Niall Ferguson had pitched his flag in Churchillian stance on the cover of this week's Spectator and asked a question that exercises this blog more often than not:
Yet the question that continues to trouble me, 18 months after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, remains: What was in it for us? To put it more precisely: in what respect, if any, was and is Britain’s support for American policy in our national interest?
Ferguson charts a slavish devotion of the present British administration for the United States, under the guidance of that moral ideologue, Blair, whilst placing it within a larger narrative of a 'special relationship' in decline. The decline of Britain, engineered by the United States, is a high note of nostalgic tragedy, since the 'special relationship' was never closer except when we could rely on the Republic as a trusted sidekick in its own hemisphere. However, his dislike for Blair undermines the historical perspectives, since the relationship between Britain and the United States has proved far more volatile than the article's descriptions
Ferguson stalls after he has set out his brief from the School of Decline, and demonstrates why that group formerly known as the Right remain paralysed when confronting the changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, you could argue this is the latest example of formerly sound individuals melting into the soft left, and confusing the hell out of the Conservative Party. Are they, aren't they?
Ferguson argues that there are no longer any connections between Britain and the United States, except for the establishment and the elites. Popular attitudes are European, as his stylised family shows:
But it is certainly not true now. Travel to the United States and then to the other European Union states, and you will see: the typical British family looks much more like the typical German family than the typical American family. We eat Italian food. We watch Spanish soccer. We drive German cars. We work Belgian hours. And we buy second homes in France. Above all, we bow before central government as only true Europeans can.
These attitudes (reinforced by the scientific evidence of the poll) are sufficient reason for calling time upon this Alliance. The unspoken conclusion is that our future and our foreign policy should be 'European', a direction that is most comfortably embodied by our Prime Minister.
It is unclear whether Ferguson views this anticipated convergence with Europe as a desirable alternative to the 'special relationship' or as the gloomy final chapter in Britain's long decline. His article does not really suggest that he views the Blairite years as bad for us although the comparison between British and American conservatism naturally favours the latter.
This is just part of a fundamental divergence in popular culture which increasingly makes a nonsense of the special relationship. Combining as it does religious fundamentalism, economic individualism and red-blooded patriotism, the American conservatism so vividly described by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their book The Right Nation simply has no counterpart in this country. British Tories are a beleaguered minority, vainly trying to preserve a few picturesque pastimes and landscapes from the depredations of New Labour’s corrupt and cynical party apparat.
Ferguson's manufactured controversy is cynical. No debate is stimulated and he proves unable to provide an alternative. His article will provide succour for those on the soft left who masquerade as Tories and argue that accommodation (read submersion) within Europe is providential; as they try to win an election on the platform of Blairism without Blair.
There are two morals that can be drawn from Ferguson. One is that the quisling right no longer exists; they all belong to the Left and should be condemned as such. The other is that an independent British foreign policy will depend, indeed demands, a resurgence of muscular conservatism at home, based upon "economic individualism and red-blooded patriotism".
(23.12, 29th September 2004)
With the increasing number of pleas for Kenneth Bigley's life, all sound individuals would hope that he is reunited with his family and released by the terrorists. However, treading in dangerous waters, one wonders why the only one damned is Tony Blair.
Richard Bigley has called on the Prime Minister to resign and has blamed him for the fate of his brother. Understandably, the family want everything possible to be done in order to save the life of their kin. However, this has led to a mistaken conclusion: that the fate of their brother lies in the hands of British politicians. It does not: it lies in the hands of terrorists located in Iraq, who are using their power to kill him, as a political weapon.
He reiterated his plea for the Government to send a communique to the terrorists, but accepted that it should not negotiate. He said: "I never would and never will request that you negotiate with bad people." But he added that the Government could send a fax with a comment such as "have a nice day" or "have a bad day". He concluded: "Ken will come home to us all. Ken is only a little person in this whole affair."
Given the past record of Zarqawi's group and the murders of the two American hostages captured alongside Kenneth Bigley, the above statement is insupportable. There is no evidence that communication with these murderers would facilitate the release of Kenneth Bigley. Their previous actions have shown that they are blind to the ties of family or friendship.
The 'mercy missions' may achieve the objective of obtaining Kenneth Bigley's release and let us hope that they do. However, that release by Al-Zarqawi will be sanctioned for political advantage, clothed in sanctimonious and hypocritical rhetoric. This is not the "Iraqi resistance with a human face"; it is a reminder that people like these threw a cripple off a cruise ship in order to appear merciless.
When faced with such extremism, politicians do not have the power to save even a single life. That remains the preserve of the terrorists.
(23.15, 27th September 2004)
A report in the Turkish paper Zaman states that the three Shi'ite provinces under the control of British forces wish to become an autonomous region, modelled on the Kurdish grouping:
Three Shiite provinces under the control of British forces in southern Iraq followed the example of the Kurdish region in the north and applied to the Bagdat (Baghdad) administration in order to be recognized as an "autonomous territory".
The local administrators of Basra, Amara, and Nasiriye agreed that they wanted to unify and be granted autonomy. Basra Governor, Hasan Rasid reported that they sent their demands to interim Iraq Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. This development, confirmed also by the speaker of the parliament in Amara province, increases the disintegration anxieties of Iraq.
There are a number of ways that this development could be interpreted: a sense of Shi'ite community, fostered by the British or the Iranians (or both); a prelude to a disintegrating Iraq, grabbing local control in order to preserve power through control of the sea-port, if the centre does not hold; a vote of confidence in the prevailing power structure, and exercising their voice in a potentially federal Iraq. Whatever the motive, an automous Shi'ite grouping hastens the departure of British troops.
The Iranians are raising their profile on the border and probing the resolve of the new government with the arrest of Iraqi fishermen; or were they checking for the SAS? Basra airport has clean sewers and is nearly operational. (Will there be customers given the security news?). The Kiwi deployment of light engineers has also ended.
An article on the not-so-good situation in Basra and Allawi's visit can be found here with further insight on how the Iraqis learn democracy:
A steady flow of people is passing through the gate. One man complains to an official that he has not been allowed to cast all his family’s votes as they used to do under Saddam. One person, one vote, he is told.
(22.49, 26th September 2004)
Charlie felt that the voters were safe with his domestic fantasies and eschewed any foreign adventures. The Iraq card was played, with the shadow of the hostage burying the conference in the headlines. Most people don't care about why we went to war in Iraq and those who do are committed to either of the left-wing alternatives: Respect or the Liberal Democrats. Asking for an apology from Blair was an ace for the base.
Charlie knew what voters didn't want to hear, so he didn't say anything:
One issue that failed to make it into the speech was the European constitution and the single currency - both of which Labour have pledged referendums on.
Even the Lib Dems will sacrifice Europe if that's what it takes to get power.
(22.57, 23rd September 2004)
Even I felt sick at the thought of the threatened beheading of Kenneth Bigley. I still however have to run a normal service, and point out an awful truth - that neither pro or anti war spokesmen will.
The problem for poor Mr Bigley is not that Americans or British are in Iraq, but that Kenneth Bigley is in Iraq. Kenneth Bigley took a risk by working in Iraq, we all take risks but this was a far bigger one. I hope he and those who've put themselves in a similar position are being suitably compensated by their employers.
The anti-war side do not want to point to Kenneth Bigley's responsibility for his situation because this would throw away the massive propaganda coup that the ordeal is providing - after all they can now say that Britons are more at threat because of Iraq. This is true, but the Bigley case is not an illustration of this - it is more dangerous for Westerners to go to lawless Muslim countries not for Westerners in general.
The propaganda boon is doubled with America's refusal to free the women prisoners despite Iraq's promise to do so (although they would be free if an American hostage would have been freed - Kenneth Bigley's relatives don't vote in American elections). So much for the Anglosphere. Or for that matter Iraqi sovereignty.
The pro-war side do not want to point out Kenneth Bigley's responsibility because there is a logical corollary here. That is that Westerners should not go to Iraq. Western forces have failed to provide law and order (I don't care about ex-Canadians driving around Fallujah last year - I'm talking now), but that is pretty much what the anti-war side predicted. The problem is more acute. Foreigners should not go to Iraq, and it is highly likely that they won't go. If there are no foreigners then there's no economy. That's not exactly a success.
Time to go home, time to go home.
If a reporter were objective, they would examine the assumptions and biases on which their written testimony is based, perhaps with a wish to inform their audience. However, the BBC is devoted to delivering an unspoken picture of 'quagmire' in Basra, even if this depends upon a scattered collection of 'facts', 'events' and off the record attributions.
This is not an argument for or against the description of Basra as a 'quagmire'. The article on the BBC website is unconvincing reportage that wears its agenda on its sleeve.
British officers characterise the August fighting as merely a "spike" in the violence. Some spike. Last month, British troops fired 100,000 rounds of ammunition in southern Iraq.
The article also refers to other figures on attacks in Amara: 400 direct mortar hits on the base, and 853 other forms of attack (presumably including the mortars). Without a comparison, it is not possible for a questioning reader to accept how large an increase this spike consisted of. Yet, was this a powerful force besieging the British soldiers and endangering their lives?
Since the shrines were not touched, it's thought that only 400 hard-core gunmen joined the fight against the multi-national forces in Basra.
Morale is high and the stockpiles of the Al-Sadr militia in Basra have been confiscated, removing the short-term threat. Paul Wood, BBC Middle East Correspondent, can only conjure up the threat of a general Shi'a uprising by citing the unwillingness of trained Iraqi policemen to attack their co-religionists, and maintaining a neutral stance.
When you are reduced to quoting an unknown source for a view that corroborates the main thrust of your article, one should ask how any of the conclusions can be supported:
I met, though, one of the senior civilian political advisers to the military command, an astute and experienced Whitehall figure. Every time he came to Basra things seemed a "step change worse" he said. The best thing to happen, he went on, would be for a new Islamic government to be elected in January, which would ask multi-national forces to leave. He was not being facetious.
Part of the BBC's remit, paid for an inequitable poll tax, is to inform us in an objective and balanced manner of current developments in South Iraq. This remit has not been met, if it has to rely on unattributable sources. Didn't we have enough of this with Gilligan? Standards are still as bad as ever.
Fact 1. America is unpopular.
Fact 2. The Conservatives are unpopular
Fact 3. The Conservatives are especially unpopular with the American Government
So what are the Tories to do? It is now becoming clear that apart from a significant but declining minority that the Tories want to go into the next election oposing the war without appearing opportunistic. So how do they do this?
If the war gets much more unpopular they could just do a handbrake turn with very few negative consequances, however let's try to find a way in which they can back the national interest without appearing opportunistic (yes I know how it reads).
The answer comes from of all sources The Guardian. The paper among all the questions about the war asks "do you favour setting a deadline for the withdrawal of British troops?" 71% say they do.
Imagine Howard on a party political broadcast:
"The Conservatives supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. We still think that was right. However we do not support an open ended commitment to keeping British troops in the firing line. It is time for us to say that after a set date. On April 9th Baghdad will have been free for two years. We think that this is enough.
"We think that it was reasonable to have British troops in Iraq for a certain period of time, but two years starts to reek of permenence. We demand that British troops leave Iraq by April 9th, and we hope by well before then. If America doesn't like it, then tough. The job of the British government should be to defend British interests, not American, a job that the present government has failed."
Of course the fact that April 9th is likely to be weeks before the next election has no bearing on the date.
The Kansas City Star has an article on the current situation in Basra and the tactics deployed by the British Army during the Al-Sadr insurgency. Whilst the militias occupied parts of the city, the British Army preferred to wait the emergency out and see if a political solution could be obtained. This worked for now, though one battle was likened to 'Black Hawk Down'.
Patrick Kerkstra takes the pulse of Basra and documents the long-term poison of corruption amongst the trained police forces, providing further evidence that you can't teach an old shi'ite new tricks.
On a patrol last week, police trainees handled their duties with aplomb, snaring two likely oil smugglers while British forces observed. It was clear that 15 months of instruction had given the river police service plenty of technical know-how. But know-how isn't the problem. "When the British forces watch, we catch the smugglers," said coxswain Matwok Drwesh, 37. "When they are not there, the smugglers go free for maybe a little money. Bribes are common." Drwesh, who said he didn't take bribes, claimed that corrupt senior officials routinely release arrested smugglers. "It's useless," Drwesh said. "Why am I bothering myself to catch the smugglers? It is a mafia." Other members of the Iraq River Police Service were almost as critical, agreeing that corruption in the force was widespread.
With the poverty in Iraq following the downfall of Saddam, it is difficult to see how any power could have prevented the rise of a local mafia, profiting from piracy, smuggling and drugs.
However, there are conflicting reports on the future deployment of British troops with defence reporters citing sources for both increases and decreases. The reasonable prediction is a similar number as now to provide security in the run-up to the elections, unless cover is found so that Britain can rotate troops into Afghanistan (as indicated yesterday).
Whatever the planned deployment of troops, another report on the plight of former 'buffalo soldiers' and the contempt with which they are held by the authorities. Ex medical sargeant Tej Bahadur Limbu is being deported back to Nepal since the immigration authorities do not believe that his life could be threatened by those nice Maoist guerillas.
Limbu returned to Britian last year amid fears that Maoist rebels may target him because of his service to Britain. "I've been working for the British Government since I was a teenager and I like this country and its people. I have given my blood, my sweat, my tears and my heart. But I'm being kept here like a dog in a kennel," the report quoted him as saying.
To the British authorities, loyalty is a one-way street.
(23.07, 20th September 2004)
Undersecretary of the US AirForce, Peter B. Teets, has argued that the United States needs to achieve dominance in space, and has set out the necessary preconditions for achieving this objective.
Mr. Teets said the United States needs strong and enduring commitments in three areas to meet that goal: developing a professional space cadre, having a strong and well-funded industrial base, and maintaining a position at the leading edge of space technology.
The speech harked back to the history of American space development and how the 'Space Race' proved a natural stimulus. The speech did not set out any specific strategic goals and can be placed in the paradigm of scientific research, economic benefits and symbolic images that have characterised space up to the present day.
The rivals in this competition were identified:
"I know certain European countries have picked up the challenge and started to invest more heavily in leading-edge technology; certainly China has shown some of the same inclinations. We need to maintain a strong and vital space system research and technology endeavor going forward. That's what will keep us on the leading edge."
The speech was backward looking and traditional. Even in such contexts, the Bush administration is indicating that the United States remains wedded to its leadership role in space, identifies its strategic rivals and hints of future developments.
(22.43, 20th September 2004)
Clinton was everybody'd best friend. Except when he wasn't. He conducted undeclared air wars against Serbia and Iraq and launched missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan. Clinton used the military more than any previous peacetime president. He sent armed forces into areas of conflict on an average of once every nine weeks.
From P J O'Rourke's 'Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism'.
Sound like anyone we know...
General Sir Michael Jackson remained resolutely 'on-message' when he gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph. After swooning over the general's "grey pinstripe suit and a maroon airforces tie, with black shoes polished to perfection", Sean Rayment (geddit???!!!) proving as taxing in his interview technique as David Frost. For their efforts, Jackson would only give one deliberate concession to the public arena: yes, Britain was involved in a "counter-insurgency war". In Torygraph language, this is called being "characteristically blunt"; or perhaps, a statement of the bleeding obvious. The rest of the interview was an argument for the 'Future Army Structure', or surviving on less soldiers for less money.
However, Jackson should be listened to. He has to balance the needs of the armed forces with the demand of a government machine that prefers to use proxies for the explanation of public policy. For all we know, Jackson may have fought long and hard for a military structure that remains halfway useful, compared to some cock-eyed nonsense thought up by a New Labour apparatchik parachuted into the MOD for theatrical effect. Even Jackson must know that 'make do and mend' has wrought long-term damage: sacrificing men for the Typhoon and the FRES, both projects that will be superseded in the next decade. We do live in a world of accelerating change.
In the short-term, the military commitments remain as regular as the 93 to North Cheam. The 18,000 US troops in Afghanistan will be reinforced by a further 1,100. The British will send a further 8,000 peacekeepers for deployment in the south and west of Afghanistan to safeguard the presidential and parliamentary elections. Whilst this is a recognition of the British Army's peacekeeping skills, this may serve as the breaking point. They will be fighting a war against the heartlands of the Islamic jihadis: their very presence will make them a target. Unsurprisingly, the French, Germans and Dutch have shown that the Rapid Reaction Force, manned by the European powers, is unwilling to contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Another symptom of NATO's long, slow decline.
The peacekeeping force would be under the headquarters of the Nato Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, commanded by a British general. Most of the staff would be British. The corps would replace the force in Afghanistan led by France, Germany and the Netherlands. The Dutch have been criticised for failing to find more soldiers to provide security for next month's election, which the Taliban have vowed to wreck.
Although, the idea of a counter-insurgency war may be overstating the case. British soldiers still face clashes with Shi'ite militiamen but the paramilitary groups have stayed quiet. Even if Basra remains a squalid place to live (I doubt Hamburg or Stalingrad were much better in 1946), the people do have a voice:
Last weekend, Allawi went on what seemed very much like a whistle-stop tour to Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, with 2.6 million people, and Umm Qasr, the nation's only deep-water port.
He promised his audiences that he would end years of neglect in the south. But in an unexpected show of democracy on an otherwise carefully scripted visit crammed with televised photo-ops, Basra's mayor promised to embarrass Allawi and promptly did so, saying his government had not seen a single dinar from the Finance Ministry.
Then, in Umm Qasr, a woman pushed to the front of a crowd and, in a plaintive voice, asked when Allawi would do something -- anything -- to bring drinking water and electricity to her home.
In-your-face demands are new to Iraqi political life, and it is rare -- even a year and a half after the fall of Saddam Hussein -- to see citizens challenge authority figures openly.
This is about the only development that makes this episode worthwhile. Even better if they privatised the water services; then they would work.
(21.43, 19th September 2004)
Can someone please enlighten me, was the Iraq war about protecting the authority of the UN before or after they said it was illegal? (And what are Annan's judicial qualifications any way?)
Every now and again I talk to a foreigner and at a dinner party I was sitting next to this very personable German accountant. His English was far, far better than my German so the conversation went in English.
First we talked about the state of Germany and he was going about how it's getting really hairy there with the economy and the Ossies complaining. I ventured that perhaps there could be a political or social explosion in the offing. Unlike most Germans, he agreed. I also said a bit of the Thatcher tonic was overdue, to which he also agreed.
Then the conversation went on to Europe. He thought that this had a massive role in Germany's plight and although he was pro the EU he thought that it needed to be trimmed back a lot.
By now, dear reader, I hope you realise that this was a very unusual German.
So the conversation turned to the American election. I stated that I was not keen on either candidate, but that Bush was going to win because Kerry was a rich Massachusetts liberal and anyone who understood anything about American politics knows that these don't win anything (well not since 1960). Then he went bonkers. Bush is mad, he's dangerous, he's a cowboy, etc, etc. Not the amused and resigned Americo-scepticism that we specialise over in this corner of the web, but George Monbiot type irrational hatred.
The point is not that I was shocked at the views in themselves. You get this among Brits (although mostly fairly far out lefties). But over here this chap would have been a somewhat hard line Atlanticist if you consider his job and political leanings.
In Germany even Eurosceptic Thatcherite accountants have views on Bush which make Robert Fisk look like a warblogger. No wonder Schroeder plays the anti-war card.
Over at Samizdata, they have been toasting "Death to Wahabis" in memory of the dead of 9/11, instead of watching "Last Night of the Proms". The bloodfeud of private toasts may be appropriate for dinner parties but does not address the memorialisation of the victims of terrorist atrocities.
Just as a cenotaph was raised to the dead of the Great War, there is just reason to construct one for the innocent victims of terror who have died on our shores and overseas over the past thirty-five years. Long before 9/11, British victims of terror perished under the onslaught of the IRA, both in the province and on the mainland. An empty tomb to the death of innocents would provide a symbolic reminder of the evils that all terrorism engenders, whatever the cause.
(8.53, 12th September 2004)
One of the predictions trotted out by Eurosceptic pundits is the scenario of civil war, where the European Union plunges into conflict and despair; the reds of Yugoslavia painted on a larger canvas. This scenario is justified by an appeal to history, with a list of historical examples where multinational empires (monarchical or state socialist) have broken apart under the pressures of war and nationalism. Such developments usually require the development of a national ideology resisting a coercive, often monocultural metropole. Except for the Eurosceptics in Britain, the European Union has been seen as an incubator for regional nationalisms, a competing power centre with the national capitals.
The Polish Sjem has recently voted on a non-binding resolution to demand reparations from Germany. This is partially in response to the lobbying of the Prussian Claims Society, an organisation demanding reparations and property for those displaced from East Prussia at the end of the Second World War. One can's help feeling sorry for Schroeder whose presence at the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising cut no ice with the historically minded Poles, who tend to embrace rather than accept the past. The Sudeten question also remains a sore point with the Czech Republic.
All of the post-socialist states reclaimed a national consciousness in the years after 1989, as a cleansing process that provided alternative visions of the nation to the revolutionary internationalism that brooked no civic competition. Their democracies are more diverse than Western Europe, often more ideological and less oligarchical, giving free rein to nationalist and populist groupings. (This is one trend where the West is turning East). However, the demands of entry to the European Union sapped the energies of the political elites and prevented debate on wider issues that could jeopardise this national objective. Now that the post-socialist countries are Member States, they can return to dormant issues that require resolution or reparation. The European Union is not the cause of this nationalism; it is the framework within which these questions will be addressed, with all of Member States reassured that they cannot be threatened by anything stronger than non-cooperation. In Europe, "pariah" equals "Austria".
(21.50, 11th September 2004)
A step closer to theocracy
The war nerd comes out with a rather chilly article about how the Shias operate. It's something to bear in mind when we claim our inevitable victory over the Mahdi army.
A couple of things about this that the Yanks aren't shouting from the rooftops:
1) We didn't dare send in Western troops into the mosque. Good call but this is not going to be ignored next time they decide to fight us.
2) The Iraqi army failed, again. And they looked stupid when they claimed to have arrested all the fighters.
3) We had to rely on Sistani to rally his followers for a threatened "pilgrimage", aka a mass invasion. Sistani was not willing to help us at first (or perhaps you believe he went out of Iraq at that time just because of the heart surgery) but in the end he rallied his forces. What was he promised? Will we be able to deliver? And if we can deliver now will we be able to buy him off next time?
4) Sadr is now going back to politics. Normally this would be a victory against an insurgent, but it was the revocation of a lot of his movement's political freedoms that started it all - with Sadr demanding that he be allowed to publish his own newspaper. Now it looks like he will. So if his main demand was met, didn't he win?
I really can't see how Iraq can end up anything other than a Shiite more-or-less theocracy which is more-or-less allied to Iran (for now). The only question is how detached the Kurdish areas are.
So why couldn't we foresee this result before we got rid of Saddam? (Not we as in Airstripe One, We did, just we as in our betters in government).
The leak of Michael Howard's rejection of Bush to the Sun (not available directly, but a copy is here) is puzzling. There are a number of ideas.
Let's get rid of the first theory, that the Sun either made this up out of whole cloth or that they guessed it. The story is far too well sourced for that. Despite its soft-core pornography and reliance on football and soap opera stories it is a serious newspaper that will only report a story like this if it is sure of its facts.
The second theory is that the Bush administration placed this in the papers without consulting Blair. Someone in the Bush Administration must have commented on the story, hence the line "Senior US Right-wingers blame Mr Howard for undermining the coalition in Iraq and say they are privately rooting for a Labour victory in the next election."
Anyone who reads the well sourced Peter Oborne can be in no doubt that a supporter of the Bush administration's policies is objectively left wing in British terms, in that they would prefer a Labour victory to a Tory one. If they don't then they are not Bush supporters, simple as that.
But the idea that the Yanks would go in without consulting Labour, and giving final veto to them is unthinkable.
So is it a really, really stupid press operation from Downing Street? Even with Alistair Campbell gone this does require a certain high amount of stupidity. The press operation, to a very high level, would have to either be ignorant of the general distaste in which Bush is held among voters in general - including swing voters - or believe that a story like this would keep within the bounds of the generally pro-American Sun readership. Now it's possible that this stupidity exists (they thought they'd get away with the Hutton whitewash after all), but not likely.
So that leaves one last culprit, the Tories. After all how many Americans say "full stop" rather than "period" as Karl Rove is said to have done. Not that Karl Rove did not make that call, just that the quote - direct quote remember - must have been relayed by a British person. It could have been changed by a sub editor or journalist, but unlikely given that it was attributed as a direct quote.
And there were an awful lot of Tories quotes.
So if it was the Tories was it a bid by a pro-American source (such as the bewildered Liam Fox - who has access to American rightwingers) to destabilise Howard. Or was it a, in hindsight, brilliant Tory move to let Howard paint himself as a patriotic anti-American (although why they had such a feeble official response is perhaps not so brilliant).
A few interesting views and alternative takes on the situation in Iraq. Although the bye-line states Left-Right, there does not appear to be a strand of conservative thinking within the ranks. Most of the links betray the bias. Some of the commentators also overplay their hand, building up feasts from thin gruel.
The key question (as i have been saying for some time now) is whether his statement were actually correct. And the answer is that they were not. Therefore, by Parliamentary precedent he should and must resign because he misled Parliament and the country, and many thousands of people who would almost certainly be alive today are now dead, and it is, essentially, his and Bush's fault. To restore faith in Parliamentary democracy, he must resign or face impeachment.
On this point, the arguments that Blair misled Parliament have departed from the political scene. Nobody's listening and the debate is fossilising into an A level question.
(22.52, 8th September 2004)
I do pick my moments to be off the watch, so sorry to my select band of readers. What a scorching couple of weeks for foreign affairs!
Of course the most important question is just what the Tories should do now that the Bush Administration has been proved beyond the merest shadow of a doubt that America is not our friend. Where have the mea culpas been from all the right wing Atlanticists now that the Bush administration have deposited on the Tories from a great height? Battered wives show more guts. (Please email me the best examples of really lame explanations from Atlantacists, Anglospherists, etc.) And then there's Russia and the Telegraph (I'll probably deal with the latter soon). It's all heating up.
However I want to concentrate on something far less important to us, and that is Mark Thatcher's attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. Unless some blinding evidence of his innocence were to arrive then I think we can safely say that this idiot son is up to the plot to his armpits. Not that this is a bad thing as Equitorial Guinea is run by your classic case of an African chief mad man and they would be well rid of him for a more run of the mill ruthless thug (Saddam is looking for a job by the way).
The question that is troubling me is was he really doing this on his own? The British have shown a vast degree of interest in sub-Saharan Africa since Blair came in, as have the Yanks. Spain also has an interest being the old colonial power and it is hard to imagine the son of a former Prime Minister moving on something like this (after all he has a whole load of money) without some sort of British government knowledge. And what about Jeffrey Archer? Would he be that stupid to get involved with something so dangerous almost immediately after getting out of prison if there wasn't some official nod? Actually knowing Archer he probably would.
The other main plotter, Simon Mann's Executive Outcomes has been almost an unofficial arm of Britain's Africa policy (and South Africa's). And the less we mention Mann's other venture Sandline, the better.
Talking of idiot sons, David Hart may not be the sharpest tool in the box - but he is well connected running a couple of the more strident pieces of enemy interference in the 1980s (such as the Union of Democratic Miners). According to this admittedly unreliable report he's now saying nice things about Blair such as “Blair’s objective is to retain power. I don’t find that distasteful.” Who'd have thunk it?
Now I don't claim to have a scrap of non-circumstantial evidence to link these people with the British government, and unless some massive piece of evidence comes in I propose to say no more about it. It's just odd, that's all.
For those in the United States who view the United Kingdom as a staunch ally, Jack Straw's speech today on the reform of the United Nations, shed light on the agenda of Blair's administration. One of the most important objectives that Blair has set himself is the institutionalisation of a system of 'collective security' building upon the foundations of the United Nations. This shares many of the idealistic traits that liberal internationalism upheld in the early years of the twentieth century, recast in a more limited and hawkish mould. This goal was also one of the primary motivations for Britain acting as a partner in the Iraqi war. Blair realised that no system of collective security could function without the participation of the United States.
Jack Straw praised the United Nations for its perceived role in managing and preventing conflict. The failures are omitted:
UN peacekeeping, for example, is nowhere mentioned in the Charter, but it has been one of the Organisation's great successes. Since they won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, the 'blue helmets' have helped to bring peace and democracy to countries such as Namibia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique and East Timor, and continue to maintain stability from Haiti to Sierra Leone to the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.
Standing in mainstream opinion, Straw argued that the multicausal nexus of contemporary security failures, attributable to disease, war, conflict and other divisions required an expansion of UN power. He set out three areas of reform:
- An expended role for the Secretary General, using Article 99, to bring threats to international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council;
- More effective tools for collective action. Tellingly, Straw mentioned gun control through the Transfer Control Initiative, as well as acting by proxy, through regional bodies such as the African Union, that would do the Security Council's bidding;
- The right to intervene in the affairs of a nation-state with all tools, up to and including the use of military force. The preconditions for intervention were couched in the communitarian humanitarianism beloved of Blair, dwelling upon balancing the right of non-interference with the responsibilities nations had towards their own people and the international community.
This is a charter for a global Concert of Powers, focused upon the Security Council, wielding imperial power in the name of humanity, even if only one of the powers observes the right to liberty. The United Nations also gains the power to assess and promote 'good governance' in individual states and coordinate international aid to help those who are unable to govern well.
The first is good governance. Well-governed, capable and accountable states are less likely to act aggressively, descend into conflict, or harbour terrorists and criminals – so we all have an interest in supporting them. The United Nations is well-placed to develop international norms on good governance, provide practical support for their implementation, and set up mechanisms for their review. And it also has unique legitimacy and expertise in spreading practical democracy.
Straw's world view ignores the damage that the encouragement of the state and the construction of our contemporary international architecture has sustained. They want to preserve the forms with added firepower, arguing that a militaristic approach will work where money was unable to. You've tried the carrot, now apply the stick.
Unfortunately, Straw's vision may out, although not in the form that he has described. As a system of liberal internationalism, the United Nations would always founder under the suspicions of its members, who keenly support national sovevereignty. However, whilst our Foreign Minister thought he was making the case for British membership of the Security Council, he was also demonstrating that the current forms make the perfect cloak for projecting global power if the United States chose to mask a unipolar world in collective security.
(23.17, 2nd September 2004)
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