Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Monday, October 09, 2006


I’ve been quietly pursuing a course of reading. I went back and had a look at all I could find on Gertrude Bell and Mesopotamia 1916 onwards, read Anthony Sampson’s ‘The Seven Sisters’ again, then Robert Baer, ‘See No Evil’ and now I’m chugging through Bob Woodward’s two books ‘Bush at War’ and ‘Plan of attack’. I shall get his new one ‘State of Denial’ as soon as it comes up on Amazon. (I find Bob Woodward hard to read but I think there is little doubt he gets his facts right and God knows he includes enough detail!)

So why bother….. What has British colonial policy and the machinations of the oil companies in the 20th century got to do with anything? I blame Bob Bliss and Steve Constantine. They taught me to dig for evidence and make the effort to collate and assess it. BB would argue that I am a bit shy when it comes to conclusions but in this case I don’t think it’s a valid comment, I’ve been pretty consistent over the last three years with opinions, conclusions and predictions about what was happening in the Middle East. I don’t think I have been far wrong……

There isn’t any trigger for this NOP. That’s the point of it. It’s too quiet.

What’s going on? We have seen little snippets of reports ‘slipping out’, leaks of confidential papers from both the US and UK governments which collectively say that Iraq is heading for chaos and we have bitten off more than we can chew in Afghanistan. Official comment has been restricted to ‘steady as you go’ and ‘we will support our brave lads’ type pronouncements. Against this must be set the increasing flow of comment on websites and blogs posted by all ranks who are at the sharp end. These are universally critical of every aspect of the two theatres. Throw into the mix the imminent sell-by date of Bush and Blair and the American elections this month and you have an interesting topic of debate…… So let’s try to read the entrails.

Shakespeare used an idiom in The Merchant of Venice (2:2): "But in the end truth will out." This is probably the only reassuring fact in the whole episode and I think that what we are watching is truth prevailing over the fog of half-truths and downright lies which were used as the justification for the incursions into the Middle East. There isn’t a lot of point detailing these, let’s just agree that Iraq is in chaos and in Afghanistan we are seeing a rerun of the disasters suffered by the Empire and the Russians. It is becoming increasingly likely that the end game is going to be withdrawal from both countries leaving them to sort themselves out.

There are two major problems here. The first is that yet again, we have poked a stick into a hornet’s nest, stirred up forces we don’t fully understand and can’t control and finished up with a worse situation than existed when we started. The convenient handles ‘Taliban’ and ‘Al Q’eedah’ are used as shorthand for public consumption. They cover a wide spectrum of fundamentalist Muslim antagonism towards the West in general and the US and UK in particular. Leaving aside the basic differences in belief systems this conflict has been exacerbated by our treatment of these people over the centuries. Remember that one of the initial flash-points was when Bush used the word ‘crusade’ to describe his initiative against global terrorism. If the Christian wars of the 11th century onwards still have resonance, how much more so for later exploitation.

The second problem is the fact that the worst-practiced skill of heads of state is to admit they were wrong. There is no way Bush or Blair is going to stand up and say ‘We cocked up’. This will have to leach out slowly over the years as positions are adjusted, alliances re-arranged and attempts made to right some of the wrongs. None of us will live to see the end of the threat, the only thing I can envisage that can speed any rapprochement is the advent of a more immediate threat, perhaps global warming or the rise of another power.

So why is it so quiet? I believe that the evidence the US and UK governments are digesting is gaining ascendancy over the spin and prevarication. The public is obviously not qualified to be party to this process and so we are being manipulated by keeping us in the dark and every now and again throwing an intelligence leak at us. [Remember the mushroom farm?] The one thing that they will never leak because it will never be committed to paper is the search for ‘an honourable way out’. This is how it will eventually be presented to us, that despite our pure intentions and measured actions we are in a situation where the only option is to withdraw and allow matters to take their course.

The bald truth is that Iraq was more stable under Saddam Hussein and the use of Pakistan to empower the Taliban as a counterweight to the power of the Afghan warlords was a disaster. Think back to the days when Saddam was running rings round the diplomats of the west. I often reflect that if he hadn’t triggered off Desert Storm by invading Kuwait he would still be in power. The restraint shown by the Coalition in not going on to Baghdad rankled and in the end was the irritant that triggered his overthrow. The neo-cons were angry, something had to be done. We shall have to live with this mistake for a hundred years…… SNAFU as they say…….

SCG/08 October 2006