Saturday, December 30, 2006

Thanks for the memories.

Juan Cole fleshes out the details.

It seems clear that Saddam's farcical trial and subsequent execution were partly motivated by a desire to keep secret the details of U.S. government cooperation with the tyrant over the years.

On another note, when al-Maliki, Bush's "ally and friend", signed the death warrant, I wonder if he really thought through the implications of what was about to happen to the U.S. government's erstwhile ally. There are signs, after all, that Iraq's current Prime Minister is no longer the apple in the eye of the U.S. administration.

In another world, that'd be a facetious joke. But not in this one.
Right, I'm on the new Blogger at last. Hurray! There's no three column template option but I was thinking of tidying things up anyway so I'll be having a little fiddle with the new layout system over the next few days. Any feedback would be much appreciated.

Friday, December 29, 2006

There was an interesting piece on the state of Scottish blogging on the radio the other day. Thanks to Will for mentioning me.

Mr Eugenides has expanded on the issue as has Doctorvee. Interesting stuff from two quality bloggers.

Tim Montgomerie suggested that the Scottish elections will present an opportunity for Scottish bloggers to expand their readerships and that's probably true to an extent. It is worth remembering, however, that turnout at the last election was embarrassingly low; it looks very much as if Scots are not that interested in voting for our wee diddy parliament. It's something to bear in mind as the campaign season approaches.


The Suffering of Others

I recently asked a four year old if he knew where milk came from. "The supermarket" he told me. I couldn't disagree.

Like many Westerners (vegetarians, farmers and assorted others aside), I'm more than a little hypocritical when it comes to the food I eat. I'm probably too squeamish to kill an animal but I'll normally eat what's provided without really thinking much about how it got there.

But that handy "two for one" offer on chicken breasts at your supermarkets does come at a price. In truth, most members of western society are not best placed to question the morality of other cultures when it comes to the treatment of animals.

And yet, I see one particular criticism time and again. Here's one from a "harl" commenting on a post by Roy Hattersley on CiF.
Even, as I write this, thousands of sheep in Saudi Arabia are having their throats slit. SLOWLY, very slowly, as the religion dictates. I doubt very much the slaughters will feel a smidgen of empathy for the doomed animals. For this is Islam, and the suffering of others is to be enjoyed.
Perhaps "harl" is a vegan or something but I think it's more likely that s/he's a rabid Islamophobe. And, as I said, this sort of thing is pretty common.

Now, the whole idea of slitting an animal's throat and draining its blood, as required under Muslim tradition, is not something I want to think about. But is it morally worse than breeding chickens to be so fat that their legs can't support them? I doubt it. Cutting an animal's throat causes it to become unconscious quickly due to lack of blood to the brain; the animal suffers for only a short time. Broiler chickens, on the other hand, are miserable for the whole of their short lives.

We all know what they say about people in glass houses.

But the strangest thing about this relatively recent outburst of faux outrage over the process of Dhabiĥa is that so many of the Islamophobes are apparently unaware that the Jewish tradition requires almost exactly the same slaughtering process.

Please excuse me while I resort to a textbook manoeuvre:
Even, as I write this, thousands of sheep in Israel are having their throats slit. SLOWLY, very slowly, as the religion dictates. I doubt very much the slaughters will feel a smidgen of empathy for the doomed animals. For this is Judaism, and the suffering of others is to be enjoyed.
Yuck. A comment like that is clearly anti-Semitic and I doubt it'd last long on the boards of CiF before being removed. Harl's comment however, has been there since yesterday morning.

For all that free speech is hugely important, political discourse has always been conducted within certain boundaries of acceptability as defined by society. The above is a troubling illustration of the way that the standards of acceptability have changed with regard to the open display of Islamophobic views. The pros and cons of this could be debated in a reasonably healthy way if this change in standards applied across the board but it does not. It is criticisms of Muslims specifically which have become acceptable; there has not been a wider relaxation in attitudes towards aggressive criticisms of other cultures or communities. In fact, it can be argued (and many do) that the opposite has occurred. It's political correctness gone mad, I tell's you...

Not for Muslims though.

One further point. It should be noted that it is perfectly possible to object to this method of slaughtering animals without being Islamophobic or Anti-Semitic (or even hypocritical). But a consistently applied set of beliefs regarding the ethical treatment of animals is clearly not what is driving the current spate of criticism directed towards those who eat halal meats.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Seven Things

I've been tagged with the "7 best things" meme. Thanks. Sort of. And seven? This could be a stretch but I'll give it a go.

What are the seven best things you did this past year?
  • Attending the Green Gym. Despite the fact that Aberdeen and its surroundings are full of green spaces, I've always been a city boy. The Green Gym has helped teach me how to look at nature and the environment in a different light. Recommended.
  • Not stopped blogging. I'm notoriously easily distracted by the next thing but having blogged for this long, I think I'm in it for long haul.
  • Being included in this book. The whole self-deprecating thing can be tiresome but given the number of excellent bloggers out there, it sort of feels like my inclusion must have been because of a mistake somewhere along the line. But I'm certainly not complaining.
  • Not saying "Bah! Humbug!" as much as I normally do at this time of year. I'm a Christmas grump (nothing to do with my atheism but probably a bit to do with my antipathy towards modern consumer culture) but I'm working on it. For the kids, like.
  • Continuing my quest to randomly smile at people working in shops (and other public service industries) and generally attempting to treat them like human beings.
  • Spreading the idea that people should randomly smile at people working in shops (and other public service industries) and generally attempt to treat them like human beings. Give it a go.
  • Reading The Stranger by Camus. It's one of those books I've always meant to read and I finally got round to it this year. Well orth the time it took to read. Bush reportedly read it this summer and that, as much as anything, was the spur. It'd be very interesting to know what the man who said "One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures" made of it.
I know I'm supposed to pass this on to seven others but I'm not going to. It's not that I'm opposed to the spreading of memes; I'm just a natural grump. Bah! (but not Humbug!)


Thursday, December 21, 2006

I did intend to switch to the new Blogger ages ago but when I tried it, Blogger didn't let me. The option has been available for a while now so I'm going to do it today. Here's hoping it doesn't all go horribly wrong.


Unbelievable. The switch option has gone again. It was there yesterday. It's been there for at least a month. On the day I decide to use it, it's gone again. Bah. Hopefully, it's a temporary problem.

HRW - The ‘Hoax’ That Wasn’t: The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack
During the Israel-Hezbollah war, Israel was accused by Human Rights Watch and numerous local and international media outlets of attacking two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances in Qana on July 23, 2006. Following these accusations, some websites claimed that the attack on the ambulances ‘never happened’ and was a Hezbollah-orchestrated ‘hoax,’ a charge picked up by conservative commentators such as Oliver North. These claims attracted renewed attention when the Australian foreign minister stated that ‘it is beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax.’

In response, Human Rights Watch researchers carried out a more in-depth investigation of the Qana ambulance attacks. Our investigation involved detailed interviews with four of the six ambulance staff and the three wounded people in the ambulance, on-site visits to the Tibnine and Tyre Red Cross offices from which the ambulances originated to review their records and meet with supervisors, an examination of the ambulances that were struck, an on-site visit to the Qana site where the attack took place, and interviews with others such as international officials with the International Committee of the Red Cross who were involved in responding to the attack on the night it happened.

On the basis of this investigation, we conclude that the attack on the ambulances was not a hoax: Israeli forces attacked two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances that night in Qana, almost certainly with missiles fired from an Israeli drone flying overhead. The physical and testimonial evidence collected by Human Rights Watch disproves the allegations of a ‘hoax,’ made by persons who never visited Lebanon and had no opportunity to assess the evidence first-hand. Those claiming a hoax relied on faulty conjectures based on a limited number of photographs of one of the ambulances.
Full report here.



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Public Confidence

It is often claimed that turnout at British general elections has been in continuous decline for many years. That isn't actually a very good description of the facts . In 1959, turnout was 78.73%; in 1992 it was 77.72%. If that's a continuous decline, it's a very slow one. It was only in 2001 that turnout really plummeted (to 59.38%). A small rally back to 61.36% occurred in 2005 but the last two elections were notable for the unprecedented number of people who did not participate. The fall in turnout was a step change, not part of a smooth historic trend. It'd be easy to blame this exclusively on our great leader but other factors have obviously contributed to this decline in participation in our democracy.

This week and last, there's been a lot of talk about public cynicism of politics and politicians, mostly due to the continuing "cash for peerages" saga. There are those who are not shills for Blair who argue that the media are partly responsible for this increasing cynicism. Steve Richards in yesterday's Independent is one such person (via). He writes:
Do we want a healthy party-based democracy any longer in Britain? The bigger parties struggle for cash while smaller extreme parties flourish in local elections. Meanwhile, senior politicians are accused with casual complacency of being corrupt. No wonder the fanatics in the BNP and elsewhere rub their hands with glee. They must sense that their time has come.

Political leaders are partly culpable for the wildly uninformed cynicism that undermines democratic politics. As I have written many times, Tony Blair has made some colossal misjudgements as he sought to escape from the politics of the 1980s and lead a centreleft party with a doomed managerial pragmatism. But, boy, do we know about the errors. We hear about his culpability most hours of every day. The dangerously simplistic background assumption is that Blair and other wretched politicians alone undermine democracy. It is much more complicated than that.
In that, he's got a point.

There is a sense in which the way the media has covered politics in recent years has contributed to public cynicism. The increasing competition in the media and the need to find stories for 24 hour news channels have had an effect. Editors and journalists are constantly on the lookout for sensational scandals to the extent that they appear to be willing to create them out of almost nothing.

They do this, of course, because scandals sell. In a way, it's a reflection of the adage that people get the politicians they deserve. There is an issue here and it does need to be addressed.

But (of course there's a but), the main blame for the widespread cynicism of politicians in today's Britain must still be laid at the door of the current government.

Here's an example. Margaret Beckett was on the Today programme yesterday (Tuesday). John Humphries asked her about Carne Ross's evidence to the Butler inquiry. Ross told the Butler inquiry that:
At no time did HMG assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests.
Humphries asked Beckett if she agreed that "the effect of this is that what he is saying is that Mr Blair was lying". Beckett starts out by trying to belittle Carne Ross as is now standard practice. "I don't know how important he was.."

Well, he was important enough to have "read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of [his] posting".

The interview then descended into farce.
Beckett: Mr Ross' basic thesis is that in some way, there was an assertion that Saddam Hussain was a threat directly to the U.K. You and I are both speaking from memory now but I don't recall that argument being one that was used. It...

Humphries: Sorry, Tony Blair didn't tell us Saddam Hussain was a threat to the United Kingdom?

Beckett: Wait a minute, wait a minute. What was said throughout was that Saddam Hussain was a threat to his region and that he had the intention and the desire to be a threat much more widely...

Humphries: 45 minutes?

Beckett: John, you and I both know that was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance and perhaps people began to quickly think 'I'm not sure about that'. It was never used once in all the debates or questions in the House...

Humphries: It didn't need to be. It was on the public record.

Beckett: Oh come on. No-one thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was actually a big sweeping statement.
Just to remind you, The Sun headline was "BRITS 45 mins FROM DOOM - Cyprus within missile range". That link is well worth reading for a reminder of the way the government allowed friendly journalists to do their dirty work for them. Buff has admitted on the record that he always knew that those stories were exaggerated and Beckett now admits that the government were quickly unsure that the claim even had any basis in fact. And the government's defence for allowing the public (the less cynical ones anyway) to continue to believe that Brits were 45 minutes from doom is that "no-one thought it was relevant".

What can you possibly say to that? How could you possibly fail to be disgusted? The media can be blamed only in so far as they allowed themselves to be manipulated by a government which knew exactly what it was doing. The primary responsibility lies with the government and most people in the country know it. Many of those previously trusting people who believed that the government would not mislead them over something so serious feel badly let down and are far more cynical today as a result.

And yet the government refuses to accept that what they did was wrong. Blair refuses to do the decent thing as demanded by the long tradition of British democracy. When accountability is so visibly absent, is it any wonder that people are increasingly cynical of politicians? Yes, the media have played a part but this government stands head and shoulders above anyone else when it comes to damaging public confidence in the democratic process. As long as they continue to evade being held to account for misleading the British people on such a serious matter, any attempts at restoring confidence in British politics is doomed to failure.

And finally

Here are a couple or three points of order from Becket's dross.
Beckett: "I don't recall that argument being one that was used."

Blair makes the case for war in March '03
: "3 kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would contaminate a quarter of a square kilometre of a city. Millions of lethal doses are contained in one litre of Anthrax. 10,000 litres are unaccounted for.

11 September has changed the psychology of America. It should have changed the psychology of the world. Of course Iraq is not the only part of this threat. But it is the test of whether we treat the threat seriously.
If this House now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning, and that is what it means - what then?"
Ross said the assessment was that Iraq posed no threat to the U.K. or its interests. Sophistry aside, Blair deliberately presented Saddam as a threat to British interests.
Beckett: What was said throughout was that Saddam Hussain was a threat to his region.

Evidence given by Carne Ross: There was moreover no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours.
Even her new improved defence doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
Beckett: "It was never used once in all the debates or questions in the House."

Blair (in the House): The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes...
No doubt Beckett thinks she was being entirely honest because this was statement by the Prime Minister, not a debate or question. In reality, she's a mendacious, deceitful sophist who'll say anything at all to try to cloud the issue of her patron's dishonesty. No wonder Blair promoted her.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Last day of parliament? Serial killer stories still dominating the news? What better day could there be to sneak out a major announcement on changes to the proposed National Identity Register in a written statement?

Accountability is a dirty word to these people.

With the government determined to soldier on with this Orwellian register, the only question remaining is just how disastrously wrong their attempts to implement it will be. No strike that, it's actually fairly obvious; it's going to go very badly indeed. Unlike Orwell's authoritarians, this lot are also hopelessly incompetent a lot of the time. So it's not all bad.

See also NO2ID.

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Getting Real

Last week, I felt the need to take things easy and basically stay off the interwebs; I just needed a bit of a break. I should be back up to something like half speed this week and full speed in the new year.

There's plenty to talk about but I can't resist highlighting Martin Kettle's extraordinary defence of Blair from Saturday's Gran, not least because I'm certain that it reflects Blair's own justification for his behaviour. Most of this has been pointed out in the comments to the post already - I found the mostly calm way that Kettle's "arguments were systematically demolished to be source of optimism for the future - but I still feel the need to join in.

Kettle, you see, thinks the problem is with us, not Blair. If you've not read this, make sure you're not drinking anything before you continue.
The issues of the week exemplify what's wrong. Yes, it is embarrassing that a serving prime minister should be questioned in Downing Street as part of a criminal investigation into political donations. And yes, part of the issue lies in the way Blair leads his party and his government. But the fundamental failing is not his. As a country and culture we have not worked out an open and fair system of financing necessary political life in a rapidly changing world. We wish for the end, but persistently ignore the means. Yet with a general election to fight in 2005, the parties had to act. The rest of us can afford to hold our noses. The parties needed big money in the bank. In that sense, Blair is a victim of our collective failure, not the perpetrator of his own individual one.
I did warn you. Don't blame me if your monitor is now dripping with coffee.

I don't know exactly how close Kettle is to Blair, he does occasionally criticise our dear leader, but this could just as easily have been said by the man himself. "We have not worked out an open and fair system of financing necessary political life in a rapidly changing world." You can just about hear him say it. The "argument" could be picked apart - for example, Kettle's claim that the parties needed big money in the bank is clearly untrue - but the underlying principle is one of personal responsibility. Or rather the lack of it.

And it's an irony indeed that the Blair government, the one which said "we need to be clear that the breach of an Asbo is not the failure of the Asbo, but the failure of the individual to abide by its conditions" (hat tip - redpesto in a comment to a previous post), would consider such a defence of their own actions. When their systems fail, individuals are personally responsible. When they fail, society is to blame. The idea that a teenager who breeches an ASBO is a "victim of our collective failure" is no go area. Blair, however, the man who promised to be "purer than pure", is exclusively able to use such a defence after deliberately flouting the laws he himself introduced as part of his campaign to clean up politics. He alone is allowed to be "a victim of our collective failure". It is risible in the extreme.

Kettle also takes on the quashing of the investigation into BAE Systems and the House of Saud.
Yes, it is humiliating that a multi-million pound corruption investigation should be pulled in the interests of keeping onside with the Saudis. Lord Goldsmith's announcement that the rule of law at home has to be sacrificed to our failing foreign policy entanglements will haunt him - though he also says, and it can't be merely ignored, that he thinks a prosecution would fail. The whole saga underlines that close relations with the House of Saud come at a price - which others remain happy to pay - that is neither politically perverse nor materially trivial. Oil supplies matter. Middle Eastern peace, stability and security matter, even though, Lord knows, we get these things badly wrong. Defence contracts and jobs matter too. It is too easy to brush aside the complex web of practical issues as if they are of no account. Ministers do not have that luxury.
Kettle doesn't dwell on the fact that part of the price of support for the House of Saud is exactly that it played a large part in provoking the terrorist threat which we now apparently need their help to deal with. Bin Laden's main gripe has always been with the House of Saud; more than any other reason, it is U.S. and U.K. support for that corrupt regime which originally put us in the firing line.

Terrorists should not be allowed to dictate our foreign policy, of course. (That is, though, exactly what Blair has allowed to happen. It's called the war on terror.) We should not refuse to support the Saudis simply because bin Laden doesn't like them. The fact remains however that our support for this regime, a regime which routinely uses torture, a regime which imposes a strict religious code on its citizens (but not on the ruling family), a regime whose citizens cannot be said to be free in any meaningful way, destroys any credibility that the rhetoric of the "war" on terror might have had. Bin Laden is wrong about almost everything but when he calls our government hypocritical, he's right on the button.

Kettle does warn that "defence contracts and jobs matter". On that same issue, after the announcement, a Labour MP whose name I can't quite remember, toured the studios giving it plenty on the danger of risking British jobs over this and congratulating the government for taking the right decision. I call this the "gas chamber defence".
Boss: Good news Number Two! We've just been given a big contract to build shower chambers in detention centres. The factory won't have to close after all.

Number Two: That's great news!

Boss: It is. Have a look at these plans. There's going to be lots of work there. We might even need to take on more employees.

Number Two: Excellent... er, hang on. Why do they want gas pipes installed instead of water pipes?

Boss: What? Oh, I don't know.

Number Two: But Boss, these chambers look like they're for killing people, not cleaning them.

Boss: Look, this is about jobs. OK, these might not be shower chambers but if we don't take the contract, someone else will.

Number Two: But Boss, I'm not sure that this is right...

Boss: For goodness sake, pull yourself together man. Would you rather be unemployed? Would you rather the contract went to the French?

Number Two: No Boss.

Boss: Good man. Now, go see how many gas pipe fitters we've got on the payroll.
Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting a direct equivalence here. The point is that when it comes to ethical considerations, the defence that it keeps people in work is a poor one. And I think it's safe to say that there are ethical considerations when it comes to selling extremely powerful weapons to corrupt non-democratic regimes.

It may surprise you to know that I do have some understanding of the need for pragmatism in foreign policy matters (it'd certainly surprise Kettle if he knew I existed). As a student of International Relations, I spent some considerable time studying Realism, Machiavelli, Morgenthau and the like. It is sad but true to say that the underlying assumptions of realism, that nation states in an anarchic international system act aggressively and without ethics to defend what they perceive to be their national interest, remain valid to a large extent. It is less true in countries with a strong democratic tradition and post-war Europe demonstrates that there are other, less bloody ways for nations to interact. (This, by the way, is the reason why, despite its innumerable faults, I support our membership of the E.U. Those who do not may wish to consider what came before and ask themselves if it was better of worse.) Nevertheless, it would be naive to believe that Realism is not a defining feature of early 21st Century International Relations.

The question for democratic states then is, how do we react to this state of affairs? A complete abandonment of Realism is simply not possible. Given that hostile or potentially hostile countries still exist, it would be foolish to disband our armed forces completely and withdraw from mutual defence arrangements. If we did, sadly, there's a very real chance that another country would take advantage of that situation to promote their own national interest.

So what should we do? My own view is probably close to that held by Robin Cook when he talked of an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy. We should not abandon defence of the national interest but should act within ethical constraints to the greatest possible extent. Does that mean we shouldn't have any form of arms industry or military capability? No, it does not. Does it mean we need to be the world's fourth largest exporter of military equipment in order to maintain one of the largest arms industries in the world? No, it does not. Cosy euphemisms aside, the country we live in is one of the world's leading manufacturers of the machinery of death. This simply is not necessary.

While accepting that much of the interaction between nation states still operates under an anarchic system where power counts above all else, we should attempt to promote international frameworks, laws and cooperative agreements which seek to lessen this state of affairs. The rule of law, domestically and internationally, should be supported at every opportunity. And, as the title of this blog suggests, carrots, rewards for those nations who join us in this endeavour and who adhere to basic standards of care for their citizens, should be given precedence over sticks, not the other way round as is now the case. Political violence, war, should be discouraged as a means of pursuing policy goals except as an absolute last resort.

I accept that none of this is easy and there will always been difficult and controversial decisions to be made. For example, is it better to cooperate with China, despite the government's refusal to grant political freedoms to its citizens, in the hope that engagement will stimulate change? It's a tough call and there are many more just like it.

One thing is for certain though. If the approach I've described above is the one attempted by the Blair government, they have failed.

Kettle, unsurprisingly, did not mention the evidence given to the Butler Inquiry by Carne Ross which was also released on Thursday. That's the news the powers that be really don't want you to think about. By launching a war of choice based on a "determination to present available evidence in a different light", our government has given a new legitimacy to political violence as a means to pursue policy goals. The U.K. went to war out of choice, not as an absolute last resort; other governments cannot fail to have taken notice. And when these other government decide to start their own wars in "defence" of their own national interest, what legitimacy will our protests then have?

That will be the legacy of the Blair government. Rather than working to promote an international system in which cooperation between nations is rewarded and political violence is considered illegitimate in all but the most serious circumstances, the opposite has occurred. The system is now more anarchic, international laws and frameworks are less respected, and military power has been reinforced as the legitimate arbiter of disputes between nations. It is hard to imagine how this can possibly lead to anything other than a more unstable, violent world.

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I've not gone away. Writing something at the moment. Here's something worthwhile from Beau Bo D'Or while I finish it off. Class.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

News From Black Thursday

This week, for reasons I won't trouble you with, I've been getting my news almost exclusively from the Tellybox (I'm led to believe that this is still the way very many voters get their news). As such, I haven't heard much about this (apologies if this is all over the interwebs already). The timing, as always, has been exquisite.

On "Black Thursday", the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (now headed by the intensely loyal Mike Gapes) released evidence given to the Butler inquiry by Carne Ross, Britain's top Iraq man at the UN from late 1997 to mid-2002. The government has until now suppressed this evidence, threatening Mr Ross with charges under the Official Secrets Act if he went public. Now that it's been released on a suitably busy news day, the government no longer needs to fear that it'll be leaked on a quiet one. And Mr Ross still fears possible charges so he still isn't keen to talk to the media. What could have been a massive story, wasn't. It's all very professional.

Mr Ross' full evidence, given in June 2004, is available online via the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I've picked out a few quotations.
When I was briefed in London at the end of 1997 in preparation for my posting, I was told that we did not believe that Iraq had any significant WMD.

I read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of my posting.

[T]here was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material.

There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US.

I quizzed my colleagues in the FCO and MOD working on Iraq on several occasions about the threat assessment in the run-up to the war. None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light.
We've become used to hearing about the way this government manipulated the evidence to build a justification for a war of choice, it is difficult to avoid thinking that this is old news, but they have never been held to account for this extraordinarily disgraceful behaviour. They started a war based on a determination to present available evidence in a different light. They spun us into war. It doesn't get any worse.

Mr Ross also provided an insight into the attitude of Foreign Office as to the likely outcome of a policy of "regime change".
[W]e would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.
Got that? What is happening now is what the Foreign Office always thought would happen if the U.S. decided to remove Saddam.

I've thought about this a lot over the last four years. It seemed impossible to me that the people who worked at the Foreign Office would have misunderstood the situation as badly as they appeared too. For anyone who came in late, I've got a degree in International Relations so know a bit about the Foreign Office and the sort of people who work there. There are people there who've studied I.R. to a higher level than I did and who know a lot more about Iraq than I ever will.

And I've often wondered, how could these people have been so incompetent? How could they have failed to warn of the horrendous consequences of the action advocated by Bush and Blair? I've been pretty sure of the answer for a good while but this appears to be fairly solid proof: they did understand and they did issue warnings. Indeed, it was the policy of the Foreign Office staff working on Iraq to warn that the country would "collapse into chaos" if regime change was attempted by the U.S.

The problem was that Bush and Blair didn't want to hear it, didn't listen and were therefore totally unprepared for it when it happened.

What will Tony "who could possibly have predicted this ?" Blair say about that?

Not much if his spokesman is any guide.

These are two entirely separate failings. Engineering a war of choice is quite distinct from refusing to pay any heed to expert warnings on the outcome of that war. I guess different people will have different views as to which is worse. Either one, on its own, would have been more than enough to force a man of conscience to resign. Blair, on the other hand, is immediately moved to outraged indignation if anyone has the audacity to even begin to suggest that he bears any responsibility for either of these shameful actions.

And he still genuinely believes he has right on his side. That itself is another demonstration, as if one were needed, that he is not fit to be the Prime Minister of this country.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Normal service to be resumed shortly but in the meantime, it's all in the timing. It's a perfect day to bury news the government doesn't really want you to think about.

It is, you see, sometimes in the national interest to sell extremely powerful weapons to wealthy, corrupt, religious totalitarian, anti-democratic regimes. The pro-democracy rhetoric is all very pretty but it's emptiness is revealed in all its glory when our government quashes an investigation like this.

According to Goldsmith, Blair and Defence Secretary Des Browne (he really is, apparently) argued that carrying on the investigation would harm intelligence and diplomatic co-operation with Saudi Arabia, in turn damaging the UK's national security. In other words, when it comes to the national interest, the rule of law can go whistle.

Back in 1997, embarrassing though this is to admit, I thought that Labour might be a welcome change from the sleazy Tories. Now, older and possibly a tiny bit wiser, an Orwell quotation (this one surprisingly not from 1984) seems appropriate.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Wriggle

Apologies for the lack of blogging this week. I should be back up to speed by the weekend or the start of next week at the latest. In the meantime, here's a wee thought.

Did you know that an Aberdeen football team holds the record for the worst defeat in a British competitive football match? Bon Accord F.C. were beaten 36-0 by Arbroath in 1885. Ouch.

Can you imagine what the after-match press conference would have been like if Tony Blair had been the manager of Bon Accord?
Journalist: Well Tony, that was an absolute shambles. You chose 11 players who couldn't play football, a formation which didn't work and a goalkeeper who was scared of the ball. Do you feel any responsibility for this embarrassing defeat and will you resign?

Blair: No, I accept no responsibility for this. The principal reason we had this problem is because the other team deliberately tried to give us a problem.

Journalist: Well yes, but shouldn't you have expected that and planned accordingly? It's not like the other team attempting to beat you was a surpr...

Blair: Look, there's sometimes a sense in which, it's as if, if only we sort of had a different strategy, somehow we could have avoided this problem. This problem hasn't originated naturally. It's originated as a result of the other team deliberately trying to score more goals than us.
Perhaps Alan Pardew should have tried that one.

This could become the start of a sort of series.
Serial Killer Still at Large: Police "not to blame"

Police spokesman Tony Blair has said that the failure to catch a notorious serial killer was exclusively due to the killer's desire not to be caught. "We nearly caught him when we visited his house but he slipped out through the back door and is now in hiding" said Blair. "We didn't plan for the possibility that he might deliberately attempt to avoid us" he added.
Why not try this technique yourself next time your boss has a go at you? If it works for the Prime Minister, surely you can make it work for you too.

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Friday, December 08, 2006


Former hostages Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden have announced that they forgive their kidnappers. In a statement, they said:
We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us.
They have also made it clear that they oppose the imposition of the death penalty.

This is just the sort of naive, woolly-headed, wishy-washy liberal surrender monkeying which gives encouragement to extremists. If people like Kember were in charge, we'd never win the war on terror. I'll tell you this; if these scum had kidnapped me, I'd be only to happy to see them hang. In fact, I'd be there at the gallows to hear their necks break. Violence is the only language these vicious thugs understand.

No desire to punish them? Good grief! What is wrong with these people?

Meanwhile, in Iraq, tit-for-tat sectarian attacks continue to spiral out of control. I just don't understand it. If only Iraqis were able to forgive and forget and move on instead of being overcome with the need for revenge.

But these barbarians just don't seem capable of it! What is wrong with these people?

This post brought to you in association with Faux News - as fair and balanced as a dizzy storm cloud.

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The Tony and George Show.

Extraordinary stuff.

I had some thoughts and was going to post them here but it'd basically be a regurgitation of my comment on the Blairwatch post. In short, Blair is in deep denial. Hardy news but there you are. Sometimes, when he's at his most detached, it still needs to be said.


Doh! I forgot to include the link to the man. Well done Nick for asking the hard questions. Proper.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Liars and Their Lies

It is often claimed that Blair has absolutely no influence over Bush. Today, evidence suggests that this isn't quite true. Here's coverage of their press conference:
"It's bad in Iraq," Mr Bush conceded to reporters. But he said the violence was not a result of "faulty planning".

"It is a deliberate strategy. It is the direct result of outside extremists teaming up with internal extremists... to foment hatred and to throttle at birth the possibility of a non-sectarian democracy."
Now where have I heard that before? Ah yes. Blair has passed on to Bush his ridiculous "nothing to do with us" nonsense. He does have some influence after all.

The notion that none of this is the result of faulty planning or in any way down to Bush and Blair's ignorance of the likely consequences of the invasion is based on the claim that what is happening now couldn't have been predicted in advance. This is disingenuous in the extreme. No, I'll go further; it's a bare faced lie.

I can clearly remember hearing expert warnings that if the U.S. invaded Iraq, "outside extremists" would flock there and attempt to provoke instability. I'm not an expert myself but I knew it was going to happen and I could see that the "coalition" didn't really understand what that would entail and weren't prepared for it. That was one part of the reason why I opposed the war (there are many others). As for the sectarian violence, ask Secretary Baker why he wasn't in favour of removing Saddam back in 1991. These two factors, along with the well known unsuitability of U.S. troops when it comes to peacekeeping and nation building, meant that a disaster of the sort we're now witnessing was always the most likely outcome.

As I've pointed out before, Peter Oborne's documentary contained interviews with more than one expert on Iraq. Before the invasion, these academics warned Blair face to face of the enormous difficulties he should expect in the post-invasion period. Blair didn't listen.

Even Jack Straw, way back in March 2002, warned that "We have also to answer the big question - what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than on anything. Most of the assessments from the US have assumed regime change as a means of eliminating Iraq's WMD threat. But none [sic] has satisfactorily answered how that regime change is to be secured, and how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better."

For Bush and Blair to now claim that what is happening wasn't predictable is fatuous, self-serving crap. Only the most unscrupulously dishonest politician would even consider using this garbage as a defence of their indefensible actions. It isn't a surprise, therefore, that Bush and Blair have decided to do exactly that.

One final note about extremism. The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, recently told a Senate committee that:
The longer this goes on, the less controlled the violence is, the more the violence devolves down to the neighborhood level. The center disappears, and normal people acting not irrationally end up acting like extremists.
The coalition's failure to provide security since the invasion is causing normal people to behave like extremists. That's why the situation is deteriorating.

Blair and Bush once claimed that the invasion of Iraq was part of their strategy to defeat extremism. Now that the opposite is happened, as many people warned it would, they want to pretend that it has nothing to do with them. They really are beyond the pale.

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The other day, Guido wrote another of his self-congratulatory posts on the number of hits he gets. He asked why it was that blogs from the right were more popular then those from the left. As I was in a bit of a cheeky mood, I decided to have a little troll in the comments so I wrote that the reason was that:
Right-wingers are narrow minded bigots who never bother to read anything which might challenge their opinion.
As I said, it was trollish, and deliberately so.

I checked back a couple of hours later but no-one had responded. Then I forgot all about it. I remembered again today and had another look but still no-one had responded. How disappointing. Perhaps my admission that I was looking for a "shiny troll badge" gave the game away. Or perhaps I hit a nerve with some of Guido's regular comment swarm.

Anyway, it also occurred to me today that some of those from the right who's opinions I respect and who I know do regularly read views which challenge their own opinions might have seen that comment and thought that I was being serious about right leaning people generally. Just to be clear, I wasn't.

I do have some thoughts on the reasons why blogs like Guido's are popular and I may well write about it once I arrange these thoughts properly.

In the meantime, as Tim points out lower down the thread, it is worth remembering that the Scum is Britains best selling newspaper. If you were to argue that this is because of the quality and robustness of their political arguments, I'm afraid I'd have to point and laugh.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is this the best headline ever?

That's one really bad case of wind. She probably shouldn't have had the bean curry.

Thank you, thank you. You're a wonderful audience. Have you tried the Chicken in a Basket? Only £2.95 from the buffet bar. Lovely, it is, lovely. I'm here all week, ladies and gentleman. Did I tell you the one about the man who walked into a bar...


An Exit Route

I may feel the need to write something substantive about the Iraq Study Group's recommendations in due course but in the meantime, I noticed that the group places a lot of emphasis on the need to set out "milestones" for the Iraqi government.

And they claim not to be imperialists. Notice that they didn't offer to set metrestones. Hoist by their own petard, methinks.


The IGC was widely thought to be looking at exit strategies which would provide a sheen of respectability to the United States. A withdrawal which looked like abject failure on the part of the U.S. is what they most want to avoid (Democrats and Republicans). This plan to set milestones seems to be a key part of that effort.

In short, it looks very much like the exit strategy the ICG recommend is based on the idea that all blame for the failure of this misconceived misadventure should be borne by Iraqis. If adopted, we can expect those involved in this fiasco to start selling the message that "we set them milestones and they failed to achieve them" and "we gave them every chance but they didn't take it" and other variations on the same theme. In fact, some of the neo-cons who urged on the invasion without having the slightest understanding of what post-Saddam, U.S. occupied Iraq would be like, have already been giving this concept an airing. The ICG report prepares the way - after a suitable period of milestone setting - for those inside the Bush administration to start doing the same.

It's a deeply unpleasant business but it may well work to some extent.

That said, it is quite possible that Bush's messianic belief in the rightness of his cause will lead him to reject this sort of thinking. He really does believe that "good will triumph over evil" and there are signs that this makes him incapable of coming to terms with the reality of the situation. Given that the invasion of Iraq was supposed to be part of a war against religious fundamentalists, that possibility represents a particularly ugly irony.

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The SNP Are Terrorists!

The Politics of Smear and Fear

First up, I should admit that I've stolen (and adapted) the post title from Backing Blair. Specifically, it came from this post which explained how Blair uses fear of the Tories to bolster support for New Labour. This post was written before the 2005 general election .
[W]e'd like to point out that there are a number of parallels between the Tories and terrorists, in that Blair has been using our fear of both to stay in power and get away with all kinds of things the public would never tolerate without the presence of a serious boogey-man. Or two.
Indeed. Here are some campaign posters as a reminder of the sort of thing we're talking about.

I'm pretty sure I saw all four of these in my constituency (I'm absolutely sure about two). It's a Labour/Lib Dem marginal which the Tories were never going to win. They also constantly argued that if disillusioned Labour voters decided to vote Liberal Democrat, this would let the Tories in by the "back door". It was a fatuous claim but it undoubtedly influenced some people.

And in my own constituency, a Professor Matt Qvortrup appeared in the local media to warn Labour voters switching to the Lib Dems might allow the Tories to win the seat. This was clearly a nonsense as the Tories had been a distant third in the 2001 election. In Aberdeen South, the Lib Dems were quite correct to claim that only they or Labour could win the seat. (The actual election result proved the point.) One google later, I discovered that the professor had worked as policy advisor to both Jack Straw and David Blunkett. This wasn't mentioned in either of the articles in which he made his logic defying claim. When I emailed him to ask why he had made this bizarre assertion, he claimed that he had been misquoted. Twice. In two separate interviews with two separate newspapers. In exactly the same way.

I suppose that it is theoretically possible...

That's all in the past now but it is relevant to the forthcoming 2007 Scottish election campaign because we can expect more of the same. In this election, of course, it would be beyond the realms of credibility to use the Tories as the boogey-man so they're going to use the SNP instead. It is already happening; many of the speeches at the Scottish Labour Party conference specifically attacked the SNP. In fact, the conference seemed to be almost exclusively concerned with the apparent failings of the Nationalists. The SNP are doing well in the polls but there is no doubt that Labour have decided to deliberately emphasise the possibility that they could win in order to put the fear into disillusioned voters. "WARNING" posters similar to the one above but with the SNP as their target are probably already on their way to the printers.

And John "We hope we will leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid, never one to do things by halves, has even made an explicit link between the SNP and terrorism. He claimed that Scotland would be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack if it became independent. This from a supporter of Blair's policies! He really has got no scruples whatsoever. He must never be allowed to become Prime Minister.

The situation this time is slightly different to the general election, however. As I said, the SNP are doing well in the polls. Unlike the Tories at the general election, the SNP could conceivably win the largest number of seats in this election. This is a slight complication and could also make Labour's campaign more effective.

It was clear that the Tories weren't going to win in 2005; the opinion polls and the swing they actually needed to win a majority made it obviously impossible from a very early stage. Backing Blair, among others, were able to point this out and it did, to an extent, reduce the impact of Blair's nasty campaign. That approach isn't possible this time because the SNP might well win.

I'm not an SNP supporter myself, (to borrow from Shuggy, I'm not really interested in a polity based on ethnicity) so that does pose something of a problem. They have, however, been quite clever in their decision to offer a referendum on independence. That means that a vote for them cannot be taken as a mandate for independence, only a mandate for a referendum. The possibility exists to vote SNP and then vote against independence. For their point of view, it is a clever piece of decoupling and it's founded in a democratic approach too so that's all well and good.

What this means, at least for me, is that the possibly of campaigning against Labour and attempting to expose their dirty tricks during the election campaign is still very much on the table.

The question then is, why would I want Labour to be given another bloody nose given that Blair is intending to stand down around that time anyway. There are a number of reasons but one really stands out. The idea that Scottish Labour is separate from Blair doesn't cut it with me; ultimately, they are part of the Labour Party and Blair is their leader. And the Labour Party, north and south of the border, have decided to let Blair depart "with dignity" at the time of his own choosing. That is enough. Allowing Blair to maintain even a tiny sheen of dignity is not acceptable. The less dignified Blair's exit is, the better.

And I'm not just saying that out of spite. It is the interest of all of us to make sure that a man who has behaved in the way Blair has is not allowed to leave with dignity. What sort of message would that send to future leaders of this country? The message would be "he got away with it, I can too". And the first person who'll get that message is going to be either Gordon Brown or (if ever I wanted to call on the power of an omnipotent deity, it's now) John Reid. Neither of these men needs any encouragement to take liberties with our democracy. What they need is a hefty slap on the wrists before they've even started. A serious whipping at the Scottish elections, especially now that the New Labour machine has decided to become so involved in the campaign, is just what's required.

So, unless something extraordinarily unpredictable happens, I intend to campaign to make Blair's departure as miserable as possible. And that means campaigning against Labour in 2007.

I'd be interested to know whether other bloggers feel the same. Perhaps some sort of collaborative online campaign to counter the spin machine might be worth considering. Speak up in the comments or send me an email if you're interested (my email address is in the right sidebar). Not sure I'd be the best person to coordinate it mind; my organisational skills are legendary. And by that, I obviously mean that they don't actually exist.

By the way, there is is certain irony here and I'm not unaware of it. On the one hand, I'm complaining about negative campaigning but on the other, I'm saying I want to campaign against Blair. There are differences though. Firstly, Blair and his cronies are actually in power. We don't need to guess what they'd be like. We know. Campaigning to end that seems entirely sensible to me.

Perhaps more importantly, what really irks me about Blair and his spinners is that they are knowingly dishonest. For example, they knew full well that the Tories wouldn't win the 2005 election. That election was always about the size of their majority. They also knew that Labour voters switching to the Lib Dems couldn't actually let the Tories in "by the back door". But that didn't stop them from making those claims. Democracy should be about honesty if it is about anything but Blair doesn't understand that. Again, it seems entirely sensible to protest against this state of affairs.

And finally, the sort of campaign I have in mind would not be based on untruths, dirty tricks and deliberately misleading statements. I think that makes a world of difference.

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At PMQs today, answering a question from David Cameron, Blair said:
It has always been my view that it was in the British interest to remove Saddam Hussein.
It's not the first time he's said this sort of thing. We know that even the ever so flexible Lord Goldsmith was unequivocal in saying that a policy based on regime change would be illegal. As the Downing Street memo recorded "the Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action". So, how do we get him prosecuted? Seriously?

Also, in answer to a puff question on Iraq from Ann Clywd, no longer the chairman of the parliamentary party, he said:
It's is important, as she rightly implies, to emphasise that the people that we are fighting are al-Qaeda linked up with Sunni extremists, Iranian backed elements linking up with Shiite militias. Those are the self-same forces that we are fighting in Agfhanistan...
Iranian elements fighting for the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan? That is just utterly ridiculous. Does he not understand this or does he not care what fatuous drivel he speaks in defence of his failing policies? I'm not sure which would be worse and it may well be that both are true. He said many other equally ridiculous things; this just happened to be one which stood out.

Anyway, he's off to get his new orders now from a man who, impossible though this may appear, is even more clueless as to the realities of the situation. The idea that these two men are capable of turning things around, even supposing that the situation was not already irretrievable, flies in the face of all the evidence of the last four years. Blair has been a key advocate for the introduction of performance targets in the public sector. The Head of a failing school doesn't have long to sort things out before they're out on their ear. If Blair had applied that principle to his own position... but of course he never would.

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Clutching at Straws - Part 2

I overlooked one aspect of Bush's meeting with al-Hakim, the leader of the SCIRI, in my previous post. It concerns the reason for the meeting. It is very difficult to think like George and his cabal and this part of it is so bizarre that my brain simply wasn't able to accommodate it properly at first.

Anyway, one of the reasons for the meeting was actually explicitly laid out by Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, in a memo which was subsequently leaked. The quotation from that memo which the media focused on concerned Hadley's doubts about al-Maliki.
The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.
This quotation seems to have dominated coverage of the memo to the exclusion of its wider implications as Chris Weigant at the Huffington Post does an excellent job of pointing out. They really don't have the faintest idea what they're doing.

There are two quotations from the memo relevant to Bush's meeting with al-Hakim. The first in the section titled "Augmenting Maliki’s Political and Security Capabilities", says this:
[We should] Actively support Maliki in helping him develop an alternative political base. We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki’s new political bloc.
The thinking is that al-Maliki's room for manoeuvre is extremely limited because he is dependent on Shiite factions with mostly sectarian concerns. On that at least, they are correct.

The second relevant quotation, in the "Moving Ahead" section, says:
If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base [we should] Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki.
The meeting then, was partly about persuading the "moderate" al-Hakim to align himself more closely with al-Maliki so that the Iraqi PM is freed from the constraints imposed by his sectarian Shiite political base.

You can perhaps see why this didn't fully register when I wrote the previous post. The Bush administration wants to free al-Maliki of constraints imposed by his sectarian Shiite supporters by making him more reliant on al-Hakim, the leader of the Iranian backed, intensely sectarian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Normally at this stage, it'd be time to dig up satire's corpse for another bloody killing. Unfortunately, satire's corpse has recently developed an addiction to cocaine and it doesn't seem right to kill it again when it's in such a state. Fortunately, President Bush has a plan to reduce its dependence on the insidious nose sherbet. He's going to give it free crack.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bob Gates, the man chosen to replace Rumsfeld and pretty much certain to be confirmed, may have a highly dubious past but at least he's not completely barking.

At this stage, I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.

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Clutching at Straws

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), visited the Whitehouse yesterday to attend a meeting with President Bush. The President told al-Hakim that "the US supports his work... to unify the country". Good grief.

Is Bush going to invite al-Sadr too? In actual fact, that might be more useful (except that he would refuse to meet the President). Al-Sadr is far more open to dialogue with Sunni groups than al-Hakim is ever likely to be. He often calls for calm and reconciliation. He hates the occupying forces far more than he hates Sunnis and he has attempted to work with them to achieve peace in order to bring an end to the occupation. He's also an Iraqi nationalist and believes strongly in preserving a unified Iraq (he opposes federalism, unlike the SCIRI). It is true that his Mahdi army participates in revenge attacks but that appears to be mostly due to its relatively loose structure. The Mahdi Army formed after the invasion on a sort of ad-hoc basis. Al-Sadr undoubtedly has firm control of members of the militia in his close vicinity and a degree of control over the rest but he's probably unable to stop reprisals when emotions are running high after an attack.

The armed wing of the SCIRI, the Badr Organisation, is rather different. Set up by the Iranians and based there for two decades, it's a proper organisation with well established command and control structures. It's members have been well trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Unsurprisingly, it still has close ties with the Iranian regime. In fact, the SCIRI is by far the most Iran friendly of all the parties in Iraq today. It is highly likely that they are still receiving support of one form or another from the Iranians. They are not Iranian puppets but they are very close allies.

The SCIRI is also the faction which was accused of running death squads from the Interior Ministry when they had control there. Their Badr Organisation have long since thoroughly infiltrated Iraq's security forces and they are certainly still running death squads today. They are also almost certainly responsible for abducting and torturing Sunnis. This is a very deliberate policy designed to intimidate Sunnis into submission. It's a doomed policy unless they are prepared to be as brutally efficient in this task as Saddam was before them (mostly in the opposite direction in Saddam's case, of course). Unfortunately, they may very well be.

In a speech he gave after the meeting, al-Hakim explained his solution to Iraq's troubles.
The only way to stave off civil war in Iraq is for U.S. forces to strike harder against Sunni-led insurgents, a leading Shi'ite politician said on Monday after talks with President George W. Bush.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the biggest party in Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government, put the onus on Washington and its allies to take tougher action in Iraq, and denied that majority Shi'ites were stoking sectarian violence.
Tougher action against the Sunnis? Who could have predicted...

For the SCIRI, reconciliation with the Sunnis is not on the agenda. Al-Hakim, although he might not say it openly, believes that the only way to solve Iraq's security problems is to win the nascent civil war. His organisation is not yet powerful enough to do that on its own. He has, however, got a cunning plan. What he needs is a large powerful army, preferably one led by someone who doesn't really understand the situation, to act as his proxy and crush the Sunnis once and for all. Fortunately for him, there's just such an army very close at hand. It's hard to tell whether Bush and his advisers will see this.

And what is President Bush doing inviting this man to the Whitehouse anyway? At first, I wondered whether he didn't understand quite who he was dealing with. On reflection, it seems more likely that he wants al-Hakim to take a message to the Iranians. If so, he chose the right guy.

I'm all for dialogue but it seems hugely unlikely that anything useful will come from engaging Iran on this issue. I don't believe they are stoking the violence as some do but do believe they're quite happy to see their great enemy bogged down in Iraq. What does Bush expect from the Iranians? If the recent comments of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are anything to go by, they will insist on U.S. troop withdrawn as a prerequisite before they will consider helping to quell the violence. That's going to be a very short conversation.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Ha ha!

Quack, limp, quack, limp, quack...

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We Are Committed to Self-Serving Hypocrisy

Blair is about to make a statement on his desire to see Britain replace it's ageing weapons of mass destruction. He won't use those words of course; he'll call it our "independent nuclear deterrent".

Of the three words he'll use to describe the system, only one is unproblematic. I think we can all agree that we're talking about "nuclear" weapons.

But it is unclear who is supposed to be deterred by these weapons. As for the system's "independence", the claim is laughably inaccurate. It is independent in the same way that Blair's foreign policy is independent from that of President Bush.

In truth, "weapons of mass destruction" is a far more accurate and uncontroversial description of what we're talking about.

So, should we replace our ageing weapons of mass destruction?

I've already seen some or other Blairite drone essentially argue that replacement of Trident was a manifesto commitment and that the public had therefore endorsed it at the general election. This is just the sort of standard dishonest tactic this government seems to revel in. Despite the fact that very many people clearly voted Labour for the simple reason that they didn't want the Tories to win, a sentiment amplified and exploited by Blair's spin machine to the extent that it was the central theme of their campaign, it is now argued that all these people read, agreed with and wholeheartedly endorsed every single word of the manifesto. We can expect more of this fallacious nonsense over the next three months.

What the manifesto actually said was this:
We are also committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent and we will continue to work, both bilaterally and through the UN, to urge states not yet party to non-proliferation treaties, notably the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, to join. (PDF, page 88)
As as a commitment to replace Trident, this is a triumph of ambiguity.

I'm reminded of the manifesto commitment on ID Cards:
We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.
On first reading, this appears to say that people can "volunteer" to have an ID card when they renew their passports. We now know that that was never the intention. And we also know that the government steamrollered the Lords into backing down on opposing ID Cards because of this "clear" manifesto commitment.

Be in no doubt that these commitments were deliberately written in this ambiguous fashion. I'm not well informed about the exact process used to write the manifesto but it obviously has very little to do with democracy. As far as I'm aware, ordinary Labour Party members have essentially no say as to what it contains.

The commitment on nuclear weapons is, however, unambiguously hypocritical. Article VI of the NNPT formally commits the nuclear armed states to "pursue negotiations in good faith... on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". Making an express commitment to retain nuclear weapons with no mention of any desire to attempt to achieve disarmament is a clear, indeed material breech of the treaty. In the same sentence, the manifesto then goes on to emphasise the importance of the very treaty it so blatantly flouts. You can't even see the moral high ground from that position, never mind occupy it.

There are those who say that nuclear weapons are a Pandora's Box, that they will always be with us, and that this makes the disarmament provisions of Article VI undesirable and unworkable. This, in itself, is a perfectly credible position to adopt and one I respect.

If that is to be the basis of policy however, it is important to face its full implications. If we are to abandon our obligation to work towards "complete disarmament," then the NNPT is a dead duck. As we would have no intention of abiding by Article VI, we'd either have to withdraw from the NNPT or the treaty itself would have to be renegotiated or scrapped. Given the difficulties that such negotiations would provoke, it is far more likely that it would have to be scrapped.

More concretely, adopting this position would mean telling the 180 or so non-nuclear signatories to the NNPT that we do not believe that non-proliferation is achievable and that we will not disarm. The likely effect of this message doesn't need to be spelled out.

The government doesn't want to deal with any of this or even talk about it. They want to have their cake and eat it. This simply isn't a credible position. As I've said before, President Ahmadinejad is wrong about many things but when he calls our government hypocritical over their attitude to the NNPT, he is entirely correct.

The world today is very different from the Cold War era of Mutually Assured Destruction. The decision as to whether to replace Trident is a complex one and there are good arguments on both sides. A full public debate on this very important issue, including the full implications of deciding to replace, is surely essential in a democratic country.

But we're not going to get that. What we're going to get is a three months sales pitch for a pre-determined policy. Like the patter of a particularly unscrupulous used car salesman, it'll be dishonest, evasive, well practised rubbish. No real conversation will take place.

And what's the rush? Partly, it's because of pressure from BAE Systems.
Speaking to the parliamentary defence committee yesterday, Murray Easton, head of the submarine division at BAE Systems, warned that a delay could have a "catastrophic" impact on the industry.
My hear bleeds. BAE Systems are not even going to make £1 billion profit this year. That's clearly only one small step from catastrophe. Give them a grant, quick sharp...

OK, I'm being facetious but only because I'm resisting a rant on the insidious relationships between government and "defence contractors". In fact, BAE Systems base their claim on the fact that delay would mean that crucial expertise was lost. Given the fact that replacement is predicated on the fact that nuclear technologies, once invented, can't be lost, it isn't a very good argument. Is someone going to shoot these experts if these contracts are not awarded? (Yes, facetious again.)

The other reason for the rush is, of course, Blair's desire to secure his legacy. And I suppose it's fitting in a way. On the one hand, he'll be remembered as the PM who supported a war which could accurately be described as catastrophic over weapons of mass destruction which didn't exist. On the other, he'll be remembered as the PM whose decision to replace our ageing weapons of mass destruction hammered the final radioactive nail into the NNPT's coffin. This seems to be an entirely suitable legacy for a man of Blair's talents.

It is, however, unfortunate that the rest of us with have to live in the world where that legacy exists.

Right, I'm off to see what he's got to say about all this.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Go minimalist!

In a leaked memo written just before he got the boot, Rumsfeld recommended that the Bush regime recasts U.S. goals for Iraq. "Go minimalist" were the actual words he used.

I think it's a euphemism for "shit, we lost".

Here's the memo in full from the New York Times.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

In Britain today, "Celebrity News" magazines seem to have become even more prevalent than sexually transmitted disease (if such a thing is possible). The rash of such magazines now available is enough to make your brain itch in a most unpleasant fashion.

I don't see inside these things often but I was flicking through one the other day at a friend's house. The "Spotted this Week" section was mystifying.
A person you've never heard of spotted in Waitrose. Another person whose name might be vaguely familiar was seen eating food in a restaurant. Pete Doherty spotted looking spotty. Some or other ex-Hollyoaks actor was in a nightclub trying to chat up every woman within a ten mile radius. Pete Doherty spotty in court...
There was more than half a page of this and it was written in really quite small print and small print is a rarity in these mags if the one I had was anything to go by. Is this some sort of celebration of existentialism or something? I just don't get it.

But the bit that baffled me most was even more bizarre. On the top of a page was the headline "Everything You Need to Know About Tom and Katie's Wedding!". There then followed three full pages of who on earth knows what. Extraordinary.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

At the Labour Party conference this year, Martin Bright discussed Labour's "loans" with Lord Levy.
What did he make of the general point I made in the programme: that the loans from wealthy party supporters were not intended as loans, but were to be converted into donations?

He gripped my arm like a long-lost friend and said, by way of answer: "Only some of them."
Loan on "commercial terms" are not normally given on the understanding that the lender will quietly donate the borrowed sum to the borrower at some later date in order to cancel the debt. If anyone knows of any commercial lender who would be willing to offer a loan on these terms, I would be most grateful if you would email me their contact details. In the meantime, I'll continue my experiments into methods of turning Swiss cheese into gold.

It's all unravelling now though. Now, some of the lenders are demanding their money back and Labour are desperately trying to reschedule the repayment of the loans due to acute cash flow problems. What a mess they've got themselves into. It's almost as if they never expected to have to pay back these loans...

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