State of the Race: Burnham on Iraq

July 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm (anonymous, elections, iraq, labour party, Max Dunbar)

I like David Milliband but he’s a bit wonky, he makes me think of the ‘tiny head’ scene from The Thick of It, and that may not be what we need to win an election. Andy Burnham, however, comes across as a passionate and interested man, and the NS doesn’t seem to be able to handle him. When so many Labour leadership candidates fall over themselves to apologise for Iraq, and so much of the party has bought into the silo narrative, Burnham’s stance is refreshing.

You took a decision without having all the facts at your disposal.
On Iraq, I voted for it because the leader of the Iraqi Kurds pleaded with MPs to do that at a private meeting here before the war. I asked him outright: ‘Do you think weapons exist?’ And he said: ‘I don’t know, but our people will for ever be suppressed because we can’t be sure.’

And that was the problem with Saddam Hussein — to maintain his grip over his own people, he had to maintain the pretence that he had them. That’s why he had to frustrate [the UN weapons inspector Hans] Blix. He couldn’t let him finish his work, because the minute he finished his work and the world was told he didn’t have any weapons would have been the moment Saddam would have been drummed out of power. I believe there would have been a civil war, which would have been problematic in a different way. The root cause of all this was the failure to remove him at the end of the first Gulf war. And I think the world, because of that, was going to have to come back to the Iraq question.

You say that if Hans Blix’s inspection had run its course and he’d said, ‘Actually the WMDs don’t exist,’ there would have been a civil war, but that’s exactly how it ended up anyway.
It was certainly bloody and it was certainly ugly, there’s no getting away from that. The question is now: is Iraq in a better position than it was? Does it have hope of a better future than it did? Is there more order in the country than would otherwise have been the case? Does the government have more of a chance of making a success of itself in the medium to long term? The answer to those questions is: yes, it does, it has hope of rebuilding itself and not becoming a failed state. And that, for me, justifies the decision, hard as it was.

Is it easier to move on with someone who didn’t vote for the war?
I do feel there is a need to take the party beyond the damaging argument we’ve been through. I’m proposing that, as leader, I will set up a commission on military intervention in the party, in the wider Labour family and also drawing in representation from civic society, to look at Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan. The central question is: what, where and under which circumstances should the Labour Party give its endorsement to military intervention? So, essentially, what it would be trying to do is develop a framework for intervention.

I sense you have a view on that already.
I’m not articulating a doctrine of intervention; it’s not a neocon view, it’s absolutely not that. It’s simply that I fear Labour could get it wrong, coming away from Iraq and saying: ‘Never again.’ If you look back at Kosovo and Sierra Leone, while the intervention in Iraq is much more contested and disputed, there are people in Kosovo and Sierra Leone who are, to this day, joyous that the Labour government took a moral lead. Labour cannot give up on that moral lead, which improves lives and upholds human rights. My worry would be, yes, we learned a lesson from Iraq and the [conclusion of the] Chilcot inquiry will be a sobering moment for Labour, but you can’t then [allow] the pendulum [to] swing right back and say: ‘We can never do that again. We’ve now become a country that doesn’t play its role on the world stage.’

14 Comments

  1. resistor said,

    Burnham is a liar.

    ‘Saddam Hussein — to maintain his grip over his own people, he had to maintain the pretence that he had them. ‘

    Not a shred of evidence for this fantasy. Saddam and his minions proclaimed over and over again that they had disarmed. it was Burnham’s government that pretended that Saddam had WMDs.

    I see Max is backing the most right-wing and pro-war candidate, I wouldn’t expect anything more of him.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Apologists for Saddam should listen to this interview with the BBC’s Frank Gardner (not known as a supporter of the war in Iraq, btw):

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qgj4/episodes/player

  3. Mike Killingworth said,

    I think that anyone who feels the need to say they’re not a neocon almost certainly is one.

  4. maxdunbar said,

    It’s possible that Saddam believed he still had WMD at the time of the war as his ministers were too scared to tell him the supplies had run out.

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    Srsly, Max? Iraq had to be invaded because you speculate seven years later that, just possibly, Saddam believed he had WMD? Did Doris Stokes tell you that?

    And Zeppo Burnham is a breath of fresh air, not because of anything he says about the future of the Labour Party, but because he’s the candidate who’s the most gung-ho about invading foreign countries? You really have spent too much time playing Risk.

    Incidentally, did you know Burnham is a left-footer? Watch out or Jim will have to condemn you for consorting with the forces of Popery.

  6. BenSix said,

    And that was the problem with Saddam Hussein — to maintain his grip over his own people, he had to maintain the pretence that he had them.

    Really? Karimov hasn’t needed them. Than Shwe hasn’t, either. Mugabe – ditto. To be honest, I’m not feeling that refreshed.

  7. FlyingRodent said,

    The question is now: is Iraq in a better position than it was? Does it have hope of a better future than it did? Is there more order in the country than would otherwise have been the case? Does the government have more of a chance of making a success of itself in the medium to long term? The answer to those questions is: yes…

    Well, perhaps – if by “in a better position” we mean “Heavily partitioned and riven with ethnic hatreds following a vicious civil war; kept relatively peaceful* only because the Americans are now employing the ultraviolent militias we spent 2003-08 correctly denouncing as murderous criminals and the presence of tens of thousands of occupying troops; subject to a political system riddled with religious nuts and perpetually teetering on the brink of bloody chaos, one political crisis away from a return to full-scale war” then yes, Iraq is “in a better position” than it was before the war.

    Chuck in mass unemployment, millions of refugees leading to a collosal brain-drain of the country’s skilled and professional classes, chronic electricity shortages, the highest rate per capita of amputations in the world and Iraq being subject to major Iranian and other local interference and countless other problems, and we have a slightly clearer picture of what Andy means when he says that there’s “more order” in the country.

    And so Andy’s stance on Iraq is “refreshing” in the sense that it’s a blunt return to the Blairite habit of openly bullshitting the public about abject, gore-splattered foreign policy fuck-ups and sticking fingers in their ears when reality threatens to bite them in the arse.

    (I do hate leaving these long, rambling comments, but there’s really no other way to make the point “But surely that isn’t true” without mentioning all this stuff).

    *By “relatively peaceful”, I mean that Iraq presently is about as horribly violent as it was in 2004. At that time, the equivalent rate of was thought to be an unacceptable, horrifying bloodbath but the bloodcurdling murderous rampages that followed have forced us to raise the bar on what counts as “unacceptable” by about sixty miles.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Ah! Mr Splintered Sunrise: gald you’ve commented here (something you do not allow me to do on your blog, where I am banned): you had the audacity to post this:

    http://splinteredsunrise.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/heres-something-you-wont-read-on-shiraz-socialist-2/

    …”Here’s something you won’t read at Shiraz Socialist”

    …and then to ask what Max and I thought about it. I replied, thinking that your ban on me might be lifted seeing as how you’d asked me to reply. But no: my reply has yet to appear. For the record, it was:

    “I have no hesitation in denouncing this as an outrageous, racist verdict. What makes you think, Mr Sunrise that supporters of a two states solution and people who are concerned about anti-semitism on the “left”, wouldn’t be willing to denounce this verdict, or that Shiraz Socialist wouldn’t cover it?

    “Tell you what, Mr Sunrise, let’s make it interesting: how much do you bet me that this item *won’t* have appeared on ‘Shiraz’ by, say, Sunday night?”

    Not only has that commet (submitted hours ago) not appeared on “Splintered Sunrise”, but Mr Sunrise has has the damned cheek to comment here since then.

    Not only is he a child-abuse-excusing Catholic bigot and anti-israeli/ anti-semitic fanatic : he’s also a hypocrite and coward.

    Sunrise: if you ask people to respond to something you’ve posted, then the least you can do is allow them to reply instead of blocking their comments.

  9. resistor said,

    Max writes, ‘It’s possible that Saddam believed he still had WMD at the time of the war as his ministers were too scared to tell him the supplies had run out.’

    Again a totally crap theory without any evidence to back it up.

    Saddam ordered his son-in-law to destroy the WMDs and associated programmes. Kamel later defected to the West and told them so. The USA and the UK knew that Iraq had no WMDs, but pretended they had.

    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1845

    Kamel says bluntly: “All weapons– biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.”

    Can Max point to any evidence that

    1. Saddam pretended to have WMDs
    2. Saddam falsely believed he had WMDs

    Note that Max has put forward two mutually exclusive theories which have in common

    1. They excuse the lies of the US/UK
    2. They have been suggested by the above warmongers
    3. They are fantasy

    ps Max fails to include this exchange with the Staggerts

    NS: One of the phrases you’ve coined is “aspirational socialism”. Why not just “socialism”?
    Burnham: Because that can imply a levelling down, a dragging down.

    Is it Shiraz Aspirational Socialist from now on?

  10. maxdunbar said,

    The ‘Shiraz Aspirational Socialist’ line made me smile.

    I thought we were Shiraz Zionist?

    WMD, for me, is a non issue – although Saddam had used chemical weapons before, in Halabja and the Iran/Iraq war, so it’s a possibility that he had them in ’03. To me though the only argument for war was so that we could get rid of Saddam (as we should have done at the end of the Gulf war).

  11. maxdunbar said,

    Splintered

    I have no problem with Burnham’s faith.

    It’s not an issue.

    Why would it be?

    At least he’s not an apologist for child rape

  12. resistor said,

    ‘At least he’s not an apologist for child rape’

    But he is, like you, an apologist for mass murder.

  13. Mike Killingworth said,

    Could other commentators here – for my benefit if no one else’s – indicate which of the three following statements they themselves identify with and which they think the various candidates identify with?

    Statements:

    A. The Labour Party should be a democratic socialist Party.
    B. Some other Party should be a democratic socialist Party.
    C. Socialism, democratic or otherwise, is the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. The last socialist, democratic or otherwise, cannot die off quickly enough for my liking.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I will iderntify myself with statement A; I identify Diane Abbott with statement A and all the other four candidates with statement C.

    Anyone who alleges that there is political space between statements B and C is of course a pupil at the Blair School of Mendacity.

  14. luke said,

    One thing is for sure, Fallujah isn’t better off: “Today, according to a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [PDF link], rates of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and sexual mutations in Fallujah are higher than those reported in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear detonations.”

    http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0724/study-health-effects-felt-fallujah-widespread-nuking-hiroshima-nagasaki/

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