Brian Haw

It doesn’t matter that Brian Haw was hanging around with D\avid I\cke kooks too much at the end of his life or that his death was posibbly hastened by putting his trust into quackery rather than proper medicine, nor do questions of how effective an anti-war protestor he was. After all, none of us managed to prevent the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, while the War on Libya has proved we haven’t even learned anything from those disasters. What mattered was that Brian Haw had the courage of his convictions to camp out in front of Parliament for years, serving as a living reminder to the fuckers who had voted for these wars that no, the people of Britain did not agree with them and thought them wrong.

He did this so well that the then Labour government created and implemented a law designed specifically to stop him demonstrating in Parliament Square. In typical New Labour fashion, they did this so ineptly that the resulting law applied everybody but him, as he was grandfathered in. (The law only allowed demonstrations to take place if at the start of a demo it had police approval, but Brian Haw had started his demonstration years ago, so…)

Somebody who managed to get under the skin of Blair and co to such an extent that they had to change the law to get rid of him (and failed) and who did so for all the right reasons, deserves our deepest respect.

Srebrenica: why humantarian intervention isn’t

The arrest of Ratko Mladić today has put the Srebrenica massacre back in the spotlight. It was the greatest warcrime in postwar European history and it’s our national shame. Srebrenica is the reason why I stopped believing in humanitarian interventions: here finally there had been a clearcut case, a chance to stand against the same sort of evil we had been liberated from fifty years before and we fucked it up.

In Srebrenica Holland had the opportunity to prevent genocide, but instead we enabled it. For fifty years we’ve grown up with the stories about World War II and the moral choices our parents and grandparents had to make, for fifty years we had known that we would’ve made the right choices, that we would have been part of the resistance, as every book, movie and television series told us we would’ve been. Yet at the first real test, the first chance for us to prevent the same sort of evil we had read so much about, we fucked up. Our commanders liked the Serb leaders much better — so cultured and European — than the not quite civilised Muslim combatants. Our soldiers were glad to trade in their guns and bullet proof vests for a chance to go home and tried to think too hard about the men they were supposed to protect. Our politicians spoke of a tragedy and a crime but were firm and insistent that the Netherlands were not to blame, that “our boys” had “done their best” and that there had been nothing more that they could’ve done. It would’ve been better had we not been there.

Had we not been there to establish a safe haven that wasn’t, had we not been there to give people a false sense of security, all those Bosnian Muslims wouldn’t have been trapped there and some 8,000 men and boys might still be alive today. At the very least they wouldn’t have been trapped unarmed and been handed over to their murders so easily. Our humanitarian intervention only make things worse and since then I’ve always been convinced it almost always will.

No more imperialistic adventures for Holland

The current Dutch government has decided the department of defence needs to save one billion euros on its budget to help pay for the bankers crisis, which in concrete terms means that the current support for NATO’s airwar in Libya is Holland’s last imperialistic adventure for the foreseeable future. To pay for its deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade the Dutch army already had had to cannibalise itself, selling of equipment like the brand new Panzerhaubitze 2000 only afew years after they had been taken into service. Now the army is going to get rid off even more stuff, including all its remaining tanks and nineteen more F-16 fighters, as well as four out of ten minehunter ships, not to mention a fair few airforce and army bases. More importantly, 10,000 jobs will disappear: some through natural wastage, others by not filling in vacancies but most, some 6,000 in total will be through redundancies.

It will be hard on these people of course, not to mention on the towns and cities dependent on the bases threatened with the chop. Yet I can’t help but wonder, as I’ve done before, why we’re keeping an army anyway if we’re not willing or able to spent the money to support it properly. What do we really need an army for when the chances of war breaking out in our corner of Europe are the lowest they’ve ever been in the past two thousand years. Is it just there to, like we did the past decade, tool about in other people’s countries in service of some vaguely worded humanitarian interests everytime the US or UK ask us to? Now we can’t even do that anymore the moment is there to give it the chop entirely, transfer those few elements we might still need to the police forces, then spent the money we would’ve spent keeping useless armour in service to retraining our soldiers for more useful vocations.

Libya — the case against intervention

Conor Foley argues why this time it’s different to support western intervention in Libya:

the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?


I do not know what the end game is. I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes and I presume that the intervening governments have selfish as well as altruistic motives for their actions. However, I think that the situation in Libya immediately prior to the intervention passed the threshold test that I set out above. I think that the UN is fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives of civilians in this case.

My own view: never support a military action you are not in control off. Because whatever your motivations might be, you can never be sure they are shared by those actually waging the war. And while Conor might disdain the “search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions”, motivations do matter. What is the intervention attempting to achieve? What are the countries participating prepare to do to reach this goal? How well does this goal match Conor’s own reasons for supporting the intervention? Can we be sure the desire to protect Libyan civilians — any Libyan civilians, even those supporting Khadaffi — is as great as the desire to get Khadaffi? Can we stop the intervention if it’s clear it makes things worse? Can you really trust countries that only months ago were eager to embrace Khadaffi, sell him weapons and buy his oil? What will happen if Khadaffi is killed or goes into exile? If the airstrikes don’t work, what then?

All questions we don’t have the answers to, nor have the power to decide upon ourselves and because we don’t, time and again we find that the wars we supported for the best of reasons actually make things worse. Never support military interventions you don’t have any control over.

Why is NATO? What is point NATO?

Once upon a time this was an easy question to answer. NATO was either a defensive alliance against the threat posed by the USSR and its allies, or, if you were so inclined, it was an instrument of western imperialism aimed at the people of Eastern Europe and Russia. Then the Cold War ended, not through any NATO effort, and the need for the alliance was gone. So why hasn’t it disbanded, why has it in fact not just continued to exist, but actually grown? Surely as a defensive alliance it is no longer needed as despite efforts to find a new evil empire, none have come to light. Even China is only a third rate military power still happy to buy secondrate Russian equipment and to suggest that an Iran or North Korea is so much of a threat we need NATO to defend ourselves is absurd.

Perhaps we see the real purpose of NATO in the current discussion of membership for the Ukraine and Georgia, something Russia has long objected to. From their perspective the long, steady eastward march of NATO during the nineties and zeros looks remarkably like a slow motion offensive, an encirclement of the motherland. They have some reason to feel that way, having been invaded three times in the twentieth century alone. You can of course reject all this as Russian paranoia and believe the assurances of NATO itself that it’s all perfectly innocent, honest. Myself, I’m not so sure, especially not after what happened in Kosovo.

Kosovo is seen as the great succes in liberal intervention, but remember that it was never sanctioned by the United Nations, featured terror bombing of civilian targets and did not achieve its main goal of ethnic cleansing. Instead NATO served as the KLA’s private airforce in their war against Serbia. The endresult is a combination gangster state/NATO protectorate. Kosovo opened the way for NATO to function as the armed arm of democracy, a role it’s now attempting to fulfill in Afghanistan as well. NATO as security for When the UN is going through one of its maddingly independent phases again; a handy tool to intervene in other countries when the UN doesn’t want to.

It also binds the European powers to the US and its foreign policy and prevents the European Union from following a more independent, perhaps more confrontational course. Many European Atlanticists thinks this is worth it, because NATO also binds America to Europe and prevents it from withdrawing in isolationism again. It’s sort of the old argument that Blair and co used to support the US in the War on Iraq: at least if we’re on their side we can influence them somewhat. Guess how well that worked out in practise.

In short NATO is obsolete and dangerous and needs to be abolished. It’s not needed to fight the real threats of the 21st century and the money wasted on it can be better spend elsewhere. The sooner it’s gone the better.

Preparation for future wars

I’ve talked about the failure of the antiwar movement before, in that it failed to stop the War on Iraq from happening, despite the protests held by tens of millions of people all over the world in the months before the start of the war. One common complaint heard at the time was that the protests came too late, that the troops were already in place, the preperations made and that therefore war was inevitable. I’m not sure this was entirely true; the protests did keep the Netherlands out of the war proper, though sadly not out of the occupation and I can see that if the Stop the War campaign had made different tactical and strategical choices in 2003 it might’ve kept the JUK out as well. There is however a kernel of truth in the idea that anti-war protests usually come too late, when the war is already started or preparations are so advanced stopping is impossible. It doesn’t help that for the most part anti-war movements are created largely adhoc, in response to a threatening war, that they die down in times of “peace”.

When you stop to think about it, it’s absurd that we live in a time when it’s assumed normal that even a country like the Netherlands, with no real enemies nearby is spending millions if not billions of euros each year on defence. Moreover we’re spending it not to defend our own country, but to enable our army to invade and occupy other countries. During the nineties, while our attention was elsewhere, the Dutch army transformed itself from a tank heavy Cold War style “defend the Fulda Gap” army into a lean, mean humanitarian intervention fighting machine, laying the foundations for getting involved first in Yugoslavia, then Kosovo and finally Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the status quo, in which criticism of defence spending is seldom on a fundamental level, but mainly on issues of cost or choice of spending.

What brought this to mind is the news that the UK ministry of Defence is going ahead with a thirteen billion pound tanker investment, in which it gets over a dozen new tanker/transport planes. These planes are not needed for the defense of the United Kingdom, certainly not in that number. Instead they’ll be invaluable for the next Iraq or Afghanistan… That’s why we need an anti-war movement that doesn’t just mobilise when war is imminent, but that opposes defence spending from the start. If we have an army that’s capable of “humanitarian interventions”, interventions is what we get. We need to take away these tools that enable our armies to start wars. We need to stop the preperations for future wars, not just the current war.

Five years on and nothing’s changed

Despite the sheer inevitability of the coming war, I felt quite optimistic five years ago, in that short period between February 15th, the day the war protests went global and over 15 million people marched against a war on Iraq and March 19th, the day we learned all those protests had achieved nothing. At the time we were all working hard in the day to day organising of protests, as documented here and this left us without too much time to feel pessimistic in. The mood on the ground, even in such a traditional queen, county and navy town like Plymouth was overwhelmingly antiwar and it seemed absurd that it would happen, until it did happen.

Now, five years and a million dead or more later, it’s hard not to feel disillusioned. None of the criminals responsible for the war have had to pay for their crimes. Bush and Blair both got re-elected, a few of the more obvious culprits got to retire early, but nobody above the level of a Lynne England has had to go to prison for warcrimes yet. We’ve failed and I can’t see the situation improving quickly. Like Lebanon in the eighties, Iraq has become a regular staple of our television news, but not something that seems to have much to do with ourselves anymore…

Why did the anti-war movement fail?

With the disgraceful fifth anniversary of the War on Iraq rapidly approaching, it is a good time to examine why we all failed to stop this war when the vast majority of people in the UK, Europe and even the US was dead set against it. What happened that two million people could march in London on February 15th and yet the war started the very next month?

Which is why I set up an open thread over at Prog Gold, to discuss this question. If y’all would like to hop on over and give your opinion on this matter?

The antiwar movement failed

Over at the Socialist Unity blog Andy reviewed the latest Stop the War demo and was less than impressed. this lead to an interesting discussion in the comment thread, though unfortunately centered mostly on tactics rather than strategies, much less on the question I’ve asked there as well: has the antiwar movement failed?

Tactically, if we look at what the antiwar movement has done from September 2001 onwards, it has been impressive: larger and larger demonstrations against the War on Afghanistan and in the runup to the War on Iraq, culminating in the 15 February 2003 demonstrations, with two million in London and tens of millions worldwide marching against the war. Not just demonstrations either: a wide variety of direct action initiatives have been tried by local antiwar groups, ranging the spectrum from letterwriting campaigns to attempts to occupy military bases.

Strategically, the antiwar movement managed to set the debate in a fair few countries, despite the opposition of much of the political and media elites. Even at the height of the warfrenzy, there never was a majority in the UK in favour of war and even in the US the war was never supported by a large majority of the people, if it had a majority at all. The great victory of the antiwar movement was that it managed to put the warmongers on the defensive, by making opposition to the war the default position in the debate, with the supporters of the War on Iraq having to explain themselves. With Afghanistan it was the other way around, but with Iraq the antiwar movement framed the debate.

We must not underestimate this achievement, in a climate in which much of the US electorate at least was whipped into fear by “9/11″ and The War Against Terror and despite the US/UK’s media’s tendency to portray protestors as a minority of bearded wierdies. Here in the Netherlands this was the one subject on which the overwhelming majority of people could agree, whether socialists, liberals or conservatives, Pim Fortuyn supporters or not: the war was a bad idea and Holland should stay well out of it.

And yet, Holland didn’t stay out of it, though it did avoid the actual invasion. And neither did the UK, US, Spain, Poland, etc. The antiwar movement did not stop the war, did not stop the occupation, despite two million people marching in London and tens of millions worldwide. In the end it turned out the voters could be ignored, unless you did something really stupid, like pretending an Al Quida attack is the work of ETA say. Bush got his second term, Labour had no problem winning their next election and as far as I know nobody lost their seat for their war support other than Oona King.

So I think it’s fair to say that the antiwar movement did fail, as it did not prevent the war nor raise the (political) cost of the war. Arguably it didn’t even slow down the start of the war. We won the battles, but we lost the war.

Those allegations against Galloway

So an US Senate committee has accused of having received “allocations” of oil under the “oil-for-food” programme:

The US report concludes: “The evidence obtained by the sub-committee, including Hussein-era documents from the ministry of oil and testimony from senior Hussein officials, shows that Iraq granted George Galloway allocations for millions of barrels of oil under the oil-for-food programme.

“Moreover, some evidence indicates that Galloway appeared to use a charity for children’s leukaemia to
conceal payments associated with at least one such allocation.”

As the blogger known as Sonic said as well, you’d think this much oil would leave some trace:

[...] If Galloway was allocated “millions of barrels of oil under the oil-for-food programme” there seems
to me there would be clear evidence of it (transaction records, invoices etc) and if there was were is it?

But it all seems to be a
of earlier accusations, including accusations Galloway already won a libel suit over:

A spokesman for the Telegraph said: “The committee appears to be confusing our documents with a set of alleged receipts that emerged in Baghdad some days after our story appeared. These purported to record direct payments to Mr Galloway in the early 1990s. They were offered to the Daily Telegraph but, as they were clearly crude forgeries, we declined to publish them.”

The committee, which of course had not contacted Galloway before making the accusations, has now deigned to receive him, to which Galloway has responded with his usual charm:

The committee said it would be “pleased” for Mr Galloway to appear at a hearing in Washington on 17 May.

The MP accepted, declaring he would take “them on in their own lions’ den”.

He told the BBC: “I’ll be Daniel and I’ll be triumphant”.

In all, this whole farce smells like a slightly ill timed “october surprise”. Oona King must be pretty miffed this kerfuffle didn’t erupt a week earlier, eh?