Monday, July 31, 2006

Not so long ago, as he was rejecting an invitation to spend five or ten minutes meeting with the families of soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq, our great leader said "I yield to nobody in my support and admiration for the work that the soldiers do in Iraq".

For anyone who thinks his refusal to meet the bereaved families (who, it should be noted, were in Westminster that afternoon) might be a tint bit inconsistent with his claim, here's the proof:
A British soldier died in Iraq because he was not wearing the enhanced body armour he had had to give up because of shortages, an official report found.
The report... found that generals had identified a need for more body armour in September 2001, but ordering was held up for 15 months by "political constraints"...
Remember, Blair yields to nobody in his support for our troops in Iraq.

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The Guardian report from Qana makes for grim reading.

The Israeli government has apparently announced a 48 hour suspension of air strikes while they carry out an investigation. On the face of it, this is a small positive development. Looked at optimistically, this could be a window of opportunity in which a ceasefire could be agreed.

But it's hard not to be cynical. Hezbollah have vowed to retaliate as the Israeli government undoubtedly knew they would. Declaring a suspension at the very moment when Hezbollah is least likely to stop their rocket attacks may simply be a means to provide the justification for the IDF onslaught to continue. "We stopped, they didn't. Destroying them is the only way..."

Too cynical? Sadly, I'm not sure it is.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Lobby

I was going to write this post earlier today but after making a start on it, I decided to take a break and try again later. There's been a development since then so this is a slightly updated version.

The starting point is this article.
Israel backed by army of cyber-soldiers

WHILE Israel fights Hezbollah with tanks and aircraft, its supporters are campaigning on the internet.

Israel’s Government has thrown its weight behind efforts by supporters to counter what it believes to be negative bias and a tide of pro-Arab propaganda. The Foreign Ministry has ordered trainee diplomats to track websites and chatrooms so that networks of US and European groups with hundreds of thousands of Jewish activists can place supportive messages.
It's an interesting read.

After reading it, I also found a website called GIYUS. It seems to be exactly the sort of thing that article was referring too; it's a coordinated attempt to direct and encourage supporters of Israel to contribute to relevant forums, chatrooms and the like. It also highlights articles which might be useful to the cause. They've got a flashy tool you can download which runs on your desktop and automatically alerts subscribers to relevant material. It's called "Megaphone", an apt name for a tool designed to amplify a particular point of view.

Now there's nothing wrong with a group of like minded people getting together in a coordinated campaign to influence public opinion. (I have a feeling that many of the subscribers to GIYUS wouldn't see it that way if a Muslim group was doing something similar but never mind that now.)

But this seems to me to be a bit more than that. I was going to link to their blog to prove the point but, curiously, the post in question has now been deleted. As I started writing this earlier, I do have the URL for the post so you can see what the title was if you click on the link. "Ceasefire survey"? So what was that all about then?

Well, being the cynical soul that I am, I also happened to take a screenshot of the post just in case it disappeared. Here we go:

Click and click again for a bigger more readable version.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, this wasn't so much an attempt to influence public opinion as it was an attempt to distort the results of an online opinion poll hosted by Yahoo (UK and Ireland). The initial result, which seems to tie in roughly with other polls on the subject, showed that 69% of respondents believed the UK government should support an immediate ceasefire with 28% against. Twelve hours after GIYUS issued their call to their keyboard warriors, the poll showed that 48% supported the immediate ceasefire and 50% were against. And they were so happy about this that they couldn't help having a little boast about it (although they have now apparently had a change of heart about the wisdom of the boasting).

So next time you read someone suggesting that the Israeli government encourages coordinated efforts to amplify pro-Israel voices on the interwebs, perhaps you shouldn't dismiss the idea as the ranting of an unhinged conspiraloon. The tin-foil hatter just might have a point.

By the way, the Yahoo poll is in the right sidebar of this page (at the moment anyway) if you want to vote. It's up to you how you vote, of course.

(Both GIYUS and the Times article originally via the comments to this post from Sadiq Khan on CiF. Call for him to resign please Mr Khan. If you don't, you'll just end up looking like an insincere windbag.)

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thanks to Justin for the button. Click click.


Delusions of Grandeur

Did you see that the government has produced a leaflet on the constitution designed to educate schoolchildren? I'm no expert on the constitution but I'm willing to take the word of David Starkey when he says it's "full of howling errors".

According to the leaflet, the British Armed Forces are part of the Executive.

King Tony

He probably thinks that's about right. The arse.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

What do you get if you cross philosophy, wingnuttery and comic strips?

Someone called Chris Muir apparently.

Kantian nihilism?

Pretty much everything I know about philosophy comes from one impeccable source so I know that Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable. And I know that Kantian nihilism is just silly. Stop that, stop that. It's silly....


Universal Values

Salon: The "hiding among civilians" myth (via)
Israel claims it's justified in bombing civilians because Hezbollah mingles with them. In fact, the militant group doesn't trust its civilians and stays as far away from them as possible.

Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around their targets, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.

Read the rest
I can't say for sure how accurate that report is but I can reiterate what Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's Northern Command, said at the start of the conflict.
Israel called Wednesday's abductions an act of war, and Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's Northern Command, said he has "comprehensive plans" to battle Hezbollah throughout Lebanon, not just in its southern stronghold.

"This affair is between Israel and the state of Lebanon," Adam said. "Where to attack? Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate -- not just southern Lebanon, not just the line of Hezbollah posts."
International law makes clear that warring parties must make a clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants. It is not acceptable to target a civilian population even if they are sympathetic to one side in the conflict.

So, just as it is unacceptable to target Israeli civilians who support their government's conduct in this conflict or members of Olmert's Kadima party, it is equally unacceptable to target non-combatant supporters of Hezbollah.

Major General Adam has explicitly stated that Israel will not abide by that convention in this assault on Lebanon. "Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate".

And if that doesn't convince you that Israel is operating outside of international law, with the support of Bush and Blair, remember that Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, told Israel's Channel 10, "If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years."

How very civilised. Just as well our standards are so much higher than those of the Muslim barbarians...

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

A while back, I made a promise to myself that I'd stop writing about Harry's Place. I did try to raise this in the comments about four hours ago but got ignored. Oh well.

Compare and contrast

Harry's Place:
Have you planned your hols yet? If not then maybe you could consider Iraqi-Kurdistan.
The Foreign Office:
We strongly advise against all travel to Baghdad and the surrounding area, the provinces of Basra Maysan, Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Diyala, Wasit, Babil and Ninawa. We advise against all but essential travel to the rest of Iraq.
There have been fewer attacks in urban areas of the Kurdish Regional Government administered areas in northern Iraq than across the rest of the country... However, the threat in the north remains real.
Of course, it's up to you who's advice you decide to take when booking your holidays.

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Why Do We Care?

As anyone who follows the various comment threads on the subject will know, those who support Israel's current assault on Lebanon often suggest that criticisms of Israel are completely disproportionate. "People are dying in far greater numbers in Iraq or in DR Congo," they argue. "Why don't you write about that instead of picking on the tiny beseiged state of Israel?"

It's easy to dismiss these comments as a cynical attempt to change the subject but I don't think that's what it is in most cases. Having read an unhealthy number of threads on this over the last two weeks, it seems clear to me that many Israelis and their supporters genuinely don't understand why people in the UK are so exercised by what's happening.

So I thought I'd try to explain something of my own position on the subject. What's happened today is a perfect illustration of it but we'll get to that shortly.

Before that, I should say that I do not deny that there are some moronic anti-semites out there and they're making more noise than usual at the moment. This is reprehensible. From what I can gather, they are a small minority, certainly in this country. That's not to excuse their racist views, of course, but I do not believe that the majority of criticims of Israel's current activities are motivated by anti-semitism as is sometimes claimed.

So why all the fuss? For me, this report says it all.
'World backs Lebanon offensive'

Israel says diplomats' decision not to call for a halt to its Lebanon offensive at a Middle East summit has given it the green light to continue.

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world... to continue the operation," Justice Minister Haim Ramon said.

His comments came ahead of an Israeli cabinet meeting to decide whether to intensify the military offensive.
Despite the fact that the participants in the Rome conference vowed to work towards a sustainable truce with the "utmost urgency", the Justice Minister is essentially correct. By refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire, the international community has implicitly given Israel the green light to continue to impose collective punishment on the people of Lebanon.

But really, it wasn't the international community as such which gave this green light. As the front page of the Independent showed so very clearly last week, it's actually the governments' of the United Kingdom and the United States who are enabling Israel to continue its assault on Lebanon. And our special friends, the US government, are also busy sending shipments of armaments to Israel to aid them in their devastating attack.

But I believe that Israel's actions are both morally wrong and dangerously counter-productive. When my government supports such actions, implicitly or explicitly, I'm going to say something about it. In my own tiny way, I hope to add to the pressure which might make them change their approach. That's what democracy is all about.

The tragedy is that the British government actually could exert some inflence here through the special relationship chain which runs from the UK to the US to Israel. But they are not doing so. This is, I believe, a disgrace and a large part of the reason why I write about the current conflict.

Of course, this doesn't explain why I should make more noise about this than about Iraq, which my own government is in up to its neck. But as regular readers will know, I'm hardly silent on that subject.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A good post by Billmon on the state of hostilities and what might happen next. Good as in informative. Clearly there's nothing good about what's actually happening at the moment.

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Blairwatch: Is Lord Levy lying through his back teeth?

Dear oh dear. Lord Levy, despite protesting that was willing to co-operate fully with the police investigation and that his arrest had been unnecessary, actually resorted to no comment" when questioned. Altogether everyone - "If you've got nothing to hide..."

Whiter than white.

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With Us or Against Us?

President Bush likes to portray the invasion in Iraq as part of the "war" on terror. In December last year he said this:
"We believe that Iraq will be a democracy and know that Iraq as a democracy will be a strong ally in the war on terror."
This claim, that the new government of Iraq will be "a strong ally in the war on terror", a claim so feted by the cheerleaders for the fiasco that the invasion of Iraq has become, epitimises for me the basic inability of those who supported the war to come to terms with the reality of the situation.

As I've said before, the very best case scenario for the future of Iraq is that the security situation improves to the point that the power of the current government is stabilised. If that happens, and that's clearly an "if" of enormous magnitude at the moment, what will actually have been achieved? We'll have enabled an Iran friendly, religious Shiite government to rule Iraq. Whatever you're views on the "war" on terror, it's hard to see how this could be proclaimed a victory.

This report illustrates the reality.
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Democrats in the US Congress called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to condemn Hezbollah's attacks against Israel and to recognize Israel's right to defend itself.

The lawmakers expressed dismay during a press conference over Maliki's recent criticism of "Israel aggression" in Lebanon, and called for a "clarification" from the Iraqi leader before he appears Wednesday before a joint session of Congress.

House Democrats wrote a letter Tuesday urging Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert to revoke his invitation to Maliki, whose steadfastness as a partner in the US-led war on terror, they said, is seriously in doubt.

"With evidence mounting that the Iraqi leadership's goals are not in the best interests of the United States -- nor the Middle East -- Prime Minister Maliki's address is inappropriate," the House Democrats told Hastert.

"We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor. We would like to know how Prime Minister Maliki was chosen to receive the honor, and absent an apology by the prime minister, urge you to cancel the address," they wrote.

The leader of opposition Democrats in the House, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement, called Maliki's remarks "unacceptable."

"At the White House this morning, Mr Maliki did not retreat from his comments on Israel and once again failed to criticize Hamas and Hezbollah's terrorist activities.
Juan Cole (hat-tip for the above link) has more on Mr Mailiki's Dawa Party.

I wonder if Harry's Place will attack Maliki for his refusal to condemn Hezbollah. It seems to be something of a sport over there to condemn those who refuse to show solidarity with Israel's collective punishment of the Lebanese people. Let's hear it boys. Isn't your man Mr Maliki guilty of "Jew-hating fascism" too?

(Btw, unlike Maliki, I strongly condemn Hezbollah firing rockets at Israeli civilian areas. These actions are no more justified than Israel's collective punishment of the Lebanese. Neither makes the other morally acceptable. I'm going to write a post on showing solidarity with the oppressed at some point soon. Solidarity with those who indiscriminately target civilians in the country of the oppressor isn't the way.)

It is a bizarre perversity of logic to see US Neo-Conservative Republicans and their supporters staunchly defending their decision to sacrifice so many lives in pursuit of the installation of a new ally for the Iranian government. It's an inconsistency of truly epic proportions. You're left wondering whether these people are genuinely ignorant of the situation or master practitioners in the art of double think. I'm inclined to believe it's a bit of both; wilful ignorance motivated by a refusal to address the nagging doubts which fester in their furthest reaches of their minds.

Presumably they repeat their mantra, "strong ally in the war on terror, strong ally in the war on terror, strong ally in the war on terror...", over and over until it drowns out the festering doubts just enough to allow them to continue to hold forth on the issue with the misplaced confidence which has become their hallmark.

Maliki is, of course, the democratically elected leader of sovereign Iraq and the Democrats are wrong to try to dictate to him what he can and cannot say. Any attempt to do so by the Bush regime would simple bolster the notion that Maliki is a US puppet thus damaging further his already tarnished reputation in Iraq. That's a whole different farce though.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Joke

A man walks into a bar with an M16 assault rifle. He fires four shots into the drinkers, killing three and severely injuring another. Panic ensues as those left alive flee the bar in fear for their lives. He helps himself to a drink.

The police are called. They take statements from those who witnesed the shootings. The bar owner confirms that the incident will have been recorded on his CCTV system. Then they enter the bar to confront the man with the M16 assault rifle.

He makes no effort to evade them. "We've been given several statements that you indescriminately opened fire on the patrons of this bar, killing three and severaly injuring another" they say. "Furthermore, the bar owner assures us that this has been recorded on CCTV. Do you have anything to say to these allegations?".

"Indescriminately opened fire? I don't think so."

"Look here, I've still got 26 rounds left in my clip. Not only that, I didn't detonate the thermonuclear device which I've got in my rucksack. If I'd wanted too, I could have killed everyone within a hundred miles of this bar. So you see, your allegation that I indescriminately killed three people and injured another is a nonsense."

The police cannot fault this impecable logic. "Mind how you go sir" they offer as they leave.

No, you're right. It's not funny.

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Monday, July 24, 2006


The BBC's Jim Muir is reporting on the appalling carnage in Southern Lebanon. His latest report can currently be viewed via the link in the right hand column of this page. It's called "Red Cross medics attacked in Lebanon". You can also hear an audio report on this six minutes into today's World at One (available until tomorrow).

So, the high-tech, high-precision Israeli airforce fired two seperate rockets into two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances, two ambulances which were "lit up like a Christmas tree" with blue lights and illuminated Red Cross signs. One man lost a leg and an eight year old boy suffered brain damage inside one of the ambulances as a result of the attacks. All six Red Cross workers present were also injured.

That's not self defence. That's a war crime. Anyone who wants to put a "but" anywhere near that has lost their basic sense of humanity.

Our government rightly condemns Hezbollah's indescriminate attacks on Israeli civilians. Whatever the circumstances, the indescriminate killing of non-combatants must be condemned unreservedly. But will our government apply that same standard to the actions of the Israeli government? Or will they offer mealy mouthed platitudes about "understanding" the situation which Israel finds itself in?

After seeing Kim Howells today furiously backpedalling from his previous statement, almost certainly after being reprimanded by Downing Street, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out which path the British government is going to go down. Sickening.


Phil over at Actually Existing explores the way the current actions of the IDF are defended. Indeed.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

As some people may know, I've long maintained that the failures following the invasion of Iraq are at least partly due to the fact that the US military is very poorly equipped to deal with counter-insurgency warfare. As I've written before, this isn't exacly news to those who study this sort of thing. For years, the only people in the field who were not aware of this were the US military themselves.

For anyone who thinks I've no idea what I'm on about, here's an article from a proper journalist on the same subject. The money quote (one of several actually):
Cumulatively, the American ignorance of long-held precepts of counterinsurgency warfare impeded the U.S. military during 2003 and part of 2004. Combined with a personnel policy that pulled out all the seasoned forces early in 2004 and replaced them with green troops, it isn't surprising that the U.S. effort often resembled that of Sisyphus, the king in Greek legend who was condemned to perpetually roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.
Worth reading in full.

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Commercial Terms

At the moment, most people seem to be of the view that the law (note, that's "law") on declaring loans to the Electoral Commission is concerned solely on the rate of interest which is charged on said loans. In other words, were the loans offered at an interest rate which is within the bounds of commercial rates? The secret loans which the Labour Party accepted were offered at 6.5 - 6.75 percent and these undoubtedly are rates which can be found commercially.

In fact though, there's more to this than just the basic interest rate charged. In March this year, after the secret loans became public, the Electoral Commission wrote to the main parties (PDF) reminding them of the actual rules on declaring loans. The key here is this:
[T]he interest rate is not the only term of a loan. In deciding whether or not a loan is on commercial terms, you would also need to consider, for example, any requirement for security, the repayment terms and flexibility - including a clear understanding that a loan may be converted into a donation at a later stage. The overall test must be the extent to which similar terms would have been available at the time of the loan from a commercial lender.
This, clearly, is not the same as a simple judgement over the interest rate being charged on a loan. What I'd like to know is, would any commercial lender have offered the same terms to the Labour Party as those which they actually received from their Lords in waiting secret lenders?

It's becoming clear that the terms of these unsecured loans were rather generous. Oh that my bank manager would be so flexible.

The repayment period specified on the loans is certainly unusual in my experience.
Labour's accounts disclosed it is being charged interest at 6.5 to 6.75 per cent, two points above the Bank of England rate [on the secret loans].

All the loans were taken out during 2005, with repayment terms ranging from 180 to 365 days.

But a note in the accounts said: "The terms of the loan agreements are such that, if the loan is not repaid on the expiry of its initial term, then the loan is generally repayable 180 days after the party receives a written repayment notice."
In other words, there was a nominal repayment period on the loans but it wasn't actually a fixed period. In fact, the loans are actually only repayable six months after the lender specifically asks for them to be repaid. If the lender does not do so, the loan might conceivably never be repaid. It's almost as if the terms of the loans have been specifically written so that they could be turned into donations at a later date. I'm no expert on matters financial, as my bank manager will be quick to attest, but that seems rather unusual for a commercial unsecured loan.

And then there's the interest payments themselves. As the Independent reports today, a year on from the issue of the loans, the Labour Party has not yet paid back a single penny of interest on them. Again, my bank manager is not quite so generous when it comes to interest payments.

Given the precarious state of the Labour Party's finances generally, and given that they don't seem to a great deal in the way of guaranteed income, am I wide of the mark when I say that they'd have been laughed out of the plush executive offices of every commercial lender in the country if they'd attempted to secure loans on these terms on the open market?

The answer to this question, you'll be glad to hear, isn't just of interest to me. From the Independent report:
Detectives are already looking into whether the loans were made on terms the party would not have been able to gain from a bank. They are examining whether the loans were made on the understanding that they would be converted to donations later and never repaid. Opposition politicians believe that the loans were not made at a commercial rate and that Mr Blair broke the law by failing to declare them.
Good old Knacker. Unless I'm totally off base here, this is going to get very interesting indeed.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

More from Reuters on the situation in Iraq.
BAGHDAD, July 21 (Reuters) - Iraqi leaders have all but given up on holding the country together and, just two months after forming a national unity government, talk in private of "black days" of civil war ahead.

Signalling a dramatic abandonment of the U.S.-backed project for Iraq, there is even talk among them of pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim zones, senior officials told Reuters.

Tens of thousands have already fled homes on either side.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said -- anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.

One highly placed source even spoke of busying himself on government projects, despite a sense of their futility, only as a way to fight his growing depression over his nation's future.

"The parties have moved to Plan B," the senior official said, saying Sunni, ethnic Kurdish and majority Shi'ite blocs were looking at ways to divide power and resources and to solve the conundrum of Baghdad's mixed population of seven million.

"There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into east and west," he said. "We are extremely worried."
Tragically, Iraq is fragmenting into seperate sectarian mini-states as tens of thousands of people flee for their lives. Historically, this sort of division has been a key precursor to all out civil war. Once it starts, it's almost impossible to stop.

And most of the mainstream media, with a few notable exceptions, don't even seem to have noticed.

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Another Worthless UN Resolution

There's been a lot of talk this week about UN Resolution 1559 (which was passed in 2004). This resolution notably "calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias". I've seen any number of people, including spokesmen for the Israeli government, quite rightly highlighting the fact that this resolution has not been implemented.

As one particularly strident commenter put it:
Israel should finish what they started. After that, we should call on the world to "put up or shut up" and enforce Res. 1559. First, we need a multinational force with the authority to clean out Hezbollah. In other words, they are not peacekeepers. They are soldiers. Second, the US should advise Syria that we will annihilate them if they stick their fingers in Lebanon.
Strong words.

I too would desperately like to see Resolution 1559 implemented, although obviously not by annihilating an entire people as the armchair warrior above suggests (wiping Syria off the map anyone?). And yet, every time I see someone from the Israeli government insisting that the Lebanon is getting what's coming to them because they've failed to disarm Hezbollah and are therefore in breach of the will of the international community, it turns my stomach.

Partly, this is because it is clear to anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the area that the Lebanese government simply doesn't have the power or stability to disarm Hezbollah. A similar situation exists in Pakistan in areas bordering Afghanistan. There,Taleban fighters operate with virtual impunity, not because Musharraf supports them, he's our kind of military dictator after all, but because he can't actually do anything to change the situation. If he pushes the issue, he risks destabilising the whole country. So even though Taleban fighters undeniably operate out of Pakistan, we're not going to be launching an attack on the country anytime soon. Apart from anything else, it'd obviously be hugely counter-productive to destabilise the country in such a way. Likewise in Lebanon, and yet that is exactly what's happening there.

But the problem with the Israeli government suggesting that they're merely implementing the will of the UN really lies elsewhere. Here's just one example.

On 14th December 1981, the Israeli government unilaterally declared the annexation of the Golan Heights. Three days later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 497.
The Security Council... reaffirming that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the principles of international law, and relevant Security Council resolutions,

1. Decides that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect;

2. Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decision;

3. Determines that all the provisions of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 continue to apply to the Syrian territory occupied by Israel since June 1967;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the implementation of this resolution within two weeks and decides that in the event of non-compliance by Israel, the Security Council would meet urgently, and not later than 5 January 1982, to consider taking appropriate measures in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
The Israeli government paid no heed.

Appropriate measures were then put forward in a draft resolution as required under 497. The draft proposed "that all Member States should consider applying concrete and effective measures in order to nullify the Israeli annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and to refrain from providing any assistance or aid to and co-operation with Israel in all fields, in order to deter Israel in its policies and practices of annexation".

Despite the Israeli government's refusal to abide by Resolution 497, the United States government vetoed this draft.

Israel continues to exercise sovereignty over the Golan Height in breach of Resolution 497 to this day. They have shown not the slightest inclination to remove what the international community considers to be illegal settlements in the area. Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that "Israel withdraw from all the occupied Syrian Golan to the line of 4 June 1967 in implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions". (For clarity, it should be noted that GA resolutions are not binding on UN members. Security Council Resolution 497 is, however.) Again, the Israeli government paid no heed.

No-one likes a hypocrite. A succession of Israeli governments, the current one included, have flouted and continue to flout any number of UN Security Council resolutions over the last sixty years. Today, they cherry pick the UN resolutions which they deem to be important, are prepared to use overwhelming force against a whole population using these resolutions as justification, whilst simultaneously ignoring completely those resolutions which they feel are not in their own interests. And then they complain bitterly when others refuse to conform to the resolutions which they do like.

The world doesn't work that way. At least it shouldn't. I think a lot of the hostility which many people feel towards Israel ultimately stems from this issue. It is considered to be an affront to the concept of impartial justice by many people all over the world. As I said, no-one likes a hypocrite.

I wonder if the staunch defender of the will of the United Nations quoted above would agree with the following statement?
We should call on the world to "put up or shut up" and enforce Res. 497. First, we need a multinational force with the authority to clean out Israel. In other words, they are not peacekeepers. They are soldiers. Second, the US should advise Israel that we will annihilate them if they stick their fingers in the Golan Heights again.
Somehow, I think it's unlikely.

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Meanwhile, in Iraq:
Baghdad has survived the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, UN sanctions, more bombing and, finally, a savage guerrilla war. Now the city is finally splitting apart, and - most surprising of all - this disaster scarcely gets a mention on the news as the world watches the destruction of Beirut so many miles away.

Read the rest...

Reuters reports on the failure of US strategy in Iraq:
WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - Iraqi government security forces have grown by about 100,000 soldiers and police in the past year thanks to U.S. training efforts, but this big expansion has not translated into a drop in violence.
[T]he numerical increase in Iraqi forces, many operating alongside U.S. troops, has not curbed the violence. Iraq faces an unabated insurgent threat, rising sectarian fighting and a mounting civilian death count more than three years after the invasion amid ongoing worry that it may slide into civil war.
"It's increasingly clear that the stand up of the Iraqi security forces is not going to reduce the level of violence, in and of itself. On the other hand, it could still provide the necessary pretext for reducing the American presence," said Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson.
"It's sad to say that the increase in the size of the Iraqi security forces may in some ways be contributing to the level of violence. For example, in the Basra area the Iraqi security forces are thoroughly penetrated by sectarian interests and local political factions," Thompson said.
I'm in full agreement with Thompson here.

The tragedy is that with loyalties divided among the population, and with sectarian tensions escalating, training and arming so many Iraqis whilst the isolated central government has almost no ability to command them is actually only likely to cause even greater violence.

I've written about this before, not because I'm some sort of prophet but because this same horrible error has been made by Western interventionists many times in the past.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
- George Santayana
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Friday, July 21, 2006

At a time like this, it can be difficult to understand the actions of the Israeli government. Surely, many of us say, they must see that their current actions will inevitably lead to the creation of a new wave of militants hell bent on Israel's destruction, just as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to the creation of Hezbollah. How could they not be aware of this? And if they are aware of this but choose to act in the way they do anyway, what are they really trying to achieve?

There's a very good post on this over at Smokewriting called "The Powerlessness of Israel". Definitely worth a click.


Another escalation appears imminent.

So the Israeli's have bombed the civilian terrorist infrastructure, the roads and bridges, then told people to leave immediately via those same bombed roads and bridges. What would you and your family do in that situation? Risk the bombs to attempt to travel north on the shattered remains of of the civilian terrorist infrastructure or stay put in what's about to become the free fire zone?

Next time someone tells you that "the third world war has already begun", I recommend you ask them if they've ever tried to imagine what it'd actually be like to live in a war zone. If they are unable to, and given what they've just proposed it seems highly unlikely that they will, suggest that they visit one. For educational purposes, you understand.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Newt Gingrich says the Third World War has already begun. Yikes! I'd better start sorting out my blackout curtains then. It's probably a good idea to stock up on tinned foods too, before the rationing starts to bite...

If I hadn't seen Newt saying much the same thing on TV this week, I'd have emailed the Guardian to ask if that article was some sort of parody.

My grandparents used to tell me stories about their experiences during the Second World War when I was a child. The bravery and stoicism of those who endured that time has long been a source of amazement to me. It is clear that there are people in the world today suffering because of war, and I do not wish to trivialise their suffering, but to equate what's happening today with a World War is an insult to all those who lived through those times with such courage and dignity.

For Newt, however, what's important is that the Republicans need a boost before the mid-term elections. The message is clear; vote Republican or die a horrible death at the hands of the barbarian hordes.

Piss off Newt.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Toothpick Instructions

Home Secretary John Reid has blamed the continuing problems at the Home Office on the collapse of the Soviet Union seventeen years ago. Yes, really.

How in the hell are you supposed to satirise that?

It might be possible, I suppose, but I can't quite see how. But then I'm not performing at my best at the moment. It's these headaches I've been getting. I've been plagued with them ever since I heard about the fall of the Roman Empire. Quite a shock it was, I can tell you...

In other news, it has emerged that Lord Levy's secretary was awarded an MBE in 2002, apparently for "charitable services". Strangely, when contacted by C4 News, Ms Cobb wasn't hugely forthcoming as to what those charitable services were:
Qu: What did you get your MBE for?

Ans: Just for the charities that Lord Levy is involved in. Jewish Care, the JFS, and CSV.

Qu: What were you nominated for?

Ans: I don't think I should be talking to you on this.

Qu: Did Lord Levy nominate you?

Ans: I don't know who was involved in nominating me.

Qu: Were you nominated for secretarial work?

Ans: It was a mixture of things. I can't really go into any detail.
Er, why not? Is it a state secret or what?

A statement was later released on Ms Cobb's behalf by Lord Levy's spokesman explaining er, something or other.

Isn't it amazing that Ms Cobb didn't know who had nominated her for an MBE? I think if I was ever nominated for an MBE, a fairly significant event in one's life I should imagine, I'd probably be curious enough to actually find out who had done it. It's hard to understand why Ms Cobb didn't bother to find out. To someone with a curious nature like myself, it almost seems unbelievable...

Wonko the Sane had the right idea. It may be time to build that asylum.

(Btw, I've no interest in actually receiving a bauble but I'd still want to know who'd nominated me. You'd expect that someone who actually went to the palace and everything might have been even more interested.)

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The Green Light

As Tim notes (with comment and linkage), the Guardian is reporting that the US and UK government's are blocking calls for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.
The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on Hizbullah before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.

The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Sadly, even the Guardian cannot bring itself to accurately reflect what's happening. Try this:
The US is giving Israel a window of a week to inflict maximum damage on the Lebanese people before weighing in behind international calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, according to British, European and Israeli sources.
That is the reality. No amount of "sincere regret" on the part of the Israeli government changes the fact that it is Lebanese civilians who are squarely in the sights of the Israeli military when they pull the trigger.

From Reuters:
Israel unleashed fierce air strikes on Lebanon on Wednesday, killing 41 civilians and a Hizbollah fighter, as boats and buses left Beirut laden with thousands of foreigners fleeing the eight-day-old conflict.
Forty one civilians and one Hizbollah fighter.

If you know that the bomb you're about to drop or the shell you're about to fire is almost certain to kill innocent civilians and you do it anyway, and you have no intention of changing that behaviour in the future, your platitudes of regret are utterly meaningless. If you regret something, you are usually expected to prove the point by doing your absolute best never to do it again.

Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself. But it does not have the right to impose violent collective punishment on the Lebanese people as a whole. No state has the right to behave in such a way as it is, rightly, illegal under international law.
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
International law is a complex thing and it may well be possible to argue that Article 33 doesn't apply in the present circumstances. But what sort of morals must a person have to argue that this sort of collective punishment is justifiable? Let's not beat about the bush here; those are the morals of the terrorist. The belief that it is justifiable to direct lethal violence against the many for the actions of the few is the bedrock of terrorist activity. Can we really go down that route without losing our humanity, our decency, our claim to be civilised people?

I call for the British government to demand the immediate cessation of Israeli collective punishment of the Lebanese people. The right of self defence cannot justify the current disproportionate actions of the Israeli government.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oops, I accidentally posted something I was only halfway through writing. Only noticed when a comment came through on it. I've removed the post but I'll repost it once it's done. Not trying to avoid your question Peter. Scouts honour.


OK, problem solved. The post is the one under this one. Interwebs, bah...


A Problem Denied is a Problem Solved

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has been on the radio today. Blairwatch says exactly what I was thinking:
Captain Caravan almost makes Jack Straw look like a competent Foreign Secretary!
Indeed. Of course, the idea that someone could be less competent than Jack Straw would have been ridiculous just a few short months ago. Isn't it strange how quickly things can change?

Anyway, as Blairwatch point out, Jim Naughtie asked her about relationship between Iraq and the current crisis. Here's the relevant part of the interview in full:
Jim: Mr Blair talks about an arc of extremism curving through the Middle East. Isn't it the case that in Iraq what's happened as a result of the invasion is not that terrorism has been obliterated but a new generation of militants has been created?

Idiot: No, it's not as simple as that. And I might...

Jim: No. Not simple, but...

Idiot: And I might have known that you'd somehow drag the situation back to Iraq Jim. Let's concentrate on what is happening...

Jim: Oh, oh! Foreign Secretary, if I may so that is ridiculous. To say "drag the situation back to Iraq". The Middle East is in flames. Lebanon is being destroyed. Israel is being attacked. The President of the United States saying that "Syria has got to stop all this shit", I quote the President. Mr Blair wants to go there; the President doesn't want him to go. 60, 100 and 150 people are being killed every day in Iraq and you say to me, "you're dragging Iraq into it.

Idiot: I speak just as one of your humble listeners Jim, who listens to you every morning, and every, most mornings I turn and I say "aha" I might have known, we're talking again about the situation in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is difficult but Iraq has an elected government and many things are improving in Iraq and that's something we need to continue working on. We've just had the handover of the first province in Iraq to Iraqi security forces.

The situation in Lebanon is actually deteriorating and that is something that does require not only help to nationals who are there but also help to try and bring this situation into a rather better place, into somewhere where we can credibly have and maintain, and I repeat, that is the key, maintain a ceasefire, and that will be more difficult if all of the kind of context of that conversation is "oh, but this is impossible, it isn't working in Iraq, it isn't working in Afghanistan", it is not as simple as that. And there is some good that the international community can do, let's not discourage them from doing it.
And no matter how many times you read it, you still won't find even a hint of an answer to Jim Naughtie's question. The question was this:
Isn't it the case that in Iraq what's happened as a result of the invasion is not that terrorism has been obliterated but a new generation of militants has been created?
Those who believe that the answer to the question is "no, it isn't the case that a new generation of militants has been created as a result of the invasion of Iraq" might want to reflect on the reasons why the Foreign Secretary has gone to such great lengths, preposterous lengths you might say, to avoid giving that answer. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the reason for her evasion is that she knows that the actual answer is "yes, it is the case" and she can't admit that for obvious political reasons. If there is any other explanation, I certainly can't think what it could be.

But that's not the reason why she's the idiot of the piece. The reason is this:
The situation in Iraq is difficult but Iraq has an elected government and many things are improving in Iraq and that's something we need to continue working on.
Many things are improving?

Reuters Alertnet reports the following violence in Iraq over the last three days:
July 18th

KUFA - A suicide bomber pulled his minivan into a busy market in the southern Shi'ite city of Kufa on Tuesday, lured labourers onboard with the promise of jobs and then blew himself up, killing 59 people and wounding 132, officials said.

BAGHDAD – A U.S. soldier died on Monday after a bomb explosion south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

NEAR TIKRIT - Iraqi police found the head of a young woman near Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. A man was killed when a bomb planted under the head exploded as he was trying to take a photo of the head, police said.

KIRKUK - Gunmen killed sheikh Khalid Ahmed Hasan, a tribal leader, near Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad.

KUT - Five Iraqi soldiers were wounded when several rockets landed near a military base used for training Iraqi forces in Kut, Iraqi army said.

HAWIJA - Five policeman were killed and five were wounded, including four civilians, when a roadside bomb went off near a police patrol in Hawija, 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

HADITHA - Gunmen killed three translators who worked for the U.S. forces in Haditha, 240 km (150 miles) northwest Baghdad, police said.

July 17th

FALLUJA - A U.S. soldier was killed in combat in Anbar province in western Iraq, the military said in a statement.

MAHMUDIYA - Gunmen stormed a crowded market in the town of Mahmudiya, 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, amid mortar or grenade explosions, the U.S. military, police and the mayor said. A local hospital put the death toll at 56, with another 67 wounded. But the Ministry of Defence had a different account, saying two car bombs had exploded, killing 42 people.

TUZ KHURMATU - Police said 25 people were killed and 18 wounded in Sunday night's explosion in a popular cafe in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 170 km (106 miles) from Baghdad, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up.

DIWANIYA - Two U.S. soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy in Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - A U.S. soldier died from wounds after coming under fire in western Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

HADITHA - Gunmen killed Laith al-Rawi, local leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the main Sunni parties, in Haditha, 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Baghdad, on Sunday, the Islamic Party said.

July 16th

BASRA - Residents heard several dozen explosions from apparent mortar attacks on British bases around the Shi'ite southern city of Basra. A British military spokesman confirmed at least one raid had taken place. Residents said it was one of the heaviest such attacks they could recall in recent times.

BAGHDAD - A U.S. soldier was killed after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. military said.

MOSUL - A car bomb targeting a U.S. patrol killed three women and wounded six in the northern city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - The head of Iraq's North Oil Company, Adel Qazaz, was kidnapped in northern Baghdad on Sunday, an Oil Ministry official said. Qazaz was being driven back to the northern oil capital of Kirkuk following a meeting at the Oil Ministry when gunmen in two cars stopped his vehicle.

BAGHDAD - A blast inside a Sunni mosque in Baghdad's Saidiya district wounded three people, police said. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast.

BAGHDAD - Gunmen who kidnapped some 30 people from an Iraqi Olympics Committee meeting in a brazen daytime raid have released six, colleagues said on Sunday, but the fate of the others remains unknown.

BASRA - A British soldier was killed and another wounded during an operation to seize a suspected "terrorist" in Iraq's restive southern city of Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, the British military said.

BAGHDAD - Four people were killed and 10 wounded when two mortar rounds landed on al-Rasool village 30 km (19 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - A gunman was killed and two wounded in clashes with Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers in Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The gunbattle erupted after the gunmen ambushed an army major in his car, wounding him, police said.

BAQUBA - Gunmen attacked the medical detention department in Baquba main hospital and freed at least 13 prisoners and killed four policemen, police said. Three mortar rounds landed around the hospital before the attack, police added.

NEAR TIKRIT - Gunmen killed three people near Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BALAD - Two bodies were found shot dead with signs of torture in two separate incidents in Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, on Saturday and Sunday, police said.

MUQDADIYA - Gunmen killed Faris Abdul Latif, a former member of the ousted Baath Party, along with his son in a market in Muqdadiya, 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said. A woman passer-by was also killed in the attack.

MOSUL - The bodies of three women with gunshot wounds were found in the northern city of Mosul, a medical source said.

DIWANIYA - The body of a police officer was found in Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. He was one of four policeman abducted on Saturday, police added.

NEAR KIRKUK - Gunmen killed two truck drivers and abducted a third on the main road between Baghdad and Kirkuk, police said.

ZUBAIR - Two British soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Zubair, a town south of Basra, British military spokesman said.

BAGHDAD - Two people were killed and 30 wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a gathering of labourers in southeastern Baghdad, police said. The target of the explosion was not clear.

KIRKUK - Gunmen killed two barbers on Saturday in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

KIRKUK - The body of a dead person was found shot dead with signs of torture on Saturday in Kirkuk, police said.

MOSUL - The bodies of three people were found shot dead on Saturday in Mosul, police said.
Many things are improving? There are somewhere in the region of 170 deaths in the above reports and it is highly unlikely that all deaths are being reported in such in insecure environment. In reality, there's a case for arguing that civil war has actually started in Iraq.

Beckett's would no doubt counter that despite the "difficulties", "real improvements" are being made in some parts of the country. This is actually true in a sense. But then, applying a new coat of paint to a wooden house sitting right in the path of a rapidly approaching firestorm is also an improvement. It is not generally considered to be a sensible approach to the problem at hand, however.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

With the Benefit of Intelligence

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it. (Applause.) This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country -- and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted.
- President Bush discusses the future of Iraq, 27/02/03
I actually want to quote something else from that speech but the above just gives it a little context. It still astonishes me to see people defending the reasons for war as if they'd somehow been justified. Bush was unequivocal: Saddam is "building and hiding" WMD, he said. Desperate clutching at the rusty and decayed remnants of Saddam's pre-Gulf War One chemical weapons stockpiles aside, it's now clear that Bush was wrong. It is now clear that his justification for war was based on an unsubstantiated allegation which he presented as fact. It is further clear that the reason why the allegation was unsubstantiated was because it wasn't true.

The reason why I keep bringing this up is easy to explain. Democracy, if it means anything at all, means the ability to bring to account leaders who manipulate and misrepresent a situation in order to win support for a war of choice. And to have these same leaders present themselves as defenders of democracy is, well, beyond my ability to put into words. Drawing a line under that would be like drawing a line under democracy itself. Not for me thanks. Democracy is flawed but it's not worth giving up on just yet.

Anyway, what I really want quote is Bush's vision of the future in the Middle East region after the invasion of Iraq. The following also comes from the same speech Bush made in the February before the war.
Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. (Applause.) The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. (Applause.)

Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. (Applause.) True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror. (Applause.)

For its part, the new government of Israel -- as the terror threat is removed and security improves -- will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- (applause) -- and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. (Applause.) And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel. (Applause.)

The United States and other nations are working on a road map for peace. We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government -- and my personal commitment -- to implement the road map and to reach that goal. Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity. (Applause.)
Where would you even start to analyse something like that? The end of the present regime in Iraq was going to present an opportunity for peace. I think it's fair to say that things are not exactly going according to plan.

Of course, it's easy to predict what's going to happen after it happens. But then, in August '02...
Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian President (through translator): I said to the U.S. administration if you harm the Iraqi people while the Palestinians are still suffering, it would only fuel the anger of the Arabs. No leader in the Arab world would be able to stop people expressing anger at such a move.

Marwan Muasher, Jordanian Foreign Minister: I think, you know, the opposition to the war has been throughout the entire world, and not just the Arab region. And I think that the United States needs to listen to its Arab allies, not because of any support for, you know, the Iraqi regime, but because as I said, a war against Iraq is going to be harmful to the interests of the region.

Dick Cheney: Some have argued that to oppose Saddam Hussein would cause even greater troubles in that part of the world and interfere with the larger war against terror. I believe the opposite is true. Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the entire region.
Hindsight, eh? It's a wonderful thing.

I was going to quote a whole list of people of various nationalities and persuasions warning that the invasion would likely lead to a destabilisation of the region but I'm sure I don't need to. And Dick has conveniently pointed out that the argument was put forward and rejected by the administration long before the war.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Proportionate Force

Since the invasion of Afghanistan five years ago, an assumption has developed that it has been example of a successful mission. In some ways, perhaps it has been. The key objective, the capture of bin Laden, was never achieved but it seems this is no barrier to success as far as the US government is concerned. And it is true that their have been some positive developments.

What seems to have gone almost unnoticed over the last five years is that huge swathes of the country have remained utterly lawless and ungovernable. In many ways, Afghanistan is the perfect example of theatricality over thoroughness. The "invade, declare victory, move on to the next invasion" strategy was certainly superficially impressive for a time, but behind the scenes, things look a whole lot different.

Blair's decision to send a small number of UK troops into the lawless chaos is proving to be a bloody behind the scenes documentary into the anarchy which still reigns there.

Today, the British military has been defending their decision to call in an air strike in the Afghan town of Nawzad. Before going any further, it should be noted that the British military ethos is significantly different from that of the Americans. In very broad terms, US forces are trained to apply overwhelming force, as much as is available, in order to achieve their objectives. This sort of training has its advantages in conventional warfare but it is ill-suited to counter-insurgency fighting and the US military is widely considered to be very bad at it, at least partly for this reason (widely considered by those who study this topic outside the US anyway). In essence, the US military minimises the risk to their troops by seeking to apply overwhelming force, preferably from long range. In other words, in seeking to reduce the risk to themselves, they actually increase the risk to the civilian population around them. They call the results of this collateral damage. The dead civilians are in no position to disagree with this description although their friends and family might. I don't think you need me to spell out the implications this has on the ability to win hearts and minds. "What's that? We've killed your mother? Sorry about that. Would you like a lollipop?"

British forces, on the other hand, are trained to respond proportionately. They are far less likely, for example, to call in a air strike against a lone sniper just because an air strike is theoretically available. They're more likely to consider the wider destruction this might cause and instead adopt less devastating tactics which will almost certainly be more dangerous to them personally. This is rather heroic in some ways and it can, apart from anything else, serve as an inspiration to the general population to see these men put themselves in harms way in an attempt to reduce the possibility of civilian casualties. Obviously, this approach is more likely to win hearts and minds. For this reason, British forces are generally thought to be quite good at counter-insurgency warfare.

Given the above, the decision to call in an air strike on Nawzad was unlikely to have been taken lightly. The proportionality ethos means that UK troops are only going to call in an air strike in a populated area as an absolute last resort when they feel themselves to be in grave danger.

The BBC report confirms as much:
UK commanders said they had been under constant attack for the past two weeks and the Taleban fighters were close to overrunning the base when the US air strike was called in.
If you are in any doubt as to whether UK troops have the resources available to do their job in Afghanistan, read that sentence again. After two weeks of constant attack on a fortified position, the UK military feared they were going to be overrun by the Taleban.

This wasn't a surprise attack which caught them on the hop, it wasn't a sneaky ambush, it was a sustained action. Why, over the course of the previous two weeks of constant attack, was the base not reinforced to ensure that it'd be secure? The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the reinforcements are just not available. The British military presence in Afghanistan is not able to fully defend the positions it takes up, never mind do all those other security and reconstruction projects they're supposed to be doing.

Whatever you think about the mission in Afghanistan (and please don't assume you know what I think because I'm leaving that for another day), it cannot be right to send our troops out there into the chaos of southern Afghanistan in such a circumstance. They are hopelessly exposed, concerned almost exclusively with force (ie their own) protection. What benefit can possibly be served by this?

And what of the results of the airstrikes? There's a video report of the aftermath of the bombings on the BBC report which is worth watching if you haven't seen it. The British military has said that there is no evidence of any civilian casualties as a result of the dropping of three 500lb bombs on a town centre. Clearly, unless they searched through all that rubble in the middle of a hot zone while no-one was looking, there's no way that they can know whether there's any evidence of civilian casualties or not. The military denial is a standard knee-jerk response, utterly meaningless.

You and I do not know whether someone's daughter, or grandfather, or best friend is buried under that rubble and we probably never will. If people have been killed, no memorials will be built, no respectful silence will be held. The deaths of those we claim to be helping are of curiously little interest to us; their lives are certainly nowhere near as important as those of British citizens and soldiers.

The truth is, we have two choices in Afghanistan; we can do it properly or not do it at all. Some sort of bodged up halfway house is just going to get more British soldiers and Afghan civilians killed. This bodge, of course, is a direct result of our government's decision to start a totally unrelated and unnecessary war in Iraq. And Tony tells us he supports the troops. It'd be laughable, except that people are dead.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Politics of Right and Wrong

I've just seen Buff being interviewed by John Sopel on BBC News 24. Rather amusingly, the BBC clearly lured him onto the programme to discuss Cameron's bodged decision on withdrawal from the EPP. Buff went through his little party political broadcast and to be fair to him, he had a point. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that Cameron's struggling to fulfil this promise to actually do something, particularly given how rarely the wonder boy actually makes a commitment to do anything at all.

But Sopel really wanted to discuss something else with Hoon. A paraphrased version (with added swearing):
Sopel: Moving on, could I ask you about another issue? Levy's been arrested. You guys must be crapping it?

Buff: The police are conducting a thorough investigation and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment at this time.

Sopel: That's understandable. I mean, you lot are clearly shitting bricks today. The PM's confidant, his chief fundraiser, his tennis partner no less, has been arrested on suspicion of a serious breach of the law. It couldn't get any worse, could it?

Buff: The police are conducting a thorough investigation and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment at this time.

Sopel: Fair enough. get legal advice before saying anything is my advice to you. On the wider point, the Labour party came to power promising to clean up politics and govern transparently. This government brought in laws which were promoted as being about making political party funding more transparent. Given that, do you think it was right for the Labour Party to accept secret loans to fund your 2005 election campaign?

Buff. We accept that there needs to be a change in the law. At the time the law was introduced, no-one spotted this problem, no-one complained.

Sopel: Yeah, very good, but could you answer my question. Was what the Labour Party did right?

Buff: We accept that there needs to be a change in the law. At the time the law was introduced, no-one spotted this problem, no-one complained.

Sopel: With respect, could you please answer my question. I'm asking why the Labour Party, the same party which claimed to be whiter than white and which claims to promote transparency, specifically rejected donations and prefered instead to be given secret loans. The only conclusion which can be drawn is that this was in order to stop their funding arrangements becoming available to the public and to the Lords Appointment Commission. Did your party behave improperly?

Buff: We accept that there needs to be a change in the law. At the time the law was introduced, no-one spotted this problem, no-one complained.

Sopel: You really are an arse, aren't you? I'm asking why did your party felt it was OK to exploit this "problem", you tit. At the very least, your own party has quite deliberately set out to circumvent the laws you yourselves set up. Now that you've been caught, do you have anything to say in your defence?

Buff: We accept that there needs to be a change in the law. At the time the law was introduced, no-one spotted this loophole, no-one...

Sopel: Oh for fucks sake. Get out of my studio, you odious little oik.
OK, I might have taken a little bit of liberty with Sopel's words. He did give Buff a good going over though. Buff's answers are a fairly accurate reflection of what he said.

And that seems to be the sum total of their defence of their own quite deliberate circumvention of their own rules. They did it because their wasn't a law to say they couldn't. They did it because the public didn't know that the party could get round the existing rules in this way.

And here was me thinking that human beings had this thing called a conscience and that they used this conscience to determine right from wrong. How stupid of me. What's right is actually much easier to define than that; it's what you can get away with. How wonderful to live in a society with such clear moral leadership...

At times, I really do feel like emmigrating away from this shit. But no, this is my country. It's these vile, hypocritical, self serving, morally vacuous, intellectually challenged arseholes who should be leaving, not us.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oh my! Arrested? Tony's chief fundraiser has been arrested for activities directly relating to the Prime Minister.

*Tries to contain himself*

Innocent until proven guilty and all that. But arrested? Oh my.


Brace yourself. Ready? OK.
Some MPs questioned the timing of the arrest, and the former home secretary, David Blunkett, last night urged investigators to be "thorough rather than theatrical".
Oh my.

If that's not the definitive example of projection bias, I'll eat my hat. And my hoodie. Someone get the man a therapist.

In fact, what's really needed is a Therapy Squad to tackle these psychological problems which blight much of our government. This squad would offer the chance of swift resolution to challenging problems where other means appear to have been exhausted. These behaviours ruin lives and fragment communities and we should be unremitting in our efforts to treat them and enforce a culture of good mental health and critical self-awareness, for the benefit of all.

A bit like this. (By the way, here's a little secret just between us. The Therapy Squad probably won't really be particularly useful. It'll generate some great headlines though...)

Slightly off topic but I'm curious about something else. The Guardian says that Levy had to provide fingerprints but these days, the police also routinely take a DNA sample from those they arrest and store it on a national database, essentially for ever. I wonder if they took the noble Lord's?

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The government has succeeded in forcing Craig Murray to remove the documents it doesn't want you to see from his website. Yay for freedom and open government!

There are quite a few mirrors of the documents out there so you an still read them. Here's a good one. And another. And another.

(And here's mine. I've yet to receive any complaints from Mr. Buttrill so I guess in my individual case, it's OK to leave them up. Number 9 still won't unload though, I'm afraid.)

Over at the Ministry of Truth, it appears that a workaround might be on the cards.

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The Law is For "Them"

Yet more fun at today's PMQs regarding our weapons of mass destruction programme (transcribed from the Beeb):
Jeremy Corbyn: Could the Prime Minister assure the House that the government is committed to the terms of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty which does require the five declared nuclear weapons states to engage in a process of long term disarmament and does he not accept that rearmament by any of the five declared nuclear weapons states reduces any moral clout we might have in encouraging other states not to develop their own nuclear weapons and thus make the world a more dangerous place?

PM: Actually, we have made considerable reductions both in our system and, I think actually, in the number of warheads as well. And, of course it is true that progressively over time, if we can negotiate the right terms of this, we want to see a reduction in nuclear capability worldwide but it has to be done by negotiation.
Say what you like about Blair, when it comes to avoiding the issue he truly is the master.

Here's another reminder as to our treaty obligation:
NNPT, 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.
We have an international obligation to pursue negotiations towards a treaty on "general and complete disarmament".

Compare that to what Blair says he is willing to negotiate towards "progressively over time"; he says his government is prepared to negotiate towards a "reduction in nuclear capability". That is clearly not the same thing.

This isn't splitting hairs. A commitment by the nuclear weapons states to work towards "general and complete disarmament" is one of the fundamental pillars of the NNPT. This trade off, the promise not to develop nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states set against the disarmament commitment of the nuclear states, is one of the key reasons why the NNPT has been ratified by over 150 non-nuclear states.

The record now shows that the Prime Minister of our country is not willing to commit to this international obligation to work towards complete disarmament (not even "progressively over time"). Perhaps he is right to reject this treaty obligation. I don't believe he is but I can certainly see that there are rational arguments in support of such a position.

In the Prime Minister's case, reading between the lines, he doesn't seem to believe that complete disarmament is a viable goal. I'm putting words into his mouth slightly (which I'll happily stop doing when he starts answering questions properly) but it seems clear that he believes, as many others do, that support for complete disarmament is foolishly naive.

If we are to adopt such a position, however, we must realise that it is a position which makes a mockery of our actual international obligations under the NNPT. If we are to so repudiate the treaty as unworkable or naive, we must accept that this fundamentally weakens both the NNPT itself and our country's ability to call on other nations to adhere to its proliferation provisions.

To upgrade our nuclear weapons capability at this time would be a very public confirmation of the UK's abandonment of the goal of disarmament in the post Cold War world. The consequences and implications of such a move will have a serious impact on our international standing, on our future foreign policies and on the global climate in which they operate. These implications must be considered as part of the decision as to whether to renew our WMD programme. They must not be swept under the carpet, misrepresented as a trivial matter of concern only to tree huggers and woolly headed peaceniks. To renew our own nuclear arsenal would have serious consequences all around the world. Pretending this isn't so is not the way to an informed debate.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Done Deals

The government says:
You have to think hard about the energy gap. The reality is, if we do nothing, the amount of energy we get from nuclear will decline from 20% to 6%.

"What you will see in the energy review is that there will be a big increase in renewable energy. There will be a big increase in energy efficiency moves and that will deliver more electricity, but that in itself will not be enough to make up the shortfall and therefore you do need nuclear.
George Monbiot says:
But perhaps the strongest argument against nuclear power is that we do not need it, even to reach the extraordinarily ambitious target that the science demands. With similar levels of investment in energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage, and the exploitation of the vast new offshore wind resources the government has now identified, we could cut our carbon emissions as swiftly and as effectively as any atomic power programme could.
That is the essence of the current argument. The government says we can't do without nuclear; George, along with many others, disagrees. Both positions can't be right and I'm obviously disinclined to take anything this government says on trust. They habitually claim that there is no alternative to the policies they advocate and it is almost always utter nonsense designed to stifle legitimate debate based on the facts.

So, can anyone direct me to the evidence, preferably from impartial sources rather than the nuclear lobby, which shows that the energy gap cannot be plugged unless we build a new generation of nuclear power stations? I've done some research and I'm not convinced. George appears to have done a lot more and he isn't either.

Will the government themselves be presenting credible evidence to support their assertion? I won't be holding my breath. It seems that they expect us to put aside their previous record and take them at their word. Are there enough people in the country still naive enough for such a strategy to work? It seems hugely unlikely. Perhaps democracy in the UK deteriorated to the point that the government just doesn't give a toss whether we believe them or not.

Clearly, the government's position is a reflection of Tony's "sincerely held belief" but is that really a legitimate basis for making a(nother) decision which will affect the UK for generations to come? It's not as if he's got a sterling record when it comes to his sincerely held beliefs.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The government has announced a new terrorist threat level warning system.

The levels are:
  1. Look at my face. Am I bovered?
  2. Slight unease
  3. Unease
  4. Spare trousers on standby.
  5. Violent death moments away.
Level 1 will never be used and is totally superfluous. Level 2 is also extremely unlikely ever to be used. Terrorist attacks are unpredictable. Think of the political implications should an attack occur when the government has us at level 1 or 2. I doubt very much we'll get below level 4 at any point during this parliament.

It's desperate stuff. Does it really need to be pointed out yet again that the terrorists are trying to frighten us and that the target government isn't supposed to help?

This, however, is very good indeed.

The government has also released its counter-terrorism strategy today. I've not had a chance to look at it yet so I'm going to print it out and read it properly before commenting on it. I'm even going to try to approach it with an open mind.

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