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Thursday, April 29, 2004

HUMAN SIDE TO ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT I used to read her quite frequently but for some reason I sort of let Imshin drop from my memory. Luckily I bumped into her blog just today and I've decided to put it on my blogroll. I know that may start looking like I'm starting to overemphasise Israel in the way I complained about just yesterday, but it's so well written that it just has to be there.
Quite specifically I want to direct you to this posting about the encounter between an Israeli and a Palestinian in France, which is both beautifully written and moving. Perhaps it shows a little hope for the future too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

MY FIRST ARCHITECTURE POSTING As you may have noticed, in my site's byline it say this blog is also about architecture. Now given that it's been running since last August I have to say it is in fact quite dismaying to disciver that this is my first posting. (Oh yes, and I also concede that my postings on religion and church issue have also been a little ligth so to speak.)
So Lord Foster's gerkin is now close to finished and the BBC's Megan Lane loves it, she really does:

As an instant icon of 21st Century Britain, it has all but supplanted the Routemaster bus and Big Ben as shorthand for London on TV, in ads and on film. In Love Actually, it reared above Liam Neeson as his on-screen son told of a schoolyard crush during a stroll along the South Bank.

Now, it should be noted that the BBC doesn't normally go in for intentional satire in its news reporting, but this puff piece certainly sounds more like its own parody than serious journalism. I mean read those words again and think about them. "Icon of 21st century Britain"? Really? And of course the world's press is flocking to London to report on this sensational new manifestation of Britain. Or not as it is in reality. And the idea that it already has supplanted red busses and Big Ben as a shorthand for the capital is simply ballooney.
That said, it's elegant and a positive addition to London's skyline which is otherwise made of fairly dire and uninspiring stuff. And I mean "stuff". Here's a pic which proves my point. It's a nice building but Mrs Lane's verbal orgasmating is totally inappropriate.

PS: On the site where I find the pic there's also this pretty one of Salisbury Cathedral's courtyard this one I'm actually familiar with and as a topping which is appropriately entitled "only in England". ;)

BRITISH MILITARY'S IRAQ FEARS Via Normblog and a little late, this news is highly troubling:

Troops who could once travel around Iraq in soft headgear now wear body armour and helmets if they venture out, and they travel everywhere with gunners standing in the back of their vehicles scouring the countryside for potential attackers.
. . .
But the Americans have insisted repeatedly that Sadr will be arrested on a warrant issued last year for the murder of the moderate Shia cleric Majid al Khoie and other offences, including stealing money collected from mosques, and many British officers fear that would have catastrophic consequences in the Shia strongholds in the south. Reluctant to talk publicly, they say privately that they would be unable to maintain security in the face of a Shia uprising.
"I know if that happened I would not be able to dominate the ground here any longer," one said. "We would be able to hold our positions, but we would be taking significant casualties."

This shows up another mistake in the handling of the post-invasion campaign. It would have been better that instead of cutting the Shia part of Iraq into different blocks of responsibility that entire part of the country had been placed under overall British command with supporting forces from other coalition members as there are now, though some of them have started running away (thanks for nothing). This way UK commanders would have been able to control all of the populace that matters to our forces' security. That way it there would have been greater coherence of policy and thus a greater chance of success. Now we are in a situation in which our troops effectively have to hope that their US colleagues manage to deal effectively with the problems, without Britain seeming to have any real influence over the tactics.
This raises a more general note. I have been and remain a staunch supporter of regime change in Iraq and I remain sure that it was right and necessary for Britain to go along with the US on the issue. However that does not mean we shouldn't attach conditions to our support. The primary condition is of course that of influence. Now, many detractors (too numerous to link to) will say that we got nothing out of it and we were effectively led up the garden path. (Un)fortunately this is not the case at all as Anne Applebaum recounts. Tony Blair's conditions for British support were all met, most prominently going through the UN and an Arab-Israeli peace plan. To be fair to Our Tony I suppose it wasn't always apparent that the UN route would fail, even if many others and myself proclaimed at the time:

Preferably this should be done via the United Nations, which, if unlike in the past, is actually made to work, may well draw a sceptical America into accepting such a multi-lateral framework.
The problem with this vision is its practicality. In the end the question whether or not this can work now depends on whether the UN Security Council confirms its authorisation to use force against Saddam, and whether its members are then prepared to see it through. Because the US and the other member countries are largely either indifferent or open to persuasion, in effect, this means that France will have to endorse this vision. I wish our Prime Minister the best of luck, but I would guess he will fail on this count. France's core foreign policy objective of the past decade is to obstruct and paralyse American power for reasons both noble and ignoble. If Tony Blair can change France's world view within the next few weeks that will be great, but it is far more likely that the real result will be that the diplomacy will drag on for ages as Saddam plays his traditional game of dividing the international community by giving worthless concessions, be inconclusive and in the end will run out of time, when both the Iraqi weather and the Pentagon hawks' tempers heat up to intolerable levels. If that happens a huge and ugly diplomatic mess will ensue, which is easy to avoid by simply referring to the existing UN resolutions, rallying the council members to accept that as a basis for action and then launching the war within the next few weeks.

But in regards to the Middle East road map (or "road trap", or preferably "road crap"), I find it hard to have any kind of sympathy for the PM's policy. The conflict is primarily a problem for Israel and the Palestinians and I tend to agree with Ted Galen Carpenter's argument that outside intervention will be futile and in fact entrench it. Blair should instead have used our "influence credit" in the White House to ensure a bigger British say in the on the ground tactics, or if necessary a greater area of control. Given that for most of the time our troops' tactics have been more successful than those of their American colleagues, this would have been beneficial for all involved. But no, Blair has to follow the pressure of his own party's ideological preferences and waste time and political capital on the Palestinian issue. (A conflict that only looms so large because of the completely excessive media coverage. via Mick Hartley) Quite a failure, I say. This is where I really have to part with Blair and why I don't share the amount of praise he has earned himself in many parts of the right.

And for more dire facts, back to the Scotsman article:

British forces are taking significant casualties. According to the Ministry of Defence, between 7 February last year and 31 March this year, 2,228 injured military personnel were evacuated out of the theatre of operations, a figure equivalent to two of the battle groups involved in the capture of Basra last April.
Of those, 1,885 were from the army, 226 from the RAF, 67 from the marines and 50 from the navy. The casualties also included non-combat injuries such as road accidents, but the figures do not cover injuries which were treated by unit medics, or soldiers who were able to return to action.
Since George Bush declared that major combat operations were over, 26 British soldiers have died: 12 in action, ten from accidents and four from illness or natural causes. Up to 1 May last year, 17 died in accidents, seven were killed by friendly fire, six died as a result of enemy action, two were killed by what the MoD describes as "explosive incidents" and one died of natural causes.
In comparison, the US has lost 706 soldiers, with 2,374 injured in action and evacuated and another 1,256 returning to action after being wounded.

This is the current situation. If the Iraqi population turned hostile we would probably looking at a situation akin to the one Israel faces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If you want to put all this figures into perspective, the RoomUnsealeress writes that in the past year alone 184 Israeli soldiers were killed in action, which in comparative population figures would mean about 1800 British or 11700 American troops killed. In light of this I would say we're still being fairly lucky. But we can't rely on luck alone, our governments need to find ways in which the whole process in Iraq can be speeded up. The process itself is right and is going in the right direction, but as long as it remains so slow our problems in Iraq will remain.

You can count this as my wobble over Iraq, which was probably unavoidable. I’ll be back to my hawkish self soon; I’m just lacking sleep and good food . . .

Friday, April 23, 2004

BETTER DAYS AT THE SPECTATOR? Just a week ago I commented how the Speccie seems to be going a little down hill (see here as well). But this week the situation looks almost entirely reversed. The current edition is stuffed with worthwhile articles. Not that I find them politically agreeable, it's simply that I feel like sinking my teeth into all of them. Nice to see a positive change there.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

EU REFERENDUM SENSE AND NON-SENSE Well I suppose this was to be expected:

Tony Blair yesterday hinted that if Britain votes No in the promised referendum on the EU's new constitution he may seek amendments to its powers - and then ask voters to think again in a second referendum, as the Danes and Irish have done in the past.

I take it that is to mean we had better vote the right way first time round? Some democracy. On the other hand the Danes stayed resolute in the end and were spared the euro, so maybe we could pull off such a stunt too. Would it cause us great troubles?

Mr Howard has forced Downing Street to confirm that Britain could not be expelled from the EU if it voted No. The existing structure would continue, though officials say it would be an uphill battle to renegotiate better terms.

That would depend on how willing the other EU countries would be. Currently there's not much to show here, but we should not forget Germany's troubles (April 8) which might well chip away at the viability of the current EU. When push comes to shove there will be a lot of room for manoeuvre and it would be silly of us, after we spent more than three decades of trying to slow integration down to reverse our policy when it finally looks as though there's opportunity it will bear fruit.
Though he's a little over the top, Andrew Roberts has the only fun thing to read about the whole affair:

In my nightmare vision in The Aachen Memorandum, the government ran a referendum that was hopelessly one-sided. Every organ of the state was prevailed upon to do its bit to procure a Yes vote. Pro-Brussels front organisations massively outspent the No campaign, using taxpayers’ money to produce ceaseless Yes propaganda. Markets were manipulated, polls were spun. The BBC, all the time professing objectivity, actively campaigned for a Yes vote in the way it selected and interviewed protagonists, as well as through the news it headlined and the news it sidelined. Can anyone really doubt that all this will take place in the next 18 months? When it does, remember I told you so.

Not so sure about that press thing though because it looks as though the Daily Express at least will return to its pro-Tory stance:

Richard Desmond, the proprietor, yesterday approved a decision by his flagship title to throw its weight behind Michael Howard in the run-up to the general election.
The move comes weeks after Rupert Murdoch hinted that he was flirting with the idea of endorsing the Conservatives.

So goes it. Here's hoping for a No.

Friday, April 16, 2004

STRANGE DAYS AT THE SPECTATOR If you briefly glance at the current edition of the Spectator you'll see that there is not one, not two, but a total of three articles that are critical of if not outright hostile about our operations in Iraq, or more specifically US actions. For the sake of balance I suppose Boris Johnson could have put in at least one positive comment, but instead we find this by Michael Gove:

The stance of Canning, Churchill and Thatcher, the belief now characterised as neoconservatism, which holds that it is the West’s duty to stand up for liberty against its enemies, has not always held sway in Tory ranks. There has always been a strain in Conservative thinking, the Little Englander or isolationist tendency, that has been deeply suspicious of foreign intervention. A majority of Conservatives supported appeasement in the Thirties and did not want British troops to ‘die for Danzig’. John Major’s government shied away from confronting the dictator Milosevic and stood aside from the tragedy in Rwanda. For many Conservatives now, a Powellite reading of foreign affairs appears tempting, and a belief that if we stay out of foreign quarrels we shall be safer has become seductive.
. . .
Second, if the Tories flirt with hostility towards Bush’s America, they will be encouraging precisely those forces most hostile to a revival of modern conservatism. Anti-Americanism, as popularised by Michael Moore and articulated by Robin Cook, has not become the defining feature of left-wing discourse by accident.
. . .
Tories should note that anti-Americanism on the Right has, historically, either descended into marginal extremism — as with Jean-Marie Le Pen or Jörg Haider — or insipid quasi-social democracy, as with Heath and Chirac. If British Toryism is to grow as a movement which is both mainstream and identifiably conservative, then it cannot do so by embracing anti-Americanism.

What can we read into this, I wonder?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I AM ALEXANDER THE GREAT. WHY? Although I don't technically fulfil the entrant criteria I decided to give this a go anyway: Which famour homosexual are you? And I am:

How spiffing! You're Alexander the Great!
Yeah, baby. You were the King of Macedonia, and conqueror of much of the world; you're responsible for the spread of Christianity, as well as Hellenistic society and even the Roman Empire. Your power was feared for thousands of miles around.
And how gay were you. When you'd conquered Persia, you fell in love with a male courtier from that court - scandalous in those days, because the Persians were believed to be uncivilised barbarians.
You were always really in love with your boyhood friend, Hephaestion, and when he died you were grief-stricken to a legendary degree: convinced that he would live on after death, you passed away soon afterwards.

Doing it Greek style since 356 BC.
Which Famous Homosexual are you?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey
And I didn't even know he was.
Via Normblog

Monday, April 12, 2004

WHAT IF BUSH HAS ACTED EARLIER ABOUT BIN LADEN? I know I'm being lazy at the moment but here's another link from Sullivan, this time an alternative history of events if Bush had in fact reacted in the fully effective way possible to the vague warnings in his intelligence briefing. Neatly encapsulates the dilemma that the war on terror brings with it: be hit first and then retaliate, or strike first to avert catastrophe, but do so in diplomatic and legal hot water, in turn causeing other problems?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

YEAH, I KNOW IT'S A LITTLE CHILDISH . . . but I think it's funny anyway. And in a way you could say there's a serious point in there too. I don't know what it is, but there is.
Via andrewsullivan

Thursday, April 08, 2004

GERMANY'S ECONOMIC WOES, BRITAIN'S SUCCESSES AND WHAT IT MEANS Found via Medienkritik this piece in the Washington Times makes some important points about Germany:

Germany's current economic growth of about 11/2 percent yearly is "Barely above the water line, and nothing to write home about," Norbert Walter, chief economist of the Deutsche Bank Group, told an audience hosted by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies last week.
Low growth is coupled with high debt projections due to Germany's generous social obligations and German labor participation far below that of the United States. The German population is aging and, as elsewhere in Europe, reproduction rates are well below replacement levels. These facts require a number of basic changes, Mr. Walter said.
He noted growth is "barely out of stagnation," and that low rate pales further given there are four additional workdays in Germany this year. Mr. Walter said the German standard of living is barely better today than 10 years ago, compared with 50 percent improvements in Britain and the United States.

I have to say I'm impressed with such a performance in Britain. I knew things had been looking bright economically speaking in the UK, but this is far better than I had suspected. For Germany though these figures are of course rather disappointing. It needs to be remembered that Germany is Europe's industrial powerhouse and the economic problems there affect all of the continent.
What this should also remind us of is that it is wholly wrong to argue for a closer place in the EU for Britain with reference to economic indicators. I've often heard the argument about the better economic prospects of Europe and in particular Germany being the reason why we in Britain should finally accept our place in Europe because it would be economically better for us. Now, historically, especially in the 1970s, this was certainly the case. The problem for this kind of Europhile argument however is that this is no longer true and hasn't been for many years already. The situation today is almost reversed with the former economic "wunderland" Germany increasingly suffering from the problems the UK experienced in the 1970s. So economically the European model, or more specifically the Rhineland model, doesn't appear to be the best bet around.
Some Europhiles will certainly agree with this but then point out that in return for sluggish economic performance at least Germany has far better public services. To a large extent that is certainly the case - but for how much longer? The mistake being made here is the one already familiar from general debates about higher taxation for better public services. In the short run higher taxes mean more money for the state. In the longer run however higher taxes depress growth which means there will be gradually less money and at some -largely hypothetical- point the state will begin to have less money and public services will actually start declining.
All this also has wider ramifications, because, as Niall Ferguson explained in a recent speech, the EU's integration is largely dependent on German money. The consequences of this money gradually drying up are of course hard to predict, but I would guess we could well see a slowing down of European integration, rather than a rolling back or outright collapse. Mark Steyn puts Ferguson's point sharply in the context of transatlantic relations.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

BLAME THE NEOCONS! PART 6.389.712.638.712 David Clark, the author of this piece used to be a "special" adviser at the FCO. I wonder what his "speciality" was?

The war on terror misfired. Blame it all on the neocons

I take the speciality wasn't nuance or a grasp of complexity. But I'm not so sure he's got much of a grasp of the bigger picture either:

it is nonsense to argue that America and her allies are "losing the war on terror". Al-Qaida's capacity to carry out horrific acts of violence may continue to grow, but its real mission - to establish a pan-Islamic theocracy - is doomed to end in failure.

Why? If this is really so we can call the war off. Great news. Except Clark doesn't actually say that the reason why this will fail is because Western arms are and will be used to prevent that happening

Even a Talibanised Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be too enfeebled to present much more than a temporary and localised threat.

Temporary and localised? Pakistan's military has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves by a huge gap, so, although Saudi Arabia doesn't have nukes -yet?-
it certainly has the money and the contacts to start getting hold of them pretty quickly.

The ideology of Islamism will remain contained by the backwardness it shares with other forms of religious fundamentalism.

This is the old idiocy about the Taleban and other Islamist extremism being somehow "backwards" and "old-fashioned" or even "medieval". If only. Then they would be contained in themselves. The problem is however that al-Quaedaism is in fact a highly modern, or if you must use the word, post-modern ideology. But even if Clark were correct about the backwardness, a backwards enemy that is capable of crashing airliners into our offices and chemical agents into our tube ventilation shafts is dangerous enough.

Clarke makes a few points about Iraq that I agree with (and quite a few I don't). I have to say the current situation in Iraq is deeply troubling, but any sense Clark could have made of it gets lost in flinging around more mud.

What comes later on is already a standard mistake that such pieces seem obliged to make. Just a while ago I had noticed this in Richard Overy's piece (March 20, 2004) and I have seen it here and there as well. On the one hand it is said that toppling Saddam was not about interests, but was instead part of some sort of neocon, purely-ideologically driven game. Then, a few paragraphs later, when it comes to the issue of Iraq's liberation, the moral and humanitarian case for intervention, all this argument about ideology goes straight out of window, and suddenly these anti-warriors discover that it was in fact only about naked realpolitikal interests. All this happens without noting the quite obvious contradiction in those two positions. Clark does it too:

an act of geopolitical adventurism that had been part of the neoconservative game plan

and then later:

the US removed Saddam from power for the same reason it installed him in the first place: to engineer a balance of power favourable to its own interests.

Look, I don't expect strict logical rigour or 100% consistency in newspaper op-eds, but it would be nice to see these at least accepted as ideals to be aspired to, rather than ignored purposefully. It is quite obvious that the only real point of these pieces is to score points against Bush, Blair and however else supports a hard line on security issues, simply by doing nothing more than listing any number of accusations one can make. Some of these are undoubtedly valid, but to lump together criticisms that contradict and cancel each other out isn't the basis for constructive oppositions, or any opposition for that matter.
As for the point that the US "installed" Saddam, the US and the UK certainly accepted and cooperated with Saddam, though less than the Arab League bankrolled him and Germany, France and the Soviet Union armed him. It's strange that only US and UK support of Saddam in his war against Iran is worthy of condemnation when in fact we were those who supported him the least and we changed our mind after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, a positive change in thinking the Arab League and the axis of "peace" have yet to make.
But Clark isn't quite content to leave it at such student politics; no he manages to go one lower:

The neocons dismiss this as liberal bunk but, like their chicken-hawk president, most of them have not so much as grazed a knee in defence of their country.

So you're only entitled to making decisions on foreign and security affairs if you've done youre your bit? I wonder what kind of an amazing military career Clarke has behind him? None in fact, but it's quite shameful to see he hails from the great place. Strangely enough I can't quite fathom were the left's sudden love affair for the military has come from. In consequence Clarke's moaning would mean that decisions on war would be the exclusive reserve of the armed forces and veterans to make. I'll just say that's an interesting view of democracy.
And all this is just a brief impression of the collected nonsenses that Clarke's article amounts to. Good to know he no longer works in Government, but it's still amazing that Blair once has such an opinion of him as to have hired him to the FCO. Not surprising some people question Blair's judgement abilities.

Update: To be fair to be Blair -hey, that rhymes!- Clark actually wasn't one of Tony's cronies, but in fact was hired by Robin Cook. On second thoughts what kind of judgement was it to have employed him as forigen secretary *shudder*.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY . . . This date didn't ring any bells with me, and I suspect quite a lot of other people too, but I have just noticed that exactly ten years ago the genocide in Rwanda started. To be honest I don't really have anything much to say about it. After all, what can you say, what hasn't been said before, hasn't been said better?
If you want to remind yourself, the BBC has an overview of some materials here.
The only specific other press coverage I saw today was this leader in the IHT which makes for doubly grim reading on such a date.

WHICH NY TIMES COLUMNIST AM I? Actually I'm surprised it wasn't Safire because I'm more likely to agree with him, but it ain't bad anyway:

Thomas L. Friedman
You are Thomas L. Friedman! You're the foreign
affairs expert. You're liberal on most issues,
except you're a leading voice in the pro-war
movement. You're probably the most popular
columnist at the Times, but probably because
you play both sides of the Iraq issue and
relish your devotion to what you call
"fanatical moderatism." You sure can
write, but you could work on your sense of

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
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