Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's Side Are You On?

The actions of this terrorist have turned the spotlight on liberals, libertarians and all those others opposed to the ever expanding power of the state. It is time for them to make a choice.

Will they renounce their dangerous opposition to ID Cards and the National Database? Will they publicly support the rapid expansion of the government's entirely secure DNA database? Will they wholeheartedly and sincerely endorse the government's national children's database? (And will they also support the perfectly sensible exclusion for the children of the people who made it compulsory for everyone else's children to be included?)

Will they renounce the ridiculous idea that there could be any legitimate reason to oppose the government's expansion of its ability to monitor its subjects in ever greater detail? And will they acknowledge that there are absolutely no legitimate grievances against the actions of the government.

At this crucial moment, it is to be hoped that these liberals will finally accept what all civilised people have always known; the government always knows best.

But I fear that many will not. A large number will continue to actively justify and support the actions of despicable terrorists. They will embrace violence rather than rejecting it. Many, brainwashed by the extremist philosophies of John Stuart Mill, will refuse to accept that their so called grievances are based on a dangerous, discredited and out-dated belief system. They will refuse to acknowledge the utter lack of credibility of their "arguments", despite the fact that their facile nature has been proved beyond doubt by these vicious letter bomb attacks. It is impossible to see how refusal to accept this can be anything other than a wilful denial of reality fuelled by an unthinking hatred of the government.

These apologists should know this; you're either with us or against us in the fight against terror! Anyone who refuses to actively combat this dangerous ideology will be held accountable for their inactivity.

Well liberals, what's it to be?

And remember, the government will know which side you choose to take. They always know...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The "P" Word

I sometimes wonder whether it's a good idea to use the word "propaganda" as often as I do. The worry is that it can sound too strident and that that can have the effect of damaging the credibility of my arguments. The "establishment" (for want of a better word) has long been keen to frame critics as barking extremists as a handy way of avoiding having to directly argue their case. The way that opposition to the replacement of the UK's nuclear weapons delivery system was portrayed is a perfect example of this. Accusing dissenters of "playing fast and loose with the defence of the nation" is apparently enough to discredit any and all of their arguments.

So I worry that the use of the word "propaganda" by myself and by others with similar views helps those who want the barking mentalist tag to stick. But then I watch Fox News, that marvel of the free market media, and these worries tend to disappear. Here's an example of their attitude towards Iran (via). One of the two interviewers is apparently a Democrat strategist. See if you can spot which one it is.

Not easy, is it? The answer, if you're interested, is Kirsten Powers.

To move on to the content of the piece, I could pick it apart bit by bit but there was one stand out moment which I'll focus on. This gem on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme came from Michael Ledeen:
And remember, they've sworn to use it against Israel as soon as they get it.
He really did say that. Watch it if you don't believe me.

Given that the Iranians consistently deny that they are even developing nuclear weapons, it seems a bit odd that they would have sworn to use weapons they don't have and claim not to have any interest in acquiring. Whatever you might think of the meaning of Ahmadinejad's infamous statement*, the suggestion that the Iranian regime has sworn to use nuclear weapons against Israel at the first opportunity is simply ridiculous.

And how did fearless truth seeking Mr Hannity respond to Ledeen's nonsensical claim?
Paxman, he is not.

Now, I'm all for free speech. Free speech is great. But there's a word for the dissemination of misleading or simply untrue information in order to further a political agenda. What is it again? Starts with a P...

* Here is the context of the infamous speech via MEMRI, an organisation not known for its sympathetic coverage of Muslims:
"'When the dear Imam [Khomeini] said that [the Shah's] regime must go, and that we demand a world without dependent governments, many people who claimed to have political and other knowledge [asked], 'Is it possible [that the Shah’s regime can be toppled]?'

"'That day, when Imam [Khomeini] began his movement, all the powers supported [the Shah's] corrupt regime… and said it was not possible. However, our nation stood firm, and by now we have, for 27 years, been living without a government dependent on America. Imam [Khomeni] said: 'The rule of the East [U.S.S.R.] and of the West [U.S.] should be ended.' But the weak people who saw only the tiny world near them did not believe it.

"'Nobody believed that we would one day witness the collapse of the Eastern Imperialism [i.e. the U.S.S.R], and said it was an iron regime. But in our short lifetime we have witnessed how this regime collapsed in such a way that we must look for it in libraries, and we can find no literature about it.

"'Imam [Khomeini] said that Saddam [Hussein] must go, and that he would be humiliated in a way that was unprecedented. And what do you see today? A man who, 10 years ago, spoke as proudly as if he would live for eternity is today chained by the feet, and is now being tried in his own country...

"'Imam [Khomeini] said: 'This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.' This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise.
Ahmadinejad is undoubtedly vehemently opposed to the existence of the state of Israel in its current form. The often overlooked point is that he was talking about bringing about the end of the "regime", not about physically wiping a country of the map.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tim is back blogging about the Alisher Usmanov incident at a new temporary home (via). Spread the word.

Ahmadinejad Is Not My Type

President Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University probably didn't go quite as well as he'd hoped. His claim that "we don't have homosexuals" in Iran was greeted first with howls of incredulous laughter and then with boos. You can listen here (via).

Farsi is apparently a notoriously difficult language to translate clearly into English but in this case, it seems likely that the translation did reflect Ahmadinejad's meaning. As I understand it, Iranian theocrats believe that it is wrong to treat homosexuality as a specific sexual orientation, They believe that to be an unholy Western concept and not one they wish to adopt. They do acknowledge that individual homosexual acts happen but consider these acts to be expressions of a curable affliction. Essentially Ahmadinejad believes that there are no homosexuals in Iran, only people who have committed homosexual acts and must be cured or punished as a consequence.

Treating homosexuality as a curable affliction is certainly not an exclusively Middle Eastern phenomenon. A quick google highlights a drug which claims to be "the most widely prescribed anti-effeminate medication in the United States, helping 16 million Americans who suffer from Behavioural Effeminate and Male Homosexuality Disorder". 16 million? That's a whole lot of repressed homosexuality.

The Iranian government's attitude, however, cannot glibly be compared to the situation in the United States. Read the story of Maryam, an Iranian lesbian, if you're even slightly tempted to make the comparison. After six months of "treatment" failed to "cure" her, she was told by a psychologist that "if you don’t change your sexuality and you continue unlawful acts, your future will be a death sentence." Note that "change your sexuality" refers to pressure Maryam was under to agree to a sex change operation, a transformation she had absolutely no desire to go through.

For those who want to avoid another bloody war, there is a temptation to downplay the intolerant attitudes of the Iranian regime. With parts of the US government clearly looking to manufacture public support for military action against Iran (using the Iraq debacle as their model), any criticisms of the Iranian regime can seem to lend support to the bomber brigade's desire for war.

It would be a mistake to minimise criticism of the Iranian regime for this reason.

For a start, it would allow the war advocates to claim that those who oppose military action fully endorse the Iranian regime. Everyone who has ever been called a supporter of Saddam, and that will probably include just about everyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq, will know what I mean. It's a straw man but one which refuses to go away.

Let me put it plainly. I do not support the Iranian theocratic government. It has undoubtedly been the subject of a disinformation campaign in recent times (the discredited yellow badges for Jews story exemplifies this) and these lies and distortions should be challenged but that does not make the Iranian regime a wonder of sweetness and light. It isn't.

The major fault in the argument for military action is that it would not actually help to improve the situation. If ever there was a case study which proved the point, Iraq is it. Homosexuals in the new "free" Iraq are now being hunted down by Shiite militias. In a bloody irony, these militias and the associated political parties - who dominate much of Iraq as a result of the "liberation"- share many beliefs with the Iranian regime. The actual result of military action in Iraq has been so far from the stated aims that a whole conspiracy theory has built up which maintains that disorder was always the goal. This is nonsense, the Bush administration did not mean to project American powerlessness, boost Iranian influence or get the US military bogged down in Iraq for years on end, but you can see why its difficult for people to accept that they could misjudge the situation so horrendously.

The result of military action against Iran would be complex and difficult to predict fully but some things are certain. Iranians, like Americans, are mostly proud nationalists and any attack on their country by the US or Israel would provoke increased loyalty towards their government and hostility towards the attackers. It would entrench the power of the mullahs and radicalise a new generation of Iranians. The long term effects could be dire indeed.

It is also certain that those who advocate military action don't have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of such an act.

You don't have to love Ahmadinejad to be opposed to military action against Iran and criticism of the Iranian regime is not a de facto expression of support for military action. There are other ways to achieve goals than through war.

Finally, for anyone who might consider referencing a certain other conflict from the 20th Century in support of military action against Iran, here's a link to possibly one of my favourite blog posts of all time.


Sam has pointed out that the drug linked above was a hoax. My googling was too quick on this occasion and I forgot to engage my brain in the process. Apologies.

The basic point I was making, that there are organisations in the US who believe that homosexuality can be cured, remains valid, despite my blushes. I'll take this opportunity to add that some of my religious relatives here in Scotland would agree. Both sides of my family have deep roots in the Open Brethren who tend to be rather strict in their interpretation of the bible. There was no doubt what "strange flesh" meant in our church.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Justin has updated his now famous post to include an interim statement from Tim Ireland and Clive Summerfield:
We’d like to thank you all for your support and let you all know just what the hell has been going on, but we beg your patience as we continue with the practical measures required before we can fully and confidently speak our minds about this matter.

Our immediate priority is the restoration of the websites involved; this has been greatly complicated by the sudden closure of the entire account (as opposed to, say, the suspension or closure of the two websites directly involved in the Usmanov dispute). This total - and totally unexpected - withdrawal of service requires us to restore many websites with differing individual circumstances and formats. The removal of email used for the majority of these accounts has also further complicated matters, as the most immediate form of communication between many of the parties involved is no longer available.

Bob Piper is already back on deck, and we expect Boris Johnson’s weblog to be up and running shortly. Special arrangements are being made for Craig Murray as we speak.

A full statement is likely to follow the restoration of Bloggerheads and/or The UK Today, as it is at one of these websites that we would wish to host a full statement and manage the expected response.
The list of bloggers writing about the lovely Mr Usmanov has grown to well over 200 and Interweb searches for Alisher Usmanov are now far more interesting. This blog, along with everyone else's on the list I suspect, has been visited by a Schillings representative via Justin's post.

Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the Schillings boardroom meeting this morning?
  1. Assessing negative impact outcomes and their effects on the business
  2. Conference call with representatives of very rich Uzbek client
  3. Team building exercise: group wailing and gnashing of teeth
  4. Coffee and biscuits (for those not feeling too sick to eat)

Heh! Top stuff.

"How do you feel sir?" "Better..." "Better?" Better get a bucket..."

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Bloggerheads is down and here's the explanation. Also affected are Craig Murray and the blogs of Bob Piper, Boris Johnson and The UK Today.

To mark this moment, here's a little competition. Complete the following sentence in ten words or less.*
Alisher Usmanov is...
* Please note that the correct answer is "a very nice man". Any other answers will be immediately deleted.


Justin's post has been added to substantially. Over 100 bloggers have already responded to Usmanov's actions and the list is growing. There's lots of good stuff there. Mr Eugenides repeatedly hits the nail on the head and RickB is well worth reading. I also particularly liked The Spine's blog protecting T-shirt.

Our Values

There are many people who believe that the stated priority given to promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East is just so much hot air designed to obfuscate the real motivations behind British foreign policy.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the British government's involvement and support for the BAE deal to sell 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Saudi government. This billion pound arrangement to sell highly sophisticated military aircraft to a regime which is corrupt, non-democratic, staunchly authoritarian, a serial abuser of human rights and a regular practitioner of torture cannot be explained by reference to the rhetoric of the "war" on terror. It can only be explained through the prism of narrow national interest considerations coupled with an admission that the promotion of democracy is not the dominant foreign policy influence claimed by the rhetoric.

There are those who will quite happily agree with this assessment and argue that it is nevertheless right to support this deal precisely because governments should pursue their narrow national interest above all other considerations. I don't have any complaint about that; disagreement yes, but no complaint. There is an entirely separate argument to be had as to the best way to promote the national interest. I'd argue that this deal is likely to be damaging to the national interest, particularly in the longer term,. I'd further argue that decisions taken in pursuit of the national interest are often based on a narrow short term views and are often harmful in the longer term (politicians generally don't do long term very well).

I do have a complaint when the government insists that it is absolutely committed to promoting democracy and opposing oppressive regimes and refuses to accept that selling powerful military equipment to a regime like the House of Saud flatly contradicts that assertion. The result is that the entire premise of the foreign policy debate as framed by the government is built on a myth. This is not only starkly hypocritical but it also effectively negates the ability of the people to meaningful debate foreign policy with the government.

It is, ironically, entirely undemocratic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Check this out. Here's yet another leftie harping on about the Iraq war being all about oil. These people are like two year old children when it comes to understanding economics and the free market. Oh wait...

The King of Spin

Sometimes Iain Dale almost writes these posts himself.

Yesterday, he attacked an article by Sunny Hundal on Comment is Free. In the article, Sunny argues that then BBC is increasingly bending to the will of the vocal rightwing internet lobby which seeks to undermine its credibility.

Rather than tackling the wider point, I want to focus on one part of Iain's post. It is this:
But now we come to the most idiotic part of Sunny's article, for in this next paragraph he actually admits that there IS a liberal bias within the BBC, which surely undermines everything which precedes it.
Now, to my main point. For many of us on the liberal left, the BBC is a useful if somewhat increasingly dumbed-down antidote to the hard-right propaganda of most of the press. It keeps us vaguely sane, so we support it.
Quite a revealing admission, wouldn't you say?
This is quite revealing but not in the way Iain imagines.

If you read the entirety of Sunny's article, it is obvious what he actually means. As I explained in the comments to Iain's post, what was meant was that the BBC has been an impartial and credible antidote to the rightwing output of much of the media (septicisle also makes the same point but better). Sunny fears that this impartiality and credibility will be lost if something is not done to counter the pressure applied on the BBC by the rightwing press and the internet lobby. Iain has, either deliberately or unintentionally, misrepresented what Sunny wrote. He certainly didn't contradict the entire thrust of his article by admitting that the BBC has the sort of bias Iain claims it has.

No-one else took up the challenge but Iain himself decided to defend his position.
I have not deliberately misrepresented him at all. I can only go on what he wrote and interpret it. You and I may have different ways of interpreting what he wrote, but that does not mean I am deliberately misrepresenting him. I know Sunny and like Sunny, but I was suprised at the weak arguments he put forward in this rather ranting article.
I say defend...

Iain's "defence" is that there are different interpretations of what Sunny wrote and his is as valid as mine. Apparently, Iain does not accept that there is actually a true and accurate understanding of Sunny's meaning, merely interpretations of what he wrote. That explains why he has no interest in trying to get to the truth of the matter.

In an age when those on the right continually attack the supposed relativism of the left, I find this quite amusing. There is no spoon.


I see that the links to individual comments on Iain's blog are not working again. You'll have to scroll if you want to see them.

Update 2

Thanks to Tim for pointing out that it is possible to link to individual comments on Iain'a blog. Links adapted accordingly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There is no Spoon

The immediate reaction of Muslims around the world to the attacks of September 11th 2001 has been through the revisionist grinder in fairly major way. There's a growing perception that there were mass celebrations on the streets of the Muslim world in response to these attacks.

I thought take the time to highlight the fact that this is complete nonsense with the help of this handy link from the American Academy of Religion. I'd recommend that you take a moment to read the linked page.

Some of the 1 million Palestinian students who participated in a five minute silence in remembrance of the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Some facts
  • Every Palestinian organisation condemned the attacks.
  • The US Consul General in Jerusalem received a huge stack of faxes from Palestinians and Palestinian organizations expressing condolences, grief and solidarity and was pained to see that the media chose to focus on the sensational images of a few Palestinians rejoicing.
  • Students and professors in East Jerusalem donated blood for the American victims who need it.
  • In Iran, Tehran's main soccer stadium observed an unprecedented minute's silence in sympathy with the victims.
These facts do not fit the narrative of the "clash of civilisations" and are slowly disappearing down the memory hole. The US and UK governments have a particular vested interest in having their populations forget how much goodwill their "war" on terror policies have squandered.

Personally, I'd prefer it if our governments had to formulate, debate and assess the effectiveness of their policies based on the facts rather than on fictional Hollywood style narratives.

Monday, September 17, 2007

They Hate Our Freedoms

See here for details.

There's an obvious parallel here. In the United States, there is a large section of the political right which has managed to detach itself completely from reality. Michael Ledeen is a case in point. This group employs a number of techniques to spread their fatuous propaganda and have had considerable success. Deliberate attempts to muddy the waters of accepted facts are not uncommon.

Most notably, they ferociously attack the "liberal media" whenever it dares to challenge their "facts" or any part of their fantastic belief systems. Blogging has become one of the key tools used to mobilise their credulous base to apply pressure when necessary. This is blogging not as an enabler of two-way communication but as a platform for propaganda. Any attempts to challenge or even discuss the "holy orthodoxies" in the comment sections of these blogs will either be ignored or met with a horde of mockery and abuse. In this way, they are generally able to avoid having to acknowledge or correct factual errors and evade participating in any serious discussion about their beliefs.

By using these techniques, this group have moved the goalposts to such an extent that much of the media in the US now feels in must provide "balance" by reporting their bizarre beliefs as if they were credible.

In the UK, Dale, Staines and Biased BBC are attempting to adopt a similar model and the BBC is their primary target. Unity explains why here:
The reason that the political right have such an issue with the BBC is not that the BBC is markedly biased against them so much as, in defining the middle ground in news journalism - not what is neutral but what is reasonable - it provides a clear benchmark against which the biases of other news outlets can be readily assessed and evaluated by the general public.
The existence of the BBC as a respected news source means that people like Michael Ledeen have no credibility in this country when they claim that Iraqn was responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks.

For most people, that can only be a good thing.


Bush Announces American Withdrawal From Reality. Heh!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Wibble-Based Community

Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at Bush administration's favourite think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has just released a book. It's called "The Iranian Time Bomb".

I've not read it and have no intention of lining the man's pockets by buying a copy but I have read this review in the NYT (via a post well worth reading in full by Barnet Rubin). Here's the paragraph which particularly caught my eye:
“The Iranian Time Bomb” has its strengths. On the topic of Iran’s repression of women and ethnic minorities, for instance, it is genuinely moving. But Ledeen’s effort to lay virtually every attack by Muslims against Americans at Tehran’s feet takes him into rather bizarre territory. He says the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania “were in large part Iranian operations,” which would come as news to the 9/11 Commission, which attributed them solely to Al Qaeda. He says Shiite Iran was largely behind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man famous for his genocidal hatred of Shiites. He claims that “most” Iraqi insurgents are “under Iranian guidance and/or control,” not just Shiite warlords like Moktada al-Sadr, but Sunni militants as well — the very people who say they are fighting to prevent Iranian domination. In Ledeen’s view, in fact, Sunni-Shiite conflict — the very thing that most observers think is tearing Iraq apart — is largely a mirage, because Iran controls both sides. And Al Qaeda is a mirage too, a mere front for the regime in Tehran. “When you hear ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Ledeen writes, “it’s probably wise to think ‘Iran.’ ” Not surprisingly, he thinks the mullahs were probably behind 9/11.
Just in case there's any doubt, Ledeen is not a member of the reality-based community.

But he's also not just some guy. He is, as I said, a resident scholar at the Bush administration's favourite think tank. The "think" in think tank is apparently a euphemism for "We are tremendously sexually stimulated by the enormous gun on the front of a lovely big" in this case.

(Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ledeen is also a member of Benador Associates, the agency which brought us Amir Taheri of yellow badges for Jews in Iran fame.)

Ledeen's desperate attempts to tie Iran to the attacks of September 11th might be more than just propaganda. Similarly, the Bush administration's plan to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation may have a deeper significance.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress passed a joint resolution on the Authorisation for Use of Military Force. It is obvious to anyone with the slightest attachment to reality that this resolution absolutely does not authorise the President to use military force against Iran without Congressional approval. For the Bush administration on the other hand, well, you wouldn't be surprised, would you?
Get out or die.

Still, I'm sure the militias mean get out or die after the Prime Minister's trilateral ministerial review to consider the options has presented recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage, surely the militias realise that it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Am I dreaming?

I've been pinching myself repeatedly since last night but I've still not woken up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In other news, Lep Zeppelin are reforming for a one-off concert.

Turn it up! You know you want to.

If they can still perform like that, it might even be worth the £125 for a ticket.

The Credulous Conservative

Yesterday, Tim Mongomerie of ConservativeHome fame gave his opinion on "the surge" in a post on Comment is Free. It is an astonishing piece in many ways.

Here is just one point which was picked up by myself and several other CiFers. Mongomerie, referring to General Patraeus's testimony, wrote this:
He presented independently verified data that showed a significant reduction in fatalities - particularly in Baghdad.
Independently verified data? Really? I must have missed that.

What link does Tim use to substantiate this claim? A link to an NGO perhaps? No, it's a link to the slides produced by the Pentagon to accompany the general's statement. Not hugely independent then.

Perhaps this independent verification refers to something Patraeus said in his testimony which I missed. I checked. What Patraeus actually said (pdf) was this:
Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.
It is well known that there are significant rivalries between the various sections of the US national security apparatus but they do all ultimately work for the same government. To suggest that three arms of that apparatus backing each others claims has anything to do with independent verification would clearly be absurd.

Furthermore, these intelligence agencies stand accused of fixing the intelligence and facts around a predetermined policy to enable this war in the first place. This was made clear to the British government way back in July 2002. Forgive me if I don't automatically assume that the statements of these agencies are god given gospel. (This may be a cliché but it is a cliché because it is true.)

After years of fatuous US government pronouncements on the situation in Iraq, pronouncement which have proved to be facile time and time again, only the most credulous individual would continue to take these claims at face value. When it comes to Iraq, healthy scepticism of the US government's proclamations is not an optional extra but an essential component of any attempt to get to the truth of the matter.

But not, apparently, for Mr Montgomerie. He's clearly not an idiot and I'm pretty sure he's not writing satire so what is he doing? The only answer I can come up with is that he's propagating and propagandising statements which he himself knows not to be true. For the greater good, you understand...
Follow the link for a one minute video which says it all.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Trust me, I'm a General

So General Patraeus has made his long awaited report to Congress.

As John Bolton rightly said on BBC radio today (there's a phrase I never thought I'd type), the general appeared before Congress in a smart military uniform with four stars on his shoulders and lots of bright shiny medals on his chest. Apparently, this gives his words a credibility and authority with the American public which critics of the Iraq war can never hope to challenge.

Judging by these poll numbers (pdf), Bolton may have a point. Asked "who would you say you trust the most with successfully resolving the war in Iraq -- the Bush Administration, Congress, or U.S. military commanders in Iraq?", 68% opted for the men in uniform compared to 21% for Congress and only 5% for the Bush administration. Well, who hasn't got a thing for uniforms?

The Bush administration have sought to exploit this sentiment for all its worth by continually claiming that they base their Iraq strategies on the recommendations of the men in uniform. Their critics, on the other hand, clearly hate the brave defenders of freedom and their lovely outfits and are desperate for them all to be shot in the head or at least fail miserably...

This isn't the truth of course, Rumsfeld in particular refused to listen to anyone who disagreed with him, nice uniform or not, and seemed to make up strategies as he went along based on pies in the sky delivered by half-baked neo-conservative think tanks, but you can certainly see why they keep on hammering away with the line. The troops are providing cover for more than just their fellow soldiers (not an exclusively American phenomenon by any means).

The irony is that Patraeus does understand how difficult the situation is, unlike
"sweets and flowers" Wolfowitz, "last throes" Cheney or any of the previous body count military men who failed so miserably. Patraeus genuinely does seem to understand that traditional military methods will not work, that winning the support of the local population is crucial and he even understands some of what that entails. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if Patraeus had been listened too from the start, and I mean from at least a year before the invasion, there's a chance that the last four and a half years could have been very different.

Now, I'm afraid, it's too late. The surge is, by definition, a temporary measure and the insurgents and militias know that just as well as everyone else. In the period of lawlessness which has existed in Iraq since the invasion, they've had a taste of the power they could wield and although they may be lying relatively low at the moment, they have not gone away. Unless the US intends to keep 150,000+ troops in Iraq permanently, and that is clearly ridiculous, the debate on whether a timetable would encourage "the enemy" is entirely spurious. Even in the best case scenario, it will take years before the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi "unity" government, both heavily beset by sectarian tensions, will be capable of controlling Iraq. Timetable or not, most of the US soldiers will have to leave Iraq long before then. That's just a fact, one which the Bush administration seems determined not to acknowledge.

As to the general's assessment of the success of the surge, it is questionable to put in mildly. That's not to question his integrity exactly. The fact is that he's a general at war and if he was really telling the unadulterated truth, it'd be a first for any general in any war ever. His job is not to tell the whole truth but to present the situation in a way which best suits the military and political imperatives. His assessment is nothing like as outlandish as comical Ali's claims of victory as US troops rolled into Baghdad but its certainly not the unvarnished truth. And, for all that Patraeus claimed not to be acting as a mouthpiece for the Whitehouse, that's part of his job too. At the end of the day, his orders come from President Bush.

Still, he was wearing a very impressive uniform.

And then there's the timing. General Patraeus reported to Congress on September 10th. On September 12th, the Whitehouse will release its report on the way forward and on the 13th, Bush will go on TV to address the American people. In between times, there's the small matter of an anniversary to be commemorated. For those who accept that the invasion of Iraq was merely enabled by those horrible terrorist attacks rather than having any real connection to it, that's a disgusting exploitation of a tragic event. But with "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" timing like this, it's unsurprising that not everyone feels the same way. Earlier this month, US pollsters asked "do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks...?" 33% of Americans answered yes (from the polls linked above).

Given all of that, and the Democrats inability to come up with anything even faintly resembling an alternative plan, Bush will probably get what he wants yet again and may well manage to hold out until the end of his term. That way, he can blame his successor for the catastrophic failure of his Iraq policies. Because nothing is ever the fault of Bush and his acolytes.

In the meantime, the imaginary game of Iraqi political football will continue. It is rumoured that the score is 655,000 - 0* but that is strongly disputed by those who claim not to have been keeping score themselves.

* That's Iraqi civilians deaths as a result of the US invasion compared to US civilian deaths as a result of Iraqi military activity against the United States.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dan Hardie has organised a speaker event in parliament on the 9th October.

I won't be able to make it but hopefully my MP will. There'll be TV crews...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's all in the Timing

Yesterday, British troops withdrew from Basra city. The pathetic spinning which accompanied it would have been amusing but for the tens of thousands of deaths it attempts to cover up. It is clear that the heavier the incoming political fire, the more the cheerleaders for the war take cover behind "our boys" in Iraq. How very brave...

As the British troops' main mission now appears to be to act as target practice for Shia militias, the withdrawal from Basra city is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

One cause for concern, however, is the safety of locally employed staff who have been working for British forces. In one of those curious coincidences, I received a follow up reply from my MP this morning on the issue of asylum for Iraqis at risk because of their association with British troops. He had passed on my concerns to the Home Office back in July. Here's the reply he was sent (dated 29th August):
Thank you for your letter to Liam Byrne of 25th July on behalf of Garry Smith of.... I have been asked to reply.

Mr Smith asks us to grant asylum in the United Kingdom to locally engaged staff who have helped the British Forces in Iraq.

We are extremely grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously. We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of locally employed staff. We keep all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide. The total number of Iraqis who have worked for us since 2003 with a claim to assistance could be at least 15,000. We therefore need to consider the options carefully in this genuinely complex area.

The Prime Minister has commissioned a trilateral Ministerial review to consider the options. The Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are the members of the review group, which will present recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations. I hope this reassures yo that we are taking seriously the issues that have been raised surrounding locally employed staff working for the UK in Iraq.
They say that the secret of good comedy is timing and again, this would be funny if it wasn't about people having holes drilled in their skulls.

Is it not absolutely unequivocally clear that this review needed to be completed and Ministerial decisions made before the British withdrawal from Basra city? Not for our government apparently. Perhaps that's why Des Browne's figure of around 20,000 Iraqis who may need assistance has now fallen to 15,000. A few more weeks, especially now that the troops are not inside Basra, and that may have fallen to even more manageable numbers.

If you are able not to think about the fact that we're talking about people who could be saved being abandoned by our government to be tortured to death, it all seems perfectly reasonable.

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