Monday, November 28, 2005
Whilst I complained that many people in this country were going slack in regards to the expansion of EU (and less recently), that was more of an aside, I had little idea just how fast and far the EU was actually going. In the Speccie's cover story Anthony Brown recounts some of the major development from only the past few months. It is pretty dizzying reading. Whilst one could try to find solace in Brown's remark that
Like a disabled person on crutches who defies his disability by climbing a mountain, or the cancer victim who runs marathons, the threat of paralysis seems to have spurred the EU into a frenzy of activity.
Having spent the day in Canterbury I am impressively reminded why I stand by the Church of England, despite some of its growing troubles. When you look at the Cathedral but also some of the smaller Church buildings spread around you are not immediately struck by it. It's when you look closer, that what really conveys the quiet splendour of the Anglican faith are the little details and the air of historical matter-of-courseness that accompanies the Church and its works. It certainly grew on me again while I was there.
In Saturday's Times Matthew Parris has an interesting comment on Iraq, in which he says that whatever we may consciously argue, subconsciously we all agree on Iraq having failed. I am afraid I know what he means. When Iraq hawks talk and particularly blog amongst themselves it all seems less bad, but the moment you open a newspaper, switch on the telly or the radio you can't avoid this sinking feeling. I see no reason (yet?) to change my mind over invading and occupying Iraq, but the emotional commitment to the enterprise had been gone for a long time. In the lead up to the invasion there was a real feeling that things were changing for the better, and this was a just and necessary war that it was a pleasure to be an advocate for. I can't really say when that tipping point came. Looking back there are two points that stand out for me.
The first was Bush's "mission accomplished" show. At the moment when the war was going into its more difficult phase of reestablishing order in Iraq Bush was effectively saying there's nothing to do anymore, let's go home. That built up exactly the wrong kind fo expectation both in the military and the public. After you've created the impression that the job is as good as done and you then say, "yes, but I need to send an extra two hundred thousand troops in for at least a year" (a realistic war plan I would wager), people are going baulk at that. I think this is when I began feeling that our leaders were possibly going to mess things up.
The second was the David Kelly affair. Whether or not Andrew Gilligan was journalistically right or not to blow the wmd story up at a time when public support was already beginning to wane I will leave to others to debate; ultimately there’s nothing that can be done about freedom of the press, even if that freedom gets used badly. But again like Bush’s speech this was in the transformationary phase of the war. To run a proper nation building war effort would have required public backing. The Kelly affair set off the then sheer endless stream of officials past and present rolling out supposed exposes about wmd lies. This helped undermine public morale. Why the Government was so incompetent in meeting this bad pr remains a mystery to me, given how good they are normally at spinning.
But both those incidences I think we’re instrumental in pushing the emotional dimension of the Iraq war debate in the wrong direction. To be sure, there is plenty that went wrong policy and argument wise to be sure.
If you read the Economist's fine leader on Iraq this week you are struck by the level of disappointment that seeps through the comment. That is a feeling I sadly share. What makes it worse is that I know it's possibly too late to make a real shift in strategy. That would also be politically difficulty increasingly in Iraq itself now I guess. Otherwise I think this posting from more than two years ago describes what would needed to be done.
(As an aside, advocating the invasion of Iraq may have been a pleasure, but socially comfortable it wasn't; I guess people don't really like debating politics properly in a social environment; it's more about finding commonality with other, which intensifies ten-fold the displaesure on realising the other side diagrees with you.)
So what template would a Tory Government do to deal with such a situation? Not easy to tell. Back in June I had pointed out that the Conservatives needed to debate and develop clear thinking on foreign policy. Whilst Michael Howard's positions had already hinted in an interventionist, hawkish and sovereignist direction, it seems that outlook is gaining traction amongst the Tories. In this week's Speccie Peter Oborne reports on a London meeting of the Henry Jackson Society. Plenty of up and coming Tories in there. It certainly looks like this is where the Conservatives seem to be heading in terms of forging a new foreign policy consensus. This will definitely help the Conservatives win the next election. After all, one of my favourites themes I like to go on about is how you can’t fight properly in politics if you don’t have certainty on the national strategy, Britain’s place in the world and on how you would decide matters of war and peace. Even if there is a wide political range in the Henry Jackson Society itself, most are centre-right and I think it is no safe to say that therefore the Tory revival edges closer.
(see also Stephen Pollard)
After the doubtful occurances during Azerbaijan’s elections recently, time to turn to another South Caucasus state and an expression of public will, the constitutional amendment referendum in Armenia. The proposal would most importantly have moved powers away from the presidency towards parliament. After first hearing about it I thought this looks a lot more promising avenue for bringing genuine democracy into the post-Soviet sphere than trying to do so in single big steps such as revolutions or general elections. By gradually starting to move things from the bottom up, piece by piece, chances are far better that the democracy that emerges from that will hold. Sadly, it seems the referendum has followed the dubious routes that similar events have gone in the ex-USSR. Shame really. Hopefully it will work one day.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Bringing this series on Germany's unexpected election to a close, I must say that I had great hopes in the beginning that there would be some genuine change in one of Europe's Big Three. To start off with there was a real prospect of economic reform, which would have helped the British economy as well and would have given a German chancellor more leeway in dealing with the EU. Such a position would have made cooperation with Britain easier and more beneficial for Germany and us. Coupled with the Chancellor-hopeful Angela Merkel's robust Atlanticism it really did look like a fresh dawn in the Western alliance. Well all of that has come to nothing. The indecisive outcome which gave the parting and unmissed Gerhard Schroeder's social democrats an almost equal say in the new government has lead to the formal coalition agreement that was signed last week.
How long this "grand" coalition holds in another thing but its economics doesn't bring much inspiration with it: mainly tax raising measures to fix the budget deficit, but at the expense of job creation measures, which in turn will mean higher welfare bills, which will mean a greater budget deficit, which in turn . . . well you get my drift. Germany needed a courageous and perhaps even dangerous cut in taxes and red tape to get it still-sluggish economy off the ground. Then solving the budget problem would have been far easier. Such a policy could of course never be decided by a grand coalition, which by the nature of the game will be shaped by compromises that lead to a sub-optimal outcome in which everybody's worse off.
As for foreign policy, the signs are not too great on this either. I suppose it's already a bad omen to begin with that the now-governing Christian democrats one staunch Atlanticist, Friedbert Pflüger, is not included in the cabinet at all. Whilst some people have opined that the new foreign minister, the former
I've not been managing this blog as well as I should so I notice only now that I have some interesting comments popping up in that long quiz posting. As for this one, I'm using a family friendly pc so I am not going to check out what lies behind, though I think we can all guess. But the other comment is, how shall I say, hard to describe. I have seen many a conspiracy theory in my time, but that has got the top. With the others I could at least understand what they were trying to claim, but this one is just impenetrable. I thought about deleting it, but I think it's worth having a laugh at so it's staying for now. Anyways, I had a strange feeling about it, so I googled it and yes, the exact same posting has appeared in 395 different places. I suspect it's being spread by a spammer programme. There are some right nutters out there I tell ya.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
The headline looks familiar enough these days:
Thursday, November 17, 2005
I'll be back soon in full swing, but I thought I'd just flag up the news which has gotten too little coverage, that the new German government intends to use its 2007 presidency of the EU to get the ratification process up and running again. Just for all those like Ken Clarke and others who seem to daydream that "Europe" as an issue is finished. It isn't. It's more urgent than ever.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
. . . .the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month . . .
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
So, Red China's head is on a state visit. Whilst I see the necessity of not being actively hostile to countries like Communist China, can someone please tell me why we roll out the red carpet (literally red!) for people like this? I mean business meetings with the Government is ok, but parading down the Mall with the Queen and the Household Division, having London landmarks lit up in red and having gigantic Chinese flag stuck on Horseguards Parade? I find it quite repellent. State visits should only be granted to visitors from moderately acceptable regimes. 'nuff said.
As for those elections in Azerbaijan, there are reports about quite a lot of irregularities and there has been at least verbal censure from the West, though I doubt anything much in practical steps will happen, as I hinted at recently. Katy at blogrel has some good news on the mood she picked up from Azeris about the Karabagh conflict. I think that is also the most practical solution to the conflict. All sides, particularly the outside powers, can keep their strategic goodies, but it would improve the lot of the people actually having to live there on the ground.
In the current imbroglio over the new anti-terror laws I notice one oddity about Blair's stance in regards to how he treats the advice of the "professionals", ie the police and intelligence services. It seems they are the best fount of knowledge when it comes to balancing political goods, in this case security and liberty. At the same time, there is some disgruntlement by Blair about Sir Christopher Meyer's views on Iraq. What this underlines is how, when it came to making the decision about Iraq, Blair was quite happy to ignore the wishes of the "professionals", ie the diplomatic corps and the military, when making a political decision. And quite rightly so, too. Strange though, that now the professionals agree with him, he's quite eager to roll their expertise out. Funny that . . .
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Very busy in my real life at the moment so still no proper posts . . .
There are elections in Azerbaijan today. The Economist has a good primer on this, Katy of blogrel is there now and Eurasianet is a good source for incoming news. This is quite an important event in a region whose strategic relevance has grown due to oil and being in the neighbourhood of Iran and the Nastystans. How the elections run today will have important ramifications. Ideally the elections will run smoothly and be fair. This in turn will enable the country to reform, make Western engagement such as military bases acceptable and help a peaceful resolution of the Karabagh conflict with Armenia. If this doesn't happen, and there is a real risk of this, there are two basic scenarios that are problematic. If incumbent holds on to power illicitly and the West stays, we will be compromising our moral standing and credibility. On the other hand, if we pull out, this might heighten the propensity of the Azerbaijan regime to seek a military solution to the conflict with Armenia. Needless to say such a war would be catastrophic for all involved but that's never stopped unstable dictatorships from going down that route for their egos and to cement crumbling regimes at home. As long as there is Western engagement in the region and the country, the West will try to quell any war as this would be deeply damaging to our interests. So I think we have a bit of a dilemma to solve if the current regime hangs on to power. (As for solving the Karabagh conflict, the first rule that outsiders should lay down and enforce would be one of absolute non-violence. And whichever side violates the ceasefire should then be treated as an illegitimate aggressor.)
Remember, remember, the fifth of November . . . The 400th time this year round. Clive Davis has some disappointing observations to make. Certainly the past five years the tradition of Bonfire Night has been pretty hollowed out. While I was at uni there was not a single event, but there were countless Halloween parties. I have nothing against Halloween, seeing as it connects to warm childhood memories, but it is still a shame that it is driving out Guy Fawkes. But that's the thing you see, if you abolish or downgrade national traditions like that what you end up with is not some bold global humanist utopia but rather more you will end with the resulting vacuum being filled by the commercially most available alternative. And that will normally be American for better or for worse. (I wrote an essay on Guy Fawkes' enduring relevance yesterday, but the footnoting went awol so you'll have to wait a little for that.) On the other hand, as our penchant for turning everything into a booze-fuelled mess, we all know what any festivities in this country tend to descend to . . . ;)
By the sounds of it so far this looks like an Iraq inquiry that makes sense:
The failure to plan for the aftermath is likely to be at the heart of the committee’s inquiries now that Iraq is in the grip of a violent insurgency, says the Tory MP Douglas Hogg, one of the inquiry’s architects and who is canvassing support for the move.
Sticking with Iraq, news is in that the stress levels of our troops have now reached those of World War Two. Things must have got much worse in Iraq, right? Well, not quite. It's mainly down to a fear of being prosecuted for killing an insurgent. The trial against seven Paras that collapsed this week is a good case in point. Despite no credible evidence for wrongdoing and witnesses who were allegedly being paid to make stuff up, it is fairly bizarre that the whole sordid affair could be drawn out for more than two years. DumbJohn is on form on this.
And now: quiz time! Oh dear, again? I hear you poor reader groan, but I'm having too much fun with this:
|You Are 50% Boyish and 50% Girlish|
You are pretty evenly split down the middle - a total eunuch.
Okay, kidding about the eunuch part. But you do get along with both sexes.
You reject traditional gender roles. However, you don't actively fight them.
You're just you. You don't try to be what people expect you to be.
Although not immediately apparent fromt his blog's politics, but in my real life this is probably quite true:
|Your Hidden Talent|
Your natural talent is interpersonal relations and dealing with people.
You communicate well and are able to bring disparate groups together.
Your calming presence helps everything go more smoothly.
People crave your praise and complements.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Am I the only one who notices an uncanny resemblance between this EU Referendum posting and this comment piece in the Sunday Times? Ok, well the Sunday Times article mentions the must-read arrse, but otherwise it's hard to see any other ground being covered there. Still, I suppose it's good to see these arguments moving from the blogosphere to the "proper" media.
Staying with defence and the Times, Saturday had a strange comment about the Navy's future:
The Navy . . . .seems still to be lobbying for the assets to deploy in force anywhere in the world. In any inter-service competition for resources, it must, and will, take third place.
Lot of work in those regards to do for the next Conservative prime minister. From the most recent polling it looks like Cameron will be it. Not that he's spent an awful lot of time on saying what his defence policy would be, but a BBC poll says Party members are going to vote him in. Whether it's Davis or Cameron, I am confident that the Conservatives will carry the day in 2009/2010. Having so far only followed this leadership race in print for the past three months I was pretty amazed at the visual difference between the two Davids. Whereas Cameron always seems to look fresh, healthy and energetic, Davis looks clapped-out and finished. I guess that will shift the balance in Cameron's favour too.
On the other hand perhaps the BBC is still continuing its practice of presenting people it doesn't like in a bad ligh. Evidence for this could be seen on Sunday's The Politics Show when they interviewed noted Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan, he had a sinister menacing shadow over the left half of his face, funny that with all the technology available in terms of make-up, lighting and computer retouching something like that should still happen . . . (Not that these methods are restricted to this side of the Big Pond mind you.)
While we're on the issue of that show, am I the only one who thinks that the presenters' insistence of not wearing ties makes the whole programme look a little tacky and akin to some Sunday afternoon football chat show?
Talking of politics on the BBC though, is it possible that the coverage has actually gotten fairer? For example on Newsnight they had an interview with two American experts (one was Dick Morris) about Bush's remaining years in office after such a week of crisis, all of which was possible without the usual anti-war and Bush-bashing claptrap clouding out sober analysis as used to be the case for the often. And again, on the Politics Show Sunday morning, the Tories interviewed were given proper space to speak and even the appropriate respect. Has the BBC seen the journalistic light? Or is it scared what will happen to its future once the Conservatives are back in power?
If you happen to be curious about the further developments on the German election front, I will be bringing an update soon given the current troubles (includes more demonic lighting, what's going on . . . ?!). I see that the Times seems to agree with my call for a second round of elections. Looking back though I will say that going for another election campaign now will be a better option than it would have been in late September. The leftward shift apparent in Schroeder's social democrats should lead to a workable majority for a Christian-democrat/right-liberal coalition that I have argued here occasionally.
So, David Blunkett has gone from office again. Well, I don't really know my way around the ministerial code of conduct, so I can't say anything useful about that. The only thing I noticed again, is that here was a Labour minister leaving office due to some form of corruption. Whilst that is good in itself, it masks the fact that there has been quite a dearth in the past years when it comes to ministers being sacked or resigning due to incompetence. And to be sure, there's been plenty of it: Geoff Hoon anyone . . . ? In the broader scheme of things I would say that incompetent Government is a bigger problem than incompetent Government and I think we should shift the balance of accountability in back in that direction.
As a side-note, it is quite funny really that Blunkett sat on the board of a company specialising in paternity testing isn't it?
To end this post on a gripe though, I was intermittently watching Sky News during the day. Is David Blunkett's resignation the only event worthy of reporting the whole day?