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2005-02-15

Clare Short On Why She Quit Tony Blair’s Government In Protest of the Iraq War & How British Intelligence Spied On UN Chief Kofi Annan

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One of Europe’s leading critics of the Iraq invasion joins us in the Firehouse Studio. Two years ago Clare Short resigned her top post in the Blair government. She recently wrote about her resignation and the war in her book "An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq and the Misuse of Power" [includes rush transcript]

We are joined right now by one of Britain’s leading critics of the invasion of Iraq: Clare Short.

She is best known for resigning her cabinet-level position as Secretary of State for International Development in Tony Blair’s government over the UK’s involvement in the Iraq invasion.

In her resignation letter to Prime Minister Blair in May 2003, Clare Short wrote, "As you know, I thought the run-up to the conflict in Iraq was mishandled, but I agreed to stay in the Government to help support the reconstruction effort for the people of Iraq. I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a U.N. mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached."

A few months later she called on Blair to resign, charging he mislead the British people over the war in Iraq. Clare Short gained headlines again last year when she accused British intelligence agents of spying on U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run up to the Iraq war. She said she had read transcripts of private conversations of Annan.

She is the author of a new book, "An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq and the Misuse of Power"

Today, a conversation with Clare Short. She joins us in our firehouse studio. She is in the United States to discuss the impact of U.S. foreign policy on the world at a forum being coordinated by the Eisenhower and Century Foundations.

  • Clare Short, was the Secretary of State for International Development in Tony Blair’s government before resigning in protest over Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq. She is also a contributor to the new book put out by the Eisenhower Foundation called Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Clare Short. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CLARE SHORT: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First, your reaction to the elections that took place in Iraq?

CLARE SHORT: I think everyone should remember it’s Grand Ayatollah Sistani who insisted on elections. The plan, the U.S. plan, and the U.N. plan, was to consult in communities across Iraq, get some representatives to then come together and design a constitution, as the process was in Afghanistan. So, let’s remember that it wasn’t American democracy; it was Grand Ayatollah Sistani democracy. And, of course, what he wanted was to demonstrate was what a big proportion of the population the Shia people were. And he’s achieved that objective, and they voted in big numbers, as did the Kurdish people, because they want to keep their autonomy, and the people in the middle of the country didn’t vote. And therefore, voting is always moving. I remember the first time I voted. I was very moved by it. But it’s divided the country, and all we have got is the proof that the Shia are a big number, and a group that are supposed to draw up a constitution. That is supposed to be then a referendum in October, and then there’s supposed to be a general election in December. So there’s a long way to go. We haven’t got the constitution yet. There’s a danger that the country will be more divided. There’s no evidence that the resistance is being weakened. So, it’s a small thing. It doesn’t solve the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. Talk about your decision to resign your cabinet position.

CLARE SHORT: Well, my view in the run-up to the war was not with those who said containment was working, that we should just leave Iraq. The sanctions were hurting the people very terribly. So, it was right to come back to Iraq, and say, "Can’t we do better than this?" So I was very in favor of us going back to the U.N., getting in inspectors, trying to get the sanctions lifted, indicting Saddam Hussein as a war criminal and for crimes against humanity, and trying to help the people of Iraq to get rid of him and build a more decent future for themselves. The rush to war meant that that process couldn’t be completed, and a lot of people were going to die unnecessarily; and of course, you have seen it was illegitimate across the world, and it was a breach of international law. But I still took the view, even then, I mean, it’s quite a thing to leave your government and conclude that your Prime Minister has been deceiving you and the nation. So, I still felt, even though the rush to war had been wrong, if we internationalized the reconstruction, if the people of Iraq got a better future out of it, that rush might be forgiven. But the failure to prepare for afterwards, the chaos, the criminality, the looting, the continuing death, the unemployment, the lack of electricity and water is a complete disaster. And it’s criminally incompetent. What happened, of course, in the U.S. was the State Department had made preparations in just a couple months before the conflict, and, of course, the U.S. chose the date. This new unit was set up in the Pentagon. It didn’t prepare properly, and we have got the chaos and continuing loss of life, which is further destabilizing the Middle East, and all serious commentators say the recruitment to a new, highly dispersed al Qaeda type organization has gone up enormously. So, there never was al Qaeda in Iraq beforehand. There is now. It is much strengthened. A lot of Iraqis have died. A lot of American young people have died, a smaller number of young Brits have died. It’s a disastrous foreign policy mistake for all concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Clare Short, what about the resistance? What are your feelings about the Iraqi resistance?

CLARE SHORT: Yeah, you said I supported them. That is not so. What I had said is in international law, there is a right to resist occupation. And we have a history. I mean, the American resistance to British colonialism, the French resistance to the Nazis, and so on. It’s just labeling everything terrorism and talking as though anyone who resists anything that the U.S. does must be a bad guy. It’s such an ignorant way of commenting on world affairs. I was simply reminding people of that reality in international law. And there’s no doubt either that all of the studies — most of them are American studies — show the majority of the Iraqi people want the occupation to end immediately. And those who participated in the elections, that is their view and their wish. Now, clearly, within that, there are some very extreme groups using suicide bombers and killing lots of Iraqis. And that’s a tragedy for Iraq. But resistance to occupation is as old as human kind itself. Most of our countries have participated in it. If people don’t understand that’s what’s going on with the support of a lot of Iraqis, we are never going to put it right.

AMY GOODMAN: What were your thoughts when you heard Scott McClellan, the White House Press Secretary, in talking about what’s going on in Lebanon now, and Syria, condemning foreign occupation of any country?

CLARE SHORT: Well, I think it’s called hypocrisy, and it is incredible that these masters of spin don’t even hear, with a smile that will go across the world as people think, "How dare you say that when you’re in the middle of an occupation in another country?" I think with Lebanon, it’s very difficult to see who did this. I mean, everyone’s blaming Syria, and it’s like we’re all being softened up for action against Syria. I cannot see how Syria benefits from this. I think we need to pause and find out what really happened and who really did it.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you resign your post in the cabinet?

CLARE SHORT: I can’t remember the precise date, but it was about a week or so after the fall of Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: What was Tony Blair’s response?

CLARE SHORT: Well, we exchanged letters. I talked to him on the phone. He sort of said, "I suppose it’s too late to dissuade you." I said, "We have been there." He said, "What’s going to happen?" I said, "I’m going to write you a letter, you’re going to write me one. I’m going to make a statement in the House of Commons." He said, "Okay." That was it. I mean, I nearly went before, you see, and he spent lots of time persuading me to stay in the government, sweet-talked me a lot, saw me repeatedly, so he knew we were finished now.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you decide not to resign before the invasion?

CLARE SHORT: I got a lot of criticism for that, but it was, as you said in your introductory remarks, the war was unstoppable by then, but I still thought that if there was a real internationalization of reconstruction and no occupation, and the U.N. was brought in, and international forces brought in at Iraqis’ request, they could quickly rebuild their country. It’s naturally a wealthy country with a lot of educated people, and Iraq could come out better off. And I thought my prime minister — well, he did. He promised me that that’s what would happen, and that’s what the U.K. would stand for, and then he broke that promise, too. So I tried everything to try and make sure we didn’t have the disaster we have got now.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to the Right Honorable Clare Short, a former member of the British Cabinet, resigned over the invasion of Iraq. What about the British intelligence spying on U.N. officials and overall at diplomats at the U.N.?

CLARE SHORT: Well, it was on Kofi Annan’s office phone calls and papers, and it had been going on for some time. There’s no question about it. I have seen the documents, but from 1997, when our government, the Blair government, took office, until the Iraq war, our relationship with Kofi Annan was extremely close. Britain was very supportive of him and of building the U.N. to be more effective. We were engaged in all sorts of joint work to increase the efficiency of the systems. But, of course, in the run-up to the Iraq war, Kofi Annan was trying to prevent war and to have the U.K., who — we were just going along with anything that the U.S. did — seeing his phone calls, seeing his papers. It’s quite inappropriate, and it means that he cannot operate as an independent individual talking to governments across the world without both the U.S. and U.K. knowing what he is doing.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you go public?

CLARE SHORT: We had a trial of a young woman in Britain, Katherine Gunn, who had revealed that I think the U.S. had asked the U.K. or talked to the U.K, about bugging the various members of the Security Council in the run-up to the war. She was being tried for breach of official secrets, because she revealed that, and she worked in a listening organization. And they dropped the charges against her. But this whole question of bugging the U.N. was in the news. So I was asked to comment on our morning radio news program, and I thought, "Here’s the moment." I had been thinking, how can I reveal that this is going on in order that it be stopped. So, I thought, here is the — I will say what I think about the story of her, and why they dropped the charges. Then I will reveal that we’re spying on Kofi Annan, which I did.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever spoken to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan about this?

CLARE SHORT: I have, actually.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is his response?

CLARE SHORT: Well, I don’t want to in any way embarrass him, but he was glad to know it was happening, because of course, it intrudes in his capacity to have private conversations with leaders across the world, and therefore, the effectiveness of his office. If people think they can’t speak frankly to him, then he’s less useful in his role of trying to prevent conflict and promote development, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: What is happening right now in Britain? What is the sentiment of the British public, both around the Iraq occupation and also around the torture scandals at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? You have your own, as well, but also four British citizens were just sent home from Guantanamo: Moazzam Begg and three others.

CLARE SHORT: Well, in Britain, what’s happened is that Tony Blair has lost the trust of the British people. He was a much admired and liked prime minister. Now most people don’t trust him. Most people think the war was a mistake. Most people think he lied to the country. But we’re in a run-up to an election, which will probably take place in May, and the main opposition party, the Conservatives, of course, supported the war, and are more reactionary on social policies than the Labour Government on spending on health and education and so on. So, the country’s very grumpy in the run-up to election, doesn’t really want either. Labour’s ahead in the polls, but an awful lot of people are not going to vote. Britain is feeling very, very disillusioned because of the Iraq war and the way in which its government behaved. In terms of Abu Ghraib, we were all as shocked, as I suppose most Americans were, and horrified. Guantanamo, we thought, was just disgraceful, a breach of the Geneva Convention. That’s old international law, dating back to before the First World War. Angry that some of our own nationals were there, and our own government wasn’t taking more urgent action to demand they were brought home and tried, or put under surveillance, holding people without trial. We have now had people back, one of them from my city, Moazzam Begg. The news is he hasn’t talked publicly; the news is that he’s very damaged, undergoing psychiatric treatment. I think there was some young men from a town a little bit north of mine. They also, I believe, are psychologically very, very damaged. So, it looks like forms of torture that are destructive of the human personality are going on. We have got our own scandal. We locked up thirteen foreign nationals accused of being engaged in planning terrorism, but no trial, and our courts have said that’s illegal. So, there’s a big battle in the country about what’s to happen about that. So, we feel our government’s contaminated by the errors of your government. Blair tends to go along with the kind of things America does, and the majority of the country do not support them.

AMY GOODMAN: And the British soldiers accused of torturing prisoners?

CLARE SHORT: Well, we’re just deeply ashamed.

AMY GOODMAN: When did it happen, and they’re on trial now?

CLARE SHORT: They’re on trial, but it happened a good time ago, I think in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, and when the looting was on. So, there’s a lot of comment that it shouldn’t have taken so long to bring them to trial. Because of course, part of the point of trial is both to do justice, but also to show others they’re not allowed to behave like that. So, we couldn’t believe the kind of sexualized torture that went on in Abu Ghraib; and now we have got our own British scandal, not quite so many in number, but the same kind of shameful events.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re here as — to discuss the impact of U.S. foreign policy on the world. You’re here in a tour that is sponsored by the Eisenhower and Century Foundations. What is the message that you are putting out to the people of this country?

CLARE SHORT: I think America is making itself hated across the world. It’s spending a fortune on arms, but can’t create peace. And Afghanistan is a narco state now, and we all know Iraq is a mess. But if America would come back to its true inspiration, a real believer in justice and fair development across the world, which means attending to the environment, the problems of poverty, getting a just settlement in the Middle East, the whole world could come together, and America would be back up there as an example to the world. At the moment, it’s hated. It’s impoverishing itself. It has got poor social programs at home. It’s overextending its military activity. People talk more and more about the Roman Empire and how it ended up collapsing. I think America is in trouble. But if it could come back to its original values that brought the admiration of the world, it could lead the world in a time when we need more justice, more even development to attend to poverty and environment, and get settlement in the Middle East, which means the whole of the world could then combine to deal with the problems of anyone who would use violence against civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean when you say Afghanistan is a narco state?

CLARE SHORT: It is a chaotic state that has warlords dominating most of the areas outside Kabul. And they get all their — they have lots of fighters. There’s lots of different ones that get all their money from the growing of opium, which is then sold on through criminal networks and comes across the world, and most of Europe’s opium comes out of Afghanistan. That’s the bulk of its economy. I mean, you cannot get a stable country that grows its economy and improves the life of its people if the backbone of your economy is criminal narcotics. That’s the state of Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what do you think is the solution to what is going on now in the Middle East with Israel and Palestine?

CLARE SHORT: I think a settlement on Israel-Palestine is really easy if America backed it. It is a two-state solution, on 67 boundaries with East Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. That could all be driven, and of course, because Israel is completely dependent on American arms, money and supplies, if America wanted that settlement, it would be had. Then both people, the Palestinian and the Israeli people, want the two-state solution. I’m afraid the peace we’re talking about, just a withdrawal from Gaza and then Prime Minister Sharon planning to take half of the West Bank, will not bring peace. So, we’re looking — I’m afraid this is a moment of hope because there’s a cease-fire, but we’re going to go on with more and more violence and suffering and support for terrorist action.

AMY GOODMAN: The Right Honorable Clare Short, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Clare Short quit her job as Cabinet Minister under Tony Blair over the occupation of Iraq. Her own autobiography is called An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq and the Misuse of Power, with a question mark, An Honourable Deception?. She also has contributed to the new book, Patriotism, Democracy and Common Sense.

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