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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Millionaires Control British Foreign Policy

Does it matter that the new Conservative-Liberal government is dominated by millionaires, including premier David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg? The Sunday Times counted 18 millionaires in the "austerity cabinet" (ST, 23.5.10).

Does it matter that the foreign and national security policy of this Con-Dem administration is in the hands of a group predominantly educated at exclusive public schools and Oxbridge, with previous careers in the City of London and big business? The Sunday Times calls them the "New Establishment...a new elite... pulling the strings in Britain".

Does it matter that the New 'Labour' administration of Gordon Brown also featured several millionaires, businessmen, and had cosied up to the City since the mid-1990s, and fetishised the 'market' to such a degree that it brought the 'market' itself into disrepute?

And, does it matter that New Labour's leadership race is set to be dominated by those, almost to a 'man', drawn from backgrounds far from the 'soul' of the labour movement?

Of course, USBlog believes that background matters, to a degree: social origins are important in so many ways but tend to get discounted as a key factor in political attitudes, behaviour and ideas. Years ago, American political scientist, Thomas Dye, showed that social background determined how large Americans thought a 'quarter' (25 cent coin) was, let alone how strongly it determined life expectancy, level of education and income, general welfare, and world-view.

Ironically, it was a man called (Ralph) Miliband who made this argument most cogently when David (Miliband) was still wearing short trousers, and Ed was yet to be born. In his classic study, The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Miliband argued that British (and Western) political systems were dominated by big business and their supporters who also determined the character of the 'national' interest in such a way that it enshrined the interest of big business into its very heart. Consequently, political philosophies and arguments could not be brooked that failed to take into account their impact on 'business confidence' and the 'markets', international or national.

Analysing the rest of the state, Miliband argued that the civil service, military, judiciary, BBC, among others, were led by (mainly) men drawn from the same elitist social backgrounds as the political elite, further reinforcing the 'conservative' character of the British state, and acting as a brake on radical political agendas.

Labour governments in the postwar era were structurally constrained by the character of the British state as well as the generalised power of big business over economic affairs and policy, not to mention 'popular' culture and thinking. But Miliband also emphasised that the Labour party was no vehicle for revolutionary transformation but a symptom of the development of capitalist industrialism, seeking concessions from big business and some measure of social protection for workers. In the main, Labour governments managed capitalism rather than damaging or undermining it.

Furthermore, Labour leaders were hardly revolutionary, even in the nationalising phase of 1945-50: Clement Attlee was educated at Haileybury College, an elite public school established by the East India Company to train its servants for service in the empire. Attlee's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who had headed the massive Transport and General Workers' Union since the 1920s, was authentically working class, of course, and offers an excellent example of how such individuals rise to the top of the greasy pole of British politics. He was deeply anti-communist and, like the majority of his party, an imperialist. Where the likes of Churchill openly declared Britain superior to all other races and nations and therefore justified in exploiting and dominating the colonies, Bevin et al wanted to 'develop' the 'backward' countries for the 'betterment' of their peoples. The old imperial ties and connections were maintained, despite (or because of) 'de-colonisation', along with Britain's large, but diminishing, global role.

While the benefits of a welfare state, inaugurated in 1945-50, are undoubted, it remained the case that at a fundamental level, the Labour project was at heart an ameliorative one of reforming capitalism and offering workers social protection from 1930s-style economic crises and deprivations. It did not fundamentally challenge 'market supremacy' in economic policy and the distribution of income and wealth.

Hence, we now have a situation where the government and opposition are dominated by rich and exclusively educated individuals, market-oriented in 'philosophy', and unrepresentative of the broad mass of British people. They claim to champion 'new politics' but are mired in the British aristocracy and the mindsets of the City of London. Like its American counterpart, British politics now features just one ideology - focused on free market economics and regular elections between parties that manage capitalism. There is a Centre, a Right but no Left in British politics.

Background matters: the outlooks at the heart of government today are more congenial to the City than ever; even the opposition is drawn from diluted versions of the same. Those backgrounds will shield the government from the social impact of the savage cuts in public spending that are to come and allow them all the more to enshrine market philosophy as the sole criterion of value.

Those backgrounds - focused so much around globalised finance and global markets as the basis of British national interests - will also strongly determine the character of Britain's foreign and national security policies. Global flows and networks, as the Ministry of Defence noted, under the previous government, are fundamental to the British state, and any threats to those flows are the object of Anglo-American power.

And the promised Tory-Liberal diminuition of Britain's "slavish devotion" to the United States, (amid recent talk of building a new special relationship with India and greater attention to China), seems to have disappeared with several other election promises. The Obama administration, refocusing on India and China itself, will be very pleased with the 'new politics' in Britain.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Cameron's Foreign Policy: Neoconservatism in Disguise?

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal coalition government’s foreign and national security policy team may be inexperienced, but their ideological record is not unclear: the team is made up of a mixture that may prove quite lethal in terms of overseas interventions behind a ‘renewed’ and ‘re-balanced’ ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

David Cameron has denied being a ‘neo-conservative’ in foreign policy terms; he claims to be a ‘liberal-conservative’. Interestingly, this was well before he’d ever dreamed of a coalition with one he once described as the best joke he’d ever heard (Nick Clegg). On those grounds, Cameron had supported the Iraq War and, in 2010, restated his commitment to that course of action. He had also, showing poor judgement, wrongly criticised Russian “aggression” against Georgia in 2008, calling for robust US/NATO responses. Nick Clegg (and his party), on the other hand, opposed the Iraq War (while in opposition and with no inkling that it would ever get into 10 Downing Street), is a convinced ‘liberal interventionist’ who believes that Britain should stay the course in Afghanistan and be ready to intervene again in future similar situations. Both had previously condemned Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s “slavish” devotion to the United States, with Clegg accused by Brown (somewhat gratuitously during the second election debate) of ‘anti-Americanism’.

Since then, of course, Clegg has dropped the scrapping of the Trident nuclear missile system from the core policies of his party, the price of coalition government; Cameron has received ‘warm’ endorsement and a personal invitation to visit Washington, DC, from President Obama, and (last week) dispatched William Hague to pay homage to his American counter-part, Hillary Clinton.

Cameron outlined his interventionist plans at a speech at the influential think tank, Chatham House, back in January 2010. There is nothing original in his national security ‘strategy’s’ goals: he wants Britain to intervene before potential threats become actual threats: “we need to do much better at stopping wars from ever starting and that means really focussing on the causes of conflicts and then joining all that together to make sure that DfiD and the Foreign Office deliver a really tight, tied-up, progressive approach.” I think he may want “joined-up” government that is tough on conflict and the causes of conflict – sounds familiar. Cameron promises to restore “trust” in national security strategy and provide a “guarantee against dodgy dossiers” on the road to opening a wider front against terrorists, pandemics, energy crises, water stoppages, and cyber-attacks.

In 2006, Cameron told an audience at the British-American Project that 9-11 style attacks represented a kind of “terrorism [that] cannot be appeased – it has to be defeated”, and called for increasing the size of the security services. He wanted to take elements that were best in the British neo-conservative approach (i.e., what Cameron attributes to Tony Blair’s approach) – appreciation of the scale of the terrorist threat, the centrality of “the leadership of the United States, supported by Britain… to the struggle”, the correctness of “extending freedom…[as] an essential objective of Western foreign policy”, and commitment to the use of military force, including “pre-emptive force” and for “humanitarian purposes”.

As a liberal, Cameron supports “spreading freedom and democracy,” but as a conservative he remains sceptical of “grand schemes to remake the world”. Cameron’s is a call for ‘realism’ in light of what’s happened since 2003 in Iraq and Afghanistan: greater multilateralism, exploring military and non-military options, including winning “hearts and minds”, development aid, public diplomacy and strategic communications.

At the same time as calling for multilateralism, Cameron argued that the United Nations may not always be the best vehicle for decisive international intervention; “So we may need to fashion alliances which can act faster than the machinery of formal international institutions.” This sounds suspiciously like ‘coalitions of the willing’ assembled ahead of the Iraq war.

In the struggle to defend “civilisation”, Cameron told the British-American Project that Britain would be “moral”, that its foreign policy (quoting Victorian era prime minister, WE Gladstone), “should always be inspired by a love of freedom”, and that its methods match the morality of its goals.

This may not be full-blooded neo-conservatism, hubristic before the chastening experience of Iraq. It may not be full-blooded conservatism, eschewing grand schemes and ideas on a global scale. Cameron’s views, which are now central to his coalition government, merely serve to remind us that the post-9-11 Anglo-American story was not a neo-con hijacking: it was the fusion of several tendencies that had previously been in tactical disagreement – liberal interventionism combining Gladstonian and Wilsonian morality, with a wounded (American) conservative nationalism, in a language and terminology so skilfully developed by groups of neo-cons previously known as ‘the Crazies’.

That post-9-11 fusion was institutionalised in the US by the passing of power from Republican George W. Bush to the Democratic Obama; and now in Britain by its passing from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour to the Conservative-Liberal Cameron.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

"You've punished us enough for the Iraq War"

Despite being absolutely hooked on the unsubtle manouevering for power in the UK capturing most attention at the moment, something David Miliband said a couple of weeks ago in an "exclusive" interview with The Guardian has continued to distract: he said, in a throwaway line, that "You've punished us enough for the Iraq War", a remark not followed up by the intrepid reporter.

What did Miliband mean by that? Who has punished him or the Labour Party and how have they been punished? Who has punished Tony Blair? Miliband clearly conforms to a school of punishment straight from the American school. His remark brings to mind what President Jimmy Carter said when the matter was raised about compensating Vietnam for the devastation caused by American aggression there and the deaths, according to conservative estimates, of over 1 million people. Carter replied that America owed Vietnam nothing as "the damage was mutual". I assume the loss of ca 55,000 American GIs was considered by President Carter to make up for one million Vietnamese lives.

Back to Miliband's remark: of what has Tony Blair's punishment consisted? He is Middle East Peace envoy; in the employ as adviser of JP Morgan Chase earning hundreds of thousands of dollars; making large sums on the international lecture circuit; lecturing to young minds at Yale University on its Faith and Globalisation programme; and enjoying the massive advance for writing his memoirs. And, oh yes, he's set up his own philanthropic foundation to promote interfaith dialogue and world peace. Philanthropy - meaning love of all mankind. No marks awarded for knowing which of his enterprises is yet to produce any tangible results.

Gordon Brown has denied that Britain did anything wrong in going to war in Iraq. He was punished by almost 3 years in 10 Downing Street. And David Miliband might be the next leader of the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, some facts (according to the Brookings Institution, USA):

Journalists killed - 140, 93 by murder and 47 by acts of war

Journalists killed by US Forces - 14

Iraqi Police and Soldiers Killed - 9,431

Iraqi Civilians Killed, Estimated - A UN issued report dated Sept 20, 2006 stating that Iraqi civilian casualties have been significantly under-reported. Casualties are reported at 50,000 to over 100,000, but may be much higher. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian casualities at over 600,000.

Iraqi Insurgents Killed, Roughly Estimated - 55,000


Iraqis Displaced Inside Iraq, by Iraq War, as of May 2007 - 2,255,000

Iraqi Refugees in Syria & Jordan - 2.1 million to 2.25 million

Iraqi Unemployment Rate - 27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect

Consumer Price Inflation in 2006 - 50%

Iraqi Children Suffering from Chronic Malnutrition - 28% in June 2007 (Per, July 30, 2007)

Percent of professionals who have left Iraq since 2003 - 40%

Iraqi Physicians Before 2003 Invasion - 34,000

Iraqi Physicians Who Have Left Iraq Since 2005 Invasion - 12,000

Iraqi Physicians Murdered Since 2003 Invasion - 2,000

Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 1 to 2 hours, per Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (Per Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2007)

Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity - 10.9 in May 2007

Average Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 5.6 in May 2007

Pre-War Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity - 16 to 24

Number of Iraqi Homes Connected to Sewer Systems - 37%

Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies - 70% (Per, July 30, 2007)

Water Treatment Plants Rehabilitated - 22%

British casualties up to July 31st 2009, when MoD stopped releasing data:
UK military fatalities: 179
Reported UK military casualties: 5,970
Total UK casualties: not released by MoD

U.S. Troop Casualties - 4,390 US troops killed; 98% male. 91% non-officers; 82% active duty, 11% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 9% African-American, 11% Latino. 19% killed by non-hostile causes. 54% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 72% were from the US Army.

The concentration of punishment, as ever, is within Iraq, among Iraqis, and the soldiers deployed by Britain and the United States who, upon return, suffer mental illness and disability.

I still wonder what David Miliband meant by that remark - "You've punished us enough about the Iraq War".

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Anglo-American Relations: If 9-11 had happened to the UK, would Bush have backed Blair?

A really interesting question that has a bearing on the character of the 'special relationship': had '9-11' (which I guess would have been dubbed '11-9' by us or else required elaborate translation for American audiences) happened on British soil and involving just as many casualties, how would the United States have reacted to it? I am not talking about the immediate outpouring of shock and sympathy but what followed - a declaration by the US of a 'global war on terror', the war in Afghanistan and, later, and more controversially, war on Iraq. Would President George W. Bush have backed to the hilt whatever course of action Prime Minister Tony Blair decided upon?

That question was put to me by a 6th form student at a meeting I addressed recently. What a great question to ask - it blew me away! It had never occurred to me to ask it; nor had I ever heard it asked by any academic expert or journalist, let alone a politician. So much for the political apathy of British youth - they are interested in the world around them and do ask questions when given a chance. I just wish that that student's question - her name is Caitlin - had been put to the three party leaders during the second election debate, a 'debate' which failed to address any issues pertaining to Anglo-American relations.

Back to that great question, which has me scratching my head. My immediate response was that the US would NOT have backed Britain to the same extent that Britain backed the United States. Why? Because an attack on Britain, a middle-ranking power, would have been seen as a 'regional' question and not a global one (by the US). Attack America and you attack the world's 'regional' power - the lone superpower, the planet's policeman, and its financial centre. That 'demands' a massive retaliatory response. Attack Britain, and the world order gets a bloody nose but the world order does not go into a tailspin. And the lone superpower would probably play a restraining role so as not to exacerbate the situation.

That was my immediate response. But I did tell Caitlin that I would probably have a better answer a few hours later. But all I could do was think up further arguments to back my initial response. When had Britain been militarily engaged before and what had been the US response? Well, there was the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands back in 1982: President Ronald Reagan had had to choose between two US allies and decided to back Britain with intelligence and logistical support but did not commit military support (but was not asked to either). That did not change my initial response to the Big Question.

Then there was the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt - the Suez 'incident'/crisis - in 1956, when the US forced the aggressors to back down. That also suggested that US support after a British '9-11' would not be automatic. (But id did remind me that the US is happy to take its opportunities to increase its own influence in world affairs when they present themselves).

And then there was WWII - the US did not enter until the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 - over two years after was was declared. That also backed up my initial response (the US sold arms and equipment to the UK, provided aid too, but also moved swiftly into British overseas markets across the world, especially in Latin America: again, 'natural' opportunism of the type most states would engage in).

But a doubt kept nagging away centring on one thought: that the first response of Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, to the 9-11 attacks was to ask how the US could use the event to assert American power? And that Tony Blair's liberal interventionism - displayed in the Bosnia/Kosovo conflicts, Sierra Leone, support of greater US interventions and attacks on Iraq and the Sudan in the 1990s- would have been highly persuasive in Washington, DC, given the strength of voices such as Vice President Dick Cheney's, among others, not to mention the neo-cons so close to Bush. The 9-11 attacks gave a clarity of vision to US policymakers as well as their Democratic political opponents because they furnished the world's superpower with a clear and present danger, a plausible enemy, a 'global' threat, with which to replace the Soviet 'threat'.

Would US policymakers have permitted such a political opportunity to pass? Or would they have reacted in the way they actually did after 9-11? There is still the matter that robust US responses to an attack on British soil would need 'selling' to the American public. And also that, as Britain was the victim, it would have to be seen to be calling the shots, as it were, as to what to do and how to go about it. But I cannot imagine that Blair, viewing the US as a 'force for good in the world', would not have urged America to flex its muscles, declare Anglo-America's moral superiority in a world of failing states and terrorist safe havens, and commit to a generations-long war on terror. And Blair's religiosity - there is 'good' and 'evil' in the world and the latter must be vanquished - would have played well in the White House.

Then I got to thinking about the Truman doctrine (1947) when the US president used Britain's inability to intervene in Greece to counter the Soviet 'threat' to declare that America was ready to support and defend 'free peoples' everywhere against 'armed minorities' and communist aggression.

It could well be, then, that had 9-11 been 11-9, the United States would have 'backed' Britain but with a view to re-legitimising and reasserting US global dominance. Maybe history would have turned out pretty much as it did after 9-11 but taking a slightly more circuitous route?

But I am still scratching my head. What a great question!