Sunday, April 20, 2008
Fools no more
This article of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.
The only surprising thing about the news that the British government lied about the whereabouts of the 15 British navy personnel who were captured by Iranian forces last spring is that anyone should find it surprising. For this is a government, which, when it comes to telling porkies, makes Carlo Collodi's famous wooden puppet look like an also-ran.
In December 1998, one and a half years into the shining new era of an "ethical foreign policy", came operation Desert Fox- a four-day bombing of Iraq, which cost the lives of up to 2,000 people. The official reason from Number 10 - and the White House - for the attacks was that Iraq had expelled the team of Unscom weapons inspectors. It was a barefaced lie. As head weapons inspector Richard Butler revealed in his autobiography, it was the US ambassador Peter Burleigh, acting on instructions from Washington, who suggested Butler pull his team out from Iraq in order to protect them from US and British air strikes which had already been planned.
In early 1999, the government's lie machine turned its attention to the Balkans. Slobodan Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia, was, we were told by the British prime minister, "set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during the second world war. It is no exaggeration to say that what is happening is racial genocide - something we had hoped we would never again witness in Europe," Blair went on. But it was an exaggeration to say that what was happening in Kosovo was "genocide". The International Red Cross lists 2,047 persons as missing from the 1998-99 hostilities in Kosovo, including approximately 500 Serbs, 1,300 Albanians and 200 members of other ethnic groups. The "genocide" in Kosovo was a complete fabrication: but it helped Blair and Clinton spin their narrative of a "humanitarian" intervention, to cloak the real economic and strategic reasons for Nato's military intervention.
Four years later, it was back to Iraq. Saddam not only possessed weapons of mass destruction - but ones which "could be activated in 45 minutes". On February 23 2003, Tony Blair, in full Pinocchio mode, told the House of Commons that "I detest [his] Saddam's regime, but even now he could save it by complying with the UN's demands". It was an outrageous fib: the decision to go to war had already been taken. Time after time in the build up to the "shock and awe" campaign, we were told that it was the Iraqis - with their repeated denials that they possessed WMD, who were lying. But the liars were, once again, much closer to home.
Even after the disaster of Iraq, the lies continued to flow, with Iran being the principal target for the government's mendacity. Last spring defence secretary Des Browne repeatedly told the House of Commons that the 15 British navy personnel taken captive by Iran were seized in Iraqi waters.
"There is no doubt that HMS Cornwall was operating in Iraqi waters and that the incident itself took place in Iraqi waters" he claimed. The reason for these statements was clear: to turn public opinion against the Iranians in preparation for another war.
It's said that truth is the first casualty of war; more accurately it's the first casualty in the lead-up to war. Since taking office 11 years ago, the New Labour government has lied us into conflicts across the globe- conflicts which have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people from Belgrade to Baghdad and beyond, and left the already hard-pressed British taxpayer having to foot the bill. But the lies are at long last catching up with them.
As a former US president once said: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
Thank God for that.