Sunday, August 09, 2009

Iraq and the Country House Party

DITCHLEY PARK, quiet setting for conferences on a stormy world.

THE British government's official inquiry into the Iraq war is due to start hearing from witnesses later this year. Could be the public has grown blase, what with many of the facts - and chiefly that Tony Blair and chums lied - being known, plus the army commander to be telling us the troops could be in Afghanistan for forty years. But while the corporate media are getting us ready for that, my fellow blogger Kevin Blowe has taken a look at just who is on the Iraq war inquiry, and what confidence can be placed upon it - not by us but by those in power.

" One of the pursuits that three of the five Inquiry members share is involvement in the Ditchley Foundation, an organisation that promotes Anglo-American relations and whose Director is Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations in the approach to the Iraq war and a likely witness at the Inquiry.

"According to his biography on the Iraq Inquiry website, former ambassador to Russia Sir Roderic Lyne is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, as well as Deputy Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). This places him right at the heart of the transatlantic defence establishment, a position he shares with Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College London and Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign.

"Freedman has spoken at events organised by the likes of the Royal United Services Institute and Chatham House (which he was a Council member of between 1984 and 1992) and at the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Affairs Council in Washington DC (see footage of an address to the WAC here). He was a participant at a Ditchley Foundation event in early May 2009, organised in conjunction with the RAND Corporation, on the “military’s role and function in the 21st century”, which was attended by a variety of Ministry of Defence and NATO officials".

And Kevin points out: "Crucially, Freedman was a regular government advisor and a key architect of the ‘Blair doctrine’ on the use of military action for ‘humanitarian’ intervention. He told the BBC’s Michael Crick that in 1999, a memo he wrote for Downing Street formed the basis of Blair's famous Chicago speech , which relied almost entirely on his proposals. John Kampfner’s book 'Blair’s Wars' confirms this, saying that Freedman was asked to provide "a philosophy that Blair could call his own", complete with benchmarks defining when countries should intervene in the affairs of other nations.

"Baroness Prashar is another Ditchley Foundation governor, along with Lyne and intriguingly, Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and… hang on a second, how did Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti end up on this list?!

"However, there is little to tell from the Baroness’ record as a cross bench peer what her views are on issues other than human rights and equalities, as she seldom votes or speaks in the Lords.

"Which leaves the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who appears to have no connection to the Ditchley Foundation but is controversial for different reasons, notably claiming that TE Lawrence (‘of Arabia’) was a Zionist and importantly in the context of the Inquiry, his suggestion that Bush and Blair “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill.” We can only look forward with exasperation to the quality of his questions to Blair!

"Finally, the chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, has his own baggage. He is a career diplomat who has close links to the intelligence community and was a former Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. More importantly, he was a member of the Butler Inquiry that exonerated the government on the intelligence about on Weapons of Mass Destruction, effectively said that everyone seemed to be innocent and suggested that the ludicrous claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was "credible".

For those who don't know, Ditchley may sound dull, but what many people don't realise is the part played in oBritain's political life not by mere Labour, Tory and Lib Dems, but by the small, but more select, Country House Party.

Ditchley is a fine and distinguished house and park near Charlbury in Oxfordshire, and not far from Chipping Norton Before the Second World War it was the country home of Ronald Tree, an American-born Tory MP, who cultivated good relations with Winston Churchill, and fomed a small group of Tory MPs opposed to the Chamberlain government's Appeasement of Nazi Germany. During the war Tree met ex-MI5 man and Chamberlain's dirty trickster Major Sir Joseeph Ball, who boasted that he had bugged Tree's London home and meetings.

It was also during the war that Ditchley acquired importance. Concerned that Churchill's country house at Chartwell in Kent was too easily in reach of German bombers, officials also feared that the Prime Minister's official residence at Chequers, with its long straight drive standing out in the moonlight like a pointer, could also prove a tempting target. Ronald Tree offered Ditchley Park, less well-known, and tucked away among the trees, and since Churchill already knew the house and its owner he accepted. Special phone lines with a scrambler were installed, accomodation made for staff, and billets for a company of the Oxdord and Bucks Light Infantry.Churchill could use Ditchley both for family weekends and top-level meetings, as with Roosevelt's emissary Harry Hopkins.

In 1953 Sir David Wills, an heir of the famous tobacco company, acquired Ditchley Park, and in 1958 he set up the Ditchley Foundation, which describes itself as "an Anglo-American educational trust which seeks to further transatlantic understanding through a programme of conferences and seminars". There are linked foundations in the United States and Canada.

The first chairman of the Ditchley Foundation council was Lord Sherfield, who as Roger Makins had assisted Harold Macmillan in North Africa during the War, and met with Eisenhower. Post-war he was British ambassador in Washington. His successor was Lord Caccia, whom Macmillan sent as envoy to Washington in the difficult period after Suez. Several of the original Foundation members from either side of the Atlantic had similar background ties. Big companies with Transatlantic interests also figured.

About a dozen or more conferences are held at Ditchley each year, on aspects of international affairs and US and British foreign policy. At each conference there are around forty invitees drawn from politics, business, the armed forces, media, and academia, with roughly a third of guests being American, a further third being British, with the remainder being of other nationalities. The director of the Foundation is usually a retired ambassador - the current director is Jeremy Greenstock

Discussion begins with all members present, before participants divide into three sub-groups, each having its own chairman and rapporteur to summarise proceedings. Proceedings end with one more conference-wide session. As with the Foreign Office's Chatham House, or, so we are told, the Bilderburg conferences that figure in conspiracy theory, and no doubt, real conspiracies, discussions are private and non-attributable. The American Ditchley Foundation helps to shape the conference program as well as select American participants.
The Chairman of American Ditchley is former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

Although a country house informality may be encouraged at Ditchley gatherings it is to assist, not detract from, the serious purpose. Sir Harry Hodson, when he was director, thought the conferences might do something to improve understanding with France. De Gaulle, opposed to US hegemony, gave the thumbs down to British entry to the Common Market, suspecting it would be a trojan horse for US interests. Hodson's proposals were rebuffed by the Ditchley Council, under Foreign Office influence, and when he tried to use his own contacts to sseek De Gaulle's approval of French delegates coming to Ditchley, he was hauled over the coals for sidestepping the Foreign Office.

I see that recent members of the Ditchley Foundation have included my own favourite 'pin-up' from the Foreign Office, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and now David Cameron's shadow Security minister. After sterling service for Nat West markets in Belograde, Dame Pauline was made a governor of the BBC, and was blamed by Greg Dyke for leading the Board of Governors against BBC's senior management following the David Kelly/Andrew Gilligan affair, concerning government lies and secrets behind the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile as chairman of QinetiQ, the privatised Defence research and procurement establishment which besides its Iraq war interests had enriched its directors as it passed into largely US hands, Neville-Jones was qualified to join the US lecture circuit and be a Ditchley council director.

But let's not leave out Labour. Among the other Ditchley names to note these days are Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw. Considering the way Labour Party conferences have gone, Labour Party members will be pleased to hear their leaders are doing something to promote discussion and help determioe international policy.

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