Britain's political conference season of 2008
will be remembered as The Great Silence. Politicians have come and gone and
their mouths have moved in front of large images of themselves, and they often
wave at someone. There has been lots of news about each other. Adam Boulton,
the political editor of Sky News, and billed as "the husband of Blair aide
Anji Hunter," has published a book of gossip derived from his "unrivaled
access to No 10." His revelation is that Tony Blair's mouthpiece told lies.
The war criminal himself has been absent, but the former mouthpiece has been
signing his own book of gossip, and waving. The club is celebrating itself,
including all those, Labour and Tory, who gave the war criminal a standing ovation
on his last day in parliament and who have yet to vote on, let alone condemn,
Britain's part in the wanton human, social and physical destruction of an entire
nation. Instead, there are happy debates such as, "Can hope win?"
and, my favorite, "Can foreign policy be a Labour strength?" As Harold
Pinter said of unmentionable crimes: "Nothing ever happened. Even while
it was happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."
The Guardian's economics editor, Larry Elliott, has written that the
Prime Minister "resembles a tragic hero in a Hardy novel: an essentially
good man brought down by one error of judgment." What is this one error
of judgment? The bankrolling of two murderous colonial adventures? No. The unprecedented
growth of the British arms industry and the sale of weapons to the poorest countries?
No. The replacement of manufacturing and public service by an arcane cult serving
the ultra-rich? No. The Prime Minister's "folly" is "postponing
the election last year." This is the March Hare Factor.
Following the US
Reality can be detected, however, by applying
the Orwell Rule and inverting public pronouncements and headlines, such as "Aggressor
Russia facing pariah status, US warns," thereby identifying the correct
pariah; or by crossing the invisible boundaries that fix the boundaries of political
and media discussion. "When truth is replaced by silence," said the
Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "the silence is a lie."
Understanding this silence is critical in a society in which news has become
noise. Silence covers the truth that Britain's political parties have converged
and now follow the single-ideology model of the United States. This is different
from the political consensus of half a century ago that produced what was known
as social democracy. Today's political union has no principled social democratic
premises. Debate has become just another weasel word and principle, like the
language of Chaucer, is bygone. That the poor and the state fund the rich is
a given, along with the theft of public services, known as privatization. This
was spelt out by Margaret Thatcher but, more importantly, by new Labour's engineers.
Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? Peter Mandelson and Roger
Liddle declared Britain's new "economic strengths" to be its transnational
corporations, the "aerospace" industry (weapons) and "the preeminence
of the City of London." The rest was to be asset-stripped, including the
peculiar British pursuit of selfless public service. Overlaying this was a new
social authoritarianism guided by a hypocrisy based on "values." Mandelson
and Liddle demanded "a tough discipline" and a "hardworking majority"
and the "proper bringing-up [sic] of children." And in formally launching
his Murdochracy, Blair used "moral" and "morality" 18 times
in a speech he gave in Australia as a guest of Rupert Murdoch, who had recently
A "think tank" called Demos exemplified this new order. A founder
of Demos, Geoff Mulgan, himself rewarded with a job in one of Blair's "policy
units," wrote a book called Connexity. "In much of the world today,"
he offered, "the most pressing problems on the public agenda are not poverty
or material shortage . . . but rather the disorders of freedom: the troubles
that result from having too many freedoms that are abused rather than constructively
used." As if celebrating life in another solar system, he wrote: "For
the first time ever, most of the world's most powerful nations do not want to
That reads, now as it ought to have read then, as dark parody in a world where
more than 24,000 children die every day from the effects of poverty and at least
a million people lie dead in just one territory conquered by the most powerful
nations. However, it serves to remind us of the political "culture"
that has so successfully fused traditional liberalism with the lunar branch
of western political life and allowed our "too many freedoms" to be
taken away as ruthlessly and anonymously as wedding parties in Afghanistan have
been obliterated by our bombs.
The product of these organized delusions is rarely acknowledged. The current
economic crisis, with its threat to jobs and savings and public services, is
the direct consequence of a rampant militarism comparable, in large part, with
that of the first half of the last century, when Europe's most advanced and
cultured nation committed genocide. Since the 1990s, America's military budget
has doubled. Like the national debt, it is currently the largest ever. The true
figure is not known, because up to 40 per cent is classified "black"
– it is hidden. Britain, with a weapons industry second only to the US,
has also been militarized. The Iraq invasion has cost $5trn, at least. The 4,500
British troops in Basra almost never leave their base. They are there because
the Americans demand it. On 19 September, Robert Gates, the American defense
secretary, was in London demanding $20bn from allies like Britain so that the
US invasion force in Afghanistan could be increased to 44,000. He said the British
force would be increased. It was an order.
In the meantime, an American invasion of Pakistan is under way, secretly authorized
by President Bush. The "change" candidate for president, Barack Obama,
had already called for an invasion and more aircraft and bombs. The ironies
are searing. A Pakistani religious school attacked by American drone missiles,
killing 23 people, was set up in the 1980s with CIA backing. It was part of
Operation Cyclone, in which the US armed and funded mujahedin groups that became
al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The aim was to bring down the Soviet Union. This was
achieved; it also brought down the Twin Towers.
War of the world
On 20 September the inevitable response to the
latest invasion came with the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. For
me, it is reminiscent of President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970, which
was planned as a diversion from the coming defeat in Vietnam. The result was
the rise to power of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Today, with Taliban guerrillas closing
on Kabul and NATO refusing to conduct serious negotiations, defeat in Afghanistan
is also coming.
It is a war of the world. In Latin America, the Bush administration is fomenting
incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Paraguay, democracies
whose governments have opposed Washington's historic rapacious intervention
in its "backyard." Washington's "Plan Colombia" is the model
for a mostly unreported assault on Mexico. This is the Merida Initiative, which
will allow the United States to fund "the war on drugs and organized crime"
in Mexico – a cover, as in Colombia, for militarizing its closest neighbor
and ensuring its "business stability."
Britain is tied to all these adventures – a British "School of the
Americas" is to be built in Wales, where British soldiers will train killers
from all corners of the American empire in the name of "global security."
None of this is as potentially dangerous, or more distorted in permitted public
discussion, than the war on Russia. Two years ago, Stephen Cohen, professor
of Russian Studies at New York University, wrote a landmark essay in the Nation
which has now been reprinted in Britain.* He warns of "the
gravest threats [posed] by the undeclared Cold War Washington has waged, under
both parties, against post-communist Russia during the past 15 years."
He describes a catastrophic "relentless winner-take-all of Russia's post-1991
weakness," with two-thirds of the population forced into poverty and life
expectancy barely at 59. With most of us in the West unaware, Russia is being
encircled by US and NATO bases and missiles in violation of a pledge by the
United States not to expand NATO "one inch to the east." The result,
writes Cohen, "is a US-built reverse iron curtain [and] a US denial that
Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even
in ethnically akin former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. [There
is even] a presumption that Russia does not have full sovereignty within its
own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow's internal
affairs since 1992 . . . the United States is attempting to acquire the nuclear
responsibility it could not achieve during the Soviet era."
This danger has grown rapidly as the American media again presents US-Russian
relations as "a duel to the death – perhaps literally." The liberal
Washington Post, says Cohen, "reads like a bygone Pravda
on the Potomac." The same is true in Britain, with the regurgitation of
propaganda that Russia was wholly responsible for the war in the Caucasus and
must therefore be a "pariah." Sarah Palin, who may end up US president,
says she is ready to attack Russia. The steady beat of this drum has seen Moscow
return to its old nuclear alerts. Remember the 1980s, writes Cohen, "when
the world faced exceedingly grave Cold War perils, and Mikhail Gorbachev unexpectedly
emerged to offer a heretical way out. Is there an American leader today ready
to retrieve that missed opportunity?" It is an urgent question that must
be asked all over the world by those of us still unafraid to break the lethal
*Stephen Cohen's article, "The New American Cold War," is reprinted
in full in the current issue of the Spokesman,
published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.