Thursday, February 03, 2011

How he does it





Today in London, the Iraq Inquiry concluded public testimony as they heard from Jack Straw for the third time. It was a dodgy and nervous Straw appearing today when contrasted with his January and February 2010 appearances, one who took to quibbling over even basic defintions of "containment" ("it depends what you mean exactly by containment") such as when, at the start of the hearing, he declared, "If you mean by containment as I set out in my latest statement, containing and removing the problem of Saddam's failure to comply with United Nations' obligations, then containment remained the overall strategy of the government right up to the time when we took the decision to use military action, because in a sense [UN Security Council Resolution] 1441 was a continuation of a series of policies by the United Nations Security Council to secure the compliance of Saddam Hussein and to ensure that all his WMD had been removed,his programmes and capabilities had been broken up. As I said repeatedly, and it was absolutely explicit at the time, if Saddam had done that, then he would have stayed in post."
And with that Straw made clear that he just can't stop lying. If the issue was compliance, you don't run the UN inspectors out of the country before they have completed their work. But that is what happened. It was nearly eight years ago and so much has happened in the Iraq War that we need to drop back to shortly before it began. Tuesday, March 18, 2003, CNN reported, "Saying the United States 'will not be intimated by thugs and killers,' President Bush gave Iraqi President Sadam Hussein and his sons a 48-hour ultimatum Monday: Leave the country or face military action. The ultimatum was delivered in a 13-minute televised speech from the White House." UN inspections were ongoing when Bush made that statement. Dan Stober reported for Knight Ridder Newspapers on March 18, 2003:
As United Nations nuclear inspectors flee Iraq, some of them are angry at the Bush administration for cutting short their work, bad mouthing their efforts and making false claims about evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Some inspectors are "scandalized" at the way President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, have "politicized" the inspection process, according to a source close to the inspectors.
None of the nuclear-related intelligence trumpeted by the administration has held up to scrutiny, inspectors say. From suspect aluminum tubes to aerial photographs to documents -- revealed to be forgeries -- that claimed to link Iraq to uranium from Niger, inspectors say they chased U.S. leads that went nowhere and wasted valuable time in their efforts to determine the extent of Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons banned after the 1991 Gulf War.
Inspections were ongoing and the UN inspectors were forced to flee as a result of Bush and Blair. And the Iraq War began. It's a reality missing from Straw's spin. Committee member Roderic Lyne quoted from a letter Straw's office had written to Tony Blair (December 3, 2001) which declared, "Military intervention for the purpose of regime change would be illegal." Which is was. Which is why the Iraq War had to be dressed up by both the British and US government with lies. A paper to Straw followed the letter and Lyne said it "discussed, and I quote: 'How we could combine an objective of regime change in Baghdad with the need to protect important regional interest'. That second paper put a much broader case for regime change than dealing with the threat of WMD. Now your office received these papers and they the wrote to Number 10 to say that you thought the two papers were very perceptive, and that you hoped the Prime Minister would read them."
Straw got defensive and finally declared he was having similar conversations with then US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Committee member Roderic Lyne: But the second paper set out what has been described in an earlier evidence session as setting out a route map for regime change. Now you just commended the papers, said you hoped the Prime Minister would read them and they were very perceptive. Why did you commend a paper setting out a route map for regime change?
Jack Straw: You will have to forgive me. I was given no notice you were going to raise this.
Apparently Straw feels he must get the questions in advance if he's expected to answer them. And it was a huge dilemma for him because the paper and his praise of it to Blair was very revealing. Lyne told Straw, "I am very curious you didn't react to the second paper by saying regime change cannot be an objective of the UK foreign policy. Warn the Prime Minister."
We can go through Straw's lies bit by bit but there's really no point in that. Let's get to what the Inquiry may have come across. My opinion on what follows, feel free to disagree with my conclusions. Committee Member Roderic Lyne observed early on, as Straw was saying Blair wanted to be on Bush's side, "Get on side of President Bush but presumably not get ahead of President Bush on this issue or encourage President Bush to push it ahead at high speed?" To which Straw replied "certainly not" and more yada-yada.
But that is what the record shows. This is not to say that Bush is an innocent but this is to note that Tony Blair was not the poodle he was thought to be. (And poodle's don't generally end up with Blair's current post, how do you think that happened?) Of all the documents released by the Inquiry, the most interesting one is on the eve of the 2000 US election. The British find Al Gore (Democratic Party presidential nominee) and George W. Bush (Republican Party presidential nominee) to be similar in their stance on Iraq. Of then-current President Bill Clinton, the British lament his "line in the sand" that must be crossed before war would be declared on Iraq. They fear the same resolve in both candidates (Gore and Bush). Put that with the Chicago 1999 speech Blair gave (known as the Blair Doctrine). Blair wanted regime change and was willing to break the law to get it. You can tie it into the 'ultimate good' his religion preaches. Nick Cohen (Guardian of London) on Blair's religious ceremonies:

During their stay at the Maroma Hotel, a pricey retreat on Mexico's Caribbean coast, Cherie Booth/Blair took her husband by the hand and led him along the beach to a 'Temazcal', a steam bath enclosed in a brick pyramid. It was dusk and they had stripped down to their swimming costumes. Inside, they met Nancy Aguilar, a new-age therapist. She told them that the pyramid was a womb in which they would be reborn. The Blairs became one with 'Mother Earth'. They saw the shapes of phantom animals in the steam and experienced 'inner-feelings and visions'. As they smeared each other with melon, papaya and mud from the jungle, they confronted their fears and screamed. The joyous agonies of 'rebirth' were upon them. The ceremony over, the Prime Minister and First Lady waded into the sea and cleaned themselves up as best they could.

And maybe it would be blood and bones that Iraq was semared with, not melon and papaya, but it could be 'reborn' as well.
As Blair's inner circle repeatedly demonstrated to the Inquiry (Straw did so today), they knew what was legal and they knew what was illegal. And the reason for the split in the Cabinet is that some were trusted and some weren't. The inner circle has repeatedly insisted that somethings had to be kept (from the full Cabinet) because it might be leaked to the press but the reality is that Blair and his inner circle leaked to the press more than anyone and what was being protected was a portion of the Cabinet (including Blair) wanting illegal war and concealing that from the rest of the Cabinet. You can see the lines drawn in Richard Norton-Taylor's report for the Guardian last week of Adm Michael Boyce's testimony was a "striking contrast to previous evidence about the former prime minister's war aims" with Boyce testifying he was told regime change could not be the policy while, Richard Norton-Taylor notes, "Blair's closet advisers, including Sir David Manning have told the inquiry that the former prime minister assured President George Bush he was willing to undertake regime change. Lord Turnbull, cabinet secretary at the time, described Blair as a 'regime changer'." Or, another example of who was let in and who was kept out, take Richard Wilson, Cabinet Secretary and Head of Home Civil Service, telling the Inquiry January 25th:
Committee member Lawrence Freedman: I mean the July, 23rd meeting. A version of this is in the public domain -- recommended the establishment of an ad hoc group of officials under the Cabinet Office chairmanship to consider the development of an information campaign to be agreed with the US. Tom McKane told us in his evidence that this was not connected to the dossier and that work had not really started when he handed -- you left the Cabinet Office. Do you have any understanding of this ad hoc group?
Richard Wilson: I think Tom McKane would be right. If you remember -- you don't remember, because I have not told you -- after the -- this is memory -- after the Crawford meeting David Manning -- my memory is that David Manning sent me a minute, which has not been found on the file, so it is perfectly possible it is a figment, but I can see page 2 in my mind, and it had -- it simply said -- my understanding of Crawford, which you have very kindly not asked me about -- my understanding of Crawford, which is another twist in the story, was that we came back realising -- because the purpose of Crawford was to find out what the Americans were thinking, what Bush himself was thinking, because there were all sorts of people around him thinking all sorts of things -- where was Bush on this -- was that he was more serious about regime change and about the possibility, if necessary, of military action than we had grasped. The Prime Minister had asked for further work to be done on three areas, and this is relevant to in answer to your question. One of those areas was building up opinion both in this country and overseas for United Nations action on Iraq. My understanding of the group that was being set up on 23rd July was that was about this process of building up a campaign of public understanding in this country and overseas. I think Tom McKane's evidence is right.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Crawford?
Richard Wilson: No, other than I would quite like to know what happened to Crawford.
Blair did not twist Bush's arm on illegal war. (It's doubtful Bush cared much whether the war was legal or illegal as evidenced by his repeated comments that history would decide long after everyone was dead -- to which one can add, and after the criminals have escaped punishment.) But he did get him over the line in the sand Bill Clinton had drawn, the one Tony Blair's inner circle lamented.
Called for the third time to testify -- and supposedly spending six weeks preparing for today's appearance, Jack Straw couldn't answer a basic question and wanted to whine that no one told him that would be brought up. The inner circle (including Straw) papered over reality with various correspondence. That's why Lyne may have been getting at when noting Straw's finding that war for regime change would be illegal. There was no real reason to send that document. As documents the Inquiry released prior to 9-11 demonstrate, Tony Blair's Cabinet was already aware that war for regime change was illegal. But the papering over of what was really planned (such as finding a fake reason for war and piggy backing regime change on that) was part of concealing their real actions and motives. That's what the documents released by the Inquiry indicate and it's what the testimony indicates to me.
Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) observes of today's testimony, "The inquiry made clearer than ever that Blair had gone much further in private letters to President Bush than he admitted in public about the prospect of war to topple Saddam Hussein -- an aim of military action that Straw said repeatedly in written and oral evidence would be 'palpably illegal'." Rosa Prince (Telegraph of London) has a report on Straw's testimony which needs to be read in full but we'll excerpt the opening:
On the final day of hearings at the Iraq Inquiry, Mr Straw admitted he advised the Cabinet that invasion would be legal without a fresh United Nations mandate days after Lord Goldsmith, the then attorney general, had said privately that the opposite was true.
In the end, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind about the legality of the war on the eve of the invasion and gave the green light to conflict without ministers ever being made aware of his earlier reservations.
Explaining the decision not to share important documents with the Cabinet, Mr Straw said that he and Mr Blair had been "depressed" after a Cabinet discussion on Iraq a year before the 2003 invasion had become public.
Richard Perle, John Bolton, George W. Bush and Colin Powell. These are only some of the names Jack Straw brought up in his testimony to the Iraq Inquiry today. For Bush, Straw had kind words; for Colin The Blot Powell, Straw stated Powell insisted that 'you couldn't delay action too long' (starting the illegal war). After returning from a brief break at 6:12 EST, Straw appeared even more agitated and frustrated and, at one point, lashed out at a previous witness (Steven Wall), labeling the testimony that had been offered "incredulous." One of his most important contributions this go round may be his explanation that "serious consequences" equals "military action."

One impression that's hard to escape is the death of Saddam Hussein and that Straw is obsessed with it. Guilt-ridden? He keeps bringing it up, without prompting. And sounds a bit like he's referring to the 'final solution.' Certainly, when you consider all the world leaders the US and British governments have protected from their people, prevented from going on trial, it is surprising on some level that they executed Saddam Hussein (Iraq was occupied and staffed with exiles, do not pretend that Iraqis executed him whether they wanted to or not, the occupiers were in charge). Is it guilt over the death or fear over later charges to come if the world gets behind calling out the illegal war? He insisted that Hussein was given the chance to disarm but, of course, that's really not what happened. And as he continued to harp on that and other details, it was hard not to notice his obsession with the death of Hussein.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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