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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Well, England's out of the competition, in fact for quite a while now. Doesn't really bother me particularly, I'm more British rather than English, and anyway sports doesn't much get me emotionally exercised. The only thing I want to write here is to say that Darius Vassell is my favourite England player. I know most of you will be asking themselves, why him? Has he ever scored a goal? Is he a brilliant dribbling master? No, but he pushes forward and runs with and for the ball, even when it's obviously not going to work, only to crash into the enemy. Why do I like that? When I was younger and used to play sports on a regular basis, that's exactly the style of playing that I had. I was never technically any good, so I had to compensate that with full energy input, safe in the knowledge that all opponents were either slower or saner than me. I suppose this evaluation is one of sympathy and identification rather than detached analysis, but it's still true.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Thanks to Norm for the link to this piece about Tom Barnett, author of the Pentagon's New Map, a book that sounds like a necessary addition to my reading list. (btw, here's an article by Barnett in which he outlines the basic points of his book.) The point that Norm highlights is this:
They had come to hear a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and former teacher of Marxist studies argue that the American military should be split in two. The first, dubbed "Leviathan", would fight. The second, the "System Administrators", would rebuild failed states to pre-empt crises and so help secure America.
Now, this idea of splitting the army in two, one for fighting, one for nation building has some logic to it. Needless to say, uniform isn't happy about it. While at the German army presentation last week, one idea about this issue I heard was the proposal was a massive increase in the military police. I think that's certainly an idea worth pursuing in more detail. It would have the advantage that it would not start messing around with the army's general fighting ethos, and the functions needed from military policemen are largely the same that are required from peacekeepers. Anyways, I'll give this some more thought some day.

Max Hastings meanwhile continues his argumentabout the abysmal defence budgeting in this country. He's right about cutting down the size of the RAF, but his argument about the Royal Navy is a bit vague and possible mistaken. The main issue revolves around the two new carriers being planned. The problem that I see is that the MoD is trying to build up two complete carrier battle groups, which means additionally to the two carriers, a number of support and protection vessels. On the face of it this sounds sensible doesn't it? Not necessarily. We ought to ask ourselves what is likely and what is less likely. Britain fighting a high-intensity war on our own is less likely than Britain fighting a low-intensity intervention on her own. Therefore we should ask, what the more likely scenario requires in terms of equipment. For an intervention in a ramshackle or collapsed state we need those aircraft carriers. We should therefore move resources from the construction of less urgently needed frigates and destroyers to the construction of the aircraft carriers. Ah yes, and some of those resources into getting workable aircraft for them too.

Monday, June 28, 2004

90 years ago today Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. As most of you will know this triggered the spiral of events that lead to the carnage of the Great War. Looking back on such dates I am always inclined not so much to mourn what happened, but rather to wonder, what went wrong. I don't mean this is a straightforward way in saying that technical mistakes were made, there was an accidental circumstance not foreseen or anything like that. I wonder what went wrong in terms of the thinking about the crisis the political leaders were faced with. Was their way of looking at the world and its problems at fault? Were they too optimistic about their enemies' motives or too pessimistic about their allies' motives?
David Gelernter touched on this theme a while ago, by explaining how Europe's inclination towards appeasement is a result of the horror of 1914-1918 and how this accounted for Europe's attitudes towards invading Iraq. I can't quite agree with a lot of what he writes, but there is one point that I draw attention to specifically: Britain. Gelernter far too often confuses the British experience and reception of WW2 with that of the Continent. I certainly agree with him that the European spirit has incorporated WW1, but in the longer run WW2 doesn't matter much. The lesson of WW1 was "never again war"; the lesson of WW2 was "never again Auschwitz". Superficially many people fail to grasp that these two lessons often rule each other out.
I would slightly alter that second lesson for the victors, Britain, America and our close allies - "never again Munich". That is however the lesson that only victors could really feel belonged into a proper worldview. This matters greatly for Britain and our place in the world. Is this our lesson, after all? For most of the post-45 era Britain's attitude was clearly shaped by anti-appeasement, even to the extent of making the mistake of the Suez campaign in 1956. But the ruckus over Iraq had opened up, or at least opened up to view, a chasm in the British world view: how strong is our belief that there should be no second Munich? If we regress entirely to the WW1 lesson, who are we? Won't we just be a part of the big European family of burnt children, too scarred by war to accept that an early war against tyranny is less horrific than a later larger one, and also to fully grasp that there can be things that are worse than war? These are questions that matter deeply to our nation's soul and to our future place in Europe and the wider world.
I'm sorry I am finishing this posting on such an unclear and ambiguous note, but there isn't a way in which an answer can be given in a short blog posting, and certainly not after a long hard days worth of studying military sociology journals.

I've only been gone from the news and commentary cycle for a week and I feel like I've missed a year. I've spent nearly three hours today going through old newspapers and catching up on a week’s worth of postings in blogland. How can so much happen that I should cover in just a few days? It boggles the mind.

All of this leads me to wonder, how much does it really matter? How relevant are the events to which us politicos attach such great importance and that cause us to have such heated debates. We can never really know what is really important.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 Tony Blair was to give a speech to the TUC outlining his ideas for public service reform. Had the attacks not happened on that same day, but perhaps a year later, Blair would have given that speech. Following from that we would have had a vicious round of arguments for the rest of the week and the press would have put most of its coverage on that event. The real news might then have been the intelligence "community" rumour, hidden in form of a short note on page ten, that the terrorist network surrounding Osama bin Laden was possibly planning to attack major Western targets.
By and large we would have ignored this news. We would then have been shocked when on September 11, 2002 -soon then to be the most memorable date the world knows- a terrorist organisation named al Quaeda hijacked ten airliners, using them as missiles to destroy the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the White House and the Vatican. This would then have derailed Britain's referendum on joining the euro, scheduled for a month later and expected to be won by Tony Blair's Yes-campaign.

What this bit of alternative history shows us is that we need to be careful we're not losing sight of the bigger picture. What is the bigger picture though? I can't really say. It's just that I'm in a brooding sort of mood. Am I really focusing on what matters?
The specific issue I have in mind is in fact Iraq. Am I too obsessed with Iraq? Well I think the answer to this is a pretty straightforward yes. I was certainly under the impression, at least during the run-up debates before the invasion that this was the one single big issue for the next years top come. I'm not so sure anymore.
On balance I'm probably just feeling unduly disorientated, because my room is a complete mess. Remember that old saying, clear your desk, clear your mind? I could do with some of that right now.
Nonetheless, I think the whole problem of the bigger picture is something that has been bothering my political life for many years. I think I'm going to give myself a few more months to figure this out for good, and failing that, I think I'll turn my back on serious politics. If I can, that is.

Sorry, what a depressing posting. Better mood tomorrow I hope.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

I'm off to observe a manoeuvre of the German army, which is why I'll be gone until next Saturday. See you then.

Ok, we all know that Saddam had no wmd. Meanwhile a lot of wmds formerly in the possession of Saddam have been moving around the shadow world market. Ben Johnson has chronicled the wmd movements:
Demetrius Perricos, acting chairman of UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), recently disclosed that his inspectors have been busily tracking shipments of illicit Iraqi WMD components around the world.
. . .
‘A number of sites which contained dual-use equipment that was previously monitored by UN inspectors has [sic.] been systematically taken apart,’ said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the New York-based inspectors. ‘The question this raises is what happened to equipment known to have been there.
. . .
The report said the U.N. inspectors also found papers showing illegal contracts by Iraq for a missile guidance system, laser ring gyroscopes and a variety of production and testing equipment not previously disclosed.
Many of the “dual use” components UNMOVIC found in foreign ports had been previous tagged by UN inspectors in Iraq before the war. And transfers are taking place rapidly. During his presentation, Perricos showed the Security Council a picture of a fully developed missile site in May 2003 that had been entirely torn down by February of this year.
. . .
These revelations came during a closed meeting of the UN Security Council held last Wednesday, June 9. However, the investigations are not new. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched its own probe into Iraqi WMD transfers a full six months ago, when a Dutch scrap metal company discovered five pounds of yellowcake uranium ore in Rotterdam. The sample was shipped from Jordan but Jordanian officials said the metal originated in Iraq. (Perhaps this is the yellowcake that atomic sleuth Amb. Joe Wilson insisted Iraq never purchased from Niger.) IAEA Director Mohammed El Baradei warned two months ago that evidence of Saddam’s WMDs is being shipped abroad.
Jordan has been the recipient of Iraqi WMDs in the past. Most recently, Jordan seized 20 tons of chemical weapons while foiling an al-Qaeda plot to kill 80,000 people. The stockpile they uncovered contained 70 different kinds of chemical agents, including Sarin and VX gas. (Remember, last month Iraqi insurgents lobbed two chemical weapons at U.S. troops armed with Sarin and mustard gas.)
. . .
You may be forgiven if this is news to you: The mainstream media have chosen to ignore or downplay the significance of the UN’s vindication of President Bush’s policies.
. . .
The discovery of banned WMD engines should forever silence those who believe Saddam had no stockpile of weapons, or that all such stockpiles were destroyed before the war. Saddam gassed his own people. He had WMDs that miraculously ended up in the hands of Jordanian al-Qaeda terrorists. And now we find his pre-war armoury of chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax agents, is being shipped around the world.
It makes for grim reading, though I'm a little hesitant to endorse this all as completely watertight fact, and I find the author's conclusion about the righteousness of toppling Saddam lame and unconvincing. It does confirm however what was the most obvious point about Saddam's wmd-programme, namely that it existed, but that it wasn't producing many weapons. These weapon-finds so far are rather small, compared to what Blair and Bush suggested to the public imagination.
The problem however reveals another mistake in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This was a highly likely scenario, and in fact, I made it an argument of mine :
We must invade Iraq to ensure Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to not end up in the wrong hands. One popular argument against war acknowledges that Saddam Hussein is the root cause of the current crisis. Why not then, simply send in a realworld James Bond to kill him? It sounds nice but it is unfortunately not an option. The moment Saddam is dead the Iraqi state will collapse into chaos. This will be an ideal moment for any of the interested terror organisations already in Iraq as Saddam's guests and perhaps disgruntled military leaders to seize these weapons for the purpose of blackmail and terror. The only way to prevent such a catastrophe is by rapidly occupying the whole country and being in control of these weapons.
So much for that then. While it's undoubtedly a good thing that our intelligence agencies weren't entirely clueless, it's disappointing to see another failing in the occupation planning.

I've been doing some research on US conservatism and neoconservatism for uni and it's bringing a lot of interesting material to my attention. Here are several readable articles on the US neoconservatives that deal with some contemporary interests in them.

One is on the allegation that the neocons are in effect Trotskyites
neocons are in effect Trotskyites in a right-wing dress-up, and are now implementing Trotsky's vision of a global permanent revolution out of the White House. The author is certainly skilful at demolishing a whole number of misconceptions while he goes about his business of trying to disprove the link between Trotskyism and Neoconservatism.

Another piece I would recommend is piece by Adam Wolfson that analyses the relationship between mainstream conservatism in America and its neo offshoot.

What I think should be a must-read however, is this piece by Zachary Selden that explains why the neoconservatives and specifically their views on foreign policy are very much in line with the American mainstream.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The worst possible news from Iraq would of course be the outbreak of a fully-fledged uprising. The second worst is the loss of Iraqi support for the occupation, which of course would be a necessary condition for such an uprising. It seems this has happened. According to these polls Norm links to the balance in Iraqi opinion is now on equal footing for those in favour of an immediate coalition pullout, and those who want the coalition to remain until a proper Iraqi government is in place. While this is not a clear majority against our troop presence, this is very serious. Opinion could tip further to the coalition's disadvantage, thus making the task in Iraq ever harder. On balance I think we can still tip this back, but it’s going to be tougher.
Additionally the Abu Ghraib torture affair looks set to return. Christopher Hitchen's has some more on this, and also makes a few good points against torture, as does this piece.
This is all the more irritating to me, because the past weeks I have been feeling optimistic about Iraq. I'm not entirely sure why. Was it was because of Bush's speech, the fading of the torture scandal, a cooling down of the fighting, the UN resolution, the reformation of Iraqi interim government or the approaching June 30 and its first handover of partial sovereignty to Iraqis? There were certainly reasons to feel upbeat, but this sobers the mood a little again.

Yesterday night I caught parts of an interview with Peter Singer on BBC World. Now perhaps it was because I only saw parts of it, but I have to say: what a complete disappointment. The bit I was anxious about was the issue of the morality of regime change in Iraq. On this issue Singer was a complete dud. Singer was opposed to regime change, and with him being a bright mind and this being his speciality, I wanted to hear his moral case against OIF. It's not that I think he could have changed my mind; I just wanted to hear the argument, because so far I didn't really know what it was. Well, here is: " . . . the United Nations lay down the proper procedures . . . yes, if the UN had agreed that this was a breach . . . blah blah blah." How utterly disappointing. Even an amateur like me can figure out that the question of the UN was one of political and diplomatic expediency, but utterly devoid of moral worth. What annoyed me, was that this was coming from the man who challenged a lot of opinions of mine very strongly here, and was now parrotting out lame cliches. Staying on the theme of disappointment, rather predictably I suppose, Singer has a new book out in which he attacks . . . George Bush. Yawn.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Recently browsing through my archives I discovered that I have occasionally announced to look at a particular issue only to forget about it. So far I've come up with:
-the dearth of British national holidays, November 26, 2003
-update of Defence Review, December 12, 2003
-Bush and Iraq prior to 9/11, January 12, 2004
-the link between economic freedom political freedom, January 19, 2004
-the Caucasus and the EU, March 01, 2004
I wonder if I missed any? I think this is bad sytle, so I'm going to promise that within the month they will all be dealt with. No, honest . . .
Well I will certainly be getting those EU and Caucasus thoughts of mine onto paper in the next few weeks, so at least they will be dealt with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MORE ON TEL AVIV BAUHAUS As I had written on Sunday I'm providing a little more on Tel Aviv's Bauhaus architecture.
-here's a correction to the street map linkin Sunday's posting.
-collection of some short articles
-this is a nice note by Linda Grant
-if you're really nerdy you can read the full UNESCO report (even I haven't)
While looking around for some more stuff I bumped into this blog hich is quite good and has a huge amount of useful links on the built environment. The post that caught my attention is from last year, but it makes an important point nonetheless:
In light of the huge amount of very bad so-called Modernist architecture which ignores and damages the street, consider in particular the buildings shown in images # 2, 4, 8, 12, 13, and 18 on the link. They appear to be exemplary urban buildings. I suggest that these photos show, if it is not already logically obvious, that one does not need "Traditional" architecture to create a good urban, pedestrian-oriented streetscape. Or, in other words, site plan trumps architecture.

BRITAIN AND EUROPE Following up from my recent post on the EU here are some interesting pieces today on Britain's place in Europe. Larry Elliott makes the argument that Euroscepticism must not be the sole preserve of the right. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I agree that Euroscepticism is too important to be an entirely partisan issue, but on the other hand there is the problem that in a two-party system, the two main parties should be different at least on one of the big issues.
Talking of the right Robin Harris makes some necessary points about the Tories' conduct of European policy:
People accept that the Tories are hostile to further European integration. But there is also an ingrained awareness of past muddle and duplicity. As Mr Howard takes pleasure in repeating, the Tories took Britain into Europe and have consistently campaigned for the country to stay there.
. . .
So the Tory leadership today is as paralysed as ever on Europe. Mr Howard's pronouncements on the subject might have seemed bold 10 years ago. Today they strike the electorate as merely unrealistic.
There is not the slightest point in calling, as the Tory leader has done, for a "Europe of nation states", a "more flexible and tolerant Europe", an "enterprise Europe" or a "positive Europe" (whatever that may be). These things are not on offer. Europe is driven by an economic and social doctrine of statism that is fundamentally at odds with the liberal capitalism practised in the Anglo-Saxon world. Indeed, it is because Mr Howard implicitly recognises this that he talks about restoring national powers that have already been yielded to the EU.
He knows that, whether or not any new European Constitution is passed, Britain will be dragged further and further into corporatism if present arrangements go unchallenged.
Yet what finally makes the whole Tory position incredible is the refusal to admit that the disengagement required will lead to a crisis. And it will. True, continental Europe has no long-term interest in cutting relations, let alone trade, with Britain. But in the short term, if Mr Howard should become prime minister and try to embark on the programme that he has promised, he would find Britain subject to a ruthless campaign of destabilisation from Brussels, Paris and Berlin, with precious little sympathy from any other European capital.
Mr Howard would eventually get his way, because Britain is strong enough to act defiantly - as long as he had not already tied his own hands.
If I weren't an overly cautious sort of person I'd say I agree with this a hundred percent, however I do have one major quibble with it. Harris' point rest on an assumption of British power that I am sceptical about (George Kerevan made a similarly optimistic point). It is clear that the continuation of current British and Eurozone policies will indeed make Britain's per capita power ever larger as time progresses. I just doubt that this will be enough, and especially that this will be in time. The EU constitution's ratification process will begin soon and any notion of a great transformation of the EU or Britain's membership must take place within that time span, which will amount to no more than about two years from now. Given that the Tories will be in power at the earliest in a year's time that means in fact only one year to get the job done. Perhaps a Prime Minister Gordon Brown would also push in that direction and the way Jonathan Freedland portrays the Chancellor certainly suggests that Brown isn’t tone deaf on the European issue.
However, it is in fact just that Chancellor's policies, particularly his love affair with petty business regulations, that could make a renegotiation coincide with an economic slow-down at the same time the Eurozone perks up a little. Of course in the bigger picture this doesn't change the argument for renegotiation, but will make it just that extra more difficult to sell to the public.
The challenge will be for the Tories to put its EU-policy in a proper framework and be able to present it convincingly to the public. With the whole Iraq issue likely to remain on the burner for quite a while yet, foreign policy will feature in a Commons election for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The Conservatives should not be afraid to be a little bolder on foreign policy issues; their outlook is more in tune with the public’s instincts than Labour's.
Turning to Robin Harris, I've approvingly quoted him before and I'm quite keen to get my hands on a copy of his new pamphlet, which should offer a good elaboration on the themes he's discussed in his previous publications and will undoubtedly offer some good advice on the future direction of British foreign policy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

OBESITY IS NOT CAUSED BY ADVERTISING I have posted before about obesity only once because I hadn't previously taken it serious as a political issue, but it keeps returning to the debate and that's why I think that this piece by Jacob Sullum is essential reading; here the essential points:
Another inconvenient fact: Places where advertising food to children is illegal, such as Sweden and Quebec, do not have noticeably lower obesity rates than otherwise similar places with different policies.
To test the plausibility of the idea that advertising has a substantial impact on weight, Zywicki asked his audience to imagine a fat child who watches six hours of Nickelodeon a day. Would you expect him to get thinner if his parents switched him to six hours of commercial-free PBS programming?
. . .
If parents don't have the wherewithal to say no when their kids ask for something they saw on TV, their problems go far beyond the risk of chubby offspring.
Well, this is on the Reason website and Jacob Sullum is of course a libertarian, so his defence of the ad industry against state intrusion is to be expected. After all, what wouldn't a red-blooded libertarian not defend against state intrusion? Well, I'm not a libertarian and I'm not categorically bothered by state action and intervention in our social and economic life. As for censorship, which is the specific action lobbyists are demanding governments take against obesity, that doesn't make me too nervous either as long as it's not against anything explicitly political.
The problem that needs to be underlined here is a rather different one: banning food ads will not make any difference to obesity. That matters because people will fall far too easily into the illusion that such measures as banning ads and restricting crisp packet sizes will do the trick. The solution is unfortunately the most obvious: eat less, eat better, exercise more. And on that Sullum writes:
And while you're contemplating the kid on the couch, don't forget the dog in the corner. "Our dogs are getting overweight for exactly the same reasons we are," Zywicki noted. "They're eating too much and exercising too little. They're not watching too much advertising."
Banning food ads for children is going to be as effective at fighting obesity as banning all ownership of hand guns was at stopping gun crime.
Time to think of something else.

Update/correction: Trying to be too clever by half I suppose caused this but at first it read up there about censorship:
that doesn't make me too nervous either as long as it's against anything explicitly political.
The opposite of what I wanted to say, though I have to say it would make for many interesting debates if I had meant it that way and could back that up with arguments.

Monday, June 14, 2004

LEAVING THE EU WOULD NOT BE A DISASTER After the UKIP's rather strong showing in the EU-parliamentary elections, the question of the UK leaving the EU altogether and for good is one that will undoubtedly be making the rounds. I'm in favour of staying for rather complicated reasons, which I'll expand on sometime in the summer hols. However I think one point on which the Eurofederalists seem intent on digging their own grave is the scare mongering of what will happen if we left. George Kerevan has a nice riposte to that. The one big bonus of withdrawal would be that Europe would disappear off the screen of the national debate. That would mean quite a readjustment, but it would take the poison and mental irritation out of most arguments. I guess that would be something everybody would be glad about. The Eurofederalists may be disappointed and be huffing-and-puffing a bit, but ultimately they would just whither away. After all, if we weren't a member of the EU already, I doubt very much you’d be able to mobilize any substantial number of us to be in favour of becoming one.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BAUHAUS MUSEUM Now, I understand that taste is taste but I just love Bauhaus architecture. This week the UNESCO has officially transferred its protection status onto the old city centre of Tel Aviv. To be honest I had completely forgotten about Tel Aviv’s unique architectural heritage after I abandoned architecture for politics, but the UNESCO’s move last year refreshed my memory.
I can only agree with the point many critics have raised, that it’s a great shame that little effort has been put into preserving these buildings. According to the Jerusalem Post it’s the fault of the old bogeyman rent control, but they would say that wouldn’t they? But honestly, I think if we put a premium on preserving these gems, abolishing rent controls, while consistently enforcing the protection of listed buildings would bring the desired result. In Wiesbaden, Germany, where I used to live, the results of such a policy can be admired throughout the town; virtually none of the houses built between 1871 and 1914 have been torn down, and the vast majority of them, both in high-cost and low-cost neighbourhoods are fantastically preserved. It would be a wise and necessary move by the Israeli government or the Tel Aviv government to conduct the same policy.
The only caution I must add is that in most recent times, the renovators in Wiesbaden have become a little overzealous, which leads to the rather less attractive impression that the buildings in question don’t always look patched-up, but in fact look brand new. I know far too many people who think this is a good thing, but not me. However, that is avoidable and the rule of thumb I would use is that you should do nothing with the look of the building that building industry wouldn’t have been capable at the time of its construction.
I don’t want to leave you hanging in open space here, so if you want an idea what I'm talking about here's a finder via street map and you can find a little more info here. I'll provide some more links at a later date.

ELECTIONS ROUND-UP Well, if you're an election anorak you’re probably squirming on the floor in ecstasy. I mean what is it with elections these days? It's like with that traditional British bus-thing: you wait ages for one and then three come at once.
But anyway, here's an overview of the most important points.

Daniel Hannan pessimistically sums up the basic of the Euro-thingy:
First, this will be the first European Parliament with a significant anti-federalist bloc. I have just gone over the figures with Jens-Peter Bonde, the veteran Danish Euro-MP who, with me, chairs SOS Democracy, the tiny Euro-sceptic group in Brussels. We hope to have more than 100 members in the new session, with many recruits from both Poland and the Czech Republic. The Netherlands, the only state so far to have declared, has just elected Paul van Buitenen, the whistle-blower who brought down the Santer Commission.
. . .
And whatever happens on the Continent, I am prepared to offer a pound to a euro that, in this country, the combined votes of the anti-constitution parties - Conservative, Green and UKIP - will tower over the puny Lib-Lab total. With five days to go, Mr Blair is being given the strongest possible mandate to veto the constitution.
Admittedly, we have been promised a referendum; but, as Hitler grasped, a plebiscite can be used as a way to avoid further elections. When it comes to European referendums, "No" votes are discarded, but "Yes" votes are treated as final and binding. Indeed, Giscard and his friends have specifically anticipated the possibility of a "No" vote by providing that, once four fifths of the member states have ratified it, the constitution will become active, and a two-year period will be set aside to allow the recalcitrants to fall into line.
. . .
However you voted on Thursday, however our fellow Europeans vote today, the EU will continue along the path to political integration. Mere elections will not be allowed to check the reigning ideology. For some of the accession countries, it must all seem horribly familiar.
Quite some time back, I wrote an essay for university on the question "Is the EU-Parliament redundant?" With the EU-Parliament in the news I started wondering what my conclusion had been, and I have to say after re-reading it I still don't really know what my point was at the time. Anyway I've been giving it a bit of a makeover and sometime during the week it’ll be up on my writings page.

Next up, the local elections were a mixed bag of results, on which British Spin's analysis is the best I've seen so far. The one point I feel needs emphasizing is made by Matthew d'Ancona:
Ministers are wrong, secondly, to suggest that public perception of the conflict will be dictated by the course of events in Iraq itself. The war is no longer, in the eyes of the voters, a quarrel in a far away country of which we know little, but something more deeply symbolic. In truth, the contrast Labour draws between the war and domestic issues is a false dichotomy: "Iraq" is no longer so much a word that refers to a war, as a political shorthand, a catch-all category like "spin" or "sleaze". It has become, in practice, a dark metaphor for all that the voters dislike about Mr Blair's conduct at home, an exotic symptom of a malignant disease.
As for the London mayoral election, well that was a damp squid to start with. Red Ken is rubbish, but Shagger Norris? I can't quite agree with Stephen Pollard's pained endorsement, even though he is right in principle about the congestion charge; my earlier opposition to Livingstone remains, and that's why I hope the Tories will find someone better next time round.

Friday, June 11, 2004

UK'S MINI NUKES With the issue of Iran on my mind I turned my attention to nuclear weapons. And I remembered reading about the plans for the UK to field mini-nukes.
Amusingly enough I had called for this a long time ago. In my mock election manifesto I produced for my own pleasure during the 2001 Commons elections campaign, now a good three years ago, I wrote that:
We will work on building a new independent deterrent. This would carry a smaller warhead than the current Tridents. The current weapons, should they be used, would inevitably entail such large collateral damage and civilian deaths, that their use would be an ethical dilemma. In return they should be mad more accurate, for there could be extreme circumstances in which such a nuclear device would be the only effective weapon to halt an attack on the UK and its interests.
Most readers will presumably say: "Yes, but who are we threatened by?" I would direct them to my post on Iran, that I have since made some amends for. While I must make it absolutely clear that I don't favour nuking Iran, I think it serves as an illustration that such weaponry would not just be a big shiny new toy for the defence boys, but has a concept behind it that is embedded in an only too real security environment.
For an explanation from a professional, rather than my armchair strategy logic, see Keith B. Payne making the case for the US; but effectively it also counts for the UK:
Effective deterrent threats must be credible to the opponent. Unfortunately, leaders of terrorist states and tyrants who recognize the appropriate priority we place on avoiding civilian casualties may not believe U.S. deterrent threats that would produce the high yields and moderate accuracies of the remaining Cold War arsenal.
Aggressors typically search for any rationale to believe what they most want — that their aggression will not generate strong opposition or entail high costs to themselves. We don't want the technical character of our forces to provide such leaders with a rationale for dismissing the credibility of our deterrents. Should future U.S. deterrent-threat options incorporate low yields and precision accuracies, they could help deter our opponents' use of WMD by minimizing the prospect that they will doubt us.
In other words, precision, low-yield weapons could potentially strengthen our capability to deter nuclear and other WMD attacks without the risk of lowering the nuclear threshold in a president's thinking. And, ultimately, if an enemy's attack is so extreme that nuclear retaliation is warranted, shouldn't the president have a response option that incorporates very low-yield and precision accuracy?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

APOLOGIES FOR IRAN POSTING I had some doubts nagging me when I posted this hyperbolic piece on Iran last week. I've just re-read it and I'm disappointed with myself for having put it up. I just want to point out that I was misleading in presenting these statements as so important. I am fully aware that the real picture is more nuanced, and the statement was made by one single person, who is part of a regime that is not only heavily at odds with the population it rules, but also within itself. But I think my main general point about a potentially highly dangerous Iran remains.

HAVEN'T YOU DONE YOUR HOMEWORK? Normally I don't read these historicalreflection-cum-travelstories in the Speccie, but I had a bit of free time on my hands so had a read-through of this which announces itself:

Peter Phillips goes to Turkish Kurdistan and finds a land full of early Christian history
Interesting I thought, because that's a place where many early Christian peoples met; I have a sort of curiosity for such things. So I thought he's going to write about people speaking Aramaic, about Assyrians and Armenians. Given the dominant and defining position Armenians had in that region for millennia, it's rather strange Phillips doesn't even mention them on the side. Hasn't he done his homework? The Speccie should hire me next time, even I can do better than that.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

NOT A WAR I'D LIKE TO FIGHT, PART 3 Ok so this breaks the pattern set by the post on British and American troops in Iraq, but I think it's quite a good illustration of how sophisticated these sorts of civilian bind-in tactics can be and what amount of preparation can be put behind them:
The principal of a school in Rafah "called for all the citizens, women, children and elderly to participate" according to the May 17, Al Ayyam newspaper.
The call was answered. Thousands of civilians marched into the heart of the battle zone. Tragically, this is not the first time the PA has urged civilians into combat zones. It is part of a consistent and disturbing pattern. Since the outbreak of violence in October 2000, the PA has been pushing civilians, especially children, to leave the safety of their homes and join the fighting.
Thankfully our enemies in Iraq do not have that kind of organisational infrastructure available to the PA (yet?), but it does show that there is potential for this sort of thing to become far more common and ugly in Iraq. It can't harm us to be prepared.

UN GETS INVOLVED IN IRAQ – GOOD? On the face of it, this new UN resolution looks good, at least in terms that it has dispelled some of the diplomatic bad blood aroused by this whole Iraq business. But is it up to much more? The fact that it gives the UN more say in the handling of Iraq is not something I'm particularly keen on. If it remains restricted entirely to helping the Iraqis set up a government I think I may be able to get something out of it, but otherwise I don't really see much point in this resolution. It is unlikely that any countries are suddenly going to start clamouring to get onboard the coalition; UN resolution or not, those Spanish troops aren't going to be coming back. It will however give the naysayers a small opening to meddle around via the UN. Well, I'm trying to be optimistic, so I'm going to hope that the UN simply makes the political reconstruction of Iraq look less imposed, for what that mere impression is worth.

(For my previous scepticism of the UN and Iraq see here, here and this lengthier analysis.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

WHY I'VE POSTED NOTHING ON D-DAY AND RONALD REAGAN The answer's simply really: nothing to say. Ok, so I'll elaborate a little on that.
Firstly, what could I possible write about D-Day? I am personally opposed to using such events as something on which to hang up the politics of current affairs, so I wasn't going to draw any parallels to Iraq either way. (read the Norm instead.) So I could have written a eulogy to the courage and heroism, or a lament on the horrors of war, but to be honest my rhetorical skills would turn this into mere repeat of clichés. Again, whenever possible I try to avoid clichés, even if that means making my statements incomplete.
Secondly, what should I write about Reagan? I know very little about him and he doesn't arouse any emotions in me, the way he does in many other people, both positive and negative. Reagan just went out of office when I started getting interested in the news, and the election of 1988 is the earliest thing I can remember from US politics. I could mention here, that I was concerned that so few people were interested in voting. Dwelling on that would however descend into cliché so I'm going to stop right here.

Monday, June 07, 2004

THANK YOU ISRAEL This day in 1981 the Israeli Air Force destroyed Saddam’s nuclear weapon's programme. In terms of single acts this is probably one of the greatest achievements for peace and security achieved in the second half of the 20th century. If Israel hadn't done this Saddam would have had nuclear weapons by 1990 when he invaded Kuwait and started the war that is still being fought out low-intensity style in Iraq today. The consequences would have been that we wouldn't have been able to halt Saddam's rampage there but instead would have to have waited until he used up all his nuclear weapons on his neighbours before we stopped him. The carnage would have been absolutely unbelievable. Given this, it's odd that the Arab League hasn't quite yet managed to send Israel a thank-you note. Perhaps another day, eh?
Reading the account of the raid this struck me in particular:
The 70-megawatt uranium-powered reactor was near completion but had not been stocked with nuclear fuel so there was no danger of a leak, according to sources in the French atomic industry.
I find it amazing and praiseworthy that even when faced with such a threat Israel still made the well-being of people living in the area of the reactor a part of its considerations.
Here's another thing that had a vaguely familiar ring to it:
Iraq denies the reactor was destined to produce nuclear weapons.
In the aftermath of operation Desert Storm we found definite proof of that programme that Saddam denied. Given this, why on earth should we have taken Saddam's statements in 2002/2003 serious when he made similar claims?
In regards to operation Iraqi Freedom this episode shows another thing, namely that of lasting success. Israel's strike was a success, but only in delaying the problem. Of course the West could have simply decided to go back and bomb Iraq's weapons installations every couple of years, again and again, without really solving the underlying problem, Saddam Hussein. The only way to solve the problem for sure consisted in toppling Saddam and building an Iraq that would not have the desire to engage in such dangerous policies.

And while we're in this present day territory, the whole story also puts some more question marks over Jaques Chirac's behaviour and the ideological basis for his foreign policy:
French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac cultivated France's special relationship with Iraq during the 1970s to maintain an influence in a region dominated by Anglo-Saxons and boost trade links with the oil-rich nation.
He led the universal condemnation of Israel's attack on Osirak.
Then, 22 years later - as French president - Mr Chirac was vehemently against the USA and Britain going to war with Iraq over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
So, where did I recently see this concern with Anglo-Saxon power? It's sure strange company that Mr Chirac finds himself in.

Concluding this post I just want to point you to this good piece in the Wall Street Journal on this whole affair and, for what it's worth, this computer presentation on the Osirak bombing. Again I can only say a heartfelt thank you Israel. Thank you.

TONY BLAIR IS GOING TO BE GOING Back quite a while, in my new year's predictions I wrote that:

We'll be saying goodbye to Tony Blair as Prime Minister. I'm not sure yet why, it's just a hunch. Heart attack? Back-bench rebellion? Will Labour figure that even Michael Howard can't dent their power and decide on a splurge of tax and spend the Blair won't go along with, but for which Gordon Brown will be quite ready for? Let's see, but he's going.
Well, he isn’t quite gone yet, and in fact may well outlast this year after all, but if George Osborne is right with his analysis he won’t be going any further
Here is what I shall now call (cue drum roll) the ‘13 Keys to Number 10’. Some are lifted directly from the Lichtman questions where they are relevant to British politics, while others are my own home-grown questions. I’ve checked back over 30 years of elections and if the sitting Prime Minister can lay claim to six or more, then he or she wins. If not, then it’s time to get the removals van in.
Do go and have a look at it in full. It also explains why Bush is pretty definitely going to win a second term. On our side of the Big Pond Osborne concludes:
So what about 2005 — the next election? We don’t know all the variables yet. Iraq may turn out to be a great success, and I hope it does. The economy may be driven by oil prices into recession, although I hope it isn’t. Blair may be replaced by Brown, which will mean Labour gains a key for changing leader but loses another one because it doesn’t have a prime minister with charisma. We shall see. But on my current count, Tony Blair holds just four keys. It's time he got the phone number of a good removals firm.
l'd be surprised if for once my gut feeling and predictive powers in things political ahd proved right for once.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

SEX, DATING, MARRIAGE ETC. (AND JEWS) Smuhley Boteach has some more on his theme of sex and relationships. I have to say there are many religious-minded conservatives out there arguing down this line (have a look at this specimen and try reading it without laughing), but the only one I have ever found worth reading has been Boteach. He can also be surprisingly convincing, which for this sort of theme is a universally singular accomplishment.

His most recent piece is as worth reading as ever. On surveying the Jewish marriage and dating situation Boteach is probably alarmist, as most such thinking normally is. For as long as I can remember, I have been reading and hearing about the demographic collapse of Anglicanism. It just seems the plentiful congregations I have encountered when going to church haven't been made aware of this yet.
Nonetheless most of his observations have a general validity for all of Western society. Here's the key point:
Substitute the Bible's word and you have a different proposition altogether. "Marrying in order to know someone in the deepest possible way." It is only we, who have so degraded and abused sex, who can be appalled that men and women once married in order to become "bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh."
The problem why this doesn't have much appeal has to do with the general direction our civilization has developed in and I don’t mean the decline of religion. It's a simple material problem. We mature at the same age we always do, but the age in which we can sustain a family becomes ever later for largely economic reasons (longer period of studying for example). So the choice, in view of Boteach's thought, would be either no sex, or no money and no job. Given that we can't defeat the sex drive it's inevitable that it wins this challenge. Circumstances then mean that marriage cannot occur. That is why I think under current circumstances Smuhley's hopes for a revival of marriage are rather hopeless.
(For personal reasons these kinds of issues have been on my mind these past times and I hope to have an essay on this whole theme finished within the next few weeks.)

Anyways, talking about the adult game that is dating and particularly chatting-up, he observes that:
It is now the woman who must go to gym, diet, and paint her face in order that she be noticed at a party or a disco. Many women feel humiliated by the experience of standing around with a drink in their hand hoping, firstly, that they'll outshine the other women present and second, that a guy will be confident enough to come over and say hello. In the face of so much unpleasantness, a lot of women are simply saying, "To hell with it," and choosing to sit at home with their cats instead.
Well, I could think of a number of certain people of female gender that I could cite her as evidence, but a gentleman like me doesn't do that sort of thing. No, however I will be honest enough to admit that this would far more easily apply to myself. Ok, I'm no great fan of cats, so if you substitute men for women and book & sofa & hot chocolate & pizza & baggy sports wear for cats I think that quote would be quite an accurate description of my life as a single. And let's be honest: don't most of us secretly prefer laziness to the courting game? Ooops, did I just write that out loud . . . No, no, honestly, I'm not such a nerd.

But talking of sex, low behold, Norm has news of Viagra for women:
Sheagra [sic] "elevates natural sexual desire, and that's why it works differently for each woman," said Dr. Avner Shemer. "There are some women who have never before reached an orgasm, and who will now succeed with the help of this capsule. Some will experience strong and extended sexual ecstasy, and on others there will be no effect at all," he said.
However I wonder if the prof missed a quite important part of this, that I think may hold the key to its success:
Sheagra's Haifa-based manufacturer recommends that women swallow the capsule with a little bit of red wine on an empty stomach. About half an hour later, it is advisable to proceed to the bedroom...
Well, I wonder what the effect would be if the test-women just drank wine on an empty stomach? Is it just me or is there the creeping suspicion that the result would be the same, Sheagra or not? Female and male sexuality become more similar the more alcohol is added to the equation: women become more easily satisfied while men slow down. Anyway on that topic the youth of the nation probably know a thing or two. Why wasn't my youth like that? Ok, Mr Boteach, of course I don't actually want that, I want a stable loving lifelong commitment in marriage. Where was my mind wondering to . . .

Saturday, June 05, 2004

DON'T NICK OTHER PEOPLE'S PHOTOS! This is just hilarious. (hat tip Silent Running)

Thursday, June 03, 2004

NOT A WAR I'D LIKE TO FIGHT, PART 2 In the post that is effectively part 1 to this one I had mentioned some issues facing our troops in southern Iraq. Of course the main fighting is being done by their American colleagues who share those troubles. In this piece by Robert Kaplan which I recommend you read in full anyway, there are more awful choices being made for the US Marines fighting in Fallujah:

Whenever the Marines with whom I was attached crossed the path of a mosque, we were fired upon. Mosques in Fallujah were used by snipers and other gunmen, and to store weapons and explosives. Time and again the insurgents forfeited the protective status granted these religious structures as stipulated by Geneva Conventions. Snipers were a particular concern. In early April in nearby Ramadi, an enemy sniper wiped out a squad of Marines using a Soviet-designed Draganov rifle: "12 shots, 12 kills," a Marine officer told me. The marksmanship indicated either imported jihadist talent or a member of the old regime's military elite.
By the standards of most wars, some mosques in Fallujah deserved to be leveled. But only after repeated aggressions was any mosque targeted, and then sometimes for hits so small in scope that they often had little effect. The news photos of holes in mosque domes did not indicate the callousness of the American military; rather the reverse.
The dilemma of being shot at and possibly killed or alternatively break the Geneva convention while also handing the enemy a propaganda tool that may prove invaluable to him in the long-run is depressing. This is certainly something that the coalition needs to be more public about. Whether or not the Arab/Islamic world will care much I doubt. But it's important that Iraqis see how the insurgents are abusing places of worship to win their trust. Equally, if not more important is to get this message out to our own publics. Ultimately their support is essential for the war effort and that support will wane if they feel our troops are acting unreasonably.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

TAKE DOWN IRAN NOW Should I put a question mark behind that? Anyway, thanks to Silent Running for this latest piece of insanity:

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Official Threatens Suicide Operations: 'Our Missiles Are Ready to Strike at Anglo-Saxon Culture . . . There Are 29 Sensitive Sites in the U.S. and the West . . .'
Ok, so far this could simply be a European Parliament communique I suppose, but it goes on for quite a bit:

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that "an Iranian intelligence unit has established a center called The Brigades of the Shahids of the Global Islamic Awakening to replace the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Department of Liberation and Revolutionary Movements, which had been in charge of helping and training revolutionary forces across the world." [1] The article went on to report a speech given by an official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, threatening the U.S. with suicide and missile attacks at already-selected sensitive targets, and threatening to "take over" Britain. The following is the report: [2]

Iran Stands Ready to Attack the West

"A source close to [Revolutionary Guards] intelligence confirmed that P.R. has been appointed secretary-general of a new office that has begun registering the names of suicide volunteers to be sent to Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon.

"[The newspaper reported that it had obtained] a tape with a speech by H.A., a [Revolutionary] Guards intelligence theoretician, who teaches at the Revolutionary Guards' Al-Hussein University. [In the tape, H.A.] spoke of Tehran's secret strategy aimed at taking over the Arab and Muslim countries by means of helping revolutionary forces and organizations. H.A. is regarded as one of the advisors of a branch in the organization, and has published a number of works on exporting the [Islamic] revolution and the method of the struggle against the world arrogance [i.e., the U.S.].

"In his speech at a secret conference attended by students who are members of the Ansar Hizbullah movement at Al-Hussein University, [H.A. said]: 'Iraqi oil constitutes 11% of the world oil reserves, and it has fallen into the hands of the U.S. and Britain. The value of the intelligence documents that the U.S. obtained because of its takeover of Iraqi intelligence is greater than $1000 billion.
I sure hope that's true, would make a nice big fat plus under Iraq invasion pro-con balance sheet. But I digress:

"'(President Muhammad) Khatami speaks of the dialogue between civilizations, and I have grave doubts about this. It is a dubious idea. We do not want to take over the British Embassy, since they (the British) have already cleared the embassy of documents; we must take over Britain [itself].'
Come and take your chance ************! I'd personally volunteer to put a bullet in his head and a bayonet in his stomach. Errm, cool it . . . On second thoughts, given our treatment of other enemies I'm not so sure we would really want any more. On the other hand he can't quite leave us out of it can he:

"'Haven't the Jews and the Christians achieved their progress by means of toughness and repression? We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization and for the uprooting of the Americans and the English.
"'Our missiles are now ready to strike at their civilization, and as soon as the instructions arrive from Leader ['Ali Khamenei], we will launch our missiles at their cities and installations.
It's certainly not lacking in clarity. Though the rather disinterested response in the media –i.e.none as far as I know- would give the impression all is fine and dandy with Iran, even as the nutters running the place seem to have rather detailed plans for us:

"In his speech, he added: 'The global infidel front is a front against Allah and the Muslims, and we must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front, by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles. There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites and we know how we are going to attack them.'
I think for all intents and purposes we can consider this a declaration of war. Whether we should follow this up with a military response is however an issue I'm not so sure of. But all his emphasis on Britain is a bit spooky indeed. The ranting against Israel, America and the Juden is old hat, but this is something that should make us listen up a bit. I had written earlier how Iran's sponsorship of international terrorism and murky activities in Iraq are a problem for Britain, but this obviously takes the whole thing to a new level.
Of course one could say this is all a little ungrateful given that the UK has always pressured the US, and sometimes even quite successfully, to take a softer line with the Teheran nutters and we also have our future head of state dropping by. Additionally we're part of the European trio trying to defuse Iran's diplomatic trouble over its illicit nuclear weapons programme.
I'm still not happy with the idea of attacking Iran however. I don't think we or the US have the necessary forces available. As for diplomatic or popular support: forget it! So, it's a clear no to an invasion. For now.
Thinking a bout invading Iran it strikes me though that one of the advantages with Iran is that a regime change wouldn't need a large-scale occupation force like Iraq. The only problem with Iran is the current leadership. In support of this point I'll refer to Nicholas Kristof on the left and Michael Ledeen on the rigth.
Point remains that this is a very hot trouble spot to watch and as it looks quite clearly now, particularly for our own narrow national security.

STRATEGIC CASE FOR PETROL TAX With all the excitement over rising oil prices I though I would just link to this Charles Krauthammer piece:

The idea is for the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline, say $3 a gallon. If the world price were to rise above $3, the tax would be zero. What we need is anything that will act as a brake on consumption. Since America consumes 45 percent of the world's gasoline, a significant reduction here would bring down the world price.
But the key is to then keep the tax. Indeed, let it increase to capture all of a price reduction. Consumers still pay $3, but the Saudis keep getting lower and lower world prices. The U.S. economy keeps the rest in the form of taxes -- which should immediately be cycled back to consumers by a corresponding cut in, say, payroll or income taxes.
Keep gasoline prices high and American consumers will once again start demanding and buying lighter and more fuel-efficient cars -- exactly as they did in the late '70s and early '80s. Prices will continue to drop, and the U.S. economy will capture the difference.
It's a perfectly virtuous circle. It requires only a modicum of political courage. Which is why it does not stand a chance of happening.
Despite Krauthammer's pessimism I still hope this idea will be able to get more support. While I see that there is a problem for people who are dependent on cars and the fact that such a tax would be a regressive tax that would hit lower-income groups the most, I think the strategic imperative is wholly convincing.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

OBESITY AND ISLAMOPHOBIA POSTS FOLLOW-UP First up obesity. Mark Steyn has an amusing column on obesity that also points out to some factual errors in my own posting. Oh, and he didn't much like Polly's piece either.
On the Islamophobia post let me first of all make apologies for that. I think I have seldomly written such a sloppy and aimless posting as that one. I even considered deleting it, but I think that's a form of historical revisionism that I don't think appropriate in any context, let alone a little-read blog. I was feeling under the weather but for some reason was determined to write the post anyway. Serves me right.
Anyhows, Laban Tall points to Melanie Phillips' take on the same issue and she sure is not heaping praise on it either, though from different perspective. I don't really agree with her but I think it's a challenging argument she makes.

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