#33. Iraq and a hard place


Today, and unless the House of Commons springs a complete surprise, Britain will join many other countries in committing to military action against Islamic State (IS).

Unlike those other countries, however, Britain will not allow government to take military action unless or until approval has been granted by a Parliamentary vote.

Even then, British forces will be limited to operations in Iraq, and will not be allowed to strike IS in its heartland across the border in Syria. This puts Britain into a ridiculous position.

The naïve might argue that the requirement for a vote proves that Britain is more democratic than her partners. In fact, the opposite is true. It is the effective functioning of democracy in countries like America and France which permits action to be taken by the government alone. That a vote is required in Westminster shows just how undemocratic Britain has now become.

Let’s be clear about how, in a democracy, this should work. The authority to take military action is vested in government, not least because it is simply not practical to vote, stage by stage, on the conduct of a war.

The vital role of Parliament is to review, after the event, the actions of ministers, holding them to account if things go wrong. If Barack Obama’s strategy proves mistaken, Congress won’t hesitate to pass judgment, and a similar process applies in France.

This is how it used to operate in Britain. Indeed, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was removed from office in wartime because Parliament judged that the government had bungled the intervention in Norway in 1940. (Ironically, of course, Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill, had been the real architect of the Norwegian operation).

After the 2003 Iraq invasion turned into the disaster that many had predicted from the outset, however, successive governments, and Parliament, dropped the ball. In a functioning democracy, Parliament would have reviewed the Iraq operation and passed judgment on the conduct of ministers and officials, holding individuals responsible if this were deemed appropriate.

Instead, government and Parliament have failed to carry out this responsibility.

More than a decade after the event, the public is still waiting for answers about Iraq. This necessarily creates grave mistrust, and has contributed to the widening of the gulf between governing and governed. This, fundamentally, is why a Parliamentary vote is now required.

It is, of course, hardly surprising that the Labour government chose not to investigate its own conduct, but this duty should have fallen on Parliament, not ministers. That MPs failed to force an investigation shows just how far the House of Commons has become subordinate to the executive. What is more surprising, on the face of it, is that the coalition administration hasn’t sought to hold its predecessors to account.

The unavoidable conclusion has to be that, irrespective of which party is in office, real power is exercised by closed coterie of ministers and officials which has a collective desire to prevent the investigation of their conduct. This conclusion is reinforced by the observation, set out in my previous article, that the governance of Britain suffers from a grave lack of accountability.

They do these things better in more democratic countries.

8 thoughts on “#33. Iraq and a hard place

  1. An astute commentary, Dr Tim.

    In the US, the process of the executive dominating the legislature is more obvious.
    President Obarmy rules by executive order increasingly bypassing a supine Congress stuffed with venal politicians, the vast majority of whom care only for their own pockets & whichever business interests have funded their ludicrously expensive election campaigns, etc.

    These businesses fall into 6 major groups, which can be further condensed into two groups the banks & their corporate cronies.

    These groups run the US, not the increasingly useless Congress. A year ago Putin sent out a note to his diplomatic & foreign staff to no longer regard America as a democracy.
    It was to be regarded as an oligarchy, or a plutocracy, I can’t remember which, but to my mind, a country run by & for the benefit of corporate interests, is a Fascist state.

    Look behind the curtain, & the UK is no different

    When our pussy govt deemed the bankrupt banks “too big to fail” in 2008, that killed any notion that we live under a capitalist system. It also killed any notion we live under a democracy.
    To repeat myself, any state run by & for corporate interests is a Fascist state.

    Never mind the Punch & Judy comedy show put on in what used to be the Mother of Parliaments, with Spot the dog yapping in the middle, trying to pretend he’s of some consequence, we now function as a Fascist state masquerading as a democratic one.

    On another level, everyone knows their vote is worthless. Hence dismal turnout figures. Everyone knows that politicians lie incessantly, with no possibility of comeback, even to the extent of dragging this country to war, on a pack of lies. There is no personal responsibility for word or deed amongst the political class. When pols don’t answer to the people, we don’t have a democracy.

    Stony Bliar & his hatchet man Campbell dragged this country into an oil control & depopulation war in Iraq, & we’re now going in for round 3. Madness. Almost 5,000 of our finest people dead, untold maimed & wounded, the figures are never published, & around 1.5 million Iraqi dead. ( http://www.informationclearinghouse.info ) & far from being in the dock, the Bliar is a multi-millionaire “Peace Envoy” & business consultant.

    This loony bin is no democracy.

    • Thank you for some very helpful comments. I’ve researched the US system at some length and agree it’s faulty – it was said that just two corporations owned George W. Idiot.

      One writer has described “the British system of government by hypocrisy” as a way of taking undemocratic decisions by seemingly democratic means. Another writer describes how the number of members of political parties in Britain has declined from about 8 million in the 50s to a derisory number these days, and indeed the turnout at general elections has fallen sharply over the same period. The decline in membership reflects the loss of the local power to select candidates, and is part of a broader centralisation of power from MPs to the executive.

      I think your term “fascist” is literally correct, as it defines an axis between corporate and political power. (In this regard, I tend to regard big public sector entities as corporates, too, in that they have the same agenda of self-preservation). Ben Judah has written about the “revolving doors” between government and big corporations.

      When businesses are punished, it is always “the company” i.e. the passive shareholders, who are punished, not the executives who took the decisions. I fail to see the difference between “miss-selling” (as practised by big corporates) and “fraud” (when anyone else obtains money by deception).

      The banks are indeed a classic instance. Take RBS. Instead of bailing out the entire organisation, the government could have created a new vehicle, “New RBS”, to take over all the assets and all the liabilities of RBS excluding executive contracts, pensions and bonuses. By taking the former course rather than the latter, government saved not just the banks (which was probably necessary) but also the bankers (which was not).

      My concern is with the economic consequences. Large corporates – not all, but many – pursue globalisation, pay low wages, move manufacturing out of Britain, stifle competition and innovation, often pay little or no tax, and actually support regulation which bears down far more, proportionately, on smaller competitors. Looking at the Phones4You collapse, I’m not defending P4Y, but why on earth do we allow just 3 mobile companies to corner 90% of the market?

  2. Second thoughts, Dr Tim.

    I have to disagree re the banks. They have become way too large & powerful, & as was seen in the pathetic slap on the wrist fine given HSBC for decades of laundering drug money, effectively above the law.

    I think we are now in the position we were in when the Roman Catholic Church was so dominant
    it could order Crusades. The Banksters, behind their screen of bought & paid for & propagandised poxy politicians, now have that same dominance, & we have crusades, for oil, pipelines & depopulation.

    The banks need to be divested of their size & power, possibly limited to regional only SMEs, to introduce competition, & reintroduce a well regulated Capitalism ?

    Our politicians need to be educated. I watched a video of George Galloway schooling a dumbstruck Jacqui Smith this morning re the Middle East situation. A classic :

    IF the world survives or forestalls WWIII which Obummer seems intent on provoking both in Syria & Ukraine. The mad American Empire slavers for war & world hegemony.
    Read : Pawns in the Game, by William Guy Carr.
    2 or 3 years ago, I would have dismissed this book as ridiculously far-fetched. Not now.

    • I’ll look out for this book.

      I’m coming to the view that one cannot explain Britain’s troubled economy without looking at politics, so both will be addressed in my planned report.

  3. “the 2003 Iraq invasion turned into the disaster that many had predicted from the outset”

    But what kind of disaster did they predict ? From what I recall, everybody who ever made the pages of the Guardian or the Today studio predicted that Iraq would be America’s Vietnam, Baghdad their Stalingrad. And that all over the Middle East the “Arab Street” would rise, threatening regimes from Cairo to Casablanca.

    What nobody, as far as I can recall (and I was keeping my ears open), said in 2003 was :

    “If you overthrow Saddam, the Sunnis will kill all the Shias – and vice-versa”

    That doesn’t mean our policy is sensible – we’ve come full circle in a year, from wanting to fight alongside ISIS or whatever they were last year, to wanting to bomb them now. I can’t see how turning every Middle East state bar one into a fractured, sectarian basket case can possibly be in the UK’s national interest.

    “irrespective of which party is in office, real power is exercised by closed coterie of ministers and officials which has a collective desire to prevent the investigation of their conduct”

    That statement applies to a lot more issues than foreign policy !

    • Good points. In 2003, I remember hearing US military concerns that there wasn’t a convincing exit strategy. No one ever doubted that we could defeat Saddam’s military – he’d even sent his jets to Iran for “safe keeping” during Gulf War I and Iran had refused to return them.

      But there was no clear plan about what would happen afterwards. My own view, expressed at the time, was that a largely secular “hard man” like Saddam was probably the least worst option. If there had ever been a right time to overthrow Saddam, Bush (I) and Major had missed it.

      Beyond this, Islamism is a very broad front, extending right across Africa south of the Sahara, active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, threatening India and probably extending into parts of the former USSR. If this was just Iraq and Syria, I wouldn’t favour intervention any more than I did in 2003. But this looks to me like the start of an existential fight between the Caliphate and “non believers”. This isn’t a wholly new phenomenon – in past centuries Islamists (then known as Ottomans) twice beseiged Vienna.

      As for the closed coterie, I’ve just started a mini-series on this – in part 1, published yesterday, I look at how “right-left” is the wrong template, and “libertarian vs corporatist” is a better analytical apoproach. And yes, it affects far more than foreign policy…………….in part 2, I’ll be looking at the harm that corporatism does.

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