NYT: "Iraq... may finish off Blair"

Paul Flewers trusscott.foundation at virgin.net
Thu Jul 10 13:25:24 MDT 2003

Apropos of the NYT piece, here's something from the forthcoming New
Interventions. Unlike the NYT columnist, I don't think that 'one of the
saddest results' of their war in Iraq is that 'it may finish off Tony Blair
before Saddam Hussein'.

Paul F


Tony Blair -- The Beginning of the End?

It will be interesting to see just how long Tony Blair will be able to bask
in the reflected glow of George W Bush's Second Gulf War. Blair sees this
conflict as a determining point in his career, even declaring that he is
willing to defend his stand before God himself, and he gets very ratty
towards anyone who does not share his triumphalist vision of it.

The Second Gulf War has marked a turning point in the relationship between
New Labour and the British ruling class. So far, this has effectively been
one of Blair and his team being on probation in order to see if they can
defend the interests of British capitalism in a sufficiently competent
manner. Although New Labour's fawning attitude towards the bosses has not
been fully reciprocated, as some wariness on their part has continued, the
ruling class has by and large been fairly happy with New Labour's record.

Bair's total commitment to Bush's war against Iraq has, however, provoked
much unease amongst the ruling class. The unprecedented anti-war protests
prior to the war reflected the disquiet amongst all classes about the
involvement of Britain in this adventure. It was not just the usual
suspects -- the left and pacifists -- who were unhappy about the war, but
broad swathes of middle-class opinion and, more significantly, important
academics with close connections with the armed forces and departments of
state, key figures in government bodies and various unlikely politicians,
none of whom would normally oppose a war were it deemed to be in British
interests. Blair was warned that the invasion of Iraq and the collapse of
the Ba'ath regime would lead to all manner of problematic consequences,
particularly unrest in the Middle East, an intensification of discontent in
the Islamic world, and the undermining of the authority of the United
Nations. These warnings were brusquely brushed aside as Blair gleefully
revelled in his role as Bush's reliable side-kick.

Bush and his team called this war without any worked-out plan for an
alternative government in Iraq, a few discredited puppets apart, although it
is clear that if the Ba'ath state was to be dismantled, there could
ultimately only be -- apart from collapse and chaos -- some sort of
theocratic dictatorship arising in its place. The scope for even the stunted
parliamentary regimes of Turkey or Egypt does not exist in Iraq, and as the
privatised economy envisaged by Bush's advisors cannot replace the
widespread welfare measures operated by the Ba'athist state, the only
alternative can be a regime based upon the mosque, which, as in pre-1979
Iran, acted as a focus of opposition, and will, as in many Islamic
countries, act as a surrogate welfare state.

It is also clear that the US-UK occupation of Iraq is increasingly seen as
an alien imposition by growing numbers of Iraqis, many of whom are Shias and
no friends of the Ba'athists. The resistance to the occupation is clearly
going well beyond the 'remnants of the old regime' whom government spokesmen
try to kid us are behind all the trouble. The occupiers are unable to
assemble a working government of their liking, and it is reasonable to
assume that Iraq is currently going through an interregnum between two
dictatorships, an unstable quasi-liberal interlude between the Ba'athist
military-bureaucratic one and another based upon the Shia theocracy.

Looking beyond Iraq, the Second Gulf War also drove a coach and horses
through the entire institutional framework of international relations that
has existed since the Second World War. An extremely dangerous precedent has
been set, one that will have profound consequences. By ignoring the United
Nations and by-passing its Security Council in the run-up to the war, and
unilaterally launching an attack upon Iraq, Bush, with Blair in tow,
effectively informed the world that any nation can attack another without
any need to consult the UN or to obey its strictures. The destabilising
impact of this upon international affairs can be easily imagined, not least
with the nightmare vision of India and Pakistan, two neighbouring nuclear
states with extremely bad mutual relations, justifying an attack on the
grounds that one or the other felt threatened by its neighbour.

The war has also spurred on inter-imperialist rivalries, as many European
powers, particularly France and Germany, refused to back the USA, thus
putting Britain at odds with them. Although attempts have been made to paper
over the cracks amongst the big powers, especially at the G8 meeting, the
growing transatlantic differences are a brutal fact that cannot be glossed
over. Europe will be an increasingly important factor in British politics,
and the kind of fudged stance recently taken by Blair over the future of the
European Union and British adoption of the Euro will not be tenable in the

Blair has signed up to the US neo-conservatives' foreign policy agenda. Just
prior to the war, Donald Rumsfeld gave him the opportunity to pull out;
Blair refused. It is possible that the growing difficulties in garrisoning
an increasingly hostile Iraq might act as a brake on Bush & Co's schemes to
reshape the Middle East, but it does appear that they have already set their
sights on Iran. Blair's uncritical backing for Bush caused disquiet within
British officialdom, but they did not go beyond reserved criticisms and
quiet words and actually try to hinder Blair's move to war. The sharp
annoyance expressed by the intelligence services and the BBC over the
government's attempts to blame them for its lies and distortions in the
run-up to the war is almost certainly a shot across Blair's bows, a warning
that significant and powerful portions of the state not only do not wish to
be dragooned into his political machine, but also that they may not be so
obedient if Blair backs another US adventure.

Blair is in danger of losing any political base that he once had. He has
alienated many working-class people by his overtly pro-big-business
policies, and he has also angered them and many middle-class people with his
inability to make any real improvements to education, health and transport
services. His endless Cabinet shuffles and bizarre constitutional tinkering,
his fudging over key European issues and his willingness to engage Britain
in dubious US foreign adventures have not made him many friends within the
ruling class; indeed, quite the opposite. It is only the current lack of a
credible replacement that is preventing his rapid dismissal. Who now really
appreciates him apart from the New Labour sycophants in Parliament? And
there can be little doubt that when, as is bound to happen once a successor
is found and the long knives are unsheathed, they too will desert him.

Paul Flewers

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