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Monday, January 31, 2005

The story has been popping up here and there already, but I think I’d just point to this article to underline the trend of US foreign policy hawks endorsing fuel efficiency. They

are going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones. They seek to reduce the flow of American dollars to oil-rich Islamic theocracies, Saudi Arabia in particular. Petrodollars have made Saudi Arabia too rich a source of terrorist funding and Islamic radicals. Last month, Gaffney told a conference in Washington that America has become dependent on oil that is imported from countries that, "by and large, are hostile to us." This fact, he said, makes reducing oil imports "a national security imperative."

Indeed. On this theme see also this posting from last year.

Update: See also Thomas Friedmann and Irwin Stelzer.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraq has voted. The inevitable violence has unfortunately been there as well. Nonetheless this should be seen as progress and it is hard not to moved by the determination of Iraqi voters to make it work.
This is also a step towards victory in Iraq. In an earlier post I tried to define the conditions for declaring victory in Iraq:

It will be over on the last day coalition forces in Iraq carry out the last combat operations to maintain internal order. Of course we will only be able to determine that date in hindsight.

Today’s elections are a clear step in that direction and must be fully welcomed as such. With time, these elections will lead on to an Iraqi government that can take care of the security itself. For Iraqis this is another important milestone on the journey to getting their country back after years of tyranny and transitional foreign control (which even for those who welcome it, is hardly the icing on the cake).


Saturday, January 29, 2005

I was going to post some of my own thoughts on immigration, but already Martin Kettle made most important points in Tuesday’s Guardian. I don’t entirely concur with it but close enough to save the time of writing something myself. The Tories should take some inspiration from the piece.
On the other hand I didn’t find Michael Howard’s written defence much of an improvement. He is basically right about everything he writes to be clear about that from the outset. However he neatly skirts completely around the issue of asylum. The main criticism here has been that a quota will stop the genuinely persecuted from receiving a safe haven because the quote is full. Howard doesn’t address that concern. And of course he doesn’t address my objections. (Why should he? Or does he read this site? And who are you anyway? –ed.) Anyways . . .
First of all Conservative immigration policy needs to find the positive language to firmly tie immigration into the national narrative. The goal should be to make everyone feel that Britishness is enhanced and not diminished by immigration and diversity. That way the fears about “swamping” and the destruction of British culture by immigrants can at least be laid to rest. This strengthening and invigoration of Britishness is a prime mission for conservatives. If the Tories can’t do this now, they simply should have avoided the issue altogether.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

To follow up from this Clive Davis post, the beginning of this puff piece on Brian Anderson got me thinking again about affairs this side of the Big Pond:

Anderson is a senior editor at City Journal. He's typical of an increasingly influential type of journalist, the full-time, on-staff, journal journalist who, paid by a think tank like the Manhattan Institute or the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has the time and space to work on policy articles for months at a time before having to pull the trigger on a finished piece. The result is a densely fortified style of reporting and argumentation that puts to shame mainstream journalism's call-and-quote product.

I’ll just second Clive Davies on this: where is the British equivalent to the
Atlantic Monthly, to Commentary or Policy Review? I have purposefully only picked right-of-centre publications, because I think the left-of-centre Prospect easily matches the quality and depth of aformentioned US publications.
As in the quote above part of the secret lies in think tanks: the US has them by the wagon load, but the UK? We can hardly say that the Centre for Policy Studies -as good as some of its work undoubtedly is- is quite in the same league as such Washington monsters like the Heritage Foundation or the AEI. Or more specifically, where’s the British equivalent to, say, the Lexington Institute? Is this it? Again, the politics here matters. Even if I disagree with a lot on political gronds, the quality and influence of say Demos, the Fabian Society or the Foreign Policy Centre is sufficient for them not to feel inadequate in comparison with their American counterparts. So, where are the right-of-centre big hitters in the UK think tank scene? Restricted to largely economic issues, at the Adam Smith Institute and the IEA.

Where am I going with this? I am just trying to emphasise that the British right’s political decline is connected to an intellectual one as well. And this becomes especially apparent in comparison to conservative power in the US. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge note:

Consider the battle for ideas. Back in the 1970s London was a ferment of conservative ideas, a co-founder of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution; now it is an also-ran. . . .
. . . Over the past half-century or so, American conservatism has laboriously constructed an intellectual counter-establishment to balance the liberal establishment that dominates the universities. . . . According to one survey, more than $1 billion was pumped into right-wing think-tanks in the 1990s.

If British conservatives are interested in regaining positions of power and influence, not just in politics, but also in society and the wider national culture, there needs to be some good hard thinking. Given that this requires, besides time and the virtue of patience, money, I’m not sure how this can be achieved.
Necessary it is though. It might have spared us the choice of immigration policy for the election.

Update (Jan 26/2005, 1758): The link to the Lexington Institute is corrected now.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

I have strong doubts whether the Tories’ taking up immigration as an election issue is much of a good idea. While I may see that this isn’t just racist fearmongering, the Conservatives are easily going to be smeared as racist by their opponents for this. (Btw, I don’t agree with those who say there needs to be a limitation on immigration at the moment.) Immigration is of course a mightily popular theme which is why Michael Howard picked it I guess, but it’s the wrong approach in strategic terms. The Tories shouldn’t be trying desperately to win this election which they won’t anyway. What they should be doing is putting themselves in a position from which to win the election after that, presumeably in 2009. In order to do that they should be focused on straight policies and nothing potentially too controversial. It’s true that attitudes on race and immigration are changing dramatically, particularly in regards to the two issues diverging from one another. But it remains better that the Conservatives had waited until the next election when the differentiation between minorities and immigrants would have fully sunk in. Now this will unevitably lead to the left’s chanting “racists!” and some potential Conservative voters and new members may be deterred.
(This is of course a media problem as well, as the negative presentation at BBC Online, linked to above shows all too clearly.)

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God save the Queen:

And what is Western civilisation? Not far from Bond Street tube there is a branch of McDonalds and, over the way, a fine sculpture by Barbara Hepworth. Western civilisation is where you can contemplate Hepworth's mastery of form and line while eating a Big Mac. We have always needed both, and always will.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Which country will rule the roost in the century ahead? Can you tell? Well isn’t that a game everyone interested in politics likes playing? I’m not going to give much of my own thoughts on this, but just point to these snippets:

To add to the growing chorus recognizing that China is overrated here’s John Derbyshire:

Britain... America... notice anything? The great successes of these two nations rest(ed) in the Anglo-Saxon political traditions of personal autonomy, freedom under law, representative legislatures, and limited government. China has no such traditions: has, in fact, all the OPPOSITE traditions. I see no sign that this is changing. Rather the contrary: as China becomes richer and more confident, the ancient norms are re-asserting themselves. . . . 100 years ago there were excellent grounds for arguing that the 20th century would be Germany's, or Russia's, or Japan's -- or even China's! Things didn't work out that way. Why? Politics. Before we arrive in Mr. Rees-Mogg's economistical utopia, there is still plenty of old-fashioned politics to be traveled through.

Not exactly grabbing for world domination, but nonetheless the comeback this piece on Japan suggests:

Japan is once more going from strength to strength, and this time not just on the economic front. Militarily, diplomatically and in terms of cultural influence and general global activism, Japan is transforming itself, and at speed - not merely into a "normal" country, but into a formidable player across a wide front.

The most likely future is however more of the same with US as top dog:

But more important even than America’s dynamism and economic resilience is the durability of its central ethos: the power of freedom. The genius of the founding fathers, which was celebrated again yesterday, has created the world ’s most stable, successful, and, for all the current phobias, still the most appealing model of society for humankind. The world may grow and change around it, but I would not bet on America’s eclipse just yet.

Make of those what you will, in all likelihood they’re all going to be wrong as these things always are.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

PJ O’Rourke has a more amusing alternative to what Bush actually said today:

MY FELLOW AMERICANS, I had intended to reach out to all of you and bring a divided nation together. But I changed my mind. America isn't divided by political ethos or ethnic origin. America isn't divided by region or religion. America is divided by jerks. Who wants to bring a bunch of jerks together with the rest of us? Let them stew in Berkeley, Boston, and Ann Arbor.
The media say that I won the election on the strength of moral values. If the other fellow had become president, would the media have said that he won the election on the strength of immoral values?

Go and read it all.


I only just now got round to checking out the current Speccie. Some good articles in there. I have mixed feelings about this one by Ross Clark on now-cancelled changes to the home defence laws. I probably have mixed feelings about it because I have mixed feelings about the whole issue.
One of my concerns with greater licence for homeowners is the risk that it would increasingly lead to situations were innocents were unacceptably harmed by home defence measures. As Clark ends his article:

We have been here before: in the 1840s when, horrified by the casualty rate of innocent citizens injured by the spring guns and mantraps then commonly employed by gentlemen to defend their property, MPs banned the devices.
Unquestionably the country has a crime problem, and I am all in favour of the police tackling it with more vigour than bureaucracy currently allows them to do. But that is no excuse to dismantle civilised values. It would be a tragedy if we were forced to learn once again the reality of granting the public a blanket right to the defence of property

Point made. However, this problem should be easy to solve by restricting a toughened up law to inside the house or flat. In any case Ross Clark is jumping forward a little too fast, as the proposed changes were in fact quite mild and certainly did not amount to the dismantling of “civilised values”. Leaving that aside it is of course the criminal activity which truly undermines society.

Here’s the next argument:

Even old ladies can fire a pistol, it is true, but you can be sure that criminals will always be able to fire them faster and better.

This is the argument that if homeowners are allowed greater licence in defending themselves that will simply lead to burglars arming themselves in return, thus increasing the net amount of violence and damage, rather than reducing it.
This idea is wrong. Empirically so. Measured over the past century or so, the law has increasingly restricted the exercise of home and self defence. Simultaneously this has not led to less crime and less violent crime, but the opposite. Burglaries, what we’re talking about here specifically, has steeply shot up. This seems to suggest that crime has risen as the risks involved in it have fallen. From this it can be concluded that a tougher home defence law would deter potential burglars by increasing the opportunity cost to intolerable levels.
Of course there are other aspects to be considered, but better defended homes do not automatically lead to better armed burglars. The debate needs to tale that into account. Clark unfortunately misses this. Actually he contradicts himself, when he calls for the police to operate with “more vigour” – surely this would also lead to criminals arming themselves even more heavily in order to be stronger than the police. Surely Clark doesn’t want to encourage such a domestic arms race.
On the other hand, it’s more likely I’m right and a more vigourous response against criminal activity by both police and thevictims of crime would help push crime down.

In the end, as it goes with politics, the whole public demand will probably die down when the right event comes along:

Public enthusiasm for a blanket right of self-defence will last only as long as it takes a confused and frightened homeowner to kill a paperboy trying to stuff a copy of the Daily Mail through his letterbox

That we be a bad thing because this is an important debate, but that’s the way it’ll go I’m afraid.


In regards to yesterday’s post, I have to admit that I feel a bit silly today after reading this and this. So I just want to say sorry to the Army. I should have given more consideration before just jotting something down.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

That’s the only thing I can say about this. They should be ashamed of themselves, dragging the name of the whole Army down with them.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Well, so I went away for a couple of days and “forgot” to take enough work with me, so I had plentiful time to watch the box. It was a fairly sobering experience I can tell you. Here are two samples of what caught my ire:

-Newsnight Review: One of the topic’s was an exhibition of pre-Ottoman Turkish culture. For sure it looked interesting and beautiful and all, but that’s not really the point though. They all just sat around fawning at how great and fanstastic and everything it all was and saying how the “American neocon Christian right” and assorted other baddies should look at this and be ashamed and change course (presumeably because Ossama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein present the continuation of the greatest traditions of Islamic-Turkish civilization; or what?). Anyways, the point I’d have to make about this is that there was a consensus on the whole issue by all the pannelists. I mean what is the point of having a “debate” in which everyone agrees on everything? Ok, so in the age of political correctness I didn’t really expect anyone to say “Yes, the Turks incorporated all the best of the Christian cultures they found in the lands they had newly conquered and then they expelled and exterminated those Christians”; or perhaps more mildly “This show is purely being put on for political reasons to boost Turkey’s drive to enter the European Union by getting it some positive cultural press”.
In sum a pointless programme really.

-Ultimate Force: What on earth was this? Now look, I like a good Army action flick as much as the next guy, but somehow it just got everything wrong: the acting, the politics, the fighting. Actually coming to think of it, that’s a little unfair. All of these aspects were right, but just not quite wholesome yet. It’s like somebody handed in the script and said, “oh, something roughly like this, but I need mor time to finish it”, and the producers said, “Nah, it’ll be fine. Nobody cares to have a good quality British army action series”. Well I would. Disappointing, though like all the above programmes I’ll probably be mindless enough to watch it again at the next opportunity (that being next week).

Well that’s enough moaning for now.

On the plus side . . .
I finally got round to watching the videotaped first part of the BBC2 series on Auschwitz, which I can can so far only recommend; well put together and the dramatisations are sensible instead of their normal habit of distracting from the issue and looking silly at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series will go from here.

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Carrying on the theme from last week’s posting on the legal status of terror suspect detentions I found this a good point, made by a Michael Chertoff:

Right now, much of the definition of the rules is being undertaken by the courts, in a more or less ad hoc manner. But we may need to think more systematically and universally about the issue of combatants. Two years into the war on terror, it is time to move beyond case-by-case development. We need to debate a long-term and sustainable architecture for the process of determining when, why, and for how long someone may be detained as an enemy combatant, and what judicial review should be available.

Indeed. But hang on a minute, did I write “makes this point”? Correction, that should have read “made the point”: the article is from December 1, 2003. And where have we got so far in the process of sorting these legal dilemmas? Not much to show.
Indeed following the recent criticisms by Human Rights Watch -whether you think they’re warranted or not- I can only wonder why the Bush and indeed Blair governments are not putting more effort into defending their behaviour. As I have tried to show with last week’s posting, and what Chertoff’s article linked to above shows again, is that there are strong and compelling arguments that can be made to defend Gitmo, Belmarsh etc. As I pointed out as well, I remain to be convinced either way. But why on earth the government isn’t trying to defend its policy properly remains a mystery.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Iron Maiden at 3! And not with just any old song, but with “The Number of the Beast”. Well, old song, but not just any song. Stranger things have happened I suppose, but it’s still a sub-optimal choice of a song to re-record and re-release. Something from the debut album would have been more appropriate, or perhaps from the much-ignored “Killers” album. But nonetheless, cracking stuff. And, to my knowledge, without any airplay.


With the four left over British detainees from the US base in Guantanamo Bay apparently heading back to these isles soon, this is a good time to reflect in the legal and political issues surrounding the detention of these four and of course the hundreds of others being held in various places.
On these questions I found this article by a Ted Lapkin quite interesting. He makes several points about the legality of detention without trial and similar practices in fighting terrorism, showing that these practices are all perfectly withing the bounds of international legal accords. Well, it’s a convincing read. However, I’m no legal expert and I found that articles making the opposite point sounded equally convincing, so I’m keeping an open mind about this for now. (see Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch for the other side of the argument.)

But Lapkin touches on a different problem in his article as well (scroll down to the final paragraph under the heading “Do Human Rights Groups Undermine International Law?”):

The authors of the 1949 Geneva Conventions were realists who recognized that by attempting to ban everything, they would stop nothing.
Distinction between permissible and impermissible violence is the keystone of international humanitarian law. . . . The practical implementation of the rules depends upon soldiers' ability to discriminate between what is military and what is not. . . .
Anything that obscures the distinction between combatant and noncombatant undermines the entire foundation of international humanitarian law. Any erosion in the ability to differentiate between civilians and soldiers on the battlefield inevitably would automatically place noncombatants at greater risk. . . . Yet, by seeking to ban detention of illegal combatants in facilities like Guantánamo Bay, this is precisely where the recommendations of the human rights industry would lead.
. . .
To blur this distinction and to unnecessarily apply the Geneva Conventions to illegal combatants would erode that distinction and constitute not only a legal mistake, but an ethical one as well.

It’s a strong argument and certainly shows the need to find new ways of dealing with terrorists and those suspected as such. We simply can’t stick to the old rule book and to pretend otherwise would be a waste of time. Clearly it is time to start thinking about new ways to deal with these problems. (Here’s one possible suggestion:special terrorism courts).

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Today the Palestinians are holding leadership elections. Hopefully this will give them a chance to put the negative legacy of the Arafat years behind them.
I want to focus on only one aspect that is very important for an Israeli-Palestinian peace: anti-Israel rejectionism. While it’s understandable under the conditions that many Palestinians harbour animus against Israel, there is no reason why these resentments should be supported and strengthened by politicians, both Palestinian and foreign. This is deeply destructive and makes the route to peace unnecessarily harder than it would be already.
Above all -and this counts mainly for many Western observers- it rests on a non-sense, namely that all would be well in the region if it weren’t for Israel. In the current edition of Foreign Policy this notion is debunked by Josef Joffe:

It won’t do to lay the democracy and development deficits of the Arab world on the doorstep of the Jewish state. Israel is a pretext, not a cause, and therefore its dispatch will not heal the self-inflicted wounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Nor will the mild version of “statocide,” a binational state, do the trick—not in view of the “civilization of clashes” (to borrow a term from British historian Niall Ferguson) that is the hallmark of Arab political culture. The mortal struggle between Israelis and Palestinians would simply shift from the outside to the inside.

Accepting this is one first step the Palestinians will have to take in building a new politics, a politics that will make co-existence with Israel easier or in fact possible at all.
Of course this is a message that all outsiders must also keep at the forefront of thinking about the problems, in order to have realistic expectations about what can be achieved in a wider geopolitical context by an Israeli-Palestinian peace. (Sadly probably not all too much, as Amir Taheri noted quite recently.)
My hope is however that this will at least give the Palestinians a step forward, they certainly need some peace and have suffered enough in the past years and that will be good in itself.

PS: If your German’s up to scratch there’s an article in the Zeit, the German weekly Joffe edits, on the upcoming Palestinian elections that makes for fairly upbeat reading. I hope the author’s right that this could bring about a turning about for the Palestinians.
PPS: Just reread above post. Apologies for the muddledness of it, I'm not entirely sure what I was trying to say myself anymore.

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Apologies for my absence, but I took myself a much-deserved Christmas break. I just now had a quick look back at the
(I will not make any new year’s predictions again.)

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