One man against the British people. In Britain, at least, this is Tony Blair’s war now, and his alone. The people whose views he was elected to represent want none of it. The streets of London will tomorrow bear witness to that truth.
It seems certain that the rally against the impending attack on Iraq will be the largest political demonstration in British history. Perhaps it is less a demonstration, more an assembly of a people, rejecting senseless war. It will certainly be a rebuke to those who argue that no one cares any longer about politics. Against a background of the worst crisis in international relations for a generation, and a week in which the government did nothing to stem a mounting atmosphere of public tension, the demonstration also represents a refusal to be rendered powerless.
Blair’s fabled propaganda machine has laboured might and main for more than a year to convince the British public that being hooked to the back end of Bush’s wagon train, as it moves to war, is the place to be. As his spin efforts descend to the level of the comic–filching students’ theses and passing them off as the work of “British intelligence”–it is abundantly clear that he has failed. This has turned the issue of war into an issue of democracy as well. If, after a year of persuasion, the government has failed to convince the country that war is necessary, it simply has no right to proceed.
The “collateral damage” of Bush’s war drive is mounting daily–the cohesion of Nato, the chimera of a common EU foreign policy (and Blair’s fantasy of being at the heart of Europe) and the post-1945 structure of international law included. All of this seems merely to be whipping the US political class into a still greater frenzy of bellicosity. How long before France is officially designated a “rogue state” and Gerhard Schroder becomes a card-carrying member of the “axis of evil”?
It now must be clear to everyone that the US is hell-bent on war at any price, scattering to the winds any and every sensible proposal for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in its rush to get the shooting started. A fatal game of catch-22 is being played with the Saddam regime, in which every discovery of an unauthorised weapon is hailed not as evidence that UN inspections are working but as proof of Iraqi duplicity, while every failure to find such weapons is evidence that they are being concealed. But who can still believe that this has anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, any more than it has to do with terrorism? It has become an exercise in US military-political machismo.
This week’s historic worsening of relations between the major powers is a warning that one nation’s determination to enforce its global hegemony is bound to lead to endless and escalating conflicts. Bush and Blair are now playing Osama bin Laden’s game. He, more than anyone, seems to be looking forward to the war as a chance to replenish his ranks. He knows that every shot of Iraqi children being pulled lifeless from the rubble will send hundreds of recruits flocking to al-Qaida’s banner.
The prime minister’s last hope–not of preventing military conflict, which he shows no signs of any longer seeking to do, but of pacifying at least a section of his critics–lies in a second UN resolution. Yet he has devalued the UN, both in this crisis and for the future, by his declarations that he will only go the UN route if the UN acquiesces in advance to the Blair-Bush position.
Jack Straw is fond of waving aloft his well-thumbed copy of the UN charter. Perhaps he could identify which clause codifies the “unreasonable veto”, a concept introduced into international law by the prime minister last week. In fact, if a proposal is vetoed by the UN, it does not go ahead. Yet the prime minister, echoing the US president, arrogates to himself the right to declare such a procedure “unreasonable”. With such an attitude, which would make a nonsense of any rule-based or legal system, the British government is treating UN procedures with contempt.
A second resolution driven through the security council against this background of intimidation loses any moral authority. It cannot now make a wrong war right. Tomorrow the world will say no to war in rallies across the globe. But London will be the most important–because ours is the war leader who can be broken. And if he remains deaf to a nation’s plea for peace, he will be.
ANDREW MURRAY is chair of the Stop the War Coalition, which is organising tomorrow’s demonstration in London with CND and the Muslim Association of Britain. He can be reached at: email@example.com