Rumbling in the Ruling Ranks By William Bowles

27 April 2004

The managers of the state fire a warning shot across Blair’s bow

“Should a nation…which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of UN disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal? If we agree that armed attack can properly achieve the purpose of the assailant, then I fear we will have turned back the clock of international order…” – President Eisenhower in a television broadcast to the nation after the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956

My, how things have changed but then back in 1956, Britain was boss of an empire well past its sell-by date and the US was on the way up and anxious to woo the rising tide of anti-colonial struggles as part of its Cold War strategy.

Much play has been made over the statement by 52 former UK diplomats accusing the government of an “illegal” occupation of Iraq and of doing a volte face over Israeli occupation of Palestine. But before the anti-war posse get all worked up over it, it’s wise to check their statement a little more carefully before making any pronouncements about their ‘opposition’ to Blair’s policies.

Firstly, the statement does not call for British withdrawal from Iraq even though it calls the invasion “illegal”. It reserves its ire for the about turn that Blair has done over the Palestine issue but even here, the 52 diplomats seem to be more concerned about the fact that Blair was not consulted by Bush over the apparent change of direction on the issue of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the fact that the much vaunted ‘road map’ seems to have been abandoned.

Yet any investigation of the ‘road map’ reveals it as a total fraud to begin with and part of the smokescreen used to justify British complicity in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. I wrote this on the 23 June 2003 concerning the ‘road map’, calling it a “Shell Game“,

“Even the most cursory analysis of the “road map” reveals that its most basic elements are utterly unacceptable to the Palestinians, even if a ‘puppet’ in the form of the Palestinian ‘Prime Minister’ Abbas (Abu Mazen) can be rolled out to rubber stamp it. That there is no ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, the fact that the ‘removal’ of settlements only goes back to those established since 2000, the loss of 12% of the land on the West Bank, and the rejection of the demand for Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, are the four fundamental obstacles that make the “road map” an unattainable objective. And as the US was author of the road map, it knew it too. So what is the hidden US objective?”

Well now we know what that (not so) hidden objective was. Mike O’Brien, Blair’s Foreign Office spokesman when interviewed on BBC Radio 4 this morning,

“Our policy since 1967 has been to support a two-state solution…. That is still our policy.”

But Blair’s de facto endorsement of the Sharon plan that retains the 100,000 illegal settlers on the West Bank flies in the face of the ‘two-state solution’, as effectively there is no Palestinian state left to be part of a ‘two-state’ solution.

So what is going on here? I contend that far from being a condemnation of British policy based upon principle, it reveals that the state machine, the civil service, has serious problems about how imperialist policy is being planned and implemented, noting that if Blair continues to fail to influence Bush over Middle East policy then,

“…there is no case for supporting policies that are doomed to failure.”

In other words, they don’t have a problem with the objectives but merely to a badly thought out and implemented policy that has no end in sight, especially as they point out, Blair has no plan for getting out or ‘exit strategy’.

The parallels with the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 are more than simply academic, for it reveals a comparable myopia on the part of the British ruling class, for both instances reveal a Britain anxious to recapture the ‘glorious’ past of empire. But clearly, the managers of the British state have different ideas. And it can be no accident that this merry band of ‘retired’ diplomats took what is an historically unprecedented step to make public their concerns.

The big question to ask is, will Blair do a ‘Gaitskill’ over Iraq? Hugh Gaitskill, then leader of the Labour opposition and initially a gung ho supporter of Eden’s policy of invasion and who said of Nasser, “We have seen this pattern before”, agreed that military intervention was necessary. But fearful of a leftwing revolt led by Aneurin Bevin, Gaitskill did a rapid about turn and finally came out in opposition to the invasion. But of course the Labour Party no longer has a leftwing worth talking about, so it seems it’s up to the mandarins of Whitehall to call it like it is.

In 1956, the US was in the process of displacing the UK as the major imperialist power in the Middle East. And in a further irony of history, it was also Israeli manipulation of Britain that took centre stage in the Suez debacle.

The Suez fiasco has other parallels with the current situation including (obviously) the role of oil but perhaps more importantly in the light of the statement by the former British diplomats, the divisions within the ruling class over the ‘best’ way to rule.

But no doubt, Blair who is as slippery as an eel when it comes to extricating himself and his policies from any criticism will attempt to find some way out of this, the latest disaster to befall the Labour government. But at this critical juncture that sees resistance to the occupation in Iraq growing apace, and the obvious disaster of being tied so closely to Sharon’s imperialist/colonialist policies, they chose to make this statement, judging that a change of direction was needed before the entire adventure collapsed in ignominious failure. For clearly, it’s an unequivocal statement on behalf of the managers of capitalism that Blair has to go before the situation spins entirely out of control.

So far, Blair’s allies have not been too cool in the way they’ve tried to handle things, accusing the 52 diplomats of being ‘camels’, Foreign Office-speak for pro-Arab views, and have tried to tar the diplomats with an anti-Israeli brush, citing that some of the 52 have close ties to the Middle East. But it’s obvious that whatever influence (if any) Blair claimed he had over Bush has vaporised along with a considerable number of Humvees and other assorted bits of badly built military hardware.

How Blair intends to extricate himself from this the latest in a long string of policy disasters, is anybody’s guess but judging by his past performances, Blair is now so disconnected from the real world that one way of the other, he’ll have to go. As went Eden so will Blair.

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