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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

GROWING IRANIAN PROBLEM As if all the trouble in Iraq, between Israel and the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia's apparent intent to go nuclear (more on that another time) weren't enough, the wise leadership of Iran has been busy pouring a little more oil into the fire of Middle East insecurity: "Iran parades new missiles daubed with threats to wipe Israel off map".
Nice bit of news to start your day with. Iran's ballistic missiles were paraded around yesterday bearing the peace loving and conciliatory messages of "We will crush America under our feet' and "Israel must be wiped off the map." Now given that the US has a huge military force parked directly on the other side of the Iran-Iraq border I'm not sure it is an entirely wise move of the Iranian government to start heating up its bad relations with America if it could simply have done nothing; that at least seems to be the Bush administrations policy towards Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
On the other hand I don't actually think that there is much of a likelihood that Iran would actually use its nuclear weapons against American, British or other coalition targets in the Gulf region. However its enmity against Israel is a real sticking point. President Khatami accused the rest of the world of hypocrisy because it is critical against Iran's weapons programme -which he simultaneously denies exists- but happily tolerates Israel's bomb. I'm not sure I can see much of a double standard here but perhaps someone would like to enlighten me. Israel is a Western democracy, that has had a workable nuclear deterrent since the 1970s and has so far not used it. It's primary purpose is for national defence, and given Israel's neighbourhood one can hardly fault the Israeli government for wanting a weapon that is capable of guaranteeing its military superiority vis a vis its neighbours. Iran on the other hand is a theocratic dictatorship, a sponsor of anti-Israeli terrorism and a keen rejctionist of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a serious issue because whatever utopians of different stripes and colours may believe, aiming for this solution can only be achived by the elimination of either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and on a less hyperbolical level is simply unworkable, an argument Shlomo Avineri makes quite clearly.
Iran's weapons are being built to wipe Israel off the map as the Iranian leaders quite proudly proclaim. Now perhaps I've missed it, but when did the Israeli government announce that the official aim of its nuclear weapons programme was to wipe Iran off the map? Never. That is why there is no double standard in the West's treatment of the Israeli and Iranian weapons programmes. It has simply applied the same standards to two different situations and has unsurprisingly reached two different conclusions. That's how simple it is.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

NEVER FORGET, NEVER FORGIVE It is exactly two years ago today that al Quaeda terrorists committed mass murder in New York. There has been some progress, though we are by no means at a point at which we could afford to relax. There is also still no real political consensus on the situation that Western civilisation is in.
The most serious error being made is the search for "root causes". Now, in principle there is nothing wrong with trying to understand one's enemy. The problem is that everybody tends to simply pick out that apparent grievance of al Quaeda that fits their own agendas and prejudices. For example placing the blame on Israel is certainly the most widespread because it offers a huge variety of root causes; anything form the evils of Western civilisation to nebulous "Zionist world conspiracies". It is true that this is one of the grievances that Osama bin Laden mentions, but he also lists, among many others, the Kashmir conflict, the transition of Eastern Timor from an oppressed Indonesian colony to an independent democracy and, his real casus belli, the presence of non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia (soon to be over thanks to the Iraq war). Just to give it that final touch of absurdity al Quaeda's statements also lament the "tragedy of Al-Andalus" and the crusades. Someone should try to explain in earnest, how these events, that occurred many centuries before the US declaration of independence, can be considered both an inevitable and legitimate reason to murder thousands of innocents in New York. Someone who actually buys this line must be fairly deranged and I cannot see how any amount or reasoning or compromising is going to get anywhere. Reflecting on the terrorists' affluent background Geoffrey Wheatcroft succinctly makes this point in the current edition of Prospect: "this was no cry of rage from the wretched of the earth, and the hijackers weren’t radicals or secular nationalists. They were bloodthirsty religious maniacs, who wanted to rule the whole world in the spirit of the Taleban."
Given these circumstances what should we make of those who wish not to fight? For sure there are many different reasons given. Appeasement has a number of attractive features to it. Especially in Europe it is very popular to suggest that all the European countries need to do is hobble the American warmachine and pile on the fury onto Israel and all will be well. It won't work. Al Quaeda and their sorts seek the end of Western civilisation and only their destruction will save us.
The lessons of Munich and appeasement are certainly overused, but the important point is to recall what those lessons are. They are not an injunction to destroy anybody or anything that looks only vaguely dangerous or unpleasant. The real lesson is that when dealing with an enemy we should be cautious that we understand in what broader cultural language that enemy is talking to us. The reason why appeasement failed was because pre-1939 British and French leaders used their own domestic liberal democratic criteria as a basis on which to negotiate with the Nazis; an enterprise that could only fail.
One would surely have hope that Western leaders would have learnt anything from that catastrophe but the way in which the West dealt with Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein clearly underlines that lesson has not sunk in.
This same sort of blindness is painfully on show again. The sad reality is that Islamofascist terror isn't going to go away by forcing Israeli troops out of the West Bank or by alleviating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or by the United States ratifying the Kyoto protocol or whatever else tickles you fancy.
Our only option is to fight. To pretend otherwise is political blindness and moral frivolity. The attacks from two years ago, were a call to moral seriousness - it's time we got serious.

Friday, September 05, 2003

EU KILLS EVERY 13 SECONDS Stephen Pollard links to this report by the Centre for the New Europe. It's a full and uncompromising critique of the EU's agricultural trade protectionism. I had just recently posted about the domestic idiocy of the issue and I think this report complements that nicely.

Monday, September 01, 2003

NEVERMIND VIETNAM, WHO WANTS ANOTHER KOREA Just over two weeks ago a psychological threshold was crossed: more US servicemen have been killed in Iraq since US president Bush declared major combat operations to be over than in the actual combat phase. On the same day a further three members of the Royal Military Police died in an ambush in southern Iraq. Directly on the heels of that came the devastating attack on the UN headquarters that left 17 dead. And then things got bad: in a ferocious attack on the leading Shiia cleric over a hundred Iraqis were killed. Pundits of all stripes and colours are declaring a quagmire and the feared V-word is being bandied about thoughtlessly.

Leaving aside the vast differences in the scale of the carnage, is there perhaps something to the comparison of the coalition situation in Iraq today with that in Vietnam three decades earlier? Are we not stuck in a battle in which we don|t seem to be able to win with any kind of proportionate effort? Iraqi democracy is a farfetched dream, the prospect of billions of oil dollars a vanishing mirage and even basic day-to-day security is non-existent. Is that an accurate description of current conditions in Iraq?
It's certainly true that big problems on all these counts remain, but a more realistic appraisal of the situation gives room for some balanced optimism. And why not? After all, how much better was the situation four months after the war ended in Germany and Japan 1945? In fact for a comparison we can remain far closer to our own time: how much better was the situation in Kosovo 1999 four months after the end of full-scale hostilities? The sad truth is that in economic terms the situation is little improved four years after the end of hostilities. Even more ominously, on the issue that is currently of high importance for Iraq, namely electricity supply, the opinion in Kosovo is that it's worse than at the end of the 1999 bombings.
In Iraq a lot of conditions have already been set that should ultimately ensure a peaceful, prosperous and mildly liberal and/or democratic Iraq. One of the main stumbling blocks at the moment are the persistent attacks both on vital infrastructure such as oil and water pipelines, and on Iraqis and coalition troops alike. It is yet unclear who exactly is behind these attacks: Baathist holdovers, foreign jihadists or a combination of both. In the net result it doesn’t actually matter much as the goal is the same. What both these possible culprits have in common is the desire to see the American-led efforts to build a better Iraq fail. The chaos resulting from a coalition withdrawal would give both to opportunity to battle it out for control over Iraq. However the advantage is on the coalition's side as the terrorists, whoever they may be, have no serious popular support base, the non plus ultra of any effective subversion campaign.
Perhaps I should add to that, so far, because unfortunately there are some areas where Iraqis are dissatisfied with the coalition's conduct. Besides the security issues, which outside the Baghdad-Najaf-Tikrit triangle are generally speaking negligible, the main complaints are about the slow pace of getting public services up and running. If the Iraqi people are not to turn against those outsiders who wish to help them, some visible progress needs to happen soon. Perhaps the coming formation of the interim Iraqi cabinet and the installation of new power generators in Baghdad will entrench the coalition’s acceptance.
Some Western commentators and politicians think “internationalising” the mission and putting it under UN auspices could also achieve this. This would be unwise. It would be unwise because responsibility for success or failure of the reconstruction will remain with the coalition and the attacks against the UN clearly show that the terrorists want them out as well. At the same time the UN’s popularity is roughly equal to that of the coalition in the wider populace, so nothing would be gained. What would be lost however, would be the clear line of command and sense of purpose that the coalition has.

But it is not just with the internal dimension were the Vietnam analogy creeps in wrongly. What makes anybody think that the current imbroglio is geopolitically comparable? This is a key battle for the security of the free world. That is why the references to Vietnam are wrong. Vietnam wasn't a key battle. Korea on the other hand was. It is a comparison that offers some revealing insights.
The West didn't lose the Korean War but the stalemate established still lasts on five decades later, at the moment is probably the most dangerous place on earth and bears the risk of nuclear war. A decisive win would have avoided the current situation and would have spared the North Korean people the unbelievable suffering the Kim regime has put them through. Additionally a big victory right at the beginning of the Cold War would have given the West an edge over the Soviet Union and would thus have quickened the end of that conflict.
In Iraq now we have a not dissimilar situation. The forces that threaten the West and want to keep the Middle East in the terrorgenic condition it is in now, are all concentrating their efforts on driving the coalition out of Iraq. In Korea, as in Iraq prior to 9/11, the West dithered and through a lack of nerve and vision managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It is this over-restraint that fed the illusions of Saddam and al Quaeda into thinking they could endanger Western interests and security with impunity because the West was too weak-willed. In Iraq we need to show, both for the sakes of the long-suffering Iraqi people and for our prospects in the war on terror, that we have the mettle that it takes to win.
This is of course the reason why the terrorists must not be allowed to win. If it is possible to drive the West out of Iraq that will be the most tremendous victory our enemies could possibly dream of; its propaganda effect would far outweigh the attacks on the World Trade Center. As a consequence the word would be out that Washington and the rest of the West have lost it and no longer have the stomach for a fight. This would make any further attempts to fight terrorism and create a more secure global environment virtually impossible, because any terrorist and rogue regime on the planet would laugh off any threat of military force. The consequences of defeat in Iraq would be catastrophic both for the Iraqi people and our own security. There is really no choice, we need to win - and we will.

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