Did We All Do A Clare Short?

by Baffour Ankomah

May 12, 2003


New African, May 2003:

"How could the UK be a democracy in 1917 when women couldn't vote until 1928?"
-- Elizabeth Atherton of Chester, England, in a letter to The Guardian, 9 April 2003.

So the people of Iraq have been liberated? God bless the liberators! But if liberation was the goal, why were they so coy about it before the invasion? So it wasn't weapons of mass destruction after all?

Which should be a veritable lesson to us all about double-speak. Now when they say the UK is the mother of all democracies, we know what they mean. Double-speak. "How could the UK be a democracy in 1917," asks Elizabeth Atherton, "when [British] women couldn't vote until 1928?"

Before we go further, please do remember this: In my native Ghana, our elders have a simple philosophy: "Wo foro dua pa a, na yepea wo" (You get support only when you embark on a good cause). Is there, or was there, a place for this pillar of African thought, in fact way of life, in the charade now being called the "liberation" of Iraq?

May I introduce here Ms. Clare Short, the British secretary for international development. Was she double-speaking when she threatened to resign if Britain went to war in Iraq without UN authority? Let's hear her:

"If there is not UN authority for military action, or if there is not UN authority for the reconstruction of the country, I will not uphold a breach of international law or this undermining of the UN and I will resign from the government... Absolutely, there is no question about that," she said on BBC Radio 4 on 9 March.

Asked if she would have less influence in the reconstruction of Iraq if she left the Department of International Development, she replied: "I think I could add a bit if I stayed, but it's a very, very good department and you can't stay and defend the indefensible in order to do some other things that you think need doing."

Andrew Rawnsley, the BBC interviewer, goaded her: Had Tony Blair acted recklessly in taking Britain into this "indefensible" war? Clare Short emptied her chest:

"I think the whole atmosphere of the current situation is deeply reckless, reckless for the world, reckless for the undermining of the UN in this disorderly world -- which is wider than Iraq -- the whole world needs for the future, reckless with our government, reckless with his own future, position and place in history. It's extraordinarily reckless. I'm very surprised by it."

She continued: "My own view is that allowing the world to be so bitterly divided -- the division in Europe, the sense of anger and injustice in the Middle East -- is very, very dangerous. We're undermining the UN. It's a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, there's a risk of a divided world, with a weakened UN and we shouldn't be doing it like this."

This was 9 March. Thus, no professor in double-speak could have divined that nine days later, on 18 March, Clare Short would be choking on her words and making one of the biggest U-turns in British politics:

"I have decided to support the government in the vote [in parliament] today," she said in a written statement. "Given my remarks last week I believe I should explain my reasons. I know I will he heavily criticised for my decision and many people will feel I have let them down. But I am doing what I think is right in the circumstances which we are now in...

"There have been a number of important developments over the last week. Firstly, the attorney general has made clear that military action would be legal under international law. Other lawyers have expressed contrary opinions but for the UK government, the civil service and the military, it is the view of the attorney general that matters and this is unequivocal."

Pathetic! Double-speak at its worst! So now, the UK attorney general is the world's "unequivocal" authority on "international law". No wonder, the Americans don't want the International Criminal Court. The view of their attorney general is good enough for the world!

To me, what really astounds is the idea articulated so eloquently on CNN by one of the 141 Labour MPs who had just voted in parliament on 18 March against Blair taking Britain into the war: "Once the first shot is fired, we will all support the troops". And "supporting our troops" duly became the order of the day during the 21 days of heavy bombardment of Iraq.

So then, why did the MPs vote against the war and the people march in the streets? Could some native Briton please give me an education here? How do you march and vote against an "illegal and unjust" invasion, yet support the troops involved in the invasion?

In my village in Ghana, this doesn't happen! "Wo foro dua pa a, na yepea wo" (You get support only when you embark on a good cause). It will greatly affront the sensibilities of our people if they were told to support "our troops" fighting an illegal and unjust war in a foreign land. Such a thing just doesn't register on our morality radar.

So Blair's truculence was justified. "You bring out the whole of Britain and march in the streets. It won't change me a jolt. Because I know that once the first shot is fired, everybody will be 100% behind the troops?"

I thought in British law, if you bought stolen goods, you were equally as guilty as the thief who stole them in the first place. Right? But if we support British troops fighting an unjust and illegal war, the illegality and unjustness do not attach to us. I don't simply get it!

So Clare Short was right in choking and saving her job. What's the point in resigning only to support the troops? It doesn't make any sense to me, honestly.

Which brings me to the gloating after the "liberation". Here, ladies and gentlemen ... please welcome ... the world's okro-mouth champion ... Sir Donald Rumsfeld! (Jeez, what a man? Is he this happy because he feels guilty for being the American envoy sent to Baghdad in 1983 to cut the deals -- arms and all -- with Saddam?).

Rumsfeld says weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be found in Iraq by hook or crook. Those of us who remember the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, will recall that the first phase of the invasion involved CIA planes bombing Cuban targets in the wee hours of 15 April 1961.

At the time the US ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, had not been told that the bombing was part of an American "black operation" to "induce Castro to take offensive action first" so "the moral issue would be clouded, and the anti-US campaign would be hobbled from the start" (as Arthur Schlesinger, special assistant to President J.F. Kennedy, had said in a memo to the president on 11 February 1961).

Stevenson, thus, stood before the UN and told the assembled diplomats: "To the best of our knowledge [the planes that bombed the Cuban targets] were Castro's own air force planes and, according to the pilots, they took off from Castro's own air force fields."

Stevenson even showed the UN a photo of one of the planes, and gloated: "It has the markings of Castro's air force on the tail, which everyone can see for himself. The Cuban star and initials F.A.R, Fuerza Aerea Revolucionario, are clearly visible."

But by 6pm the next day (16 April 1961), the truth had dawned on Stevenson and he was writing in anger to the US secretary of state Dean Rusk and CIA director, Allen Dulles: "Greatly disturbed by clear indications received during [the] day in [the] process [of] developing rebuttal material that bombing incidents in Cuba on Saturday were launched in part at least from outside Cuba," he stated.

"I do not understand how we could let such [an] attack take place two days before debate on Cuban issue in GA [General Assembly]. Nor can I understand if we could not prevent such outside attack from taking place at this time, why I could not have been warned and provided pre-prepared material with which to defend us. Answers I made to statements about incident on Saturday were hastily concocted in [State] Department, and revised by me at last minute on assumption this was [a] clear case of attacks by defectors inside Cuba."

Years later, David Phillips, the CIA propaganda chief at the time, wrote: "As another of the last-minute efforts to mask United States involvement, and to make the external aspects of the attack appear to be 'internal', it was decided the first air strike must seem to originate in Cuba. Three Cuban airfields were to be bombarded, but in a manner which would make it appear that defecting Castro pilots had done it, rather than exile planes from Central America. It was my assignment...to stage-manage the incredible charade."

Phillips continued: "As I watched Stevenson defend the deceitful scheme, a chill moved through my body. What had we done? Adlai Stevenson had been taken in by the hoax! Had no one bothered to tell our ambassador at the United Nations of the deception involved in the air strike?"

You will remember this, when, one of these days, you hear Rumsfeld or some such American official announce that "coalition troops" in Iraq have finally found Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

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Iraq on Swans


Baffour Ankomah is the Editor of New African, a British-based magazine published by IC Publications, an international publications company, founded in London 40 years ago. With offices in New York and Paris, the IC group specializes in producing newsletters, magazines, special supplements and reports on Africa and the Middle East. In addition to New African the IC Group publishes two other magazines, African Business and The Middle East. This article appears in the current May 2003 issue of New African and is republished on Swans with the generous and kind courtesy of the author.

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Published May 12, 2003
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