Friday, March 31, 2006

Counter-terrorism for Dummies

Part 1

Before launching into this first of two posts, I'm going to reveal something about myself. Regular readers will know that I'm concerned about the suffering endured by populations in other countries due to British foreign policies. It is, I believe, morally objectionable to intentionally conduct the "war" on terror in the country of a people who had basically nothing to do with it until we came knocking. Some would say that's a left-wing view. I'd argue that it's simply the only morally acceptable view to take if we are to claim to be civilised.

But there's another aspect to my objections to current policies (this is the revealing bit). I'm very concerned about the effects British foreign policies are having on my country and the effects they'll have on myself and my family in the years to come. Good old self-interest, in other words. For the good of humanity and for the good of me, I desperately want the UK to adopt practical, workable and effective policies to deal with Islamic Wahabbi terrorism. I don't see any sign of it happening though. So I rant. Like this.

Counter-terrorism is always a complex, multi-faceted thing and the exact policies depend on the circumstances in each situation. There are, however, a few basic points which hold pretty much in every case.

Critics of the current policies of the UK and US governments are often labelled "soft" on terrorism. There's obviously an element of politicking in that accusation but as I've read various opinions over the last few years, I've come to realise that many of those making these charges do genuinely appear to believe them. This, I think, is based on a misunderstanding of the difference between terrorism (or indeed insurgency) and conventional warfare.

The point is not that critics of the current approach object to tough action against terrorists. The point is that critics object to counter-productive actions which are only going to make the problem worse*. Tough actions are necessary when fighting terrorism. There's no getting away from that fact. But, and this is a huge but (we're talking J'Lo sized here), you must never take tough action against the wrong target.

One of the key elements of terrorist doctrine is the need to provoke harsh indiscriminate responses from "the enemy". Ideally, this indescriminate reaction will be directed against the population in which the terrorists operate and recruit. This strategy, if succesful, will provide the terrorists with more and more new recruits as people are alienated by the unjust actions of those they too increasingly come to see as "the enemy". This can, in the ideal world of the terrorist, create a vicious circle in which increased recruitment leads to increased attacks leads to harsh responses leads to increased recruitment... In the long term, they're looking to achieve a critical mass of support which will then empower them towards their ulimate goal.

So if you attack the wrong bloody country, you've made an error so large, it's impossible to over-state.

The bigger picture version goes something like this. When fighting terrorism, the essential first step, always, is to understand what it is that the terrorists want you to do. Step two, unsurprisingly, is to make sure you don't do it. It's not brain surgery and yet any number of people including, unfortunately, those making our policies, clearly do not get it. The terrorists want you to be "tough". They want you to take the gloves off. They want you to change the rules of the game. It is at the very heart of their strategy.

Over to Global Guerrillas** for words from bin Laden on this subject (from November 2004).
"All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration." [NOTE: See Superpower Baiting for more on this topic.]

"All that we have to do is to send two Mujahideen to the furthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the Mujahideen, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat."
Worth reading both linked posts. Bin Laden, as I've said before, wanted the US to invade Afghanistan. For bin Laden's followers, you see, things are not going too badly. (Not perfect either though - they had expected that the US reaction to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon would generate a wider response among Muslims generally and in the Middle East in particular.) It should be clear, by the way, that they will not normally publically express their desire to provoke the US into attacking Muslims for obvious reasons.

I have to say again that I personally doubt whether bin Laden expected to be chased out of Afghanistan quite as easily as he was but this setback, while disrupting al Qaida's network and its command and control functions, has had almost no effect on the overal strategy.

The attacks of September 11th were designed specifically in order to provoke a certain kind of response. Bush and Blair, easily baited, delivered pretty much exactly what bin Laden wanted of them.

Part two coming up shortly. In the meantime, here's something to think about (via).
Whitehall officials have told the BBC they are now facing an unprecedented number of terrorist plots in Britain.

They say the threat of home-grown terrorism has increased substantially since the Iraq invasion of 2003, and that 50% of recent disrupted plots are home-grown, involving British nationals living in Britain.
Next time Blair tries to deny the obvious with some logic mashing nonsense about how it can't be getting worse because it was already there, can we hear the words "unprecedented" and "increased substantially" from the questioner please?

* As the above concentrates practical issues, I've put this down here. There are, I believe, actions which must never be practiced by a democratic government for reasons of morality. Torture, for example. Can't be practiced, can't be condoned, can't be outsourced, and can't be willfully ignored. There are, in the end, certain fundamental principles which must be maintained. To abandon them is to abandon the very thing we're defending. If you advocate torture to deal with this, you've already run up the white flag of surrender and cowardice. (And it's also counter-productive as it make you look like a hypocrite in the eyes of the potential recruit.)

** Thanks to Steven in the comments to a previous post for pointing out Global Guerrillas. Much appreciated.

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The Direction of Travel

Earlier in the week, Laura Logan, chief correspondant for CBS News fought back on allegations of media bias. It's worth watching the video if you've not seen it.

As well as doing a rather good job of rebuffing the last throw of the dice by a failing administration which is desperate to desguise the scale of its own incompetance allegations of bias, her unscripted comments give an insight into the real Iraq as seen through the eyes of a journalist on the ground. There's no doubt that this stuff was heartfelt.

As the excerpt at Crooks and Liars shows, the US authorities in Iraq are refusing to take journalists to the reconstruction projects which have survived the funding cuts and the cancellations and the corruption and the incessant attacks. Why? Because the security situation is so bad that media coverage of a project makes it vulnerable to insurgent attack. The security forces in Iraq can't protect the projects so the journalists are not allowed to visit them.

Attacking recently publicised "successes" would obviously be a psychological victory for the insurgents. It is quite right that this should be prevented. But like this? That the US military cannot effectively secure reconstruction projects from entirely predicable attacks (indeed they are the one's predicting them) says everything. Security, or rather the tragic lack of it, is the story of Iraq.

(From the transcript) Ms Logan explains that "you can't travel around this country anymore without military protection. You can't travel without armed guards".

Later in the interview she elaborates on the "anymore".
I mean, I don't know any journalist that wants to just sit in a hotel room in Iraq. Does anybody understand that for us we used to be able to drive to Ramadi, we used to drive to Falluja, we used to drive to Najaf. We could travel all over this country without having to fly in military helicopters.

That's the only way we can move around here. So, it's when the military can accommodate us, if the military can accommodate us, then we can go out and see.
But things are definitely getting better. Feel free to add more bitter sarcasm to taste.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

That Pesky Media Bias

Those Republicans really know how to get their point across. Worried that the media isn't reporting the reality of the situation in Iraq, a Republican candidate does something about it.

Oops. Hilariously inept on the one hand and yet depressingly deceitful on the other.

It's interesting that this guy is a candidate in an election because the previous one, also a Republican, had to resign and is in prison for taking $2.4m million in bribes.

How could anyone doubt the word of such honourable people?

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Official: It's Compulsory

What happens the day after the Lords get hoodwinked into allowing the government's ID card scheme and national identity register to become law?

All pretense of a voluntary aspect is abandoned. Entirely predictable behaviour from this shower of slimeballs. You'll note that there is to be no discount for those who "opt out" of having a card. You're going on the register. And you're paying for a card whether you want one or not.

They're even being up front about the whole thing now.
Mr Clarke said he did not think the opposition would be able to stop the scheme because by 2010 a "large number of people... should either have cards or hope to have cards".
They really do have no shame.

They've got the law which forces people onto the register. Now, they're going to use that to pretend that the large number of people who've no choice but to apply for a passport and be put on the register (and pay for a card they may not want) are voluntarily supporting the scheme.


The slug said "I would be very surprised if the next Conservative manifesto said 'stop the scheme. It would be very difficult to do." There you have it. The government believes that yesterday's vote was the final one in which it could have been possible to stop a compulsory ID card and monster database scheme. Exactly what the scheme's opponents said they'd do next, they've done. One day later.

And they talk about respect. Respect? Respect needs to be earned. You don't do it treating people with contempt.

The good news is, there's still a good chance they'll make such a mess of the implementation that it'll have to be abandonded. The bad news is it's your money they'll be pouring down the drain in the meantime. These people need your support now more than ever.

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Time is the Enemy

I was a bit busy today (yesterday by the time anyone reads this). I've started preparing to demolish a wall in my flat if anyone's interested. My neighbours, their floor and my ceiling are also about to be demolished because of dry rot, are very nice. I've mentioned that before but it's still true. My father also. Knows more about DIY than I'll ever know. Anyway, been doing some of that.

So, I can't write much about the "compromise" on ID cards. It's the database. It's always been the database. The Lords have been hoodwinked. Bah! Bah! And thrice bah!

And I missed one of my all time favourite sights in politics. Punchy Prescott was standing in at PMQs. I'm sure parliamentary transcribers must dread it but I have to admit to finding his performances enormously entertaining. Am I a bad man?

And then there was Jack Straw with a textbook deployment of the standard Labour play the man gambit. I did find one nugget of truth. Jack said:
"The legacy of his publication and his betrayal is a very substantial one and a very poor one for him."
Indeed. Meyer had the affront to betray the trust put in him by his lying political masters. He had the audicity to think that the public has a right to know that we're governed by incompetant miscreants. How dare he! Now they're going to make sure he suffers for it.

They don't like it when the boot's on the other foot though. I'm going with slug. (Full strength non-prudish version available here.)

And probably lot's more stuff happened today/yesterday besides. Tomorrow/today, I'm going to break out the mallet. That plasterboard's going to take an almighty beating. I'll try not to think about Teflon Tony's smug mug as I smash the wall into teeny tiny pieces, really I will. Oh, who am I kidding?

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This. Go. Read.

Hear, hear. *claps*

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Nick Robinson: We Salute You

Nick Robinson tells it like it is. Much respect.

When I'm reading comments in support of our great leader on Nick's blog, I can't help but think about this.

Maybe they're not astroturfing Nick's comments. It's impossible to tell. But once they've been caught at it, it's hard to read any supportive opinions without wondering "was that another one?" That's a shame, genuinely, for those supportive commenters who're unconnected to the New Labour spin machine (yes, I'm sure they do exist). It's the people who are simply expressing their own sincerely held opinions who are the losers here.

Who's fault is this state of affairs, I wonder?

Full Disclosure - I'm going to write a post explaining exactly where I'm coming from for anyone who's interested. I'm not really a big fan of writing about myself. I like writing about my views but that's not quite the same. Anyway, while thinking about this post, I decided that a post with the basic facts linked in the sidebar would be a useful addition to the blog. I've got nothing to hide so don't expect anything earth shattering.

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A little bit wooor and a little bit waayyy

The Electoral Commission say they're going to investigate the loans row pretty thoroughly. Hurray! In their statement they say:
In our view, questions remain about whether these previous loans were made on commercial terms, and therefore whether parties are right to maintain that no element of them should have been reported as a donation.
Kick it too them. Let's see what's really been going on.

One of the key aspects I'd look into is whether the loans would have been available from a commercial lender. It seems to me that this is essential if they really are loans on "commercial terms".

Would Labour have qualified for the loans they recieved in 2005 if they'd applied for them from a commercial lender? I doubt it very much. That party has lots of debts and very little in the way of guaranteed income. Too much personal experience of that leads me to believe that lenders are not normally bending over backwards to lend money in such circumstances.

It looks like the other parties might also have a case to answer. The Labour Party is the one I'm most interested in though. That's not just because I detest the way they go about their business generally but because they're actually in power. They make laws which affect your life (if you live here) and mine.

And they approached the chairman of Capita and asked him for a loan. In simple terms, that's extortion. Did Aldridge, a man who's company receives a large proportion of its income from government contracts, really have the option to say no? Perhaps this extortion was unintended. But they've been given the benefit of the doubt so often now that it would seem downright foolish to do so again.

So if I hear one more Labour minister refusing to answer questions about the shady deals they appear to have done by claiming that "this is a problem for all parties", I'm going to throw a brick through my TV. Answer the questions.

Here are just a few which have yet to be answered.
  1. Was Tony Blair aware of the policy of taking loans instead of donations?
  2. Did Tony Blair know the details of any of the nearly £14m of loans received?
  3. Why did Lord Levy turn down an offer of a donation from Dr Chai Patel and specifically ask for a loan instead?
  4. Why did the party ask Rod Aldridge for a loan despite the fact that his company was earning huge sums of money from government contracts and was bidding for more?
  5. Why have Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Jack Dromey and others been able to catagorically deny any knowledge of these loans while Tony Blair has not?
  6. Why were the loans not declared when the lenders were nominated for peerages by Mr Blair? (Fatuous "it's not against the rules" arguments aside. Blair loves to talk of acting in a certain spirit. The spirit of the rules he introduced meant that the loans should obviously have been declared.)
  7. A big one. Lord Falconer said "this is an issue which affects all political parties and I hope that the government, political parties and the Electoral Commission will be able to work together to find a solution which allows for transparency and fairness." This confused me. I had thought it was perfectly possible for the government to act in a way which allows for transparency and fairness without consulting anyone else. I has thought that a party which made a big deal about these issues could reasonably be expected to go out of their way to actually do it all on their own. Furthermore, I had thought it would not be necessary for a government to create an explicit law banning themselves from behaving in a way which is in direct contradiction to the spirit of openness which they claim to care so much about. Why does the Labour Party under Tony Blair not agree?
There are more. Answers to these would be a good start though.

I'm going to send these questions to the Labour Party/government. Does anyone have any suggestions for the best place to send them?

Btw, The title of this post is apparently the the official spelling. That Tony Blair. He's a geezer...

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The B-Team

When you've invaded a country for reasons which turn out to be entirely spurious and you're left with nothing more than the patently absurd claim that your key goal was to spread democracy, you're going to be in some trouble if the party with the most seats after the elections you've been celebrating tells you to mind your own effing business. In all honesty I'm not keen on Jaafari either but he does have a point. It's a reminder that US and UK troops are essentially passengers in a political situation over which their government's exert almost no control.

Who said "quagmire"? Stop that...

It's been clear for a while that the US administration, through Khalilzad, don't want Jafaari to continue as prime minister. The UIA narrowly voted for him though and they do have the right to chose the PM according to the constitution. Sort of.*

What's interesting is the way this unfolded. If this is true, Khalilzad went to Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (part of the UIA) and told him that the US administartion considered Jafaari unacceptable. What's interesting about this is that the SCIRI actually didn't want Jafaari either. They put forward their own candidate for PM but Jafaari (the Dawa candidate) narrowly defeated him in the internal UIA vote. Khalilzad, it seems, was attempting to exploit the SCIRI's opposition to Jafaari in that contest. This appears to be an extremely obvious attempt to divide the factions of the UIA in order to get Jafaari out.

But the SCIRI leader, rather than agreeing to help oust Jafaari and perhaps get their own man in, decided instead to inform Jaraari's office about what Khalilzad was up to. It seems that the often fractious relationships within the UIA are less significant than is sometimes thought. In fact, it looks very much as if they're rallying round rather than falling apart. Uniting against the common enemy, to use my favourite cliche. I suspect this is partly a response to the Mustafa Husayniyah raid on Sunday. (Baghdad provincial council has suspended co-operation with the US authorities as a result of the raid.)

The BBC analysis of the apparent political motives has merit but misses an essential point. The unusually hostile reaction from the UIA is directly related to the fact that the US led/advised raid targetted their guys. That's what makes this different from all the other killings. Whether by mistake or on purpose, Iraqi Special Forces under US control attacked a Shiite miltia religious stronghold. Up till now, certainly since late 2004, they've pretty much avoided confronting the Shiite militias and left them to their own devices. Now, they've attacked a militia area head on. That's got a lot to do with the stronger reactions we're seeing from UIA politicians.

Anyway, Jafaari is essentially correct. If Iraq is a democracy, Khalilzad had better back off the mike. If he does though, Jafaari will remain as prime minister and the SCIRI will remain in control of the interior ministry. Sectarian tensions will not go away. It'll be yet another step down the road.

I love it when a plan comes together. Unfotunately, in the case of post invasion Iraq, the coalition didn't ever seem to have a plan. They appeared to think they could go steaming straight in, get in a jam, and then construct a getaway vehicle out of an beatup pick up truck, four tin cans, a tea tray, and two frayed elastic bands. Do you think they can spell "gross negligence"?

* It's my entry for the longest footnoot world record. The constituational arrangement for nomination for the prime minister is this. Deep breath.

First, you need a president.
Article (68):
1. The Council of Representatives [the parliament] selects from among the candidates a president of the republic by a two-third majority.
2. If no single candidate gets the required majority, the two candidates with the highest votes will compete and whoever wins a majority of votes in the second round is declared president of the republic.
Once that's done, it time for a PM.
Article (74):
1. The president assigns the candidate [for PM] of the parliamentary majority to form a Cabinet... This appointment should take place within 15 days after the president of the republic is elected. [The constitution states that the president must be elected within 30 days of the first sittting of the CoR.]

4. The assigned prime minister presents the names of the members of his cabinet and its ministerial platform to the Council of Representatives. He is considered to have won confidence when his ministers are approved individually and his ministerial platform is approved by an absolute majority.
Note that the PM and cabinet don't need a 2/3rds majority. It's the presidential nomination which needs that. So, the UIA needs the Kurds and 3 more votes to get a president. Once that's done, they'd theoretically be able to get their PM with the support of only 10 more CoR members. But, the Kurds probably won't vote for Talibani as president (even though he's a Kurd) until such time as the UIA agree to nominate a cabinet which they don't find objectionable. Add in the need not to exclude the Sunnis and the desire to build a national unity government as well as the understandable insistance among UIA members that as the largest party they ought to get the largest slice of the pie, and you've got some idea of what's going on. Sort of. I think.

In any event, it is now essentially a sovereign matter (unless we're joking about giving Iraqis democracy). The largest party, the UIA, gets to nominate a prime minister. They narrowly chose to stick with Jafaari. But the Kurd and Sunnis don't want him. And round we go again...

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Riddle Me This

Was it a mistake? Good stuff.

While reading that, I re-read the linked NYT report on the memo from the January 31st 2003 meeeting between Bush and Blair. Here's another snippet worth highlighting.
The memo said Mr. Blair told Mr. Bush, "If anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would give us international cover, especially with the Arabs."
Can you spot what's missing from the list of possible problems? Here's a clue. It starts with a W. It's got a D in it and an M.

Answers on a postcard please.

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Marvel once again at the irony as the Lords continue in their role as defenders of democracy. Thank you my Lords.

I've said this before but the government's position on this really says a great deal about the sincerity of their "empowering people" rhetoric. Let's empower the people by categorically refusing to give them anything remotely ressembling a genuine choice on whether to register. You can choose to have an ID card or you can choose to be a prisoner in your own country.

Do you feel the power, people? Can you taste it? It's hypocrisy of the highest order. No-one's suprised anymore. But we are increasingly hacked off.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

The Back Door Party

The government continues to argue that a law which makes it compulsory to register for an ID card when applying for a passport is consistent with their promise to make the scheme voluntary.

I'm not sure I can fully express my contempt for these people. This is why people hate Blair and his moronic wingmen. Instead of honest political debate, we get semantic trickery which any person with a modicum of decency would be embarrassed to even begin to pretend was a reasonable argument. They are, in fact, beyond contempt. A new word needs to be invented. What about despicontemendacible?

It's not compulsory to have a passport? Semantically true maybe, but reasonable? An honest approach? Have a look at the things they have to say to defend their position. I'd laugh but I don't find it even slightly funny.

I'm wondering whether Tony Blair has a passport. He's in Australia at the moment so I'm presuming he does. Does he honestly agree that holding a passport is genuinely voluntary? If he didn't have one, he'd clearly not be able to perform many of the functions necessary for his job. He'd have to resign. Not a bad thing in his case obviously, but what about the rest of us?

The manifesto commitment said it'd be voluntary. Every single person I've asked read it the same way. But not Blair and his shower of unscrupulous scumbags. They say that if you volunteer to have a passport, you'll also be volunteering to register on their monsterous database.

It's not right. Democracy isn't supposed to be about semantics, misrepresentations and downright nasty shits bullying anyone who disagrees into submission.

Not all Labour MPs are like this. Lynne Jones wrote a splendid letter to the idiot Andy Burnham. You can imagine him sitting there trying to concoct some spurious guff of a response in an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that he's not got any answers to the questions she asked. Do you think that he stopped to think about the rights and wrongs of the argument, even for a fraction of a second? If you do, you're giving the man a great deal more credit that his behavious deserves.

Voluntary. (adj.)
1. Done or undertaken of one's own free will: a voluntary decision to leave the job.
2. Acting or done willingly and without constraint or expectation of reward: a voluntary hostage; voluntary community work.
3. Normally controlled by or subject to individual volition: voluntary muscle contractions.
4. Capable of making choices; having the faculty of will.
5. Supported by contributions or charitable donations rather than by government appropriations: voluntary hospitals.
6. Law
a. Without legal obligation or consideration: a voluntary conveyance of property.
b. Done deliberately; intentional:

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Politics behind the Windbreaker

I never did get round to writing about Blair's first foreign policy speech. He's made the second one now and there are two sentence in it which say everything about the way Blair constructs his arguments.
Inactivity is just as much a policy, with its own results. It's just the wrong one.
*Takes deep breath*

I agree. That shocked you.

The thing is, Blair, as we all know, loves to "manage the debate". The above is a small perfectly formed example of that in action. Those who are his loyal supporters probably don't even see how it's done. Well, it's like this.

In this example of Blair's managed debating, there are two options. The first is activity and the second is inactivity. The insinuation is clearly that those who oppose his foreign policies are in the latter camp. If you stop and think about this, you'll quickly realise that it's an absurd simplification. Many people who disagree with Blair's policies do not advocate inactivity. For Blair, debating these issues properly is too much like hard work. He, like his friend across the water, likes the whole with me or against me thing (although Blair is considerably more subtle). In Blair's world, if you don't agree with him, you fit into a neat strawman he's built to describe his opponents. That's very handy. But it's not got anything to do with the real world.

In the real world, you'll find that probably millions of Britons do not support inactivity but still think some or all of the activities Blair supports are wrong. Blair has managed these people out of existence. He can do this because he relies so heavily on set piece speeches where no-one can come back and say "hang on a minute, isn't that a childish, cheap and misleading simplification designed to make your way look like the only way which makes sense?". That's why he needs to be so thoroughly cocooned from the electorate. One of them might have the audacity to point this out. That's why he loves a set piece speech where he can build these strawmen unchallenged. That's why pewople say he is bad for democracy.

But these are only two sentences, you say. To that I say, read the rest of his speech, and the previous one, and you'll see that he does it all the time. Those who disagree, he implies, do not support democratic values. Those who disagree want a closed society. Those who disagree are in rage with the modern world. Those who disagree are not prepared to do what is necessary to defend our way of life. Perhaps most ridiculously of all, those who disagree do not believe in the "very idea of multilateral action to achieve common goals". Where does he get this crap?

And then there's the usual smear that those who disagree with big George don't like America. Perhaps it's time for another series of "I like America" posts. I'll do TV first. I like the Simpsons, Family Guy, Scrubs (although it did seem to be getting slightly sentimental as it progressed), the Daily Show, My Name is Earl (I actually loved that, outstanding it was), and American Dad. And that's just a few comedy shows off the top of my head (I've even called them shows, not programmes). But I don't like President Bush's policies. And I don't think President Bush is America.

So, Mr Blair, why don't you take your army of crudely built strawmen, arrange them in a circle, sit in the middle, and we'll all come along to watch a lovely bonfire? Wouldn't that be great?

After that's done, we could start with some proper politics instead of this stupid monologue nonsense. That'd be good for democracy. You, Tony Blair, are most certainly not.

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This is a follow up to a previous post. It seems that proper analysists agree that yesterday's attack in Baghdad will have achieved exactly the opposite of what was initially intended.
Iraq's radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr may turn to political advantage the bloody results of a U.S.-Iraqi raid on a mosque compound in Baghdad.

Twenty bullet-riddled bodies lay in a Shi'ite community hall near a mosque in Sadr City after Sunday's raid, though there were widely conflicting accounts of how they were killed.

Political analysts say anger over the killings is likely to give Sadr political ammunition both on the street and at the negotiating table with Iraqi leaders who have been struggling to form a government more than three months after elections.

"Sadr has always appealed to the poor and disadvantaged. These killings will enable him to recruit more people for his Mehdi Army militia," said Hazim al-Nu'aimy, a political science professor at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
Joost Hiltermann, project director for the International Crisis Group, said Sadr, who like rival Shi'ite leaders has links to Tehran, could stir up trouble at a time when the United States and Iran are preparing for talks on stabilising Iraq.

"The mosque incident will definitely boost his cause," said Hiltermann, whose organisation analyses world conflicts.

"The Shi'ites now believe the Americans, who brought them to power, are engaged in what they call the second betrayal. First the Americans abandoned them in the first Gulf War and now they believe the Americans are turning their backs on them," he said.
It's not rocket science if truth be told. Al Sadr, a rather callous fellow by all accounts, probably cheered when he heard news of the incident. It's worth reading that article in full. For the record, al Sadr's aides, as well as using inflamatory languange, are publicly calling for calm.

The full details of what happened are almost impossible to pin down. It does seem that claims of civilians deaths were not, after all, spurious. An elderly member of the Dawa party appears to have been one of those killed. Iraqi TV has been broadcasting images of the aftermath of the attack.
Iraqi television has been showing footage of bloody corpses at what was said to be Sadr City's Mustafa mosque.

Many of the dead were elderly and their identity papers indicated they were members of prominent political parties, according to the TV footage.
Quite a bit more analysis from Juan Cole. He suspects that the attack could be have been a case of mistaken identity, that the US/Iraqi force had intended to attack a Sunni terrorist cell but ended up in the wrong area. Given Khalilzad's comments on the Mahdi Army last week, I'm not altogether convinced on that.

Professor Cole points out that Iraqi TV is adopting an "uncharacteristically anti-American" approach toward coverage of the attack as can be seen from the linked Reuters report.
Iraqiya state television carried lengthy footage of the bloodied corpses of men in civilian clothes, in a room where no weapons were visible, calling them victims of U.S. gunfire.

"American forces raid and burn Mustafa mosque. A number of citizens martyred inside," it said in an on-screen headline.
As already noted, it isn't clear whether there's any truth to these claims. It is clear that very many heart and minds will have been lost.

The US military, however, maintains that those killed were "insurgents". They also maintain that the fighting was conducted by Iraqi special forces, that US troops acted only in an advisory capacity, and that no mosque was attacked or damaged.

The "insurgent" claim seems particularly questionable given that the buildings attacked were a Mahdi Army base. Perhaps there was a case of mistaken identity but another explanation is also possible. The US military has long described pretty much everyone killed in coalition action as insurgents or terrorists. It's a blanket description used in an almost knee-jerk manner whenever they're asked about possible civilian casualties. I suspect this might be the real reason behind the claim that the assault was directed against a "terrorist cell".

The angry reaction of Shiite leaders certainly does nothing to support the claim that the dead were Sunni insurgents. That angry reaction to the attack has also has an effect on the political process.
Jawad al-Maliki, a lawmaker from the United Iraqi Alliance, said the Shiite bloc had canceled Monday's session of negotiations to form a new government because of the raid.

"We suspended today's meetings to discuss the formation of the government because of what happened at the al-Moustafa mosque," al-Maliki said, adding that the alliance was expected to decide Tuesday when to resume the talks.
Agreement, sadly, appear not to be imminent but rather to be a distant hope.

President Talibani (a Kurd) has asked Zhalilzad for a joint investigation, saying "I will personally supervise, and we will learn who was responsible. Those who are behind this attack must be brought to the justice and punished".

In short then, this attack has already caused an awful lot of trouble. The fallout from it is likely to be considerable and long lasting. Not good.

One further point. The Iraqi unit involved in this is apparently the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade. It is, as its name suggests, an elite special forces unit. But who do they answer to? Who gives them their orders? The Iraqi government? That seems extraordinarily far-fetched in this case. There doesn't appear to be an effective Iraqi government at the moment after all. It seems far more likely that they're currently taking orders from US military command.

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Compare and Contrast

Old news perhaps but worth repeating.

Private - 31st January 2003
"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."
"The U.S. would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," Mr. Bush was paraphrased in the memo as saying.

The document added, "But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."
Public - 14th March 2003
No decision to launch military action against Iraq has been taken.
A simple disagreement between the truth and what we were told.

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Here's a quick clarification on a post from on education the other week. I said that school attendance was "legally required by the state". This isn't actually true. In truth, I knew it wasn't. I really should employ a proof reader (one who'd work for free ideally). Home education is perfectly legal in the UK.

Education Otherwise has more information on education outside school. Thanks to Vanessa for emailing me the link.
That's fine sir you can make your protest - just thank goodness we live in a democracy.

What the fuck has happened to this country?

Screw Godwin's Law. The man is right (via). Who will rid us of these dangerous, ignorant, mendacious, disrespectful, statist fuckers?

I won't apologies for the language. I'm thoroughly pissed off. I like democracy. I really don't want it abolished. To the barricades people.

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Hearts, Minds, and Heavy Hands

On Thursady, the US ambassador to Iraq made some comments concerning Iranian links to Iraqi militias. He specifically highlighted the Mahdi army. I commented at the time that this was all very odd. Al Sadr's Mahdi Army isn't connected to the Iranians in the same extensive way that the SCIRI's Badr Brigade is.

Today, the reaons for Khalilzad's statement becomes a little clearer.
Iraqi police and residents said a U.S. raid on a Shi'ite mosque in the Shaab district of east Baghdad sparked fierce clashes with militiamen of the Mehdi Army loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A medical source at Yarmouk hospital said he saw 18 bodies of Iraqis killed in the operation.
It looks like the US military has decided to target the Mahdi Army.

Since late 2004, there has been an uneasy truce between the two sides. Al Sadr's militia essentially controls Sadr City, the poor Shiite area of Baghdad which is named after his father. Around 2 million people live in this district. He also controls areas of the south of the countryt. It appears that after the uprisings of 2004, the US strategists decided that it would be too difficult to confront the Mahdi Army head on. The truce called for the militia to disarm but this has been ignored. Al Sadr is theoretically a wanted man but the coalition have made no attempts to capture since the truce following the uprisings. Al Sadr was basically left to his own devices.

Although he did not participate in December's election himself, his supporters, as part of the UIA coalition, gained around 28 seats.

Today's attack looks like it may be the start of a new strategy of military confrontation. There's no doubt that the militias do need to be disarmed. As usual however, it looks as if the US military is going to make the situation worse rather than better. I suspect the plan is to carry out attacks like these in the belief that it'll scare the Army into disbanding or disarming. I'm reminded of the naive optimism of March 2003.

The Mahdi Army is a militia chock full of die hard Shiite Islamists. They won't be easily scared and are far more likely to start launching guerilla attacks on US troops if confronted and provoked. In other words, this could be the start of what will basically be a second, entirely seperate insurgency. (It should be noted however, that al Sadr has expressed much more of a desire to work with with elected Sunni Islamists than the other Shiite leaders.)

A spokesman for al Sadr responded after the attack.
A senior aide to Sadr, in comments capable of inflaming passions among the radical cleric's supporters, accused U.S. troops of shooting dead more than 20 unarmed worshippers at the Mustapha mosque after tying them up. The mosque's faithful follow Sadr but the aide denied they were Mehdi Army gunmen.

"The American forces went into Mustapha mosque at prayers
and killed more than 20 worshippers," Hazin al-Araji said.

"They tied them up and shot them."
I very much doubt if there is the slightest truth to that allegation. Don't be under any illusions that al Sadr's men are honest people. But, very many of the Shiite inhabitants of Sadr City will certainly take a different view. Many will believe this unquestioningly.

The US military is historically awful at understanding how asymetric warfare is won and lost. In Iraq, they have continually carried out operations which have provided an open goal for "enemy" propagandists. Al Sadr's aide, unfortunately, appears to have a fairly good grasp of that. The fallout from this attack is likely to be increased militancy among the Mahdi Army and, as a bonus, it'll probably create a new wave of recruits ready to fight to free their country from the "barbaric" occupiers.

Not good. Not good at all.

As to how to actually disarm the Mahdi Army, it's going to be extremely difficult however its attempted. In the end, like so much insurgency fighting, the key is hearts and minds. You can't disarm 10,000 or more civilians by force if they don't want to be disarmed. Not unless you're prepared to use Saddam era tactics anyway. You need to persuade people that membership of the Mahdi Army is not in their own best interest. You start at the fringes with the less committed and work your way inwards. The idea is to strip the leadership of their foot soldiers. Eventually, if this is successful, the power of the leadership wanes and they become isolated. Then you take them down.

Instead, today's attack will almost certainly have exactly the opposite effect. Al Sadr will be stronger today than he was yesterday. Idiots.

Sing - You say potato, I say potato, you say Mehdi, I say Mahdi... Both spellings seem to be common.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Winning the Argument

There's a Will Hutton article in the Observer today called "Don't Call For His Head. Respect his leadership". In this article, he says "the issue, as always in politics, is about winning the argument, both within your own party and with your opponents".

Well, Blair's refusal to participate in genuine open debate is one of the reasons why people from all sides are calling for this resignation.

Fortunately, Hutton's article is also available on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog. Goodie. I'll be able to engage in a debate. let's see who wins the argument.

Oh. Comments are disabled.

Hee hee. Way to go Will. Practice what you preach and all that.

I've just checked the point of Comment is Free:
The aim is to host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement and to invite users to comment on everything they read.

The blog is updated regularly through the day, with best blogs featuring on our pick of the day. We also carry all the comment from the Guardian and Observer newspapers, giving readers the chance to comment on these articles directly for the first time.
A good idea it is too.


Thanks to Sunny for pointing out that I may have been a little harsh on Mr Hutton. It seems that a technical problem may be to blame for the disabled comments. I withdraw the accusation of hypocrisy and offer my apologies.

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Most people now agree that Tony Blair suffers an affliction which disrupts and distorts any attempts he makes at self-reflection. Just in case you're a doubter, read this. Damning stuff.

Thanks Nick. Top blogging.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Fundamental Democratic Point

The Times asks their "jury" whether Blair should go. Perhaps the most startling thing is that David Aaronovicht thinks he should go this autumn. My, my.

But Alistair Campbell is ever the staunch defender of the mendacious one. Does Alistair think he should go?

There is a fundamental democratic point overlooked by the homogenised metropolitan media chatterati. A year ago the public elected Tony Blair on a clear promise to serve a full term.
Really? I'm pretty sure I'd remember if we'd had a presidential election last year. I remember voting for a constituency MP. I'm almost certain I was not able to vote for Tony Blair though (not that I would have obviously, but you get the point). Yet another typical piece of worthless New Labour shit dressed up as reasonable debate.

And that's without even mentioning the fact that Blair had to have Brown surgically attached to him for the entire length of the election campaign.

And I, and many people I know, are apparently a part of the "homogenised metropolitan media chatterati".

Piss off Campbell. You really are the lowest of the low.

The good news is, more and more people are seeing through his and his boss's shit.


Campbell describes Blair as "a successful, winning, by historic standards popular, leader".

Here's a historical look at the percentages of eligible voters who supported the winning party since 1951 (snafled from the BBC).

Election Dullness

In other words, over the last fifty years, no victorious party has ever received less popular support than the current Labour government. I doubt it'd look any different if you went further back either. As such, I can't see any difficulty in saying that by historic standards, the current government is the least popular British government ever.

Even John Major's Tories managed to get around 35%. Compare that to the historically unprecedented 22% at the last election and you get some idea of the scale of Campbell's shit.

And I forgot to mention Polly's infamous nosepegs.

I'll say it again.

Piss off Campbell. Youy really are the lowest of the low.

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Blimey Indeed

Via Tim Worstall, an interesting window into the soul of moderate political opinion in Britian today. Vicki Woods gave a talk about "Everyday Politics" to a group of middle aged, middle class, and presumably church going people in middle England.
I was hoping to conclude with the Bill that's currently frightening me most, but I forgot its (deliberately) forgettable name. "The Legislative Reform Bill!" they shouted, and when I explained its ex cathedra powers, they said: "It's worse than that!" - because they'd read it.

"Last question?" said the vicar at 9.40pm and a man asked: "Do you think Britain will just sleepwalk its way towards disfranchisement or do you think there's something else we can do?" Like what exactly? "Like revolution? It's been a long time since we had the last one."

Indeed. That'll be the legacy of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, one of the world's great great defenders of democracy.

One wall.
One firing squad.

Edit - Vicki, not Jacki. Doh. Thanks Tim.

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With advisers like these...

I wrote this post a couple of days ago but never got round to publishing it. Khalilzad's interview (via) with the Washington Post reminded me. Not sure what on earth he's up to there. He says the Iranians are supporting the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgents. Er? Really? Aren't they, like, fighting against each other and stuff? And why is Khalilzad highlighting the Mahdi army as a particular cause for concern? I thought pretty much everyone agreed that the Iranian connection comes mainly through their support of the Badr Brigade (the militia of the SCIRI), not al Sadr's Mahdi Army. And isn't Khalilzad supposed to be about to ask the Iranians for help in Iraq anyway?

And what's this? One day later, Condi uses the US administration's favourite Friday afternoon media dead spot to announce that Khalilzad will indeed be meeting the Iranians "at an appropriate time". Perhaps the Bush administration is just a tiny bit embarrassed by their need to ask the Iranians for help. It's all very odd.

Anyway, the post.

Via Media Matters, I've got round to reading the recent(ish) interview with General Pace. There's lots that could be said about his views but I'll keep to one point.

Here we go:
MR. RUSSERT: What’s going on in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: Well, what happened in Iraq was you have the extremists who see that the Iraqi people are going to the polls and voting for their own freely elected government. The terrorists are becoming more desperate—so desperate that they destroy one of their own most sacred shrines in an attempt to cause civil war and strife.
That is, by all accounts, a ridiculously ignorant thing for anyone to say. But General Pace isn't just anyone. He's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranked military officer in the United States military and the principle military adviser to the President. And it appears that he remains utterly ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Let me spell it out. The shrine, any intelligence person who's given this a moments thought agrees, was bombed by Sunnis of one form or another. General Pace calls them terrorists and, given what they did, I would certainly agree with that. No-one is absolutely sure that the attack was the work of Sunni Wahhabi extremists but it's highly likely. The idea that Shiites bombed the Shrine is not one which has been seriously entertained. Sunnis bombed it.

The al-Askari shrine is one of the holiest sites of Shia Islam. Sunni's, on the other hand, have held seperate beliefs for nearly1,400 years. Shiites* believe that the 10th and 11th Imams are buried under the spot where the shrine now stands. They also believe that the twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, disappeared in the same area. Many Shiite Muslims make pilgrimages to the shrine to pray for the return of the Mahdi. Many believe he will reappear in Samarra.

But Sunnis don't believe any of that. They have their own views of the Mahdi and do not accept that the Shia Imams are the true voice of Islam. As such, they certainly do not believe that the al-Askari shrine is "one of their own most sacred shrines".

So when General Pace says the (Sunni) terrorists in Iraq are "so desperate that they destroy one of their own most sacred shrines," he's showing an extrordinary lack of understanding Iraq and of Islam.

Three years after the invasion, General Pace, the highest ranking officer in the US military, and adviser to President Bush, still does not appear to understand that there's a fairly substantial difference betweeen the beliefs of Sunni and Shiite Muslims. It's inexcusable really. And depressing.

And people ask me why I'm such a pessimist about the ability of the US government to deal with the situation in Iraq.

* To be strictly accurate, not all Shiites believe that. Most Iraqi Shiites, however, are indeed Twelvers.

Edited. Thanks to Billy for pointing out a missing word.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Bloggerheads: Blair: the head, the tail, the whole damn thing

Blair must fall.

Tony Benn often says that there are two Labour Parties. "There's the one I joined and then there's Blair's New Labour." That sort of thing.

I understand what he means. Really I do. But.

The party, for whatever reason, allows the current state of affairs to continue. The party could force Blair to resign if the will was there. The party, by allowing Blair to continue, is complicit in all that he does.

I've no doubt that many people in the party agree that Blair should go. Some, like Tony Benn, speak out and they should be applauded and encouraged. It would certainly be an injustice if those who speak out are tarred with the brush of the acquiescent majority who refuse to rock the boat. It would be yet another travesty of Blair's reign.

What I'd like to do is offer a word of advice to the silent majority.

There comes a time when silence bears its own responsibility. There comes a time when action must be taken. There comes a time when a lack of action is itself an immoral act. And there come a time when those who silently acquiesed are also held to account.

That time is now. This isn't an attempt to threaten anyone. This is just the way it is.

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This is required reading.

This, I second.

And this really should have your name attached to it. In my humble opinion.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Background Noise

It's nice to be able to welcome a piece of good news from Iraq. Norman Kember and two other hostages have been rescued. The media will, quite rightly, feature this story heavily. It's good news. And the media will feature it heavily. It'll be on the front page of all of the newspapers. Just to be absolutely clear, I'm not complaining about this. It is right that they make a big deal about this good news.

The point, you've probably already worked out, it that some people seem to believe that the media never report any good news from Iraq. Well, there's a whole lot here.

But what of that other accussation levelled against the media? How much coverage will the bad news from Iraq get in tonight's TV News programmes and tomorrow's newpapers? Reuters Alertnet report the following incidents on 23rd March 2006:
BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army patrol near the U.S. Al Asad air base and killed nine soldiers in Baghdad near the town of Haditha, 200 km (125 miles) west of Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - One U.S. soldier was killed in action, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - At least seven people were killed and another 12 wounded when a car bomb exploded in a market close to a Shi'ite mosque in the southwestern district of Shurta al-Khamisa, the Interior Ministry said.

BAQUBA - A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in western Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, killing four policemen, a police source said.

KIRKUK - The chief of the Iraqi army in Kirkuk, Major General Anwar Muhammed Ameen, escaped a roadside bomb attack on a road 45 km southwest of the northern city of Kirkik, Police Colonel Sarhat Qadir said.

BAGHDAD - At least 25 people, including 10 policemen, were killed and 35 wounded when a suicide car bomber detonated his car outside the headquarters of the Iraqi police's major crimes unit in central Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in al-Maghrib street, northern Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding six civilians, a police source said.

ISKANDARIYA - One policeman was killed and another three injured when their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

NEAR LATIFIYA - Police said that one Iraqi army soldier was killed and another wounded when a roadside bomb was detonated near their patrol on a road between Latifiya and Iskandariya, south of Baghdad. [Possibly the same incident as in the previous report from Iskandariya.]

BAGHDAD - Police said that three civilians were wounded when a car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in central Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - Two civilians were wounded when two mortars landed on a house in northern Baghdad, police said. The target was not immediately clear.

BAGHDAD - One civilian was wounded when a bomb exploded at a bus station in the eastern New Baghdad district of the capital, police said.
Unfortunately, it was another day of very bad violence.

What prominence will that get in the media? Here's a rough guide. I've just timed the total coverage given to these attacks in tonight's Ten O'Clock News (from the Bush-hating, defeatist, terrorist apologists at the BBC). The programme lasts approximately half an hour. The coverage of the attacks lasted around 10 seconds. Bloody sh*t-stirrers.

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Crapita Protection Racket

Rod Aldridge, secret Labour loaner, resigned as executive chairman of Capita today.

Lot's some interesting stuff about Capita and Aldridge on the go.

Here's something else I thought interesting. It comes from the Bloomberg report on Aldridge's resignation statement.
"The Labour Party came to me last year in need of financial support following the costs incurred at the last general election,'' Aldridge said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
That's very interesting. The governing Labour Party approached the chairman of a company which makes millions out of government contracts and asked him for a private loan. That seems to be something the rest of the media should be picking up on. No sign that they are as far as I've seen.

There's something of the Monty Python about this (with apologies).
Receptionist: Two gentlemen to see you Mr Chairman.
Chairman Aldridge: Show them in please.
Receptionist: Mr Tony Blarcotti and Mr Charlie Clarcotti.

The men enter. They wear Mafia suits and dark glasses.

Charlie: Good morning, Mr Chairman.
Chairman: Good morning gentlemen. Now what can I do for you.
Tony: (looking round office casually) You've ... you've got a nice business here, Mr Chairman.
Chairman: Yes.
Tony: We wouldn't want anything to happen to it.
Chairman: What?
Charlie: No, what my colleague means is it would be a shame if... (he knocks something off mantel)
Chairman: Oh.
Charlie: Oh sorry, Mr Chairman.
Chairman: Well don't worry about that. But please do sit down.
Tony: No, we prefer to stand, thank you, Mr Chairman.
Chairman: All right. All right. But what do you want?
Charlie: What do we want, ha ha ha.
Tony: Ha ha ha, very good, Mr Chairman.
Charlie: The Chairman's a joker, Tony.
Tony: Explain it to the Chairman, Charlie.
Charlie: How many government contracts you got, Mr Chairman?
Chairman: About five hundred altogether.
Charlie: Five hundred! Hey!
Tony: You ought to be careful, Chairman.
Chairman: We are careful, extremely careful.
Tony: 'Cos things break, don't they?
Chairman: Break?
Charlie: Well everything breaks, don't it Mr Chairman. (he breaks something on desk) Oh dear.
Tony: Oh see my colleague’s clumsy Mr Chairman, and when he gets unhappy he breaks things. Like say, he don't feel the business playing fair by him, he may start breaking things, Mr Chairman.
Chairman: What is all this about?
Charlie: How many men you got here, Mr Chairman?
Chairman: Oh, er ... we also mostly employ women actually.
Charlie: Women, Tony.
Tony: Be a shame if someone was to set fire to them.
Chairman: Set fire to them?
Charlie: Fires happen, Mr Chairman.
Tony: Things burn.
Chairman: Look, what is all this about?
Tony: My colleague and I have got a little proposition for you Mr Chairman.
Charlie: Could save you a lot of bother.
Tony: I mean you're doing all right here aren't you, Mr Chairman.
Charlie: Well suppose some of your contracts was to get cancelled?
Tony: It wouldn't be good for business would it, Mr Chairman?
Chairman: Are you threatening me?
Tony: Oh, no, no, no.
Charlie: Whatever made you think that, Mr Chairman?
Tony: The Chairman doesn't think we're nice people, Tony.
Charlie: We're your buddies, Mr Chairman.
Tony: We want to look after you.
Chairman: Look after me?
Charlie: We can guarantee you that not a single contract will get done over for fifteen bob a week...
The fact that Labour approached and asked someone in Aldridge's position for a loan, assuming his assertion is true, is big. And very, very smelly.

Think about the implications. The very best thing you could say about Labour approaching Aldridge for cash is that the people involved might just be extremely stupid rather than corrupt.
Come on media types. Is this true? Did Labour approach Aldridge?

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Non-Denial Denial

Can you spot what's funny about Blunkett's attempts to distance Blair from the secret loans affair?

Exhibit A
And no-one should believe that a prime minister would be involved in the day-to-day funding of the party.
Exhibit B
But does anyone REALLY think that in the middle of an 18-hour-a-day election campaign he has the time to ask about every contribution "Is this a loan or a gift?"
Did you spot it?

The funny thing is that he categorically does not claim that Blair did not know about these loans. He could have. There's no doubt that he still has the access to know or to find out. It's hard to see why he hasn't simply said "the PM did not know about these loans" if that's what he wants to say.

Unless it's not true, of course. If that isn't true, the best he could do to help out his mate would be to make vague insinuations of Blair's innocence. And, for some reason, that's exactly what he's done.

In the interest of giving Mr Blunkett a chance to provide a straight answer to a straight question, I've attempted to politely ask whether Blair did know about the loans on the Comment is Free post. I wonder if an answer will be forthcoming? Perhaps I should be optimistic. After all, these people are pretty straight guys.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Simple Disagreement

Yesterday, I tried to write about Blair's speech on foreign policy. It didn't go very well. After reading Harry's view of it, I've realised what the problem is. Harry says:
Sadly, I suspect his speech won't change many of those minds. Too many refuse to listen simply because they disagreed with him about Iraq...
Harry is sort of close to being right.

The actual problem is that too many refuse to listen because they objected to his behaviour with regard to Iraq.

That's not the same thing. It's not just a disagreement over a matter of opinion which makes me loathe Tony Blair's Iraq policy. That's just yet another strawman in a field already overflowing with them.

At it's heart, the problem is that Blair lied to parliament, to the British people, and to the world. He said the intelligence on Saddam's WMD was "extensive, detailed and authoritative" when we now know it was "sporadic and patchy". And we now know that Blair knew it at the time. The Butler Report appears to be offline at the moment but it made clear that Downing Street had been advised of the actual state of affairs. Blair said the intelligence was "beyond doubt" in the full knowledge that this was not the case.

Defenders of the PM, and the PM himself, have attempted to open an intellectual argument about the alleged good intentions behind the lie, the motivations behind it, and the sincerity with which it was told, but that argument, in which there certainly are deeply held differences of opinion, does not change the fact that Blair made a statement to parliament which he knew to be untrue. That he was prepared to lie in this way, for whatever reason, says a great deal about his character.

The convention in British politics is that any minister found to have lied to parliament, on whatever issue, should resign. So when the prime minister is caught lying to parliament over a matter as serious as war, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he is tainted, that his word is of limited value, and that he ought to resign. This is not a conclusion based on a difference of opinion on foreign policy issues but on strong objections at having been lied to by the prime minister in order to make the case for war. We learned more about about the character of Blair when he refused to resign in such a circumstance.

It is Blair's conduct which cannot be overlooked. He lied to parliament and to us and he continues to evade responsibility for that. For that reason, I, and huge numbers of other people, will never trust him again. We do not believe that a man who is willing to lie to us in order to promote his policy objectives should be allowed to continue as prime minister. It is not a matter under which a line can be drawn.

And that's ultimately the problem with trying to write about Blair's speech on foreign policy. It's the conflation of two issues which ought to be entirely seperate: Tony Blair and British foreign policy.

Once these two have been finally seperated, real progress can be made in developing British foreign policy for the 21st Century. Until that happens, the lie will continue to pollute the debate. It certainly pollutes this speech.

More on the actual contents of the speech may follow shortly. To be honest, it's hard to know where to start.

Reading the comments to Harry's post (the same one linked above) over at H'sP, unearths solid gold. SeanT, not someone I'm prone to agreeing with on a regular basis if truth be told, makes the perfectly sensible observation that "Blair is a brazen liar, I think we can all agree on that".

The facts are no longer in dispute and so the ultimate response is all that's left. It's supplied by Joshua.
Sean is shocked that politicians lie. How old are you Sean?
Brilliant. All my preposterously idealistic notions of democratic accountabilty smashed to pieces in one fell swoop. They all lie. Get over it.

I. Will. Not, And I'll tell you for why. This lies at the very heart of democracy. It's not just me who thinks so either. "The difference between democracy and tyranny is not that in a democracy bad things don't happen. It is that in a democracy, when they do happen, people are held to account." I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone who it was who said that.

Extrapolating this idea that it is OK for a leader to lie if their intentions are honourable can lead in all sorts of odd directions. I'm thinking Stalin.* It seems highly likely that Stalin, despite the fact that he was a brutal murderous tyrant, genuinely thought he was doing the right thing. He made many sacrifices for what he believed to be the greater good of the motherland. Millions of people died as a result and he lied about it all the while. The lies too, he justified as necessary for the greater good. It was authoritarianism on an unprecedented scale but it was done with intentions which Stalin believed to be honourable.

Fortunately for us, in a democracy, we have protections against this sort of authoritarianism. A leader must publically explain and justify his decisions and policies. Members of Parliament, the media, and the general public are free to debate these issues. These debates are conducted, as far as is possible, with all participants knowing the full extent of the relevant facts. If a leader is found to have withheld crucial information or misrepresented or obscured the facts in order to boost support for his policy it is a matter of grave concern. There is no place for practices of that nature in a democratic country. If you are caught at it people rightly expect you to do the honourable thing.

That's how things used to be anyway. Lot's of people thought it was quite good. Not a perfect way to run a country by any means but it was probably humanity's best effort to date. Now, such notions are apparently childishly naive. All politicians lie. Of course they do. So we caught one at it in a fairly enormous way? What's the problem? Why are you shocked? Get over it.

I. Will. Not. And neither should anyone who professes to care about democracy.

* Blair is not Stalin. I'm not implying a direct equivalence in their actions. It is, instead, an extension, an extrapolation. I did already say so but wanted to make it extra clear. In other words, take your "this loonie thinks Blair is just like Stalin" strawman elsewhere.

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Interesting developments continue over at the Scum. Could it be that Rupert and Tony's love affair is about to come to an end?

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The Daily Express obsession with Diana can be fairly amusing at times and today's front page is a treat. You can just about make it out from the front page photo I snaffled from their website. The caption with the photos says:
Camilla borrows Diana's look at the Mosque
Brilliant. Camilla has copied Diana's decision to wear a headscarf while visiting a Mosque. What a sad unoriginal cow the woman is. Well done to the Express for bringing that to our attention. Top journalism.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I watched Platoon again the other day. It does give some idea of the chaos and brutality of that war. It also highlights the breakdown of discipline and collapse of morale of the US army in that conflict.

One of the most striking aspects for me, however, is that the film, like most of the big Vietnam films, is centred entirely on the effects of the war on US soldiers. In the final monologue, Charlie Sheen's character, traumatised by what he has seen, says something like "In the end, we were really fighting against ourselves". The friends and families of the hundreds of thousands, or probably millions, of south-east Asians who were killed by the US military would beg to differ.

The Hollywood "liberals" really ought to do a decent Vietnam war film from the point of view of the ordinary people of Vietnam. Won't happen though. There are too many uncomfortable truths down that road. Hollywood would never go as far as to present the realities of the war as experienced by the people of Vietnam. Full emotionally engaging victim status is reserved for US soldiers only.

We do know about some of the horrors faced by the Vietnamese though. In 1969, Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre. Hundreds of civilians, including many women and children, were murdered by US marines. After initially attempting to cover-up the massacre, the US military was forced to admit that it had occured. The only soldier to ever have been convicted in relation to the massacre, Lt. Calley, served two days in prison followed by three and a half years of house arrest.

On Sunday, Time magazine reported that US marines killed 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children, in November last year. The marines had initially reported that the deaths were the result of an insurgent bomb blast. The US military opened an investigation only after Time presented video evidence of the aftermath of the deaths which appeared to contradict the official version of events. The US military now accepts that the 15 civilians were killed by the marines. An enquiry has been set up to establish whether any soldiers are guilty of war crimes.

A feel for the likely outcome can be garnered from the comments of Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq.
[T]he fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."
Not jumping to conclusions there then. And such moral clarity.

It's just like this: "The fault for the Israeli civilian deaths lies squarely with the Israeli government who have placed civilians in the line of fire as Palestinians responded with suicide bombs to the brutal oppression of the Israeli government". Nonsense, you rightly cry. What about moral agency?

What about it indeed?

Tony Blair, never one to let the evidence get in the way of a good soundbite, famously said this:
The difference between democracy and tyranny is not that in a democracy bad things don't happen. It is that in a democracy, when they do happen, people are held to account.
Not actually true but it sounds mighty fine. I was going to say that in fact in a democracy, when bad things happen and someone in the media finds out and publishes, people are held to account, but even that is overly generous. In a democracy, when bad things happen and the media finds out and publishes, people may occasionally be held to account. Don't hold your breath though.

Proper journalism on this on Tuesday's Newsnight.

Ben Griffin, an ex-SAS soldier who refused to return to Iraq after witnessing the conduct of American forces there, claimed that "the Americans have shown an inability to differentiate between war fighting and counter-insurgency operations throughout their time in Iraq". This has led to what Griffin called the "disproportionate use of firepower". That's been a continuing theme of criticisms of US military operations in Iraq.

One of the array of rent-a-goon ex-advisors to the Bush administration who act as the barrier between the Whitehouse and proper journalism claimed that this criticism was down to a combination of tendentious media coverage and enemy propaganda. Bacause any and all opponent of any aspect of US policy in Iraq must be some sort of mutant offspring of al Qaeda and the Socialist Workers Party and must definitely hate democracy and smell of wee.

Somehow, I doubt that Ben Griffin is a very good fit for the standard "stopper" caricature. It's more than a bit thin at the best of times, never mind when trying to apply it to an ex-special forces soldier with an exemplary military record.

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Contempt All Round

The Blair government thinks you, yes you, are a fool.

Just when you thought you could no longer be surprised by the sheer bare faced effrontery of the Blair cabal, they decide that it's time to shoot the messenger.

Clarke's boss, and his cronies, quite deliberately kept the loans secret. We know from public statements that Lord Levy specifically asked for loans rather than donations.
Dr Patel said he was asked by Mr Blair's fundraiser, Lord Levy, to provide a loan rather than a donation, and said there were "categorically no strings attached to this". He said a loan was preferable because it did not have to be publicly disclosed.
It couldn't be clearer. This was an intentional attempt to exploit a loophole in order to keep the public in the dark.

Perhaps "serious questions about Jack Dromey's capacity" to be Party treasurer should be asked. He failed to realise the depths to which leading members of his own party would sink in order to secure funds. This is undoubtedly a worry.

But for the very people who kept him in the dark to suggest that he's the one with "serious questions" hanging over him is incredible. Where do they get off?

In other news, a professional criminal, finally caught after a long and fruitful crime spree, has complained that the police's continual failure to catch him raised serious questions about their capacity to do their jobs.

Lord Falconer, a man who's conscience appears to be entirely absent, has been trying to obscure the issue with his talk of the need to close this loophole. Marina Hyde explains Falconer's position most succinctly
So, if we are to understand him: a tiny cabal of New Labour figures sought a loophole in legislation they had fashioned entirely themselves, exploited it ruthlessly in total secrecy, were exposed, and now seek to have a "public debate" about it, proposing to outlaw a practice that was personally sanctioned by the prime minister in private barely one year ago. Did you ever hear anything so intellectually weak in your life?
No, is the straightforward answer.

Hyde continues:
But if we are to be routinely misled, could it not at least be with some modicum of skill, some pretence to rigour, something that resembles anything other than a two fingers to sentient beings over the age of seven? It seems not.
This government has become so arrogant that it does not even feel the need to extend that courtesy to the electorate. We are to be treated as fools, cattle to be herded into the polling booths as required.

Last year, Blair said "the important thing is to try and help this country become the democracy its people want it to be." Unfortunately, he was refering to Iraq, not Britain. Blair clearly believes that we in the UK are too stupid for democracy.

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What conflict of interest?

Are the media going to be all over the Rod Aldridge story? They should be.

Something else worth remembering. As NoseMonkey's already pointed out, Capita was awarded a £177m public education contract in October 2004. At that time, the Guardian questioned that award. They said:
"The executive chairman of Capita, Rod Aldridge, is not a major Labour donor, but has attended Labour fundraising events and has advised the government on outsourcing."
Nothing damning. An eyebrow slighly raised perhaps.

In early 2004, the Rod Aldridge Charitable Foundation opened discussions concerning the establishment of a City Academy in Blackburn. (Document, from March 2004, as HTML or original Word format). The Academy was given the green light in November 2004. Rod's foundation has agreed to contribute £2m to the new school.

Clearly, buying the right to control a school isn't a direct donation to the Labour Party. It is, however, a large private financial investment into what at one time was Blair's flagship education policy. If memory serves, the flagship was flagging and in need of a bit of a boost at around that time. The executive chairman of a company which makes enormous profits from public sector contracts provided a boost to the tune of £2m. There can be no doubt that this will have pleased Mr Blair greatly.

If it looks like a fish and it smells like a fish, people are going to think it's fishy.

Over to the proper journalists.

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