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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

CHRISTIANS AND THE “CHATTERING CLASSES” Cristina Odone writes about the “liberal” anti-pathy towards Christianity:

If there's one thing guaranteed to turn the liberal chattering classes into rabid persecutors, it's Christians

Why? Go read, it’s a worthwhile piece.

SOME NOTES ON THE RED CROSS ATTACK The dominant theme on yesterday’s news programmes while analysing the bombing of the Red Cross HQ was one of incomprehension. Why would anyone attack an organisation that is the purest embodiment of neutrality? Well, as I have argued before, the terrorists carrying out the attacks in Iraq have a very clear goal: they want the rebuilding of Iraq to fail. And they want it to fail badly and bloodily. For practical purposes it doesn’t actually matter much whether they are Baathists or al Quaeda or whatever, they strive for Iraq to collapse into complete chaos and thus ensure a victory for their respective ideology against any sort of progress for the Iraqi people. This is where the incomprehension sets in for many Western commentators. For far too many of them it’s all about America. While most in the West, including respectable opponents of the war, share the same goal for Iraq, i.e. a functioning market democracy; the main dividing line is how this is to be achieved. It’s just that the terrorists don’t care too much whether or not the UN or the coalition fails, as long as there is failure.
And let’s make no mistake about it, the potential for failure is large, despite the fact that there has been much progress in the past six months. One of the problems that I see is that we may be thinking about the challenges in Iraq in the wrong way.
For example on reconstruction I tend to find the view that more aid money is all that is needed far too widespread. Yes, Iraq does need outside financial help at the moment (hopefully its own oil revenues will be able to cover the costs in months and years to come), but the question is more how Iraq’s transition to a workable economy can be made permanent. For example Robert Lane Green has pointed out that:

In fact, while the $55 billion the World Bank estimates Iraq needs over the next few years may fix up the country's prewar infrastructure, it's unlikely to have the same effect on its economy--for the simple reason that Iraq never had a modern capitalist economy to begin with.

And reminds us that Iraq

has in modern times been a socialist basket-case propped up only by oil, in the middle of a region beset by much the same problem. In a sense, postwar Iraq combines the worst features of postwar Germany with those of post-Soviet Russia.
. . .
And, in the end, it's the socialist legacy that may actually prove tougher to overcome. Not only does a former socialist country have to dismantle hugely inefficient state enterprises and recycle their capital and labor into more productive parts of the economy. It must also create the institutions upon which a capitalist market depends--property rights, bankruptcy laws,

That will indeed be a great challenge and it would be good if all those who wish to see Iraq prosper which hopefully includes many opponents of the regime change will agree to help with this monumental task.

The other big issue is of course security. While the increase in the numbers of Iraqi policemen should be more rapid than it is at the moment, the general security situation seems to be improving. But again, as with the economy, the question is how to ensure a lasting arrangement. Tom Donelly and Gary Schmitt, the leading members of the much-vilified Project for the New American Century, argue that a victory against the terrorists will be necessary. They point out that:

the debate has focused on whether we have enough troops, rather than whether we have the right forces, in the right places, using the right stratagems to defeat the amalgam of hard-core Baathists, Iraqi opportunists and radical Islamists from outside the country who continue to wage unconventional war against the U.S.-led occupation.

They make it clear that:

Developing and executing a successful counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq is a challenge, to be sure, but far from an insurmountable one.

. . .

CAN SUCH A STRATEGY WORK IN IRAQ? Yes, if applied correctly. One lesson: Pacification and counterinsurgency campaigns are manpower-intensive.

That’s certainly the case and have a long argued that the occupation force is too small. In an ironic way the actual war could probably have been won with fewer forces, but I have always maintained that the occupation would require an increase in the number of troops and I’m happy to see the authors echoing a further favourite talking point of mine, namely that

the effort "should be organized primarily around light infantry units" that must "patrol intensively in and around populated areas," interposing themselves between insurgents and the people.

The problem with implementing this strategy is in parts not just conceptual but also institutional:

A successful counterinsurgency campaign also would require American ground forces to carry out tasks and operations that today's "transforming" military, which increasingly is trading manpower for precision firepower, finds hard to perform. As one Army colonel in Iraq recently said to a New York Times reporter: "We are not trained to fight a war like this. We're training to fight an army face to face, to engage in direct combat, an enemy we can see." But that's not the kind of enemy we now face in Iraq.

And that is in fact a very substantial problem that Frederick Kagan has analysed at length. He concludes:

IF THE U.S. is to undertake wars that aim at regime change and maintain its current critical role in controlling and directing world affairs, then it must fundamentally change its views of war. It is not enough to consider simply how to pound the enemy into submission with stand-off forces. War plans must also consider how to make the transition from that defeated government to a new one. A doctrine based on the notion that superpowers don't do windows will fail in this task. Regime change is inextricably intertwined with nation-building and peacekeeping. Those elements must be factored into any such plan from the outset.
(. . . ) To effect regime change, U.S. forces must be positively in control of the enemy's territory and population as rapidly and continuously as possible. That control cannot be achieved by machines, still less by bombs. Only human beings interacting with other human beings can achieve it. The only hope for future success in the extension of politics that is war is to restore the human element to the transformation equation.

I can only hope that this shift in thinking will eventually happen. At least the British armed forces’ set-up in the past decade has re-emphasised the need for this sort of operations, as the successes in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and to a certain extent southern Iraq have shown. Though the apparently planned cuts in spending could well put an end to that. What idiots.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

QUO VADIS C OF E? It’s Sunday, so it must be time to think about the church - the obvious alternative if you are not actually going to go there. David Aaronovitch, whose entire personal experience of organised religion consists of being inside a synagogue no more than three times in his life while coincidentally a service was being conducted, is not a man I would instinctively turn to for analysis of the Church’s current predicament over gay bishops, but he’s spot on anyway:

So, just as the Catholic legacy leaves them today with a half-dead pontiff, the legacy of schism finds this nation with an established church founded on expedience. The Church of England is pleasant and safe and concerned to remain pleasant and safe.
Left to itself, the Church in England would probably get round to ordaining actively gay bishops over the next 10 years or so. It might even sanction sex before marriage, within the context of loving relationships. That's the way things are going in this country. Women have become priests and the result has not been hell-fire, but rather The Vicar of Dibley and the balancing departure of Ann Widdecombe.
This, Rowan Williams surely knows. The problem is all these offshoots to the Church of England that arose out of a third legacy, that of Empire. The Episcopalians of New Hampshire now want an openly gay bishop. They are, however, quite prepared to live with those parts of the Church who prefer their ordained homosexuals either to suffer or to lie. The African bishops and their allies, itseems, are not prepared to take such a traditional Anglican position, and have pressed for the Americans to retract or to be declared 'out of communion'. Although they hail from a continent ravaged by heterosexual Aids, they are jetting round the world to ensure that there isn't a gay bishop in New Hampshire.

On balance I probably share Aaronovitch’s conclusion:

And yet I wonder whether he [Rowan Williams] would not command more respect by stating his own convictions and arguing for them. He will, after all, eventually have to tell the African bishops the truth. Which is that, as he surveys the world, the greatest problems are not those caused by having gay vicars.

The risk is of course a schism. Ok, so you could easily argue for taking that risk to let the Church progress, but the Observer’s leader gives a few good reasons why liberals should be a little more patient (after all, we will get there eventually):

. . . traditional Anglican liberal pragmatists, of whom the Archbishop is one, countenance reform for good Anglican reasons - including that the Church should stay connected to the mores of the civil society it spiritually represents.
But the Church has a greater vocation; it is to faith, God and to spreading the word of God - a vocation that secular critics cannot really understand. This is why it recruits clergy and why it functions as an institution at all. Unity and sharing the same interpretation of scriptures are institutional imperatives. The Church's priority therefore has to be to prevent schism, rather than accommodate society's tolerance of homosexuality.
This is the dilemma with which Rowan Williams wrestles, even though he knows hostility to homosexuality is fundamentally unChristian. . . . If the African and Latin-American Anglican bishops warn darkly of being unable to share the same communion as Hampshire's Canon Gene Robinson if he is made a bishop, that is because they represent more intolerant traditions of faith.
Ultimately sexual tolerance must spread to the less developed world. The issue, therefore, is of time. It follows that the best outcome is to maintain the union of the Church while it painfully moves towards accepting homosexual bishops. This is the desirable ultimate outcome, even if it takes a generation to accomplish, as Archbishop Williams knows. It is also in the long-term interests of gay priests to look towards a time when they can represent a unified Anglican Communion, rather than a fragment of it.

Not to be outdone the Torygraph gave a voice to otherwise abominable A N Wilson, who also counsels against schism:

This is very far from being the first time that Christians have decided to split over some matter of supreme importance to themselves and of only marginal interest to everyone else. Many of us will feel sad because we think of Anglicanism as a force for good in the world. In the overcrowded cities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was Anglicansim which brought decent schools to the poor and which in the persons of such figures as Father Jellicoe, the brother of the admiral, housing for thousands. It was the Anglican Christianity of the Mirfield fathers in Southern Africa that began the great fight against apartheid. Trevor Huddleston's Naught for your Comfort was a book which alerted millions round the world to the evil of what was happening in South Africa. Only Anglicanism could have nourished T S Eliot or John Betjeman.
Anglicanism's gentleness, its intellectual seriousness, its passionate decency, its sense of beauty and order, both liturgical and social, are rare qualities which the world needs.

. . .

There are certain things you try not to do, if you are religious, because they are forbidden rather than because you believe them to be morally wrong. No Jew thinks it is sinful to eat a bacon sandwich, though many Jews believe it is forbidden by covenant. It is sinful to commit a murder or to grind the faces of the poor. Sexual conduct is surely on the same level of seriousness as eating a bacon sandwich, and we might have hoped that nowadays, given the diversity of human life, the Church would have chosen to shut up about sex.

On the other hand, if you really want something serious to think about religious-morals-wise, give this a try, though be warned it’s quite depressing.

Friday, October 17, 2003

THE CASE FOR A REFERENDUM ON THE EU CONSTITUTION Be sure to read this piece in the Telegraph by Lady Meyer, who is co-chairman of Vote 2004, the cross-party campaign for a referendum on the constitution:

But it isn't only heads of state and government who should be behind a referendum. The European constitution will affect everyone in the country in the minutiae of our daily lives. It would affect the legal system and the police. It would give the EU powers over the sentences criminals receive. It would give the EU the ability to co-ordinate the economic and social policies of member states. Under the constitution, we would give up our right to veto EU asylum policies under one great over-arching EU "common asylum policy".

. . .

However the negotiations come out, the accumulation of changes since 1975, enshrined in the new constitution, will mark a massive qualitative advance over the past 28 years. The plain truth is that the EU of 2003 is already profoundly different from the Common Market of 1975. If it was right to hold a referendum on Britain's membership in 1975, it must logically be right to hold one on the new constitution, which will fix our national destiny for decades to come.
This is not an argument against the constitution, or EU membership. It is a position to which Europhiles and Euro-sceptics alike can rally. A referendum, properly framed and debated, should subsume the Government's promise to hold one on the euro. It would also put an end to the endless debate about Britain's role in the European Union.
Some argue that a referendum would undermine our tradition of parliamentary democracy. But there are moments in our history when the matter in hand is of such great importance that it is right to consult the people directly. Certainly, several European countries have reached the same conclusion

I don't agree with this line anyway that a referendum would undermine the principle of parliamentary democracy. The question at hand is exactly about parliamentary democracy and whether and how its constitutional position and sovereignty should be changed. This decision cannot be taken by Parliament just as the original decisions to create parliamentary sovereignty were taken not by Parliament but by the higher legitimising power of the Crown. Coincidentally the Queen's concerns about the constitution fit neatly into this tradition. Of course we don't in practise think that the Queen is the legitimising higher power for the state anymore. Quite rightly that position today is the people of the UK and that is why we, and not just Tony Blair and a majority number of MPs, are those who must make any permanent changes to the sovereignty of Parliament.

NEW ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE IDEA In case you have forgotten what it's about here’s an interesting debate at tnr online between Yossi Klein Halevi and Leon Wieseltier. It is a good summary on where the main arguments run along in the current situation. I might add that Wieseltier's opinions sound more sensible to me, but either way it's certainly recommended reading if you're interested in the issue.
It's also a good starting point to examine the new peace proposal that popped up this week and which Naomi Chazan propagates in today's Jerusalem Post. There are some good ideas in it, but you cannot quite avoid the feeling that there is something amiss here:

The draft Permanent Status Agreement contains over 50 pages and a series of annexes and maps that are an integral part of the final text. The strategy guiding this undertaking, in a major shift from the phased approach governing the Oslo accords and the road map, is to first iron out in detail all the key elements of a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty.
Agreement on the ultimate goal and the breakdown of the measures required for its realization (according to a 30-month timetable) provide both a clear, consensual objective and the promise of a reduction of violence and terrorism en route to its implementation.

Ouch, this hurts. I'm no great expert on the details of how and why exactly past peace efforts have failed, but I can say for sure that one element was that they were too detailed and fixated on an exact timetable. The past mistake was certainly not that the plans were too vague but that they were too specific to be able to adapt to changes on the ground. On the other hand it does make a lot of sense on other issues:

The preamble to the document highlights the centrality of the achievement of a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time in Israel's history, there is explicit recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Which is ok as a start, but the real questions are how do you accommodate into this framework the Palestinians' right to a state, and more importantly, how will you get the rejectionist forces in the Arab world to change their minds? On that last issue many will say that a Palestinian state would change that, but let's assume that rejectionism boils down to a rejection of a state that -depending on the rejectionists' ideological source- is either Jewish, Western or democratic. How will that and the associate problems it brings with it, be they support for anti-Israeli terrorism or Iranian nuclear weapons, be dealt with?

Elaborate provisions are made to safeguard Israel's security, including the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state.

Except of course that a mandatorily demilitarised state isn't really a state. It is acceptable and sometimes necessary to impose demilitarised zones and a ban on specific weapons systems on a country as part of a peace settlement as was done to Germany following World War One. But such measures must be temporary, limited and enforced to be workable and seen as legitimate (the measures against Germany failed because they broke every one of these conditions). But an entire state that is demilitarised as a condition of its existence and not an internal choice? I'm not sure that will be taken serious by its own population and given so far the impossibility of a Palestinian leadership that would be accepted as the only negotiator with Israel this is a very serious obstacle indeed.

The refugee issue is resolved through compensation, repatriation in Palestine, relocation in a third country, or official residency in existing domiciles. There will be no Palestinian return to Israel (extraordinary individual humanitarian cases will be settled only by agreement).

This is certainly an important step that will eventually have to be taken, but why on earth do the authors believe that this is a viable option at this moment? The current situation is not one in which such a deal is going to happen. Chazan presents a lot of other good things that in the big picture of it all may make sense, but it all boils down to feasibility:

A complex system of monitoring mechanisms is set in place to assure compliance.

And what happens when one or both parties fail to comply? The plan is derailed because then all this ingenious just-in-time-manufacturing style diplomacy will find the same end that such manufacturers have if one of their trucks gets stuck in a traffic jam, or a storm takes down a telephone line or a vital worker becomes ill: it collapses. And then what? The only option seems to be back to the drawing board to change a few emphases and to create an even more detailed plan because the last one wasn't detailed and complex enough.
I know I don't have the solution, but this is, as good as much of it sounds, not going to happen. Shame really.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

TERRORISM AND DRUGS TRADE In today's IHT William Safire busies himself Adding up evidence against Assad's Syria.
I'm not really concerned with most of the article, which is a little, how shall I say, over the top with its listing of all sorts of bad stuff you could possible lay at Syria's door (occupation of Lebanon, support for terrorism and Saddam's deposed regime, etc). What actually caught my attention was this:

Find the European connections to the cocaine trade in the Bekaa Valley that buys rockets for Nasrallah's Hezbollah.

A friend of mine recently relayed to me that a fifth of Afghanistan's economy revolves around the drug trade. It is a fairly safe bet to assume that a good deal of this is going into the war chests of the Taleban and al Quaeda. The nexus between drugs, organised crime and terrorism is as clear as it need be. Is the West, and particularly the US, using its resources wisely? I think not. Jacob Sullum doesn't either:

With escalating budget deficits as far as the eye can see, Americans should seriously consider whether we can afford a war on drugs in addition to a war with Iraq and a war on terrorism. Given the dangers we face, it's inexcusable to blithely continue the futile crusade against politically incorrect plants, powders, and pills.

Of course, the only real solution is the complete legalisation of the international drug trade and thus reduce the huge amounts of dirty money floating around and from which terrorists of all types profit just as much as those ordinary criminals who are only in it for the money. Mo Mowlam has presented this case with the most clarity, while Deroy Murdock makes the case from the right and with a summarising headline: Fight Bombs, not Bongs. In any case, if a country chooses to maintain a ban on domestic drug use, there is no reason why every country in the world has to agree to a legalisation of drug within its own territory. It's only the worldwide trade that needs to be curbed in order to get to grips with terrorism.

DID SADDAM PERHAPS NOT KNOW HE DIDN’T HAVE ANY WMD? This is actually a point I had never considered:

Re recent analyses of what WMD's Saddam had, should we assume that it's a comment on a bureaucratic state? They had all manner of administrative effort related to creating WMDs, consuming much time and money of the regime, but the actual production was not proportionate. Could it be that, like other command regimes that have no real understanding of what their grand initiatives are like at the sharp end, Saddam simply did not know that he didn't have that much to hide?

It is an often recurring appeareance in history that despots have the habit of killing those people who bring bad news and rewarding those that bring good news. In the end of course the only advisors left are those who only supply good news, nevermind if this fails to match the reality on the ground. We shall see. One day. Perhaps. If we’re lucky. Or maybe there were no weapons programmes, just an above-average number of fertilizer research laboratories. . . .

QUOTE OF THE DAY Over at au currant I found this

Reading [Michael] Moore is like being locked in room with a junior high school student who has just found out 35 years too late that US Forces dropped Agent Orange defoliant on Vietnam and thought that this was hot news.

Highly accurate. For that matter you can apply that to the vast majority of the leftist anti-war etc types. Which is quite tragic if you really think about it. Because every now and then they might be right of course.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

TORIES NEED TO BECOME MORE LIBERAL What of the Conservative party's future? They have their conference running at the moment. Some people think that the Liberal Democrats will and should take over as the main opposition party. The argument against it is simple: it's not going to happen. Additionally, it shouldn't happen. The LibDems contribute nothing to British democracy. They try by any number of means, including self-contradictory electioneering, to steal away voters from the Tories and Labour. Given that the LibDems today are to the left of Labour I admit that their strategy is highly efficient but my point is that Britain doesn't need another leftist party. The one thing Britain needs is a genuinly liberal party.
This is where the current thinking in the Conservative party makes the practical mistake to assume that the crucial swing voters would actually prefer a left-ward-shifting Tory party. They wouldn't. The critical swing voters are actually more economically liberal than the Conservatives' heartland supporters. One reason these people swung behind Blair (and note that it is Blair they supported, not the Labour party), is because they quite reasonable assumed that he would be economically harmless but socially more liberal than the Major Government. Gradually this is changing. For their own sake and the country's the Conservatives need to start reacting more to this. I don't deny that the Tories have been doing a lot of thinking and they have a number of policies that I broadly agree with. I also don't deny that they have been making some headway in the polls, I'm not the BBC after all ;). The Conservatives should take the risk and seriously push into a more liberal direction. For example they should change their otherwordly drug-prohibition policy and when discussing EU issues stop talking about national identity (who knows what that is these days anyway) and instead talk about the infringements on British freedoms and democracy. They should give it try. Who knows, it might just win them the next election.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

CAN WE BE MULTI-RACIAL AND COLOUR-BLIND? In today's Telegraph, Ward Connerly, has argues his case for the large-scale abolition of California's race-box-ticking-system by popular referendum. I recommend reading all of it, but here are the money shots

The unrelenting, daily racial categorisation of people by the government is one of the most divisive forces in American society. It is constantly emphasising our minor differences, in opposition to our better instincts that tell us to seek our common interests and common values.

There is one objective that should be common to all societies: developing and sustaining a sense of unity. No matter how advanced, this objective is the centrepiece of a stable society.
As societies become more open to those from various backgrounds, the question of how to merge changing demographics into a common civic identity becomes increasingly problematic. Nowhere is that challenge more apparent than in California, one of the most multi-ethnic and "multi-racial" populations in the world.

Throughout history, government-imposed racial classifications have been used to divide people and to set them against each other. The slave owners and segregationists knew it; the Nazis knew it when they labelled European Jews a separate and inferior "race"; American judges knew it when they had to determine if Asians or part-Asians were white or non-white for the purposes of naturalisation.

Actually British history offers an interesting reference point for this. Unbelievable as it may seem to us today but just a century ago the Irish were considered to be a race separate from the British, a fact again that underlines that racial categorisations are made by governments for the advancement of particularist interests.

If approved, Proposition 54 will return California to the journey of becoming a society in which "Race has no place in American life or law", and where all of our people may some day see themselves as members of an extended human family, undivided by "race", the colour of our skin, the origin of our ancestors or the country of our birth.
The only race that will matter is the human race and the only identity of which the government will take account is our standing as "Americans".

I think that ultimately this is where we are also going to have to start heading in Britain. In the Southeast we already have the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse population in Europe. No offence to those of you who live in other parts of our beautiful isle, but we all now that it's the South East where the nation's future is being made. And that future is always spreading to the rest of the country. Connerly notes one big factor that undermines the race classification system is that of intermarriage and mixed offspring. In California one in nine children are of mixed parentage. In the UK it is already one in eight.
While this is a good argument to remember when arguing about the different schemes of affirmative action occasionally being debated for Britain, there is a problem here, that a colour-blind politics fails to address: racism. That may look paradoxical at first but the kind of racism I am talking about is of a more subtle kind. Modern day Britain has no legal constraints on the success for people from minority backgrounds, but at the same time we can't pretend that there aren't race problems in Britain. For example how come that in Brixton virtually all people who are stopped, searched and arrested by the police are black, while the police itself is virtually exclusively white? Of course there are many complex reasons for this disparity but I am absolutely sure that race and racism are part of it. The problem in this respect is surely that the police are seen as racist and consequently black Brixtonians (is that the right word?) are deterred from entering the police force. The absence of black faces in the thin blue line in Brixton then reinforces the impression that the police are racist. I could go on in explaining other ways in which there is a vicious circle here, but I think my point is clear. The questions we have to address are whether a colour-blind policy will eventually remove this problem and whether there is anything government could do in case this doesn't happen or simply to speed this process up. What we need is an alternative to institutionalised affirmative action, an alternative that both maintains liberal principles of colour-blind justice, while also managing to help the advancement of individuals from a disadvantaged minority background. If only I know what that would look like . . . .


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