Reassessing Obama’s legacy of restraint

Paul Miller writes: Obama’s foreign policy worldview came from his self-conscious effort to learn the lessons of history — specifically, the lessons of the George W. Bush administration — which no one will fault. As anyone who has ever taken a class in history or political science knows, Obama knew George Santayana’s famous aphorism that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” But learning the lessons of history can be difficult, even deceptive. Obama does not seem to have known Robert Jervis’ important riposte to Santayana that “those who remember the past are condemned to make the opposite mistake.”

Obama made the opposite mistake. In his eagerness to avoid making Bush’s mistakes, he made a whole new set of mistakes. He over-interpreted the recent past, fabricating the myth about a hyper-interventionist establishment. As a result, he overreacted to the situation he inherited in 2009 and, crucially, never adjusted during his eight years in office. In this sense and others, he contrasts starkly with Bush, who made major changes in his second term. The result is that Obama retrenched when he should have engaged. He oversaw the collapse of order across the Middle East and the resurgence of great power rivalry in Europe while mismanaging two wars and reducing America’s military posture abroad to its smallest footprint since World War II. Despite the paeans of Obama’s admirers, this is not a foreign policy legacy future presidents will want to emulate. [Continue reading…]

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Xenophobes can’t protect America; they just turn friends into foes

The Australian children’s author, Mem Fox, describes her treatment by immigration officials in Los Angeles International Airport. She writes: The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!”

He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard.

They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all.

I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath.

In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. [Continue reading…]

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) promotes itself as a military friendly employer and actively recruits veterans.

The numerous reports of zealous officials mistreating people who are viewed with suspicion primarily because they are not American, makes me wonder what proportion of these officials have traveled overseas for any other purpose than to engage in war.

If your only experience of the wider world has been the daily fear of getting blown up by an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan, then to be placed on “America’s frontline” is an invitation to turn the war-fighter’s fears into a permanent way of life.

 

While Trumpsters think they’re making America safer, the much more predictable effect of the climate of paranoia and xenophobia the White House is fueling is to turn the United States into one of the least desirable tourist destinations in the world.

The Guardian reports: Interest in travel to the US has “fallen off a cliff” since Donald Trump’s election, according to travel companies who have reported a significant drop in flight searches and bookings since his inauguration and controversial travel ban.

Data released this week by travel search engine Kayak reported a 58% decline in searches for flights to Tampa and Orlando from the UK, and a 52% decline in searches for Miami. Searches for San Diego were also down 43%, Las Vegas by 36% and Los Angeles 32%.

Though flight prices are holding firm (they usually take weeks rather than days to adjust to consumer trends), Kayak has identified a knock-on effect on average hotel prices. It found prices in Las Vegas are down by 39% and New York City by 32%.

It is the latest in a string of reports from the travel industry that suggests a “Trump slump”, with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimating that since being elected President Trump has cost the US travel industry $185m in lost revenue. [Continue reading…]

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Trump betrays Iraqis who helped the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal reports: Iraqi interpreter Laith al-Haydar received multiple death threats for working with the American military at the height of the war in his country. In return for helping the U.S., he and tens of thousands of other Iraqis were promised U.S. immigration visas.

Nearly four years after he applied, the 41-year-old father of two is still waiting for a visa — and now faces a new setback: President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending immigration from several countries with a Muslim majority, including Iraq, and a temporary ban on all refugees.

Mr. Haydar is among roughly 58,000 Iraqi applicants for U.S. immigrant visas and refugee resettlement under federal programs that promised to fast-track entry for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government and other institutions deemed critical to the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, according to the State Department. A similar program for Afghans who’ve worked with the U.S. government may also be at risk.

At least one Iraqi and two Afghans who worked with the U.S. government and also qualify for expedited immigration visas were turned away from American ports of entry on Friday and Saturday, a State Department official said, adding that several more were prevented from boarding planes to the U.S. [Continue reading…]

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Support for refugees is not charity; it contributes to the global stability on which all nations depend

David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, writes: President Trump’s executive order suspending the entire resettlement program for 120 days and banning indefinitely the arrival of Syrian refugees is a repudiation of fundamental American values, an abandonment of the United States’ role as a humanitarian leader and, far from protecting the country from extremism, a propaganda gift to those who would plot harm to America.

The order also cuts the number of refugees scheduled for resettlement in the United States in the fiscal year 2017 from a planned total of about 110,000 to just 50,000. Founded on the myth that there is no proper security screening for refugees, the order thus thrusts into limbo an estimated 60,000 vulnerable refugees, most of whom have already been vetted and cleared for resettlement here. The new policy urgently needs rethinking.

Refugees coming to the United States are fleeing the same violent extremism that this country and its allies are fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere. Based on recent data, a majority of those selected for resettlement in America are women and children. Since the start of the war, millions of Syrians have fled not just the military of President Bashar al-Assad but also the forces of Russia, Iranian militias and the Islamic State.

There are also thousands of Afghans and Iraqis whose lives are at risk because of assistance they offered American troops stationed in their countries. Of all the refugees that my organization, the International Rescue Committee, would be helping to resettle this year, this group, the Special Immigrant Visa population, makes up a fourth. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military operations are biggest motivation for homegrown terrorism, FBI study finds

The Intercept reports: A secret FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.

The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”

Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel. [Continue reading…]

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How the Pentagon paid a British PR firm $500 million for top secret Iraq propaganda

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda programme in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.

The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.

Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”

Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.

Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.

In the first media interview any Bell Pottinger employee has given about the work for the US military in Iraq, video editor Martin Wells – who no longer works for the company – told the Bureau his time in Camp Victory was “shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”

The firm’s output was signed off by former General David Petraeus – then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq – and on occasion by the White House, Wells said. [Continue reading…]

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Chemical weapons are being used in Iraq – but the U.S. won’t raise hell about it

By Michelle Bentley, Royal Holloway

The group known as Islamic State (IS) reportedly used a sulpur-mustard gas against US troops in Iraq. It was detected in a black oily substance found on a rocket fired at an American airbase in Qayyarah, south of the city of Mosul.

None of the soldiers stationed at the airbase – deployed there to support a forthcoming Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from IS – have suffered any symptoms of mustard gas poisoning. The base took decontamination measures after the rocket hit.

This is not the group’s first chemical strike. Reports are mounting up that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are now part of the organisation’s arsenal – and all thanks to US foreign policy.

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the regional chaos that followed is a major reason why IS emerged in the first place; had the war never happened, the group might never have existed, and it certainly wouldn’t have been able to tear through and take control of huge swathes of the country.

So at last, the US has finally found WMD in Iraq, but only after its own actions allowed them to spring up there again.

[Read more…]

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America has spent almost $5 trillion on wars since 9/11

The Intercept reports: The total U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet.

Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.

The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this: [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military now says ISIS leader was held in Abu Ghraib

The Intercept reports: In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.

At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.

Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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How many guns did the U.S. lose track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of thousands

C.J. Chivers reports: Early this year, a Facebook user in Baghdad using the name Hussein Mahyawi posted a photograph of a slightly worn M4 assault rifle he was offering for sale. Veterans of the latest war in Iraq immediately recognized it. It was a standard American carbine equipped with a holographic sight, a foregrip that was military-issue during the occupation and a sticker bearing a digital QR code used by American forces for inventory control. Except for one detail — an aftermarket pistol grip, the sort of accessory with which combatants of the current generation often pimp their guns — it was a dead ringer for any of the tens of thousands of M4s the Pentagon handed out to Iraqi security forces and various armed militias after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003. And here it was on the open market, ready for bids.

Was this a surprise? No. A little more than four years after the United States withdrew all its military forces from Iraq, and not quite two years after a smaller number of American troops began returning to the country to help fight the Islamic State, the open sale of such an M4 was part of Iraq’s day-to-day arms-trafficking routine. Mahyawi’s carbine was another data point attesting to an extraordinary and dangerous failure of American arms-trafficking and public accountability and to a departure from a modern military’s most basic practice: keeping track of the guns.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has handed out a vast but persistently uncountable quantity of military firearms to its many battlefield partners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today the Pentagon has only a partial idea of how many weapons it issued, much less where these weapons are. Meanwhile, the effectively bottomless abundance of black-market weapons from American sources is one reason Iraq will not recover from its post-invasion woes anytime soon.

An inkling of just how expansive these arms transfers were, and how stubbornly resistant they are to precise measurement, is apparent in a new attempt at weapons-tallying compiled in a project led by Iain Overton. Overton is a former BBC journalist who is now the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, a charity based in London that researches and lobbies against weapons proliferation and violence against civilians; he is also the author of “The Way of the Gun,” a dark examination of some of the roles firearms play in modern society. With a string of Freedom of Information Act requests that began last year, he and his small team of researchers pooled 14 years’ worth of Pentagon contract information related to rifles, pistols, machine guns and their associated attachments and ammunition, both for American troops and for their partners and proxies. They then crosschecked the data against other public records. Overton is releasing the data and his analysis today. It covers 412 contracts and merits pause for reflection as the parties to the international Arms Trade Treaty gather this week in Geneva. The treaty, which took effect in 2014 and of which the United States is a signatory, is intended to promote transparency and responsible action in the transfer of conventional arms and to reduce their diversion to unintended hands — exactly what the United States often failed to do in recent wars. [Continue reading…]

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Middle East bishops say U.S. has ‘moral responsibility’ to help Christians

Crux reports: Catholic leaders in the Middle East say that the United Sates has the “moral responsibility” to help stop the savagery against Christians in the region, and to provide assistance to help them stay in the region, because it was the U.S. that unleashed the chaos in the first place.

“They were the ones who invaded [Iraq] in 2003 and changed the whole region, and they had the moral responsibility to fix the situation before leaving the country,” said the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Matti Warda.

Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, the “martyred city” of Syria, said that the U.S. has a two-fold responsibility. On the one hand, he asked the U.S. government to ensure that the aid being sent to the region is also distributed among Christians, which, he said, means entrusting a portion of it to the churches.

As the system is set up, he said, all the aid goes to the refugee camps. Yet Christians see their lives at risk there, so they generally choose to seek shelter at churches and convents instead.

“If the help went to the churches, it wouldn’t mean that they’re giving special rights to Christians, but that they’re actually helping everyone,”Jeanbart said at a press conference held on Wednesday during the Knights of Columbus’s 134th Supreme Convention, which took place in Toronto, Canada.

The many Christian churches in the region – in Syria, there are six different Catholic rites alone – fund schools, hospitals, and provide shelter to all refugees, without distinguishing between Muslims, Yazidis or Christians, he said. [Continue reading…]

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Capt. Humayun Khan, whose grieving parents have been criticized by Trump, was ‘a soldier’s officer’

The Washington Post reports: Capt. Humayun Khan didn’t need to be out there that day.

Not all officers at Forward Operating Base Warhorse would choose to spend that kind of time outside the gates of their fortified compound, checking on lower-ranking soldiers pulling security detail, said Marie Legros, a staff sergeant posted at the facility in eastern Iraq in 2004.

But Khan, a Army reserve officer and naturalized American on his first deployment to Iraq, was a hands-on supervisor who wanted to know what was going on with the men and women under his command. It was early summer 2004, and conditions in Iraq — including in the restive eastern province of Diyala — were growing more dangerous by the day.

“That’s the thing,” Legros said. “He went just to check on his troops.”

What’s more, June 8 was Khan’s day off, said Crystal Selby, a sergeant at the time, who like Khan worked the midnight-to-noon force protection shift. Selby said she had tried to convince the 27-year-old captain that he needed his rest, but he was adamant that she drive him to the base’s gate so he could see how the guard personnel were doing.

“I dropped him off there, and it wasn’t five minutes after that it happened,” Selby said in a phone interview, her voice choked with emotion.

Khan was standing with other troops outside Warhorse that morning when an orange taxi came speeding toward them. Instructing his soldiers to get down, Khan moved toward the vehicle, motioning for it to stop. Before he could reach the car, an improvised bomb went off, killing Khan and two Iraqi civilians in addition to the two suicide bombers. A dozen more people were wounded.

For fellow members of the 1st Infantry Division’s 201st Forward Support Battalion, the loss of an officer who, according to his comrades, was universally liked and respected was a devastating moment relatively early in their deployment in Iraq.

“He was just that type of person, wanting to make sure his soldiers were okay,” Legros said. He was a “soldier’s officer,” she said, personally invested in those serving under him. [Continue reading…]

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Khizr Khan’s loss: A grieving father of a soldier struggles to understand

On March 22, 2005, the Washington Post reported: Khizr Khan is a lawyer by training and demeanor, an articulate man, a careful and methodical thinker who is trying at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday to make sense of the fact that his 27-year-old son is gone forever.

It’s a workday, so he finds someplace quiet, an empty conference room on the 13th floor of the office building where he works near the White House. He shuts the door, sits at a big empty table, picks up a pen.

He and his wife would talk often to their three boys about why they decided to come to the United States, he began. It was the 1970s, and Pakistan was under military rule. They came to Silver Spring to have more freedom and opportunity.

“It sounds cliche,” said Khan, 54, “but that is the story.”

His son was always reading books about Thomas Jefferson; that part of his passion was certainly his father’s doing. When the boys were small, Khan would take them to the Jefferson Memorial. He’d have them stand there and read the chiseled, curving words about swearing hostility against tyrannies over the minds of men.

But Humayun had a serious-minded disposition all his own, even as a little boy. He was the middle one, the comforter, the one the cousins would run to when they were being picked on. He gave swimming lessons to disabled children in high school. He had a sense of responsibility that his father cannot quite account for, other than to say that’s just the way he was.

“We always depended on his balanced approach to things,” Khan said, fidgeting with the pen.

It was not exactly surprising, he continued, that Humayun quoted Jefferson in his admissions essay for the University of Virginia, a line about freedom requiring vigilance. It was a bit surprising, though, when he signed up for ROTC and told his dad that after graduation in 2000, he wanted to join the Army. [Continue reading…]

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Plans to bring Contempt of Parliament charges against Tony Blair for lying about war in Iraq

 

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The war in Iraq gave birth to today’s ‘trust no one’ politics

Andrew Rawnsley writes: The domestic consequences of Iraq were beyond Chilcot’s remit, but they should be in our scope when we try to explain how Britain ended up in the dark place where it stands today.

The Iraq war is a crucial element of the context that put the Labour party in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn. Anger about the war on the left has played a huge role in obscuring the achievements of New Labour’s time in office. The minimum wage. The peace settlement in Northern Ireland. The record sums invested in public services. The resources redistributed to the less privileged. Continuous economic growth for every quarter of the Blair premiership.

In many minds, the shadow of Iraq loomed so large and so black that it eclipsed many other things that progressives ought to have been proud of. In the leadership contest that followed the 2010 election defeat, the most damaging charge against David Miliband was that he had voted for the war. His brother, Ed, who was conveniently not in parliament at the time, exploited that and won the contest. Eddism then begat Corbynism.

In the leadership contest after the 2015 defeat, Jeremy Corbyn made a large feature of his opposition to the war, successfully tapping the fury that still burns so intensely among many on the left. As I write, Mr Corbyn is continuing to insist that he can carry on as leader even when four out of five of his parliamentary colleagues have publicly declared him unfit for the job. Tom Watson, the fixer of fixers, has just declared that even he cannot broker a way out of the deadlock. It is quite possible that the outcome of the struggle to unseat Mr Corbyn will also be decided by positions taken on Iraq.

It is said by those who think Angela Eagle should not be the leadership challenger that she is disqualified from the role because she voted for the invasion. A war begun more than a decade ago still has that much reverberation in Labour politics.

The long after-tremors of the Iraq war were also felt in the vote to leave the European Union. One seismic event was a trigger for another earthquake 13 years later. We know that a fierce element of the motivation of many Out voters was anger with political “elites”. That building of rage has had many drivers over recent years from the parliamentary expenses scandal to the pain of austerity. One of those sources was surely Iraq, an episode notably corroding of public faith in government because the war was sold on the basis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

I have never bought the simplistic explanation that Tony Blair simply made it all up. Sir John Chilcot directs most of the blame towards MI6 for supplying intelligence that turned out to be wrong or sheer fabrication by duplicitous sources. Mr Blair’s culpability was representing that intelligence as sound when it was the opposite. Had the mistakes just been down to one over-messianic leader, as many of the other players have sought to suggest to displace culpability from themselves, it would not have been such a damaging episode in our public life. It wasn’t just the infamous dossier and it wasn’t just his personal miscalculations. Iraq was a collective failure of the political, diplomatic, intelligence and military establishments.

I don’t agree with the nihilistic ridiculing of expertise that powered the Out campaign to victory, but I sure can see why “trust no one” had such appeal to such a large audience. [Continue reading…]

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Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over Iraq war

The Guardian reports: Tony Blair could face a motion of contempt in the House of Commons over the 2003 invasion of Iraq – a motion that Jeremy Corbyn has said he would probably support.

The Conservative MP David Davis, backed by the SNP’s Alex Salmond, has said he will present on Thursday the motion accusing the former prime minister of misleading parliament. MPs could debate the issue before the summer if it is accepted by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow.

Sir John Chilcot said in his long-awaited report on the Iraq invasion that the legal basis for the war was reached in a way that was “far from satisfactory”, but he did not explicitly say the war was illegal.

Davis told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the motion would say Blair held the house in contempt over the 2003 invasion. He said that if his motion was accepted by Bercow it could be debated before parliament’s summer recess.

Davis said: “It’s a bit like contempt of court, essentially by deceit. If you look just at the debate alone, on five different grounds the house was misled – three in terms of the weapons of mass destruction, one in terms of the UN votes were going, and one in terms of the threat, the risks. He might have done one of those accidentally, but five?”

Salmond said he believed Corbyn’s support would mean the motion had enough cross-party support. “No parliament worth its salt tolerates being misled,” Scotland’s former first minister told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

He said Blair’s promise to George Bush that he would be “with you, whatever” meant Blair had been “saying one thing to George W Bush in private, and a totally different thing to parliament and people in public”. He said Blair’s actions were “a parliamentary crime, and it’s time for parliament to deliver the verdict”. [Continue reading…]

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