By Alex Callinicos
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US war machine keeps lurching on

This article is over 11 years, 11 months old
Soon after the invasion of Iraq, the journalist and academic Anatol Lieven wrote that the run-up to the war had "a peculiarly nightmarish quality in the US.
Issue 2189

Soon after the invasion of Iraq, the journalist and academic Anatol Lieven wrote that the run-up to the war had “a peculiarly nightmarish quality in the US.

“It was as if the full truth about Tonkin Gulf, instead of emerging in dribs and drabs over a decade, had been fully available and in the open the whole time – and the US intervention in Vietnam had happened anyway.”

US destroyers were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Tonkin Gulf, off North Vietnam, in August 1964. The incident was used by President Lyndon Johnson to get congressional authority to escalate the war.

But it later emerged that any fighting that occurred was provoked by the Americans, who had been mounting clandestine naval operations against North Vietnam for years.

Lieven is saying that, despite the fact that people knew that George W Bush and Tony Blair were lying at the time, the invasion of Iraq went ahead anyway. And, of course, many more lies were exposed after the invasion.

Indeed, they continue to be uncovered. Take the case of former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed, which has been struggling through the courts for months.

Despite the British government’s inept attempts to suppress the Court of Appeal’s judgement, we now know that the Master of the Rolls, leading judge Lord Neuberger, thinks “the Security Service [MI5] does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques”.


This revelation produced an incredible outburst from Kim Howells, the ultra-Blairite MP who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Between rants about Muslim terrorists and liberal judges, Howells declared that his committee, which is “completely independent of government”, had given MI5 a clean bill of health.

“Completely independent”? The ISC is a group of parliamentarians appointed by Gordon Brown to review the intelligence and security services.

Howells himself was a foreign office minister between 2005 and 2008, when he was a noisy apologist for the “war on terror”.

Howells also claimed “the agency is being judged before the thing has come to court”. But US and British courts have confirmed that Mohamed was extensively tortured, both in US hands and after rendition to Morocco, with the knowledge of MI5.

In the process, the British courts established that MI5 had withheld information.

So the imperial war machine has been caught out lying yet again. But Lieven’s nightmare continues. However threadbare the justifications, the machine grinds on to new catastrophes.

Last weekend we were treated to the usual media hullabaloo surrounding the latest military offensive in Afghanistan. There were the same old not-really-on-the-spot reports from “embedded” journalists and earnest background briefings from media vents for the intelligence services.

And there were the same old gung-ho announcements of immediate victory from the generals. Major General Nick Carter, the British Nato commander in southern Afghanistan, was boasting last Saturday, “We’ve caught the insurgents on the hoof.” British officers seem to be particularly crass at this, perhaps because they want to show they can kick ass like the big guys.

Who knows how successful this particular operation will prove to be. The US and British forces seem to be advancing into an area whose inhabitants have largely fled – wisely, given that Nato missiles killed 12 civilians on Sunday. This is a bit of a problem when the point is supposed to be to win the confidence of the local population.

But this is merely the latest episode in a war nobody believes in. Everyone knows that the invasion of Iraq and the larger “war on terror” were justified by a patchwork of lies. Yet the war machine still lurches on, like some great beast, blinded and maddened, rampaging through the forest and trampling other creatures under foot.

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