Tuesday, November 30, 2004

China and Africa

There was a fascinating little piece on BBC WS last night. We are often told about the US taking oil from African countries. Well, China too, with its increasing consumption, is more and more seeking oil and other raw materials from Angola and so on.

African countries (or rather their leaders) really like dealing with China, since it does not try to 'interfere' and ask awkward questions about human rights, unlike the US and European countries.

The Donbass

3 more points from Timothy Garton Ash's article last Wednesday ( see).
Miners from the Donbass region are reportedly being bussed in to sort out these pansy urban liberals. (Something very similar happened to keep Ceausescu's successors in power in Romania.) 
Ah, the miners from the Donbass. We haven't heard about them since the days when Peter Franks of Essex University was C4 News tame expert on the collapse of the Soviet Union. The miners in Romania, however,  and the country is set to join the EU in a few years.
Yet until Tuesday, many west Europeans probably did not even know that there was a presidential election going on in Ukraine.
Even if we knew there was an election going on, we probably thought that people would acquiesce in a rigged result, as in Belarus or Russia itself. Nobody anticipated the public's level of opposition to that. 
What's at stake is not just the future of Ukraine: whether it turns to Europe, the west and liberal democracy, or back to authoritarianism and Putin's Russia. It's also the future of Russia itself, and therewith of the whole of Eurasia. A Russia that wins back Ukraine, as well as Belarus, will again be an imperial Russia, as Putin wishes. 
It cannot be overstated how disastrous the Yukos affair will be for Russia : to add to Putin's near monopoly of the media, which means that elections can hardly be fair, you then have the use of the legal system to persecute opponents.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Tahseen Hassan

I will find somewhere else ... far away from anything near the Middle East, Arab or Muslim.
Sunday Times, 21 Nov 2004

Update (1 Dec).  Just to join up the dots : the body of a European female was found by the Americans when they regained control of Falluja;only two were known to have been taken hostage - Margaret Hassan and a Polish woman. The Polish woman was freed and appeared in Warsaw on 20 Nov.

The 2 French journalists who have now been held hostage for more than 100 days may now be in Iran, according to Melanie Phillips.

Update (1 Dec) : According to C4 News this evening, the Foreign Office have said that dental records show that body that was found was not that of Margaret Hassan.


An update on this discussion : the BBC has this on Spain's parliamentary commission into the Madrid bombings :

A public protest outside the Spanish parliament coincided with Mr Aznar's appearance. Its organisers said they were sickened by the Madrid bombings perpetually being used as a political football.

Update (30 Nov). Somebody from El Pais, speaking on BBC Radio 4 last night, said that the atmosphere had been poisoned in the last 18 months : politicians had crossed lines they had not crossed before, calling each other 'criminals' and so on. 

Iraq's Sunnis

As a group headed by Adnan Pachachi calls for the elections to be delayed, Roula Khalaf reports on the front page of the FT (27 Nov) that ... 'Sunni inclusion was a main topic'  at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. 'The Iraqi government came under strong pressure to reach out to political opponents.'

Sarkozy's coronation

Mr Sarkozy, by contrast, has no time for tradition for tradition's sake. In an enlarged Europe, he argues that France can no longer rely on the Franco-German motor and needs to cultivate a group of six that also includes Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland. Atlantic-minded, he urges a milder approach to America. He advocates an overhaul of the French social model, pushing for less state regulation and a more flexible labour market; his inspirations are Britain and Spain, not moribund Germany. He considers that the French model of integration has failed French Muslims, and argues for American-style social engineering to help minorities advance. In short, where Mr Chirac urges caution and conservatism, Mr Sarkozy presses for modernisation and change. “France is not eternal,” says one of his aides. “If it does not reform, it will disappear.”  
( 'The changing of the guard', The Economist, Nov 25th 2004)

In the part of his speech on Sunday that the BBC World Service chose to highlight,  Sarkozy said, 'We do not share the anglo-saxon vision of an ever larger EU' and came out against Turkey having full membership.

This may be understandable in the context of French domestic politics and the ongoing conflict against the US and its surrogate in Europe, but its timing is unfortunate  in the light of events in the east of Europe (a bit further north than Turkey).

Bernard Guetta elicits a gasp of incredulity on my part when he compares what's going on in Kiev to the reaction of the Spanish people to the supposed 'lie' told them over the Madrid bombings. I did once ask a Spanish colleague what he thought of the 'lie' theory and he went along with it, so I suppose it is a 'real' myth, but it really does have little foundation. We shall see if Aznar is asked about it when he appears at an inquiry today.

Apart from that, France Inter did have splendid coverage from Kiev this morning (Monday). One listener asked why they so uncritically supported one 'side', that was so pro-US. Guetta replied that it was the vision of the EU, now on its western borders, not the US, that inspired the opposition. Most speakers reject with contempt the idea that this is some sort of US-inspired plot : as if the CIA went into every house and persuaded people to go onto the street.

The BBC WS on Sunday looked at some of the economic issues : Yushchenko was unpopular with industrial workers in the east because of his policies of economic liberalization, whereas Yanukovych was seen as providing more 'protection'.

They also got a reporter outside the tumult of Kiev, to find there is quieter, but still firm, support for the 'orange revolution'.

British Palestine

Continuing this series : the British army chief advocated a boycott on Jewish businesses - 'hitting the race where it hurts the most - in their pockets.' This was immediately picked up and used as a propaganda weapon by Irgun.

The bombing of the King David Hotel was 'the first major terrorist act of the 20th century.' A warning was given, as Menachem Begin claimed in 1972, but it was deemed inadequate. In those days, there was no system in place to distinguish hoax calls from genuine. The Zionists also pioneered the technique of the letter bomb.

They regarded their campaign as a success, since it led to an occupying force of 100,000 men from 4,000 kilometers away withdrawing earlier than they would otherwise have done. 

Back to the current situation, as has long been anticipated, Mahmoud Abbas has been confirmed as Fatah's candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority, but not before it was rumoured Friday that Marwan Barghouti would stand as an independent from his prison cell. On Saturday, Barghouti indicated that he would support Abbas' candidature.

How can Mahmoud Abbas overcome crippingly low public support ? A comparison has been made with Golda Meir had less than 2% support before she became Israeli PM. 6 months later, she had over 60% support. 
('From Our Own Correspondent', click on the listen again facility for the World Service edition, then it's towards the end, about 18 minutes in.)

Ironically, the BBC reports that 'The UK can play a key role in helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve a lasting peace', according to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

The Forgotten War

I happened to catch part of this Saturday morning. After the Communists were defeated in 1949 in the civil war in Greece, some of the children of their partisans found refuge in various countries in Eastern Europe. Eventually, some returned to Greece - to villages where some of the practices they picked up, like brushing teeth and wearing nice clothes, were regarded as outlandish. (Unfinished Business , BBC Radio 4, 27 Nov )

Friday, November 26, 2004


I really must say more about Ukraine than this. I only spotted this when I went into The Guardian for a very different reason
The learning chain of Europe's velvet revolutions is fascinatingly direct. One of the most active groups in Ukraine's democratic opposition is called Pora. Pora means "It's time", which is exactly what the crowds chanted on Wenceslas Square in Prague in November 1989. The student activists of Pora received personal tutorials in non-violent resistance from Serbian students of the Otpor ("resistance") group who were in the vanguard of toppling Milosevic. Those same Serbs also helped the Georgian vanguard movement Kmara ("enough is enough"). On Tuesday, a Georgian flag was seen waving on Independence Square in Kiev. In Tbilisi, the rose-revolutionary Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili interrupted his first anniversary address to speak a few words of encouragement, in Ukrainian, to his "sisters and brothers" in Kiev. Now the Ukrainian opposition has asked Lech Walesa, once the leader of Solidarity, that Polish mother of all east European peaceful revolutions, to come to Kiev and mediate.
'Freedom's front line', Timothy Garton Ash writing Wednesday. I could also highlight the remark that 'shamingly, Americans probably have done more to support the democratic opposition in Ukraine, and to shine a spotlight on electoral malpractices, than west Europeans have' or note that, in contrast to their attitude towards, erm, a certain Middle Eastern country, 'liberals' have regained their passion and their principles here. But that is being churlish. TGA's article says some very obvious but very important things. Read the whole thing.

A couple more points : Ukraine's food production is needed by Russia, but not by the EU (Bernard Guetta, France Inter, Monday). Russia has access to its Black Sea fleet via Ukraine (C4 News, Tuesday I think). Could any assurances be given about this ? And could Russia  believe them ?

One irony : if the Soviet Union had not taken land from Poland, Ukraine would not have had this 'problem' with a large Catholic population in the west of the country. But thankfully Poland has no wish to pursue territorial claims against Ukraine, any more than Germany has against Poland.

Thursday : one of the state-owned TV stations said it was no longer prepared to broadcast lies and would present balanced coverage. A private channel, which before closely followed the government  line, said it would start showing opposition demonstrations. 'State television stations are today's Bastilles', as TGA says.(BBC).

Friday morning : Lech Walesa may have appeared on the opposition's platform, but the current Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, and Javier Solana are in Kiev to try to mediate. (BBC).

Meanwhile, The Daily Mail had Oleg Gordievsky on "The return of the cold war" (Thursday, P24-5). No comment. Except that he managed to avoid mentioning Gorbachev.
Update (Friday evening) : I almost mentioned that no-one had yet mentioned dividing the country into two, but this mentions that the extreme Russian nationalist Zhirinovsky (I will check that spelling when I can) has talked about splitting Ukraine and letting the western half go. He has a reputation for floating 'unthinkable' ideas, which become Moscow's policy in a couple of years.

I have seen revolutions in the Philippines and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The dynamics on the streets are fascinating to watch. The way the crowds build until they reach a critical mass, so large that almost nothing can stop them. The mass senses it has enough power to face down the state. You can feel it in the air. In Kiev on Friday that tipping point had almost been reached.
From Our Own Correspondent - Kiev's shifting sea of orange

(evening) The opposition demonstrators even manage to organize Portaloos in Liberation Square.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

More Nightmares

Normblog continues to keep us informed of the most egregious delusions appearing in The Guardian.

Subsequent to my post on his TV programme, Adam Curtis has now written an article, 'Fear gives politicians a reason to be' .

Norm makes the point that being 'blown to bits by an idea, not by an all-powerful organization' is not very reassuring. On  the assertion that politicians now rely on fear, he comments 'How does Curtis know this? I don't know how he knows it. He doesn't say.' Well, Curtis does give us an idea of why - because of the Thatcherite idea of  'allowing the hidden hand of the market to guide and shape society' (though surely it was Gordon Brown who, like Clinton, 'gave away the last vestiges of political control over the economy').

There is in my view, though, a more important point to be made.
that idea that politicians can change the world would be laughed at. Of course there is massive social and economic progress, but it is no longer perceived as having been produced by politicians.
Surely the real criticism of this is that it ignores the world outside 'the West'. Politicians may no longer seek to impose their vision on society, but they can still damage society. Corruption and lack of political accountability in Africa, the Middle East and so on seemingly do not exist outside of Curtis' bubble. 

We are now in 'an incredible era of prosperity and calm ' ? Try telling that to people in Sudan - or Ukraine.

Update (25 Nov) One last point : Curtis also remarks that the reliance on fear 'represents the last gasp of a liberal political elite to maintain their sense of specialness in society'. Does this mean that the article exists in even more of a bubble, relating only to the latest proposals by Labour in the UK and ignoring the US 'neo-conservatives', which he deals with at length in his TV programmes ; or that he recognizes that the neo-cons are liberals too ?

Via sussuration, an older Guardian piece on the series.

Norm on something else from The Guardian.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


A google search ("Jean-Marie Colombani" blinding) found this, apart  from my post of course.


...continuing on the programmes focusing on the US at the time of the election.

Finally, Adam Curtis' 'The Power of Nightmares' on BBC. This has been widely praised, for example by Nick Fraser of Storyville, if with qualifications - his 'over-ingenious parallels' (FT magazine, 20 Nov).

In part 1, some points are dwelt on at some length, like the precedent, in the cold war, of what Fred Halliday called the threat inflators. Some in the Reagan administration put about the idea that all the terrorist groups, from the IRA to the Islamists were linked together, when the CIA knew this to be untrue since it was their own black propaganda.

Others are passed over just a little too quickly : such as the statement that before 1980 Christian fundamentalist preachers urged their congregations not to vote. Really ?

When I previously described something as 'Straussian', I was referring to Leo Strauss. He was a shadowy figure who, conveniently enough, didn't leave much in the way of published work.

'That Muslim Brothers figure' who was so disgusted by US ‘decadence’ (see) was of course Sayyid Qutb.  The day he was executed in 1966, Ayman al-Zawahiri started an Islamist group (*). Qutb initially supported the nationalist coup in 1952 in Egypt, but was later arrested. He suffered torture, his torturers trained by the CIA, the programme alleges (as if the Egyptians would never have thought of it on their own). Fast-forward to 1979, the country apparently prospering as a result of western investment, but corrupt. Omit that Egypt had a 'socialist' orientation, certainly under Nasser, and you would think Egypt was in the orbit of the US all along (**).

Remember too that the 1952 uprising was against British dominance. But Britain now is supposed to be a US lapdog. This transformation is never quite explained. As always, the US is seen as the unique cause of all antagonism and the legacy of British and French colonialism (think of Vietnam and Algeria) is forgotten.

(*)  From the New Yorker Magazine: THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror (via life_in_central_america ).

(**) Another omission: from the New Yorker again, Qutb was arrested after a member of the Brothers attempted to assassinate Nasser in Alexandria on October 26, 1954.

The Revolution will not be blogged

Seriously, expressions of solidarity to the Ukrainian people.

And I've added this to the sidebar.

The Shi'a of Iraq

Bartle Bull writes in the FT magazine ( 'No Will, No Way', 30 Oct) and at greater length in Prospect, 'The coming of Shia Iraq' (link - still accessible ).
On rooftops and in the streets [of Sadr City] there are many Shia flags, mostly green and black. ...   The green ones are for Ali and his martyrdom. The black ones are for al-Mahdi and the hope of his return. Black is the colour of Shia optimism. 
And guess who's still exercising great influence behind the scenes.
Iraqis know that [Ahmed] Chalabi is the one man alive without whom Saddam would still be their ruler. And from the moment of Saddam's fall, just as leading up to it, Chalabi has done everything right. He has publicly (if not necessarily privately) fallen out with Washington over a featherweight intelligence stink involving Iran. The world has watched the Allawi government vandalise his house and issue a ludicrous arrest warrant accusing him of counterfeiting Iraq's worthless old currency. Shortly before I last spoke to Chalabi, he had survived an ambush that killed two of his guards at Mahmudiya in the Bermuda triangle.

Saddam, Washington, Allawi, the Sunnis: Chalabi has the right enemies. When I pointed this out to him at his house in Baghdad last month he laughed and said: "That's not a bad thing."  

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

US elections & the British media

The US elections brought forth quite a spate of programmes on British TV.

First, Peter Hobart's on C4, a rather repetitive sneer at US democracy : the elections are decided by a small number of  voters and they are pig-ignorant; and there are vicious personal attacks. How unlike politics back home!

I preferred John Sutherland, on the revival of political pamphleteering in the US (FT magazine, 30 Oct) :
Violent argument is the essence of  vital democracy.
 To be taken rather more seriously was Jonathan Dimbleby's 'New World War' on ITV. This at least focused on the 'root causes',  such as the dire poverty in the world. In building his argument, Dimbleby interviews a couple of 'neo-conservatives', who say that the war on terror is being won, since terrorists are being killed or captured. It is  amusing to contrast this attempt to show that the neo-cons are minimizing the threat from terror with the much-trailed 'Power of Nightmares', which shows that the neo-cons have exaggerated, if not invented, the threat from terror; but in a sense it is not so important to show in what way the neo-cons are deluded, merely that they are deluded.

Somebody from the Middle East was interviewed and spoke about the corruption and lack of democracy, but Dimbleby kept harping away on the theme of poverty.

Update (24 Nov) : it was easy enough I dare say to find people in Beirut to say how much they hate America (as it would be in Paris or London, even) and then to make the usual point about how the war in Iraq has made this much, much worse. It would have been more interesting though to have asked members of the Shi'a community, including Fadlallah himself, what they think about Saddam Hussein's removal from power.

Condoleeza Rice

If   this article is going to get read, and re-reread, and read again, let me say it was obviously written in 1999, since 'Yeltsin is Russia's president'. :
The Clinton administration's approach has its advantages: If priorities and intent are not clear, they cannot be criticized. ...
Humanitarian problems are rarely only humanitarian problems; the taking of life or withholding of food is almost always a political act. If the United States is not prepared to address the underlying political conflict and to know whose side it is on, the military may end up separating warring parties for an indefinite period.  
Greg rightly highlights Condi's remarks on Iran, but Danielle Pletka at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs would be a nightmare beyond all belief. One sample :
Iran, after all, is Terror Central: It has become an operational headquarters for parts of Al Qaeda, continues to sponsor Hezbollah and Hamas...
Powell at least managed to sort out one small thing.    

Monday, November 22, 2004

Leaders and opinion

A very belated reply to Yevgeny Vilensky, via  Greg Djerejian,  and his critique of Tucker and Hendrickson's piece in Foreign Affairs (via  Greg again ) : 
how can we measure world opinion? Is this what the foreign ministers say? Or what the people in the streets of Berlin, Paris, and London think? Or is it what people in the State Department say people around the world think?
But if we did [have legitimacy], it was not because other nations believed that we were acting within structural constraints on our power. It is because they liked what we did.
It may not be measurable, but the anti-US sentiment in Europe is palpable and undeniable, both in peoples and in their governments; and the media, whether reflecting that or leading it, is the same. Try looking at (the websites of) The Guardian, Le Monde or El Pais, depending on your language skills, for example.

 There are notable exceptions, of course and one of them fortunately is the British Prime Minister. It is a moot point whether leaders should just try to follow public opinion or 'show leadership' by putting the case for necessary but unpopular policies, as Richard Perle accused Gerhard  Schröder of not doing.

In another example, from another article in Foreign Affairs, Richard Haass writes that Clinton gave the American people the foreign policy that polls suggested they wanted, rather than leading them toward the foreign policy they needed.
And Vilensky's 'answer', just leaves more questions : why did the Europeans, not to mention others, stop liking what the US was doing? And, more importantly,  what would it take to make them start liking it again?

Sunday, November 21, 2004


I watched the interview with President Chirac broadcast on Newsnight on BBC2 on Wednesday (17 Nov). Even allowing for the usual diplomatic reserve, there and in the press conference with Tony Blair Thursday he seemed to take a very conciliatory tone.

"The situation there is altogether different. The French in Cote d'Ivoire act under the mandate of the UN ..." But the US and UK actions in Iraq are with UN approval, now. There is the usual qualification, echoing his words in Feb 2003, 'at this moment', in these circumstances, he does not envisage sending French troops to Iraq. In truth, it is hard to imagine any circumstance in which he would deploy French troops in Iraq. It would be just too unpopular with public opinion.

The almost universal view is that Iraq is a quagmire, following a war based on a lie (unless there is a nuance to the word mensonge that my dictionaries do not mention).

Then again, there was the matter of the snub to Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi -  see this, via Greg.

Sarkozy is endorsed in a leader in The Times Friday : Chirac does not represent all of France, 'God speed Sarkozy', he believes in free markets...Well, up to a point. And there was an inconsistency, that I missed before, in regard to tolerance for Islam, looking again at this post (or this) as against this one. In France, Sarkozy is regarded not so much as a man of principle, a kind of French Thatcher, more as a perpetual motion self-publicizing machine

Meanwhile, on the Left, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Jaques Lang (both interviewed on France Inter) come up with very similar analyses. A victory for the 'no to the constitution' wing would leave the French Left marginalised and isolated in Europe. With whom would they build an alternative Europe? With the Austrian neo-Nazis or with M. Le Pen's FN? Far better to accept the constitution, negotiated though it has been by Chirac, then, after victory in 2007, build on it with social democrats from Sweden to Germany. Tony Blair, of course, is hardly mentioned in the same breath, though he is preferable to the British Conservatives.

 Sweden in particular is seen as a model to emulate. Clare MacCarthy, in support of  John Lloyd's piece on the 'nanny state' (FT, 13 Nov) writes :
This urge to protect people from themselves also underlies Sweden's most famous exercise in social control - the alcohol monopoly. ... Mollycoddling, Swedish-style, seems to work.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Mad Mitch

Tonight (Friday) BBC2 has a documentary on Aden, Yemen and the, erm, 'robust' approach of the British army. 'Mad Mitch, ... , later went on to become a Conservative MP, I recall.

Having watched the program, one or two things are striking. Reporters didn't ponce about in helmets and so on in those days, for one thing.

The methods used by the Argyll and Sutherlands under the command of Colin Mitchell were effective in re-establishing control in Crater City, but they made the Americans in  Iraq look as if they are wearing kid gloves : beating of people in custody, hints of murder even.

But the mainstream media were not too interested in pursuing such stories. Mitchell was largely a hero for British opinion - for his defiance of more hesitant superiors and political masters. After the death of 22 British soldiers, betrayed by local police, there was not much sympathy for the Arabs.

He said that if you decide to use soldiers - because other methods have failed - you must use them as soldiers and not as policemen. This pre-echoes Condi Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs  in 1999 / 2000.
The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force.
So, perhaps Mitchell was a prototype neo-conservative, with a Straussian concern for the breakdown of the moral order in the West, wondering how many varieties of LSD people back home were on, as the country became a 3rd, 4th, 5th, however many-th, rate power.

One of the political masters was Denis Healey. He, like someone from the NLF, one of the terrorist / insurgent organisations, made the predictable comparison with Iraq.

Next week : Zionist terrorism in British-controlled Palestine.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

100,000 or 300,000

Back to those extra deaths in Iraq which were discussed earlier. After reading the Lancet report itself, I can understand some of the comments made at Harry's Place and look at some of the figures with a bit more precision.

'During the period before the invasion, ... the crude mortality rate was 5·0 per 1000 people per year'

After the invasion, from March 19, 2003, to mid-September, 2004, if the Falluja cluster is excluded, the 'mortality is 7·9 per 1000 people per year'. So, in a population of 24.4 million, the additional 2.9 per thousand equates to 71,000 people per year or for a period of 17.8 months a total of 105,000 deaths.

If the Falluja cluster is included, 'the crude mortality rate...  was 12·3 per 1000 people per year'. So, the additional 4.4 per thousand equates to 107,000 people per year or a total of 159,000 deaths.

This is higher than the 'doubling' - around 100,000 - that was floated on the radio, but lower than the report's 'point estimate of about 200 000 excess deaths in the 3% of Iraq represented by this cluster.' That 3% of Iraq would be about 732,000 people.

So, 159,000 deaths in a population of 732,000 ?

In any further analysis I risk making basic statistical errors such as drawing conclusions from to small a sample, but looking at when the deaths from the Falluja sample are supposed to have occurred, roughly from the histogram of Figure 2 : in 2003, Jun - 3, Nov - 1 ; in 2004, Apr - 11, Jun - 4, Aug - 31, Sep - 5 (adding up to 55, whereas the real total from the sample was 53, 52 of them violent).

31 deaths in the sample for August 2004 ? That would imply 93,000 deaths.

For April 2004, 11 deaths implies 33,000 from the Falluja sample or, scaling it down, 13,500 for the city of  Falluja itself (pop. 300,000).

Comparing it with the figure from the NYT of 850 casualties from the April fighting, it is multiplied about 15 fold, as against sixfold when the Lancet report is compared with recorded figures for the whole of Iraq.

An Afghan hospital

I heard From Our Own Correspondent on Saturday (13 November) 11:30 on BBC Radio 4. Strangely, they did not have the report that was first up on the World Service edition, Sunday 8:00, about the appalling state of the chest clinic in Kabul.

There was not much on their website  either, but you can always click on the listen again facility for the World Service edition.

They did however have Hugh Sykes'  rather fine piece, featuring a conversation with an Iraqi airline pilot :
"We may fight in self-defence, but if you are unarmed we cannot shoot you. If we take you prisoner, and then if we cannot provide food and drink, we must release you. Whatever we do, we must treat you as a human being." ...
"This 11 September, this has damaged us deeply. This was NOT Islam," he says: "Our religion is peace and respect. Salaam aleikum means peace be upon you."

And he says it is about respect for all humanity.

For example: "If you are by a stream, you must take only the water that you need, so that others may share it and," he adds, warming to his theme, "if you are hunting, you must never hunt for pleasure, only to provide food that you really need."
"Ramadan is very important not only for our health. It is so that we can feel what it is really like to be poor and hungry and thirsty.

"Islam is a religion for the people, and that," he concludes, "is why nearly all Arab governments do not like true Islam, because it requires them to share their wealth, and to be equal with the people, and that they do not want."
There wasn't much on the website either about William Dalrymple's 'The Sufi and the Shrine' broadcast on BBC Radio 3 , 31 Oct.

Colin Powell

Headlined 'Spending political capital', Powell told the FT  George W. Bush's election victory had given him a mandate to pursue an 'agressive' foreign policy (FT's Week in Review, 14 Nov).  'I intend to use the next 4 years to spend the capital of the US on [a Palestinian] state', George W. Bush,  press conference with Tony Blair, 13 Nov.

After he resigned, but before it became clear Condoleeza Rice was to replace him, a name often mentioned was John Danforth. John Snow on C4 News started saying, he's a preacher, he must be on the religious right. They were talking to James Rubin and someone else whose name I forget (a Bush I and Reagan man), this latter saying, yes, but he's an Episcopalian, you know, Church of England.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What the papers said

In defence of The Sun

The BBC had a woman from The Daily Express reviewing the papers on Saturday. She pointed out that the 'blood for oil' remarks of relatives of a soldier of the Black Watch (the British troops deployed to support the US operation in Falluja) was reported by 'almost all' of the papers. The Sun, however, chose not to mention the family's dissent.

The reasons why The Sun is pro-American and therefore pro-war are fairly well-known, but there is something rather distasteful about this turning on the odd man out. Right or Left, we might got be able to agree about Europe or how to treat gypsies, but at least we can all agree to hate America. To use the reviewers own expression, it's sad really.

Calling it 'dissent'  is rather curious when one considers the line-up of the London papers (the *** s indicate big gaps in my knowledge, since I rarely look inside them) :

Independent :             98% anti-war (exception Johann Hari)
Guardian/Observer :    95% anti-war (exception David Aaronovitch)
Mirror :                      98% anti-war (occasional piece by Christopher Hitchens)
Express :                     ***   anti-war
Mail                            95% anti-war (exception Melanie Phillips)
FT                              balanced, but increasingly anti-war
Times                          balanced
Sun                             *** pro-war

Monday, November 15, 2004


The estimate of 100,000 extra deaths in Iraq which I discussed earlier, eventually gave rise to some lively exchanges on a couple of threads at Harry's Place. I joined in on one called Fallujah, 11 Nov.
Marc Mulholland (9 Nov) asks whether, assuming we accept that 100,000 have died, it is still possible to consider the war justified. He also draws attention to an article from RUSI comparing Northern Ireland and Iraq.

I didn't shell out the £2.50 either, but I have the following comments to make : Ireland, if you cut through the rhetoric about British imperialism (as with that about US imperialism in Iraq now) was about a (protestant) minority trying to impose its dominance.

Similarly, in Iraq now it is very clear that the situation is one of a Sunni minority trying to regain power by the most ruthless means. It's like the dog that didn't bark, but the media has hardly taken note that, in contrast to April, there is no uprising against 'the occupation' in the south by the Shi'a. One exception was Johann Haris's column the other day.  He notes, among other things, that 'there hasn't been a single Shia suicide bomber in Iraq so far'. One might add that neither has there been any executions of foreign hostages by the Shi'a.

What would have happened if the British had faced down the 'Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right' brigade, whether more would have been killed then than in the actual course of events, is something you could discuss for a long time ; but at least the 1922 partition was feasible, if debatable. In Iraq, you could take the Kurds out (though Turkey objects), but how would you separate the Sunnis and the Shi'a ? What would you do with Baghdad, for example ?

So, a unitary Iraq remains the only option, one in which the Shi'a and the Kurds exercise power commensurate with their majority status, something that was denied them to one degree or another since the British dispensation of 1921 and before, but to a total extent and with increasing repression since 1979. I don't go along with people like Robin Cook who say it was only the invasion that brought al Qaeda style terrorism, since the oppression of the Shi'a in practice in Saddam-era Iraq and the theological hatred of the Shi'a in extreme Wahhabism indicate a fundamental identity.

So, it's not so much a case of 'democratic imperialism', but simply a case of majority rule. That for me is the, if you like, 'emotional' case for the war.

It's obvious that the US has made major mistakes in the reconstruction effort and not having enough troops on the ground to control the situation. What is not helpful is much of the 'liberal' media cheerleading when the insurgents pop up elsewhere, attacking police stations or murdering Iraqi civilians and terrorizing them ; or all the controversy about the deployment of British troops to support the US operation to re-establish control of Falluja. People are entitled to their opinion, of course, but we are facing, as I said, a determined and ruthless enemy who takes advantage of any weakness in a democratic society. They have already influenced the result of the election in Spain. If 'every terrorist for miles around' is attracted to attack British troops in the north, it is precisely because of that political pressure against the deployment. (*)

The presence of international forces does not have to be long-lived - that will depend on the Iraqi people and government - but it has to be effective in containing terrorist activity.

In the absence of a serious WMD threat - and it's clear now that the pre-war intelligence only allowed for preventative war by making patently unreasonable 'worst case' assumptions - there was no 'national security' case for war. The war, at best, was pre-emptive, which is illegal for sound reasons.

There was a humanitarian case, to be sure, but this is occluded if the 1000,000 dead estimate is correct. (Marc Mulholland, What if The Lancet is Correct? )

If Saddam Hussein did not inform his generals until December 2002 that Iraq had no WMD (see),  it is hardly surprising that American and British intelligence concluded that he was in possession of them. There was both the moral justifications and the usual foreign policy motives - dealing with someone who was a threat to yourself or allied countries.

To return to the central question of the '100,000 dead', you can say that the cause is the US/UK invasion. You can also say that the cause is the ruthlessness of a minority to exercise power. I could talk about the multiplicity in the causality of events, but that sounds like pretentious crap.

Notes :
(*) Just a word about Hungary : I happened to catch some of a piece on The World @ One on Friday. George (Lord) Robertson has apparently written an article in The Wall Street Journal about the lily-livered attitude of some European countries. I did feel a little sorry though for the Hungarian Foreign Minister who, presented with this by the BBC interviewer, patiently explained that they wanted to do everything they could to help, but under their constitution they needed a two-thirds majority to extend the deployment of their 300 troops.

This and that

Arafat : Mahmoud Abbas is likely to be Fatah's candidate for president of the PA (FT, 13 Nov).

Sarkozy is opposed to the headscarf ban. Dominique de Villepin, who Chirac is grooming as a rival, is in favour, according to The Times, Thursday. Alain Madelin spoke after the US election of excessive anti-Americanism in France. He is sympathetic towards Sarkozy. 'Most liberals do not recognize themselves in Chirac's policies. ...Because of its anti-liberalism, the French right is more and more isolated in Europe. He cites as examples of this anti-liberalism, the 35-hour week, an unprecedented rise in the minimum wage, the use of subsidies to combat délocalisation (the loss of jobs to foreign competition). He also opposes the entry of Turkey into the EU (Le Figaro, 14 Sep).

Afghanistan, then and now : elections to the Wolesi Jirgah (House of the People) in 1965 were by universal suffrage of all Afghans over the age of 20. Women were allowed to vote. 6 women candiadates stood and 4 were elected (Griffiths, P148 , 2001 ed.)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arafat no more

The death of Yasser Arafat (Abu Amr)  is announced at 4:00 GMT. Special programmes on BBC WS. Tommy Lapid, on BBC R4 at 7:15 just after Menzies Campbell, asks, was that the Palestinian representative to Britain you just interviewed.

Nothing much to add to previous comments, except that the name of Marwan Barghouti continues to be mentioned.

Update : Israel has re-arrested Mordechai Vanunu.

Le Monde

,4 Nov 2004 : I don’t know how often this happens, but obviously disasters like the one that has just occurred in the US don’t happen every day. ‘J.-M. C.’ (Jean-Marie Colombani) has written an opinion piece (Un monde à part). Here is a rough translation of some of what he had to say.
The temptation is almost blinding from now on, but Europeans have to be careful not to make anti-Americanism their ideology. … Not that Europe has to have a defence budget as gargantuan as the Pentagon’s, but as long as they consider the least increase in the military budget as a social regression, nothing will change. To be credible when one wishes to regulate the use of force, it is necessary to possess some.

We have to recognize that the incredible dynamism of the US economy is due in part to its ability to integrate waves of immigration. While Europe, which is ageing, thinks only of closing its borders.

Who would be able to understand a French ‘no’ vote to that minimum vital element which is the European constitution? … Since the fall of the Wall, it is not the European model that has arisen, but a different one, one that mixes economic liberty with moral surveillance. For that not to be one day our model, let the American vote at least be for us an electric shock.

Elsewhere they carry a translation of Timothy Garton Ash’s piece from The Guardian, one from Niall Ferguson and Ron Suskind’s article from The New York Times Magazine of 17 Oct.

They also quote Michael Ledeen as saying (on Iran) ‘We will not get anywhere as long as Colin Powell is Secretary of State’. (Obviously this has suffered a double translation).’

Still, Le Monde makes a change from the increasingly infantile Guardian, say.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Neo-conservatives and the religious Right

There is no intrinsic link between the two. The Daily Mail is hardly a supporter of the Iraq war, but its front-page headline following the Bush victory trumpets the triumph of ‘the moral majority’. Bush did not invade Iraq to advance Christianity or to destroy Islam or secular values (Update (11 Nov) : in spite of the occasional reference to a 'crusade').

Yet Bush’s win came from those two streams – support for the war and concern for ‘moral values’.

I don’t buy into the idea that Christian fundamentalism in an America under Bush is a mirror image of Islamic fundamentalism. That is totally overplayed. The ‘decadence’ that so disgusted that Muslim Brothers figure on a visit to the US in the 1940’s has hardly been rolled back or likely to be to any great extent. The last I heard, there were no religious police persecuting women for ‘immodest’ dress. Courts in various states continue to strike down archaic laws forbidding consensual acts between adults in private. Compare the situation in even a ‘moderate’ Arab country like Egypt. So there is no homosexual marriage, although some states permit civil unions.

Also, the laws on abortion are somewhat less than ‘liberal’ in many countries of Catholic Europe; and it is entirely possible that the evangelicals will be disappointed by Bush as they were by Reagan after 1980 (see C4’s ‘God Bless America : with God on Our Side’, 30 Oct).

Still, what many worry about is the trend: where Spain introduces civil unions, the US goes in the opposite direction. The ‘Right’ then can best be understood as defining itself in opposition to part at least of what is called ‘the Left’ in Europe and ‘liberal’ in America, the attitude that is encapsulated in that old sixties slogan ‘make love not war’.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Nicholas Sarkozy

I saw a programme on France3 about the Republic and religions, with various guests who have written books on the subject. These included none other than the previous interior minister, current finance minister and possible future President of the Republic.

Sarko made quite a good impression, arguing for tolerance. Secularism is not only about allowing people to practise no religion, but also about allowing those who so wish to practise their religion, whether Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Somebody else points out that the law of 1905 was to prevent the Catholic church from dominating French society, which is hardly a threat now. It is now being used to justify measures against the perceived threat of Islamic fundamentalism (i.e. the ban on ‘the veil’).

Sarkozy is quite sympathetic towards religion and he prays sometimes, but neither makes confession, nor takes communion (Est-ce que tu communies ? – Non). He says that for many people what was shocking about Leon Blum becoming Prime Minister in 1936 was not that he was of the Left, but that he was a Jew. Since the holocaust it has not been possible for anti-semitism to be expressed so openly, but it did not go away. That was why, as interior minister, he acted so firmly against any expressions of anti-semitism during the demonstrations about Iraq.

He says we have to believe that being a Muslim is compatible with being part of the Republic. The alternative is to ‘put them all on boats’, as Le Pen argues.

The night the world didn’t change

Le Monde, 2 Nov 2004 : Patrice Higonnet is quoted as saying that it may be amicable under Kerry, or bitter under Bush, but either way America and Europe are heading for ‘divorce’. Philip Golub says there is no longer a common threat, as there was during the cold war.

The couple of channels that are covering it on French TV are getting excited. Il faut être prudent, bien sûr, mais it seems that Kerry is going to win. (Update (11 Nov) The guests, including Pascal Lamy and Pierre Moscovici of the PS, say some quite sensible things.) Meanwhile, BBC World is steadfastly covering other things.

6:00 (CET) : Kerry needs to win Ohio, but it looks like Bush is ahead there.

So, it’s back to explaining the incomprehensible: how can Bush have won in spite of Iraq, in spite of the deficit etc, etc.

A programme on France5/ Arte about US foreign policy (part 3), by someone who later recommends Emmanuel Todd’s book, points out the paradox: all the potential flash points – from Chechnya to the Middle East, to the Maghreb (North Africa) and the Balkans – are closer to Europe than they are to America. Yet Europe reduces its military spending while the US’ continues to increase.

But, in that brief moment when it looked like Kerry might win, it was time to reflect; time to realise that Kerry’s victory would not resolve all the problems, that even under him the US would continue to have a foreign policy in its own interest, like any other nation; time to stop demonising Bush, time to stop blaming the US for everything. It was time for Europe to look at its own problems, time, in brief, to wake up.

No common threat? Apart from Islamic terrorism, that is.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The 100,000 and Falluja

Study Puts Iraqi Deaths of Civilians at 100,000   x   100,000 Civilian Deaths Estimated in Iraq      Iraq death toll 'soared post-war'

Three of the most reliable sources, the best, but it is necessary to read all 3 to get as clear a picture as possible. It was also claimed in BBC interviews that the estimate of 100,000 excess deaths was 'conservative' and it could be double that if  Falluja were taken into account. So, 100,000 extra deaths in a city of 300,000, where the civilian deaths from the assault in April were previously thought to be 800 ?

They had someone else on the BBC a week or so ago, I can't remember who, and the story went something like this : the US marines failed to take Falluja in April and handed control over to the Falluja Brigade, composed of ex-Ba'athists, who promptly handed themselves and their weapons etc over to the insurgents.

Two points need to be made. First, while it is clear that the Falluja Brigade had melted away or gone over by the end of August, they did not surrender immediately. Having taken control on 1 May, they were still there in mid-June.

There is a battle going on for Falluja's soul right now, and it is not clear who is winning. ... Falluja is still a shaky place. In the second week of June, a Falluja Brigade camp was shelled by insurgents, and 12 members of the brigade were wounded.
Secondly, the man in charge of the Falluja Brigade, Muhammad Latif, might have been an ex-Ba'athist, but he was one who fell from favour in July 1979.
Two weeks after Hussein became president, Latif was arrested and jailed as part of a group of 30 officers and civilians accused of trying to plot a coup. Hussein's henchmen snapped both of his arms while he was in prison;  ('The Re-Baathification of Falluja', The New York Times , June 20, 2004)
Greg Djerejian makes a good point in Revisiting the Tora Bora Meme :
In Iraq, and little noted of late, Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously...We are now, therefore, free to focus like a laser on the key Sunni insurgent strongholds--with a battle for Fallujah looming shortly.

De l'Amérique...

Opening para :
L'élection présidentielle du 2 novembre aux Etats-Unis ne nous concerne pas. ...cette élection n'aura aucune conséquence sur notre destin d'Européens. Aucune. Quel que soit le président élu, en effet, il fera la même politique étrangère en Irak, en Iran, en Corée du Nord et à l'égard de l'Europe. Une politique conforme aux intérêts exclusifs des Etats-Unis, ce qui est son rôle. Et, si nous voulons influer sur ce que sera la politique américaine, il ne faut pas tenter de convaincre nos partenaires de changer de vision du monde. Il faut que nous changions, pour qu'il soit dans leur intérêt de nous prendre au sérieux et d'aligner, au moins en partie, leurs objectifs sur les nôtres.
Conclusion :
Nous agissons comme si nous voulions surtout ne pas être acteurs de l'Histoire, pour ne pas avoir à être désignés comme des responsables, ou des boucs émissaires, du chaos environnant. Comme si nous pensions que l'inaction constituait notre meilleure protection contre les représailles.    ...

Bien sûr, je sais que c'est là le millième plaidoyer en faveur d'une identité politique européenne, pour la mise en place des institutions prévues par la Constitution, pour l'élaboration de choix clairs, appuyés par des moyens crédibles. Mais ce n'est pas parce qu'on le répète que c'est faux. Et c'est justement parce qu'il faut le répéter que c'est particulièrement urgent.

De l'Amérique, ne rien attendre , Jacques Attali, L'Express du 01/11/2004

Btw, it's 'le bourbier irakien' : that's a  bog or quagmire. A bouc émissaire is a scapegoat.