, and only to the extent that it facilitates an domestically-led process, not imposes one of its own. The only international body that comes close to this description is the UN General Assembly, not the Security Council. Again, none of this will be remotely controversial to a genuine democrat.

As Campbell points out, a UN-led process is what most Iraqis want. Can it succeed? A massive contingent of Muslim troops under extremely strict UN oversight and bankrolled by the international community - together, crucially, with a reconstruction programme led by Iraqi firms in order to galvanise the economy and create jobs - would have the legitimacy that the corrupt, bloody and repressive US regime can never enjoy amongst the population – instantly transforming the picture with regard to resistance. The remaining isolated extremists could then be picked off and
crushed.

But aside from the plain practical reality that the US-UK occupation is creating not solving most of the problems in Iraq, and that an international effort enjoys prospects for success that the current occupation will never have, the bottom line is that the occupation is immoral, illegitimate and illegal by any standards of democratic principle and according to international law.

On his blog “Informed Comment” renowned Middle East scholar Juan Cole says “I agree about the UN [but] it will in any case have to wait until January of 2009, since the very clever but very shallow man now in the White House can't imagine not winning all on his own”. I disagree. We should neither abandon public policy to the whims of our rulers nor expect that the fundamental driving factors of policy formulation will change if the other wing of the business party assumes control in Washington. Both the Clinton and Bush governments have explicitly claimed the right to use military force aggressively to assert control over energy supplies, and as demands on those supplies from China, India and the US grow whilst the reserves themselves dwindle, the pathologies of imperial power will continue to demand that the US remains in control of Iraq in order to maintain the global hegemony it claims as its right, irrespective of the will of the Iraqis. Policy makers will only change direction under the force of political pressure, and its up to us to bring that pressure to bear. Unlike the Iraqi public, we in the west have the means, the freedom and the clout to do this successfully. Its also, given what we’ve done to their country, the very least that we owe them.