Monday, August 27, 2007

Guernica remembered

(25 Aug) I got round to watching 'The Guernica Children'. The British government took the view that removing "useless mouths" from the Basque region, which by this time was an enclave cut off from the rest of Republican Spain, would assist one of the sides in the civil war and so run contrary to the "non-intervention" agreement. Meanwhile of course, Franco's fascist allies in Germany and Italy kept their side of the "non-intervention" pact by providing the 'planes and pilots that carried out the destruction of Guernica.

The programme tells us that there was massive public sympathy in Britain for the Basque people and after the bombing the government was forced to change its position. Some 4000 children were allowed to come to Britain (others went to France and Mexico). In one incident, a British navy ship protected a refugee ship from being intercepted by Franco's navy. It should be remembered, though, that the Basque children received no support from public funds.

Subsequently, the Daily Mail highlighted any misdemeanours committed by the Basque children. Although the campaign was based on fact, it was blown out of all proportion.

One father wrote to his son: 'If they ask you if you are Red, say plainly that you are proletarian, poor, human and christian, that wicked men infringe the sacred mandate and declare war on us; and that if this is being Red, as the murderers say, then we are Red - we are red as the poppy. But we are red because they have shed our blood and our bodies have stained with the red that runs in our veins.'

(Eye Witness Productions, 2005; repeated in April 2007 on BBC4, for the anniversary of the Guernica bombing.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reconsidering the war - 2

Yankee Wombat posts:
Here is John Burns of the NY Times in an interview with Hugh Hewitt giving his view of how a fixed deadline for withdrawal would motivate the Iraqis to come to an accommodation.
JB: Well, you would think it would be so, wouldn’t you, that the threat of withdrawal of American troops, and the risk of a slide into catastrophic levels of violence, much higher than we’ve already seen, would impel the Iraqi leadership to move forward. But there’s a conundrum here. There’s a paradox. That’s to say the more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down.
Then asked about the effect of giving the Iraqis more time Burns replies:
They [Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker] understand that there has to be something of a fire lit under the feet of the Iraqi leaders. It’s a paradox, it’s a conundrum, which is almost impossible to resolve. Now I think the last thing that you need is an Iraqi leadership which is already inclined to passivity on the matters, the questions that seem to matter most in terms of a national reconciliation here, the last thing they need is to be told, in effect, the deadline has been moved back three years.
Asked bluntly if he thinks the war is lost Burns replies:
No, I don’t, actually. I think the war is close to lost, but I don’t think that all hope is extinguished, and I do think, as do many of my colleagues in the media here, that an accelerated early withdrawal, something which reduced American troops, even if they were placed in large bases out in the desert to, say, something like 60-80,000 over a period of six to nine months, and in effect, leaving the fighting in the cities and the approaches to the cities to the Iraqis, I think the result of that would, in effect, be a rapid, a rapid progress towards an all-out civil war. And the people who are urging that kind of a drawdown, I think, have to take that into account. That’s not to say, I have to say, that that should be enough to inhibit those politicians who make that argument, because they could very well ask if that’s true, can those who argue for a continued high level of American military involvement here assure us that we wouldn’t come to the same point three or four years, and perhaps four or five thousand American soldiers killed later? In other words, we might only be putting off the evil day. It seems to me that’s where this discussion really has to focus. Can those who argue for staying here, can they offer any reasonable hope that three, two, three, four years out, the risk of a decline into cataclysmic civil war would be any less? If the answer is no they can’t, then it seems to me that strengthens the argument of those who say well, we might as well withdraw fairly quickly now.
yankeewombat/537, 'Sometimes Narratives Change', 1 Aug 2007. See also his later post

Another piece worth reading is A War We Just Might Win, from Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (30 July).
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elaborating on "The Lobby"

Mearsheimer and Walt are back, with a book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”.

The names seemed familiar: I remembered Jeff Weintraub writing about them (see here). This was at the time of their paper and the LRB article based on it, in April 2006. One of the most detailed responses was from Benny Morris:
footnote 10 states: "It is also worth noting that the British favored the Zionists over the Palestinians during the period of the British Mandate (1919-1948)." But during the Mandate, both Arabs and Jews were "Palestinians";
There are some other historical truths that many are prepared to overlook:
Moreover, during the 1930s and 1940s, the espoused policy of the leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement, the Muslim cleric Haj Amin al Husseini, was frankly expulsionist about the Yishuv [the Jewish community in Palestine]. He repeatedly stated that he was willing, in his future Palestinian state, to accommodate as citizens only those Jews who had been residents or citizens of Palestine up to 1917--say, 60,000 to 80,000 in all. When asked in 1937 by the Peel Commission what he intended to do with the 80 percent of the Jews who had been born in or come to Palestine after that date, he responded that time will tell. The commissioners understood him to mean that they were destined for expulsion or worse.
In the book, to be published on 4 Sept., we are told "they elaborate on and update their case."

Update (17 Aug):  Based on a blogsearch, most of the comments appearing in the roughly 16 hours after my original post seem in large majority to be supportive of Mearsheimer and Walt. Some examples:
Paul Craig Roberts: 'En mars 2006, deux universitaires distingués, John Mearsheimer et Stephen Walt, s'inquiétaient dans The London Review Books du pouvoir du lobby d'Israël [my emphasis].'

ANOTHER BOOK AIPAC IS UNHAPPY ABOUT: 'If Abe Foxman and his cronies are upset by the publication of a new book.... then IT IS DEFINITELY WORTH READING!'
A number focus on the Chicago Global Affairs Council decision to cancel its event with the authors:
Alain Gresh on Le Monde Diplomatique's blog (Quelle surprise!): 'Deux universitaires, auteur d'un rapport très détaillé sur le rôle du lobby [..] devaient parler devant le Chicago Global Affairs Council le 27 septembre 2007...'

I think an advance order from is in order“On July 24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us (Mearsheimer) and informed him that he was canceling the event,” 
The pro-Israeli side seems to have shot itself in the foot here. If I am asked to oppose the British campaign to boycott Israeli academics (which I am and I do), I think there must be a certain consistency here - to encourage open debate.

There is an interesting parallel here. A few days ago, I think it was regarding the row about Channel 4's Dispatches documentary, 'Undercover Mosque', somebody dredged up a Front Page Magazine about a Saudi banker's attempts, using British libel laws , 'to stymie the flow of information concerning his apparent misdeeds'. Another alarm bell rang in my head: it does not take long to confirm that they supported the actions to exclude Tariq Ramadan from the United States.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Giving up on Iraq

It seems that the BBC has all but given up any serious attempt to report on the situation in Iraq. I suppose that if the culture is that it is all "hopeless", this is inevitable. So, for the background to the latest terrorist attacks which have killed around 200 people, I turned to this from The New York Times :
some Yazidis stoned a Yazidi woman to death for dating a Sunni Arab man in April [Other sources suggest that the girl converted to Islam and married her boyfriend] , members of the sect became frequent targets of Sunni attacks. When a video of the Yazidi woman being stoned appeared on the Internet, gunmen stopped minibuses full of Yazidi laborers and killed 23 of them. Many Yazidis have recently moved to villages farther west, where they make up a majority. The deadly assault on Tuesday crushed the hope that there would be safety in numbers — especially near the border with Syria, which American officials have long described as an entry point for foreign fighters.
The BBC's line is that recent operations by US forces merely move the "insurgents" from one area to another, implying that the "surge" is completely futile. Others might argue that, even with the terrible human cost of this latest incident, reducing the level of attacks in Baghdad and its surrounding area and driving the terrorists to a corner of Iraq close to the Syrian border is progress of a sort.

The coverage of the BBC (and C4 News) has been reduced to little more than, "Another British soldier has been killed in Iraq...", "the soldier killed has been named as...", plus of course the big incidents like this one. When did they last have an "embed" with the US forces (or even with the British army in Basra)? Some people have done, though. The first of two accounts worth reading is from Michael Totten, on his weblog:
Many areas of Baghdad have been cleared – even the notoriously violent Haifa Street neighborhood – but insurgents and terrorists need only drive a few minutes to get from one of their strongholds to another part of the city. Gunmen and car bombers from other sectors of Baghdad can and do pass through War Eagle’s area.

Until recently the biggest threat was from the adjacent neighborhood just on the other side of the Tigris. It hasn’t been cleared of insurgents. When the War Eagle outpost was still struck by mortars, they were fired from there over the water. It is the insurgents in that sector [from the Shi'a Jaysh al Mahdi or Mahdi Army, loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr] who apparently have decided to stop attacking the outpost so they won’t hurt their comrades who infiltrated the base.

Those infiltrators in the Iraqi Army are trained every day by the Americans. “They act like our friends,” said Master Sergeant Tyler. “It is a façade to an extent, yes. They get benefits from having a good relationship with us and will do and say anything to keep us on their side.”
This, though, is a worrying sign for Totten:
Nothing makes me more pessimistic about Iraq’s future prospects than this. The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq.
Iraq is a bewildering country. I can tell you what I see and what I hear, but I can’t unravel and explain with confidence the contradictions in the hearts and minds of its people.
“I think the reason the U.S. hasn’t killed Sadr yet is because they are trying to flip him to their side,” said Hammer. “All it takes is money. [..] He has only 16 percent support among the Shia. I am a Shia. I know lots of Shia in Sadr City who hate and fear him, but he has lots of power and influence.”
With the help of a US Army interpreter named Feris, originally from Syria, Totten talks to an Iraqi civilian
“Jaysh al Mahdi took me,” he said. “They kidnapped me and dragged me off to the mosque where they beat me.” “They beat me with iron sticks,” he said, “and fired a gun in the air next to my head.” Then they shaved his head. The Mahdi Army does this to people they kidnap, to mark them, perhaps, or to humiliate them. “Why?” I said. “Why did they do this to you?” “Because I work here,” [He] said. He works at the outpost as a civilian, not for the Americans but for the Iraqis.

“How do they know you work here?” I said. He gestured toward the building where Iraqi Army soldiers live and sleep. Of course. “The Iraqi Army told them,” he said.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 14, 2007 09:58 PM
( via winds of change )
I advise, as well as reading the whole of that post, looking back at his archives for August, July and June (be aware that, apart from the posts on Iraq, there is a marked pro-Israeli viewpoint), even, if you can, doing as he asks and making a donation to support "independent journalism".

The second account is from Der Spiegel's Ullrich Fichtner (with photographer Tina Hager):
The world has become deaf to the word "peace" -- at least when conversations turn to Iraq. It is as if the world were blind to the possibility that the situation in this country straddling the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers could be anything different from the constant stream of increasingly devastating films of the latest car bombings. For most people, Iraq has become nothing but a series of attacks, a collection of images of bombings and victims, a tale of failure, a book about historical guilt and a symbol of the moral decline of the United States of America. (via normblog)

Friday, August 10, 2007


From lmsi, on Fadela Amara, formerly leader of the 'Neither whoredom, nor submission' group:
Ce n’est pas d’être sociale-libérale qui l’a fait porter aux nues par tant et tant de bons esprits « de gauche ». Les questions économiques, de son soutien au « oui » pour le référendum, à son soutien à Laurent Fabius lors des primaires du parti socialiste, n’ont jamais été la caractéristique essentielle de son discours. C’est peut-être en tant que « femme de gauche » qu’elle était devenue conseillère municipale socialiste de Clermont-Ferrand. C’est nécessairement en tant que « femme de droite » qu’elle entre au gouvernement de Nicolas Sarkozy. Mais le plus beau est qu’elle n’a pas plus que Besson eu besoin de changer quoi que ce soit de son discours.
Ce qui rend le cas Amara si significatif, c’est précisément que son engagement n’était pas caractérisé par les questions qui séparent habituellement la « gauche de gauche » du parti socialiste, celles des politiques économiques, et singulièrement celle du « libéralisme », mais par des questions « sociétales », celles pour lesquelles les « valeurs » sont situées au premier plan. Force est de constater que les « valeurs » défendues par Fadela Amara et par tous ceux qui en ont fait une icône laïque et républicaine étaient parfaitement sarko-compatibles. L’ex-présidente de « Ni Putes Ni Soumises » n’a sans doute jamais été mieux à sa place que dans le gouvernement du contempteur de la racaille, de l’homme [..], élu sur la base d’une campagne marquée par un raidissement identitaire et nationaliste [..]

Que l’ensemble des « valeurs » portées par Fadela Amara et Nicolas Sarkozy aient pu être partagées – soient toujours partagées – par des fractions importantes de ce qui se dit être « la gauche » est la meilleure illustration qui soit du brouillage de tous les repères. (Les insuffisances de « la gauche », Réflexions autour des cas Besson et Amara, Laurent Lévy, 6 July)
The key phrase here is 'les « valeurs » défendues par Fadela Amara et par tous ceux qui en ont fait une icône laïque et républicaine étaient parfaitement sarko-compatibles (the "values" defended by Fadela Amara and by all those who have made a secular and republican icon of her were perfectly sarko-compatible).' The background to this is the headscarf ban.  Lmsi argue,  and I would agree with them,  that the ban is a respectable mask for racism,  shared by the PS with the parties of the right.

 Some of my earlier views can be found here. I came across the following comment :
The moral relativism of the Herderian leftist elites have betrayed these women, (Danny69, Comment No. 401776, 29 Jan 2007 15:30)
If believing that there is no fundamental value that a woman should wear a headscarf, or should not wear a headscarf, makes be a 'relativist', then I'm a relativist. But I've "admitted" that before.

Notes on the translation: Ni putes, ni soumises. 'Neither whoredom, nor submission' is my own translation. I prefer it to various others, such as 'Neither Whores Nor Submissive(s)'.
Melanie Phillips has ‘neither whores nor submission’. Here is an update to the link she gives to the item on Today: Wednesday January 18th 2006 (0714 ... During the riots in November, the voices of girls and women were rarely heard).  

Update:  I don't want to sound too negative about Ni putes, ni soumises. I'm sure they do much work to campaign against violence to women, which I wholeheartedly support.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Reconsidering the war

How true is it that the "pro-war left" was always a small battallion, which has been losing troops over time? (See Johann Hari quoted in Oliver Kamm's post , previously discussed here.) Well, there was Norman Geras, who moved to a position of neutrality, and Greg Djerejian of the fairly influential blog the Belgravia Dispatch, who has taken the position that 200,000 or 400,000 troops are needed in Iraq, so what's the point of 30,000.

Then there's Michael Ignatieff. His recent essay in The New York Times magazine is entitled 'Getting Iraq Wrong' and he starts off, "The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq...", but, if you read on, his views are a little more nuanced:
The decision facing the United States over Iraq is paradigmatic of political judgment at its most difficult. Staying and leaving each have huge costs. One thing is clear: The costs of staying will be borne by Americans, while the cost of leaving will be mostly borne by Iraqis.
If we now have (finally) a proper counterinsurgency campaign under General Petraeus, it will take at least 18 months to make a significant difference, or to reach a point where properly equipped and trained Iraqi forces are strong enough to allow US troop numbers to be reduced. Let us assume that George Bush will continue to back the counterinsurgency strategy until he leaves office in January 2009. The Democrat controlled congress will no doubt continue to try to force it to be abandoned.

What will happen after that? John McCain's position is well known (see here). Mitt Romney has also said, "I do support the surge." Of course, this comes with the usual right-wing baggage - tax-cuts for the rich and so on ( C-span / BBC Parliament, 29 Jul). There is a third axis: Romney's credibility as a Republican candidate suffers because he is a Mormon; Rudi Giuliani is seen as too "liberal" in his lifestyle (he's been divorced) and in some of his former positions (pro-gay rights).
All the same, I believe it would be difficult to vote for the Democrats in good conscience.

Last October, I did not think the foreign policy positions of McCain and Hillary Clinton were too different, both having responsible positions on Iraq. Even in January this year, her statements were still just about reasonable (*).  But then she said, "If we do not in Congress end this war by January 2009, then I will." (Financial Times, 3 Feb) These changes are summed up in another NYT article from this weekend: "Slowly, Clinton Shifts on War, Quieting Foes". 

* 'After Iraq Trip, Clinton Proposes War Limits', NYT, 18 Jan 2007 - Hillary Clinton visited Iraq in the company of Senator Evan Bayh and Representative John M. McHugh;  C-Span, via BBC Parliament, 21 Jan.

Update (8 Aug): More comments on Ignatieff at dstpfw. It is also worth reading David Aaronovitch's article in The Times / his blog, from 17 July, where referring to the 8 July editorial in The New York Times entitled 'The Road Home', he says:
Of course a lot of what was written in the editorial was true. I reemphasise the simple point that had I known that 100,000 Iraqis would die after the removal of Saddam Hussein, then I would have argued against military action. But this is a strange moment to abandon Iraq.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What’s left? What’s new?

Oliver Kamm rips into Johann Hari for his critique of Nick Cohen and the "pro-war left" in general. There is more here.

Even when he was on "our side", I tended towards thinking that Hari was a fairly superficial writer. An example can be found in my post Global Justice. These comments were e-mailed to at the time.

A month or two earlier, Hari was found to have engaged in plagiarism (or nicking other people's words) by Chris Brookes ( 18.8.04 ... "Great Coincidences of Our Time: In The New Republic, dated 1 October 2001... ").

Sorry, this is starting to sound like digging up dirt. I am merely trying to say that some people had doubts about him, even when he was the only journalist on The Independent to break from the easy consensus on Iraq.
Nick Cohen has responded himself:
[My book] looks at how Anglo-American leftists took up the left-wing opponents of Baathism when Saddam was America’s ally, but dumped them in 1990 when Saddam became America enemy. Opposition to America was more important to them than opposition to totalitarian regimes of the extreme right
It's a shame he didn't read more Orwell, since that's exactly what he accuses "the Left" (or the greater part of it) of doing in its attitude towards Nazi Germany, at least until the Soviet-German pact was broken in 1941.
even the once-respected BBC has admitted to fixing competitions...
That's a trivial aspect to attack the BBC on.

"Bernard Kouchner’s foreign ministry in Paris" is a convenient formulation to mask the fact that he's working for a right-wing president.

Comments are closed. If they were ever open. I have e-mailed these comments to

The argument rumbles on...

Update (3 Aug) There are a couple of posts on dstpfw that are worth noting, the first on the threats of libel action, the second on the substantive issues, like the Iraq war.

On the first I have dropped the comment: 
By the way, there is a case to be made for the libel laws: George Orwell made it once. But I'll save that for another day.
On the second, Eric summed it up neatly.
Johann preferred a short war to an endless tyranny, he didn't sign up for a long war against people trying to impose a new tyranny.
I don't know if there is a word for this - choosing between two options that didn't actually exist (that is, one of them didn't). 

Update (3 Aug, 12:35) Will at a General Theory of Rubbish posted a new days ago about the "Great Coincidences",  but he doesn't give the source, as far as I can see.