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Sunday, August 31, 2003

LEGALIZE IT Here's a good reminder (if it's still needed) of why we need to end the counterproductive prohibition of drugs. Jacob Sullum finds it particularly impressive given who Tennant, who is now advocating the decriminalisation (yes I know, but it's a start), used to be as Reagan's chief anti-drug warrior:

This is the same man who made waves in the 1980s by promoting a home eye test kit to help parents detect and deter drug use by their children. Parents were supposed to administer the test every few days, beginning when their kids were about 7. No one could have accused Forest Tennant of being soft on drugs.

True. That makes it all the better that he has changed his mind. Hopefully this is just the beginning. That the war on drugs is a complete failure cannot have gone unnoticed and that's why I hope that its supporters swallow their pride and admit that they were wrong. This is as good a space as any to link to the Cato Institute's classic on drugs legalization.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

EVANGELICALS RISE IN C OF E Peter Cuthbertson has a post on the rising numbers of evangelicals within the Church of England. It seems that this will mean an increase in churchgoers how are "theologically conservative, viewing sex outside marriage, including homosexuality, as outlawed by Scripture". For some reason Cuthbertson thinks this is news worth celebrating. It isn't. Don't get me wrong, I welcome Anglicans who are more serious about their Christianity than I am; they are the necessary backbone of the Church. However if these evangelicals really are the kind of people that the post seems to indicate that would be bad news indeed. It would suggest that we will have to deal with people who take the Bible literally as God's word instead of using the Bible to discover the God's word. For this it is absolutely necessary to be able to put each Bible story in its proper historical context to truly understand what it really means, rather than to say the word as it appears on the page is the absolute truth and is beyond serious questioning (hello Taliban?). This would also be massive folly as it implies the Bible has always been passed on accurately, which it hasn't. My two favourite anecdotes in this respect are about the "apple" that Adam and Eve are tempted to eat and the commandment that “Thou shalt not kill”. In Latin the words for apple and evil are the same in some cases. At some point in history the opinion settled in that it was an apple that lead humankind astray from God and not, as it actually says in the original, the tree of evil. "Thou shalt not kill" is a more serious matter. In fact this is not what it actually says in the Hebrew original. It states simply "Thou shalt not murder" - a realistic moral injunction and worlds removed from the impossible and ultimately irresponsible "Thou shalt not kill".
One reason why the Conservative Commentator is happy about this development is because it would advance a socially conservative agenda without the Tories having to do so. Given that this is one reason why the Conservatives have had so much difficulty in regaining their electoral fortunes I can see what he's getting at: let the church do the social bit of a conservative comeback and the Tories don't need to bother about it and can win back middle Britain. I'm not sure that would fly and I don't like the idea much of transforming the C of E into something out of line with its traditions just to get Ian Duncan Smith into Downing Street.

Monday, August 25, 2003

PFAFF IDIOT ON THE WAR That William Pfaff man, who is one of the columnists I loathe the most, has just given us a further utterance of his distorted worldview. This weeks' events have got him rather excited in that it gives him ample opportunity for his favourite hobby of blaming the West first, second and last for any ill that happens to appear:

PARIS The intensification of violence in Iraq is the logical outcome of the Bush administration's choice in 2001 to treat terrorism as a military problem with a military solution - a catastrophic oversimplification.

But is this really an oversimplification? The roots of al Quaedaism are mainly ideological and are the result of an internal struggle within Islam. How exactly does Pfaff imagine the Bush administration and America's allies could do anything about this? Starting to tell Muslims how they are to interpret their faith so they fit into Islington dinner party society would rightfully be interpreted as an illegitimate interference and would only strengthen the fanatics who could then say they are the true defenders of the faith. Pfaff goes on:

Choosing to invade two Islamic states, Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, inflated the crisis, in the eyes of millions of Muslims, into a clash between the United States and Islamic society.

What?! "Neither of which was responsible for the attacks of Sept.11, 2001". Is Pfaff mad? I can see the point about Iraq (see post below), but Afghanistan? So where does Pfaff think al Quaeda sat around for several years training thousand of wannabe jihadis and planning in great detail the 9/11 attacks? As for his charge that the crisis has been inflated, well, that's what happens in a war when one side belatedly decides to start hitting back. There was no choice to taking on al Quaeda militarily. The fact that according to Pfaff millions of Muslims see this as a clash between America and Islam is hardly a relevant factor for policy consideration; it's just a further burden we have to bear in this war. In any case it's not the US and the West that is at fault here but Pfaff's “millions of Muslims” who are wrong about the issue at hand. The West is so obviously disinterested in religion that anybody who seriously believes our governments' policy is driven by religious motives either has no idea what he's talking about or is purposefully ignoring the facts.

The two wars did not destroy Al Qaeda. They won it new supporters. The United States is no more secure than it was before.

It's true that al Quaeda is still a problem but that's no reason that we shouldn't try to destroy them. As for the claim that it has won new supporters, where's the evidence? The assertion that the US is less safe is obviously stupid. The US is far safer today with al Quaeda's training grounds and operational headquarters destroyed and its remnants on the run.

The wars opened killing fields in two countries that no one knows how to shut down, with American forces themselves increasingly the victims.

"opened killing fields"? Either Pfaff is a liar or completely uninformed, two characteristics that should disqualify him as major newspaper columnist. Afghanistan's killing field has been open since the late 70s and in fact is today the most peaceful it has been since then. Same in Iraq where the fallen coalition troops are a sad distraction from the fact that Saddam’s murder regime is gone and in fact everything else is looking up (see this Stephen Pollard piece for an argument that Iraq is better than before the war).

There is no victory in sight, not even a definition of victory. If Saddam Hussein were captured or killed, Washington would claim a victory, but that isn't a victory over terrorism.

No, but it would be victory in Iraq, wouldn’t it, silly Willy? Perhaps, though, Pfaff has got something right:

…the neoconservative project, taken up by President George W. Bush with seemingly little or no grasp of its sources, objectives or assumptions.
The neoconservatives believe that destruction produces creation. …
They believe that the United States has a real mission, to destroy the forces of unrighteousness. They also believe - and this is their great illusion - that such destruction will free the natural forces of freedom and democracy.
In this, they are influenced by the Trotskyist version of Marxist millenarianism that was the intellectual seedbed of the neoconservative movement. But their idea is also very American, as they are credulous followers of Woodrow Wilson, a sentimental utopian who really believed that he had been sent by God to lead mankind to a better world.

Ok, I could agree with a lot in there. I think the necons are excessively optimistic. While it is right that we should destroy our enemies we should not believe that the destruction of evil automatically brings in good; it can just as easily bring in a different evil. Branding Woodrow Wilson as a "sentimental utopian" strikes me as odd though. So he wanted to create a better future for humankind. How bizarre. Now I could understand this derision of idealistic foreign policy if it came from a conservative realpolitik hardhead. But from William Pfaff?
On the other hand, he does seem to be dissatisfied with the prospect that the US might pull out of Iraq if there is little sign of progress by next year’s US presidential election. A few weeks ago Edward Luttwak made a quite convincing case that this might not be a bad idea, as the Iraqis aren’t taking up the opportunities the coalition has offered them and we can’t and shouldn’t stay in Iraq indefintely. We don’t need another Kosovo or another Vietnam for that matter. We’ve done most of what we need to do, only the wmds are missing (if they ever existed that is).

Sunday, August 24, 2003

SADDAM AL-QUAEDA CONNECTION UPDATE I've just found this article in the Weekly Standard, home of the necon warmongers, which gives a good summary of the links between Saddam's regime and al-Quaeda. The author, Stephen Hayes, gives the Bush administration some credit:

IF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION had been out to hype the threat from an al Qaeda-Saddam link, it stands to reason that it would have used every shred of incriminating evidence at its disposal. Instead, the administration was restrained in its use of available intelligence.

Though that is just the problem of course, isn't it. The Bushies were indeed "restrained" in the use of the available intelligence to the extent that they showed us virtually none, and consequently it was hard to believe there was a linkage. On the other hand many reports in the press had presented stories that suggested this link did really exist. The problem with this was however that no one quite managed to prove the existence of the link beyond doubt and that the link was systematic and long term rather than on a sporadic basis. Part of the pro-war governments' problem was that the public was only interested in al-Quaeda. This is wrong as the terrorist threat is not limited to al-Quaeda and there is fairly hard evidence that Saddam has been pretty busy in that respect:

Iraqi defectors had been saying for years that Saddam's regime trained "non-Iraqi Arab terrorists" at a camp in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. U.N. inspectors had confirmed the camp's existence, including the presence of a Boeing 707. Defectors say the plane was used to train hijackers; the Iraqi regime said it was used in counterterrorism training. Sabah Khodada, a captain in the Iraqi Army, worked at Salman Pak. In October 2001, he told PBS's "Frontline" about what went on there. "Training is majorly on terrorism. They would be trained on assassinations, kidnapping, hijacking of airplanes, hijacking of buses, public buses, hijacking of trains and all other kinds of operations related to terrorism. . . . All this training is directly toward attacking American targets, and American interests."

Well yes, but what about al-Quaeda? The problem is that governments can’t go around justifying all sorts of domestic security measures with the threat of bin Laden striking again just because that is the only face that Western publics are capable of putting to the notion of international terrorism. Governments need to put more effort into explaining that the conflict we are in is not about finding Ossama bin Laden but goes far wider than the narrow issue of al-Quaeda. Broadly speaking it is about creating a new global security order that has become necessary since the end of the Cold War but that was neglected until September 11, 2001, because it was nearly impossible to mobilise public support, particularly in the US where it matters most. But of course it might well be that the dwindling support for the war could be resuscitated by showing the Saddam-al Quaeda linkage now. After all, as Hayes writes:

Some administration officials argue privately that the case for linkage is so devastating that when they eventually unveil it, the critics will be embarrassed and their arguments will collapse. But to rely on this assumption is to run a terrible risk. Already, the absence of linkage is the conventional wisdom in many quarters. Once "everybody knows" that Saddam and bin Laden had nothing to do with each other, it becomes extremely difficult for any release of information by the U.S. government to change people's minds.

And that job's going to be ever more difficult the longer they wait and the longer those wmds don't start appearing Iraq. Our governments' behaviour has been a real cause of annoyance for those who try to support their security policy efforts.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

IS THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND DOOMED? I know I’m a little late reacting to this, but my parents have been around and needed to be entertained. A Theo Hobson, whose name sounds familiar although quite say from where, has penned a short piece in the Guardian in which he convincingly predicts the final demise of the Church of England. His basic premise is that the Church’s foundation was a unity between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, which was only possible because of the linkage between state and church established about five centuries ago. Although the process of disestablishment started long ago it is only now that it is beginning to get serious. Read the whole article it’s well worth it.
If New Labour keeps on winning it is quite clear to me that Rowan Williams will have been the last Archbishop of Canterbury selected by the Prime Minister. It is also impossible that a future Conservative government would reverse disestablishment, so I think that we Anglicans need to start thinking about a future in which the CofE will no longer exist as a unified and institutionalised church. I agree with Hobson that this will bring a religious reawakening to Britain. I just find it disappointing that it doesn’t seem to be possible that this can happen in a unified Anglican church. Unlike Hobson I am also more concerned about the possibility that in places where the church used to bind people together, such as in rural areas or abroad where I am at the moment, the need to choose either the evangelical path or the more traditional one, will split communities to the extent that they won’t be large and strong enough to even maintain a proper church. That is in essence where my main fear for Anglicanism lies I suppose. On a positive note, I have to say that all these conflicts and problems don’t impact on actual everyday church life and that’s a good reason to be optimistic.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

UN'S IRAQ SHOCK It is genuinely sad what has happened at the UN's HQ in Baghdad of course. However it should not come as a surprise. I had just noted last Monday (scroll down, permalinks on strike, sorry), that there was little indication that the UN was anymore wanted than the coalition military administration. To be precise, as far as we can tell, the majority of Iraqis are not happy, but at least accepting of the need for outsiders to run their country momentarily. But what we need to understand is that those who don't want the coalition also don't want the UN or anybody else to rebuild Iraq. The people who have been committing the sabotage attacks the past few days want to see the entire occupation project fail, independently of whether it is carried out by HM and US forces or the UN. Whether these are die-hard remnants of the Baathist regime, foreign jihadis or a combination of the two is unclear, but they are all interested in gaining control over Iraq and both the coalition and the UN are in the way. In the end that is why simply bringing in the UN is not going to solve the problems of running the country.


Saturday, August 16, 2003

CUT THE CAP In the current edition of the Spectator I've just discovered this amusing though ultimately enraging article. It seems that the recently instituted reforms of the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) have lead to a sudden rise in the number of bankers who are buying up farms. These bankers are doing this in order to receive a tax-free status and EU-subsidy money:

[A]s a gentleman farmer you might produce nothing more than a few pints of goat's milk for your friends, but that does not matter under the new CAP so long as you can convince officials that you are in the farming business. This will not be difficult. Indeed, it is possible to give the impression of being a farmer without doing anything at all, ... the arduous tasks one associates with farming become entirely unnecessary when one abandons any hope of making money from the enterprise.


What taxpayers won't get for their 43 billion euros is the justification for setting up the CAP in the first place: a guarantee of food security in times of war. Were war to break out in Europe in future, Europeans would turn to their land and discover some very contented animals, some very well-tended meadows looked after by some very leisurely farmers, but no guarantee that any food is produced at all. In fact, the incentive would appear to be to produce anything but food.

Now I've never bought the line, that Europe desperately needs this policy to have a guaranteed food supply in times of war. What kind of a war could that possibly be? The only scenario would be for a war, which dragged on for years in which a blockade managed to shut down all import routes to Europe. Historically this happened to Napoleonic France about two centuries ago and to Germany in WW1. Given that these two countries are the main axis that drives on the EU, I can see how their politicians would have been animated by the trauma of national defeat to ensure that they were never again put into such a position.
Strategically though it never made any sense. If the Cold War had turned hot there were two scenarios. In scenario one the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops would immediately be escalated into nuclear firestorms by in which case we wouldn't have needed any food because there wouldn't have been anybody left to feed. In scenario two Nato and the Warsaw Pact would have clashed conventionally on the territory of West- and East-Germany. If the war wouldn't have been over due to a complete communication breakdown after a few hours it would not have lasted no longer than perhaps the two to three weeks that would have been needed either to re-create the pre-conflict stalemate or for American reinforcements to force the Warsaw Pact into capitulation.
Whatever scenario had occurred in all of them an established agricultural sector with the prospect of long-term production stability is unnecessary. In today's security environment it looks no more convincing. A large-scale blockade of the EU isn't going to happen, very simply because there is nobody who could do it. Could terrorists block transport lanes? They could try but escort shipping like in WW2 and the same actions that were taken against pirates should suffice to solve the problem.

The only slightly realistic possibility is that a coup or other breakdown of order would end the flow of goods from one supplier country. Now if others couldn't fill the gap, wouldn't this be an irresistible incentive for the EU to conduct a real foreign policy that has meaning other than sticking its tongue out at George Bush. If our food depends on order and development in the poor countries, particularly in Africa, which are far more suited to agriculture than modern day Europe, the European Union's policies would be forced to focus on actually helping these countries.
One way to help would be to drop the CAP, which bars poor farmers from exporting into the EU, while simultaneously making European farmers to overproduce and then dump the excess on the world markets. There on the world markets the subsidy-sponsored Euro-products help, along with their Japanese and US counterparts, to make African farming produce uncompetitive and thus shut down the most promising route open for these poor countries to start a proper course of economic development and stand on their own feet rather than being on the mercy of the EU's aid budgets and the other transnational welfare bureaucracies.

As an ending I'll post this little gem Clark has for us, about the different absurdities that the CAP has brought forth in the past:

My favourite concerns Italian cattle farmers who were offered a subsidy for slaughtering cattle which officialdom deemed to be surplus to EU requirements. Since payment was made upon the presentation of a pair of bovine ears, it wasn't long before a strange new breed of earless cow started to appear in the fields.

And all that 43 billion euros. What a load of CAP!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

ANOTHER SCHWARZENEGGER ADVANTAGE I'm not sure whether it will get the girls out, but this might strenghten his hold on the gay vote ;).
Thank to Stephen Pollard for the link.

WHEN IN DOUBT, INTERVENE MILITARILY With a new era of interventionism or imperialism, or whatever your personal preferred term is, upon us, the questions are becoming more urgent, as to when we should intervene in a sovereign country with military force. In today's Guardian a Kate Hudson -no, not that Kate Hudson- argues that the Kosovo-War set the precedent for illegal US-led attacks on sovereign countries. She is not that far off the mark. But as a diehard supporter of that war I must say that she is very wrong. I�ll leave aside the precise legal arguments, because they should be secondary to questions of security and morality.
I think one of the reasons why people like Hudson and me don�t see eye to eye, is in part a romanticised view of the Cold War era, that completely blanks out the memory of the hot wars at the periphery of that global struggle. Also, it is certainly true that for domestic western Europe it was a time of geopolitical clarity which in a way must seem comforting in hindsight. But this view is hopelessly eurocentric and is simply an attempt to ignore the dilemmas of interventionism versus indifference that we have to deal with in the post-1989 world. Here's Hudson's opener:

The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus of intense debate - as is the challenge it poses to the post-second-world-war order, based on the inviolability of sovereign states.

Historically this is wrong. This inviolability was inserted into official declaration such as the UN-Charta and it may have held true for Western countries, but beyond there, sovereignty was worth nothing, and both Nato and Warsaw Pact member states violated countries' sovereignty where it was deemed strategically necessary. In any case, if this inviolability was really the basis of order �if there was any order to speak of at all- how would Hudson explain the dozens of wars that have occurred since 1945?
Leaving that aside there is also a question moral goods trade offs to be made. In both cases it was a question of the credibility of the information about the problem at hand. Hudson and her ilk may complain and oppose the intervention in Kosovo and in Iraq because the evidence was ambiguous. But such evidence and arguments are always ambiguous. A quick glance through 20th century history shows that this was the case for example for the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and and the rampage in Rwanda. In all these cases there was evidence that proved to the outside world what was really going on, but there was also a lot of unclear and contradictory information. In historical hindsight of course we can clearly see that those who warned of grave crimes were right and those who denied or downplayed them were wrong. In Kosovo and perhaps Iraq, hindsight suggests we were wrong. To those who disagree I say, just imagine Milosevic really was about to unleash a fullly fledged genocide upon the Albanians and we just stood aside and did nothing. What that would have done to the grand rhetoric of Nie wieder Auschwitz, that we would never tolerate another Auschwitz in Europe.
In conclusion I would say, that one hundred percent guarantees can not be given in the here and now. We can only make an informed guess. Given the stakes though, it is clearly more prudent to intervene in such unclear cases.

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Monday, August 11, 2003

NO UN MISSION IN IRAQ There is no end to the number of people who are telling us that the only way in which order can be established in Iraq and the country be reconstructed is for the UN to come in and do it. The assumption seems to be that the UN would be more acceptable as interim authority than coalition troops.
The BBC reports:

A Nepalese former Gurkha working for a civilian security company was shot dead in an ambush as he was delivering mail for the UN on Sunday.

How come? I thought the Iraqis were yearning for the UN to replace our troops and now they're attacking the UN. Could it possibly be that the Iraqis don't care much for the UN? I wonder.


Sunday, August 10, 2003

START OF ANOTHER LEBANON WAR? First reports have been coming in that Ariel Sharon is to meet with high-ranking security officials. This comes after the Hizb’allah fired shells at an Israeli village, killing one civilian, from its positions in southern Lebanon and Israeli armed forces retaliated by attacking terrorist positions there. It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that this is happening. After then-Premier Barak ordered the Israeli army out of the security puffer zone as a good-will gesture to help the peace process along in early 2000, the Hizb’allah has repaid this with a large-scale build up of its forces along the border to Israel. At one point it was reported that up to 10000 rocket launchers were in place to bombard the Galilee. Despite getting peacefully involved in Lebanese domestic politics and receiving support from the EU for its hospitals and schools, the Hizb’allah remains opposed to the existence of a Jewish presence in the Middle East. Hence it remains committed towards the goal of destroying the state of Israel. Additionally it has been voicing off how it will destroy all of Western civilization and claimed to have fighters in Iraq who are attacking coalition troops there. It has also been fomenting terror, organised crime and instability on a global scale, from places as far apart as Colombia and Sierra Leone. If the Israeli government now decides to move against them, it would surely be a good thing. There should be no calls on Israel to refrain from retaliation -as there normally is after Palestinian terrorist attacks- because there can be no compromise between the workings of the Hizb’allah and peace in the Middle East. It would surely be more desirable if the Lebanese and Syrian governments dismantled this terrorist network. However they have so far shown neither the will nor the means to do so. Therefore it is the next best option that Israel does this instead. That will probably mean more violence and blood shed in the short-run but it will improve the longer-term prospects for peace if groups that are implacably opposed to peace are removed from the equation. I’ll post some more on this later as soon as I’ve got some more background and sources on the events.

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MISTAKEN NOSTALGIA In today’s Observer, David Aaronovitch makes a point that shouldn’t really need making anymore: the past was in fact worse than the present. While I am just as guilty as the next of over-idealising even my own youth, which accurately speaking was far from pleasant, at least I tend to remember when speaking about political and social trends, that in truth virtually everything has been getting better. I find it hard to find anything that has been moving the wrong way. Okay the only thing off my head I can think of is, that violent crime seems to be up. I write “seems” because actually, it might not have gone up. It could simply be that we are less willing to tolerate it than in the past and hence report it more. The only serious thing I can think of, where the negative aspects of change outweigh the positive ones, is perhaps in our cultural confidence. The people over at Spiked write regularly about this (see this for example on the current weather hysteria), but this lengthy piece in the right-wing New Criterion by Mark Steyn gives the topic a more detailed treatment. An important point that needs to be made though is that this is, or at least should, not be an exclusively right-of-centre issue. Progressive politics also draws its inspiration from Western traditions. Aaronovitch makes a deserved snipe at the backward-lookers and makes clear what has clearly changed negatively:

And I am increasingly suspicious of those who, from Left or Right, want to go backwards. Aren't they the same people who are always moaning? Don't they regret the passing of the days of stoicism at the same time as complaining about one inch of snow, one inch of floodwater or three days of heat?
Now that you didn't get in the Fifties, when thousands of men who'd survived the trenches were still in their early sixties and the country was full of men and women who'd been through the Blitz. They didn't spend their time longing for the return of the workhouse and public hangings.

Indeed, time for us today to be a little more grateful of what we have, to keep it in its right perspective and do our bit to maintain it, whether it be by force of arms or by improving our political systems or whatever may be needed.

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Saturday, August 09, 2003

TEST Errrm looks like I made some sort of mistake, so here's another try...

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