The Fall of David Cameron

History News Network

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who dominated British politics in the 1960s, once said that a week is a long time in politics. The meaning of his famous remark is that political fortunes can change dramatically in a short time. Just one year after winning the May 2015 general election against the odds, Prime Minister David Cameron has suffered a spectacular fall. He is out of power and out of politics, having stood down as an MP with immediate effect on September 12, less than three months after he resigned as prime minister.

Cameron had been leader of the Conservative Party for ten years, and prime minister for six, all but one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. When he appeared to be at the pinnacle of his career, having won a majority in the May 2015 general election, his luck ran out. Now, he is yesterday’s man. Much of Cameron’s legacy is being dismantled by his successor Theresa May. His record in office is under critical examination. His admirers are dwindling.

Two days after Cameron’s resignation as an MP, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published a highly critical report. It held him “ultimately responsible” for the collapse of the Libyan state, and the rise of ISIS after the Anglo-French military campaign with American help in 2011.

Remember, then Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy were leading champions of military action in Libya, citing the principle of “responsibility to protect” – a principle endorsed by the UN Security Council as a means of last resort to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amid determined public calls for a western-led campaign against the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a reluctant President Obama gave in. The result was a NATO campaign which led to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi. Obama regrets the bungled Libyan intervention now.

The parliamentary committee’s report said the government of Prime Minister Cameron neither had accurate intelligence nor a coherent strategy for Libya after Gaddafi’s removal. The result, according to the report, was political and economic collapse, tribal warfare, widespread human rights abuses and the rise of ISIS in North Africa, fuelled by weapons which the Libyan army abandoned.

The initial objective of the Libyan campaign was limited to protect the besieged civilian population in Benghazi, protesting against Gaddafi’s rule when the Arab Spring swept across the region. After that objective was secured within a short time, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report concluded, the United Kingdom “drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.” It became “exclusively focused on military intervention.” The decision was taken in France; the United Kingdom simply followed.

Insofar as Britain’s recent military interventions abroad are concerned, there are parallels between David Cameron and Tony Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Blair was heavily criticised in the Chilcot Inquiry, published in July 2016, for acquiescing with President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. The parliamentary inquiry into Libya found that David Cameron went along with the decision-making in France, with calamitous results.

Tony Blair, with George W. Bush, must bear the ultimate responsibility for the collapse of the Iraqi state, the emergence of al-Qaida in Iraq and more recently ISIS. Likewise, the parliamentary inquiry, in its final analysis, held David Cameron responsible for the disintegration of Libya. The policy created conditions for the birth of ISIS in North Africa, and for massive waves of refugees arriving in Europe. UK actions in Libya were described as “ill-conceived” by the inquiry chairman Crispin Blunt, a member of Cameron’s own Conservative Party. Cameron himself refused to testify. He said he was too busy to appear.

But the reason for Cameron’s fall from power was not Libya. He was a tactical, rather than visionary, leader, not able to stand up to dissenters in his party. He failed to secure a majority in the 2010 general election, and had to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party. In 2015, he won by a small majority in parliament on a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

His pledge was meant to placate the anti-EU faction in his Conservative party, and to counter the UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage, a vehemently anti-EU and anti-immigration politician. Cameron’s lurch to the right on issues such as immigration, and his attempts to secure concessions from the EU, were tactics to maintain control, win the referendum, and stay in the European Union. He was over-confidence that he was a winner, and would prevail in the referendum. It proved costly.

Cameron’s predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, had resisted calls for a referendum. In the 1980s, Thatcher’s frequent public arguments with the rest of the European Union over British contributions, and her assertions of national sovereignty, concealed divisions in the Conservative Party. Her successor John Major (1990-1997) often clashed with party rebels over EU membership, but would not contemplate another referendum. Major insisted that the membership issue was resolved in the 1973 vote. Cameron lost the gamble, because what was meant to be an electoral exercise about the EU became a vote on a wide range of policies under his prime ministership.

Now that Cameron has left the political scene, it is for Prime Minister Theresa May to manage the aftermath. But the recent history of the United Kingdom demonstrates that when a prime minister has dominated national politics for years, the tenure of their successor is difficult and short. James Callaghan (1976–1979) survived in office for three years before his defeat by Margaret Thatcher. John Major had a difficult time in office before his defeat in 1997 by Tony Blair’s Labour Party. And after Blair’s resignation, Prime Minister Gordon Brown managed to remain in office for three years before he was defeated in 2010.

The next general election in the United Kingdom is due in 2020. Whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s government can last until then is an open question.

[END]

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Britain’s Shameless Conservative-led Government: Squeezing the Poor to Help the Rich

CounterPunch

Britain’s governing Conservative Party looks increasingly clueless and is taking the country in a direction not seen since the 1990s. The populist right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is on the march with an agenda that is vehemently anti-Europe, anti-immigration and isolationist. It has stirred strong passions among British voters, angry at the decline in their living standards and estranged from mainstream politics. Not knowing what to do, Prime Minister David Cameron’s party has adopted UKIP’s strident rhetoric and is preaching policies normally associated with extremist groups.

Haunted by the prospect of defeat at the next general election, the prime minister and his associates are trying to outdo UKIP. Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democratic Party, can only protest or maintain embarrassing silence, but cannot shake off accusations of enabling a Conservative minority to stay in power.

In an attempt to hold the party together, Prime Minister Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union after the next general election. His frontline is busy attacking Europe’s institutions, whether part of the EU or the European Court of Human Rights that predates the European Union and is quite separate.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced at the recent party conference that the United Kingdom would defy the European Court’s rulings and apply laws passed in the British Parliament. The European Court of Human Rights was initially established in 1959. The Human Rights Convention itself was signed in 1950. Britain played a leading role in the creation of both. The United Kingdom joined the European Common Market, the EU’s predecessor, under a Conservative government in 1973. A two-thirds majority approved Britain’s continued membership in a referendum two years later.

The Conservative leadership today prefers to avoid any mention of these historic facts. Party grandees like ex-cabinet ministers Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve are critical of the leadership’s approach, but have been side-lined. Their criticisms are not likely to make much difference. They do, however, strengthen the context in which the Conservative Party operates. UKIP’s firebrand leader Nigel Farage mocks Cameron’s government for adopting copycat policies. It underscores the government’s weakness.

Writing in the Observer, a senior commentator William Keegan described the Conservative Party as remarkably shameless. Keegan was particularly scathing about Prime Minister Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne, who suggested that they would cut the benefits of the unemployed and the working poor to enable the government to reduce taxes for the better off.

After Prime Minister Cameron, George Osborne is the most powerful member of the cabinet. He controls spending across all government departments. Osborne is sometimes mentioned as a future leader of the Conservative Party. As well as trade unions, the old enemy, Osborne has now declared war on charities trying to fill the gap created by the government’s welfare cuts. He recently told a gathering of business leaders that they must defend the economy from “an anti-free market movement led by trade unions and charities”.

Conservatives were indignant when the British charity Oxfam issued a poster in June suggesting that a combination of “zero-hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts and unemployment” had created a critical situation in the country. There is a feeling in the party that charities have become too political and too left-wing. When the Conservatives last ruled Britain from 1979 to 1997, the trade unions were their enemy number one. The neo-Thatcherite generation in the present government has added charities to the list of enemies.

To those who remember the state of British politics in the 1980s and 1990s, it looks like a repeat performance by the militant right-wing under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In her early years as leader, Thatcher encouraged her militant admirers, who ultimately contributed to her isolation and downfall in 1990. They also caused trouble for her successor John Major and ensured that the party was defeated in 1997. The party had to wait until 2010 for another victory.

After John Major’s resignation as leader when the Conservatives were defeated at the 1997 general election, the party’s behaviour grew even more bizarre. Moderates lost out; the party was soon in the grip of militants, with Thatcher openly encouraging them to go for an extreme agenda against the European Union, immigrants and public services. During the leadership of Major’s successor William Hague, they used absurd tactics to keep their core support and scared centrist voters in the process.

Wrapped up in the British flag, volunteers could be seen telling people that there were “only so many days left to save the Queen’s head on the pound coin” and they must “vote Conservative to save Britain from German and French domination. Labour won another resounding victory and William Hague resigned as Conservative leader. He is now in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Britain is again at a crossroads. Vital public services, including the national health system, are in crisis. Talk of economic recovery is folly, based on claims that credible experts, sometimes government advisors, contradict. Poor and middle classes, under continuing squeeze, are angry and frustrated. The country is isolated in Europe and has chosen to be on America’s coattail even more noticeably.

The ruling Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners are moving more and more to the right. Moderates are out, being replaced by an aggressive generation of Conservative politicians who bank on shrill rhetoric and unholy alliances. With the next general election just over six months away, the day of reckoning is fast approaching.

[END]

The Syrian Riddle

CounterPunch, FPJ, Palestine Chronicle

Recent remarks by Carla Del Ponte, a Swiss investigator of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry, have changed the nature of debate on the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. Momentum had been building up for months against Bashar Syriaal-Assad’s government, first on the basis of accusations that such weapons were in use, followed by heavy hints by anti-Assad groups and Western politicians that the Damascus regime was guilty of chemical warfare against its opponents and civilians. There is no doubt about the unspeakable brutality committed by both sides in the conflict, but chemical warfare, if proven, would mean escalation to another level involving serious war crimes.

Carla Del Ponte, Switzerland’s former attorney general and prosecutor of the UN tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is no pushover. She is now a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, appointed under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Contrary to subsequent insinuations that she did not know what she was talking about, Del Ponte had chosen her words carefully. She had said that witness testimony made it appear that “some chemical weapons were used, in particular nerve gas.” And it appeared to have been used by the “opponents, by the rebels.” There is “no indication at all that the Syria government … used chemical weapons.” She said she was a “little bit stupefied” that the first indications were of the use of nerve gas by the opponents.

Del Ponte’s remarks, made amid reports of gains by Syrian government forces, seemed to undermine the position of rightwing hawks in Washington like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and in London Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. These are some of the powerful figures who craft Western policy, but hardly objective and credible voices on Syria and the wider Middle East.

Within hours, enthusiastic interventionists in Washington and a somewhat reluctant Obama administration were scrambling to adjust. The White House said the United States believed that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime. In a stark reminder of Iraq in 2003, the British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted in Parliament: “I can tell the House that there is a growing body of limited but persuasive information that the [Syrian] regime has used and continues to use chemical weapons.” The Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed. Mainstream television channels and newspapers remained broadly uncritical, unquestioning, even generous in giving the benefit of the doubt to Hague, despite lessons of Iraq.

Persuading those who are ideologically drunk and politically myopic is often a hopeless undertaking. Hunger for war and lust for power or for distant resources always impair both reason and morality. The developing situation on the ground has made the war hawks struggle for credibility. For them, the last resort is to assert with dead certainty their “belief” that it is Bashar al-Assad’s forces who have employed chemical weapons and committed war crimes. How could “freedom fighters” do this?

The changing reality of Syria’s long and brutal war, in which government forces show much greater resilience than their opponents’ predictions, has generated some desperation among the rebels and worry in the American and European capitals about Islamist factions gaining control of the anti-Assad campaign. The capture by rebels of UN peacekeeping troops in Syria, freed after a week of behind-the-scenes activity, tells the story, bringing a little more balance in the scenario usually painted before us.

It was the second time in two months that UN peacekeepers had been held by a rebel faction. The United States and its allies are trapped between delusions of total victory in the Middle East and its true consequences – emergence of anti-Western forces such as Al-Nusra Front that are even more aggressive and erratic.

The outcome of the recent Moscow visit of President Obama’s new secretary of state John Kerry is instructive. America’s agreement with Russia that they co-sponsor an international conference to find a negotiated settlement raised some eyebrows in Washington and among U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world. President Vladimir Putin seemed to have prevailed in his insistence that Assad’s exit cannot be a precondition. But this precondition is the starting point for the Syrian rebels and many of their foreign supporters who have a wider Middle East agenda. A commentary in Italy’s rightwing publication Il Geornale said in its headline, “Obama’s Defeat: To Pacify Syria He Is In Cahoots With Putin.”

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, struggling to maintain his authority within his Conservative Party and coalition with the Liberal Democrats, immediately flew off to Moscow for talks with Putin in an attempt to see that any international conference on Syria is held in London; Cameron’s trip to Washington would be next; Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel planned a visit of his own to Moscow after ordering two secret air attacks against Syrian military facilities in a week; and Israeli and Western newspapers issued warnings that Russia was about to supply S-300 missiles to Assad.

As for Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maintains that Moscow is “not planning to supply Syria with any weapons beyond the current contracts,” which, he says, are “for defensive purposes.” Russia’s message to Washington, delivered a year ago, continues to be “hands off Syria and Iran.” Obama continues his rhetorical maneuvers. And the war goes on.

[END]

Assange, Pinochet and Diplomatic Double-Dealing

CounterPunch, August 24-26, 2012

A decade ago, the British government of Labour prime minister Tony Blair decided to back President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq even though foreign office lawyers in London had warned that such an attack had no “legal basis in international law.” In the midst of sharp divisions in government and British society, the invasion went ahead in March 2003. The consequences were far-reaching and they undermined the Blair government’s authority at home. Limping thereafter, he resigned in June 2007, humbled and apologetic. War and the economy together played no mean part in Tony Blair’s fall in British politics and the Labour Party’s defeat three years later.

William Hague

A few days ago, Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague personally approved a letter that was sent to Ecuador. Its details were taken as a threat to raid the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and drag out WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange for extradition to Sweden, where state prosecutors say they want to question him about complaints of sexual assault. Hague’s letter was delivered to Ecuador despite the “grave reservations of lawyers in his department.”

Speaking anonymously to the Independent newspaper, a senior British official said that “staff feared the move could provoke retaliatory attacks against British embassies overseas.” A large majority in the Organization of American States is up in arms. Outside the Americas too, Britain is struggling to find much sympathy for its stance. In soccer parlance, Prime Minister David Cameron’s center forward has scored a spectacular own goal.

While Julian Assange made a statement from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, attacking America’s “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks and journalistic freedom, several former mandarins of the British Diplomatic Service expressed serious misgivings over William Hague’s handling of the affair. Oliver Miles, a 40-year veteran, described the letter to Ecuador as a “big mistake,” because “it puts the British government in the position of asking for something illegitimate.” Former ambassador to Moscow, Tony Brenton, commented that the Foreign Office had “slightly overreached themselves, for both legal and practical reasons.” And a former envoy to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said, “You cannot simply legislate domestically and opt out of international law.”

Otherwise, the mainstream broadcast and print media continued to provide a running commentary of the whole affair. The coverage has been generally confused, selective, repetitive and often hostile to Assange and a small Latin American country’s decision to grant him asylum. The Economist, though, positioning itself on the other side, criticized Britain’s “ham-handed invocation of a never-used, 1987 law to insinuate that it could, eventually, have the right to enter the embassy.”

It is perhaps necessary at this point to take note of the London-based Bertha Foundation’s legal director Jennifer Robinson, who has described the British Foreign Office’s letter and the implicit threat as unprecedented––one which, if implemented, would force a profound change in the conduct of international diplomacy. Also important is to take a look at the concerns raised by prominent American feminist writer Naomi Wolf in an article titled “Something Rotten in the State of Sweden: 8 Big Problems with the ‘Case’ Against Assange.” Under her microscope is the entire Swedish legal system.

Why does Assange and others fear that Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where he could face the rest of his life in jail, even execution for publishing leaked official documents? Because in November 2006 the United Nations found Sweden guilty of violating the global torture ban. Swedish officials handed over Mohammed El Zari and Ahmed Agiza, two Egyptian asylum seekers, to CIA operatives in December 2001, to be rendered from Stockholm to Cairo. Both were tortured in Egypt. And, as Seamus Milne wrote in the Guardian, because of reports of a secret indictment against Assange by a U.S. federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia.

The law says that someone who has suffered persecution, or fears that he or she will suffer persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion may seek asylum. In the last few days, the United States has claimed that it does not recognize the concept of “diplomatic asylum.” Exactly what distinction is Washington trying to make between asylum, political asylum and diplomatic asylum is baffling. Assange was after all in the territory of a foreign country that granted him refuge. Let us look at some precedents.

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana sought asylum when she walked into the U.S. Embassy in Delhi in 1967. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn got asylum and lived in the United States for years before returning to Russia. Martina Navratilova, the Czech tennis player, took asylum in the U.S. in 1975. There are numerous instances when dissidents have been granted refuge in the United States and elsewhere. The concept is universal and depends on the sovereign decision of the country dealing with an asylum request.

Also worth examining is the British foreign secretary’s assertion that the United Kingdom has a “binding obligation” to extradite Assange to Sweden. Let us, for a moment, go back to October 1998. Chile’s former military dictator Augusto Pinochet was visiting London for medical treatment. A Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzon, now on Assange’s legal team, issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet on charges arising out of crimes against humanity in Chile. Pinochet was arrested a few days later in Britain, where he would spend more than a year in judicial custody, fighting extradition to Spain. The House of Lords, then Britain’s highest court, ruled that Pinochet could indeed be handed over to the Spanish judicial authorities, because crimes such as torture could not be protected by immunity.

The British government nonetheless allowed Pinochet to return to Chile in March 2000 on health grounds. The law was clear, but for Britain’s Labour government at the time there was no “binding obligation” to extradite Pinochet to Spain. Chile under Pinochet had backed the United Kingdom during the brief Falklands war with Argentina. Moreover, he and Britain’s former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher were admirers of each other. There was, after all, a way out for Pinochet to return home instead of being extradited to Spain.

Writing about the essence of rule of law and government’s legitimacy, Thomas Hobbes in his seventeenth-century work Leviathan observed: “The law is the public conscience.”

What conscience?

[END]

On Capitalism and Responsibility

Journal of Foreign Relations

A few days before the annual gathering of business and political elites at the World Economic Forum at Davos, the British prime minister David Cameron set out his vision of capitalism that is popular and responsible. At a time of acute crisis, Cameron put up a staunch defense of capitalism. He asserted his belief that open markets and free enterprise were the best imaginable force for improving human wealth and happiness. He described them as the engine of progress to lift people out of poverty and give them opportunity. “When open markets work properly,” he said, “they create morality, because there is something for something.”

Can today’s capitalism be responsible? Can it be popular in the sense that people in great numbers embrace it and benefit in a fair way? Distinguished British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm does not think so. In a sharp critique, Hobsbawm made the point that capitalism as practiced in the last 40 years was all about growth and profit and not much else.

The “trickle-down theory” associated with free enterprise and open markets has failed. We have again entered an era of mass unemployment, poverty, malnutrition and disease, and wars. The root cause of inequalities lies in the fact that the powerful in society have engineered systems that suck most of the wealth up rather than allow it to trickle down. Capitalism has become a distorted and twisted version of Adam Smith’s original idea.

Technological advances, particularly since the 1970s, have massively and rapidly altered the capitalist system in one crucial respect. As Hobsbawm suggested, computers and robots have created a large surplus of people around the globe. And capitalism, which is about growth, profit and speed of production, is unable and unwilling to deal with the surplus of humans.

Agriculture, automobile and shipbuilding industries once employed workers in their millions or more. Today, they employ a tiny proportion of the population. Feudalism, which preceded modern capitalism, and communism, which competed with it, engaged many more people. Communism failed because, despite all its idealism, it was conservative, nationalistic and coercive. The capitalist system suffers from the same type of orthodoxy today. It is polluted by narrow individualism and nationalism.

In Britain, with business closures and job cuts in the private and public sectors, three million unemployed and many more under-employed or simply staying home, Prime Minister David Cameron’s message to people is, “Don’t complain about welfare cuts, go and find work.”

Profit-driven manufacturing practices and outsourcing have brought about a collapse of the job market. To tell vulnerable people to “go and find work” is a contradiction in itself. It is a serious dereliction of responsibility by politicians who are viewed by many to have contributed to the present crisis.

Once fertile landscape of capitalism, the United States and Europe, is barren. The race for control of energy resources is increasingly desperate, affecting foes and friends alike. The new cold war around Iran and the Persian Gulf has escalated to a point where China, India and Russia, three main Eastern powers, are drawn into open confrontation with America and the European Union.

The Eastern powers are refusing to obey the Western sanctions regime against Iran, driven by U.S. law and outside the United Nations. Washington’s offer to compensate the Iranian supplies lost with extra crude from Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies will inevitably give the United States more leverage on energy supplies to China and India. These countries find it unacceptable.

The world’s only superpower is no longer credible if it cannot force others to follow its writ. But that scenario is before us, because capitalism has become irrational and sick. It is looking to transfer the cost of securing its own interests to others who are not prepared to accept that cost. In a candid admission, the Chinese ambassador in Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said that his government had to think of nearly half of China’s 1.3 billion population living in the countryside, and more than 150 million people earning as little as a dollar a day.

Like China’s overall growth in percentage terms, India’s growth, too, is impressive. The proportion of Indians living below the poverty line has dropped from about 60 to 40 percent in two decades. But the story it tells is partial. The latest available World Bank data shows nearly half a billion Indians living below the international poverty line of 1.25 dollars per day, and their number is not falling. Half of the children are underweight and 45 percent under the age of three suffer from malnutrition.

Inequalities have worsened alarmingly while corporate predators like Wal-Mart make an aggressive push into China and India. The gap between India’s richest and poorest states is nearly three-and-a-half times. As a result of government policies, there have been dramatic rises in the prices of hybrid seeds and fertilizers. In a country where 60 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, more than 200000 farmers in debt have committed suicide in the last 15 years. And the number continues to rise.

The India government’s recent move that would have given unprecedented access to mega retail houses like Wal-Mart to the middle-class market, amid widely feared consequences for small farmers and merchants, had to be put off, at least temporarily, following a huge national outcry.

In their anxiety to move India from the Soviet-style economic model to the U.S. model, and haste to transform the country into a superpower, successive governments in Delhi have been tempted to go to very significant lengths. But the capitalist model has become distorted and twisted. Having wreaked havoc at home, free-market capitalism seeks to penetrate societies where many more vulnerable people need greater protection. Only governments acting responsibly can provide that safeguard.

[END]

The Killing of Muammar Gaddafi

History News Network, October 31, 2011 — 

Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. This verse from the Bible speaks aloud of the manner of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, as well as his brutal killing. It is also a lesson for those who fought Gaddafi. The end of him has left a disturbing trail of savagery, from which the victors have not emerged unscathed. Where Western governments have been complicit and the mainstream media sadly restrained and unchallenging, NGOs have strained their conscience and luck to speak out about reprisals by both sides.

Gaddafi is the second Arab ruler to meet his end as a result of Western intervention in this, so far brief, new century. Unlike Iraq, the Western powers are not in Libya as occupiers in a formal sense. That there are no “boots on the ground” is President Barack Obama’s escape route. However, we know all too well that air power, especially drones, has changed the nature of warfare, making it possible to control territory from the sky. Boots not being there on the ground is irrelevant. Like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in October 2001, the Western powers have National Transitional Council fighters on the ground in Libya. In 1979, they had Mujahideen in Afghanistan and the consequences are all clear before us.

The United States, Britain and France, flying NATO’s flag, embarked on a “humanitarian” bombing mission. Their remit, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, was to protect civilians in Benghazi, initially by enforcing a no-fly zone. How different does that mission look eight months later? Only a few days ago, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visiting Libya, had said, “We hope he [Gaddafi] can be captured or killed soon.” How many times have we heard the foreign minister of one country proclaiming that the leader of another be eliminated?

It was an act of incitement by an external power to anti-Gaddafi fighters to hunt him down. It was against United States law which prohibits state-sponsored assassinations, under a 1976 order signed by President Gerald Ford. That order reads: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” Further, it was against the Security Council’s authorization for the Libyan mission.

Hillary Clinton’s statement constitutes grounds for her, and possibly President Obama’s, impeachment. But that will not happen under this Congress over a foreign war. Nonetheless, the assassination has ominous implications for the future. As Obama’s reelection in November 2012 approaches, the appetite for war in Washington could turn out to be another blunder with a high price tag. Already, the International Crisis Group, a respected NGO, has warned of repercussions for Africa and of militant Islam.

Writing in the Guardian, the editor of London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abdel Bari Atwan, said, “Pictures of his final struggle will bolster those who remain Gaddafi loyalists––and make no mistake, there are many who will lament his demise, either out of self-interest or tribal loyalty.”

What happened in the final moments of Gaddafi is worth examining. At the end of the battle for Sirte, NATO planes located a convoy of vehicles in which he was traveling. They bombed the vehicles, killing a large number of people. Gaddafi survived, but his brutal end was near. It is highly likely that NATO informed anti-Gaddafi fighters about his location. Images of his final moments leave no doubt that the 69-year-old former dictator was tortured by a frenzied mob before he died.

Among the crowds on Libya’s streets these days are heavily armed teenagers willing to fight and kill. As the National Transitional Council celebrates “Liberation Day” today, what kind of Libya is in prospect must be a question that haunts not only that country, but the entire region. Meanwhile, the race for lucrative contracts for British companies there has begun. As Gaddafi’s body lay in a meat store at Misrata, in London Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told British companies to “pack their suitcases” and head there to secure business.

Within minutes of the announcement of Gaddafi’s death, leaders in London, Paris and Washington were hailing the event. Outside his official residence in Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that he was proud of Britain’s role in Libya, and that “we should all remember Gaddafi’s victims.” Surely we should all remember those, too, who were rendered by the West to the Gaddafi regime to be tortured as part of  the “war on terror.” Cameron made no mention of them. President Sarkozy of France called Gaddafi’s death a “major step forward.” Employing his usual rhetoric, President Obama proclaimed that “the dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.”

According to CBS News, Hillary Clinton shared a laugh on learning about Gaddafi’s death. Her comment, “We came, we saw, he died.” Who will have the last laugh?

[END]

When War Came Home …

Journal of Foreign Relations column –

War came to Britain’s streets this past week in London, LiverpoolBirmingham, Bristol and other urban centers. The country had seen protests against the Iraq war, cuts in pensions for local government employees and teachers, and against dramatic increases in student tuition fees. The events of recent days, however, signify the worst social unrest in a generation. It is a reminder of the 1980s, when urban riots shook British society to its core.

Thirty years ago, racism in the inner cities was rampant. The Labour government had fallen and the political left was utterly demoralized. Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, champion of ultra-rightwing economic theories and political soulmate of Ronald Reagan, had assumed office, determined to confront the unions she saw as the main cause of social evils. Thatcher, with her Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe and Industry Secretary Keith Joseph, was administering shock therapy to the country.

Thatcher’s shock doctrine was applied in the form of drastic cuts in benefits for the unemployed, the sick, the elderly. Public services were slashed, privatization of many services followed, as did high interest rates in the fight against inflation. Many in the workforce were losing hope. Economic and social turmoil ensued. There were street riots in deprived inner-city areas suffering the brunt of Thatcherite policies.

Three decades hence, there are those who say that Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne have stolen Margaret Thatcher’s manual. That manual exaggerates problems even more than their severity. It asserts that there is no solution other than cutting workers’ pay, privatization and outsourcing, slashing benefits and raising taxes for ordinary people. But higher taxes for the rich are a bad thing. It uses these measures to reconstruct society.

The experiment has failed repeatedly. It has generated deeper poverty and inequalities. It has led to high unemployment, low wages, even lower benefits to force citizens to work. It is called competition and it is trumpeted because, in truth, it is good for company profits. The old mantra that corporate profits filter down to the lower rungs of society and benefit the poor remains as dubious as it was thirty years ago.

There is a chorus of condemnation of perpetrators of this violence. We are offered a simple choice between good and evil, and told that this evil must be defeated. Any effort to look at these events in context is anathema, particularly in the eyes of government ministers. Before he became prime minister, David Cameron used to describe Britain as a “broken society.”

Today, he prefers to call parts of that society “sick.”

Of course, rioting and looting involve criminal acts and must be condemned. But that is not the whole story. While straightforward acts of arson and looting were taking place in Tottenham and neighboring areas of London, the violence in Birmingham had taken on racial overtones. Text messages that gangs of one ethnic origin or other were coming “to get you” were circulating. Worse, in an act of deliberate killing, a car hit and killed three British Muslims guarding their properties.

A headline in the Independent newspaper spoke of race relations being on the knife’s edge. Social disturbances always have deeper roots. Their context is as important as the event that triggers them. It is convenient for politicians, habitual these days of using the language of violence themselves, to blame “criminals.” It releases them from the responsibility of their own actions that have created the current distressing context.

The London riots broke out on the night of August 6. Two days before, police had shot and killed a black man, Mark Duggan, a local resident who was going in a taxi. For several days, the officially-inspired version in the press depicted Duggan as a “gangster.” It implied that a shot was fired from the taxi at a policeman, and that the bullet was lodged in the officer’s radio. Police fired back and Duggan died. However, it later transpired that the bullet lodged in the officer’s radio might, in fact, have been fired by another police officer.

crowd waited for several hours outside a police station for answers, but the mood turned furious when nobody came out to answer questions. A witness described a separate incident in which a 16-year-old girl was severely beaten when she approached policemen to remonstrate. Within hours, London was burning and the rioting was spreading to other cities in England, the mother country of the United Kingdom.

Scotland and Wales, with their own elected regional governments, were thankfully peaceful. They were to send police reinforcements to the affected areas of England.

Western societies have suffered a major socio-economic and moral collapse. The recent street violence in England’s cities is the latest, most disturbing expression of the individual selfishness and anger causing the rot. For years, people have been taught the Thatcherite maxim that “there is no such thing as society, collective conscience or collective kindness.”

That dictum tells that individuals live for themselves; morality is personal and so, too, is the individual’s freedom to amass wealth.

This way of life has created something akin to Hobbesian socio-economic conditions in Britain today. On one hand is the vast majority struggling to make ends meet. On the other is, the scandal of members of parliament making fraudulent, or questionable, claims for expenses to supplement their incomes and police revealed as taking bribes from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. For a long time, there appears to have been one law for the rich and powerful, and a different law for the rest. The recent riots began in Tottenham, in the London Borough of Haringey, which has some of the most deprived inner-city areas. In the nearby Borough of Hackney, youth clubs are closing.

Where will the youth go?

Still, government cuts continue to bite and seem relentless. Among the more than fifteen hundred arrested in recent days and facing time in prison are people of all ages and backgrounds: minors and adults, men and women, university graduates, a ballerina, a charity worker, a schoolteacher, a law student, a mother with a six-month-old baby – and a millionaire’s daughter.

I know London well, having worked in the capital city for most of my life. To see adults breaking into large stores and walking away with expensive gadgets is shocking enough. Even more shocking is to see a ten-year-old boy, who has picked up just a few items of food, going home on his bike.

Simply thugs and criminals? Or does it require thinking on a higher level?

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