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Sunday, March 28, 2004

WHAT REVOLUTION ARE YOU, AM I? This quizz has been swirling around. I'm not sure whether I should be surprised or not surprised by the result:

What revolution are You?
Made by altern_active

And to think, such a result by a British monarchist. What is the world coming to?

Friday, March 26, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON - SORTING THE OCCUPATION I don't want to vilify opponents of regime change anymore than I aleady have. I think it is high time to let the issue of whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place rest. It is far more important to concentrate on the question of what we do now.
A successful reconstruction of Iraq is vital for security reasons because a failed Iraq would effectively become an Taliban-Afghanistan writ large and in the heart of the Middle East. So for reasons of security alone everyone should have an interest in seeing success.
Additionally to that is for course the moral imperative to give the Iraqis a chance of freedom and democracy.

- Edward Luttwak is pessimistic about Iraq's reconstruction and democratisation and says it's time to go home,

- Quite an interesting combination of views by various experts: How do we get out of Iraq?

- as so often in this debate the people at the Weekly Standard have the most bullish and dedicated argument on getting Iraq properly democratised

-Laith Kubba, a member of the interim governing body in Iraq argues his case for Iraqi democracy

- Peter Schwartz gives the best argument why we should keep the UN out

- as for those who are trying by violence to prevent Iraq's reconstruction, Martin Woollacott explains why Iraq's insurgents are more nihilist than nationalist.

PS: Because I have some deadlines to meet that I'm seriously behind on at the moment, there will be no blogging until at least Thursday. Until then have a nice weekend and start the week in higher spirits than I will *sigh*.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON – GRAND CASE REVISITED Well, so far I have looked at different selected aspects of the case for going to war. Today I'm going to link to some pieces that look at the bigger picture:

- If you are or were a liberal hawk, and even if you're not, this debate between Jacob Weisberg, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack and Fareed Zakaria is definitely worth reading

- Here's another good back and forth on the wisdom of regime change by liberals, this time between David Aaronovitch and Mary Riddell of the UK Observer

- the Economist's editor, Bill Emmott argued the "dry" case for military action in advance,

- which Charles Krauthammer confirms in hindsight by explaining Why We Are Safer

- Victor Davis Hanson ponders Iraq's Future-and Ours

To close the whole debate here is William Safire's battle call, that appeared in the Guardian of all places.

and by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, and this is a definite personal favourite, That Speech:

We go to liberate not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag that will be flown in that ancient land is their own.
. . .
There are some alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send.
As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.
. . .
You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing.
Don't treat them as refugees for they are in their own country. Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the lighth of liberation in their lives was brought by you.
. . .
The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction.
There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam.
He and his forces will be destroyed by this coalition for what they have done. As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.
. . .
As for ourselves, let's bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there. Our business now is north.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON – LEGAL STUFF I'm ultra-busy today, so this is going to be ultrashort. The quickest, easiest guide to the argument that the invasion was legal is here, which includes -coincidentally, or not- some rather uncomplimentary language about Richard Perle.

PS: If you're fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON - "WHAT’S IN IT FOR US?" Why did Britain fight in Iraq? Was it right that our armed forces helped the US in toppling Saddam? Is it right that we are there now? I'm going to write about this issue in essay length sometime soon so I'm going to keep this short. Britain fought in Iraq because of the terrorist threat I explained yesterday. It's true that that threat is directed against the US primarily, but Britain and America have mutual defence agreements, which underpins the case further. Right now it is necessary to stay in Iraq because a failure would be a huge moral and strategic catastrophe.
As for the terrorist threat, Britain's actions will tend to have lowered the threat. As I remarked a few days ago on the Madrid attacks, you become a prime target of the terrorists if you're ambivalent. To the extent that they plan rationally, terrorists will only attack those whose minds they can change. That is why Michael Howard's recent bullish remarks about no change in policy under his potential premiership is just as important as the fact that after the Istanbul bombings public support for the war on terror and the transformation of Iraq rose. However, to the extent that terrorists plan irrationally Britain may still be a target, but there is by definition nothing we could about that, instead help the war on terror along as fast as possible, which includes succeeding in Iraq.
Some selected reads on Britain's position:

- Airtrip One's Emmanuel Goldstein asks despairingly what we got out of it

- David Owen explains how Blair's wrongheaded approach to government in general and diplomatic issues in particular brought about the catastrophe that was Britain's Iraq policy

- John C. Hulsman and Nile Gardiner of the American Heritage Foundation explained why : Why Britain will fight in Iraq,

- and on the issue, Robin Harris makes the case that Blair's Iraq policy could in the longer run do immense damage to US-UK relations, something not directly obvious

- and finally, in order to understand the different approaches Western governments have to take when building public support for military action, see this study by Ronald Asmus, Philip P. Everts, and Pierangelo Isernia on the different transatlantic attitudes. Explains why Blair did what he did with the UN and all that.

PS: If you're fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

Monday, March 22, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON - THE SADDAM/IRAQ LINK WITH TERRORISM To make it clear from the start I don't believe that Saddam and bin Laden were in cahoots with each other. However there were two distinct terrorism-related reasons why the invasion of Iraq had to go ahead and was not, as some critics and even some supporters claim, a war of choice, except perhaps in the timing.

The first point is one of Western weakness. Now leave aside the West's support for brutal Middle Eastern dictatorships or the inhumane "containment" regime against Iraq, it's important to understand that all this signalled weakness to our enemies. Saddam effectively started a war against us by invading Kuwait in 1990. In 1991 we agreed to a ceasefire, which was conditioned on several steps such as disarmament that the Saddam Hussein regime needed to take to maintain the ceasefire and eventually get a proper peace deal.
For a decade Saddam refused to comply and we refused ourselves to act in the only logical way and topple him. This was one of the major factors that fed the impression that the West was unwilling and incapable of putting up a fight. (To be entirely correct Western actions in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere contributed as well.) It was this impression that made bin Laden's delusional dreams of taking on the West in armed confrontation realistic enough to gain sufficient support to carry out the 9/11 attacks. To take on terrorism we needed to reverse this impression of indecisiveness by doing something big and decisive. Iraq was the ideal target and that is why Saddam had to be toppled.

The second point is a more indirect argument. Most people like to say that we need to fight terrorism by removing the root causes. Normally the removing the root causes is strangely also what these same people have been arguing for independently of the terror threat whether it is spreading democracy, alleviating global poverty or whatever else. A lot of this is good and right, but it is also irrelevant. Terrorism needs something to rub itself up against and that was the troop presence in Saudi Arabia and to a lesser degree in other Islamic countries. So to remove the West's connection with the various root causes and terrorists' spheres of influence the troops had to go.
Most importantly the huge US military presence in Saudi Arabia had to go. The reason that presence was there was because of Saddam and the mullahs in Tehran. So the solution was simple really: topple Saddam, move the Middle East military presence to Iraq and wait for the Iranian regime to fall. This is one of the most important steps in fighting and winning the war on terror and it is being implemented. It is a step that was absolutely necessary, which is why regime change in Iraq was both an integral part in the war on terror and a war of necessity.

I don't have a great collection of further reading I'd recommend, but here is anyway:

- Stephen F. Hayes sums up the argument that Saddam and al Quaeda did work together, although I'm still to be convinced

- Max Boot's call for The End of Appeasement makes the argument about terrorism resulting from a weak Middle East policy by the West, although I find this piece is a bit too rich for me,

- and finally read the report by Ivan Eland of the Cato Institute that shows how terrorism and involvement correlate with each other, which in a way is the real root cause.

PS: If you're fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON - WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION Well, of course the big unanswered question is that of weapons of mass destruction. The reason why this remains so live is of course because it was a vital key in building the case for war and so far it looks completely nonsensical. For the anti-crowd this does bring the great advantage with it that this is a stick they can beat the pro-gang with repeatedly with great effect, because it looks we hawks were wrong and/or manipulative. Either way it's an important issue because it has far wider implications beyond Iraq. I'm not going to expend much of my own breath on it right now, but instead link to some relevant pieces I'd recommend:

- Robert Kagan and William Kristol explain Why We Went to War in a piece that reassembles the pre-war intelligence

- as a sceptic Jonathan Freedland pours scorn on the Blair Government for hanging onto the wmd claim despite Washington's gradual distancing

- Timothy Garton Ash is annoyed that we were duped

- but Jonah Goldberg thinks the sceptics are very wrong

- down the Washington end Jim Hoagland has some scepticism about the workings of the intelligence services

- to which Sidney Blumenthal replies that there was no failure of intelligence, but in fact the political meddling produced the impression of threat,

- a point taking up on this side of the Big Pond by Sam Kiley

- but this is confusing, because as Charles Paul Freund asks the question, why Saddam pretended to have weapons he didn't actually have

- But the ultimate and quite long piece everybody refers to, is Kenneth M. Pollack's: Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong, in the Atlantic Monthly, along with the interview he gave
(Kenneth Pollack was of course one of the most convincing advocates of regime change and the author of the key text The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq)

- at the end of the day Charles Krauthammer explains that it was vital we called Iraq's Bluff anyway.

- Douglas Hanson, one of the men on the ground shows why the case is not closed because of largely technical reasons most of the potential sites haven’t been searched yet and scientists questioned,

- John Keegan raises an issue of great importance, because in future we are going to be asked to support more actions, if not outrigth wars, on the basis of intelligence, but the problem is that intelligence is always open to interpretation,

- and finally, Anne McElvoy argues Why WMD question must not be allowed to go away, making clear why at the end of the day, the issue must be confronted openly by our leaders.

PS: If you’re fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

MADRID BOMBING UP-DATE Lee Smith brings up an issue that I had considered before, namely that Madrid may have been targeted, because of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla:

If the Spanish electorate believed that committing 1,300 troops to Iraq had needlessly exposed it to the jihadists' ire, it ought to reconsider the 6,000 Spanish forces stationed in Ceuta and Melilla. The Spanish, whose new prime minister is fond of the word "occupation," say there's nothing unusual about having so many troops in Spanish cities. But these cities are not in Spain. Already some Islamist ideologues are beginning to group Ceuta and Melilla together with Palestine and Kashmir as Muslim lands to be liberated.
. . .
After the Madrid attacks, a number of journalists, academics, and other experts picked up on the idea, perhaps most fully expressed in Jason Burke's book Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, that al-Qaida may not be what many people think it is. It's not one vast organization with tentacles everywhere; it's a kind of franchise that helps with cash here, logistics there. Most important, it is the brand name of an umbrella ideology that all the jihadists subscribe to

Given that the attacks weren’t carried out by suicide bombers, I think the possibility that the perpetrators were Moroccan or Basque nationalists, perhaps working together, looks far more likely now. What this underlines again is that it is hard to differentiate terrorist groupings clearly from each other, they tend to clique together.

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON The one site you should visit during this weekend is Harry's Place which is running a do-something-for-Iraq campaign, where you can put your money where your mouth is. That is, if, unlike me, you have any money. Otherwise have a look at this posting because it asks some good question about the way in which the right-left terminology doesn't give any indication as to how people view the war on terror and the operations in Iraq.

Talking of the war on terror, Michael Costello explains why we are a target no matter how we stand. Which is all that needs to be said. However, there is an aspect to this that bothers me, because I can't give myself a proper answer and I don't find it gets discussed: It's all very well saying that all Western and democratic countries are a target regardless of their foreign policy, but is it not possible that countries that keep a low profile will be put at the bottom of the target list, whereas those that stand together with their allies, aggressively fighting terrorists, sponsor states and rooting out safe-havens will be the first on the to-do-lists of our common enemies? Something to give some serious thought to, because this is the biggest argument in the ideological dimension of the West's response to al-Quaeda’ism, and it is not being sufficiently addressed.

As for the Iraq anniversary, the Guardian decided to give prime place of honour to Richard Overy. Overy once taught me 20th century history, and I have pleasant memories of someone who was highly professional and who you could really respect. That is why it pains me to say that his piece is an incredible pile of utter rubbish:

We must not accept our leaders' illegal occupation of a sovereign state

Except it's entirely legal, because even if you don't accept that the invasion itself was legal, the occupation was sanctioned and given the blessing of the UN.

There were, as any intelligent observer could have told them, no WMD, no centre of world terrorism, no aggressive intent.

Who are these "intelligent observers" then? It wasn't the UN and Hans Blix, it wasn't the German and French intelligence agencies, all of whom were convinced Saddam had the weapons or at least the programmes.
But the claim that there was no "aggressive intent" on behalf of Saddam? That is just such a risible claim and not borne out by anything of Saddamite Iraq's history, which was a history of dreams of regional domination achieved by brutal wars of aggression. Following the 1991 ceasefire Saddam's behaviour showed no sign whatsoever that he had suddenly changed his intent.

The attorney general has come clean on how he was forced to turn an illegal war into a lawful war of defence against the Iraqi threat.

!?!?! I missed that obviously. There were some theories that he may have changed his mind, but no evidence that he actually did, and that he changed his mind due to political meddling rather than changing circumstances. But one thing he certainly didn't do was "come clean". Where does Overy get his "facts" from?

Not once has [Tony Blair] expressed regret for what a dozen years of sanctions and war inflicted on the Iraqi people. Enough that his cause is just.

So Dickie, no to war, no to sanctions: would it have been better just to keep supplying Saddam with weapons, credits and diplomatic cover after he invaded Kuwait just like we tried assiduously to ignore his campaign against the Kurds in 1987/88, for which Saddam may still be found guilty of genocide for? Strange that Overy, who as a historian is a genius at bringing together a whole multiplicity of factors and different interpretations, fails to mention Saddam Hussein's regime even once in connection with this suffering of the Iraqi people.

I have had many arguments, too, about the vexed question of oil. The view that oil is some kind of Marxist red herring is widespread. But in this case there can be no other conclusion. Oil installations and oil lines were captured and guarded first; the oil ministry was protected while priceless art treasures were being ransacked. The second largest oil reserves are now safe once again for the wider world market and the global oil companies.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The oil installations were protected so well that they were virtually all blown to bits, which is why production is still not at pre-invasion levels, nvermind worl-market-transforming ones. Overy also missed the quite relevant point about the looting of the Iraqi museums, namely that instead of the hundreds of thousands of artefacts that had allegedly been taken away, probably by the occupation troops, only a few dozen actually went missing, most of which were nicked by the museums' staff. Another point missing here is that Iraq may have the world's second largest oil reserves, but there's no infrastructure to actually get the stuff out of the ground, which means that years of investment will be necessary to achieve any impact, which will all be eaten up by the costs of reconstructing Iraq.

The most familiar argument in favour of the war, repeated mantra-like in all circles, is that a much-hated dictator has been overthrown. This week's opinion poll purports to show how grateful the Iraqis now are for their liberation. No one would wish Saddam Hussein back.

Really? Well not wishing him back, but if people like Overy like and the brain-dead idiots demonstrating today had had their way he'd still be in power. Which is a fact.

The problem is that the reason for going to war was quite different.

True, but what difference does it make to the fact that Iraq is better off with him gone? Answer: None.

If unseating tyrants was the priority, Saddam should have been unseated long ago.

True, but why was unseating him in 2003 wrong? I agree that unseating him in 1979 or 1987 or 1991 or 1998, or hypothetically in 2004 or 2007, may or may not have been better. But what does it matter? He had to go, so he might as well have been toppled in 2003.

War in 2003 was about protecting British and American interests, not liberating Iraq, a posture of self-interest rather than magnanimity. This was the same motive for declaring war on Hitler in 1939. It was not dictators that the west could not stomach, but the threat to their interests and way of life (again).

What?! Further at the beginning of the article Overy says that Saddam posed no threat to our interests, but halfway through this article the situation has suddenly changed so fundamentally that Saddam was in fact a threat on the magnitude of Hitler. Odd.

There were honourable motives for declaring war on Hitler, as there are for unseating Saddam, but that is not what, a year ago, we were offered. Liberation was the means to dress war up as legitimate. So much so that there must be a large number in Britain and the US who think that unseating Saddam really was the reason that war began.

Tony Blair, Ann Clwyd, Paul Wolfowitz and the Iraqi Communist Party are amongst some of those I can name off the top of my head who made this case, and in the case of Clwyd who may have been decisive in swinging the vote in Parliament because of the human rights argument. The humanitarian case for toppling Saddam was made ad nauseam, by yours truly as well.
Ok, so the war was dressed up as liberation, supported by many as liberation and the result has been liberation, but to Overy it only matters if the arguments are pure and untainted by any kind of self-interest, which is a bizarre rejection of reality. Also, contradictory, according to Overy, we weren't offered a war of liberation, but the war was sold as liberation? No difference in that? If I had written something along those logical lines in one of my essays back then I don’t think Mr Overy would have been entirely satisfied and given me an A . . .
Overy then trots out some of the lame arguments that al Quaeda is something that can be fought by negotiations and all that other stuff that I don’t have the nerve to into in detail, because it is so fundamentally stupid to believe that aQ can be fought like the IRA.

War should have been avoided and other ways explored to get Iraq to re-enter the world economy, and to feed and supply its population properly.

So, in Overy's opinion the only thing that really mattered in Iraq was getting the country back into the world market and by some miracle get the hideously counterproductive oil-for-food programme suddenly to work. No, this is really fanciful thinking that makes Blair's often-messianic rhetoric sound decisively dry and boring in comparison.

Blair could show that he values a commitment to a common European defence and foreign policy, which might have avoided war altogether.

How? And can't really say anything else, because this is a statement that is truly incomprehensibly.

Terrorists do not blow people up just because they are nihilistic thugs. Terrorism is born of fear, resentment and powerlessness in the face of the massive power and cultural expansion of the west; it is about real issues for those who perpetrate its acts of violence. Palestinians die because they want to free Palestine.

Perhaps some of suicide bomber idiots genuinely want a free and independent Palestine next to Israel, but what rational goal does al-Quaeda fight for?
Enough to make my head pop.
If this is the best anti-war voice the Guardian can assemble on the invasion's anniversary, the anti-war movement is intellectually completely finished.

For some sense see the otherwise quite hyperbolic Mark Steyn, though he doesn’t address some of the strategic issues, over wmds for example. I'll leave that for another posting.

PS: If you're fed up with the Iraq debate, blogging will be back to normal again in a few days.

Friday, March 19, 2004

OIF/TELIC ONE YEAR ON Well, it's roughly a year ago now that Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Telic began to bring the Gulf War to its final end by removing the regime of Saddam Hussein. So for the next week or so I'm going to do specials by focussing on different aspects to the Iraq business everyday. After that blogging will not only resume to normal, but with a bit of luck, with most of my workload out of the way, I will finally be able to put the effort into blogging that I want to. In effect that means that I will actually have some postings on architecture and other cultural issues as my headline has emptily promised for half a year now.
On a different note, what's that with the name for military operations these days? I mean Operation Enduring Freedom as a counter-terrorist operation is just about tolerable, but Operation Iraq Freedom, for an operation that was chiefly designed to send out the message that you shouldn't mess about with us? But our bit to it is even more risible: Operation Telic. What does that mean? Does that mean anything? What’s a telic? Or perhaps somebody sternly warned the Defence Staff that they had to choose a title that wasn't culturally insensitive, such as the Western-hegemonic concept of "freedom", and they simply made the word up. I know I don’t have a file with catchy military operations titles, but just off the top of my head I can come up with: Desert Avenger, Desert Fury, Swift Sabre, etc., all of which would have been better than Telic.
Anyhows, as a general opening to the look-back I'd recommend Timothy Garton Ash's call for Western unity and Martin Woollacott's explanation why we will remain involved in the Middle East for a long time to come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

WHAT’S GOING ON IN IRAN? I wonder how much there is to Michael Totten's optimism about the Iranian regime falling:

First and most obviously, the regime deserves to be violently overthrown. It has no right to exist. And the people of Iran, like all humans everywhere, have the right to live in freedom and with dignity. The Middle East, and the world as a whole, will be far better off when the religious fascists are marginalized, exiled, caged, or dead.
The second reason I hope it falls tomorrow is that it would really show up the media. Holy shit! The Iranian government was overthrown? How the heck did that happen?

Well it would have a degree of historical humour to it. Well the media establishment can always do with a little more egg on their faces. And yes, it is strange that they haven't managed to loosen up any of their thousands of reporters on the look-out for the Iraqi quagmire just next door. Or perhaps the unrest in Iran is rather less than its internet supporters would like to hope. On the other hand it could lead to a situation where the "revolution will not be televised", but it will certainly be blogged.
Keep an eye on this story.

BRITAIN 50/50 NATION A short look through some links to polling courtesy the Plastic Gangster showed up some quite interesting aspects to opinions in the UK in regards to Iraq. (There's some good news about general Iraqi satisfaction with their situation too.)
One of the big themes running through most of the answers in UK public opinion is near 50/50 divide on the issues.
As seen in this poll: While it's good to see that the majority of respondents think regime change was right, 48% in favour and 43% against is a very slim majority. A rather strange result was that the majority believes the invasion has made Britain less safe, but improved America’s security. How so? Quite interesting is that the majority thinks Britain's close relationship to the US is good for Britain, but a majority believes Blair's close relationship to Bush is bad for Britain, a case of personalized politics.
Slightly stranger are the results for the question as to what justifies the UK going to war, where 13% don’t think we are justified going to war against someone who attacked us. Also a little bothering that barely a majority support taking out terrorists. The one bizarre point though is that 59% think we should go to war against countries possessing wmd. What?! Let's think of some countries: North Korea, Iran, where two-thirds say no to action, without realising the obvious contradiction in their positions. Well there are plenty of others: China, Russia, Syria, Israel, France, Pakistan, . . . . and, well, closer to home so to speak, the United Kingdom. So a majority of the British public support attacking ourselves? Anyway. . . The point is of course, as a leader in the Spectator once put it: It’s the regime, stupid.
The 50/50 tendency weakens a little when it comes to the question EU or USA, where half say we should side more closely with the US as opposed to a third who say we should be more in tune with France and Germany.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

MORE LINKS TO MADRID ATTACKS COMMENTARY Here's some stuff I find worth reading about the Madrid bombings. First up Andrew Rawnsley has some good points on Tony Blair's much-ridiculed vision of terrorism. Here's the money-shotted version:

Yesterday, he resisted the temptation to say he told us so. But tell everyone so he did in the speech on global terrorism that he made precisely a week before the Madrid bombings. He warned then of a 'mortal threat' from 'devilish' fanatics 'prepared to bring about Armageddon'.
. . .
This form of terrorism presents governments with some virtually insoluble challenges. It is capable of launching attacks which will not always be stoppable whatever precautions are taken. At colossal cost and massive inconvenience, airline-style security could be installed in every railway station. Even if that did stop the bombers, they would move on to another soft civilian target.
. . .
Here, I rather sympathise with the politician's dilemma, plaintively expressed by Mr Blair like this: 'Would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it's OK? Suppose we don't act and intelligence turns out to be right? How forgiving will people be?'

What if a British 9/11 does happen? And let's not forget most security analysts are certain it will happen, so not really what if, but rather when, so it is highly important to take into consideration the issues Nick Cohen raises today:

Imagine the effect of a video of a British suicide bomber who had attacked a British target being broadcast.
. . .

Nothing has been sillier in the past few years than the wishful thinkers who instantly try to explain every outrage as a brutal but understandable reaction to Western, usually American, policy. In its own way the argument is a species of racism, which holds that the answers to all questions lie in the West and denies that the Islamic world is capable of producing apocalyptic movements just as irrational and inexplicable as the communism and fascism of Europe.
. . .
The question is whether they can kill thousands of people or even hundreds of people in Britain. Because if they can and do, Herzen's ideal of the Englishman doggedly clinging on to his civil liberties may not stand the strain and everything will go.

Some serious food for thought.
David Aaronovitch should be read in full.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

WHAT TO SAY ABOUT THE MADRID BLASTS? I don't really have anything much to add to what has been said so far, I will simply give some reading tips. First of all it is a good time to refresh our intellectual defences and thus re-read Michael Walzer's essay on the ideological apologia of terrorism.

A further link I would recommend would be Lee Harris on al Quaeda's fantasy ideology. Although it is not clear who is behind the attack this would an important read if it really is aQ, and even if not, it is quite feasible that the ideological roots of the strikes are similar.
In the vein of the article this attack could signal a troubling development because it would represent a move by aQ to another strategic level. So far aQ's confirmed and lone attacks have had big psychological and symbolic meaning, while being of a very limited number.

Surely this is confusing when there have been countless terrorist attacks since 9/11 for which aQ has apparently claimed responsibility. What made those attacks different though was that they weren't aQ-only actions, but normally had shared claimants. To understand this I would recommend reading this:

Now, Dolnik says that Western officials have helped to blow al-Qaeda out of proportion in other ways, too - by 'the automatic attribution of credit to the group for disparate attacks; by making unintelligent and unqualified statements about the group's very basic "weapons of mass destruction" programme; by treating al-Qaeda as a super-organisation; by creating the impression that al-Qaeda can do just about anything'. As a result, al-Qaeda has been turned into something it is not. In the mid-1990s intelligence officials saw bin Laden as 'one name among thousands'; within a few years they had transformed him into a global threat who heads a ruthless, structured organisation that is capable of doing anything, anytime, anywhere.
This invention, or certainly exaggeration, of al-Qaeda is not only inaccurate; it also has a potentially destabilising effect, encouraging regional groups to act in the name of al-Qaeda in the knowledge that such actions will have a massive impact on our al-Qaeda-obsessed world. The talking up of al-Qaeda has created a kind of brand name, which can be invoked by small, isolated groups wishing to strike a blow beyond their means.

Although the article hints at a conspiracy and needs some closer scrutiny and analysis, there is actually something to it: if you were a small local terrorist grouping the impact of your attacks are magnified immensely if you pretend to be aQ and aQ's image is helped by creating the impression that it can and does strike everywhere and all the time. From this come two conclusions.
Firstly, it was ETA and/or some smaller Islamofascist cell that simply latched onto aQ's brand name to increase the terror created. It could of course signal an escalation of ETA's terror, possibly by a splinter cell, much like with splinter groups of the IRA.
Secondly we could be seeing aQ expanding its war into continental Europe. In many ways Spain would be the perfect target. The loss of Spain to Christians by Islamic rulers in the 15th century was repeatedly quoted by bin Laden as one of his casi belli and it signalled the military decline of Islamic civilization vis a vis Europe, the West.
In the War on Terror Spain has a position that also makes it attractive as the prime target. While the British government has been far more hawkish and strongly supportive of the US, this course of policy is more or less supported by the majority of the British public and a terrorist attack would in all likelihood strengthen British resolve. On the other hand attacking one of the dovish countries such as France would be an own-goal of spectacular proportions. But Spain has a perfect in-between position: while its government is supportive of the WoT, its population is rather more ambivalent, especially as regards the transformation of Iraq. So, attacking Spain sends a clear signal to the European waverers: contemplate joining the American-British-Israeli-Australian "axis of evil" and you will be attacked. The UK's choice is made-up, France's choice is made up, and attacking these countries would be counterproductive for aQ. On the other hand attacking a country in the middle is perfect really, because it will scare potential hawks from joining the fight full-heartedly and drives an even greater wedge between hawks and doves.

This would is essential for aQ, because without a divided West they might as well give up now. The only thing that gives aQ enough success to maintain its fantasy of global dominance is the fact that the West is disunited and hence can be defeated one by one, rather than all at once. Ultimately the only solution seems to be that the whole West stands united to fight aQ and its affiliates wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

INTERESTING SEAL LYRICS In his current hit Seal sings this line, which is presumeably about tolerance, but it takes on a quite different siginificance when being sung by him:

Who am I to judge the colour of your hair?

Indeed, but perhaps that should have read:

Who am I to judge your hair?

As for the song itself: it is okayish, but not quite near his wonderful "Kiss from a Rose". . . Ah, the days of youth . . .

Saturday, March 06, 2004

PERSONALISED WORLD MAP In case you haven't come across it yet I recommend this site which gives you a map of the world with the countries you have visited coloured red. If, however, like me you're not much travelled in the world you might prefer using only the Europe one, which in my case was still rather dire – I've been no further westwards than Cornwall, no further eastwards than Prague, no further northwards than Edinburgh and no further southwards than Naples; and that's ignoring the fact that I haven't been in most of the countries in between. I suppose I still have a lot of travelling to do . . .
So far:

create your personalized map of europe
Where I hope to have been eventually:

create your personalized map of europe

Monday, March 01, 2004

CLARE SHORT: LIAR? Well I suppose it was just waiting to happen:

Downing Street was also delighted when Ms Short was forced to backtrack on her claim about British agents bugging Mr Annan. In her interview, she admitted that the transcripts she saw of Mr Annan's private conversations might have related to Africa and not to Iraq.
Asked whether she could confirm that the transcripts related to Iraq, she said: "I can't, but there might well have been ... I cannot remember a specific transcript in relation, it doesn't mean it wasn't there."
Ms Short also admitted that her original claim, on Radio 4's Today programme last Thursday, that Britain had eavesdropped on Mr Annan may have been inaccurate.

It was just waiting to happen, because, as the British Spinner said:

she just seems to throw the Annan stuff on a whim

Also it slightly "odd" that Hans Blix waited for almost year until he made his claim that he was spied on just a day after Short's allegations.
Strictly speaking it's hypocritical of Short to rail against the inaccuracies and "lies" of the pro-war crowd when the only means of attacking them is seemingly to use inaccuracies herself and even ones that are exposed as such only days later. (I write "strictly speaking" because I personally find the charge of hypocrisy in politics quite superfluous, it is in the nature of the game that one moves positions tactically and will end up with contradictions now and then. If you want purity of cause become a monk, but steer well away from politics, which is inherently tainted by compromise and in which ideological purity is the hallmark of totalitarians.)

IS THE (CHRISTIAN) CAUCASUS UN-EUROPEAN? William Pfaff, of whom I am no great friend anyway (see August 25), thinks that the Caucasus is outside of "Europe" and the people there should effectively forgot about becoming a part of EUrope.
To begin with, even his phrasing is rubbish, if the Baltics were "under European influence" that logically means they can't be European themselves.
Whether Pfaff actually knows what he is writing about is drawn into doubt however by this:

And there is Armenia. Independent since 1991 - for the first time in its history, except for two years after 1918 - Christian Armenia has been in a struggle with Muslim Azerbaijan

This is non-sense twofold. Armenia's history has for millenia been tilting back and forth between independence and foreign rule, so Pfaff seems worse informed than me, a mere blogger and hobby politico. Also, more seriously, he is implying that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is about religion when in fact it is an ethnically based conflict, maintained to a good degree by the interests of powerful outsiders. Binding either Armenia or both into a EU-NATO framework would effectively loosen the pressure Armenia is under and make a peace deal easier to conclude.
Pfaff discusses the US's growing interest in the region as part of its greater Middle East strategy which clearly underlines the region's importance. There is every reason why the EU should get involved here because this is somewhere where it can actually make a difference and a good one at that in contrast to its aimless and counterproductive posturing on Iraq and Israel.
But perhaps Pfaff has identified a problem:

History and geography impose distinctions. U.S. intervention in the Caucasus involves states that in modern times have nearly always been part of a sphere of Russian vital interest. The West may wish them well in their independence, but - alas for President Saakashvili - they have never belonged to the "Euro-American fold."

I find that wholly unconvincing. Why does it matter how long countries have been a part of Russia's sphere of interest, as opposed to Germany's? Anyway, the reason why Georgia and to a lesser extent Armenia seek a connection to the "Euro-American fold" is because they seek a way in which they can maintain their security in a very hostile and instable neighbourhood. Also doing this in a framework of European states is for them the ultimate conclusion of their ancient Christian identities that makes them just as European as Portugal and Estonia, as Iceland and Greece.
So what should the role of our Government, our European colleagues and the EU be in the Caucasus? Whatever the answer, one thing that is not the case is that the Caucasus, especially its Christian bits, are un-European. This is one of the forgotten big issues for Europe and it is certainly one that I will address at greater length at some point.

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