Look, I too am also opposed to the death penalty. But sometimes even I wonder if there should be an exception made. For Tony Blair.
After all, there we were last week condemning Saddam Hussein for causing the deaths of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, when our own Prime Minister has also been responsible for the deaths of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Okay, I’m not serious. Hanging’s too good for him. It would be much better to see the PM arraigned before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague; brought to book for illegal war, based on deception and the wilful distortion of intelligence reports. Oh, and let’s see Alistair Campbell and Lord Hutton in there too, as accessories after the fact.
Come, you say, I shouldn’t make invidious comparisons. Tony Blair is a democratically elected leader of a mature parliamentary democracy, and Saddam was a bloody tyrant who ruled by fear. But I’m not entirely sure that the dead in the mortuaries of Baghdad are all that bothered about the distinction. Or rather their families, because the dead of course don’t talk back.
But others talk on their behalf. We are now being warned of 1600 Islamist terrorists at large in Britain determined to blow us all up in retribution for what has happened. The head of M15, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (why do British spooks always have such daft names?) didn’t spell it out, but many of these individuals will be British citizens. The threat she assured us will “last a generation”.
I seem to remember Tony Blair once talking about the “blood price” we will have to pay for supporting the Americans and I think we can now begin to see what he meant. The first instalment was paid in the form of 121 British soldiers lives. The second was 56 killed in the London Tube bombings in July 1995. The next may be very much larger. It’s only a matter of time because we are the prime target of every jihadist on the planet.
Why? Firstly, because we were the only country to back the US invastion unconditionally. Secondly, because we are a lot easier to get at than America. This crowded little island on the edge of mainland Europe is easy to infiltrate. We have a large Muslim population, and a hundred thousands people travel, quite legitimately, between here and Pakistan every year. All the terrorists need to do is to convert a handful of them - young impressionable men with more courage than sense - and you have the next London bombing.
How many will have been turned just by the acquittal of Nick Griffin of the BNP? Personally, I don’t believe that what he said about Islam was an incitement to racial hatred. But the sight of a jubilant British racist on the television screens condemning the Muslim religion will fuel the anger of young men in places like Forest Gate, where they say there is one law for Muslims and another for whites.
Soon, if the PM has his way, it will b e possible for those young Muslims to be locked away for the equivalent of a six month sentence without any charge. Merely on suspicion of being terrorist suspects. The resentment among Muslims over measures like ninety day detention will become increasingly vocal and possibly violent, poisoning race relations and spreading fear among the whites. Meanwhile, the Islamist web-sites will continue to pump out images of murdered children from Baghdad to Beit Hanoun, fuelling the sense of Muslim grievance.
There is a horrible inevitability to all this. It was what so many of us predicted would happen when the PM took us into this crazy military adventure. That it would inflame the Muslim world, reduce Iraq to civil war, provide a recruiting sergeant for international terrorism and bring it home.
Britain was used by the US Republicans as a human shield - to guard the fiction that America wasn’t acting alone and in defiance of international opinion. Tony Blair led us into Iraq, willingly, unquestioningly. And even now, as America “changes course” following the collapse of the Republicans in Congress, we are still sitting there, stupidly, waiting to be told what to do. Sitting ducks in someone else’s war.
In all coverage of the Iraq issue in America since the Congressional elections, have you heard anyone mention Britain? Has Tony Blair been called to the White House to discuss the exit strategy? Is Condoleezza Rice shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic keeping Britain up to speed? No . Not even a “Yo Blair!”. All the British PM gets is a conference call to Senator Baker’s Iraq Study Group.
The interests of the United Kingdom come so far down the priority list in the State Department, that we might as well be the Marsh Arabs in 1991. Collateral damage in America’s war with “international terror”.
Of course, we will hear Churchillian nonsense from Tony Blair about how it has fallen to us to stand against this modern menace, as we stood alone in the Battle of Britain. Ministers like John Reid repeatedly compare Islamist terrorism to Nazism in World War 11. But Hitler wasn’t born in Bradford, and Churchill would never have been stupid enough to invade a Muslim country by mistake.
Tony Blair’s only hope for posterity is that the next domestic terrorist atrocity will provide some kind of perverse vindication of his rhetoric. That he will be able to say: “There, told you so.” Only I begin seriously to doubt that he will get away with playing that trick again. The British people have moved on. They see what is happening in America, and they rightly wonder what we are supposed now to be fighting for.
Last week, I asked where parliament stood. Well, the SNP have tabled an imaginative motion on the Queen’s Speech demanding that the government make a full statement of its strategy on Iraq. About time. This is based on a Liberal motion tabled in 1923, the last time we occupied Iraq, and all credit to Alex Salmond for keeping up the pressure, even if Labour loyalists disown it.
The peace of these islands has been placed in jeopardy as a direct result of our supporting an unjust war in which Britain had no strategic interest. Iraq was America’s obsession; indeed; George W. Bush’s obsession. It diverted effort from the pursuit of Bin Laden and the Taleban into the destruction of a Muslim country which had nothing whatever to do with 9/11.
And as we wait for the ignominious withdrawal, consider this: our own intelligence agencies are now warning us, in effect, that if there is to be another 9/11, the chances are that it will be in Britain, not America. That’s the real death penalty.