The Vassal’s Revolt

Tariq Ali

Rejoice. Rejoice. The first chain of vassaldom has been broken. They will repair it, no doubt, but let’s celebrate independence while it lasts. For the first time in fifty years, the House of Commons has voted against participating in an imperial war. Aware of the deep and sustained opposition inside the country and within the military establishment, members of parliament decided to represent the will of the people. The speeches of all three leaders were pretty pathetic. Neither the opposition amendment nor the war resolution could muster enough support. That’s all we needed. The thirty odd Tory dissidents who made British participation impossible by voting against their leadership deserve our thanks. Perhaps now the BBC will start reflecting popular opinion instead of acting as the voice of the warmongers.

Given Britain’s status abroad as Washington’s bloodshot adjutant, this vote will have a global resonance. In the United States itself the vote in London will increase the disquiet, evident already in off-the-record briefings to the press saying there is no hard evidence linking the regime to the chemical weapons attack. ‘What?’ American citizens will ask each other. ‘Our most loyal follower, deserting us just before the strikes?’ What does it all mean and shouldn’t we be debating the issue? Obama’s language in interviews yesterday was no different from that of Bush. He actually said that the reason for the planned assault was that these chemical weapons ‘might be used against the United States’. By whom? By al-Qaida etc. Excuse me. Aren’t they on your side in this particular conflict and isn’t the real aim of the strikes to strengthen one side against another in this ugly civil war?

Meanwhile in Europe too, the vote in the British Parliament reverberates like a shock wave. The German elite (barring its Green component) tends to be nervous of wars. This leaves François Hollande as Washington’s only enthusiastic backer in the first tier EU. Who’s the Trojan mule in Europe now? Cameron was blaming Blair and the Iraq War for the scepticism that prevails in the country. True. But let’s not forget that the Tories were solidly behind that war as well. I remember debating the ghastly Gove on television at the time: he was worse than most Bush apologists in the United States.

Its true that having been lied to once, people are less inclined to believe the government on these matters again. Cameron put on a passable Blair imitation, but the times they are a changing. He couldn’t convince his own party.

Meanwhile, Washington is determined to go it alone with the French in tow. That is why too much celebration is premature. The Stop the War coalition in Britain has no equivalent elsewhere in Europe or America. Even in isolated times (the invasion and bombing of Libya, for example) the pressure was kept up. The demonstration called for tomorrow is even more necessary than before, to celebrate our triumph here without forgetting that Obama is off to war again.


  • 1 September 2013 at 8:37pm
    SpinningHugo says:
    "Rejoice. Rejoice."

    Not intervening was, and is, probably the least awful of bad options, but as incendiary bombs hit primary schools, chemical weapons are used with impunity in a way the Nazis did not dare, and international law is degraded by gangster regimes in Russia and China, rejoicing is not what anyone rational should be doing.

    Only someone whose perspective has been distorted by decades of anti-imperialism (when there are no empires) and anti-Americanism (which is as rational as being anti-Asia) could even think of beginning a comment piece in such a way.

    Stomach turning.

    • 1 September 2013 at 9:20pm
      DanJ says: @ SpinningHugo
      Spot on. Is there anything more sickening - and illuminating of their real character - than the sight of people celebrating this situation? 'too much celebration is premature' - unbelievable stuff

    • 3 September 2013 at 11:47pm
      William Gills says: @ SpinningHugo
      Anti-Americanism (or anti-USAism)is just as rational as was, in the 1930s and early 1940s, anti-Nazism. Being anti-US is to be aginst the US criminal government and against US imperialism, which is still alive and kicking (although in its death throws). I mean, if Obama were the president of any other country in the world and doing what he does, he would be persecuted as a war criminal and for crimes against humanity, and would spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison, along with the Bushes, and the Clintons. But of course, being the president of the greatest criminal, rogue, pariah nation that ever existed makes him immune and concedes to him the priviledge of total impunity, at least for as long as the world continues to look the other way. When a US president (or ex-president) ends up in prison for life for crimes committed, then, truly, "Rejoice. Rejoice."

  • 1 September 2013 at 9:32pm
    deMan says:
    I agree completely with the above comments. The LRB would do well to drop the whole NLR crew who seem to be gradually taking over the magazine. Entryism perhaps?

    • 3 September 2013 at 8:08pm
      gkn says: @ deMan
      What is the point of the NLR? When has it EVER advocated anything of any practical use that would ameliorate the conditions of the poorest and most oppressed? Tariq Ali & his comrades' instinctive anti-americanism is a brain dead response to the complexities & interdependencies of the world. What would Ali do in the fraught circumstances of Syria & the wider middle east imbroglio?

    • 3 September 2013 at 11:58pm
      William Gills says: @ deMan
      Excuse me, but it was the presence of the "NLR crew" that got me to drop the NYRB and become a very happy subscriber/reader of the LRB. And I live in NYC.

    • 4 September 2013 at 4:30pm
      John Cowan says: @ William Gills
      There's also the point that the NYRB is the Review of Each Others' Books.

  • 2 September 2013 at 1:35am
    farthington says:
    I beg your pardon.
    There are no empires? And 'anti-Americanism' is meaningless? What?
    International law degraded by gangster regimes in Russia and China?
    Have the above commenters been in Rip Van Winkle mode?

    Which countries have most abused the processes of the UN and international law?

    Did the US and its British satrap invade Iraq illegally to bring democracy there? Ditto with the Western alliance into Libya? Which countries benefit from a string of failed states in the Middle East and North Africa?

    Which country is the key source of the nurturing of Islamic extremism and why is it an integral part of the Western alliance?

    To claim that Ali is celebrating the atrocities in Syria is fatuous and offensive. He is celebrating the rare exercise of defiance to a Western alliance, of which the British establishment is an integral part, that considers itself beyond the law.

    And this mock horror above just after the revelations of British utter subservience and criminality regarding comprehensive spying operations on the domestic and foreign populations.

    With this 'us good guys, them bad buys' mentality, it becomes evident why successive British governments have not been held accountable for the political assassinations of David Kelly and Gareth Williams.

    Who is going to hold the unaccountable Establishment accountable? The NYRB long ago succumbed to chauvinism; does one wish the same fate on the LRB?

    • 2 September 2013 at 7:19am
      SpinningHugo says: @ farthington
      "the political assassinations of David Kelly and Gareth Williams."

      Always entertaining to have the 'grassy knoll' school of political thought represented.

  • 2 September 2013 at 7:19am
    Higgs Boatswain says:
    While perhaps ill-judged, I take Tariq Ali's opening line to refer to Parliament's assertion of sovereignty against an overweening executive, and not as a reflection on the situation in Syria, which is of course deplorable. If this were to be the first step towards serious diplomatic engagement between all the interested parties there might really be cause for rejoicing, but I fear this is not likely to be the case, not least because almost everyone except the Syrians seems to have a reason for preferring war.

    But to go to the opposite extreme and assert - bizarrely - that "there are no empires" (I can count three of them involved in this conflict alone, with at least two other possible contenders) is absurd in the extreme.

    • 4 September 2013 at 4:45pm
      John Cowan says: @ Higgs Boatswain
      I agree entirely. The power of the executive has increased, is increasing, and ought to be decreased, as well in the U.S. as in the U.K. Whenever a legislature stands up to a warmongering executive, it is to be applauded.

  • 3 September 2013 at 5:52pm
    John Richetti says:
    Does Tariq Ali in his wisdom know who killed over a thousand people in a chemical attack in Syria?

    • 4 September 2013 at 4:46pm
      John Cowan says: @ John Richetti
      Nobody does, and that's his point.

  • 5 September 2013 at 3:33am
    George says:
    Is it too much to hope that Obama may turn out to be a good guy and a super smart guy after all, rather than a President who turns out (after a promising start) to be most fundamentally a super-patriot and a Beltway casualty. Here's a (fanciful?) scenario: [The story so far ...:] 1.bugger-up Republicans continue to threaten anarchy rather than any sort of responsible relation with their 2nd term President 2.Obama realises he needs to be ultra-crafty to entrap them wider than they have him 3. He devises a plan 4.He will present himself as impeccably and believably resolute and patriotic and in-command 5.He will punish Syria 6.He will invite the Republicans to join him 7.They do. ... [We have reached today. Now read on:] 8 here the scenario forks: 8a: Congress votes the President (and, note, the Republicans) down and he gets more time to be as flexible as he really wants to be. 8b: They vote for him whereupon he has a bit more time - though not too much - to be flexible. [End of Scenario] ... The Result of all this will be "Not the End", probably the best result that can be obtained as Armaggedon beckons.

  • 12 December 2013 at 8:15am
    منتديات says:
    Not intervening was, and is, probably the least awful of bad options, but as incendiary bombs hit primary schools, chemical weapons are used with impunity in a way the Nazis did not dare, and international law is degraded by gangster regimes in Russia and China, rejoicing is not what anyone rational should be doing.

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