Radar Love: Robbing the Cradle to Pay War Profiteers
Date: Monday, January 29 @ 18:59:59 UTC
Topic: Bush and Blair
By Chris Floyd, chris-floyd.com
January 27, 2007
I. Out of Africa - Into Corporate Coffers
Another day, yet another scandal involving the saintly Tony Blair and highly connected Anglo-American arms peddlers. The British prime minister, who, like George W. Bush, has made his sleeve-worn Christianity a major component of his political persona, is knee-deep in a corruption probe once again, just weeks after peremptorily quashing an official investigation into bribes, kickbacks and influence-peddling allegations involving his government, his corporate cronies and the Saudi royals. (See "War Profits Trump the Rule of Law," Truthout.org, December 22).
The new arms scandal is possibly even more morally egregious than the Saudi deal. While the latter involved backroom baksheesh between two wealthy governments and a fat-cat corporation, the latest imbroglio literally tore desperately needed aid from the hands of some of the world's poorest children. And as with the Saudi bribefest, it was Blair's personal intervention that put the profits of an arms dealer above all other considerations.
Last week, investigators with the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) unearthed new evidence of a $12 million slush fund allegedly used to bribe officials in Tanzania into approving a $50 million purchase of a military air traffic control system from Britain's biggest arms merchant, BAE Systems, in 2002. Tanzania, which has a grand total of eight military airplanes and one of the most crushing loads of national debt in the world, had to borrow even more money to finance the sale. The money came, naturally, from another of Britain's most august and politically wired institutions, Barclays Bank. Tanzania repaid this loan with money that Blair's government had given it, ostensibly to support public education.
In other words, public money earmarked to help lift Tanzania's children out of poverty was instead laundered into the coffers of BAE and Barclays, with Tony Blair acting as bagman. Again, Blair had to override the objections of own cabinet - and protests from the World Bank, which rarely sees a sweetheart deal for Western interests it doesn't like - in order to foist an extravagant, useless white elephant on the people of Tanzania. In that nation, as the Guardian notes, "life expectancy is only 43 years, the poorest third of the population live on less than a dollar a day, and 45 percent of public spending is provided by Western donors."
"[Blair] insisted on letting this go ahead, when it stank," former cabinet minister Clare Short told the Guardian. "It was always obvious that this useless project was corrupt." Short, who resigned from the cabinet in protest after the invasion of Iraq, said that Chancellor Gordon Brown, who will almost certainly become prime minister this year, had also opposed the sale. But Blair had forced through the license for the deal, she said. When BAE calls, Tony comes running.
And BAE's voice echoes loudly across the ocean as well. As we noted here last month, BAE has become one of the top 10 US military firms as well, through its acquisitions during the ever-profitable "war on terror" - including transactions with the Carlyle Group, the former corporate perch of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and still the current home of the family fixer, James Baker.
The new SFO evidence comes from the same Swiss banks where they were tracking down almost $2 billion in hush-hush slush funds that BAE had allegedly set aside for Saudi royals to win their continuing approval for a mammoth arms deal called, with cynical irony, "al-Yamanah" (Arabic for "the dove"). This cozy arrangement for fighter planes and other military aircraft and servicing has been going on for 18 years, and has been worth almost $80 billion for BAE so far. But first the Guardian, then SFO investigators, found evidence that BAE had used the secret stash to supply Saudi princes - every bit the equal of Bush and Blair in public piety - with luxury apartments, sumptuous holidays, designer cars (including a gold-plated Rolls-Royce, the Times reports), comely female companionship and other perks to keep them sweet on the deal. When the SFO at last gained entry to the inner sanctums of Swiss bankery, where the high and mighty (not to mention the down and dirty) have hid so many dark secrets for so many years, they also began looking into evidence that top BAE executives might have been dipping into the slush fund for various amenities as well.
Unfortunately, the probe was running parallel with high-wire negotiations for a $12 billion augmentation of al-Yamanah, with a new round of BAE-built fighter jets on the line. The Saudis, tired of the embarrassing revelations, played hardball, threatening to end all cooperation in the terror war or even cut diplomatic ties with Britain if the investigation was not quashed. Dick Cheney also weighed in, reportedly telling Tony that he needed to can all this "enforcement of the law" malarkey from the SFO and keep the Saudis happy. The dutiful PM then had his dutiful attorney general - his lifelong pal Peter Goldsmith, whom Blair had elevated to the House of Lords - make an unprecedented ruling to kill the investigation stone-dead. (Goldsmith, of course, is most famous for telling Blair that an invasion of Iraq would probably be illegal, in several different ways - then suddenly changing his mind after a "consultation" with the boys in the White House not long before the "shock and awe" began. Guess they made him an offer he couldn't refuse.)
Although the stench of the child-robbing Tanzanian deal has long lingered over a Blair government that came into office promising an "ethical foreign policy," it is only now that evidence of actual criminality is emerging. The SFO found that BAE had paid secret "commissions" of $12 million to a pair of Tanzanian middlemen who brokered the deal. The brokers received a more public $400,000 fee for the transaction, which is considered a "legitimate" rake-off in the arms-peddling world. But they deposited the $12 million in a Swiss bank account of one of BAE's many off-shore, tax-dodge front companies, Red Diamond.
One of the Tanzanian agents, Sailesh Vithlani, acknowledged the existence of the fund, but denied that he had used any of it to pay Tanzanian officials. When asked if he'd passed any of the cash to "third parties outside Tanzania" - such as, say, BAE executives or UK government officials - Vithlani chose a prudent silence. "When the UK police traveled to Tanzania ... we answered all their questions," he told the Guardian. BAE's chairman at the time of the deal, Sir Dick Evans, has been questioned by the SFO in the probe, the paper added.
Down in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, a "climate of fear" lingers over those with any knowledge of the BAE deal, the Guardian reports:
"One government contractor says: 'Our position here is too vulnerable to be seen talking.' A European from an NGO says: 'They'll throw me out if I go public.' And one knowledgeable journalist claims: 'If I put my name on the radar story, I could be killed.'"This grubby affair - replete with kickbacks, slush funds, death threats, cronyism and the infliction of needless suffering on defenseless people - is a striking example of the genuine priorities that lay behind the noble rhetoric of the world's most advanced democracies. The care and feeding - or rather, gorging - of the Anglo-American war merchants and their ancillaries trump all other considerations: basic morality, common decency, human rights, even the long-term national security of the states whose leaders feverishly pour weapons into the most volatile regions on the planet, fomenting chaos, corruption, breakdown and the inevitable blowback.
II. A Tale of Two Leaders
Blair, of course, was unbowed by the latest wave of sleaze charges breaking upon his sainted head. (Indeed, just as the new Tanzanian evidence emerged, the house of one of Blair's top aides was raided by police looking for evidence of a Watergate-style cover-up in the ongoing "cash-for-honors" scandal: the allegation that Blair sold royal honors to wealthy Labour Party donors in exchange for campaign funds.) In fact, in one of a series of major speeches he is giving in an attempt to establish his legacy before leaving office later this year, Blair exhorted his successors to carry on his belligerent policies, particularly the use of "hard power."
Blair's speech rang with distinct echoes of the neo-con "national greatness" rhetoric that glories in constant warfare in distant lands - and has been codified as the official "national security doctrine" of the United States government by Bush. Speaking on board the naval assault ship Albion, Blair was brutally honest in his call for Britain to remain a "war-fighting" nation, unlike those other sissy countries, such as Germany and France, who "have, effectively, except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to peacekeeping alone."
(And Lord knows, it certainly is a tragedy to have, say, the German armed forces dedicated solely to peacekeeping, isn't it? Wouldn't the world be a better place if the Germans returned to the front lines of warfighting for Western values, as they did with such gusto in the last century? We can only hope they will be inspired by Blair's martial spirit.)
But Blair - who, like almost every acolyte of war in the Bush administration and the neo-con networks and the right-wing media, has never served in the military or spent a single moment under fire - is keen to keep throwing British troops into cauldrons around the world, even if, as he candidly admits, they have no business being there.
"Our armed forces will be deployed in the lands of other nations far from home, with no immediate threat to our territory, in environments and in ways unfamiliar to them," Blair told his military audience. The audience responded somewhat tepidly to the waving of the bloody shirt. "They will usually fight alongside other nations, in alliance with them; notably, but probably not exclusively, with the USA," Blair said.
Ah, but why must Britain's youth be sent to kill and die in exotic, far-flung climes? Because "the frontiers of our security no longer stop at the Channel," says BAE bagman Blair. "What happens in the Middle East affects us. What happens in Pakistan, or Indonesia, or in the attenuated struggles for territory and supremacy in Africa, for example, in Sudan or Somalia - the new frontiers for our security are global." Of course, many people around the world - in the Middle East, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Asia and Africa - will doubtless wonder how this enlightened stance differs from the policies pursued by Blair's predecessors when they came calling in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In the above passage, Blair quotes almost verbatim from the charter document of the Bush administration: the September 2000 manifesto of the "Project for the New American Century," an empire-and-oil special-interest group whose members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Scooter Libby and Jeb Bush, among many others. In a report that called for implanting a US military presence in Iraq (regardless of whether Saddam Hussein was in power there or not), and which acknowledged that its "revolutionary" plans for vastly expanding the military-industrial establishment would be difficult to achieve unless the American people were "catalyzed" by a "new Pearl Harbor," PNAC asserted that America's frontiers now encompassed the entire world. Thus, American troops too would have to be sent into dozens of nations far from home, to serve as "the cavalry" on this new frontier.
A final echo of Bushist militarism came when Blair - calling for a foreign policy that "keeps our American alliance strong and is prepared to project hard as well as soft power" - finally got down to brass tacks: "The covenant between armed forces, government and people has to be renewed." This does not mean, as you might think, that the people should have a say as to when and where their children are to be sent to "the lands of other nations far from home, with no immediate threat to our territory." No, the new covenant means "increased expenditure on equipment, personnel and the conditions of our armed forces." It means, in other words, bigger bucks for BAE and the many American war firms, such as Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and others, who have been hard-wired into Britain's military-industrial complex.
This is the mind-set - and the depraved morality - of the leaders of the Anglo-American democracies in the 21st century: More war, more money for war, more money for the merchants of war, no matter who must suffer for it, no matter how badly it skews and perverts national policies.
Contrast this with the words of a former leader in the Anglo-American alliance: a Republican, a general, a conservative, a man who, unlike the prissy tough guys in the White House and 10 Downing Street, had actually known the horrors of war, and the corrosive, corrupting effects of even the most justified "good war." Recall the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as he left office in 1960 - and weep over the degeneration and brutalization that has afflicted these democracies in the ensuing decades:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His weekly political column, "Global Eye," ran in the Moscow Times from 1996 to 2006. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Bergen Record and many others. His story on Pentagon plans to foment terrorism won a Project Censored award in 2003. He is the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and is co-founder and editor of the "Empire Burlesque" political blog.