Speech at the “Illegal” Troops Out demo, Trafalgar Square, London on Monday 8 October 2007.
Simon Jenkins from the Guardian wrote
“Amid the past week’s political sound and fury, one subject slid unnoticed under the platform. Britain is at war. Its soldiers are fighting and dying in two distant lands. Foreign policy, once the stuff of national debate, is consigned to cliché and platitude.
With casualties mounting in Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians dare not mention it, let alone disagree. The prime minister declared to his party conference in Bournemouth that “the message should go out to anyone facing persecution anywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe . . . we will not rest”. Britain will defend the oppressed anywhere in the world. Unfortunately Britain is doing nothing in Burma or Zimbabwe, while the message from Iraq and Afghanistan is that Britain chooses bad wars at America’s behest in which it gets beaten.
All the airbrushing in the world will not remove the greatest legacy that Tony Blair left his successors, that of “liberal interventionism”. Never articulated except in a confused speech in Chicago in 1999, it asserted Britain’s right to meddle in any country to which it took offence, under the rubric of “humanitarian just war.”
Now Simon Jenkins isn’t a crazy leftist firebrand–I’m not even sure what part of the political spectrum he occupies, but it probably isn’t the same as mine. However, I trust his intellectual honesty in a way that I can no longer trust the honesty of most of our government.
There are, however, a few clear-sighted people in Parliament. I’d like now to read something that Ming Campbell recently wrote–which as far as I know went virtually unreported outside of the Yorkshire Post, where it was published:
“Britain’s right wing press, politicians and commentators have an unshakeable habit of working themselves into a fury about power-sharing in Europe. They see themselves as the great defenders of British sovereignty, against the political ambitions of our continental partners.
Yet those same people remain largely silent over the transfer of British sovereignty in crucial areas of national security to The United States.
In a three-paragraph written statement slipped out in July, just one day before Parliament rose–and almost completely unnoticed by the press–the Defence Secretary announced that the Government is permitting the US administration to install additional equipment at Menwith Hill, in Yorkshire, to support its unproven missile defence system.
There has been no public debate in Britain about the desirability or workability of missile defence, let alone about the strategic assumptions that underpin it.
.. The political will to persevere with it has been driven as much by industrial as military priorities. Its original justification was to defend against China: now it is said that it will protect against Iran, depicted in Washington as an implacable, long-term enemy.”
What this says to me is that the current American government–and ours, for as long as we follow them – thrives on a state of war. They need it because it allows them to carry on with business as usual whilst at the same time suppressing dissent ‘for security reasons’. It allows them to sidestep the democratic process by maintaining a continuous state of emergency.
For the sake of our country, and Iraq – as well as for the sake of all those who in the future are going to be cast as ‘our enemies’, we must get off this war-mongering treadmill. Our government talks about our ‘special relationship’ with America, but we should be asking how special that really is. And I think we should be looking at another relationship we have that seems to me much more special: that with Europe. If we’d followed the European line rather than the American, it’s likely not only that we wouldn’t have been part of this stupid invasion, but that it wouldn’t have happened at all. Our cooperation was what gave the Americans the figleaf to cover the dirty little secret that this was an invasion carried out for their benefit alone. Our complicity made it look acceptably international.
In the last couple of weeks several people at the BBC have resigned because someone called a cat Socks instead of Cookie, and because the Queen was wrongly depicted as being in a huff. At the same time we are waging and losing a pointless war that has killed perhaps as many as one million people. Will there ever be any resignations over that?
We have a serious problem on our hands. We have a government that was elected by 22% of the eligible voters, but somehow gained 55% of the seats in Parliament. We have been conned into an illegal invasion by shameless propaganda and media manipulation. We have a foreign policy in place that is hugely unpopular, but which continues nonetheless. We have risen to third place in the rankings of arms-exporting countries. And here we are today at a demonstration that has been declared illegal.
Is this what we mean by democracy when we so proudly export it–in missile form–to other countries?
BRIAN ENO is a musician.