Peter Oborne writes:
One of the most enduring mysteries of the modern world is the continuing influence of the 'Neo-conservatives'. This is the name given to the political philosophy championed by George W. Bush and his British prime minister buddy, whom he once greeted with the words 'Yo, Blair . . .'
A dictionary definition of 'Neo-conservatism' is 'the assertive promotion of democracy and U.S. national interest in international affairs including through military means'. Of course, this was the thinking behind the West's invasion of Iraq 15 years ago — a fiasco which I believe was the most morally shameful international disaster of recent times.
Not only did it result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands (including 179 British service personnel), but it also led to years of political chaos in Iraq, to the calamity of the Syrian civil war and the rise of Islamic State. In any sane world, those responsible would now be pariahs — disgraced and discredited men ostracised by the media and reduced to writing their pitifully self-justifying memoirs. But we don't live in such sane times.
War-monger Blair seems to be a constant presence in BBC studios — this week alone he used the Syria crisis to justify his calamitous invasion of Iraq, arrogantly called for a second referendum on Brexit and basked in praise at an event to celebrate 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
With breathtaking hubris, Blair urged military intervention in Syria. And with his typically sneering attitude to democracy, he urged Theresa May to authorise the use of the British military without a Commons debate. He is supported by another man who pig-headedly fails to learn the lessons of history: his chief propagandist, the thuggish Alastair Campbell.
It was the mendacious Campbell, as Blair's spin doctor, who spread falsehoods about Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction' and masterminded the use of the notorious dossier on Iraq's weapons to support claims by Bush that gave a spurious justification for Britain going to war. There is not a jot of contrition from Campbell, who, when not also being given a comfy platform by the BBC, rages about Brexit and at critics of Blair from his splenetic Twitter account.
Meanwhile, the other Neo-conservative in the unwholesome New Labour troika that duped Britain into going to war is relatively silent. It is not hard to guess why. Peter Mandelson has close and lucrative business connections with one of Putin's cronies. His great 'friend', metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska, along with a number of the Russian's firms, has been placed on the U.S. Government's sanctions list in response to what Washington called Moscow's 'malign activities'. It is high time Mandelson — a member of the House of Lords — explained publicly the nature of his connections with someone so close to the Kremlin.
But the toxic influence of Neo-conservatism is not just confined to Labour. As a younger politician, former chancellor George Osborne was a junior member of that clique. A leopard doesn't change his spots. Today, he is demanding military action in Syria. An editorial in the London Evening Standard, which he edits, was as trenchant as it was misguided. It thundered: 'Britain should take part in air strikes against Assad's forces without holding a parliamentary vote.'
Across the Atlantic, although no one would ever describe Donald Trump as having a clear political philosophy, his new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a notoriously hardline Neo-con. As one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, he refuses to apologise for that war. His presence in the White House is an added threat to world peace.
The legendary French diplomat Charles Talleyrand famously remarked about the House of Bourbon that they had 'learnt nothing and forgotten nothing'. The same applies to the Neo-conservatives as they press for the West to intervene yet again in the Middle East. The first and biggest mistake in Iraq was not to have a proper post-invasion strategy. After Saddam fell, the country degenerated into chaos and the region into a furnace of terrorism.
Likewise now, Western governments seem to have little idea of the long-term purpose of any intervention in Syria. What are the targets? What is their long-term strategy? How do we avoid an escalation into war with Russia? We are not told. What's more, there are chilling echoes of what happened with Iraq. Blair and Bush ordered military action before weapons inspectors had completed their task. Had they waited, they would have discovered no 'WMDs' and thus no cause for war.
With regard to Syria, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are due today in the town of Douma, where at least 40 people, including women and children, were killed in an apparent chemical attack last Saturday. They should be allowed to continue fact-finding. It cannot be stressed too much that military intervention in Syria, like that in Iraq, would be illegal under international law. The warmongering Neo-cons never seem to mind much about matters of legality. But the rest of us should.
For her part, Theresa May, as a member of the opposition, voted for the Iraq war in 2003. This week, there were welcome signs that she might be erring on the side of caution in Syria. Undoubtedly she is aware that Britain's defence chiefs are privately reluctant to embark on military action without a clear objective. They understand that things could spin catastrophically out of control.
Some commentators have irresponsibly spoken of a possible 'World War III'. Such feckless talk dishonours the tens of millions who died in the two terrible conflicts of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there is a genuine danger of an escalation to military confrontation between the United States and Russia. With such high stakes, I believe it would be a scandal if MPs are not called back early from recess to debate the issue in Parliament.
I rebuked Jeremy Corbyn two weeks ago in this column for being soft on anti-Semitism. But he is right that Parliament must assess all the evidence before Britain embarks on war, as is that Tory big beast Ken Clarke. Mrs May knows that if she joins Trump in any Syrian military adventure and it goes wrong, she will pay a heavy political price.
The developments of the past days have reminded me of the movie Night Of The Living Dead. It tells how zombies come out of their graves to terrorise people. This week, we have witnessed several zombies emerge from their political graves to demand this country goes to war with Assad. The tragedy is, this is real life, not a Hollywood fiction. Neo-conservatives have turned the Middle East into a charnel house for the past 15 years. I pray they don't get their way again and that wisdom prevails.