When I was at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC (1999-2000), I introduced myself to people as "a politician and academic." My attention was drawn politely to the fact that politicians didn't have a good reputation. I took the hint and avoided the word "politician," replacing it with "writer" until I left. When politics is dominated by donations, the main accusation against politicians is that they speak through their wallets – and lie, if necessary, until they retire.
That's why being a former president, prime minister or special envoy seems to help politicians bring out the best qualities in them, namely to be honest and fair.
When Jimmy Carter became a former president, he made several statements in which he said openly that the policies pursued by his successors were not in line with the cherished values of the Unites States' democracy.
In an interview with the German magazine "Der Spiegel" dated 15 August, 2006, Carter went as far as admitting that the United States and Israel were totally isolated in the world because of the United States' uncritical support for Israel. The Carter Center, which he formed after he left office, made a statement last year about the gubernational (state election) in South Kordofan, declaring that the election was "credible," despite the fact that the Israeli lobby was inciting those who did not accept the result and fighting started.
Another example of political honesty after leaving office is that of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose weapons of mass destruction assertion has guaranteed him a certain unenviable place in the history of British democracy and politics, as well as that of contemporary international history.
He wrote in his memoirs (2010) that "there's as much politics in NGOs as in politics-sometimes more-and they are treated as objective observers when they simply aren't. Partly they campaign for a cause and partly for vested interests." We know, of course, that the superpowers have always pushed down the world's throat the belief that the NGOs are the conscience of the world. They used NGO reports as a pretext for aggression and for sanctions. This has now been dented. Last week employees of Amnesty International went on strike, asking for the resignation of their boss Kate Allen, who provides the best example of abusing the reputation of NGOs. She changed Amnesty International's policy of not campaigning with other organisations which was put in place to guard against its becoming a trailer for organisations with suspect agendas. She partnered Amnesty International with the "Sudan 365" campaign which was devised by the Israeli lobby in the United States. She also wrote in support of the International Criminal Court and against President Bashir disregarding the many genuine questions raised by lawmakers and politicians, as well as human rights activists about the nature and function of the ICC. She is a case in point, proving the correct views of the former prime minister about NGOs.
Yet another example of honesty that is displayed by a former holder of high office is what Senator John Danforth, who was George Bush's special envoy to the Sudan, said to the British Independent newspaper on 2 July, 2005, that using the word "genocide" about Darfur was a political decision made in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election in order to win over and satisfy the US Christian right.
Recently President Obama has again renewed sanctions on the Sudan, based partially on the same allegations refuted by George Bush's former envoy.
When President Obama's own envoy to the Sudan, General (R) Scott Gration dared to say, after visiting Sudan 20 times, that keeping Sudan on the terror sponsors' list was "political" with no supporting "evidence," he was transferred to the job of ambassador to Kenya. The honest general should have waited until becoming a "former envoy" before making such a statement.
On the 30th of October, I attended the bi-annual lecture of Durham University International Institute of Security by a retired British diplomat, whose last posting was ambassador to Afghanistan. Former Ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles criticised NATO's policy in Afghanistan and said that it was "all tactics and had no serious political strategy." He also criticised President Obama's "surge" reinforcements and drone assassinations which led him to use the title "How Not to Win a War."
The former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriella Shalev, was also honest in her disappointment with the policies of the far-right in Israel and said in an interview with Haaretz on 19 October, 2012, "I couldn't represent Israel now."
She made the staggering admission that Israel has become a "burden, instead of an asset" to the US and that many in the US were fed up with the situation. With the truthfulness of a former ambassador, she also revealed the special link between Israel and US Ambassador Susan Rice. "Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, personally pushed for the state of Israel to be included in all kinds of regional committees and groups and has always cooperated with us." This comes as no surprise to Sudanese political analysts who have read what the investigative journalist Rebecca Hamilton has written in The Atlantic about Susan Rice: She was part of a group dedicated to demonise the Sudan and helped to support rebels and heap sanctions against Khartoum. The Financial Times editorial of 20 November, 2012 said she has won the reputation for being "blunt and abrasive with US and foreign officials," but has no sweeping worldview. The editorial says, "When the US faces major challenges in the Middle East and Asia, she is likely to be found wanting." The editorial prefers Obama to choose a heavyweight as a successor to Hillary Clinton. Seen from a Sudanese "victim's perspective," The Financial Times editorial got it right. Dr. Rice has often behaved like a campus activist, too close to controversial frontmen of the Sudan demonisation industry, like George Clooney and John Prendergast.
She resorted to very blunt and abrasive language in defense of the Israeli far-right's policies. Criticising the UN, she said to the AIPAC Policy Conference (4 March, 2012) "…What Israel faces is something very different. It's relentless, obsessive; it's ugly. It's bad for the United Nations, it's bad for peace, and it has got to stop." According to a BBC report, she is tipped to replace Hillary Clinton. No prizes for guessing who will support her appointment.
Why Do They Lie?
Politicians wait until they retire to tell the truth because most believe it is acceptable for them to lie when in office. Dr. John Mearsheimer has written a whole book entitled "Why Do Leaders Lie?"
He gave very interesting examples. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said, "For the sake of the land of Israel, it's alright to lie." Another Israeli prime minister, Moshe Sharet, said, "I have learned that the state of Israel cannot be ruled in our generation without deceit and adventurism."
Examples from the US include the words of Arthur Sylvester (assistant secretary of defense during the Kennedy administration), who said, "I think the inherent right of government to lie to save itself when faced with nuclear disaster is basic." Twenty years later, President Carter's press secretary Jody Powell said, "In certain circumstances, government not only has the right, but positive obligation to lie."
Dr. Mearsheimer gave examples of deceit. The US declared that it was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Europe if the USSR invaded. That was mere bluffing.
We remember at this juncture the number of times the US has lied to the Sudan about lifting sanctions.
Two exceptional British politicians deserve a mention here: one labour politician and one conservative:
The late Robin Cook who resigned from his cabinet job because he opposed Tony Blair's Iraq war and David Davis who resigned in 2008 from the House of Commons and as shadow home secretary because he opposed the extended detention of terror suspects. He re-won his seat with an overwhelming majority.
David Davis's re-election shows that the fear-mongering used in order to curb democratic liberties is not wholly endorsed by the population. Indeed, the policies of militarism and aggression (especially after 9/11) have resulted in voters turning their back to the "other face of democracy" as symbolised by G. Bush's neo-cons and their disciples. NGOs like Oxfam and societies for birds have more members than the main political parties in the UK. Barack Obama has been reelected (thank God), but about 100 million citizens have not bothered to vote. This means that flawed policies result in reducing the establishment's home-ground legitimacy and mandate. Adventurers abroad and uncritical support for Israel have got an unseen and rarely mentioned price in the major Western democracies. This is demonstrated by an item in the conservative Sunday Telegraph (13 May, 2012) that reports an astonishing development. The British, who are quite justified in their pride and adoration of the armed forces that played a key role in the defeat of Nazism and fascism, seem to be less enthusiastic about more recent controversial military campaigns. An official report cites "widespread abuse" of troops in the streets when they go in uniform. One in five out of 9000 surveyed was a victim of verbal attacks or discrimination. Eighteen percent were barred from pubs, hotels and shops when wearing a uniform. That is certainly not the result of less pride in the army. It is a verdict on Tony Blair's weapons of mass destruction war.
Similarly, in Israel, there is, since 2003, a group of combatants who declared their "courage to refuse," saying plainly, "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people." These have chosen to speak out honestly before they retire and become "former."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.