Straw Canned Over Iran?

Sunday’s Independent carries a piece speculating on whether former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw lost his job, in part, because the Bush regime disliked his lack of crusading fervor. Francis Elliott writes:

"Jack Straw’s fate was sealed in a phone call from the White House to Tony Blair last month, according to the former foreign secretary’s friends.

"They say President George Bush was furious that Mr. Straw said it was ‘nuts’ to use nuclear weapons against Iran, an option reported to be under active consideration in Washington.

"Downing Street had already warned Mr. Straw repeatedly to tone down his complete rejection of the military route as ‘inconceivable,’ insisting it was important to keep all options on the table." (1)

It might be understandable, albeit nothing to be proud of, if our leader were prepared for pragmatic reasons to bend a little to accommodate the wishes of the rulers of the most powerful country in the world. What is truly disturbing is the idea that our leader is not doing this reluctantly, but in large part because he actually shares the abhorrent foreign policy agenda of the current U.S. regime. Blair’s pronouncements to the effect that he actually believes "the world changed on 9/11" and his enthusiastic complicity in the illegal and disastrous U.S. attack on Iraq seem to leave little doubt that this is the case. Elliott confirms this further on in the article:

"But it was the looming crisis in Iran that is being blamed by Mr. Straw’s friends for his demise. Mr. Blair is said to regard the country’s nuclear ambitions as the greatest threat to the world and had grown weary of Mr. Straw’s efforts to block any possibility of a military strike. Margaret Beckett, his successor, can expect to be asked whether she too regards it as ‘inconceivable’ that force could be used against Tehran at the first opportunity. The new foreign secretary flies to New York tomorrow to meet Ms. Rice and discuss a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran."

As I have argued previously, there is no rational basis for a belief that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a threat to "the world," unless all that is important to you in the world is Israel’s regional dominance in the Middle East, or perhaps the continuation of the United States’ free hand in the same area. A firm belief that Iran’s determination to acquire civilian nuclear power constitutes such a threat is evidence therefore of profound ignorance or stupidity, or of adherence to some worldview profoundly detached from reality, such as that of the current U.S. government. The first two would seem not to be the case (except inasmuch as they may arguably be included in the third), and the third can therefore be considered confirmed, in the case of Blair.

Straw, it should be noted, was fully complicit in the attack upon Iraq – he did not resign, as Robin Cook did, rather than go along with that catastrophic foreign policy blunder. He therefore stands convicted (regrettably only morally, for lack of an actual British tribunal to hear the case) of the Nuremberg crime of conspiring to wage aggressive war. However, his failure (unlike Blair) to remain on board for the next step in Iran suggests his complicity was based upon pragmatism rather than ideological enthusiasm. (2)

By highlighting the difference between the two, the current situation points up the urgency of removing Blair from any position of power. The likes of Straw will go along with policies involving military aggression if they represent the easy road, but are unlikely to initiate them or press them against strong resistance, as Blair did in the case of Iraq. Without Blair’s zeal, it is most likely the pragmatists such as Straw would have backed away from supporting the U.S. regime’s plans to attack Iraq when the extent of opposition became evident, or when it became clear beyond doubt that a legalizing UN resolution could not be obtained. While it is arguable that the U.S. regime would have gone ahead with the crime without British support, at least this country would have been spared the shame of complicity. Less importantly, Britain would probably also have been spared some of the consequences, such as the London bombings and whatever other retaliatory acts might be yet to come. Sadly, we did not have, in the case of Iraq, a leader who would exercise (or be compelled to exercise) the wisdom of Harold Wilson’s refusal to directly assist the U.S. in the butchery of Vietnam.

There are inevitably those who will argue that we (or Straw) should shut up and allow U.S. threats to take effect. By undermining the attempt to bully Iran, they argue, we are making it more likely that Iran will resist, and therefore more likely that military force will ultimately be "necessary." The same argument was made over Iraq – we were told the U.S. and UK regimes had no real intention of actually attacking Iraq, but that it was vital that the Iraqi regime believed they would do so. In fact, of course, we now know that the decision to attack Iraq had already been taken when those arguments were being made.

There is no reason to suppose the situation is any different today. Yes, it would be utterly disastrous for the genuine interests of the U.S. and the UK if Iran were to be attacked. But to assume that those who currently decide U.S. foreign policy actually have the interests of the U.S. at heart – and calculate those interests in any way recognizable to those who have a sound grasp of reality – would seem, on the basis of the Iraq experience, to be mistaken. Similarly for Britain, to be even neutral in the event of a U.S. attack on Iran would be a disaster for us and the rest of the world, but the evidence is that our current prime minister does not do his foreign policy calculus on the basis of anything most informed and unbiased observers would recognize as reality.

As for the idea of using, or even threatening to use nuclear weapons in such an attack, Straw’s implicit characterization of it as "nuts" would seem quite reasonable (even restrained). Even the threat alone of the use of nuclear weapons is destructive, encouraging as it does the proliferation of those weapons and lowering the bar against their actual use. We must hope that the U.S. government’s pointed refusal to rule out their use (which amounts, of course, to an implicit threat that they will be used) is a case of structuring expectations, so that when a purely conventional attack is actually launched we will all breath a sigh of relief and say that it could have been so much worse.

It now appears there is a major push within the Labor Party to trigger the long-awaited demise of Prime Minister Blair, following bad results in last week’s local election results and a series of ministerial scandals. The only likely replacements for Blair, either in the short term within the Labor Party or in the longer term if the Conservatives win the next election, are men complicit in the attack on Iraq. However, from the antiwar point of view, it would be at least some improvement to have in office an amoral pragmatist who is willing to go along with mass killing if convenient but who is unlikely to be enthusiastic about paying any significant price for doing so, rather than an active crusader whose worldview is profoundly unbalanced and who is an enthusiastic and committed advocate of war as a tool of policy.


1. Strictly speaking, Straw was reported by the BBC as having said that "talk of a U.S. nuclear strike was ‘completely nuts,’" following reports by well-connected U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh that such strikes were under consideration. Denials by members and fellow travelers of the Bush and Blair regimes should of course be considered in the light of similar denials in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, which proved to have been lies.

2. Blair’s apparent recognition that he cannot get away with public support for an attack on Iran, let alone open military involvement in one, following the catastrophe of Iraq and his consequent massive loss of credibility on such matters, should not confuse observers into believing he is not enthusiastically promoting the project wherever he can. As discussed elsewhere, merely promoting the idea of a crisis with Iran where there need be none and pushing for the passage of resolutions at the UN that will ultimately provide cover for the U.S. attack represents invaluable assistance to the U.S. regime’s conspiracy against peace.