Democracy, what is it good for?
Cameron wanted his own moment of warmongering history, as if he had spent the last decade secretly admiring Blair’s darkest legacy, but mostly because of that legacy, he didn’t get it (at least not yet). It doesn’t matter that he’s a Tory and Blair was Labour, such is the narrowing of today’s mainstream politics, this is about a class of people trying to get democratic backing for another unjustified war against a strategically important country, no matter how they try to dress it up as humanitarian.
Current Labour leader Miliband did a surprisingly proficient and uncharacteristic job of being the opposition, and has probably earned himself brownie points from those who had rightly come to see him, like the last few Labour leaders before him, as a disgrace to his party’s traditions. But ultimately we know he’ll carry on selling out workers if it means getting in to power, and it won’t take much more ‘evidence’ to convince him to support the killing of more Syrians.
As for those that are disappointed that parliament didn’t vote for war, you can bet they’re already thinking of ways to avoid this kind of inconvenience whenever a nice war is next on the cards. Expect then in the not-too-distant future some subtle changes being proposed to make it harder for democratically elected representatives to have a meaningful say on whether the country goes to war. Most commentators have naturally made the link to the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, but a more recent crisis perhaps tells us more about what this is all about.
A similar kind of rushed emergency vote happened in 2008 when the financial elites threatened there would be Armageddon if the elected representatives of the world’s most powerful, proudly democratic nations, didn’t do immediately – without wasting time on things like thinking and debating – what they told them was needed: which was to hand over the next few generations’ still-to-be-earned wealth to make good on all the unsustainable debts that the Masters of the Universe had bundled up, insured, chopped, diced, sold on and lost track of. But what has this got to do with a trumped-up war charge on Syria?
Quite a lot really. The reason why countries like America and Britain had come to rely so much on the ephemeral debt-based financial services economy, was because they were losing in their beloved competitive capitalist free market, as the real production of things that people actually need had adhered to capitalism’s rules by following the road of the highest levels of exploitation, away from the West and its pesky unions, holidays and lack of child labour. Whenever the system that we are told is without an alternative is failing particularly badly, or rather failing to keep the right people at the top, history has shown that those in power will happily turn away from the wonders of their free market and pursue either military or economic warfare to maintain their advantages.
In 2008, it was economic warfare that socialised all the bad debts and shifted more wealth from the poor to the rich than had ever been dared before. To get away with that though, they needed to be seen to have the consent of the people, and that meant asking the democratically elected representatives of the world’s most powerful nations to agree this was in everyone’s best interests. Then, the elected representatives dutifully did what they were told by the richest people in the world, and the people that elected them were pacified by the corporate media who helpfully explained that there was no other way to stop us all going back to live in caves.
Now though the UK Parliament has not done what it was supposed to do. When the consent of the people, via their democratically elected representatives, was sought to justify a military intervention that would supposedly warn the world’s despots against using chemical weapons against innocent children, and also – incidentally – further America’s attempts to maintain its faltering global superpower status by gaining increasing control over the Middle East, those democratically elected representatives said no. Who do these mere salaried politicians think they are? The French and the Americans had said they weren’t going to let voting and the will of the people have anything to do with whether they go to war, so something had gone very wrong with former Imperialist bully Great Britain. The French and the Americans are now having to put on their own democratic shows.
They say they need to send a clear signal to rogue states that they can’t act with impunity, and that the ‘legal’ channels to punishing those responsible (that they have ‘high confidence’ is the Assad regime) just won’t work, as Russia and China would veto any UN resolutions for war against Syria. Let’s then ask America if they want to remove the totally undemocratic veto powers of the richest and most militarised states – no, thought not. Talk about sending a clear message to rogue states – if you don’t like the rules, it’s ok to ignore them if it’s in your ‘national interests’. They also keep referring to a century old international treaty against the use of chemical weapons, while ignoring who has used them in the meantime (in Vietnam and Gaza for instance). They also keep mentioning nuclear weapons in order to keep the military threat to Iran bubbling away, though the only country to have used them to incinerate civilians doesn’t seem to have been judged as harshly as it might by the international community, though the winners do usually tend not to be.
All of this tells us that unfettered capitalism can’t keep the elites at the top on its own, and now it seems when they want to resort again to bombs and murder, democracy may be letting them down too. We are somehow used to accepting that when we vote for our government they won’t be able to make any meaningful decisions on the economy because its fate is controlled elsewhere. Will we come to accept that this is also the case with war? We know it will happen anyway if the Americans want it, but a sheen of democratic consensus is what gives them the succour to keep pretending they’re anything other than war mongering imperialists.
The political right in all countries detest ‘big government’; they hate the idea of ordinary people being properly represented in important decision making. They’ve pretty much always had their way with the economy, but now they haven’t been able to get the war they want quite so easily, all because of the same democratic structures that they pretend gives them moral legitimacy to blow up undemocratic countries. They must hate that. In the short term, they’ll be praying for some ‘told you so’ evidence to be produced from somewhere, or perhaps there’ll be another chemical weapon attack they can exploit, and the media can then run one of their ‘come on, let’s all get with the program’ campaigns. In the longer term though, you can guarantee they’ll be working out how they can shrink the power of democracy even further, to move decisions about war to sit alongside the economy, out of the reach of the people and their elected representatives.