The exchange between longstanding anti-war activist Tariq Ali and Peter Hain took place at a 200-strong fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference after Tony Blair delivered his speech.
Hain was once famous for organising against tours by South African apartheid sportsmen in Britain. He is now fully signed up to New Labour. He praised the 'international coalition' lining up for war, including the West, Russia and China.
He listed supposed justifications for the war which he felt would strike a chord with an audience of the left, such as the Taliban's attitude towards women. Hain argued that Blair's pro-war stance had somehow pulled US president Bush away from bombing Afghanistan immediately after the World Trade Centre attacks. He said there would now be a 'more targeted, more precise' war. He had to acknowledge that it may all go wrong: 'It certainly has the potential to go all wrong. It is a very, very dangerous situation.' Tariq Ali argued the case against war, winning applause from the audience.
THERE IS a danger, when one comes to Labour Party conference and everything has been dominated by how stage managed it is, that you tend to lose sight of reality and what is happening in the rest of the world. I don't think Britain has the capacity to play a role independent from the US. This New Labour government has not disassociated itself from the US on one single key major question. It is seen in the European Union as the Trojan horse of the US.
Tony Blair is nothing more or less than the junior senator from England. Building him up as this great war leader is just a joke. To get down to the serious issues-it was very impressive that the Labour conference observed three minutes silence for the victims of New York. I would have joined them. But I would have asked, if I had been a delegate, why privilege the US in this? Is it the case that a US life is worth more than a Sudanese life or a Rwandan life?
Did the Labour Party conference ever stand in silence for the victims of US policies in Vietnam? Never. So everything is stage managed to make the awful, horrific attack something very special. It was awful. It is not special. Things like this have been going on in other parts of the world.
A few years ago former US president Clinton, backed by Blair, bombed Sudan. He destroyed a medical factory producing aspirin and other medicines because some intelligence idiot had told them it was producing germ warfare. It was the only factory producing cheap medicine for the whole of Sudan. The US sabotaged the United Nations inquiry into that bombing. UN organisations UNESCO and the World Health Organisation reported that the number of people who died in Sudan as a result of bombing that factory runs into several thousands.
Now bombing is to be supported by an 'international coalition'. Putin, the Russian president, has joined it. He has been waging a war against the people of Chechnya, who he has denounced as terrorists. Russian forces have wiped out the city of Grozny. The bombing of Grozny was much more savage and the casualties much higher than anything that happened in Kosovo.
Yet Blair goes to Russia and says the Chechens are terrorists. The Chinese have signed up. Soon we'll be told the Falun Gong religious sect is a terrorist organisation and that is why it is being dealt with as such. It is nonsense to say Blair went to Washington and stopped the Americans from acting. They have been very deeply divided. This division emerged, not from Blair's trip there, but from a division within the US administration. They are divided because the part of the world which is central to their strategy, the Middle East, is divided. The leaders of these countries are scared of their populations. In both Egypt and Saudi Arabia the masses are bubbling away.
The king of Jordan had to say Bush had given him a personal pledge that Iraq is not going to be bombed as part of this mission. Well, that was very nice. But Iraq has been bombed for the last ten years continuously by British and US jets. The sanctions continue, defended by the Labour government.
Three different heads of UN missions have resigned in protest against Western policies in Iraq. These have now cost 1.2 million Iraqi lives over the last ten years, according to the lowest estimates. No one stands in a three-minute silence for them. There is phenomenal hostility to the pro-Western Middle Eastern regimes among their people. That provides the breeding grounds for young kids joining terrorist organisations.
They have lost faith in their leaders and feel the only way they make an impact is by this terrorism. Osama Bin Laden is not a fool. He is not a medieval maniac. He is a product of modernity and imperialism. After all, he worked with the US. They trained him, armed him and funded him. The first action he carried out was to destroy a mixed-sex school in Afghanistan.
No one said anything. Osama Bin Laden and his group were being praised as freedom fighters. British ministers seem to have only suddenly learnt what the Taliban are doing to women. They should, before it's too late, start talking now about the position of women in Saudi Arabia. It is not so different in terms of human and civil rights. Throughout the Cold War the US, backed by its British ally, used Islamic groups as a bulwark against Communism to wipe out radical nationalists and secular forces.
Where they couldn't find Islamic groups, they used gangsters in the ruling elites like Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I ask, what will this war solve? Peter Hain was honest enough to say we don't know where it could go. In my opinion it will solve very little. So are we saying nothing should be done? No. The key thing is a political solution. This requires dealing with some of the problems I've pointed out. What drive people crazy are the double standards. We get our enemies and punish their crimes, but the crimes of our friends go unpunished.
They go unpunished in Israel. Ariel Sharon is a war criminal. He presided over one of the most brutal massacres in that region, in Sabra and Shatilla. The reason for the double standard is that the US calls the shots. Where its interests are involved it moves in. Where those interests aren't involved, no one moves in.
This is not anti-American. One of the most moving things I have seen was a demonstration in Union Square in New York the week after the bombings. Some of the survivors, some of the relatives and other people held a candlelit vigil saying peace, not war. There was a similar protest in Washington. A wave of teach-ins is sweeping the campuses. There is more debate in the US than in this country. That is why I find unanimity of Labour Party conferences now completely sickening.
All the glossy froth that Blair came up with was very similar to what he said before going into Kosovo. Let's not pretend Kosovo has been a big success. All the Serbs have been chucked out and other communities attacked. The Balkans business is not over. That is why I say they go in to sort out a particular problem and never think about aftermath.