Truth and War MeanNothing At The Party Conferences

The media turns the other way, or perverts the truth, while an increasingly imperialist United States, with Britain in tow, pursues its expansionist interests

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
"unrivalled 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 favourite, "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

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 judgement". What is
this one error of judgement? The bank-rolling 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 privatisation.
This was spelt out by Margaret Thatcher but, more importantly, by new
Labour's engineers. In The 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 pre-eminence 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
found God.

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 conquer

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 organised 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
militarised. 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 defence 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 authorised 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 organised crime" in Mexico
- a cover, as in Colombia, for militarising its closest neighbour 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

In Latin America, the Bush government is fomenting incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia and possibly Paraguay

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 fully 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:

© 2023 The New Statesman