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19 March 2003

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The Extraordinary Achievements of the Anti-War Movement
WAR PLAN IRAQ Update Number 17


BRITAIN NEARLY DISCONNECTED FROM THE WAR

The anti-war movements around the world have achieved a great deal. In combination with other movements around the world, the British movement, which reached an unprecedented size and breadth for a pre-war opposition, exerted such pressure on the British Government that a week ago it seriously considered withdrawing from the invasion of Iraq.


THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BRITISH CONTRIBUTION

Britain was always an important part of Washington's public relations strategy. Throughout this crisis the US public has been very concerned at the idea of being politically isolated - polls in the US in June and Aug. 2002 found that while more than half of Americans would approve of military action against Iraq if the US won some allied support, that number shrank to a minority if the United States had to go it alone. (Christian Science Monitor, 17
July 2002; 'Poll: Most Americans Back War Against Iraq', Reuters, 12 Aug. 2002)

Now, the polls show a similar strength of feeling: 'research from the National Journal showed the importance of the UK in the Bush administration's domestic political calculation: 77 per cent of people said "we absolutely need" to have British support in the event of war in Iraq.' (FT, 14 Mar. 2003, p. 2)

The British contribution has also become militarily significant, much to everyone's surprise. Edward Luttwak, senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC: 'the military weight of the British contribution has shifted back and forth from very important, to just nice-to-have, to renewed importance.

'Originally, fresh from the success of air-ground operations in Afghanistan, Mr Rumsfeld wanted to go light and fast... At that point, the British 7th Armoured Brigade, Royal Marine Commando Brigade, 16th Air Assault Brigade with its infantry, Paras and SAS, and the RAF's Tornado and Harrier squadrons, would have amounted to one-third of the
entire force.'

Then, for various reasons, the US deployment was enlarged, and 'the British role became smaller and smaller.' But then Turkey refused access to US ground forces. 'With the Turkey-bound forces still stuck on the wrong side of the Suez Canal, British forces in Kuwait are
once more indispensable,' observes Luttwak. 'The US Marine expeditionary force depends heavily on British armour, while the US Army's advance to Baghdad would be much too slow without the advance guard of air-landed forces that includes the British Air Assault Brigade. Sandwiched together, with units under each other's command, Yanks and Brits are more closely integrated than they have been since the Second World War - and that is why a last- minute withdrawal by Mr Blair has become simply unthinkable.' (Sunday Telegraph, 16 Mar., p. 6)


THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: DISCONNECTION

It may have been unthinkable for Luttwak, but it wasn't unthinkable in Whitehall. 'By Tuesday [12 Mar.], there were serious worries in the White House that Mr Blair, its staunchest ally, might not survive the political crisis at home. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, tried to explain the problems to Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, in a telephone call which had meant to be devoted to the fine detail of the war plan.

'As we reveal today, Mr Hoons department [the Ministry of Defence] was frantically preparing contingeney plans to "disconnect" British troops entirely from the military invasion of Iraq, demoting their role to subsequent phases of the campaign and peacekeeping.

'Mr Rumsfeld - who had always believed that the "UN route" was the road to perdition - was already deeply exasperated by Mr Blair's insistence that a second resolution was necessary, and the delays that the horse-trading at the UN was causing. Mr Rumsfeld confided to one friend, "I am learning to hate the British."

'However, he decided to give them a way out. Later that day, at a press conference in Washington, Mr Rumsfeld suggested that US troops could go to war without the British if necessary. One Cabinet Minister said, in tones of desperation: "It is just Rumsfeld being
Rumsfeld." The British media was encouraged to believe that the US Defence Secretary had been speaking hypothetically.

'The trouble was that he hadn't been doing any such thing. As a senior Number 10 official said: "Rumsfeld was telling the truth." The cat was out of the bag: Mr Hoon stormed into the whip's office at the Commons, grim-faced and appalled. This, of course, was exacty what the Labour rebels wanted to hear: that British troops were not needed and that Mr Blair could withdraw them forthwith. In a second call on his secure telephone, Mr Hoon told Mr Rumsfeld in blunt terms that his remarks were causing pandaemonium. "Wobbly Tuesday" was the lowest point of the crisis for Mr Blair.' (Sunday Telegraph, 16 Mar., p. 18)


US HAWKS TURN ON BLAIR

There is another angle on the Rumsfeld remarks, which does not contradict the preceding account, but gives a less benign (and probably more accurate) interpretation of Rumsfeld's intentions: 'Hawks in the White House have criticised Tony Blair for his persistence in seeking a new United Nations resolution... An outspoken attack on Mr Blair's policy at the UN by a Bush administration official reflected growing tensions in Anglo-American relations.
"Blair is hurting himself by dragging this out," the official said. "It's not for Americans to tell British politicians how to behave. but what is he getting out of this? He should just stand up and say: Were ready to go." '

'Previously, even the most hard-line aides in the US government had shied away from any sniping at Mr Blair, characterising him as a "stand-up guy" trying to do his best in the face of a difficult domestic situation. But the mood has darkened... Several sources within the Bush administration have said that the comments on Tuesday by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, that America might have to go to war without Britain, were an expression of frustration and a shot across Mr Blairs bows.

'The senior official suggested that the comments had forced the Prime Ministers hands. "In effect, he disagreed with Mr Rumsfeld's notion that Britain wouldn't participate. Well if that's the case what are they waiting for? He gets nothing out of this. This is just masochistic. Were just haemorrhaging for no purpose. Theres no up-side here other than for Blair. Were being kicked around worldwide... I just think this is a fool's chase. The whole thing is. What is anybody getting by waiting if you believe Saddam is not going to disarm? Why not just go for it?" '(Telegraph, 14 Mar., p. 16)


HOON BLAMED

Yet another perspective was provided in the Sunday Mirror: 'Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon faces the sack as soon as the conflict in Iraq is over. Tony Blair has decided to give "Duff
Hoon" his marching orders after the Minister's latest blunder nearly derailed the Governments war strategy... Mr Blair was furious after Mr Hoon's American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, declared that the US could engage in a military conflict without Britain. His statement followed a lengthy telephone conversation with Mr Hoon who, colleagues believe, "over-reached" himself in stressing the Government's difficulties over the war.

'During the transatlantic telephone conversation on Tuesday, Mr Hoon stressed the political problems the Government was having both with MPs and the public. But according to one Whitehall source, he gave Mr Rumsfeld the impression that Britain would not play a front-line role. Both the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon rapidly back-tracked.

The PM later had to give Mr Bush his personal assurance that British troops were ready to make a "significant contribution" to any conflict. Mr Blair was also forced to make a statement to the Commons.' (Sunday Mirror, 16 Mar., p. 6)

The newspaper pointed out that 'Mr Hoon was NOT on the list of Cabinet members invited to Number 10 yesterday to finalise plans for the war... The PM will not remove Mr Hoon in the middle of a military conflict involving British troops, but he is expected to conduct a major Cabinet reshuffle before the summer.' (Sunday Mirror, 16 Mar., p. 6)


DELAY AND DISCONNECTION

The British anti-war movement was a major factor forcing Tony Blair and George Bush down the UN route - and this has been a major source of delay in the war timetable. The French and other anti-war movements were major factors in denying the US and UK their much-prized 'second resolution' - thus making it crystal clear that the war is illegitimate and illegal. These are significant achievements for popular movements with very limited resources and a sketchy organisational framework.

The accounts currently available indicate that the British anti-war movement inside and outside the Labour Party was powerful enough to make the British Government seriously consider, and to draw up desperate contingency plans for, the withdrawal of British troops
from the imminent invasion of Iraq - despite Britains critical political and military role in such an expedition. This withdrawal might well have delayed or derailed the US war.

It may be that Geoff Hoon misrepresented or overstated the Governments problems. It may be that Donald Rumsfeld used the occasion to vent his frustration with British-inspired delays in the war timetable - and twisted the knife, wounding British military self-regard.
However, there seems no reason to doubt the newspaper most closely associated with the British Armed Forces in its confident revelation that contingency plans were drawn up last week for a humiliating and no doubt chaotic shift from invasion to peace-keeping duties for the British forces in the Gulf.

Governments prize the appearance of overwhelming strength and confidence. One of the greatest weapons of any government is the illusion of invulnerability and irreversibility. We now know that this war was avoidable and that Mr Blair is not an irresistable force. Our
movement shook him and his Government to its core. Next time we will win.



BOOK


War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Why We Shouldn't Launch Another War Against Iraq
by Milan Rai

'An excellent weapon for all those opposed to Bush's war
'. Tariq Ali
'Excellent'. Alice Mahon MP
'Required reading for anyone concerned about the risk of war'. Professor Paul Rogers, Bradford School of Peace Studies
'Timely and important'. Hilary Wainwright

£10 plus £1.80 p&p.
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