Chris Harman


Who keeps the peace?

(1 October 2001)

In my view, Socialist Worker, No.1769, 1 October 2001.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WHEN I was a child you could order a magic Cornish charm from the Captain Marvel magazine. It promised that if you held onto it and said something would happen often enough then it would happen.

There have always been people in the Labour Party, the media and the trade unions who seem to believe they have such a magic charm. A fortnight ago some of the more prominent were against bombing one of the world’s poorest countries.

Now, however, they are putting across another message. There is no need for an anti-war movement, they claim. Tony Blair may be earning unstinting praise from right wingers in the Tory shadow cabinet by his exhortations to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with George W. Bush.

But secretly he is holding Bush back from retaliation and is virtually in the anti-war camp. Another supposed secret peacenik is Colin Powell, the man who covered up for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua and organised the bombing of Iraq.

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian has switched to supporting war. She believes Bush can impose a government on Afghanistan that supports women’s rights. However, Bush is a hardline opponent of women’s rights in the US. He built his political base by pandering to the fundamentalists of the Christian coalition.

But just keep repeating that Blair and Powell are holding Bush back, or even that Bush is holding back “conservative hawks” like Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, and this is what will happen.

Even some opponents of the war have fallen for this approach. There has been a debate within the US administration over exactly how to wreak revenge on Afghanistan.

No one in that debate is saying it is obscene to target Afghan people for an attack which did not involve a single Afghan. The suspected hijackers were from two states allied to the US-Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The argument is over whether they should bomb other states as well as this war-wrecked, famine-stricken country. Powell says that “the US should begin its war against terrorism in Afghanistan” with bombings. Defence secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Wolfowitz want to follow up such an attack “by air strikes into Iraq, Syria and the Beqaa valley of Lebanon”.

They refer to Bush’s “Operation Infinite Justice” as “Operation Infinite War”. Powell’s objection to this has nothing to do with humanitarianism. It is because he fears it will “break up the coalition he has carefully built”. He believes governments like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not support it.

They are terrified of the overwhelming hostility to any such actions from their own populations. The result could be an arc of instability, anti-American insurgence and potential revolutionary upheaval spreading all the way from North Africa through to Pakistan.

Blair has taken the front passenger seat in a vehicle heading for war, with Bush at the steering wheel. People like Toynbee and Will Hutton are clambering aboard claiming magical incantations about Blair having his foot on the brake to slow the vehicle down.

This Cornish charm approach to politics is likely to lead to the sort of horror we saw in Manhattan magnified many times over.

Last updated on 9 December 2009