Finally it happens. The British Army retreats from Basra City to the airport. Surely the next step would be to fly the remaining service personnel home to safety? (When it happens, it will not be for long – Afghanistan awaits them.)
It is now clear that Britain is slowly exiting Iraq. What remains is the battle over who lost the occupation. The former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, is in no doubt that it was the fault of the American government, and Major General Tim Cross is in agreement. The American government is publicly blaming interference from Iran (which is rich, coming from the American government). It seems that in private, the Bush administration is pointing the finger at Britain. The resistance in Iraq derives mainly from the Iraqi people, and blaming Iran helps build the American case for intervention in the affairs of Iraq’s next-door-neighbour.
The row between this troubled couple, Britain and America, is akin to two bald men fighting over a comb that doesn’t even exist. The imaginary comb – grateful Iraqis prostrating themselves to American imperialism – was dreamt up by the marketing boys in the States. And now that the armed forces are exiting Iraq, the Tories are talking up a full inquiry, threatening to revisit the lies of the past. This might just be pre-election blether, but it could be seriously damaging to Anglo-American relations if an official investigation into the invasion of Iraq ever takes place. Will the notion of “humanitarian” aggression survive the break-up of the special relationship?
Will the relationship even end? It would appear that the British ruling class has a choice between the United States and the European Union.* Getting closer to allies in Europe now means integration into a multinational state. The European constitution, rejected in France and Holland, has returned as a “treaty”. Pressure is on Brown to allow a public vote, as promised in the days when the “amending treaty” was called by its rightful name.
Again opportunistically, the Tories are calling for the referendum to go ahead. Some New Labour ministers are said to be supportive, but all must be praying that another country rejects the “treaty” first – there is no way, short of widespread fraud, that a public vote could return anything other than an overwhelming “no”.
Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, has already called for the referendum to go ahead. Perhaps he values New Labour’s hegemony in Westminster more than a capitalist superstate in Europe. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.
The difficulty over Europe could be the reason why Douglas Alexander officially and clearly denied there were plans for a snap election. Other motives might include the anger felt by the labour movement at Brown’s continuation of New Labour’s neo-liberal agenda. Perhaps if Brown can ride out the conference season and deal with the Europe issue, he will be ready to call a general election in the spring of next year.
Or perhaps he’s planning to wait two and a half years? Who knows.
What is certain is that the ruling class is taken with Brown’s style: continued class collaboration, rather than confrontation. The Tories might have promised to hold back an attack on the public sector for a few years if they win the next election, but Brown is better placed to hold back working class militantcy.
Although one side of British imperialist interests dictates the necessity for an alliance with US imperialism, another side of those interests dictates the need for closer unity with the West European imperialist powers grouped inside the European Union.
It isn’t an “either or” scenario for the British bourgeoisie, but as it becomes ever more clear that the US is in terminal decline, Europe looks like the best option. Hence my wondering about Brown making a tacit turn against America in the event of a referendum on the European consti-treaty.