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Thursday, November 27, 2003

LIVINGSTONE WASTES MONEY Especially if you're a Londoner do read this excellent post by Oliver Kamm on mayor Ken Livingstone's anti Bush party. I am not going to bother pointing out that Livingstone and his guests are largely wrong in their politics because I made a vow not to comment on Iraq anymore until New Year's.
The question that needs to be asked though is, what justification there can possibly be for the Mayor to be spending Londoner's taxes, paid to a London government to deal with London problems, on issues of international affairs?
On the wider level of course, no government should ever be using tax money to advance a clearly partisan agenda, as opposed to an information campaign for a policy that it was elected to implement. There is a world of difference between the two and someone ought to make this a little clearer to Red Ken.
But one thing is for sure, barring any fantastically awful alternatives, he is not getting my vote when his reelection comes up.

THIS MADE ME LAUGH Thanks to au currant for the link: here is an absolutely brilliant spoof of Peter Cuthbertson. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

TIME FOR SOME BRITISH NATIONAL HOLIDAYS? I agree with Linda Colley's call for happier holidays, or actually for public holidays at all. Although she gives an explanation about the decline of national holidays I don't think it really works. The lessening of the religious and national consensus, and an increase in a self-critical and even self-destructive national mood, doesn't really explain it. For example, I'm in Germany at the moment and even though religion is treated with far less respect in the public sphere than it is in the UK, there are nonetheless heaps of religious holidays, and these are real ones too where shops, schools and offices are closed. Another example is the national holiday. Whereas Germany may be infamous for wrestling with its historical guilts, that doesn’t prevent it from having the Tag der deutschen Einheit, the day of German unity, as a proper holiday including some rudimentary celebrations.
One day that I think everyone in Britain could agree on as a national holiday would surely be Remembrance Day; it is of course a proper public holiday in France and Belgium. Ok, so that wouldn't be a happy holiday, but it's a start. I think the Queen's Birthday should be a public holiday. Although this wouldn't be entirely uncontroversial what with those republican types, most would surely be pleased about a day off. After all I can't remember any stories from last year's Jubilee celebrations about anti-monarchists breaking into their offices to work over the holidays as an act of protest. I wonder what other options there are. I will go and research old holidays and have a look if they could be given any modern meaning and I'll post a complete guide to public holidays to be made. Of course we should also invent a few new ones perhaps. Colley suggests a "New Citizens Day" on which we could acknowledge the results of immigration and imprint it into the national psyche that this is something to celebrate rather than to be treated exclusively as a problem. That's a good idea to start with. Perhaps we can find a better title than "New Citizens Day" though. That sounds like something half-baked that escaped from the innards of a New Labour think-tank.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I AM GEORGE WALKER BUSH And this is a description of me:

You are the most powerful man in the world, which leaves you little time to think for yourself. Fortunately, you have your friends to think for you!

I like the power bit. Not too sure about those friends thinking for me though. (No offence guys, but our politics don’t really match a lot do they.) And which member of the Bush administration are you?

Update: Sorry, seems to be becoming a habit of mine, here's the link.

Monday, November 24, 2003

THE ALTERNATIVE WAR ON TERROR In yesterday's Telegraph David Frum explains why Bush is our best chance for peace. I'm not so sure about that. More accurate to say he's the next best chance to maintain freedom, not just our own but that of people everywhere around the world. That may be a key part of the war on terror anyway, but remember it is so largely by choice, not by need. If we wanted to we could fight differently as Frum writes:

Think again. Bush may fail. But if he fails, it is unlikely that America today will then conclude: "How terrible that the people of the Middle East gravitate towards violence and authoritarianism. It must be our fault. Quick - let's give them a Palestinian state so they will stop blowing up our office towers."
It is much more likely that Americans will conclude: "Something is seriously wrong with these people. And we'd better take steps to protect ourselves from them." You do not, after all, have to send your armies into the heart of the Middle East to fortify your society against Middle Eastern terror. You can also do it by barring Middle Eastern people from your territories and keeping careful watch over those who have already entered. You can do it by supporting regimes willing to crack down on terrorist organisations by any means necessary. You can do it by cutting back on your presence in the region, reducing investment and trade, striking from a distance whenever any state or group seems close to acquiring weapons of mass destruction - but otherwise consigning the people of the region to stagnate in their own rage.

That is the alternative. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we have to invade and occupy every country that looks like it has a terror problem that it can't deal with without our support, and try to impose democracy. I know this simply isn't possible and we need to fight dirty now and then, but it is still no excuse not to fight terror by spreading democracy as far as our capabilities make it possible.

Friday, November 21, 2003

WHAT TO MAKE OF THE INSTANBUL BOMBS? That Britain was a potential target for such attacks goes without saying really. Martin Woollacott makes some sense of it in the Guardian. My feeling is that in a way the time was ripe for an attack on British targets and they coincided well with Bush's visit in London. As Woollacott reminds us:

there had been no successful attacks in this country or on specifically British targets abroad. Diplomatic missions, synagogues, hotels and places of entertainment have been hit across the world, but it has been Americans, Australians, French, Israelis, north Africans, Jews, Iraqis and, of course, bystanders of many nationalities, but usually of Muslim faith, who have been killed.

I suppose, it was waiting to happen. I hope it is a good sign that the attack happened in Istanbul. It could be a good sign because an attack in Britain is made sufficiently difficult by the security forces. Also the fact that Britain is on the front line of the war on terror may explain why Turkey was hit, because

the trouble about being out of the front line is that this also makes you into a place where the soft targets represented by the assets of more prominent actors are relatively easily accessible.

This again underlines the challenge that international terrorism presents the world with. You can either beef up and join the fight or else remove and isolate your country from all Western, democratic and modernising influences. Most countries have opted to sit somewhere in the middle, hoping they can have protection and investments from the West, without becoming a target for the Islamofascists. In many instances such as Bali this has already turned out to be an impossible position. Clearly most countries and the vast majorities of their populations want to gain access to the benefits of market democracy, so there is going to be no widespread appearance of hermit states like North Korea, which serves as a good illustration of where such an approach leads. In effect, although that's not the way he meant it, this does all suggest that Bush was quite accurate in his "either you're with us or against us" blurb – either you fight terrorism or the terrorists will get you. Ok, so strictly speaking you could also opt to support the terrorists, in which case however the full might of the Arsenal of Democracy would be coming after you, and unlike with a bunch of al Quaeda loonies, there's not even the slightest chance of escaping from that.
Indeed this is mirrored, as Woollacott explains, in significant trends working against the terrorists:

notably the reaction of the security forces and of the local population. As bomb succeeds bomb, the radical groups in many Muslim countries that have taken up what they see as the duty of jihad are losing key members both in the attacks themselves and in the arrests which follow. Their capacity to mount new operations may thus diminish rather than increase. (. . .)
They are also losing, not popular support, which they do not really possess in most places, but the romanticised image which they were able to exploit in the past. Local residents yesterday reported a rocket position that threatened Canadian troops in Kabul. The townsfolk of Ghazni in Afghanistan the other day pursued and apprehended the men who killed a young Frenchwoman working for the UN and would have burned down their homes had they not been stopped. People in Nasiriyah in Iraq were tearful at the loss of the Italian policemen and fearful that the Italians would leave as the result of the recent attack on their base.

These are positive trends clearly showing progress in the war on terror and we should try to keep these in mind when we think of the dire present.

REPORT FROM THE LONDON DEMO Do read David Carr's wry report from yesterday's demonstration screeching for the pullout of coalition forces out of Iraq so the Iraqi people can enjoy the full benefits of living in a collapsed state with all its attendant benefits of endless civil war, starvation and perpetual misery. Ok, that's not the way the "peace" protesters put it themselves, but that is what ending the occupation would mean in practice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I AM COMPLETELY FED UP WITH IRAQ No, I don’t mean the country or the people – I mean the war debate. It is still lingering around the same topics that were being bandied about 18 months ago (in some cases even since the early 1990s). The discussions have managed to sustain a maddening level of repetitiveness and utter boredom. I don’t know how others feel about this, but if I have to read or hear another comment by an anti-war commentator that the war was illegal or bear another tedious attempt at proving that Saddam was behind 9/11 by a pro-war commentator my head is going to pop. What really surprised and enrages me about this is the little fact that this debate remains entirely oblivious to the fact that the actual war happened. As Tony Blair loves to say, let’s move on. I’ve posted my latest lengthier piece (“Was Blair right on Iraq? The Case for War revisited”) over at my new essay collection site. A short polemnic on the matter is still in preparation and will be up sometime tomorrow. I am taking this as an opportunity to make the vow that for the rest of this year -barring any really great stories- Iraq will not be a topic on this site. I’m fed up and so should you be. The likelihood of anybody changing his mind now is virtually nil and everything that needs to be said about the post-war transformation of Iraq has been said. Enough for now. Please.

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER GUARDIAN POLL This time it’s on the royal family. If you’re a republican don’t spoil your day and look away now. If you’re not a republican enjoy the good news that support for the institution of the monarchy has actually risen from 43% in November 2002 to 57% now. At least for now it looks like we’ll be spared the ultimate indignity of having to indulge in fascination and barely restrained envy at somebody else’s monarchs. So today have some sympathy with the poor Americans, French and Germans who have no royalty to be awed amused and irritated by. For example consider this fact: big royal events such as marriages in all European kingdoms are broadcast live on German television. So, if you ever happen to be in Germany during Trooping the Colour fear not, German state television will deliver a full live broadcast. Do we want this is Britain? Surely not, so best to keep the Royals however annoying and embarrassing they may be from time to time.

VAN CREVELD GETS THE NEW MIDDLE-EAST HALF RIGHT AND HALF COMPLETELY WRONG Martin van Creveld is a very respected strategic thinker and author of one the must-read books for the post-Cold War era, The Transformation of War. His piece in the IHT today is however a little less praiseworthy.

As the promise to advance the Iraqi elections to mid-2004 shows, the United States will lose - in fact already has lost - the war.

I’m not so sure, the holding of elections in Iraq would be a good indicator of the gradual path to victory. No?

The Americans will leave the country in the same way as the Soviets left Afghanistan: with the Iraqi guerrillas jeering at them.

I don’t know what makes him so sure, and he chooses not to tell us either, which is rather disappointing. So what when the guerrillas win?

Assuming that Saddam Hussein is behind the guerrilla attacks, no doubt he will try to assume control of the country again. If he is strong enough to do this, then the situation ante quam will be largely restored; imagine Saddam thumbing his nose at Bush as he did at Bush's father.

Just imagine that. It would be quite a farce. Is this likely? I cannot for the life of me imagine that Bush Jr’s government could allow that to happen. And what if it did? The consequences would be truly catastrophic. Saddam would become the world’s no1 anti-American hero, any remaining amount of Western military credibility would be wiped out, the West indeed would have proved itself to be the weak horse as which Ossama bin Laden taunted us for our decadence, and what then would stop al Quaeda moving into Iraq as Saddam’s guests after such a successful co-operation (“Just think what else we can achieve together!”). We can’t afford to lose in Iraq now, because that will only intensify the problem manifold:

. . . Iraq will probably disintegrate into three parts, a Shiite south, a Sunni center, and a Kurdish north. Judging by the fact that the last-named has never been able to overcome its tribal divisions, none of the three is likely to develop into a proper, centrally ruled state. The most likely outcome is three mini-Afghanistans that will serve as havens for terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

The West cannot afford to let this happen and if push comes to shove, there are many options as yet unexplored in settling the current troubles in Iraq: more troops (needed anyway), shutting down Iraq’s borders (long overdue), setting up an extensive monitoring infrastructure (an electronic Big Brother), putting an extensive network of checkpoints around the neighbourhoods from which the attackers are coming (like in Northern Ireland back when) and ultimately, if we get really desperate, we could always fall back on putting the population in the problem areas in protected hamlets (like in the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s). Some of these options are rather ugly, particularly the last one. But, as I said, if push comes to shove we might need to do it. If even these extreme measures fail, then, and only then, will we really have failed and lost the war.
Van Creveld is right about the threat Iraq poses to the surrounding regimes. While it is true that a stable Iraq that looks set on a course a slow democratisation and liberalisation would have positive effects on its neighbours by encouraging more reasonable government there, the opposite could also materialise if the visual instability in Iraq remains for too long. On another point of his I’m also not so sure:

In the short run, the greatest beneficiary of the war is Israel. The destruction of Iraq has created a situation in which, for the first time since Israel was founded in 1948, it has no real conventional enemy left within about 1,000 kilometers, or 600 miles, of its borders. If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had any sense, he would use this window of opportunity to come to some kind of arrangement with the Palestinians. Whether he will do so, though, remains to be seen.

Remains to be seen. Indeed. But that’s not my concern here. I don’t buy the line that the removal of Saddam has been such a great boost to Israeli security. In January 1991 Iraq was genuinely dangerous for Israel, even on a purely conventional level, but by March 1991 Iraq has ceased to exist as a conventional military power. This is also completely ignorant that Israel hasn’t really been under a credible conventional threat for decades. The twin threats facing Israel are terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in Islamist hands. The main foe for Israel has thus been Iran, a fact van Creveld must surely be aware of. It is perhaps ironic in a way that this piece should appear the day after Israel’s intelligence chief said that Israel’s existence today was more threatened than ever since 1948 because of Iran’s looming nuclear weapons, a programme he said would soon go “beyond the point of no return”. There is of course an aspect to Iran’s weapons programme that van Creveld explains:

Even before America invaded Iraq, the Iranians, feeling surrounded by nuclear-capable U.S. forces on three sides (Afghanistan, the Central Asian republics, the Gulf), were working as hard as they could to acquire nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles to match. Now that the United States has proved that it is prepared to fight anybody for no reason at all, they should be forgiven if they redouble their efforts.

That sounds logical, but completely misses the point that the Iranian regime declared goal is to wipe Israel off the map (see my post of September 23rd). Hopefully the Iranian people will by then have cast off their dictatorship, which has been rapidly losing ground in the population and even needs to hire Arab foreigners to maintain its iron grip in the country. Van Creveld thinks this will not make much of a difference:

Even if the Islamic Republic were overthrown, the new government in Tehran would surely follow the same nationalist line as its predecessor.

Except the problem isn’t a nationalist Iranian bomb, but an Islamist one. Under the shah Iran had already started tentative explorations of nuclear weapons with the help of Israel and possible other Western countries. Iran’s nuclear weapons under a new government would be less of an acute threat than it is now, but van Creveld is right that is should be discouraged because:

A nuclear Iran would most likely be followed by a nuclear Turkey. Next would come a nuclear Greece, a nuclear Saudi Arabia and a nuclear Egypt.

Well, that’s something to look forward to. Not. How to deal with that is the real big question in the Middle East today, so it’s a shame van Creveld doesn’t bother.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

GUARDIAN’S POLL ON BUSH, WAR AND AMERICA REVEALS ODD GENERATIONAL GAP Even I am not immune to being slide into mental laziness, so I just took for granted the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq war in Britain at this moment. Today the Guardian has released a poll that shows that public opinion is not quite so stark and has in fact recently been shifting back towards support of the war. In total 43% welcome Bush’s visit, while it is opposed by 36%. I was surprised that despite all the negative press in the recent past, 62% of the British people agree that America is a force for good in the world, while only 15% opposed this notion. With 70% this view was most popular in the 25-34 age bracket to which I belong mentally, if not technically. The bad news in this part of the poll is the fact that nearly a third of 18-24 year olds think America is a force for evil in the world. I was pleased to see that with 47% against 41% support for the removal of Saddam’s regime is still holding its ground. Again there is an interesting age difference between the 18-24 and the 25-34 groups. In the older group more than half thinks in hindsight that the war was justified and a third thinks it wasn’t whereas in the younger one the results are reversed. All in all both groups are a stark contrast to the more measured opinion mix in the older sections. I find this quite intrigueing and wonder what could behind this divergence. It could certainly make for some strange “generation” conflicts. This is also the first time I have noticed such an opinion gap anywhere. The more familiar gaps between genders, classes and political affiliations are clearly on show. The good news is that the support for the occupation to last until Iraq is in better shape is consistently above two-thirds polled.

Update: Sorry, forgot: Here is the link to the story and the poll.
I’ve given the age gap some thought. My initial hunch is what people would have seen of world affairs and America’s role in it between the ages of 14-18, an important age in which first political impressions are made. So what would today’s 18-24 year olds have seen of America and the World? They would have seen America bombing in Bosnia, bombing in Iraq, bombing in Serbia, bombing in Iraq again, shortly interrupted by 9/11, America bombing and invading Afghanistan and finally America bombing and invading Iraq. What they didn’t see was what the 25-34 year olds have seen: America ending the Cold War (not only America, but still), America ushering in an unprecedented period of worldwide democratisation and economic growth, America saving Kuwait and probably the rest of the Middle East from Saddam. There is another thing however, which may make the real difference. The younger anti-Bush crowd may screech hysterically “Yanks go home”, but the older group too well remembers what happened when the Yanks went home and minded their own business: the uprisings in Iraq crushed by Saddam with utter brutality (tens of thousands killed), the butchery in Bosnia (two hundred thousand dead) and ultimately the genocide in Rwanda (eight hundred thousand dead). There are of course more examples, but my point is clear. After Rwanda even Clinton saw that America couldn’t morally afford to sit around and do nothing. America throwing its weight around is to a large extent a reaction to this. But that is all the 18-24 year olds would really have consciously registered. Srebrenica is something they didn’t see more or less live on television as the older group have. I did and it is hard to describe my sense of relief when the US finally led Nato to bomb and put an end to mass murder. I’m not sure that’s the right explanation for this quite marked gap in perceptions today, I’m just guessing after all, but for now it looks convincing enough to me.

Monday, November 17, 2003

WAS THE IRAQ INVASION UNNECCESSARY? David Aaronovitch's Observer column, which is by now a must-read, at the side mentions an important aspect to the whole Iraq war debate, that often gets a little buried:

A senior ex-military man said to me that, in his opinion, the Iraqi invasion had been unnecessary because 'containment was working. Sanctions were working. No-fly was working'. Only the Iraqi people were suffering, almost extravagantly, from the combination of sanctions plus Saddam. But at least no bodies were returning in RAF transports.

Right now my interest here is not the moral perspective on this, but the strategic one. Was the containment regime really working? And at what price?
The containment regime wasn't working. Sanctions were always enforced imperfectly, as they tend to, which is why they usually don't work or are counterproductive. Weapons technology was getting into Iraq anyway and the will in the UN security council to maintain the regime was falling, with France, Russia and China actively seeking to end it, while prior to 9/11 even the Bushies had shown some indication of wanting to loosen the grip on Saddam in return for oil drilling rights.
But let's pretend the sanctions were working. The price tag was too large. The permanent stationing of coalition forces in the Gulf region were the original casus belli of al Quaeda and there can be little doubt that a smaller footprint by the West is one key to lower the incidence of terrorism. (For the relationship between the footprint and terrorism see this report by Ivan Eland of the Cato Institute.) Withdrawal from the Gulf was not possible due to the need to maintain the containment regime, so Saddam remaining in place would have fed terrorism, although in the short term his removal has led to a predictable but temporary increase. Also, Saddam was in open defiance of the coalition by continuously violating the 1991 ceasefire agreement and getting away with it. This sent the clear message out that the West had lost its nerve and wouldn't put up a fight. And hence, to use bin Laden's metaphor, the West looked like the weak horse and the anti-Western totalitarian forces looked like the strong horse. Not just looked it, but felt it too, which is why after a string of successful minor attacks in the 1990s, they decided they could afford to murder thousands in New York in 2001. This process of destroying Western, and particularly the all-important US, strategic credibility is one of the major driving forces behind the growth of international terrorism and the proliferation of wmds. That's a price tag that would have been too high, even if containment had worked, and not just in the well-documented human terms but also in strategic ones.

Friday, November 14, 2003

HOW MUCH OF A GEEK ARE YOU? Take the test! I did. Turns out I don't really muster: 6.90335% - Poser. Oh, well good luck to you lot out there.

ABORTION FUN I know abortion is not an issue to make fun about, but the Onion's What do you think? this week on Bush’s new law restricintg abortion is a cracker. My favourite comment comes from "Phillip Krantz":

As an investor in back-alley real estate and wire-hanger futures, I say, 'Whoo-hoo!'

This is one of those instances where a joke also manages to reveal a deeper point, namely that abortions are going to happen anyway. Of course you could you argue that we should strive to reduce the number of abortions in general, but by restricting the legal options isn't going to have any effect, except increase the value of "back-alley real estate and wire-hanger futures". Enough said for now.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A SIMPLE ARGUMENT AGAINST ID CARDS Look, I don't see much point going into the details of how the introduction of compulsory id cards would effectively eradicate the presumption of innocence from our legal system and why this is a bad thing. I'm not going to bother with explaining that the police have so far never reported having problems with identifying with criminals, but rather with catching them and ensuring proper prosecutions. No, there's a very straightforward reason against this whole ID card thingy: the cost. This is not, unfortunately, the first time the Government has had the bright idea to connect all a department's computer systems or create a new database altogether. Here is a great example:
Libra court computer system was: 146million , is now up to: 390million
Pretty pricey, no? Well I don't really know if that's pricey though: they don't work yet and at the current rate don't look likely too either in any of our lifetimes. Fiona Mactaggart makes a pathetic attempt at speaking in favour of the scheme. As I say it's an attempt. I'm not really sure because I don't understand what her point is. Perhaps if the Government manages to get these other systems working I could consider reconsidering, but for now: no.

WHY BUSH IS REALLY COMING TO LONDON (NO, REALLY!) >Laban Tall found this gem on a website of some of anarchist protesters planning to demonstrate against Bush:

20th November 2003 is the 11th Annual Community Police Officer of the Year Awards and Probationer of the Year Awards in the city of london, with the Home Secretary David Blunkett MP - Home Secretary as VIP guest.

At exactly the same time, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London will officiate over a sex majik ritual on at Buckingham Palace, where George VV Bush, psychically charged by genocide will have sex with the dead queen mother. The US leader and mass murderer will have to
undergo sensory deprivation and fasting before 27th of Ramzaan, Shabbe Qadr (Night of Power). He will stay up the whole night reciting Quran Shareef and completing it, offering special prayers and reading Nafils after which he will "ascend to heaven" on a "winged donkey with human head". This is code for demonic possesion of Elizabeth's grandfather, George V. It is significant that this is to be the queen's mother and not Diana (mother of William, the sun-king in waiting).

While the Queen acts as the titular head of the anglican church, she and her progeny are secretly active in an ancient pagan cult which incorporates islamic cum protestant and catholic teachings to synthesize a particularly sick form of aristo-paedo- fascism and compete alongside other royal and elite families in Amerikkka and Saudia to perpetuate an endless war on the proletariat.

Look, hand on my heart, if I believed this too, I would book a flight especially to go and make a nuisance of myself to all those already annoyed Londoners. Indeed, it must be the beginning of the mushroom season. . . What I really love about this piece is how its first sentence is so boringly serene, but after that it immediately launches headlong into madness.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A VIETNAM LESSON MOSTLY FORGOTTEN It wasn’t before I read Victor Davis Hanson’s fascinating Why the West has won that my conscious mind registered the suffering inflicted on South Vietnam and the Vietnamese people by the US disengagement. David Gelernter has just made a point along similar lines:

We are haunted by the consequences of allowing South Vietnam to collapse. Tens of thousands of executions (maybe 60,000), re-education camps where hundreds of thousands died, a million boat people.

(. . . )

We betrayed our allies and hurried home, to introspect. They stayed on, to suffer. We were eager to make love, not war, but the South Vietnamese weren't offered that option. Their alternatives were to knuckle under or die.
It was my fault, mine personally; I was part of the antiwar crowd and I'm sorry. But my apology is too late for the South Vietnamese dead. All I can do is join the chorus in shouting, "No more Vietnams!" No more shrugging off tyranny; no more deserting our friends; no more going back on our duties as the strongest nation on Earth.

That doesn’t make the catastrophe that was the Vietnam war any less horrible, but it is very important to remember that after the mistake that was the phase 1964-69 which saw the intense levels of direct US actions on the ground, strategy shifted correctly to a more efficient use of force. The only major error, understandable though that it was in the context of the Cold War, was to refrain from closing down the Ho Chi Minh trail and threatening or actually invading North Vietnam. It’s a lesson we should never forget about war: an initial escalation can hasten the end of the war and thus actually shorten the war and lower the amount of human suffering. A lesson that hadn’t really sunk in in regards to Iraq during the 1990s. A resumption of the war by the US, UK and our allies would have been an intial escalation but it would have spared many Iraqi lives lost due to Saddam’s rule in the intermittent years in which a “peaceful” solution to the war was sought via the UN mechanisms.

Another interesting thought on comparison between Iraq and Vietnam is in regards to “the plan”, which was absent in Korea (and West Germany and Japan), and Vietnam, where there was a detailed plan of how to proceed. We all know what turned out to be the better way. To the limited extent that Gelernter is right about the successes of Vietnamisation, this clearly reflects just this turning away from a fixed detailed plan.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

QUOTE OF THE DAY By Mark Steyn in the Toryraph:

In the New Statesman last week, Philip Kerr managed to yoke All Quiet On The Western Front with Joan Baez and John Lennon, and unintentionally underlined just how obsolescent the Sixties folk-protest canon is. Where Have All The Flowers Gone? would have made a great song for the First World War, but not for Afghanistan or Iraq or anything we're likely to fight in the future.
In our time, mass slaughter occurs only in places where the West refuses to act - in the Sudan or North Korea - or acts only under the contemptible and corrupting rules of UN "peacekeeping", as at Srebrenica. In Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, technological advantage changes the moral calculus: it makes war the least worst option, the moral choice. At the 11th hour of the 11th day, we should remember those who died in the Great War, but recognise that it could never be "the war to end all wars" and never should

I’d alter that last sentence: There should be an end to all wars. But the real question is whether or not to join in an existing war or not, such as Saddam's war against the Iraqi people.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

REMEMBRANCE THOUGHTS I still remember that this time last year I was angry. All who know me are aware that it takes quite something to make me angry. For reasons unbeknownst to me, both then and now, our vicar had decided that the best person to give the sermon was none other than Paul Oesterreicher, vice-president of CND. I kid ye not. Paul Oesterreicher explained that all wars where caused by solely economic factors and that there is never any moral argument in favour of using military force. He illustrated this point with reference to World War Two. Oesterreicher was basically saying that it is impossible to make a moral argument in favour of having removed Hitler’s regime by force. To be honest I shouldn’t have taken such amoral filth serious but it maddened me nonetheless. This year's eloquent sermon however was what a sermon on Remembrance Sunday should be. It dwelled on the horrors of war and the tragedy of the losses that war always brings with it. But it was also realistic to the extent that we were not led to think a world without war was just around the corner. It also made the point that sometimes freedom, justice and security can only be achieved by force of arms, tragic though as this always remains. I don't know what it tells us about the state of our Church that we needed a visiting rabbi to give such a sermon, but that's a thought for another day.
As is usually the case, David Aaronovitch is required reading:

War is a great and unpredictable misfortune, but today, as Rwanda showed us, it is not necessarily always the greatest. Deferred war can be worse than early action. Appalling though it is to say so, badly applied sanctions can cause more suffering than carefully applied bombs.
The Dutch UN forces, who watched while the worst massacre in 50 years on the European continent took place at Srebrenica, were too lightly - not too well - armed. Perhaps, as they watched the coaches being driven off, they were singing 'Where Have all the Flowers Gone?'.

(. . .)

We still depend, even in the days of Trisha and trauma counselling, on men and women who will, if necessary, die on our behalf. And I must express my astonishment and gratitude that they will.

I'm not as astonished as Aaronovitch, because I do understand the call to serve a greater good. I do feel as grateful though. Also, don't forget to remember all the Empire/Commonwealth volunteers such as the Indian ones that Kevin Myers reminds us of.
In a lot of places you’ll be hearing or reading John McCrae’s classic from 1915, but in case you miss it or have never read it here it is, the epitome of the meaning of this day:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and we now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

We will remember them.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

WELCOME GENE ROBINSON Although I remain a little anxious about the consequences for the Church I was genuinly pleased to see Gene Robinson become the first openly gay bishop. While it would be a shame if the African and Asian parts would decide to split off we shouldn’t be too disturbed. Being open to and accepting of homosexuals is genuinly Christian whatever detractors may try to interpret into vague passages in the bible. It is also a misunderstanding of what the injunctions against gay sex were really about at the time they were formulated. Gay sex was seen as something that was practised by a decadent and morally bankrupt governing class that was in decline. It is this original aversion against sex as mere entertainment, an entertainment that ultimately would have to become more and more extreme, and not as an expression of love or for procreation that the Biblical opposition towards homosexuality had its beginning. That it would ultimately morph into a fetish for homophobes was probably unavoidable, but that’s even more reason for the Church to change its position now. Of course the Church should retain the original moral argument about sex, in that it should stand its ground and argue against demeaning forms of sexuality.
As for those parts of the Church that are in missionary competition with Islam, particularly in Africa, for them it may not be a wholly wrong decision to split. As soon as Islam and Christianity have settled their turf wars in Africa, the schism could be reversed and the progressive message spread.

IS IRAQIFICATION THE WRONG WAY? This is a point I had never considered:

"The central problem in Vietnam," says Brookings's Kenneth Pollack, "was that we had a corrupt and ineffective local government that did not inspire either the allegiance or the confidence of the Vietnamese people. Whatever happened militarily became secondary to this fundamental political reality." We don't have that problem in Iraq. But a hasty Iraqification will almost certainly produce it.

Fareed Zakaria’s argument is worth reading in full, although I’m not sure he’s entirely right. While I agree on the need to be cautious in regards to the capabilities the growing Iraqi security forces have, politically the process is taking too long. While it’s true that on a national level there aren’t as yet recognisale parties in the making, that’s no reason why we can’t speed up the democratisation process on a more local level. That should be the proper way to start anyway, after all power is supposed to run from the bottom upwards. Additionally, the more Iraqis are involved in the decisionmaking processes, the more they will see the progress of our coalition as their own progress and thus have more of a stake in its success instead of blaming all their ills solely on the occupation.

Also in the day’s WaPo is a piece by Richard Cohen which captures a lot of my sentiments about the war: From Bosnia to Baghdad. It is a reminder if one was needed of the moral need of toppling Saddam and about dealing with the inevitable ambiguities such a policy brings with it. But, as I have argued before: When in doubt, intervene militarily.

QUOTE OF THE DAY From a surprising position too:

I've been in politics too long to waste my time bashing my head against a wall

Europe minister Denis MacShane spelling out to the Spanish government that there no point in Spain and the UK negotiating over Gibraltar, if the Spanish government wasn’t capable or willing to convince the people of Gibraltar to cease being British and become Spaniards instead. Well, that’s never going to happen so I’m quite pleased to see that at least someone in Government has made any sense over the issue.

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