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Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World by Mark Curtis (Vintage: London, 2003, 512 pp.)
On September 28, Tony Blair once again lied to the British public on the BBCs Breakfast With Frost program, saying of Saddam: Why on earth was he obstructing the inspectors all the way through the 1990s? Why did we have to go, as we did with America, to bomb Baghdad in 1998 when the inspectors were driven out?
In fact, inspectors had not been continuously obstructed and they were not driven outthey were withdrawn for their own safety ahead of the four-day series of air strikes that were Operation Desert Fox.
The attacks began the day before Clintons impeachment referendum on the Monica Lewinsky affair was scheduled and were called off two hours after the vote. Chief UNSCOM weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, reports that just prior to the strikes, Inspectors were sent in to carry out sensitive inspections that had nothing to do with disarmament, but had everything to do with provoking the Iraqis.
Ritter was reported as saying at the time: What [head of UNSCOM] Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing. U.S. government sour- ces had told Ritter three weeks earlier, the two considerations on the horizon were Ramadan and impeachment.
An anonymous UN diplomat commented: There were something like 300 inspections [in recent weeks] and we encountered difficulties in five.
These five difficulties came after Iraq had complied in disarming fully 90-95 percent of its weapons of mass destruction, leaving only bits and pieces of programs left, according to Ritter and others.
In his new book, Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis points to an even darker possibility concerning the abandonment of the UNSCOM arms inspections. He quotes RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Byman who, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggested that an impasse over inspections is actually the best realistic outcome for the United States and its allies. The most dangerous scenario was the possibility that Saddam will cooperate which could spell...the end of sanctions.
In a similar vein, the Financial Times wrote in 1998 that the U.S. dilemma would grow even sharper if a diplomatic solution is devised which satisfies the UN and its arms inspectors. A U.S. intelligence official said the White House will not take yes for an answer.
In other words, Clinton and Blair may have bombed Baghdad in December 1998 precisely to prevent UN inspectors from completing their work, which would have given Iraq a clean bill of health and would have meant the lifting of sanctions without U.S. control of Iraqi oil.
In the foreword to Web Of Deceit, John Pilger writes: My own view is that had the great broadcasting institutions and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic not merely channeled and echoed the agendas and lies of government, but instead exposed and challenged them, the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq would have been made untenable.
does seem clear that Blair and his entourage carefully crafted their
lies according to their perception of likely media challenges. When
UK foreign secretary Jack Straw finally got challenged on his claim
that UNSCOM had been thrown out in 1998, he changed
tack in subsequent interviews claiming that the inspectors had been
forced to leave. When that failed, he resorted to claiming
that they had been unable to do their work. Britains
leading interviewersthe Dimblebys, Frosts, and Paxmans (all
millionaire TV celebrities) said nothing while government
spokespeople like Straw blatantly fabricated pretexts for war.
Mark Curtis is one of a tiny number of commentators willing to tell the uncompromised truth. He swiftly exposes government lies about Iraqi WMD, links with al-Qaeda, and the idea that the invasion had nothing to do with oil. As for the 1991-2003 sanctions regime, he writes: It is simply amazing that a government policy which, by credible indicators, has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people has been widely met with only murmurs of objections.
Likewise, of the more than 3,000 Afghan civilian deaths from U.S. bombing, Curtis notes, Their deaths have received the barest of concern from political leaders and the mainstream media, who have essentially deemed Afghan lives expendable to avenge the attack on the U.S.
Nevertheless, with breathtaking complacency, the Guardian describes how the wests commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the terrorists proven wish to cause as many civilian casualties as possible... is still a key difference.
This seems reasonable to the Guardians editors because the thousands of civilians we do kill, and the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of lives we turn upside down, do not register as meaningful tragedies. The fact, as Curtis notes, that a quarter of a million starving Afghan refugees were forced to flee U.S. revenge bombing through winter snows to Iran and Pakistan just doesnt seem that bad.
Curtis examines the long U.S.-UK tradition of guilt-free crushing of these unpeople. The claimed concern for democracy in Iraq, for example, is made absurd by declassified documents [which] show that British and U.S. policy has always been to support the authority of favoured repressive ruling regimes in the Gulf and has helped them counter internal challenges...
Curtis reviews how, at the October 2001 Labour Party conference, Tony Blair pledged to help heal a scar on the conscience of the world by addressing poverty and conflict in Africa. A month earlier, representatives of both sides of the conflict between Uganda and Angola had attended a major British arms exhibition. The International Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria reported of the conflict: Britain is inflaming the situation by arming both sides.
The true concern, Curtis notes, is hardly in doubt: Britains basic priorityvirtually its raison detre for several centuriesis to aid British companies in getting their hands on other countries resources. As Lord Mackay, then Lord Chancellor, revealed in the mid-1990s, the role of MI6 is to protect Britains economic well-being by keeping a particular eye on Britains access to key commodities, like oil or metals [and] the profits of Britains myriad of international business interests.
Britain kept a particular eye on its interests throughout its war in defence of the rubber industry in Malaya and through its many interventions to crush independent nationalism in British Guiana, Kenya, Indonesia, and Irancynical exercises in realpolitik exposed with shocking clarity here.
Despite this mass of evidencemuch of it readily available in declassified documents ignored by both media and academiaCurtis notes: I do not think I have ever seen a media article that mentions that Britain might in some way systematically contribute to poverty in the world. Is this not extraordinary? Britains partial responsibility for maintaining and deepening poverty globally is unmentionable.
Curtis has worked in the field of international development for ten years and understands the real role of the World Bank: Real participation is generally non-existent, as numerous recent studies show. It is not peoples involvement in policy-making that is being promoted. Rather, civil society groups are being consulted to ratify decisions on policies being made by elites. In most countries there are few opportunities to shape policy, still fewer to implement alternatives.
Curtis brilliantly assembles the facts and sources we need to challenge the web of government lies. But even more importantly, in my view, he exposes the crucial role of the mass media in making these lies credible.
David Edwards is co-editor of Media Lens and a ZNet commentator.
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