While the dust is still in the air after the three towers in Manhattan were brought down Tony Blair is already sitting writing a letter to George W. Bush.
Article written by Lindsey Collen;
I found the letter disturbing. And the whole series of letters from Blair to Bush profoundly disquieting. So, I decided to look at them more closely, so as to better understand why.
My notes on Blair’s letter to Bush are based on the texts published by the Chilcot Commission in July 2016, and then in the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation’s The Spokesman No. 133, where I read them.
In this article, I’ll be looking at just the first of the Blair letters to Bush – though taken as a whole, they are even more alarming.
Blair begins, “There are three goals:” The very first phrase strikes a false note. The tone is all wrong.
It is more like notes for an ordinary lecture to students than an emergency letter to the US President after a huge attack on US civilians, an attack which used civil airliners and their passengers as the armaments, before the dust has even quite literally settled.
He then proceeds to number the three goals.
“(1) to bring to justice those responsible;
“(2) to construct an agenda for action against international terrorism;
“(3) to co-opt the world’s leading countries in support of action.”
Number (1) sounds reasonable until you look at what Blair includes under the heading “to bring to justice those responsible”.
Metamorphosis of justice
The first thing he does is to change the very heading when dealing with it in the body of the text. “(1) To bring to justice those responsible” turns into “(1) The military response:”
Let’s look at this closely to understand the level of manipulation in the metamorphosis:
“To bring to justice those responsible” by using the word “justice”, implies principles of justice of some kind.
We could imagine he means that you first have to collect evidence very carefully and from this find someone in particular, or some specific people, that you then accuse of being responsible of a specific kind of involvement in these acts of terror, and then by some sort of judicial procedure, you bring them before a court of law, which will hear the evidence and the defence and decide upon their guilt, and if guilty, on their sentence.
This is what “bring to justice” and “those responsible” have come to mean over centuries of struggle by oppressed people against tyranny. There is no other meaning possible.
But for Blair there is. It means “The military response:”
Under this new heading, he launches in as follows: “Assume Usama Bin Laden (UBL) or associated groups operating out of Afghanistan are responsible.” Why on earth should Blair assume this? 24 hours after the event?
This is such an early assumption that he spells Osama Bin Laden’s first name with a “U”, and abbreviates his name to UBL; in other words he is not well enough known yet for his name to have become standardized as Osama with an O. And then this is just not the way people are brought “to justice”.
The first thing anyone bringing anyone to justice avoids like the plague is narrowing down assumptions too early the way Blair is doing. You collect all the evidence you can find first.
This is particularly important when the hijackers and all the potential witnesses actually on board are gone.
And notice the way Blair is making two or three assumptions that he rather deviously compacts into one assumption. We are to assume that either Usama Bin Laden or “associated groups” are responsible.
This justifies a military response against either him or associated groups or both – rather a wide definition for “bringing to justice” or even, for that matter, in terms of “a military response”.
We are also to assume that Bin Laden or the associated groups referred to are operating “out of Afghanistan”. Presumably so he and Bush can bomb Afghanistan.
This is simply outrageous. Most of the people later named as hijackers were from another country altogether, Bin Laden’s country of birth and the country that was Bush and Blair’s staunch ally, Saudi Arabia.
Blair then adds, no doubt realizing how bizarre he sounds so far, “It looks like this [sic] will emerge clearly in the next few days.”
The next letter, of course, makes no reference to whether what looked like it would emerge clearly did emerge clearly.
In passing, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the weird fact that Blair uses American English like “It looks like this will emerge clearly” in his correspondence. I have no guess as to why.
The following paragraph continues: “Assume, as a result of the latest operation, we can pinpoint UBL’s whereabouts.” (“pinpoint his whereabouts” is also rather more US than British English, which would prefer pinpoint him).
So here is another assumption. By the way, since the letter is written on 12 September, I am assuming, in turn, that “the latest operation” refers to the bringing down of the Three Towers of the World Trade Centre by two airline planes, the penetration from the air of the Pentagon by a third plane, and the disappearance of a fourth plane in Pennsylvania? Or is it some other operation, maybe by the US? Be that as it may.
But, if it is the terrorism, the sentence is a non-sequitur. It is especially so, if the first assumption in the letter is not correct, i.e. it is not Bin Laden.
Or maybe, on second thoughts, it’s a non sequitur especially if the first assumption is correct. Surely if “UBL” were responsible, he would make every attempt to make his whereabouts very hard to pinpoint.
Then straight away, Blair says, “We could strike against him.” What on earth could this mean? How could it fit into bringing someoneto justice? One might, under normal democratic circumstances, think it refers to an international arrest warrant, say. But in the very next line, Blair makes it clear: “Taking him out,” as he calls it, “will not end the threat.” In terms of Americanisms used in military responses, taking out has only one meaning: kill him. An extra-judicial assassination is what Blair means.
I ask myself, inside what logic do we find ourselves here? Blair makes a few assumptions within 24 hours, and then says let’s go out and murder people?
Luckily, as our reading eye moves ahead, we notice a “But” with an (a) and a (b) following.
But the “But” brings up no moral qualms. The entire letter has no moral foundation. It is without any moral compunction. There is a medical term for this, but I will not use it.
The first “But” is merely of a practical order: “(a) pinpointing may, even with the latest operation, be impossible.” There goes one of the earlier assumptions. And the second “But” is also of a practical order, if strategic: “(b) UBL is a symbol. Taking him out will not end the threat.” So, what was the rationale for “taking him out”.
Now we begin to see that it is no longer just “to bring to justice those responsible”. Here the meaning of the heading begins to haemorrhage dangerously.
This second “But” leads on, in the Blair letter, to a wide web of future targets for a military response. “There are scores of training camps in Afghanistan connected with Islamic extremism. The capability to attack will remain, i.e. we will have taken out the man but not the system. The pressure will be on us, rightly, to take out the system. These camps are all over Afghanistan. The Taliban help, even run them.”
So, now the metamorphosis is complete. Blair is not talking about bringing those responsible to justice anymore. He is, 24 hours after 9/11, finding a vast target for a military response. He says there are “scores” of “training camps”. He says they are “in Afghanistan”. He says they are “connected with Islamic extremism”. He says their “capability to attack” will remain. Now, Blair has completely forgotten that the weapons of attack were airline aeroplanes, for which you don’t need camps in the mountains of Afghanistan at all. But, what is clear, is that we are now heading for talk about pre-emptive military actions. Sure enough: “We will have taken out the man but not the system.” So, now “we” have completely discarded any notion of “to bring to justice”. “The pressure will be on us, rightly, to take out the system.” In case, “scores” of training camps was not clear enough, Blair adds: “These camps are all over Afghanistan.” In other words, the whole country is fair game.
And then, “The Taliban help, even run them.” So, now Blair’s military sites are on a political group much, much larger than UBL and“associated groups” operating out of Afghanistan. His sites are trained on Afghanistan’s ruling political party, a fundamentalist outfit that grew strong with US funds and arms, when the US was set on ousting the USSR-backed Government in Afghanistan, and that then seized Government.
The not so royal “we”
Before continuing with Blair’s text, let us just take note of the “we” that Blair so cosily uses when speaking to Bush. He speaks as though he and Bush are already married by some sacred ritual behind the backs of the American and British people. (This is a moment for me to add an idea. Should all Americans not be calling for the Bush letters to be made public like the Blair ones? So, we can read both sides?)
Now, back to Blair’s letter. “ [One] possibility would be:” he says, “to present the evidence of UBL or associated group guilt.”
Blair is now in his own cloud-cuckoo-land. This “guilt” is an assumption of his. Now he is going to “present evidence” of it.
This really reveals his and Bush’s modus operandi. Blair says they should “present evidence” of “guilt” without having any. The only thing we can assume from this is that they intend to make it up, if it no longer “looks like this will emerge clearly in the next few days”.
About this “evidence” that Blair says “we” should “present”, he does not say where they intend to present it. We might be forgiven for assuming that it would be presented to the police, or to some prosecutor’s office.
But, then, the text continues, having “presented” this “evidence of guilt” of “UBL and associated groups”, “State the extent of the camps and thus the problem.” So, now we begin to realize, it is not to do with justice at all. Nor even with the “military response”. “We”are dealing with some kind of propaganda. The verb to “State” means to put something forward in terms of words.
And once having done this, he continues, “Demand the Taliban either yield up UBL, his associates and close the camps verifiably, with proper monitoring; or face guilt by complicity.”
So now “guilt” can be spread around “by complicity”. And, it is to be judged, it would seem, by Blair and Bush alone. The British Parliament knows nothing about this, let alone the British people. The Cabinet did not even know. The American Congress knows nothing about this, either, let alone the American people.
And then after this “guilt” has been supposedly established “by complicity”, “Supposing”, Blair continues, “the Taliban don’t do what they should or prevaricate; and we strike at them.”
This is now a bit like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland when she cries “Sentence first – verdict afterwards … Off with her head!”
Now, Blair confirms for us that military response is not aimed at Bin Laden and his associated groups or even scores of training camps. It aims at Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban party. “Supposing … we strike at them.” And there we go with a new assumption. Blair uses the word “supposing” instead of “assuming”, thus making it that little bit more likely to happen.
“In this eventuality,” Blair continues, “we would need:
“(a) to target as carefully as possible Taliban assets, realising they will use women and children without compunction;” This is a euphemism for saying we know that there will be civilian casualties. It is worth keeping in mind that Blair has just said that not just the Taliban, but even the training camps “are all over Afghanistan.” In fact, at it turns out, a wedding party was bombed within a year. In all there were tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of deaths of civilians after the 9/11 bombardments.
“(b) have some method of pursuing UBL within Afghanistan;” This is a euphemism for either a special services assassination squad, or for troops to enter Afghanistan, at the same time as “striking” at the Taliban. Bin Laden was eventually found (his whereabouts were pinpointed) after 10 years of war. He was found not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan, right near a Pakistani military complex. He was summarily assassinated in cold blood. His body was dumped by US Navy seals out of a plane into the Indian Ocean, we are led to believe. That is how Bush and Blair’s plan “to bring to justice” Osama Bin laden ended. The footage, as if to prove the continuity of the State, showed Obama and Hilary Clinton supposedly watching the extra-judicial killing live.
“(c) build a strong alliance for such radical action in surrounding states:” Here, grammatically speaking, it is the “radical action” that will take place “in surrounding states”, whereas he means the “strong alliance” is should be built with surrounding states. Even Blair, we notice, considers their planned “strikes” and “target”-ing of “Taliban assets” and his “pursuing UBL within Afghanistan” as “radical”. Anyway, once again, this is not “the military response”, as his heading promised, but the question of getting support, buying it if necessary, from the surrounding states. These are: First, “Pakistan, which needs our help financially;” In other words, Blair proposes money in exchange for “strong alliance”, in the case of Pakistan. Second, “Iran, very difficult for the USA but they are deeply hostile to the Taliban; and Russia;” Building a strong alliance with Iran is recognised as “difficult” for the USA, and for Russia, there is no Blair comment at all. So, it is only Pakistan really. In fact, they went ahead anyway, alliance or not, let alone “strong alliance”. The UK and USA just went in alone and within a month were bombing Afghanistan. Later it was NATO (supposedly policing the North Atlantic) that went out of its geographical mission, and took over from the UK and US.
“(d) possibly give direct backing to the Northern Alliance.” The Northern Alliance was at the time fighting the Taliban, and the UK-US did back them militarily.
Blair then goes on to say, “Our task here would be to make action effective whilst not triggering a wave of Islamic support for Afghanistan round the world.” So, this, too is not so much military response, as part of the propaganda war. “But,” he says, summing up, “the minimum is to take out UBL and his close associates; the maximum is to charge the Taliban with complicity and target them too.” So, finally the word “charge” is what Blair and Bush should say in the Press. There is no other explanation. It is nothing to do with “justice”. They simply “charge the Taliban with complicity and then target them too.” With bombs.
Then Blair decides to cover his back. “An alternative to this ‘immediate response’,” he says, “would be to take strong diplomatic and political action and deal with this as per (2) below, not a military strike.”
But then, he goes, in turn, back on this, “But the scale of this atrocity makes that hard. Purely a long game, unless certain to succeed, will be tough to argue for.”
So, it is just a “game”, “a long game”, when it comes to the conclusion. And a long game will be tough to argue for, he says. So, we have to go for the short game, we presume, in which it will soon come to the bomb you back to the stone age language.
So, that is just the first goal Blair set for Bush and himself.
Here’s the second. Blair rephrases the title, but without the manipulation of the first metamorphosed title. So, it reads, “(2) The political agenda against international terrorism:” He proceeds, “In any event, we need to construct an agenda that puts us onto a new footing for action against this new evil.” So, they are to get on to a “new footing” against this “new evil”. Remember, this is the day after 9/11. Blair already knows what this “new evil” is. And curiously within four months, on 29 January 2002, Bush will refer to the“axis of evil”. And so, we have the language of the Crusaders creeping into their discourse from very early on.
“If this is a war – ”, Blair continues, “and in practical, if not legal terms, it is – we need war methods.” This is a strange bit. We are in the section on the political agenda against international terrorism. And yet we are back with the military response that we thought was dealt with in (1). So the political agenda is “war methods”? And war methods will be used for what is not in legal terms a war at all? And all this already in Blair’s mind 24 hours after 9/11?
“Here are the aspects we need to consider:”, Blair continues.
“a) who are these groups?” It seemed that Blair knew who they were when he was talking about them in (1). But now he admits not knowing who they are. “Primarily Islamic terrorists,” he says, “but as with FARC, but not limited to them.” This does not make sense. But it is clear in any case that he is not concerned just with “Islamic terrorists” but others as well. “There will be borderline cases of terrorists/civil war fighters etc but that should not deter us from trying to establish the scale of this problem; and identify these groups clearly;” This is again odd language. It is not only “Islamic terrorists”, but this should not “deter us from establishing the scale of this problem”. This is a non sequitur again. It makes sense only if it means already that you intend to do something like bomb them. It does not make sense if you are trying to “identify” them.
“(b) we need to review urgently the laws that in a democratic society they abuse:” Now, here we come to an important point. The PATRIOT Act and other Anti-Terrorism laws are being proposed within 24 hours of the three World Trade Centre Towers coming down. The letter goes on:“how the groups are financed; their money is laundered; their organisations operate; their people move about. This has implications for international agreements and domestic laws.” So far so good, you may say. Then Blair loses his cool, “But for years, the West has pussyfooted around with these issues. These groups don’t play by liberal rules and we can’t either;” So, Blair and Bush are not happy with “the West” pussyfooting around. “We” can’t play by democratic rules. Thus as he put it, “we need to review urgently the laws that in a democratic society they abuse”. They do not break laws, in this context, according to Blair. They abuse them. This means they abuse human rights laws. This is what needs urgent review.
“(c) there are states and governments that either harbour or turn a blind eye to these groups. What sanctions and/or action do we take in respect of them?” Now this sound like they are going further than threatening military action on just Afghanistan, or even its neighbour Pakistan. Read on.
“(d) After reflection, there will be many who ask: what is the next stage of this evil? What of their capacity to get hold of biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? We know that there are countries and individuals trading in WMD and/or trying to acquire them. We need a range of sanctions and pressures to stop this.” Here again, we see that Blair is already homing in on Iraq. The little used term “weapons of mass destruction” will from now on be popularized by Bush. There are already sanctions on Iraq. So Blair means more or wider sanctions. Note the phrase “or trying to acquire them”. In fact, within one year, and on the same day in the US and UK documents showing that Iraq has tried to acquire WMDs, 500 tons of uranium oxide, via Niger were made public. They were later shown to be fakes. Those who faked them were never to my knowledge identified.
To show how fast the haemorrhaging from “bringing to justice those responsible” to wide-scale acts of aggression, by the time of Blair’s second letter just one month later, he will be talking about how unpopular it will be if they also attack Iraq and Syria at the same time as they are already bombarding Afghanistan. It seems Bush considered this.
Back to the first letter though.
We, then, come to a rather frightening little phrase. Blair says, “Some of this will require action that some will baulk at.” He knows what action is required already. 24 hours after the collapse of the three towers. Blair knows others will “baulk” at such action. So, he argues, “But we are better to act now and explain and justify our actions than let the day be put off until some further, perhaps even worse catastrophe occurs. And I believe this is a real possibility.”
Then he goes on about how to get others to stop baulking. “It would also help in the Islamic world (sic) if we could find a way to revive the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP).” So, Blair is careful not to be heard as saying that Palestine’s continued domination by Israel and its allies, is a real problem. All he is saying is one way to influence countries “in the Islamic world” is to revive the MEPP. On this he says something completely far-fetched instead of something on the MEPP: “One final, off-centre, thought on this issue. It is chilling how widespread is the support within the Islamic world (sic) for the theological basis of such terror. Inter-faith dialogue, internationally-led with the full participation of moderate Islam is very important. Suicide killers believe they are doing the will of God. Such beliefs must be countered.” Frankly, it is chilling to read Blair’s letters.
(3) Co-opting the rest of the world.
Once Blair and Bush know what they are doing, then they will proceed with “co-opting the rest of the world”. Talk about “killers [who] believe they are doing the will of God.” Blair and Bush will go and in and strike and take out and bomb. Then they will co-opt the rest of the world. Surely they must believe they are dong the will of God. The people who elected them certainly did not get to read this cynical correspondence with not a shred of human compassion in it. So, who authorised them?
Anyway, Blair says, conceding the omnipotence of the US, “The US will do what it must to defend itself. But it is easier with full international support;” What this is saying is curious. The US does what it must. Whatever that is. But it is easier “with full international support.” Again, it is just a question of getting people to support the US. Blair continues, saying, “the knock-on consequences of any action are more manageable with it;” Finally, “and we need the support to achieve some of the objectives.”
So, it is easier. Its consequences are more manageable. And we “need” it, for some unmentioned objectives.
And about the timing. “It is now,” Blair pontificates again, “that the world is in a state of shock;” This certainly sounds opportunistic, to say the very least. As if saying, let’s act before other people get to think about things. And he continues, “now that [the world] feels maximum sympathy for the US; now that it can be co-opted most easily”. And then afterwards it will be too late for “the world” to get out of the alliance. In Blair’s words not too respectful of potential allies, “Locking in the international community sooner rather than later is therefore critical.” But he aims to lock them in. It seems prison all round for allies, while enemies are taken out.
He says “The NATO statement is excellent. UN Security Council backing would be excellent and allow the US and allies the clear legal base to act.” This is the sentence that Blair uses in all his defence for his policies. He was trying to get Bush to go to the UN Security Council for a resolution.
He goes on: “A G8 meeting in the US may seem unnecessary or even a distraction. But the case for it is this: all G8 leaders would feel obliged to be totally supportive;” Here again, Blair is saying act while they are in a state of shock. He goes on to single some out. He says, “the Russians and others want it and if their wish is acceded to, will want to prove their support;” He then says something interesting, again showing how he is more interested in propaganda than anything else, “it allows the agenda in (2) to get off the ground, i.e. it kicks off a process that will lead to action; and it gives some diplomatic and political bustle,” we presume he means an appearance of moving about, “at a moment when we really need time and space before any military strike.” Here he rather gives away that there will be military strikes anyway. “The downside,” he continues, “would be any possibility of discord:” So Blair and Bush were expecting the other 6 to toe the line 100%. If not, no problem for Blair, “but that could be sorted and assessed before we go snap on it.”
He then goes on that “Russia and China are crucial. We have got to say to the big nations of the world: look we have a common cause in favour of stability and against chaos. Now is the time to put aside other geo-political differences and unite against a common enemy.” Their common cause is “in favour of stability and against chaos”. So, Blair was oblivious to his and Bush’s planned actions actually triggering the chaos we now see ISIS and others spreading in the places where the UK and US have destroyed society, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Whereas this was widely predicted.
Then Blair rounds up, saying, “My final point. We need the time to get this right.” They never did get it right. “But we also need the heat of the moment to get maximum support for what is done.” It is as though they had already wanted to do something, they know what it is, and suddenly have an excuse. This is truly frightening.
Then there is the curious choice of words in next sentence, “Point (1) has to be decided on evidential and military grounds.” “Decide on evidential grounds” sounds very much like a way of suggesting even this early that evidence be “sexed up”, to use the phrase used later. Anyway Blair says that “timing varies accordingly”. But, “Point (2) and (3) should be done in any event ASAP.” Without further ado, we must “not be deterred” by the fact that it is not only “Islamic terrorists” concerned, and that we should stop “pussyfooting” around on issues like democratic laws. We should impose sanctions on anyone who turns a blind eye to terrorism. We should find WMDs or those “trying to acquire them”. Plus of course, co-opt the rest of the world.
This letter shows that, to use their language, the UK, through Tony Blair was being “locked in” to the US wars. It also shows how badly the US needed a biggish ally like the UK, and how Blair new this.