Critique of Blair's message to Labour party members

On 20 March 2003, Tony Blair sent the message below to all Labour party members, explaining why we needed to attack Iraq. His message is given in full below. My comments (written 26/03/03) are given in bold. 

20 March 2003


Dear Colleague


I am writing to you following the House of Commons vote earlier this week and the beginning of military action in Iraq.


Our party has held its discussions on this issue without rancour and with respect for each others' views. There are deeply held views and that is natural, for there are few more serious choices a country can face than whether or not to take part in military action.


The Government has taken the decision to use military action to ensure the disarmament of Iraq, not because we have any quarrel with the people of Iraq - in fact they have suffered more than anyone under the tyrannical Iraqi regime. We have done so to enforce the many UN resolutions on Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction which have been passed over the years.


For many years the Labour Party has firmly supported attempts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but I can assure you that there was no inevitability about military action in Iraq. Saddam Hussein could have chosen to comply with the UN and disarm peacefully. Instead, for twelve years he defied its decisions, misled its inspectors and used every means possible to hold on to and develop his chemical and biological weapons.

This contradicts the opinions of the weapons inspectors, who were ready to declare almost complete disarmament of Iraq in December 1998 before they were forced to withdraw by the Allies under the threat of bombing. For example, Scott Ritter, who led scores of inspection teams between 1991 and 1998, says that "the UN destroyed between 90 and 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its ability to manufacture them". The same thing happened just before the current invasion of Iraq when the inspectors failed to find evidence of forbidden weapons with the exception of slightly out-of-range missiles, which Iraq proceeded to decomission promptly. The inspectors declared that they needed more time to make sure of Iraq's disarmament, but the UK and US again terminated this process prematurely by their decision to invade, in the face of overwhelming international opinion.


In other words, it is the UK and US governments who have twice prevented international organizations from fully verifying Iraq's destruction of its chemical and biological weapons. A clean bill of health would not have fitted in with the US's imperial ambitions in Iraq and hence had to be forestalled.


In addition his brutal dictatorship has engaged in a sustained campaign of repression against his own people. The death and torture camps, barbaric prisons for political opponents and routine beatings for anyone suspected of disloyalty are well documented. If Saddam Hussein's regime continues in this way, many more Iraqi people will be killed and tortured in the future.

All the while he has hoped that division between countries and uncertain public opinion in the democracies would weaken our resolve and allow him to carry on in power unchecked.


These statements conveniently ignore the support of Saddam by the UK and US at the time when the worst atrocities were being committed. As just one example, in 1986 the US voted against the issuing of a statement by the UN security council that the council members were "profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops...[and] the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925". Read it again: The US voted against the issuing of this statement.


Blair also ignores the fact that that the US/UK-supported sanctions have greatly strengthened Saddam's regime, by rendering almost the entire country dependent on food donations from the central government (see below).


What he has failed to understand is that democracy and open debate are strengths not weaknesses. In all matters, however, there comes a point when a judgement has to be made. Having taken our decision, this country will now pursue our aims with firm resolve and with determination.


Yet if we only disarm Saddam, we will not have completed our task. It is also vital that the world engages in a sustained humanitarian effort to

help the people of Iraq after their years of living under such a repressive regime. Sixty per cent of the Iraqi population is today dependent on food aid, despite the fact that the Oil for Food Programme allows Saddam to sell as much oil as he wants in order to provide food for his people.


This misleading statement comes very close to a malicious lie. It's true that sixty percent of the Iraqi population is totally dependent on food aid, but it does not make it clear that the source of this food aid is the Iraqi government itself, purchased under the Oil for Food program. Iraq is allowed under this program to sell its oil to buy food, and it has been doing so very effectively (after all, it's a wonderful way for Saddam to gain popular support). In 2002 Unicef described the distribution of food rations by the Iraqi government as "a massive logistic operation that appears to work flawlessly" (quoted from CASI). Blair's statement suggests that the Saddam regime is deliberately starving the people, but Tun Myat, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, said on 19 October 2000 that "the food distribution system in Iraq under the oil for food programme was second to none", but that "in order to affect the overall livelihood and nutrition state of the people, of the children, you need more than food, of course. Unless the basics -- housing, electricity, water, and sanitation -- were restored, the overall well-being of the people would not improve". In addition to the collapse of such infrastructure, he said, "the major problem was poverty" (quoted from CASI). As Dennis Halliday said about the sanctions in 1998, before resigning as UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral."


In other words, the poverty and malnutrition in Iraq is not due to Saddam's regime, which has been doing more or less all it can to alleviate the situation, but to the UK-supported sanctions. The UK government therefore carries more responsibility for the current plight of the Iraqi people than Saddam does.


Blair therefore contends that the Iraqi people must be subjected to US and UK bombing in order to protect them from the results of the sanctions, imposed at the behest of the same US and UK.


The obvious alternative is never stated: Call off the invasion, remove the sanctions, maintain weapons inspections, strongly limit arms sales, and rely on the Iraqi people to elicit a change in government in time, themselves, as other people have done in a similar situation (for example, Rumania).


That situation cannot continue. As I said in the debate in the House of Commons this week, the United Nations should be authorised to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Iraq's territorial integrity should be protected and Iraq's oil revenues, which some people falsely claim are a reason for military action, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN.


All very creditable but I doubt that we can trust Blair to carry that through if the US decides otherwise. For example, in a related issue, the US government has already declared that US companies, and not the UN, will play the main role in rebuilding the ruined country and running institutions like schools and hospitals. Here Blair is making empty promises that he is in no position to deliver. Note that Blair says that the revenues "should be put in a trust fund" as opposed to "will be put in a trust fund". With this choice of wording, he betrays his insight into where power lies.


I also know that many in the Labour Party care deeply about the plight of people whose lives are being devastated by lack of progress in the Middle East peace process.


That's why last Friday's announcement by President Bush agreeing to publish the Middle East Roadmap is such a significant step. It provides the route to a permanent, two state solution with clear phases and target dates aimed at progress through steps by both sides in all the relevant areas. And the destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel - Palestinian conflict by 2005. I am determined that we should use all our influence to secure the implementation of this vision for the future of the Middle East.


Here Blair misrepresents Bush. The much-vaunted "roadmap" has not been published, and Bush has, in fact, not even agreed to "publish" it! According to Bush, the roadmap will be "given to the Palestinians and the Israelis", and not "published". Given our complete ignorance of the roadmap, how can one even judge whether we "should use all our influence to secure the implementation of this vision", and why should we agree that this is "such a significant step". In the past, the US has always blocked the implementation of the many UN resolutions demanding Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, which must be integral to any true peace settlement. Blair asks us to believe, without any evidence, that the US has totally changed its policy towards Israel, and asks us to support the invasion of Iraq, on the basis of such speculations.


Our vision for the future of Iraq is of a country free of repression able to live peacefully alongside its neighbours and develop in a way its own

people choose. It is I believe a progressive vision.


It is just that, a vision, produced to reassure party members, but with no relation to reality, and simply designed to obscure the brutal reality of the US and UK's invasion, against the resistance of almost the entire population.


We may face difficult times ahead but the decision we have taken is right.


It is important now that our party and our country come together and support our armed forces in the task they face.


Translation: Put up or shut up.


Yours sincerely,


Rt Hon Tony Blair MP

Leader of the Labour Party