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The Costs and Benefits of Large-Scale Immigration: Exploring the Economic and Demographic Consequences for the UK
The Costs and Benefits of Large-Scale Immigration: Exploring the Economic and Demographic Consequences for the UK
by Robert Rowthorn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent study of the effects of large-scale immigration on Britain, 12 Jan. 2016
Net immigration in the year ending March 2015 was 330,000. A Gallup World Poll found that 32 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa – 308 million people - would emigrate permanently if they had the chance. Britain was their second favourite destination.
Taking into account the children born to future migrants, with net migration at the rate envisaged under the Office for National Statistics high migration scenario (225,000 a year), the UK population would increase by 20 million over the next 50 years and by 29 million over the next 75 years. This growth would be almost entirely due to migration. The effect on GDP per head would be marginal.

As Rowthorn notes, “There is widespread agreement amongst specialists that the overall fiscal impact of large-scale immigration is normally small as a proportion of GDP. The large positive fiscal contribution of some types of immigrant is largely or wholly offset by the negative contribution of others. Dustmann and Frattini (2013) estimate that over the period 2001-2011, migrants made a net fiscal contribution in the range -0.7 per cent to +0.2 per cent of GDP, depending on how it is measured. Their widely publicised claim that recent (post-2000) migrants from the EEA have generated a large fiscal surplus should be seen in perspective. The estimated surplus of £22 billion over the 2001-2011 is only 0.2 per cent of GDP.”

Rowthorn points out, “Government policy towards immigration from outside the EU is becoming more selective, making it difficult for unskilled workers to enter, but encouraging the entry of skilled and talented individuals. If this policy is applied systematically to poor countries it may denude them of the professional elites upon which they depend. Controls over migration from poor countries should be designed in such a way as to promote their welfare and economic development. Migration policy towards these countries should be seen as a complement to the official aid policy and not as a means of enriching ourselves at their expense.

“… the benefits of immigration, to the extent they exist, derive in part from the unrequited transfer of investments in human capital that were made in foreign countries before the immigrants arrived in the UK. Some of the fiscal benefits are merely a disguised transfer to the UK government from taxpayers and families in other countries. This effect is intensified by policies which focus on the attraction of highly skilled immigrants, who embody a great deal of human capital, to the exclusion of less skilled migrants.”

What is the effect on migration of our membership of the EU? Rowthorn observes, “Net migration from non-EU countries has historically been greater than net migration from the EU. However, the gap has recently diminished following new restrictions on non-EU immigration and an upsurge of immigration from the EU, in particular southern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania.” In 2011, Romania had 20,000 doctors, by 2013, just 14,000.

The main obstacle to the achievement of Cameron’s target of immigration in the ‘tens of thousands’ is this high level of immigration from the EU. Migration from these countries is subject to few restrictions and Cameron has ruled out restricting it. He says he wants to restrict their initial access to welfare benefits, but this will have little impact. The main driver of migration is the difference in wage rates and job opportunities between Britain and these countries. His focus on welfare benefits is a distraction.

Rowthorn remarks, “In rich countries many dirty, hard or low status jobs are increasingly occupied by migrants from poorer countries. These are said to be doing the jobs that native workers will not do. In practice this often means that suitable native workers will not do these jobs at the wages and conditions that employers are willing to offer. There are few jobs that natives will not do if conditions are reasonable and wages are sufficiently high.”

He concludes, “An econometric analysis by the official Migration Advisory Committee strongly suggests that immigration damages the job prospects of lower skilled natives when the labour market is slack. There is evidence from other sources that immigration may also have a transitory effect on native employment even in boom times. In addition, there is evidence that competition from immigrants may result in lower wages for low skilled local workers, including previous immigrants. The liberal media are quick to denounce as xenophobia the claim that immigrants take jobs from local workers and push down their wages. This claim may be exaggerated, but it is not always false.”

He sums up, “Unskilled workers have suffered some reduction in their wages due to competition from immigrants. Even on optimistic assumptions, the economic and fiscal gains for existing inhabitants and their descendants from large-scale immigration are small in comparison to its impact on population growth.”


Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control
Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control
by Benjamin Medea
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful study of drones, 12 Jan. 2016
Medea Benjamin analyses the companies producing drones, where they are used, who runs them and the legal and moral implications of their use.

75 nations now possess drones, armed or not, but only the USA, Britain and Israel have used armed drones in war.

UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, said, “Outside the context of armed conflict, the use of drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”


A Contemporary Cuba Reader: The Revolution Under Raul Castro
A Contemporary Cuba Reader: The Revolution Under Raul Castro
by Philip Brenner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.45

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey of contemporary Cuban life., 5 Jan. 2016
This is an excellent, comprehensive collection of essays on contemporary Cuba. It covers Cuban politics, economic policy, foreign policy, social issues and culture.
The editors sum up, “In its 2012 report Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days: State of the World’s Mothers, Save the Children placed Cuba in first place among eighty developing countries as the best place to be a mother (and a child). The analysis took into consideration a number of variables, including percentage of births attended by skilled health personnel, risk of maternal death, access to modern contraception, female life expectancy, formal female schooling, percentage of women in national government, under-five mortality rate, percentage of under-weight children, and school enrollment. The 2013 report on the State of Mothers in the World placed Cuba thirty-third (of 176) countries – the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. … what is undoubtedly true is that Cuba is still the country throughout the region where inequality is lower than any other, where more social programs are accessible, where women have the most significant role, where children enjoy the widest range of programs to assist their development, and where greater equality of opportunity can be found.” P. 378.


The Entrepreneurial State (Anthem Other Canon Economics)
The Entrepreneurial State (Anthem Other Canon Economics)
by Mariana Mazzucato
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of the bankruptcy of capitalism, 16 Dec. 2015
Mariana Mazzucato is professor of economics at the University of Sussex. In this superb study, she shows how the US state made the key high-risk investments in biotechnology, nanotechnology and the Internet 15-20 years before the private sector moved in.

US government investments were key to creating the mass production system, the aviation industry, the space programme, IT, Internet, nuclear power and nanotechnology. 77 of the 88 most important innovations fully depended on federal support.

Brazil’s state investment bank’s return - on its productive, not speculative, investments - was 21.2 per cent in 2012, which Brazil reinvested in health and education. KfW, Germany’s state investment bank, made $3 billion profits in 2012.

Pfizer did not leave Sandwich in Kent to go to Boston USA because of lower US taxes, but because the USA’s public sector National Institutes of Health spend $30 billion a year ($624 billion since 1976) building the knowledge base on which private pharmaceutical firms thrive. The NIHs support 325,000 researchers in 3,000 universities, medical schools and other research bodies. NIH laboratories, not private firms, produced 75 per cent of new drugs.

The Internet, the global positioning system, touch-screen displays, and communications technology underpinned Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Apple did not develop any of these; it integrated them into a new architecture.

Cutting investment in R&D and in higher education cuts growth, witness Italy. It has cut its R&D and higher education, so its economy has shrunk since 2000. British companies’ spending on R&D is falling. Thatcher’s tax cuts did not increase investment.

Mazzucato writes, “rather than giving handouts to small companies in the hope that they will grow, it is better to give contracts to young companies that have already demonstrated ambition. It is more effective to commission the technologies that require innovation than to hand out subsidies in the hope that innovation will follow.”

In the innovation process, bankers and shareholders are not the only risk-takers; workers and taxpayers are too. Financial services in fact extract value from the economy. She writes, “an increasing number of researchers have criticized the venture capital model of science, indicating that significant investor speculation has a detrimental effect on the underlying innovation. The fact that so many venture capital backed biotech companies end up producing nothing, yet make millions for the venture capital firms that sell them on the open market is highly problematic.”

She cites Philip Mirowski, who described the venture capital model as: “… commercialized scientific research in the absence of any product lines, heavily dependent upon early-stage venture capital and a later IPO [Initial Public Offering on the stock market] launch, deriving from or displacing academic research, with mergers and acquisitions as the most common terminal state, pitched to facilitate the outsourcing of R&D from large corporations bent upon shedding their previous in-house capacity.”

In 2012 the top nine Apple executives got an average of $45.72 million. The average Chinese worker at Foxconn, which assembles Apple’s products, got $4,622. So the employer/worker pay ratio was 9,892/1. She asks, “Where is the future in such a system of socialized risk and privatized rewards?”

US companies lobby for yet more tax breaks and for lower rates of tax on incomes, corporate incomes and capital gains. Apple uses corporate tax havens - the Netherlands, Ireland, the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg - as do Google, Amazon and Microsoft. The 30 top US companies pay almost no tax in the USA. GE [General Electric] paid tax at a rate of 1.8 per cent between 2002 and 2011, when the US corporate tax rate was 35.1 per cent. GE has 1,000 workers organising their use of tax benefits and havens.

The laissez-faire approach has proved to be useless. It offers us nothing. We need a state that actively develops our skills and our industries.


The Joy of Tax
The Joy of Tax
by Richard Murphy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murphy's analysis is deeply flawed because he ignores capitalist class power., 16 Dec. 2015
This review is from: The Joy of Tax (Hardcover)
Richard Murphy is a chartered accountant and a founder of the Tax Justice Network. In this intriguing book, he proposes some useful ideas which he claims could be achieved by a reforming Labour government.

But he ignores the key fact that the EU decides our levels of taxation and spending, witness the EU Council Recommendation 2015/1029: “The United Kingdom should reach a headline deficit of 4.1% of GDP in 2015-2016 and 2.7% of GDP in 2016-2017 … The Council sets the deadline of 15 October 2015 for the United Kingdom to (i) take effective action; and (ii) … to report in detail the consolidation strategy that is envisaged to achieve the targets.”

Murphy leaves out of his analysis capitalist class power, the power wielded by finance capital. Murphy notes that the case for a financial transactions tax is overwhelmingly strong but also that the City of London, and therefore the government, opposes it. He fails to note that the Labour government opposed it too.

The entire tax system, like the entire socio-economic system, is designed to further the interests of the tiny minority capitalist class. This has been so for centuries: Magna Carta’s Clause 14 said, in the middle of a section on tax, “And the City of London is to have all its ancient liberties and free customs, both on land and water.”

The Board of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is composed of big business’s tax advisers and representatives. There is no VAT on financial services, when there is on many far more useful services. A vast army of expensively educated lawyers, accountants and bankers helps the rich to avoid and evade tax.

There is a string of tax havens across the Commonwealth. The Adam Smith Institute urges “save the tax havens we need them.” Big companies create secret subsidiary companies. Walmart, for example, has 78 subsidiaries in 15 overseas tax havens. The new disclosure rules supposedly required of tax havens are not required of Britain, the biggest tax haven of them all.

When we let the biggest companies pursue what Marx called the furies of private interest at the expense of the national interest, we must expect the national interest to come a poor second. The Labour party, like all the other parliamentary parties, serves only the interests of the capitalist class.

Murphy points out that, contrary to the Thatcher dogma, government does not work like a business. He writes, “Margaret Thatcher very clearly based most of her economic understanding on the corner shop run by her father. In this quite literally small world view of national economics the rule of Mr Micawber applies: if money coming in from tax revenues exceeds money going out then everything will be just fine. If the reverse is true it is said misery results. It is fair to say that this might have been true for Mr Micawber and it might very well be true for a small business without an overdraft facility from a bank, but for a government this is complete nonsense, for one very obvious reason. This is that, unlike Mr Micawber and any business, a government with its own sovereign currency can, as explained in Chapter 3, print its own money whenever it wishes to make good a shortfall in its income. If, therefore, there are willing buyers for its debt (and this has been the uninterrupted case in the UK since 1694), running a deficit (or reclaiming less tax from the economy than you spend) is simply not a problem for a government.”

He writes, “If the market fails to deliver stable growth (as it usually does fail) it needs to be counter-balanced by government intervening to either inject or withdraw money, in order to ensure stability is maintained.” So capitalism depends on us, not vice versa.

However, Murphy dismisses socialism claiming that it lacks balance, which he just asserts without giving any evidence. But he has already written that the market ‘needs to be counter-balanced’, so it would seem that capitalism is not balanced either. It is no better than socialism, on this argument. He also writes that he believes that socialism has little mass appeal, but again, he does not bother trying to prove this.

Murphy argues that “cutting is positively counter-productive because government spending is part of GDP, which means that cutting government spending may not only fail to reduce the deficit but also actually harm growth …” ‘Austerity’ means less investment, fewer exports, lower GDP and lower household income. By growing we could cut the deficit (if we chose), but by cutting the deficit, we fail to grow. Prioritising deficit reduction reduces growth.

Murphy writes, “if the increase in number of jobs creates an increased demand for workers, employees’ real wages rise.” But there are more jobs, but at ever-lower wages: so an increase in the number of jobs doesn’t create an increased demand for workers.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2016 7:55 AM BST


A Million Bullets: The real story of the British Army in Afghanistan
A Million Bullets: The real story of the British Army in Afghanistan
by James Fergusson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine critique of an unnecessary war, 16 Dec. 2015
This absorbing book is a fine critique of the Labour government’s wrong, illegal and unnecessary war on Afghanistan. Blair used the drugs issue to drum up support for the war, so he made sure that British forces ‘led’ the G8 on this, but the drugs issue was never on the army’s agenda, or NATO’s, or ISAF’s (the International Security Assistance Force). The counter-narcotics campaign failed, of course; it was never an agreed strategy, it was never more than a cynical PR stunt.
The counter-narcotics campaign was the reason why Blair insisted that British troops be deployed to Helmand, the centre of drugs production. There were no good military reasons for this decision. Fergusson writes, “The more I spoke to the troops, the more convinced I became that the fight in Helmand could and perhaps should have been avoided.” Captain Leo Docherty agreed, saying that the Helmand campaign was ‘ignorant, clumsy and destructive – a vainglorious folly’.
As Fergusson points out, “Operation Herrick 4, furthermore, had begun as a programme of steady reconstruction, yet by the end of it large parts of the towns the British had garrisoned lay in spectacular ruins. How had that been allowed to happen?” Again, the promises of rebuilding were unfulfilled. “General Richards agreed that the development effort was still nowhere near robust enough to counter-balance the destruction and violence the British had meted out.” By December 2006, the international forces had killed at least 320 non-combatants, mainly by bombing.
The USA’s contribution to the campaign to ‘win hearts and minds’ was to use abominations like the Spectre gunship. Fergusson notes, “The Spectre is not exactly a weapon of minimum force. Its armaments include a howitzer that can fire a 44lb shell every six seconds, a 40mm cannon that fires a hundred rounds a minute, and a pair of 20mm Gatlings that fire 7,200 rounds a minute each. It can carry ten tons of ammunition per sortie …”
Fergusson concludes of the Taliban, “it was hard, in the end, not to sympathize with some of their grievances, or to disagree whole-heartedly with their central contention that the West had no business being in their country.”


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb - and funny - critique of feudal values, 16 Dec. 2015
This is a brilliantly funny novel, a superb satire on the cult of feudal values which was all too widespread in the USA’s Old South. Twain imagines a 19th-century American engineer travelling back in time to feudal Britain. Twain vividly pictures the horrors of that time, the dominance of monarchy, church and landlords.

He points out that revolution is necessary for advance: “all gentle cant and philosophising to the contrary notwithstanding, no people in the world did ever achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed, must begin in blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history teaches anything, it teaches that. What this folk needed, then, was a Reign of Terror and a guillotine …”

He praises the great French revolution of 1789: “it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever-memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood – one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with life-long death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

This book depicts all too clearly the ‘life-long death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break’, the injustice, the tortures, the killings, that marked feudal society.

Twain cites Connecticut’s Constitution which justifies revolution, “all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such a manner as they may think expedient.”


A War of Choice: Honour, Hubris and Sacrifice: The British in Iraq
A War of Choice: Honour, Hubris and Sacrifice: The British in Iraq
by Jack Fairweather
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of a criminal war, 15 Dec. 2015
This fascinating book exposes the criminal nature of the aggressions carried out in the 2000s by the British ruling class. Jack Fairweather was the Daily Telegraph’s Baghdad and Gulf correspondent for five years.

In July 2002, Blair wrote to Bush, “You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.” So Blair had committed us to war well before he told us so.

In July 2003 Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith ruled that the 1998 Human Rights Act did not apply to the Iraq War. This opened the door to all the abuses committed by British troops.

The Iraq Study Group of US congressmen and ‘elder statesmen’ called in 2006 for the USA’s immediate ‘engagement’ with Syria and Iran. This proves that the attack on Syria is nothing to do with President Assad’s reaction to the 2011 rebellion.

In September 2006 the chief of the defence staff Michael Walker assured the government that the British military could handle a war on two fronts. This broke the army’s long-standing rule never to get into two wars at once.

The head of the army Richard Dannatt admitted in October 2006, “our presence exacerbates the security problem … I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them.”

The Iraq War cost Britain £8 billion. The Afghanistan War cost us £10 billion (2010 estimate).

Fairweather concludes, “Cameron’s problem is that he shares with his predecessors a fundamental belief in the ability of Western powers to intervene in troubled regions … Until Britain’s leaders recognise the limits of intervention, the country is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.” The attacks on Libya and now on Syria have proved Fairweather right.


PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future
PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future
by Paul Mason
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A muddle from Mason - we are still suffering from capitalism - which we will continue to do until we get rid of it., 8 Dec. 2015
Paul Mason is the economics editor of Channel 4 News. This is a very poor book: its ideas are incoherent and not evidence-based.
He writes of a ‘new economy’, citing Greece as an example, where food co-ops, alternative producers, networks, parallel currencies and local exchange systems (squats, carpools, free kindergartens) trade in what he calls the currency of postcapitalism – free time.
He is claiming that mass unemployment, including 60 per cent youth unemployment, is the source of a new mode of production. No, people are desperately trying to survive amid the ruins of society; they are not creating any new mode of production.
Greece is the end-result of the absolute decline of an obsolete mode of production. The capitalist EU has wrecked Greece’s economy, destroying its welfare state.
Mason cannot see that the EU and its euro are destructive agents. Instead he equates the pro-Grexit forces in Greece with the Front National. He denounces both as ‘national forms of capital that can only tear the world apart’. As if capitalism itself was not already wrecking the world.
Instead of rapidly automating work, capitalism is creating only lousy jobs on lousy pay. Almost all economies are stagnating. ‘Austerity’ means driving down the wages, social wages and living standards in the west for decades.
Mason writes, “the main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial.” He notes the ‘riot squads, corrupt politicians, magnate-controlled newspapers and the surveillance state’.
So don’t we have to defeat all these forces, the monopolies, banks and governments, the riot squads, corrupt politicians, magnate-controlled newspapers and the surveillance state? Not according to Mason, they will just vanish when we ‘build alternatives within the system’. In 2008-09 capitalism collapsed but there has been no progress – capitalism won’t go away on its own.
His key fallacy is his claim that we are already in a new, post-capitalist era, of the ‘information economy’. But he also claims that the 19th-century’s cotton-spinning machine, telegraph and steam engine depended on the state of knowledge, not on the amount of labour it took to produce them. (But where does knowledge come from? Actually, work produces knowledge. Knowledge is a productive force.) So 19th-century capitalism was already an information economy, in Mason’s terms. So was it already not capitalism then?
He claims that if the free market leads to underusing knowledge, then an economy based on the full use of knowledge cannot tolerate the free market. True enough: knowledge is underused because capitalist social relations hold back the forces of production.
He says that the giant tech monopolies are at odds with the basic human need to use ideas freely. Again, true enough. But Mason doesn’t even ask how we stop these capitalist monopolies running society.
The key question, he maintains, is not capital versus labour but who controls ‘the power of knowledge’. He is wrong: it is still capital against labour. He wants us to fight for a new, fairer kind of capitalism, just when capitalism is mutating into a far nastier form.


High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
by Christopher L. Elliott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating study of those who led us into and fought the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 8 Dec. 2015
This is a very illuminating study of how Britain’s ruling class made its disastrous decisions to fight the imperialist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British state’s long-term aim always to be ‘punching above our weight’ is a virtual definition of hubris. “At one level, it is easy to say why things did not go well for the UK armed forces in the decade 2000-10. They never had a chance of doing otherwise. The UK consistently failed to match its policy aspirations with sufficient military resources to deliver them.”

The results were ‘our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Syria’, as Sir Roderic Braithwaite, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, rightly called them.

In 1999 Blair spelt out his doctrine of interventionism. “To use military force, Blair made five new proposals: that the West had to be sure of its case; that it should have exhausted all diplomatic options; that it should have explored whether military operations could be sensibly and prudently undertaken; and that it should be committed to the long-term. Only at the end did he say, ‘Finally, did we have national interests involved?’” Blair’s approach was inadequate and subjective (‘the West had to be sure of its case’). Blair followed this up in 2002 by promoting the use of military power as a ‘force for good’.

Elliott comments, “Blair made no mention now of restricting the use of military force to vital national interests, counting the cost before leaping into armed intervention, obtaining domestic and international support, or having an acceptable way out in the event of the unexpected, all bulwarks of the Weinberger and Powell Doctrines. Instead, Blair questioned a whole-of-campaign approach by saying that ‘… in the past we talked too much of exit strategies’.

“Blair was now proposing that military force should be used as a device to solve wider world problems, alongside its traditional role as the measure of a nation’s last resort. Blair proposed that the military could be used as policemen, as a substitute for the judiciary, and as humanitarian assistance in order to rebuild shattered and failed states.”

Elliott sums up, “Blair was reacting to the pressure that ‘something must be done’, putting it above proper consideration of what could be done.” On Syria, Cameron is repeating Blair’s mistake.

The war against Iraq inevitably grew far worse that the government had told us it would. Elliott points out, “What is certain is that the issue of unintended civilian casualties caused in military operations – which were numerous in both Iraq and Afghanistan – was never given the profile it deserved, neither did it influence policy-makers to the degree that the civilian victims involved would have hoped it might.”

Elliott notes, “It is unlikely that al-Qaida was present in Iraq before the invasion, but it rapidly moved to foment the growing insurrection, taking advantage of the changed circumstances.” Blair later claimed of Iraq, “the aftermath was more bloody, more awful, more terrifying than anyone could have imagined.” A similar outcome followed in Libya and Syria.

In Iraq, the government got it all hopelessly wrong. As Elliott points out, “an insurgency in Belfast less than ten years previously had only been contained by the permanent deployment of thirteen battalions of infantry, yet after the initial benign period the UK attempted to meet an even more violent challenge in Basra, a city three times the size, with only three. We were bound to fail, so who allowed that to happen?” The political and military leaderships are both to blame for this.

He observes, “Britain was in a bind: she was as eager as ever to be seen to be fostering her special relationship with the US and yet was determined to wind down her commitment in Iraq. However, the debate about who was really doing the heavy lifting would not go away, so at a NATO summit in June 2004 Tony Blair made an undertaking in principle for the UK to deploy a substantial force instead to Afghanistan alongside the US, sometime in the future, if the situation there demanded it. This had momentous consequences, because it led inexorably to the UK breaching its pre-eminent military planning guideline, i.e. of only committing to one ‘enduring’ (long-term) military operation at a time. General Sir Richard Dannatt as CGS [Chief of the General Staff] the following year found himself scratching around to create ten brigades (five each to sustain rotations in two theatres) from only the eight brigades that the Army was structured to provide. Dannatt tried to find out how the decision to accept a new commitment of a brigade in Afghanistan as well as continuing with a substantial force in Iraq had been arrived at. He could find no record that it had been discussed by the Chiefs Staff Committee in the committee minutes of 2004, where the hazards of such an undertaking would surely have been raised. … It demonstrated yet again that decisions were taken without the MoD assessing their military consequences, and it was to backfire seriously when the UK took on the security of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.”

Brigadier Patrick Marriott, commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade in Basra, remarked at the time, “the lunacy of fighting on two fronts is beyond me. … strategically, the significance of Afghanistan in comparison to Iraq is piffling. The Middle East is pivotal. Afghanistan is peripheral.” Elliott agrees: “The Chiefs of the Defence Staff and their strategic planners in the MoD should have recognised the importance of Iraq in comparison to Afghanistan.”
In Syria, the Cameron government repeats ‘the lunacy of fighting on two fronts’. As the former chief of the defence staff General David Richards pointed out in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 18 November: “At the moment we’ve got contradictory war aims. We want to deal with Isis but we also want to get rid of Assad at the same time. I personally don’t think that’s plausible. Any general will tell you, you need to have unity of purpose and clear aims in a war. That muddies those aims.”
The political and military leaderships are both to blame for all these disasters, but war guilt lies firstly on the government. As long as we let capitalism continue, our ruling class will involve Britain in immoral, illegal, unnecessary, imperialist wars overseas.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 22, 2016 11:47 AM GMT


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