Two Words – Governments Lie. Iraq, Oil, Climate Change, and Tony Blair

“Among all the things I’m going to tell you today about being a journalist, all you have to remember is two words: governments lie.” (US journalist I.F. Stone to journalism students)

Machiavellian Passion

Tony Blair “passionately believes” that Saddam Hussein must be confronted to avoid future regrets, the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan insists. (BBC News at One, January 14, 2003)

But how does Trevelyan truly know what Blair believes? Could we not argue instead that his professed beliefs merely reflect the needs of the hour?

A month after the September 11 attacks, Blair was careful to reassure the public that no steps would be taken against Iraq as part of a feared “wider war” unless there was “absolute evidence” of Iraqi complicity in the attacks. No such evidence had yet emerged, Blair said. (Michael White, ‘Blair goes public to quell Arab fears of wider war’, The Guardian, October 11, 2001)

A few months later, in May 2002, BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman asked Blair: “If the inspectors are allowed back in by Saddam, would you still favour toppling him?” Blair answered:

“If he lets the weapons inspectors back in unconditionally, anywhere, any time, any place, then of course that makes a difference. But there’s absolutely no sign that he’s prepared to do so.” (‘Transcript from the second night of Blair’s interview’, The Guardian, May 16, 2002)

In other words, proof of Iraqi complicity in the 9-11 attacks had now been replaced as a condition for action by Saddam’s possible refusal to allow the return of arms inspectors.

Earlier this week, Blair moved the goalposts for war again, arguing that there are two sets of circumstances that could acts as triggers:

“There is a set of circumstances in which you find the conclusive proof, and there is a set of circumstances in which a pattern of behaviour develops of non-cooperation… The judgment that you need to make, and it is a matter of judgment itself as to the time at which you need to make this, is: is he cooperating?” (Patrick Wintour, Julian Borger, John Henley, ‘Blair stand puts strain on coalition’, The Guardian, January 22, 2003)

The requirement of “absolute evidence” regarding 9-11, of a failure to readmit inspectors, of their inability to come and go as they please, of their discovering weapons of mass destruction – all of these are forgotten. Now, failure to cooperate, or even failure to be sufficiently +proactive+ in cooperating, is sufficient to trigger war, according to Blair.

The crucial point to consider is that there has been no change whatever in the level of threat posed by Iraq since Blair made his initial statement in October 2001. Nothing has changed, except that where once Blair made scant mention of any threat from Iraq, now he never stops discussing its urgent and deadly nature. The other change, of course, is the determination and ability of the US/UK to go to war. We have to conclude from this that Tony Blair is quite simply lying to the British people. Worse still, he is lying to persuade us to join a cynical war against an already devastated Third World country.

The list of Blair’s deceptions goes on and on, we need merely select at random. He has, for example, said this of sanctions and suffering in Iraq:

“The truth is Saddam Hussein could perfectly easily give his people the money that they need for food and medicine. You know, the sanctions regime specifically allows him to take oil revenue for food and medicine for his people and the reason why he’s not doing it is because he needs them to believe… that the reason why they’re starving and have difficulties is because of the United States of America and Britain.” (‘Tony Blair spoke to Observer Political Editor Kamal Ahmed en route from Cairo to London’, The Observer, October 14, 2001)

Former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, who ran the ‘oil-for-food’ programme in Iraq, and who resigned in protest in September 1998, dismisses this claim as nonsense:

“There’s no basis for that assertion at all. The Secretary-General has reported repeatedly that there is no evidence that food is being diverted by the government in Baghdad… There is no evidence of diversion of foodstuffs whatever ever in the last two years. The Secretary-General would have reported that.” (Interview with David Edwards, March 2000)

Hans von Sponeck, who also ran the UN’s ‘oil-for-food’ programme in Iraq before also resigning in protest in February 2000, has responded similarly to claims of the hoarding of medicines:

“You have heard, I’m sure, a lot about the overstocking of medicine… It is not – I repeat, it is not – a premeditated act of withholding medicine. It’s much more complex than that.” (Quoted, ZNet Commentary, March 11, 2000)

Last September, Blair said this of Iraqi aluminium tubes:

“Since the departure of the inspectors in 1998, Saddam has bought or attempted to buy: specialised vacuum pumps of the design needed for the gas centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium… and has attempted, covertly, to acquire 60,000 or more specialised aluminium tubes, which are subject to strict controls due to their potential use in the construction of gas centrifuges.” (‘Full text of Tony Blair’s statement to parliament on Iraq’, The Guardian, September 24, 2002)

Four months later, at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, who oversees nuclear inspections in Iraq, reported that aluminium tubes sought by Iraq had in fact not been intended for uranium enrichment:

“While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it.” (‘Allies in a spin over lack of evidence’, Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, January 10, 2003)

Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian, commented on the tubes: “They were intended for rocket engines, as Iraq had claimed.” (Ibid)

Last week Blair gave this ominous warning:

“Sometimes the job of the prime minister is to say things people don’t want them to say but we believe are necessary to say because the threat is real and, if we don’t deal with it, the consequences of our weakness will haunt future generations.” (Michael White and Julian Borger, ‘Blair wins time with bravura Iraq speech’, The Guardian, January 16, 2003)

And yet the ultimate irony of this alleged need to deal with an Iraqi “threat” that is “real”, is that it is actually rooted in a determination to ignore the gravest threat of all.

When Is A Threat Not A Threat? – The Kyoto Conundrum

The attack on Iraq is about securing 200 billion barrels of oil. It is about indulging corporate greed and short-term profit maximisation at any cost. The people launching the attack in the name of a “war on terrorism” are – with perfect hypocrisy – the exact same people who have demolished the Kyoto treaty on climate change. Let’s consider Bush and Blair’s claims of a concern for our security in the light of this reality.

Last year the US National Academy of Sciences – America’s most august scientific body – warned of a global climate holocaust, perhaps within the next ten years. Reviewing the academy’s report, environment writer Jeremy Rifkin outlines the scale of the catastrophe that may well be on the way:

“It is possible that the global warming trend projected over the course of the next 100 years could, all of a sudden and without warning, dramatically accelerate in just a handful of years – forcing a qualitative new climatic regime which could undermine ecosystems and human settlements throughout the world, leaving little or no time for plants, animals and humans to adjust.

“The new climate could result in a wholesale change in the earth’s environment, with effects that would be felt for thousands of years. If the projections and warnings in this study turn out to be prophetic, no other catastrophic event in all of recorded history will have had as damaging an impact on the future of human civilisation and the life of the planet.” (Jeremy Rifkin, ‘Goodbye cruel world – A report by top US scientists on climate change suggests that catastrophe could be imminent’, The Guardian, March 1, 2002)

UK environment minister Michael Meacher, no radical, drew the unavoidable conclusions:

“We do not have much time and we do not have any serious option. If we do not act quickly to minimise runaway feedback effects [from climate change] we run the risk of making this planet, our home, uninhabitable.” (Watt, ‘US rejection of Kyoto climate plan “risks uninhabitable Earth”‘, The Guardian, May 16, 2002)

It’s worth reflecting on the words “we run the risk of making this planet, our home, uninhabitable” and comparing and contrasting them with the threat posed by Iraq’s 11 empty 122mm shells, and even by religious zealots crashing planes into buildings.

Let’s be clear, then, that if Bush and Blair really do “passionately believe” that it is their responsibility to protect us from threats, they would +have+ to deal with the awesome threat posed by climate change. So how has Blair responded to this very real threat, and our weakness in failing to respond to it, such that the consequences “will haunt future generations”?

The answer is clear and reveals Blair as the utterly compromised hypocrite and false hope that he has always been. Paul Brown of the Guardian explains Blair’s response to Michael Meacher’s admirable honesty described above:

“Environment minister Michael Meacher’s attendance at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg this month has been vetoed by Downing Street because of fears of further accusations of junketing by ministers at the expense of the world’s poor.” Brown reported that Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s director of communications, had decided Meacher “would have to be sacrificed”. (‘Minister dumped in ‘junket’ row’, Paul Brown, The Guardian, August 6, 2002)

It had quite simply been decided that the UK environment minister could not attend an important summit on the environment! Writer Matthew Tempest explains why:

“Michael Meacher actually cares about the environment – that’s why Tony Blair doesn’t want him at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.” (Tempest, ‘Home alone’, The Guardian, August 6, 2002)

Meacher was eventually, reluctantly, allowed to attend after environmentalists offered to pay for his flight, but was kept firmly in the shadows by Blair’s political minders.

When Blair insists it is the job of the prime minister to say things “people don’t want them to say but we believe are necessary to say because the threat is real”, we can be sure that the “people” he has in mind are not the likes of Harlan Watson, Washington’s chief climate negotiator. A couple of months after the National Academy of Science issued its warning, Watson said that an independent US initiative to cut emissions of greenhouse gases would not be assessed until 2012:

“We are not going to be part of the Kyoto protocol for the foreseeable future.” (Tempest, ibid)

This historic act of irresponsibility by the same people defending us from “the clear and present threat of terrorism”, is rooted in determined big business opposition to action on climate change. Consider, for example, this letter sent by the National Association of Manufacturers – the voice of US big business – to George W. Bush in May 2001:

“Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of 14,000 member companies of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) – and the 18 million people who make things in America – thank you for your opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it exempts 80 percent of the world and will cause serious harm to the United States.” (Michael E. Baroody, NAM Executive Vice President, Letter to the President Concerning the Kyoto Protocol, May 16, 2001,

Esso/Exxon had spent millions of dollars over the previous five years to ensure George Bush Jr. came to power. As repayment Bush has fraudulently declared that industry should find its own solutions to climate change, dismissing calls for regulation. Rene Dahan, Exxon’s vice-president told the Financial Times in 2001 that the Bush plan “will not be very different from what you are hearing from us”. (Quoted, Nick Cohen, ‘Blair welcomes Bush’s fair-weather friends’, The Observer, February 10, 2002)

If you wonder whether our ‘leaders’ truly are motivated to guarantee our safety and security from threats, you need look no further than this example.