Thursday, April 29, 2004
Say something positive

Giscard D'Estaing appeared on British radio today and warned that the United Kingdom could be sidelined in Europe, if the referendum result rejected the European Constitution. D'Estaing speculated that the rejection of the European Constitution would propel integrationist elements on the Continent to pool sovereignty and create an avant-garde.

In the past, we have heard that such an integrationist drive would be constructed either within or without the present European structures. As Norman Davies, a long-standing historian of Eastern Europe has noted, the new Member States are likely to strengthen the 'Europe de patries' and undermine the suprastate that the Constitution was designed to construct:

Nonetheless, whatever the strains, the new entrants are certain to strengthen the concept of De Gaulle's "Europe des patries" as opposed to a centralised super-state. They are interested in making the Union more effective, more democratic and perhaps more federal. But they are not going to tolerate any diminution of their national identities. They have fought too hard and too long in defence of those identities to let them slip now. British people are proud of the way in which we fought in two world wars to preserve our way of life. But we are only dimly aware of the far more testing ordeals that central and eastern Europeans have faced from the likes of fascism, communism and many other tyrannies.

The old obstacles appear to be far less relevant after Blair's decision. Zapatero, at a recent meeting with Schroeder, signalled Spain's acceptance of the European Constitution in the 'European interest'. Poland has also acquiesced and withdrawn from a 'Thatcher' moment. The document will probably be finalised by June, agreed, and presented to the electorates.

Even when faced with huge obstacles, the politicians appear to have lost the flexibility required to adapt to their electorates' demand. In an age of diverse choices, they still view Europe as 'all or nothing' and present this on a platter to their voters. If they are unable to adapt the constitution in order to increase its chances of success, placing ideological purity above common sense, then their project is doomed to fail. If failure ensures Britain's withdrawal, then all to the good.

(23.25, 29th April 2004)
Monday, April 26, 2004
Scratching My Head in Disbelief

The temptation to write about Blair's momentous decision as it happened, with all its confusing twists and turns, was very strong. The lure of the pint proved even stronger. The delay was probably for the best since it is easier to separate political crowing from some grains of truth.

The first myth that has arisen is Blair's cave-in to public pressure for a referendum, as orchestrated by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. This exaggerates their role and fundamentally ignores Blair's belief that he will do what is right, no matter what the public thinks. Nor is there a sufficient number of rebels on the backbenches to cause a bill on the Constitution more than a rough ride. Tuition fees are of more concern to Old Labour than a piece of paper they do not understand.

We can never know what passed through Blair's mind when he made this decision until memoirs and papers pass into the public domain years from now. There are some signposts that do clarify the choice of the referendum and what it says about the current state of this administration. We know that Blair had not made a firm moral or political decision on the European Constitution or the Euro, unlike the war in Iraq.

The issue of Europe has always been subordinated to domestic political concerns, a stance that ties Blair in with the historical relationship between the British political class and the European Union. More recent events cannot have endeared the European Union to Blair, since the Member States and integrating institutions, actively worked to undermine his attempts to internationalise the war effort before the Iraqi invasion. The war and its outcome may have predisposed Blair to reevaluate Britain's role in Europe with a more sceptical eye.

The political context within which Blair made this decision was his weakened reputation within the Labour party and his tendency to make policy through cabals. This was utilised by (we are told) Brown and Straw to persuade Blair that a referendum was the best method of defusing the political uncertainties surrounding the Constitution. Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail today pointed out parallels with the similar backroom decision decided by Thatcher, to join the Exchange rate mechanism, that only signposted her weakness and eventual downfall. Blair has found that his own cabinet divided over this decision. It has opened up European divisions that have gradually emerged over the last few years, as integration has run apace.

The referendum was not chosen to give the British people a say but as a tool to accentuate the divisions within Cabinet and increase the influence of a particular faction, whose members include Brown and Straw. Blair holds the ring in these battles and may have decided, whilst under political pressure, to give in and at the same time, cut the feet out from under Chirac. Perhaps the simplest of motives, revenge, explains this strange and spontaneous choice.

(23.09, 26th April 2004)
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Not So Hot

One of the recent reports, issued by the British National Space Centre, concentrated upon the private-sector expolitation of space industries in the United Kingdom. They surveyed 222 companies, in order to provide a snapshot of these activities.

An article in the Grauniad represented the report as 'positive news', with increasing profits, turnover and employment. However, the report distinguished between "upstream" and "downstream" activities, which correspond to throwing things up into orbit (satellite manufacturing) as opposed to relying upon things already up there (telecommunications).

The British space industry is a service industry that is bolstered by niche manuafacturing, continuing the tradition of craft industries in this hi-tech era. However, these do not contribute to Britain's military or commercial exploitation of the high frontier. This counts as a strategic weakness.

(20.01, 25th April 2004)
Friday, April 23, 2004

Chills the Blood

One of the mysteries of the age is why are liberals, those soft fluffy people who want to free terrorists and think that shooting burglars is wrong, worship at the altar of the EU? Here's another example of the EU's less than liberal attitudes. Just read it, but ten hours in custody without a lawyer? Strewth.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Will Russia join OPEC?

The Russian Federation is undergoing a strong period of flux as the state security apparatus (known as the siloviki) tightens its grip on the 'managed democracy' and domesticates the oligarchs. Russian economic growth is based on primary commodities, oil and gas, with some estimates stating that this amounts to a fifth of the economy.

A recent article in the Moscow Times shows that the Russian state is waking up to the power that oil can give, especially in the aftermath of the Iraqi war. Geopolitically, Russia is looking to become a swing state for energy prices, similar to the role that Saudi Arabia play snow within OPEC. In order to maintain stability in the oil market, a rapprochament is taking place between the third Rome and the cartel.

But what is emerging as a sort of "Putin Doctrine" doesn't stop there. It seems to envision Russia as the pivot around which the global oil market revolves, the power broker that can tip the balance between OPEC and the United States. And it seems to call for the rapid international expansion of patriotic companies -- both state-owned and private, energy and nonenergy.

This has had implications for the emerging Russian oil majors that now work for Putin, directing their infrastructure projects and investments:

Many analysts expect OPEC to come under increasing pressure over the next few years as instability in the Middle East grows and individual members such as Venezuela and Nigeria are pressured into leaving.

So, by reducing export growth, Russia could help the cartel survive, said Alfa Bank chief strategist Chris Weafer, a former adviser to OPEC who retains close ties to the organization.

What's more, Weafer said, by deliberately slowing down exports over the next few years, "the entire Arab world will see Russia as a significant ally and Russia's political influence in the Arab world will increase."

With huge resources, Russia is attempting to maximise its influence in commodity markets, especially energy. With our declining resources of oil and gas, the United Kingdom may be prudent in seeking non-OPEC sources of energy, alongside the United States. Their rival (and possible future partner?) in this endeavour is China.

The rest of Europe will be heavily dependent on the Middle East and Russia. Alleviation of their plight will come through furthering economic ties with the Russian sphere of influence and the Arab states. Energy security is one concern pushing Europe and the United States apart. Indeed, France, with its nuclear power stations may have more freedom to manoevre than its continental counterparts - a counter argument to those who accuse it of Arabist appeasement.

(20.19, 20th April 2004)
Saturday, April 17, 2004
Reinforcement or Withdrawal

This may be the options that currently face military planners on the troublesome Iraqi 'police action', but the title refers to the choices that former Labour members struggle with. Foreign policy is now potentially shaping British politics for the first time in many years. Whilst American pundits avidly note their scorecards on the minutiae of the campaign and fisk their opponents on the historical inaccuracies of their comparisons (Vietnam, WW2, etc. etc.), these have little bearing on the debate here. If a comparison with an earlier period is to be made, then surely the Spanish Civil War is the most fitting example.

With an implacable foe, the Left was faced with the challenge of active support or withdrawal in the battle against fascism. The same discourse is now used by both sides of the Left who support or oppose the war: their actions and reactions are governed by the thirties and its echoes in 1940, 1956, 1968 and 1980.

Labour's membership has declined in the past year and can be attributed, in part, to the identification of the government with the war. Polling may have shown that public support has been higher than the demonstrations indicated, but the campaign has been opposed far more consistently from the Left. The flotsam and jetsam to the left of Labour that undergo their cyclical reconstitutions and splits has recognised this disillusionment as a possible opening to political recognition and greater support. After all, it is galling for the hard left that their years of campaigning have been overtaken by the BNP who pulled the dirty trick of saying what some people are thinking.

The opportunity has been pursued by the Respect coalition, using the local infrastructure of the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Voters, disengaging from Labour have a choice of passing their voice further left or damning all those who seek power and staying out of the ballot box. A quick survey of Respect's local infrastructure, as listed on their website, does not provide the impression that they can mount a nationside challenge.

Most areas have meetings, newsletters and protests. However, campaigning appears to be more active in the North and the Midlands rather than the South, although the quietest areas are the East Midlands and the North East. It is concentrated on established areas of socialist activity and existing Muslim communities: the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands. This may actually play to the strengths of the movement. The BNP achieved a breakout and national recognition through local campaigns. Respect could possibly do the same due to the combination of socialist and Muslim activism.

It is not possible to predict if such a breakout will occur in some localities until the European and local electiosn have taken place. Then, a year into the war, arguments of its effects on British politics and voting patterns will include concrete evidence, especially as protest votes will be magnified. But, on present evidence, Respect does not have the power or the infrastructure to mount a significant national challenge to Labour from the Left.

(23.53, Saturday, 17th April 2004)
Friday, April 16, 2004

Blair Assumes the Usual Position

For once the Guardian gets it right "Sharon's triumph is Blair's defeat".
"Yeah sure Tony, as the price for your support we'll help those Palestinian (and Israeli Labour Party) people. Just a sec there, I've got Pat Robertson on the other phone, gotta cut you off."
And so it goes.

Disclaimer: Please don't assume that I care about the Palestinians or think that Blair should have (now defunding NORAID would have been a far better prize). It's just that we're supposed to have this great influence but when the chips are down, so are we.
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Will Europe take the Truce?

Osama (you know, the one we haven't captured or killed) seems to have offered a truce to the Europeans if the troops get off the soil:

In a recording broadcast on Arab satellite networks Thursday, a man who identified himself as Osama bin Laden offered a “truce” to European countries that withdraw from Muslims countries. The CIA said a preliminary analysis of the recording indicates the voice is "likely" that of the fugitive al-Qaida leader.

Now this seems to finally shoot the fox of those who argue that the main Islamicists are just random nutters who would target us even if we didn't support the Saudi royals, Israel or Chalabi. Surely if the plan was an unco-ordinated attack on everything Western there would be plans on invading former Islamic ruled lands such as Greece and Southern Spain rather than offers of truces. Of course a set of unco-ordinated mad men would find it hard to plan big terrorist outrages, but that's another story.

So what will Europe (minus the UK but plus Japan) do? My bet is that they will try to find some way of taking the offer without appearing to do so. A close watch should now be on whether troop replacements turn up, etc. Small detachments very easily go missing.

What Crisis?

An absolutely brilliant piece by Fred Reed:

Now, as I understand it from the White House itself, it’s all because of three diehard Saddamites, two terrorists, and an outside agitator. Yes. The White House says ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent of Iraqis love us, and want us to bomb them and invade them, and starve them with embargos, and only a few soreheads don’t like it. And I believe the White House. You can only lie so long before you slip up and tell the truth. I figure they’re about due.

What I think is, those rascally diehards and the outside agitator must be fast. I mean, they get from city to city so quick they make it seem like the whole country wants us to go somewhere else, anywhere else, when really they all love us. If I worked for them Nike shoe people, I believe I’d get those terrorists to sign an advertising contract. Michael Jordan was swift, but compared to these guys he’s a federal program.

Of course now it's dying down it's a victory, whereas before it was No Big Deal.

Anyway I predicted that this would not be the kick off, but that certainly does not mean that there won't be a kick off.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Four More Years

Although it is a rare day that Airstrip One can offer a corporate opinion I think that there is one that we can offer with complete confidence - George Bush may be a lazy (ex) alcoholic who's dragged us into a couple of really messy situations but he's better for Britain than the alternative, JFK.

Let's look at Bush's "bad" points:

1) He's stupid. Well not so much stupid (his IQ is actually quite high) but rather intellectually lazy. That's not so bad, as Reagan was in some respects also intellectually lazy and whatever one thinks of his politics you'd have to be rather brave to say that he was inneffective. As a general rule energetic politicians are to be treated with more suspicion than lazy ones.

2) He dragged us into Afghanistan. What else could any American administration do after 9-11 but strike at Al Qaeda? There may be an argument that a bit of patience would have wrinkled out Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan in the same way it had out of Sudan, but the essential argument - that Al Qaeda and it's bases needed to be attacked was basically sound from the American point of view. It was not a good move for us, but that is our fault. Our leaders, from all main parties, are simply unable to see Britain as an independent actor and so can only conceive of British foreign policy in a supporting role. The British people do not punish their ruling classes for this sin. But this in no way can be put down to Bush, and in no way would a Kerry presidency be different.

3) He dragged us into Iraq. This was far worse from an American perspective, and although Kerry voted for this stupid adventure it is fairly safe to say that a Democratic president would not have shared the Bush dynasty's obsession with Saddam. However the British participation is the fault of the short sighted British political classes and not of Bush.

4) He surrounds himself with neoconservatives. This is at first a damning indictment of Bush. Neocons may be individually quite bright but as a corporate body they are stupid, stupid, stupid. Who really believes that you can bring in a constitutionally balanced democracy in an Arab country? Why the neocons. Who believes that one-man-one-vote systems will produce more moderate regimes in Islamic countries (at least in the first twenty years) rather than dictatorial strongmen? Why the neocons? Who believes that American support for Israel does not bring an increased risk of terrorism? Well it all gets a bit repetetive. Suffice to say if there's a stupid opinion going about the Middle East it's more than likely a neocon idea. However the question needs to be addressed, why are they so stupid? It is precisely because they are not really that Conservative. The corpus of the neo-conservative movement comes from the Trotskyite movement in the 1930s and almost all of them were liberals. They have a largely liberal (not to say Marxist) world view about the applicability of democracy everywhere and how the political environment can magically make people better. Does anyone really believe that a liberal Democrat will be any less, well, liberal?

5) He's introduced steel tarrifs, etc. Can someone please demonstrate how a Democrat is somehow going to be more economically literate than a Republican.

6) He's not stood up to the IRA. We didn't ask him to. And Kerry will be far, far worse. Just think Clinton, but with a twenty year backlog of political favours to the Boston Irish.

7) He's not taken us out of Europe. We can make that complaint when we try to get out. And a multilateralist like Kerry will be instinctively far more attracted to Europe than Bush.

8) He's too close to Blair. Wait till Kerry gets elected, and see how Blair will suck up.

The biggest lesson is this, we can't blame our foreign policy failings on politicians from other countries. It is our politicians who are the failures. The inability to see a future for Britain out of the slipstream of America or the Franco-German axis is not Bush's fault, it's ours.
Monday, April 12, 2004
The Curious Thoughts of Chairman Portillo

In the Sunday Times yesterday, Michael Portillo wrote a curious article on Blair's current attitudes towards the European Constitution. As the link is unavailable, take my word that the piece concerned the issue of a referendum. Curiosity was piqued by the phrase, "armageddon plebiscite", where Portillo referred to a floating idea - that Blair would use the referendum in a "back me or sack me" John Major routine to vote for the Constitution or, as an alternative, withdrawal.

Blair faces significant problems in forcing a bill on the European Constitution through Parliament. Forty Labour M.P.s are identified as "opposed" and they nestle in the wider ranks of wavering doubtfuls who place elctoral victory above constitutional niceties. At a stroke, Blair could short-circuit a parliamentary battlefield in the run-up to the election. For those, who assume that he is averse to bold actions that undermine his own popularity and set him at odds with his party, there is one word, Iraq.

Portillo also refers to the secondary effect of a victorious referendum on secession (surely withdrawal):

If Blair is foolish enough to offer withdrawal from Europe as a referendum option, the British people might be bloody-minded enough to go for it. All through the campaign he would tell them that such a decision would be irrevocable and disastrous. They might fall for that, but I doubt it. The real result would be short term chaos, but not catastrophe. There would be nobody in government and almost nobody in opposition willing to carry out the people's instruction to pull out. So it wouldn't happen.

The new prime minister would announce that the attempt to ratify the constitution had been abandoned and seek a reversal of the vote on secession.

Portillo follows a tradition of commentators and politicians who argue that the good sense of the British people follows their own thoughts. The scenario that he maps out is flawed. Why would the public support a referendum for a second time when their voice has been heard on the first? Public disillusionment with politics and a visible unwillingness of the political classes to enforce the collective will of the public would result in their rejection. Portillo's roadmap is unrealistic because it does not take public disgust of politics into account and because the British people, like most others, have a tendency to reject prepared scripts.

(19.32, 12th April 2004)
Friday, April 09, 2004
A Post-Modern Army?

What is a post-modern army? It is a work of fiction, a Potemkin village, designed to give the illusion of security, without the capabilities to achice such an objective.

The war in Iraq may be the last hurrah for the British armed forces, the final coda of Empire. The judiciary, in its sclerotic, left-wing senescence, is forgetful of the relationship between the rule of law and democratic consent with rulings that undermine our security and their own legitimacy. They have placed peacekeeping in Kosovo on a par with unlawful arrest police in Basildon.

But the issue at stake here is that Mr Justice Elias has extended the principle that the British Army must demonstrate a duty of care in all foreign "peacekeeping" operations - operations which can only grow in number in the 21st century. As a result, he ruled that the three Albanians bore no responsibility for the incident, despite the fact that the dead man was firing an AK-47 automatic in defiance of an embargo, or that they refused to stop their vehicle when asked, or that they were approaching a building containing frightened Serbian civilians being guarded from the local Albanian population by the British troops.

However, if they had killed a few Serbs, their relatives could have sued as well. In this Alice in Wonderland, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Soon, the al-Sadr militia, the Fallujahites and the jihadis will wash up at Dover, claiming asylum and demanding legal aid for British soldiers unlwfully shooting at them. Remember the Ba'athite who requested asylum.

Corrosive legal nonsense is accompanied by MOD incompetence. The long list of logistical failures and procurement disasters has been joined by Chinook helicopters that cannot fly in mist and depend upon landmarks to navigate.

The Chief of Defence Staff has stated that the Army will not be able to enter another campaign like Iraq's for five years. He's an optimist.

(17.51, 9th April 2004)
Disengagement and Withdrawal

Over the long term, national electorates in the European Union have disengaged from the political process and withdrawn their support for the European Parliament. The evidence cited for this is the declining turnouts for elections to the European Parliament.

But as the role of the EU grows its appeal is in steep decline - and seems to be accelerating. Turnout fell by 4.5 per cent in the first decade of elections and then 9.1 per cent in the second. Into the third decade participation may drop 16 per cent sounding alarm bells in European capitals.

This unwillingness to vote will probably be reproduced in the Accession countries where a turnout of 26% of the electorate is expected.

Politicians promoting the two radical developments for the EU in 2004: enlargement and the Constitution, are alarmed by the continous decline in democratic support for European institutions. This shortfall in public acceptance was noted and debated from the 90s onwards (possibly even earlier) when reformers argued that the "democratic deficit" needed to be addressed and greater efforts placed in communicating the advantages of Europe to the public.

It is possible to identify three areas where the EU is losing public support: the inability of national electorates to influence or change policy at a European level; the lack of accountability and transparency within European institutions; and the acceleration of European integration at a time of relative economic decline. The political elites have attempted to address these problems. The drafting of the European Constitution commenced with the goal of injecting greater accountability within European structures to the national parliaments. This would initiate a virtuous circle of participation and understanding. The Council of Ministers also hoped to demonstarte that economic problems could be solved at a European level through the Lisbon objective of a hypercompetitive economy by 2010. All of these public projects have visibly failed or have been suborned by the long-term trends of bureaucratisation and centralisation, embodied by civil servants and politicians.

The inability of the European Union to meet these organisational goals strengthens the arguments of critics who state that it is incapable of radical reform. Whilst the EU has undergone radical changes in the last thirty years, these have been based upon institutions that have proved enduring, unaccountable, and ideologically biased towards the expansion of their own power at the expense of elected bodies. This institutional and ideological combination is a simplistic overview of the complex of Brussels and does not even attempt to capture the role of special interests, politicians or the factional fighting on "whither Europe". All that one can say with any certainty is that their consensus favours more centralisation of power at a European level, and argument stems from divisions over who should wield it: governments acting in consensus or the civil servants.

Within this framework, politicians hope to address the declining support of their own electorates for the European project. They may wish to prevent disengagement but their fear is that apathy may be converted into opposition. However, since the EU is structured so that national electorates are unable to demonstrably change policy or personnel at a European level, this seems unlikely to succeed. The latest attempt is risible:

Irish Europe minister Dick Roche fears bad headlines and declining support could challenge the EU?s existence.....

Roche outlined a "basic" five point plan to reinvigorate a jaded EU citizenry.

?The introduction of plain language initiatives/anti-jargon measures; the simplification and improvement of forms; the establishment of a form audit agency; the simplification of legal texts; the development of a [EU]-wide code of administrative practice.?

Their answer is to tinker with the bureaucracy.

History is replete with examples of reform programmes that were swept away because their promoters took too long to achueve their goals and were overtaken by events. The EU is suffering from the same lack of radical vision that afficts the politicians in Britain, France, Germany and Italy where welfare reform and economic liberalisation have proved too daunting to be undertaken by the parliamentary and presidential pygmies that have been elected. The renewal of Europe that they ardently support remains a glint in Bush's eye.

(00.22, 9th March 2004)
Tuesday, April 06, 2004

What are the options for Iraq?

Looking beyond the eruptions among the Shiites perhaps we should consider what the hell happens to Iraq in the future.

1. Western Style Democracy

This may be a blog, but it doesn't mean that we're stupid enough to believe that this is even a starter.

2. Cantonisation

The basic problem is the three disparate main communities in Iraq, each vying to be led by hucksters with an eye on the oil revenues and vowing no peaceful coexistence. What better way than to divide the whole thing up?

This won't work for three reasons. Firstly there are different factions within each ethnic group, as Kurdistan (which has already tried this route) with its two and a half governments can attest. Then you have the problem of smaller but still coherant and well armed groups such as the Turkomen and the Assyrian Christians who will want their own little bolt holes. Last but not least you have the fact that there's an awful lot of disputed territory with oil under neath it.

3. Bring in a strongman

This is quite a good option, only will a strongman take hold? Iraq may seem like a country made for the whack of strong government - after all it's hardly made for civic democracy - but even given its past record it is by no means certain that a there is an obvious strong man candidate.

The present candidate, Chalibi, may have the requisite career of large scale fraud and obsequiousness to America but he seems so damn unpopular. Besides he seems a bit too secular for the Shiites and a bit too Shiite for everyone else.

A strong man is probably what Iraq is destined for in the long run as long as it is a unitary state, but it is probably impossible to impose one while so many little-big men think that they have the chance of becoming big chief.

4. Shiite Theocracy

This is politely known as majority rule or one man one vote. There are very good reasons for it, in that we can say that not only have we demonstrably brought in democracy but we are comfortable with it coming up with different answers to those we wish. It also means that we have a stable regime to hand every over to as we make the quick retreat.

Of course the Kurds, Sunnis and Assyrians will hate this but as their areas are patrolled by Americans we can't really worry about them. Our colonised peoples will be pleased as punch that they can knock ten bells out of the Sunnis at last.

5. Don't go there in the first place

Alas the best option is not open to us.
Monday, April 05, 2004

Feet to the Fire

Don't be fooled by the idea that Spain's vote to withdraw from the American coalition was pointless because of the new bombs that have been found. Now the reasoning is coming in:

Also Monday, the conservative newspaper ABC said that just hours before the terrorists killed themselves in Leganes, it received a fax from the same group that had claimed blame for the March 11 bombings. This time, it warned it would turn Spain "into an inferno" unless the country halted its support for the United States and withdrew its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, ABC said.

Or "the Americans and Brits may offer you anything to get you back into the coalition, but we've still got plenty of capability".

The Spaniards, like the Brits, have endured domestic terrorism in order to maintain the democratic and territorial integrity of their own countries - but they are unwilling to risk terrorism merely for their leaders' egos. The difference is the Spanish were asked.

Is this the Shia kick off?

With the uprising of the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, and his threatened arrest perhaps we are now seeing the much feared Shiite uprising?

This matters for Britain because our troops are almost all in overwhelmingly Shiite areas. The Shiites have been quiet while the (American occupied) Sunni areas have not, which makes us look such better occupiers than those vulgar Yanks. Of course we've been telling the world that this is because we are such better occupiers than the Americans. Why we wear berets rather than helmets out on patrol!

So this "uprising" is important. Will it translate into general Shiite nastiness or will it fizzle out? On the one hand the Sadrites are an energetic minority amongst the Shia, having the support of neither Iran nor the indigenous Shia hierachy - who have their own, probably larger, Shia factions.

However even a minority Shia uprising would be a bad thing for us. Similarly this uprising may force the hand of the more moderate factions who have to suddenly show a more millitant side to keep their hotheads on board. As Fatah found against Hamas, fighting occupiers adds a certain glamour and even power, even when it is plainly in your people's interests to stay at the negotiating table.

And now the Yanks don't want to cut and run because Iraq isn't ready for democratic self rule. It never was and it never will be, that's what the Hashemites and Saddam were for!
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Power comes out of the payload of a bomb

If George Monbiot's article in the Guardian provides no other productive contribution to foreign policy, this pithy phrase succinctly describes the current view of power. It is rare that an author persuades me of any advantages that the Labour government may provide, but Monbiot is that man. His perception of power is a curious one: that we should disarm, whilst all about are keeping theirs. Whilst his argument that state development of weapons leads to their deployment by terrorists is superficially correct, his conclusion is that we should disarm although it is unlikely that other states will respect or follow his pacifistic vision for the United Kingdom.

The paradox of modern warfare works like this: by enhancing our military strength, we enhance our opponents' capacity to destroy us.

In reality, the clarity of modern warfare views offence and defence as incestuously entwined with science. With the classic poise of left-wing progressivism, Monbiot places more importance on the UK's need to comply with its obligations under international law rather than the primary purpose of elected politicians: to maintain the security of those who elected them.

Monbiot demonstrates that the Labour government has no wish to comply with the Non-Proliferation treaty and has changed its strategic stance to allow the pre-emptive use of nukes:

To this sin of omission we must add three of commission. The first is the UK's support for the US nuclear missile defence programme, which could scarcely be better calculated to provoke a new arms race....

The second is that the government has laid out £2bn to equip the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston with the means to design and build a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. In this respect, as in all others, we appear to be keeping the US company.

The third is that our policy on the deployment of nuclear weapons has changed. In March 2002, for the first time in British history, the government suggested that we might use them before they are used against us. Since then, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, has repeated the threat several times, on each occasion further reducing the threshold. Put items two and three together and the UK begins to look like a pretty dangerous state.

For once, despite the distasteful attachment to the United States, the Labour government has taken the right steps in attempting to maintain and renew our nuclear deterrent whilst preparing more flexible strategies for the wider range of security threats that we face.

(23.01, 4th April 2004)

Official: Tories obtain sympathetic media

The European elections, to be held in June, are the next opportunity for the British electorate to tender its verdict on the record of the government. The Tory party has decided to raise the issue of the proposed European Constitution to see if this will mobilise voters or provide them with an additional tranche of support. It has formed a centrepiece of their Welsh conference this week. Jonathan Evans, Tory leader in the European Parliament, gave a strong comparison between Blair's dissembling and the welcome of the continentals:

“Our principled opposition stands in stark contrast to the inept approach of this Labour government. Be in no doubt, this constitution represents a fundamental change in the relationship between our country and the European Union.

“The German government has called it ’worthy of the word historic’. The French government has called it ’the setting up of a new political age’.

The Spanish government, ’a legal revolution without precedent’. The Belgian government, ’the capstone of a federal state’.

“And the Labour government says ’it’s just a tidying up exercise’.”

As the Guardian's recent press survey showed, there is almost no support for a parliamentary vote on the Constitution in the media. The Tories are making the running on this issue and the Liberal Democrats have been muzzled by their pro-Europeanism.

(22.31, 4th April 2004)
Friday, April 02, 2004
Two Cultures

An article by Martin Wollacott in the Guardian explores a new series of articles published by Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF). In short, these articles examine how the humanitarian and political agendas have been conflated, to the detriment of both cultures. Non governmental organisations, seduced by a say in foreign policy, have succumbed to political stances at the expense of their original missions. Foreign policy has been recast with an ethical and humanitarian gloss to legitimate political decisions without undertaking the difficult task of explaining why such actions are necessary to the electorates of the West.

By reasserting the distinction between the humanitarian idea proper and the humanitarian motives or pretensions of political leaders, the MSF writers are able to move the arguments back to where they ought to be taking place. In essence, they are saying that there are two quite different sets of arguments. One is about foreign policy, and this should take place in the knowledge that even worthy foreign policy is not in the first place humanitarian.

The other is about the humanitarian mission, and the emphasis must be on the need for humanitarian organisations to distance themselves from governments and limit, as far as they can, their role as instruments of policy.

This has allowed MSF to disentangle humanitarian needs from political demands. They do not recognise that a "humanitarian crisis" exists in Iraq and they are on record for doubting that the United Nations has the capabilities to govern occupied Mesopotamia.

At the same time, reports emanating from Darfur in western Sudan show that Arab militias are now involved in an ethnic cleansing of the black tribes that inhabit the area, pushing refugees across the border into Chad. The episode is beginning to resemble the early stages of Africa's particular brand of genocide, using militias and terror.

Some 1,000 people are dying each week in Sudan, and 110,000 refugees, like Mr. Yodi, have poured into Chad. Worse off are the 600,000 refugees within Sudan, who face hunger and disease after being driven away from their villages by the Arab militias.

"They come with camels, with guns, and they ask for the men," Mr. Yodi said. "Then they kill the men and rape the women and steal everything." One of their objectives, he added, "is to wipe out blacks."

The United Nations has observers on the ground who warned that this was the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world". The apathy from the United Nations General Assembly. The European Union wrung its hands, talked to the Sudanese government and asked it politely to stop the atrocities.

Another day, another genocide.

(22.52, 2nd April 2004)

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