Friday, September 30, 2005

Sir Iain Bliar

I don't have anything to add to what I've just seen on Newsnight at the moment. I just want to record it really. We know that Sir Iain wrote a letter concerning the delay of the IPCC investigation into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Here's what he said about that letter last month.
What I actually said was, we have a unique situation here which, at that stage, I and my officers thought the dead man was a suicide bomber... and we are in the middle of one of the biggest counter terrorist operations; is it wise to bring in another set of investigators into the middle of that with the forensics, ballistics and explosives and so on?

And secondly the IPCC has a duty, which I respect, to inform the family of everything that they find - and this is an investigation which involves secret intelligence, and where do those two things fit together? Permanent secretary would you please advise what we should do now. [my emphasis]
Here's what the letter actually said.
In a fast-moving, multi-site terrorist situation, in which suicide bombers are clearly a very strong possibility, a chief officer of police should be able to suspend... [the part of the] Police Reform Act 2002 which requires us to supply all information that the Independent Police Complaints Commission may require [my emphasis]
Note that "should be able to". Sir Iain does not currently have the power to act in this way and this letter confirms that he is aware of that fact. He goes on.
I have therefore given instructions that the shooting that has just occurred at Stockwell is not to be referred to the IPCC and that they will be given no access to the scene at the present time. The investigation will be carried out by the Met's own Directorate of Professional Standards. [my emphasis]
This is an instruction he demonstrably knows he does not have the authority to issue. Furthermore the final paragraph catagorically confirms that the policy adopted is outwith the scope of existing legislation (ie, it's illegal).
For the time being I seek your support for this measure, which may form the basis for amending legislation in the future.
It's all just so very disturbingly wrong. Does the Commissioner have a major involvement in policy making decisions?

And he has seriously misrepresented the entire contents of the letter. It is clearly not a request for guidance but a notification of a decision already taken, and a request for support for that decision.

Sir Ian Blair: Judge, Jury, Executioner.

Btw, today's bitter irony is to be found in the fact that Sir Iain uses the phrase "shoot to kill" in his letter. Not "shoot to protect" then?

Boom and Bust

I would definitely recommend taking the time to read this if you haven't already done so. There's a whole lot of pressure building up and it's going to have to be released one way or another. Unless the Labour Party starts to address this in a reasonable way I'm afraid it's going to become collateral damage in the resulting explosion.* The portents are already with us; party membership has halved since 1997. I fear that much worse is to follow.

I've been trying to see if I could understand why New Labour don't seem to be able to see this problem. Patricia Hewitt was on Question Time last night. When she was confronted with accusations that New Labour continually stifle dissent, replete with a number of specific examples, she appeared to be completely taken aback. The reaction of the audience said it all. They jeered. (It's the first question if you want to watch it, jeering starts 6 minutes in.) After I'd calmed down a bit, I started thinking about what lay behind Ms Hewitt's display of surprise. Here are the possibilities I considered.
  1. She is genuinely surprised to learn that dissent is routinely stifled.
  2. She is surprised to learn that people are aware that it happens so regularly.
  3. She is surprised that anyone would have the audacity to raise the issue.
  4. She is merely pretending to be surprised, is fully aware that it happens, and is adopting the official position of outright denial. In short, she is a liar.
I can't say with any certainty which of these is accurate. There might even be another possibility I've overlooked altogether.

As an aside, Ken Clarke's answer to the question made a great deal of sense to me. I see why Labour are so keen to tell everyone he'd be a useless Tory leader. He's not perfect, not by a long shot, but I'm starting to think he might actually be less bad the the authoritarian maniacs we've got at the moment. As a potentially electable Conservative, it's highly unlikely that he'll become leader though.

But back to New Labour. In the Bloggerheads post linked above, Tim says:
Blair's camp - knowing but not really caring that the man had been refused re-entry under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act - were more concerned about how the initial ejection looked on film. They made no comment on the matter until they saw the footage so they could determine whether damage control was necessary.
I'd like to have been a fly on the wall of that little episode. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible. As we are all to aware, there are very many closed doors in this open government of ours. I can only speculate as to the conversation which took place. So I will.

So, they've just watched the TV footage of Mr Wolfgang being forcibly ejected from the conference. It's clear that it's a PR disaster. TB says "what are we going to do Alistair? The media are going to, you know, to use this as evidence of the authoritarian control freakery they keep accusing me of. There's a, you know, a chance that the public will start to believe them." Alistair tells him not to worry, they'll be able to blame the stewards. "Relax teflon, they can't stick this on you. We'll pass it off on the volunteers, that's what they're there for."

Speculation, as I said. Call me a cynic but I suspect it's fairly close to the mark. The point is that there is one vital conversation which I just cannot imagine cropped up. Did anyone involved in the discussion mention the fact that these accusations are basically very well founded and that the best solution would be to actually stop with all the control freakery? I doubt it very much. I'm not even sure if it would occur to any of the participants to think it. It is, I think, a classic example of the seige mentality. They've got no-one outside the ramparts looking in. As a result we've got a government who are constantly busy defending what is nothing more than an indefensible pile of worthless crap. They are just to concerned with plotting their defensive strategies to have noticed.

So, I suspect they genuinely don't understand why most of the population jeers at their feeble excuses. The defence of the Westminster bubble has subsumed all other activities in government. I think that's why government ministers are so surprised when they meet members of the public who treat their pronouncements with derision. Well, it's time to wake up and smell the discontent. History shows that an ivory tower can't be defended forever. Will the government realise that it'd be better to come out willingly now than be dragged out kicking and screaming later?

*In a sign of these troubled times, I feel the need to emphasise that I do not mean an actual physical explosion. I'm sure it's obvious but I'm also sure I wouldn't trust Charles Clarke not to *ahem* misinterpret such a statement.

The Party Rally Conference

Labour Party Conference 2005

Yes, I know it's in very bad taste. Just be thankful I didn't go with something worse.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Out of the Quagmire

How many people have been killed so far today in Iraq? I think it's clear to most people that Iraq has become the stain on the conscience of the Blair (that's assuming he has one at all). His pitiful bleatings about UN mandates, moral authority and showing resolve are an embarrasment to this country. It's clear that Blair believes that to be a valuable ally is to show blind devotional loyalty and obedience at all times. As any normal person will tell you, that is not the behaviour of a friend and ally but that of a syphophantic yes man. Such behaviour is about as useful as an individual opinion at a Labour Party conference. If one of my friends is acting stupidly, I don't say "well done mate, good stuff, keep it up". No, what I say is "stop acting like a muppet and sort yourself out". And I'd hope my friends would do the same for me. I suspect Blair doesn't understand this because he doesn't actually have any frends.

So, what would an actually useful ally be telling the US government about the situation in Iraq? Well, first here's what I think is going to happen if things stay as they are. The insurgency/terrorism is going to continue unabated. It may worsten. The US military will start a staged withdrawal starting in the spring or summer of next year. This will be in response to the Iraqi government stating that their security services are now better equipped to fight the insurgency. This is unlikely to be influenced much by the actual state of the Iraqi security services or the insurgency. It will be influenced by the need to have good news to sell in the campaign for the US elections in November. The UK government will adopt the same strategy arguing that it is a purely strategic decision based on events on the ground. This will be a lie. The insurgency will morph into full scale civil war after the pullout. Iraq will disintegrate and this will cause increased instability in the surrounding countries. Iraq will become a haven for terrorist groups. And then what are we going to do, invade again? No, I'd say airstrikes are most likely and lots of them. It'll be just like 2002 all over again, except that a lot of people have been killed and the situation is much worse.

It's not a pretty picture but it's looking more and more likely as each day passes. So what could the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom be doing if he wasn't such a useless tool? Here are some suggestions for policies I think the "coalition" should adopt.

It is hugely important that we do not allow the referendum on the constitution to be fudged. If there is a legitimate no vote from the referendum this must be accepted, no matter if it's politically embarrasing for our governments. If the constitution proceeds on a fraudulent yes vote this will only spread the belief that the coalition are lying hypocrites. The insurgency is likely to get stronger as a result, not weaker. So, if there's no vote, start at the beginning and try again.

I also think we need to unleash Super Marshall Plan Extra Gold Plus on the Iraqi economy. Start with the hospitals. When an Iraqi doctor says "I could really use one of those machines which goes ping beeeep", Donald Rumsfeld should be wheeling one in before the doctor has finished his sentence. Every available doctor at the disposal of the "coalition" should be working to help make Iraqi hospitals some of the best in the world. A huge effort to get electricity and water supplies restored should be undertaken. Employ people from the areas affected by the shortages for every possible position from technical personel to labourers to security guards. Do it visibly and with enthusiasm and determination. I want to see huge pots of money being visibly directed towards making life better for ordinary Iraqis.

And then there are the US and UK troops in Iraq. I don't believe that an immediate pullout is a good idea. I'd be concerned that it would just speed up the disintegration described above. I do believe that the coalition troops are fuelling the insurgency but I also believe their presence limits the likelyhood of open warfare and all out civil war. So, I'd recommend that we withdraw these forces from all population centres and have them consigned to barracks. The only other place they should be is guarding electricity plants and the like. There they should stay unless open warfare does break out between factions. The bases will probably come under attack and they should defend these bases vigourously. They should not seek to engage anyone however. In the short run this may not reduce the number of insurgent attacks in civilian areas but I believe it will do over time. We should also be actively trying to persuade governments from other nations to send peacekeeping troops to replace coalition forces.

We should also be inviting other nations to contribute to the management of Iraq. Decisions which are currently taken in Washington should be internationalised. I don't wish to disparage the current Iraqi government but I know, and you know, and the insurgent know that most of the important decisions are still made by the Whitehouse. Those decisions should be the responsibility of the Iraqi government in collaboration with a group of advisors from the international community.

These are suggestions which I think might have some useful effect. I don't honestly know if the adpotion of these suggestions would prevent the scenario described above. It might already be too late to do anything to prevent it. I believe that it must be better to try than to continue to follow a policy which is so clearly failing.

As I was writing this post a desktop alert highlighted this story. How many more?

They may take away our lives

But they'll never take our... oh, they have. We really should have been paying a bit more attention.

Warning: Rantage

Yes, it appears that Jack chicken shit Straw's arguments are so robust that they can only be defended through the physical intimidation of the elderly by some New Labour goonmonkeys. Our Foreign Secretary is a truly inspirational and courageous man. Just the sort of fellow this country needs at a time like this.

This government makes me fucking puke. They must surely be the most disgusting, hypocritical, self-serving, shallow, power mad, media obsessed shower of useless fucks in the entire history of showers of useless fucks. I wouldn't trust them to piss on a parade, never mind run a country.

And it's already clear what strategy they are going to employ to minimise the impact of this situation. This is the sort of shit I expect we'll be hearing from the lickspittles over the next few days:
This sort of behaviour is not authorised by the executive. This unfortunate incident was caused by poorly trained goons acting outside of their orders. The objectionable behaviour of a few rotten apples should not be allowed to diminish the importance of continuing the project. We will conduct an inquiry to make sure that the media don't report any similar incidents in future it doesn't happen again.
Sound familiar? Where's my puke bucket?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


But not in a good way.

Success is it's own reward

It is my belief that the current "war" on terror is a spectacular misjudgement. It's not just that this "war" is ineffective in combatting terrorism although this is bad enough. I believe it's far worse than that. I am convinced that many of the policies and actions which come out of this "war" are dangerously counter-productive. Today's news provides a perfect bloody example to illustrate my point.

Last week, I wrote about a US-Iraqi assault on Talafar. The intention of the assault was to kill or capture the insurgents who had been based in the city. On Thursday 22nd September, the Iraqi general nominally in charge of the operation declared that the it had been successully concluded and that security forces were in full control of the city. There was very little media coverage of the assault so the information available was almost exclusively from military sources. As such, I concluded that it was impossible to confirm or deny the success of the operation, or even comment on the way it had been conducted, in any meaningful way.

My fear is that the US miltary, along with the Iraqi security forces under its command, continues to adopt the heavy handed military tactics of attrition which were so prevalent and so futile during the Indochinese conflict. The search and destroy tactics, the "clearing" of population centres, and the scorched earth policy were all hugely counter-productive strategies. To fight an insurgency, the one battle which is far more important than all other considerations is the battle for hearts and minds. The Vietnam War was lost in large part due to the US government's failure to understand this. Unfortunately I'm not convinced that the current US administration has understood Vietnam's painful lessons.

Today in Talafar, a female suicide bomber has killed at least seven people. She targeted a group of people who were queuing outside an Iraqi army recruitment centre. Is there any way in which the assault on Talafar can still be considered a success? It's hard to see how.

We'll probably never know why this woman chose to commit this brutal act. There will be no investigation into what motivated her to target new recruits to the Iraqi army, no analysis of the events which led to the deaths of at least seven defenseless Iraqis. Was she a terrorist before the assault on Talafar or did a heavy handed military assault on her city drive her to commit this extremist act? If I was being facetious I'd say it must be the latter, the military operation cleared all existing insurgents from the city after all. In truth, it's impossible to be certain. It could be that during the operation a family member, a younger sister perhaps, became another uncounted statistic in the unfortunate collateral damage of modern war. Perhaps her home was destroyed during the operation. Perhaps she witnessed something so horrific during the attack that suicide bombing looked like the only option which could provide revenge justice and peace. On the other hand, it might be this woman was a terrorist before the assault, that the thought of people voting was an anathema to her. As I said, we'll never know for certain. I do know which explanation I find more plausible and I suspect most reasonable people would agree.

I am certain of one thing though: we are not winning the war in Iraq. The evidence is there for all to see. We need a leader who can first admit that fact, and then start to do something about it.

Money, it's a hit

Don't give me that do goody good bullshit.

In other news, the government has announced a new initiative to combat the increasing lack of respect in British society.

Supporting Fire

One of the good things about blogging is that there is something of a sense of community among bloggers. I'll try to demonstrate what I mean. Twice.

As well as keeping an eye on the bizarre world of Stephen Green's Christian Voice, MediaWatchWatch also monitors the activities of other self-important clowns. A job well done, in my humble opinion.

Meanwhile, over at Bloggerheads, Tim highlights another media appearance by everyone's favourite philanderer. In honour of this latest remarkable achievement, he shall henceforth be known as the Shagmaster General.

Most satisfactory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Yay for Politics

Today, Tony Blair says "we are the change makers".

Tim at Bloggersheads got it exactly right yesterday.
Tony Blair can't be waited out, or smoked out... he needs to be thrown out.
Blair's speech today proves the point just in case anyone was in any doubt. The time for the Labour Party to grow a conscience is long overdue. If this doesn't get sorted out soon the "Thatcher Effect" is going to land the Labour Party back in opposition for a very long time indeed.

I was going to take some notes on Blair's speech but I found it far to irritating to be able to manage that to any useful degree. I did write down one sentence which stuck out for me
Politics is the answer, not terrorism.
Terrorism is cleary not the answer to anything and in that respect I agree. There is absolutely no justification for terrorism.

But, at the risk of sounding like a heretic, I think it's becoming increasing clear that British politics in its current form can't provide the answers to our problems either. I'll try to explain what I mean. I don't think that my political views are particularly extreme. On the traditional political scale I'd probably be classed as slightly left of centre. I'm certainly not a hard line leftie and I never have been. So, I'm progressive, a bit liberal, and a bit left of centre. In the UK general election in May I did not have the option to vote for these values in any meaningful way. There were two realistic choices as to who would be the next government, and both support policies to the right of my own position.* There was no vote I could cast which could influence the political landscape in the UK in the way I believe is necessary.

What we currently have in this country is a choice between the right of centre Tories and the right of centre Blairites. Let's not kid ourselves, there are differences between the two parties. Blairism is slighly less awful than Thatcherism but I'd argue there's not that much in it. The gap between the richest and poorest continues to widen at an alarming rate. Can I vote for a party who wishes to address this problem? Well, yes, I could, but it wouldn't achieve anything.

It's an oft quoted statistic that Blair won the last election on a 22% share of those eligible to vote. He says this gives him a mandate because this is more than any of the other parties managed. In a way that makes sense, he should lead the most powerful party. But, a system which gives absolute power to a PM based on the support of less than a quarter of the population is a system which is broken. The opinions of the 78% who did not vote for Blair count for nothing in our system. And of the 22%, how many voted Labour because they worried that Peter Hain's back door might be penetrated by the Tories? How many took advantage of one of Polly's nose pegs? What percentage actively supported Blair at the last election? 20%? 15%? 10%? What kind of mandate is that for authoritarian government?

For me, British democracy has failed. My voice, as well as those of huge numbers of others with similar, and indeed very different, opinions, has become irrelevant. It doesn't matter what I want or what you want either most likely. Unless you're one of the lucky few swing voters who've been targeted as belonging to a key demographic, you can take your opinions and stuff them up your ballot box for all the good they'll do. Our politicians don't care what you think because they don't need to. As long as they can maintain their well oiled sleazy relationship with their swingers, they can stay in power. The rest of us just have to make do as best we can. A few scraps might get thrown our way if we're lucky but nothing more.

And this makes me very angry. It's not like I want to introduce Stalinist five year plans or something, I just want my vote to count. But it doesn't. Do I feel marginalised, frustrated, ignored? Yes, of course I do. Does this situation give me faith in the democratic process of the country I live in? No, it does not. Am I becoming an "extremist"? In a sense, you could say that I am. Will I decide to take up arms against the political system? No, but I do have a hint of an idea as to how someone would arrived at such a decision.**

So, Blair can harp on about how politics is the answer all he wants. The fact is that under Blair, there is less democracy in this country than there has been for a very long time. If he doesn't see that, and more importantly, if he doesn't understand how big a problem it is, then he's even more of an idiot than I had previously thought. And I haven't even mentioned Blair's continuing efforts to stifle dissent and restrict the right to protest. He needs to be got rid of. We need a leader who can face the fact that democracy in this country is in desperate need of reform. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the heir apparent is going to be that leader. Yay for politics.

*In fact even that is misleading. Given the Labour majority going into the election, and the current voting system, there was only ever a choice about the size of the Labour majority. In a very real sense there was only one choice.

** Justifying terrorism, eh? Belmarsh, here I come

Respect My Authority

Clarke to 'eliminate disrespect'

I think someone at the BBC is having a laugh. Having read the article, I can sadly confirm that Clarke has no plans to eliminate all those politicians who'd struggle to understand the concept of respect. Shame that.

Monday, September 26, 2005

All in all, I'd rather be in Denmark

The local morning newspaper in Aberdeen, the Press and Journal, prints a "Quotes of the day" section every day.* It can be mildy amusing at times. Today, for example, there's this:
"Who are you, anyway, big lady?"
Small girl presenting flowers to Culture secretary Tessa Jowell.
As I said, mildy amusing.

There's another one today which caught my eye.
"It is a pretty universal view among politicians that there is something very rotten in the state of British journalism."
Labour MP Martin Linton.
I think you can probably guess why I though it interesting. He's might be right about British journalism but he's hardly in a position to complain. It's hard not to succumb to bitter laughter when a politician, a Labour politician no less, bemoans the rotten core of anything really. I have a strong urge to write to Mr Linton suggesting that he may wish to consider purchasing a pane of glass which has been treated to create a light reflective surface. They are available from many retail outlets and are commonly known as "mirrors".

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on Mr Linton, I don't know a great deal about him. He might be one of the small hardy band of Labour MPs who actually have a conscience. Perhaps he's a man of principle, a man prepared to speak out for what he believes is right even when it might damage his career.

Well, if we check his voting record in the House of Commons we can see that since New Labour came to power in 1997 Mr Linton has voted with the government 2,127 times and against them 11 times. What do we think? Man of conscience or New Labour career toady? Or is it too close to call?

*I have a feeling that should actually be "Quotations of the day" but given my command of the English language, I might be guilty of "doing a Linton" here.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

One of the good guys

One of the problems with writing about politicians is that cynicism and criticism tend to dominate proceedings. Too much politics is definitely bad for you.* For a change, I thought I'd mention someone who's work I respect and admire.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please show your admiration for Adam Hart-Davis. I first noticed AHD when he started presenting Local Heroes on BBC 2. With his distinctive yellow and pink colour scheme and his mono-fork bicycle, he certainly made a lasting impression. I thought Local Heroes was an interesting and informative programme and AHD has gone on to make many more programmes of a similarly high quality.

What really makes AHD stand out though, is his infectious enthusiasm. I'm certain that it is
totally genuine and not plasticTV enthusiasm (anyone putting it on would surely never take it that far). He really communicates his fascination and wonder for his subject matter, really makes it live somehow. I can say in all honesty that I know a great many things about the world which I would not know if it wasn't for AHD. For example, did you know that a Chinese inventor built a seismograph for the emperor hundreds of years before anyone in the "developed world" managed it? Brilliant, I love knowing stuff like that.

I think it would have been great to have had AHD as a teacher or lecturer. Furthermore, he'd be first pick in my fantasy pub quiz team, and, although I've never met him, he does appear to be a thoroughly nice bloke into the bargain. All in all, he's a person who makes the world a little bit better than it would otherwise be. In my book that's about the best thing anyone can hope to achieve in their life.

For these reasons I say Adam Hart-Davis, we salute you sir!

*This is a very stupid phrase. Of course too much politics is bad for you. Too much of anything is bad for you, that's what "too much" means. Too much water would be bad for you as well. I think it was John Cleese who said this and he was right. Anyway, I'm sure you get what I mean.

A Testing and Mostly Friendly Interview

I've been watching Andrew Marr's new programme. I found it quite enjoyable to discover that without the constraints of news reporting he's able to conclusively prove that he's just as eccentric as we've always suspected. Hurray for quirkiness, that's what I say.

In today's broadcast he interviewed the big man himself. It'll be available on the BBC website for a week if you missed it. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Marr is a rabid New Labour supporter. The evidence of this interview would appear to suggest otherwise. As usual, it's the PMs comments on Iraq which I find most worthy of note. Here's my analysis of the highlights of the interview. (This section of the interview start 44 mins into the programme. Quotations may be paraphrased slightly because I'm hopeless at taking notes.)

Marr begins by nailing down his right to ask questions about Iraq. He suggests that he's heard rumours that Blair doesn't want Iraq to be a topic of discussion at the Labour Party conference.
A.M. I can't believe you don't want it discussed because it is such an important issue.
T.B. No, and of course it will be discussed.
It's obvious to all and sundry that Blair would rather it wasn't discussed. Direct hit by Andrew there and Blair is now unable to avoid answering questions on the subject.

Marr suggests that Iraq as a country is threatening to fall apart, citing the recent warnings of the Saudi government.
A.M. There are fears of a Shia state in the south, part of an Iranian dominated Shia area. It's not the unified peaceful democratic Iraq that you hoped for, is it?
T.B. But that's what we're trying to get to. Why do you think the terrorits and insurgents are doing what they are doing at the moment? Because they know that in December there is going to be the first democratic election to elect a government in Iraq and they are desperate to stop it. Why do they want to stop it? Because ordinary Iraqi's want democracy.
Blair has not answered the question. No-one disputes that that is what he's trying to get to. The problem is that it isn't what we're actually getting. Does he have any opinion on what we should do to try to avoid the breakup from occurring? It's impossible to tell.

Instead, we get treated to another round of the type of painfully naive and simplistic thinking which got us into this mess in the first place. The reasons for the insurgency are complex and varied. The idea that it is fuelled simply by an irrational hatred of democracy is, I'm afraid, childishly silly. That isn't to say that some of the participants don't have an irrational hatred of democracy, mind you, but there is far more to it than that. Also, a recent report has concluded that more than 90% of insurgents are Iraqis. It seems that not all "ordinary Iraqis" want what Blair thinks they want.

Btw, it's interesting to note that Blair assumes that the elections in December will be for the new government. He doesn't appear to have any concerns about the constitution referendum in October. As I understand it the constitution is still fairly controversial so Blair's confidence seems a little odd. Perhaps it's just an oversight on his part.

Marr then brings up the subject of the inflitration of the Iraqi security services by insurgent groups.
A.M. Do you have any idea how many of those people are on the other side?
T.B. No, it is incredibly difficult...
WTF? I'm sure I don't need to emphasise how much of a problem this could be for our exit strategy. I've read reports that more than 25% of the security services are sympathetic to one insurgent group or another. How many insurgents are we actually training? Blair doesn't know and doesn't appear to show any great inclination to find out either. Does the government have any plans for dealing with this? Who knows. Instead, he launches into a now familiar rant about how the UN mandate provides moral authority for our actions in Iraq. This is misleading nonsense, as I mentioned in a previous post.

Marr then asks about that elusive exit strategy.
T.B. As the Iraqi forces build up, we will reduce our troop levels. There will be no timescale. The strategy is as it has always been.
A.M. Critics would say, we understand that but it is not working.
T.B. Well, lets wait for the elections in December. We are rebuilding the country and it is very difficult...
The key here is "The exit strategy is as it has always been". Yes, that's true and that's the problem. Wait for elections in December? It's got a familiar ring to it. Wait for the handover of sovereignty, wait for these elections, wait for the killing of Saddam loyalists, wait for the capture of Saddam, wait for, wait for, wait for... We've waited more than two years. More importantly, the people of Iraq have waited more than two years. Can anyone seriously argue that the security situation has improved in any way whatsover in those two years of waiting? Are our troops even one step closer to coming home? The exit strategy is as it has always been.

Marr then goes on to ask if the PM had expected the amount of resistance to be as great as it has. Blair says he did not anticipate the extent of the resistance. At the risk of crowing, I did, and I don't have highly paid advisors to help out. This misjudgement is inexcusable in my opinion. Marr asks if he would have taken the same descision if he had understood how difficult it was going to be. Blair launches another salvo of spurious rhetoric in response.
T.B. There is no doubt in my mind at all that what is happening in Iraq now is crucial for the future of our own security... It is crucial for the security of the world.
For a change, I actually agree. If Iraq falls apart it could cause serious instability in the region. All sorts of nasty consequences could follow. What Blair doesn't mention is that this is a problem entirely of his own making (along with Dubya obviously). It is now abundantly clear that Iraq was not a threat to our national security before the invasion. Now, because of the military intervention, it might well become just that. And Iran is probably exploiting the situation to continue to develop their nuclear programme (another emminently predictable consequence of the invasion I might add). That's exactly why we need a major rethink of what we can realistically achieve in Iraq and how we can best achieve it.

Blair then utters a sentence which is stomach churningly worrying even by his standards.
If they are defeated, this type of global terrorism and insurgency in Iraq, we will defeat them everywhere.
I genuinely do get a hollow feeling in my stomach every time I think about this sentence. What on earth does he mean? What possible reasons could he have for drawing such a conclusion? Are we to use the operation in Iraq as a template in dealing with all terrorists and insurgents? Three of the London bombers were from Leeds. Are we going to invade? Should citizens of Leeds be considering evacuating the city? OK, I don't actually think that's what he means but what does he mean? In the same way that Blair likes to point out that 9/11 happened before the invasion of Iraq, I'd like to do the same. Some extremists existed before Iraq (now there are almost certainly many many more of course), and some will remain no matter what happens in Iraq. The extremists aren't going to go "oh look, Iraq has become a stable democracy (in itself hardly likely at present), that's us lost then, we'd better start handing ourselves in". Blair doesn't appear to understand this. He is, to quote Homer "living in a world of make believe".*

At one time I thought Blair's simplistic attitudes with respect to the "war" on terror were a front, a fiction created purely for public consumption. I found the idea that our PM would manipulate public opinion in this way pretty frightening. These days I'm beginning to think that the problem is much worse than that. I think our PM might suffer from a syndrome which leads to the development of unshakable convictions based on a childlike simplicity of thought. It's a horrifying thought but I'm beginning to think he may be in some way related to this man.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

A successful assault

On Thursday the general in charge of the US-Iraqi assault on Talafar declared that the operation has been successfully completed. "We announce the end of military operations in Talafar" said the Iraqi general. The phrase has a hint of familiarity about it, can't quite think why.

So what actually happened in Talafar? The coalition claim that "157 rebels had been killed and 683 suspects captured" during the operation. There are no reports of civilian casualties but then the coalition doesn't really make much of an effort to count them so that's hardly surprising.

Just to put it in perspective it's worth noting that Talafar has a population of around 170,000. At least 20-25,000 people abandoned the city during the fighting. The IRCS was the only organisation who attempted to supply basic humanitarian necessities to these displaced people. During the fighting the military did not permit any supplies to be delivered to the city.

Now that the fighting is over people are starting to return.
Nearly 1,500 displaced Iraqi families have returned to the northern city of Talafar after Coalition forces ended an operation to rout insurgents hiding there, but the returnees said dozens of their homes had been totally destroyed... Surkassi Ahmed, a doctor at the local hospital, said there had been civilian casualties. "We have received cases of deaths of women, children and the elderly in our hospital,".
That's according to Reliefweb (adminstered by the UN OCHA). It's very difficult to find any mainstream news coverage of what has happened in Talafar though. I wondered if this might be because the city is still too dangerous for journalists to visit.

Islam Online has another suggestion for the lack of media coverage of the assault and it's aftermath.
The US-Iraqi troops imposed a complete media blackout on the Tal Afar operation, according to IOL correspondent. No reporters were allowed into the town during the military operations except for the official Al-Iraqiya channel. Military units were given strict orders not to let reporters into the city under the pretext of protecting their personal safety. The only photos available were those released by the US military press service. A source at Ninawa Journalists Syndicate said the US and Iraqi forces detained 17 journalists and seized their cameras when they attempted to provide the offensive.
And here was me thinking that if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear.

In truth, I can't say with any certainty that this allegation is true. Let's just say that I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it is. So was the raid on Talafar a successful operation? As things stand it's fair to say that the claim is quite literally undeniable.

'Tis but a scratch

The Saudi government has publicly criticised US and UK government's for their policy on Iraq. When the Saudi government openly criticises US policy, it's fair to assume that the situation is becoming desperate. Prince Saud said that Iraq was moving towards disintegration and that elections were unlikely to provide a solution. The Saudi government is clearly worried about the possibility of spreading instability in the region. Prince Saud also said that his government's warnings before the invasion had not been heeded.
It is frustrating to see something that is clearly going to happen, and you are not listened to by a friend, and soon harm comes out of it. It hurts.
It's not often that I find myself feeling quite so much empathy for a member of the Saudi royal family but I know exactly how he feels (apart from the "friend" part obviously). I wonder of any of those warnings ever registered in any way whatsoever with, pardon me, this fuckwit?

I know I'm beginning to repeat myself endlessly but I just find it so incredible that our government can display such incompetance with apparent impunity. When our government invaded Iraq, by their own admission, they had failed to properly prepare for the occupation. This was in spite of the fact that all sorts of people, from leftie peaceniks to the Saudi government, were warning that the occupation would be very, very difficult.

Our government chose not to pay any attention to those warnings. Instead, they chose to support an occupation without appreciating the difficulties our soldiers would face on the ground. They chose to support an occupation under the command of Jay Garner. That appointment lasted less than two months before it became apparent that Garner was not up to the task. Not an auspicious start. The government chose to support an occupation which led to these scenes at Abu Ghraib (warning, graphic images) which in turn fuelled Islamic extremism to an extent never before imaginable. As a recent study noted:
Most of the Saudi militants [in Iraq] were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantánamo bay also feed into the pathology.
There are many more failings I could list. The truth is that the occupation of Iraq has been handled abysmally from start to, well whenever. As I understand it, even most supporters of the war are beginning to agree. In what way was our government's decision to support this disastrous occupation not staggeringly, and for far too many people, fatally incompetent? Is it unreasonable for me to expect that the people responsible should be looking to explore new employment opportunities?

The way I see it, this government will always find it impossible to address Iraq's current problems because it's politically unacceptable for them to admit that these problems exist. "No, everything is just fine, look at all the wonderful things the coalition has done since we arrived. A little bit more staying the course, a little bit more resolve, and we'll be laughing...". Does anyone other than out great leader still believe in this pitiful mantra?

It's OK, they've admitted it

In truth, we had not prepared enough for the fanaticism of those who were prepared to attack oil pipelines, water supplies and attack their own people in order to pursue their extreme and fanatical views - and that is still going on.
Geoff Hoon, 23/09/05
This is becoming an increasingly popular strategy. Admit you've got it wrong, and then carry on as normal. Yes, I accept full responsibility, now lets put it all behind us and start with a clean slate.

I wonder if that defence works in a court of law? My client fully admits that without any provocation he cut up and ate the rest of his family. Cooked mind, not raw. It was an unfortunate incident and one he fully intends never to repeat. He has learnt a great many valuable lessons from this difficult event. My client would now like to put all this talk of blame to one side and get on with his life...

The real problem for Hoon and the rest of the government is that so many people predicted exactly the sort of problems which the government have now admitted thay were "not prepared enough for". Many people, myself included, opposed the war precisely because of concerns about this very issue. By that I mean both that they believed that there would be many problems and that the government wasn't properly prepared to deal with them.

Three years later, Hoon finally admits something which was blindingly obvious to many people long before the war even started. Well done Mr Hoon. How many people have died in the time it took you to work that out? It is, pardon me, a fucking joke.

And yet, the very same people are now making the decisions on what to do next. I suspect you can understand why I don't hold out much hope for a successful conclusion to our little adventure in Iraq.

Trouble in Gaza

There has been an explosion in the Gaza Strip. I have to say that the BBC report doesn't appear to make much sense. The Palestinian Authority claims that Hamas are responsible for an attack on a Hamas parade? Er, right. I think they might want to clarify that the P.A. are claiming that the explosion was an accident.

Aljazeera has a more useful account of the situation. In fact, Aljazeera appears to have provided a rather balanced account of the event and the various claims surrounding it. That can't be right surely? Aren't they supposed to be a bunch of terrorist apologists? Or, whisper it, is that just another myth created by people who'd like to control what we think?

Having read the Aljazeera account, as well as one or two others, I'm not sure what to make of this explosion. In the current fragile climate I'm not sure that the Israeli government are going to be quite as willing as usual to own up to air attacks. At the same time, it's quite possible that this was caused by the careless handling of explosives by Hamas. If either the Israeli government or Hamas tries to block a decent investigation into the incident then we'll probably have our answer. That's if anyone even attempts to conduct a decent investigation of course.

I must add one other thing. I don't think it's particulary wise for the Israeli's to be conducting arrest raids in the West Bank at the moment. To my mind, raids like these are unnecessarily provocative. It seems that any positive benefits gained by these raids are always going to be outweighed by the negative consequences.

Of course, that wouldn't hold if you actually wanted to increase tension and instability in the West Bank. If that's what you were after, raids like these would be just the job.

A new BBC report makes it clear that the P.A. believes that the explosion was caused by "mishandling of explosives".

It also appears that the Israeli army have confirmed that they have launched air strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip. They still insist that they did not carry out an attack on the Hamas parade. Not really sure whether I'm convinced on that one way or the other.

Chicken Nugget

Just in case anyone's missed it, this is excellent.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Leeches and other parasites

I hear there have been some red faces in the offices of the Oxford University Press. Apparently 10,000 newly printed copies of the latest edition of the OUP dictionary do not contain the word gullible.

Sorry, it's an old joke. I frequently try it on people and if you say it with a straight face it's amazing how many believe it. There's probably a valuable lesson there somewhere.

To be honest, I struggle to find sympathy for people who believe that they've won a holday in a competition they never entered or that thay've been randomly selected to be given a free kitchen. There's no such thing as a free lunch is a cliche for a reason. There is always a catch. Unfortunately, there are easily enough gullible people in Britain to make such activities economically viable. In my own selfish way, I find this a bit annoying. If these people would just wise up, I wouldn't have to deal with having to get out of the shower to answer the phone only to hear a recorded message telling me I've won a holiday to Florida if I just press 9 now. It's particularly annoying when the phone is already registered under the TPS scheme. Bah, that's what I say.

I dislike the idea that people make money running those sorts of scams. People who exploit the sick and the vulnerable to make money occupy a place of special loathing though. If you saw the documentary linked above I'm sure you'll understand what I mean. Getting rich by telling terminally ill patients that you can cure them with hocus pocus is about as low as it's possible to go. How does anyone find it within themselves to scam someone at a time when they have the greatest possible need for human kindness and compassion? And advising them to refuse all pain medication? It makes me sick.

Normally, I don't like the way this government likes to legislate on whatever at the drop of a hat. In this case I really think that this whole area need to be looked at as a matter of urgency. The government should be looking to provide protection to those vulnerable people who are the victims of these fraudsters.

Having said all that, I actually think there is some limited value in "faith healing". By that I don't mean that I believe any of the mad claims about channelled energy manipulation or any of that nonsense. I do think it can help to produce positive attitudes in patients and it's medically accepted (as I understand it, I'm no expert) that mental attitude can have an influence on physical symptoms. As such, I don't think all "faith healing" should be banned outright. What we must do is ensure that the bloodsucking leeches are unable to harvest their dirty blood money in our country.

Expert Optimism

Google news alerts have once again brought the opinions of David Capitanchik to my attention. Mr Capitanchik is a terrorism expert based in Aberdeen. He is frequently quoted in the media in relation to the "war" on terror. As we have similar interests and are from the same city, I like to keep an eye on these appearances. For the most part I think it's fair to say that David's opinions are rather pessimistic.

Here's an example from this weekend's Scotland on Sunday. David is commenting on plans to create a Scottish anti-terror branch.
It also shows an acknowledgement that Scotland is at risk in a way that it was not, for example, during the time of the IRA threat. That has all now changed in the age of Islamic extremism. There are also a lot of targets of UK-wide significance in Scotland. If Grangemouth were attacked, for example, then the lights in London would go out.
David likes to remind us of the worst case scenarios. Terrorists attacking Grangemouth? Hmm. I'm not saying that such a thing couldn't happen although I think it's highly unlikely. What I am saying is that such speculation is entirely useless for a number of reasons. Unless it's based on specific intelligence it is only going to worry people unduly. It increases the fear felt by the general public which is just what the terrorists are trying to achieve. It might even give terrorists an idea for a target which they had not previously considered. All in all, I don't have a great deal of time for Capitanchik's scaremongering opinions.

But, as I noted in one of my previous posts, David isn't always so pessimistic. Remember this one?
Instead of the bloodshed of the Balkans I expect the new Iraq to be more like a devolved Britain.
Evening Express, 16/03/2003 (google cache).

In yesterday's Daily Record, David continues to be unbeat about the situation in Iraq.
David Capitanchik, a security expert at Aberdeen Robert Gordon University, believes most of the majority Shia population in Basra will welcome the tough line taken by the British troops. He said: "The concern the Shia have in Basra is that we will pull out and Saddam supporters will come back and do to them what they did in 1991 after the Gulf War.
Yes, most people in Basra are delighted that UK troops have attacked local police forces. That's why the governor of Basra has been so supportive of the actions of our troops. That's why the city authorities in Basra are continuing to co-operate fully with them. That's why patrols in Basra have continued as normal. That's why CNN managed to take photographs of hundreds of people in the streets showing their support for the troops. There you are, conclusive proof that the tough line really is welcome in Basra.

It's remarkable really. David can be so pessimistic about Scotland and yet so optimistic about Iraq. I don't normally indulge in insults but I'm beginning to wonder if there's some sort of multiple personality disorder at work here. Perhaps there is a more rational explanation. Any suggestions?

Btw, I also noticed that, yet again, neither newspaper has correctly identified David's employment status.
Daily Record - "David Capitanchik, a security expert at Aberdeen Robert Gordon University"
I don't believe David has ever worked as a security expert for RGU. He retired from his job as Project Development Officer with the Department of eLearning last year.

Scotland on Sunday - "Aberdeen University terrorist expert David Capitanchik"
Mr Capitanchik retired from this position 12 years ago.

Who needs facts when you've got opinions though?

Celebrity Special

I'm not what you'd call an ardent follower of the vapid celebrity news stories which permeate the fabric of 21st Century Britain. To be honest, I couldn't really give a stuff about the lives of celebrities. I can't see how the personal affairs of celebrities have any relevance to my own life. I genuinely struggle to understand why this sort of thing is so popular. Why does anyone care? It's a mystery to me. I believe this means I'm at least partly qualified to become a judge.

Anyway, one of these celebrity stories has become so widespread that I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to avoid hearing about such dross. I just don't get it. A supermodel takes cocaine? Are there really people in this country who are so naive as to have been shocked by this news? Good grief, grow up people. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble but I have to point out that lots and lots and lots of celebrities take cocaine (lots of journalists do too by all accounts). If companies were actually going to stop employing any celebrity who takes cocaine we'd have a major celebrity cull on our hands. Hmm, might not be altogether bad then.

But honestly, it's not going to happen, is it? What's the message? Taking cocaine is tolerated as long as you keep the newspapers onside. My, what a lofty moral position.

I see that the Metropolitan Police are going to investigate Kate's activities. Sir Ian Blair says he has been personally involved in the decision. He really is a git of the highest order. OK, taking cocaine is illegal but is Sir Ian advocating that the police should investige every single suspected cocaine user? Or is he more interested in PR policing based on Daily Mirror editorial policy? Git. What possible benefits could result from a police investigation into this? I presume no-one thinks that Ms Moss is supplying or dealing cocaine. Wouldn't it be far more productive for the police to concentrate their limited resources on investigating the people who do instead of pandering to the mock outrage of the tabloid press?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not Breaking News

I'm afraid this post is slightly overdue. [Insert excuse here.]

In the last parliament I started writing a blog about my MP. Anne's website was inactive for a wee while after the election so I did a little bit of proxy blogging. I'd put it on hold during the summer parliamentary recess and had sent Anne an email asking whether her new website might feature a blog. Ms Begg replied a wee while back. Unfortunately Anne's new website doesn't include a blog. This is disappointing but Anne's reasons are understandable.

I'd be inclined to continue my proxy blog but for one thing. Anne genuinely does make herself available to her constituents. Her contact details are readily available and she is happy to discuss issues with constituents at her regular surgeries. I'm thinking of making an appointment to discuss the dreaded ID cards. So, while I am disappointed about the lack of a blog, I can't really say that Anne doesn't want to communicate with the electorate.

Anne's new webite is up and running. I like it. The news section seems to be being regularly updated. Not bad at all.

All things considered, I hereby announce the retirement of my proxy blog. I do hope Anne will think again about blogging at some point in the future. If that day comes, I'd recommend the Political Weblog Project as the first place to go for advice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Stay on Target

More details have emerged about what happened in Basra on Monday. It seems that elements of the local Iraqi police forces handed the two British prisoners over to Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. This led UK troops to conduct a rescue operation which led to some accidental damage to the prison compound.

The forces which the UK government is relying on to replace UK troops have been infiltrated by insurgents. This was confirmed by Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie in an interview with Newsnight (Tuesday's programme, about 8 mins in).
Iraqi security forces... in many parts of Iraq... have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists... I can't deny this.
Dr al-Rubaie is not able provide any indication as to the extent of this problem.

The government has responded with yet more talk of the importance of staying the course but what course are we supposed to be steering? If the Iraqi security forces are compromised, is this not the final nail in the coffin of the coalitions "exit strategy"?

Now we're being told that UK troops will have to stay in Iraq for at least another year. You'll forgive me if I'm not impressed, it's just that I seem to remember having heard that before. How long do you have to stay the course before you realise you've taken a long turn?

Smoke and Mirrors?
This is pure speculation but isn't it odd that this news should be released the day after yet another farcical episode for UK policy in Iraq? It is great stuff for the front pages of tomorrow's newspapers. I can't see that any of it is particularly time sensitive. Ten weeks after the bombing I think it's reasonable to assume that the police have known about the dummy run for quite some time. They found the train ticket stubs in the flat they raided after all. And we've seen the photos of the nail bombs before.

I presume this "new" material was announced at a police press conference. As I say, I'm out on a limb here. The press conference might have already been organised before the events in Basra occurred. If it was only arranged today though, that would be quite a "coincidence". If anyone does know when it was organised, I'd be most grateful if they could let me know.

We've won something

I just spotted this. Well, I'd like to accept this award on behalf of my fellow countrymen. This really is a great honour...

It's no laughing matter actually (although anyone who's walked down Union Street on a Saturday night won't be in the least bit surprised at this news). Not one of our nation's proudest moments.

Guns are bad (except my one)

The Devil's Kitchen has expanded on the subject of Iran and nuclear weapons. DK's description of Iran's foreign policy seems entirely reasonable. It's interesting that we share a very similar view of the facts but draw very different conclusions.

As I see it, the recent aggressiveness of US/UK foreign policy has been a key factor in Iran restarting it's nuclear programme. As such, it has been counter-productive. I believe that a more diplomatic approach is required and I wouldn't support any military action to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. It would, almost certainly, make the Iranians more determined than ever. We'd just end up with another Iraq, having to invade as the only way to be sure whether or not Iran has WMD. At this stage it looks unlikely that an invasion would be acceptable but it won't surprise me if the option of missile strikes isn't raised before long. If that idea ever comes to fruition we might as well power the missiles with "extremism fuel - guaranteed to fuel extremism or your money backtm"

So what if the Iranians do develop nuclear weapons? Well, it wouldn't be good, no doubt about it. But the Iranian government, like all government's, wants one thing more than any other; to stay in power. I don't buy the idea that the Iranians are irrational enough to launch a nuclear attack. They know what the consequences would be. So it would be bad, but would it be worse than Israel or Pakistan or India or China or the United States having them? A bit maybe, but it won't be the end of the world. And I'm not convinced that these weapons would easily fall into the wrong hands. It seems to me that if the Iranian government spends the millions of dollars needed to build nuclear weapons they're going to be keeping rather a close eye on them at all times. I'd say that if terrorists do get their hands on nuclear weapons they'll still most likely get them from Russia (I don't mean from the government). There are still lots of them lying around and pretty much everything is up for sale in Russia these days.

But I would rather Iran didn't develop nuclear weapons. This leads us on to hypocrisy. DK and I have a different view on President Ahmadinejad's suggestion that the nuclear powers are guilty of double standards. I said:
Just because the nuclear powers show absolutely no intention of honouring their commitment to disarmament as agreed in the NPT, just because we never talk about Israel's nuclear weapons, just because Pakistan is now an ally so their nuclear weapons are OK too, just because the US is the only nation ever to have actually dropped an atomic bomb on actual people... Double standards? What is the man thinking?
And DK said:
Careful, Hamster; you're letting you're enthusiasm for bashing the US run away with you here.
I'm afraid I must disagree. I have no enthusiasm for bashing the US. I do criticise the actions and and decisions of US governments when I believe they are deserving of criticism. In this case, I believe criticism of the US, and indeed the UK governments is justified.
Treaty on th Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Article VI
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
I'm afraid I can't see how either the US or the UK governments can be said to be fulfilling this obligation. During the election Tony Blair said "I think that it is best that Britain retains an independent nuclear deterrent". That intention is in clear breach of Article VI of the NPT. The US government has refused to ratify the Comprehensive test ban treaty, withdrawn from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and is considering developing new types of nuclear weapons.*

As the Mexican government said at the last round of talks on the NPT:
Achieving nuclear disarmament is not an option, but a legal obligation contained in the NPT.
I'd say that the evidence for double standards is fairly conclusive. And The US and UK government's put no pressure on Israel or Pakistan to meet this obligation either because they are our friends. I should point out that neither Israel not Pakistan is a signatory to the NPT so they don't have a legal obligation to disarm. How often do we hear calls for the these rogue States to sign up to the NPT?

And the fact remains that the US is the only country ever to have dropped an atomic weapon.
DK says:
As for the US being the only power to actually drop a bomb on a military target, that is utterly beside the point.
I struggle to see why it's beside the point. We're saying that such weapons are intolerable. The US government would have greater moral authority to say this if they were not the only nation ever to have used them. And I suspect that the survivor's of those attacks would find no comfort in the fact that the explosive power of those bombs was "a fraction of even the smallest warhead in the US's current arsenal". I do agree that it is very unlikely that the US would use any of it's current arsenal. As such, you'd think they'd be happy to be rid of them. All they need to do is to start actively decommissioning their unusable weapons, in accordance with the NPT, and I'll stop calling them hypocrites. I'm afraid I won't be holding my breath.

*I'm not sure whether the "considering" is necessary in this sentence. As far as I can tell this is still the official position.

Extreme Training

British forces in Basra have been using some rather unorthodox techniques to train their Iraqi colleagues.

Lesson 1
Defending prisons against assault by heavily armoured vehicles.
Right chaps, what we'll do is, we'll attack your prison with some tanks and you try to keep us out. We'll use live round, keeps everyone on their toes and whatnot. These Arab types lose interest frightfully quickly if you don't keep an eye on them you know. Something to do with the heat affecting their brains. Right, here we come, ready or not...

I'm actually at a loss for words. The MoD has confirmed that a prison wall has been destroyed but they claim it was "by accident". Don't you just hate it when you accidentally knock over a prison wall? Happens to me all the time. They should probably start making them out of something a bit less prone to being knocked over if you ask me.

Sorry for all the sarcasm but I am quite literally gob-smacked by this. If the eye witness accounts are true then this may well have very serious repercussions for security in the south of Iraq. The apparently heavy handed approach of UK troops is hardly what you'd call a traditional "hearts and minds" campaign. And there are already large numbers of Iraqi's in Basra who want a Islamic fundamentalist style government in the south as well as closer ties with Iran. It seems reasonable to assume that some of these people have joined the Iraqi security forces. Are some of these security forces now starting to show their support for Muqtada al-Sadr and the al-Mahdi army? At this stage, it's not easy to say for sure but the signs are not good. It doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence in the US/UK strategy to replace our troops with newly trained Iraqi forces.

In fact, it looks like an age old story is about to be repeated once again. It's the standard invade, stir things up a bit, train the locals in warfare, acquire a reasonable level of control of available resources, leave. Voila, one country full of people who have serious disagreements and the military skills and equipment to have a jolly good war civil war to sort it all out. Splendid. The British government has been doing it for hundreds of years. Why change a winning formula?

Monday, September 19, 2005

More bang for your buck

I've just switched on the computer to write about Iran, North Korea, and nuclear proliferation. It's a good thing I've installed the BBC News Alert service because it appears that there's been a significant development in the negotiations with North Korea. This looks like excellent news. A round of applause for the negotiators is probably in order. I'd like to see a bit more detail of what's actually been agreed before commenting further. Definitely looks promising though.

So what about Iran then? President Ahmadinejad seems determined to press ahead with Iran's nuclear programme. He maintains that it's for entirely peaceful purposes. In the near future it's not hard to imagine Blair calling for action while pedalling "extensive, detailed and authoritative" intelligence on Iran's dangerous nuclear weapons programme. I doubt many people will believe him, whether it's true or not. Having a proven liar as a leader is generally something of a handicap when it comes to issues of national security.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me if Iran does intend to develop a covert weapons programme. From the perspective of the Iranian government, it's about the most rational thing they could do. They've just had a perfect demonstration as to how ineffective their defenses would be if the US, most probably along with a few willing allies, ever decided to invade Iran. They must be extremely concerned for their national security and they know they can never compete militarily with the US (and friends). The only possible way they can deter such an invasion is with nuclear weapons.

North Korea is demonstrating the advantages of a such an approach. There was no talk of an invasion of N. Korea, it would have been far to messy. The N. Koreans were able to negotiate from a position of relative strength (this is also partly because of their massive army). There's no doubt that many incentives will have been secured from the US government along with the non-agression declaration. Does Iran wants a piece of that action? It'd make a lot more sense than just sitting around wondering whether the Whitehouse has you in their sights.

But the reality is that almost no-one knows whether the Iranians intend to build nuclear weapons. President Ahmadinejad says not. Let's hope he's telling the truth.

The signs are not promising. As Jack Straw said, the President's comments were " disappointing and unhelpful". He even had the audacity to accuse the nuclear powers of double standards. What a ridiculous notion. Just because the nuclear powers show absolutely no intention of honouring their commitment to disarmament as agreed in the NPT, just because we never talk about Israel's nuclear weapons, just because Pakistan is now an ally so their nuclear weapons are OK too, just because the US is the only nation ever to have actually dropped an atomic bomb on actual people... Double standards? What is the man thinking?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

So what's so bad about making the glorification of terrorism illegal then? No, I'm not going to harp on about the problems of defining terrorism yet again. I will just point out one ridiculous effort to avoid the problem. It's this bizarre clause which exempts any terrorist act occurring more than 20 years ago unless the Home Secretary specifically decrees that it is included. Why is that necessary? If ever a bill deserved to be called Orwellian then this must be it. Just in case anyone from the government ever reads this, I must just say once again, George Orwell's 1984 IS NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL! The government is not supposed to write history. It is a bad idea.

Anyway, I said I wasn't going to harp on about the difficulty of defining what it is you're not allowed to glorify. Let's assume that we're talking about the glorification of individual terrorist acts by muslim extremists. In fact, let's be specific and assume we're talking about someone praising the London bombers. If I heard someone doing this I'd be enraged. It sounds like common sense to make it an illegal act.

But I don't think it is. If you consider what sort of person is likely to praise the London bomber they are almost all what I'd call "potentials". They are not themselves involved in terrorism but they have the potential to become terrorists.* They are, in a sense, the battleground on which this "war" will be won or lost. Terrorism, especially suicide bombing, does not lend itself to longevity. The power of Islamic extremism comes from it's ability to recruit large numbers of these "potentials" to the cause. In order to win, we need to disrupt that supply line.

Give the spies a break
On a purely practical level, it might not be a good idea to ban this sort of behaviour. I should say that I don't like the idea that we've got spies running around the place but I accept that they're necessary. They keep an eye on those people who might be a danger to the public and I suspect they are really very good at it. If we ban the glorification of terrorism this is likely to make it much harder for the security services to identify "potentials" and, more importantly, new recruits. There's no doubt that every person who publicly praises the London bombings is on an MI5 watchlist. Making this illegal won't stop it happening but it will make it more difficult for the spies to spot when it does.

Your ideas are rubbish
This is the cruciall point and it's why Blair's policies sound convincing. We all agree that anyone who praises the London bombers is fundamentally wrong. In Blair's words they have "subscribed to a twisted ideology". That is not in doubt. How we react, however, is a different matter.

Blair wants to criminalise an ideology. History shows that this is unlikely to be a successful approach. (The Romans tried it once with Christianity and look where that got us.) It just is not possible to persecute an ideology out of existence without using extremely brutal tactics. Like trying to kill every single one of them. The most likely outcome of that approach is the creation of martyrs, the best ideology fuel ever invented. In essence, you simply cannot legislate the way people think. This law will not stop the "praisers" believing what they believe. If anything it will reinforce their beliefs. It will be interpreted as a sign that we are frightened of their ideology and have no answer to it.

So what should we do?
The most important thing our politicians and community leaders should be doing is engaging with the "potentials". We need to talk to them, to try to understand how they have arrived at the conclusions they have. We should have them explain why they are so angry with western society. Some of their grievences are legitimate even if their ideology is not. We must demonstrate that we are willing to try to address those legitimate grievances and an effort must be made to ensure that the "potentials" are included in this process. At the same time we must explain and justify our reasons for objecting to grievances which we do not accept as legitimate. We need to explain why it is always unacceptable to target civilians and we need to make sure we don't do it ourselves. In short, we need to win the argument. Unsurprisingly, that is the only way to win a battle of ideas.

It's an unsavoury business and it takes a strong government to be able to carry out such a policy. Unfortunately we don't have one of those so we're criminalising ideas instead. It sound great but it is, in fact, useless. This law won't combat the ideology and it won't stop it spreading; it'll just drive it underground. It is likely to gain in strength and popularity as a result.

* Remember that for operational reasons, those actually recruited to an active terrorist organisation prefer to keep a low profile. They don't want attention until they've done whatever they plan to do.

Facts and fiction

September 24th, 2002.
May 1st, 2003.

August 24th, 2005.
August 25th, 2005.
August 28th, 2005.
August 31st, 2005.
September 5th, 2005.
September 14th, 2005.

Originally posted on 24th August 2005. This post will be regularly updated to add links to significant stories concerning the unfolding situation in Iraq. As I write this, sadly, security and stability in Iraq look a long way off.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Tough Guy

Our great leader was unable to avoid talking about Iraq when he appeared on the Today programme. You can listen to the interview here (until Monday). The converstaion on Iraq starts about 11 minutes in.

There were a couple of highlights.

Blair on legitimacy
For the last two years there has been a UN backed process in Iraq... British and American troops... are there with the full backing of the United Nations.
In a way you've almost got to admire his audacity. The full backing of the United Nations? What a gloriously misleading and disingenuous statement. I'm assuming he's refering to Resolution 1483 (pdf), adopted 22nd May 2003. It is a recognition that the US and UK are occupying forces in Iraq. In essence:
The Security Council
Noting the letter of 8 May 2003 from the Permanent Representatives of the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the President of the Security Council (S/2003/538) and recognizing the
specific authorities, responsibilities, and obligations under applicable international law of these states as occupying powers under unified command (the “Authority”),
Appeals to Member States and concerned organizations to assist the
people of Iraq in their efforts to reform their institutions and rebuild their country, and to contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq in accordance with
this resolution;
Full backing? At no point has the UN given it's full backing to the invasion of Iraq. It has, quite understandably, given it's full backing to the reconstruction of Iraq. Those are two very seperate isues. Blair does an excellent job of blurring that distinction.

Blair on the current problems in Iraq
Now we didn't decide to, emm, to engage them, for example in Iraq in that way. They made the decision.
If you've listened to the interview you'll know that even the great man himself realised how idiotic this statement is. Emm, er, ... oops. Yes, they made the decision to have British troops invade Iraq to get rid of WMD which didn't exist. I didn't know that Al Qaida had such influence over Blair. I wonder if Osama's cave has a hotline to Number 10?

What really frightens me is that the more I hear him speak about terrorism, the more I think he genuinely doesn't understand what he's doing. He really doesn't see why his strategies aren't working so he's refusing to listen to other arguments. He believes the "war" can be won if we just start acting tough. This is a serious misunderstanding of a very complex situation. To pursue such an approach is very likely to make the situation significantly worse. The evidence of the last 2 years would appear to bear that out.

Auntie to the Rescue

I meant to listen to Franz Ferdinand on Radio 1 the other night but then I forgot all about it. Doh! Not to worry, BBC interwebs to the rescue. If you've got one of those shiny fangled big pipes you can even watch t'video of t'show. Nice one, BBC types.

I like Franz Ferdinand. What can say? I've got a soft spot for pretentious Glaswegians. Their sound really shouldn't work, particuarly given that Alex isn't what you'd call a fantastic singer, and yet somehow it does. Top tunes, top sound, top class.

The Pen is Mightier...

Here's an interesting photograph (via).

My eyes are not as sharp as they used to be. I had to enlarge the image to be sure of what the President has written on his notepad. It's still not perfectly clear but I'll give it a go.
I thiNk I MAY NEED A BATHroom break? Is this possi...
Now I actually try to make an effort to avoid the usual jokes about Dubya. I try not to criticise him just because he appears to be a bit dim. Instead, I try to concentrate on criticising his stupid decisions. It's an important distinction. One of the key strategies deployed by Bush supporters is to insinuate that all criticism of him is driven by a blind irrational hatred of the man. I don't have an irrational hatred of Dubya, I just think he makes very bad, and often dangerous decisions. In fact, I think his decisions have made the world a more dangerous place. Anyway, the point is that I rarely mock the President for his many idiosyncracies.

Sometimes however, a situation develops which put this beyond my ability to control.

Aw, look, how cute is that? Dubya want a pee pee? Or is it a number twoosy woosy? You want Auntie Condi to come with you make sure you don't get lost? Remember to wash your hands and I'll give you a lollipop when you're done.

Ah, that's better. Is this really genuine, I wonder? Reuters isn't likely to have doctored the photograph surely? It is a slight worry if the most powerful man in the world doesN't fullY UNDERStand cAPITAL Letters.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Threat Amplifiers

Seven Algerians have been arrested detained by police today. The government has judged them to be a threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.

In entirely unrelated news, the safety elephant has announced his new tough plans to tackle terrorism.

I was going to leave it at that but sometimes they just go to far.

Do they seriously think we're all brain dead idiots? It just so happens that today these seven men have become such a threat to our national security that they must be arrested detained immediately? By a total coincidence this happens on the same day that Charlie boy is trying to sell his latest proposed assaults on our society? Good grief! Can anyone seriously argue that these arrests detentions haven't been arranged for entirely political purposes? It's the fact that it's so blatant which really hacks me off. They just assume that the entire population is composed of idiotic lemmings who'll believe whatever they're told. Spit.

And the government is likely to deport these detainees to Algeria. A memorandum of understanding ensures that the UK government has a get out clause when the torture starts. At what point do we acknowledge that the extremists are achieving their goal of changing our values?

The government thinks it can get away with this because everyone's scared of the evil terrorists. Hey Mr Hamster, people will say, these guys are terrorist scum and if they happen to get deported and tortured so much the better. They were involved in the Al-Qaida ricin ring, a plot of unspeakable evil.

Except that the Al-Qaida ricin ring was bullshit in any number of ways. It seems that the government would prefer it if this was not widely known. The article reproduced in that link was withdrawn from the Guardian website for "legal reasons". (What better reason could there be to read it?) It's a good illustration of why the government doesn't like the courts to become too involved in these things. The courts tend to rely on actual facts and this can interfere with the government's narrative.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying there are no terrorists out there. There are. But this government cannot resist exaggerating the threat at every opportunity in an attempt to convince us that their draconian measures are necessary.

Well it's not on. In the word of the great philosophers Chuck D and Flava Flav, "don't, don't, don't, don't believe the hype".



(Banner via Chicken Yoghurt.)

How much of a scumbag do you have to be to blackmail a blogger into closing down? Nosemonkey has a roundup of responses.

I started reading SBBS about 6 months ago. I thought it provided lots of food for thought frequently disguised under very dark humour. Sometimes John went further than most people would think sensible. In fact, reading SBBS could sometimes feel like a slap in the brain. A good slap in the brain does you good once in a while and that was, I think, rather the point. Where will we go to get our brains slapped now?

I've decided to blog a story in what will undoubtedly be a pale imitation of the style of John B. A tribute if you will. Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

Can someone plese tell me what the fuck is controversial about this? I've just seen those BBC Breakfast tossers asking for viewers to send in their opinions on this "controversial statue". Fuck off. What's so fucking controversial about disability? Pricks. The next person who calls it controversial should have both their arms amputated, preferably slowly and with a rusty hacksaw.

John B, we salute you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Incitement to BLANK Outlawed

They want us to believe that somehow it is our fault. That their extremism is somehow our responsibility.
Tony Blair, 14th Spetember, 2005
Our great leader has been at the UN talking tough on terrorism. The phrase above is a perfect example of wrong-headed thinking hidden behind apparently sensible words. It's been a strategy throughout the "war" on terror. Any attempt to challenge these phrases are met with a barrage of accusations that the challengers are motivated by terrorist apologism.

Well, stuff that. Consider this version:
I want us to believe that it can never be our fault in any way, shape or form. That their extremism can never be our responsibility in any way whatsoever, no matter how provocatively we might behave.
If that what he's actually saying? It's something to think about.

Anyway, the security council has backed his proposal to ban incitement to terrorism. Optimists might conclude that the UN must, therefore, have arrived at an agreed definition of terrorism. More realistic people will be forced to gently point out to the optimists that they are mistaken. No agreement on a definition has been reached.

As usual, most of the reports you'll hear about this will concentrate on the objections of Iran, Syria, and the like. Very few reports are likely to mention that the US government is another of those who hinder agreement on this. Here's what John Bolton wanted:
"We affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing by terrorists of civilians and noncombatants cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance [my emphasis]. And we declare that any such action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to carry out or to abstain from any act, cannot be justified on any grounds and constitutes an act of terrorism."
John Bolton proposal
Yes, Mr Bolton wants to define terrorism as an act carried out by a terrorist.* Well, no shit Sherlock. I wonder how many boffins it took to come up with that one? I think I might see why the details of the US position aren't widely reported. That really isn't very useful.

But it actually is useful for the US government. In the world of international diplomacy where every word matters, it's useful for the US proposal to include the word "terrorists". You'd think it might just as easily say "persons" but this isn't the case. There are two related reasons for the inclusion of "terrorists".

The first is that the US government does not intend to give up it's ability to identify terrorists based on political judgements. Remember the Contras? The US government is certainly not alone in wanting to retain this power but as the most powerful country in the world it's judgements on these issues have far greater influence than those of other governments. Taking the word "terrorists" out of the proposal genuinely would take the subjectivity out of the definition, thus restricting the US government's ability to decide who is and who isn't a terrorist. This is unacceptable to the current administration, just as it was to the Reagan administration in the 1980's. But that's hardly surprising given how many people have worked for both.

The second reason for the inclusion of the word "terrorists" is an attempt to protect US soldiers, CIA operatives, and government officials. If you read the US proposal again using the word "persons" it's clear that the US government itself might face charges of terrorism.
We affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing by persons of civilians and noncombatants cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance.
Just to take a random example, anyone who had participated in the bombing of North Vietnamese cities during the Vietnam war would be guilty of deliberately killing civilians and noncombatants. And such an action was clearly, explicity even, " intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act... is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to carry out or to abstain from any act." Such action "cannot be justified on any grounds and constitutes an act of terrorism." Unless you have a get out clause. And inserting the word "terrorists" is that get out clause. Because we all know that the government of the United States of America is an entirely noble institution which could not possibly be involved in unjustifiable terrorist acts. Any attempts to suggest such a thing are clearly the work of barking leftie moonbats.


*To be fair, I should point out that the report this comes from doesn't actually make clear whether there are further addition to Bolton's proposals which would make them less ridiculous. I'm hoping to track down further details of the US position in due course. It could just be that I'm a hopeless researcher.