Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Iraq diplomacy revisited

(26 Nov 2007) Tony Blair on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US: in 2001, "I spoke to President Khatami of Iran...from the aeroplane. ... Iran at that point was prepared to be part of this."

Blair on Iraq, April 2002: "My view was always that if you built a strong enough international coalition, then it was possible to avoid military action. It was even possible actually either to get rid of the regime or change its nature fundamentally if the international community stayed together."
Sept. 2002, John Bolton: going to the UN was a waste of time.

Jan 2003: "It became more important for the French, Germans and Russians to stop the superpower taking unilateral action than to deal with Saddam's defiance of the UN Security Council." (Sir Jeremy Greenstock)  
20 Feb, Blix 'phoned Blair: "he believed that, in any event, it was important to avoid conflict and I  used to keep saying to him, look, that isn't... your job is to just tell us the facts."
On Chirac's "whatever the circumstances" interview on 10 Mar, Sir Stephen Wall recounts a Labour MP saying to him, "Chirac didn't say what your guys are saying he said". Greenstock admitted that his statement "was not a glorious moment" (Cf. Kampfner, p287,  Iraq sources).
Sir David Manning, "I felt that the endgame was rushed... I  think if the inspections had been allowed to run into the summer, then perhaps you would have got a new dynamic among the key players..." Blair, "I think if we'd got a second resolution, you would have opened up that whole possibility, but you were never realistically going to get that."
(The Blair Years Part 2, BBC, 25 Nov 2007)

(9 Dec) Part 3. Although Blair had in David Aaronovitch an interviewer who is known to be generally sympathetic to his position, the overall editorial tone reflected what might be called the consensus view of the British media. One example from the voice-over may suffice: "When in 2006 ... Israel unleashed a ferocious military onslaught on Lebanon in retaliation, they said, for rocket attacks by Hezbollah." the capture of their soldiers

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Digital Radio

DAB Digital radio is being portrayed in some quarters as the 21st century's version of Betamax, the video format that lost out to VHS in the 1970s.

News that media giant GCap is to close two digital stations and has sold its digital platform has added to the arguments that the format is unlikely to find widespread favour in the UK.
When C4 News reported on this earlier in the week, they said that digital radio doesn't work well in cars.

According to the Financial Times, 'Barely 1 per cent of cars in the UK have a digital radio.' No mention of it not working well: the implication is that it's just car manufacturers dragging their feet. But anyway, GCap may have a short term motive: 'It would be a tragedy if GCap does pull out of  digital [..] for the sake of fighting off [a bid from] Global [Radio]', said one figure. (9 Feb; there were 2 articles - p13 (the front of the 'Companies..' section) and p16. I'm told that their website no longer charges "occasional visitors")

If there is an excess of capacity (bandwidth) and people are complaining that the quality is less in the UK than elsewhere,  why don't they use the capacity to improve the quality (bits per second)?  Or would that be too simple?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Protecting Darfur

This is an e-mail I sent in response to Darfur dilemmas - An exchange with Alex de Waal  (Wednesday, January 09, 2008):
the public pressure that most western governments have been feeling on the issue of Darfur has been shamefully weak, not excessive–-and outside the US and (to a lesser degree) Britain, it has been fairly minimal.
I can only speak for the French media, of which I hear quite a bit, but they do have a fair amount of coverage. As it happens, only tonight (14 Jan.) there was another piece on Radio France Inter.

You may also recall a long article by Bernard-Henri Lévy, which was translated both into British English and American English last May.

As you are probably aware, the Darfur conflict has spilled over into Chad and the Central African Republic. There a European, mainly French, force is being deployed (though there are considerable difficulties with this). France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, known for proposing the droit d'ingérence (right to intervene) is a strong supporter of this. Accused of defending [Chad's autocratic and corrupt leader] Idriss Déby, Kouchner responded that the force was to defend villages, women and children (Interview on Europe 1, 11 Jan.)

Update: during the weekend 2-3 Feb. rebels, almost certainly backed by Sudan, probably with the aim of preventing the deployment of the Eufo to protect Darfur rebels in Chad, came close to unseating the Déby government. Mixed messages have been coming from Paris. Commentators on the BBC World Service suggested that, infuriated by France's failure to assist him, would block the deployment.

But by 6 Feb, France Inter news was reporting that, since France has given 'significant help' to the Chad government, President Déby was even considering a pardon for the Zoe's Ark six, 'if France asks for it.' Bernard Kouchner, in an interview on Europe 1 that morning, said that the deployment of the Eufo had obviously been put on hold, but he hoped it could begin on Friday. Kouchner said that, whatever you thought of it, the Chad government had been legitimately elected.

Update: It seems that helicopter gunships played a key role in the defence of N'Djamena. French troops defending the airport to allow the evacuation of Europeans, as a side effect it could be argued, also protected the gunships from the rebels (Analysis ,  BBC World Service, 12 Feb - listen link valid for one week). The rebellion also had a lot of support from within Chad. The Déby government may be using the situation as a smokescreen for cracking down on dissidents. One key complaint against Déby is that he changed the constitution to allow himself to stand for a second time as president.

All that said, it's a difficult situation, but the French actions, side effect or not, could be justified: the possibility of Sudan imposing a more compliant government on Chad was hardly to be welcomed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Withdrawing from Basra

(24 Nov) Kate Clark reports that Basra now is like living under a Shi'a Taliban. She should know: she used to be the BBC's correspondent in Afghanistan under the Taliban (File on 4: Inside Basra: Tuesday 2 October 2007).  A full transcript of the programme (74k) is now available.

Yahia Sayid (an expert on Iraq and oil at the London School of Economics):
The pursuit of oil money even as a way of financing the insurgency, with time becomes a goal in and of itself. The criminal activity takes over the political fight eventually. But it’s always mixed in, because you need, if you like, the moral justification, the political justification to sustain the interests of your foot soldiers. It’s never quite possible to just be a thief. ... Oil is both a fuel to the conflict and a prize to be won by the winners.(p12)
The police chief is forced to rely on the support of his tribe in his efforts to purge police who are corrupt and beholden to militias. (p11) She asks a Norwegian expert (Reider Visser) whether it would have been possible to have done it differently, not relying on the militia. Yes, but that would have required more forces. The British spokesman puts his faith in the national police (p16; other reports from around Iraq suggest that local police are less corrupt than the national police). 'Most Basrawis feel bitterly disappointed about the British, but almost all want them to stay' (p18).
[T]he British are pleased that their withdrawal to the airport went smoothly, although it’s alleged that only happened because they did a deal with the Mahdi Army and released many of its prisoners. (p17 - cf Panorama 10 Dec, R4 Today - 0700-0730 at 0714 )
Now parts of the media are waking up to the fact that British withdrawal may be leaving behind a mess in Basra. This, of course, comes after years when the only question has been, 'when do we withdraw?'

In Part 2 of her report for Panorama (17 Dec), Jane Corbin makes a telling point: "further north, the Americans took on the [Shi'a] militias, but the British lacked the manpower and the political will to do this." (my emphasis)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Iron ore

Fascinating, I know. Actually, this is quite interesting. Well, I think so. From the Financial Times
China has almost no sources of high-grade iron ore and has to buy from outside. ... Paradoxically, any further consolidation in the iron ore industry would play into the hands of certain players in the steel industry, such as Lakshmi Mittal, chief executive of ArcelorMittal ... who have placed great emphasis on securing their own internal supplies. ( Sparks set to fly over BHP-Rio, FT,10 Nov 2007)
Postscript, 1 Feb 2008: A state-owned Chinese company has taken a stake in Rio Tinto at £60 a share (BHP Billiton is currently offering £49 in a takeover bid).