Iran - the threat of war grows

Parliament to debate Iran policy on Monday as more MPs urge government to rule out war.

With the prospect of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran growing ever more likely, Westminster is finally beginning to respond. In a little-noticed move, Conservative MP John Baron, who resigned as a Tory health spokesman over the Iraq war, has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to rule out military action against Iran. He rightly warned that the use of force by Israel or anyone else would be "wholly counter-productive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons."

However, 22 MPs, including Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Becket, have already put their names to an amendment supporting the government's stance that "all options remain on the table". In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, William Hague says: "It is not our way of dealing with this to have assassinations or to advocate military action. Although I do stress again, we are taking nothing off the table."

More than anything, this is a negotiating stance but if, as seems likely, Israel takes military action, the government will be forced to take a position. As I noted earlier this week, the issue of Iran has the potential to split the coalition and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem manifesto explicitly ruled out the use of force against Iran ("[W]e oppose military action against Iran and believe those calling for such action undermine the growing reform movement in Iran," read a passage on p.68) but Nick Clegg has since remarked that "you don't in a situation like this take any options off the table". Unlike Clegg, most Lib Dems are explicitly opposed to military action by Britain or Israel.

For instance, the recently-knighted backbencher Bob Russell told me:

We should condemn, now rather than after the event should it happen, any moves by Israel (with or without the backing and involvement of the United States) of a pre-emptive strike against Iran.

The consequences to world peace, not just in the Middle East, are immense.

Ming Campbell warned that military action would have the "effect of setting fire to the Middle East" and, asked if he was opposed to military action, Martin Horwood, co-chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary party committee on international affairs, commented:

Yes - and that was a Lib Dem manifesto commitment. Events move on and of course if British minesweepers were attacked in the Gulf or something like that, we would have to respond. But as things stand, the answer is clear.

As today's Guardian reports, the US now believes that sanctions will fail to deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme, with an Israeli strike likely to follow in September or October. All of which will lend Monday's parliamentary debate on Iran a rare urgency.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.