Millions of ordinary citizens across Europe marched against the impending invasion of Iraq in 2003, so convinced were they that the war was wrong. Tens of thousands had never taken part in a demonstration before but they saw through the tissue of lies being pedalled by apparatchiks in Washington, Paris, London and beyond about "Weapons of Mass Destruction".
Despite this massive outpouring of angry opposition, popular opinion was swept aside by huge swathes of the media controlled by individuals like Rupert Murdoch. As we all know, the neocons got their way and the war that they wanted; the invasion – its legality has still to be challenged – went ahead with disastrous consequences.
To this day, with the unprecedented rise of ISIS, the situation in the Middle East is going from bad to worse as a direct result of the Iraq war. The millions of marchers were right – there were no WMDs – but far from being praised for their integrity the masses are still being swept aside with contempt by the cheerleaders of that invasion. Furthermore, despite the subsequent implosion of large parts of the region, not one person has been held to account. The Iraq Inquiry seems to be gathering dust somewhere and few are optimistic that its eponymous Chairman, Sir John Chilcot, will be recommending war crimes trials for those responsible for creating more than a million widows and orphans, the devastation of a country and the collapse of other states across the region.
"The biggest mystery about Westminster today is the survival of British neo-conservatism," claimed respected journalist Peter Oborne. "Most observers would have predicted with complete confidence that this movement would have been utterly discredited after the catastrophe of the Iraq invasion. Yet it is in rude health. The men and women who advocated the Iraq invasion remain dominant in British public life. Those who opposed it remain marginal and despised."
Oborne made his comments after the unveiling of a hard-hitting report commissioned to investigate how US think tanks and neo-conservatism imported directly from Washington have infiltrated and influenced Westminster. It is amazing how, far from disappearing in a cloud of failure, the neocons appear to be even stronger in the face of such epic failures as the War on Terror and Iraq.
The Cordoba Foundation's report into the rise of neo-conservatism in Britain focuses directly on The Henry Jackson Society, but it is also a damning indictment of the British Government. While critics will try to dismiss its contents, some of the findings cannot be ignored so easily; it is the work of independent researchers working for the highly credible Spinwatch and Public Interest Investigations unit.
"The Henry Jackson Society and the Degeneration of British Neo-conservatism: Liberal interventionism, Islamophobia and the 'War on Terror'" will no doubt be picked up by those who believe that the US regards Britain as an inferior yet strategic partner and treats it like the 51st State of America. The report's importance and findings, though, are much more serious than that.
It reveals how the US networks began to infiltrate the Westminster elite more than a decade ago with their tentacles spreading to all corners of key decision-making. An example is the appointment by Prime Minister David Cameron of a trustee of the Henry Jackson Society to chair the influential Charity Commission. His detractors accused William Shawcross of being Islamophobic in the extreme after he described the growth of Islam in Europe as "terrifying". The Cordoba Foundation's report reveals that nearly 30 per cent of investigations launched by the charity regulator since his arrival have targeted Muslim charities.
Both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs drew attention to their concerns at his pre-appointment hearing, highlighting his extreme political views, bias towards the Conservative Party and his resultant perceived lack of impartiality. In a poll in the Guardian newspaper, 77 per cent of readers said he was unsuitable for such a strategic role.
Earlier this year, the charity chief executives' group Acevo wrote to the Cabinet Office expressing concern at Shawcross's re-appointment, questioning whether it was above board and followed due process. Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service, responded to Acevo head Sir Stephen Bubb by insisting that due process was indeed followed.
Bubb had previously suggested that Shawcross's appointment was made "on the quiet". According to Heywood, however, "The reappointment of William Shawcross as chair of the Charity Commission was a decision taken by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. Decisions on reappointment are matters for ministers and there is no requirement for a separate appointments' committee or selection panel."
Shawcross's tenure at the commission has come in for criticism from a number of figures in England's charity sector. Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, used a withering attack to assert that Shawcross was "an embarrassment for a public body previously respected across Whitehall for its competence."
Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who was at the launch of the Cordoba report, noted that Shawcross was appointed by the government as head of the Charity Commission in 2012, just when Muslim communities in UK we're mobilising massive support for the beleaguered Syrian people (before ISIS even appeared on the scene). "Subsequently, Cameron has given the CC unprecedented powers and a massive budget in order to root out extremism among Muslim charities, a power and duty the CC never had," he pointed out. "Over 55 Muslim charities are thus under investigation, some have been closed down while others face immense pressure and scrutiny. This now constitutes over a quarter of the CC's investigations."
It will not be lost on Begg that Shawcross has also defended America's disregard for human rights in the context of Guantanamo: "Any Nazi defendant transported by time machine from the dock in Nuremberg to that in Guantanamo would be stunned by the rights, privileges and safeguards to which he was now entitled. Most basic of all, there was no right of appeal at Nuremberg. As General Martins said, 'Like our forebears [at Nuremberg], we are not seeking victors' justice', but justice consistent with the rule of law and our longstanding values and ideals."
A committed Zionist, Shawcross has refused consistently to criticise Israel's abysmal human rights record and the war crimes of which it is accused. "Israel," he insists, "is an imperfect society (like any other), but it has extraordinary social, scientific and scholastic achievements."
Showing much less restraint when referring to Islam, he said: "Radical Muslims, on the other hand, stone women, hang homosexuals and kill to deny free speech. Do Europeans protest [against] that? Not many, not often. No one marches or calls emergency meetings of the UN and the EU to protest [against] the vicious Muslim brutality against other Muslims that takes place every day throughout the Islamic world – and beyond. No one demonstrates on behalf of Christians murdered in the Middle East, their churches burned."
His pro-Zionist/anti-Muslim bias was laid bare when he said that the Muslim world and the Western Left are in an "unholy alliance" and that "they do not want to improve the Jewish state, they want to remove it." According to Shawcross, Barack Obama has shown himself to be "far more tolerant of (or unconcerned by) abuses of power in the Muslim world than by the mistakes of Israel."
The Cordoba report was launched at an international conference on Understanding Conflict at the University of Bath and may now pave the way for further scrutiny of Shawcross, who continues to describe himself as an "independent regulator" for the Charity Commission.
It will also throw the spotlight on the cabal around the British prime minister, whose main political allies appear to be neoconservatives. Justice Minister (you couldn't make this up) Michael Gove, a rabid supporter of the Iraq War, is embedded deeply in Cameron's inner circle along with George Osborne, who has links to the right-wing of the US Republican Party.
Those in parliament who try to stand up to the neocons find themselves silenced or dispatched to the back-benches; others like Baroness Sayeeda Warsi have been airbrushed from the political landscape. Lady Warsi clashed with the neocons when she resigned as a foreign office minister over Israel's offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza last year.
Now that the General Election is over the neocons have emerged even stronger than ever within government ranks. It remains to be seen if their counterparts in the Labour Party will also rise in strength and popularity during the leadership race following the resignation of Ed Miliband.
"This is not just unfair, it is baffling," concludes Peter Oborne. "Iraq was beyond question the greatest foreign policy calamity since Neville Chamberlain signed a deal with Adolph Hitler at Munich in 1938 and returned to London proclaiming 'peace in our time'. The men of Munich soon suffered the political obliteration they richly deserved. The men of Iraq prospered. Even though its dreadful consequences are more apparent than ever thanks to the rise of ISIS, there has been not even a scintilla of reward in Britain for the opponents of the war."
While Cameron has pledged that the British electorate will be given an "in-out" choice in a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, perhaps the real focus for voters should be on the undue influence that US neocons seem to wield in Westminster. It's far more pernicious than anything that Europe has to offer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.