Friday, September 29, 2006

Iran and the US

Gordon Corera's programme,  that I mentioned in a previous post,  is,  I think, worth highlighting further.  There is this available on the BBC website Iran's gulf of misunderstanding with US .  There was also a short piece on the World Service's Newshour on Tuesday.

A key point came in May 2003:
Tehran made a dramatic - but surprisingly little known - approach to the Americans.  Iran's offer came in the form of a letter, although Iranian diplomats have suggested that their letter was in turn a response to a set of talking points that had come from US intermediaries.

In it, Iran appeared willing to put everything on the table - including being completely open about its nuclear programme, helping to stabilise Iraq, ending its support for Palestinian militant groups and help in disarming Hezbollah. What did Iran want? Top of the list was a halt in US hostile behaviour and a statement that "Iran did not belong to 'the axis of evil' ". The letter was the product of an internal debate inside Tehran and had the support of leaders at the highest level.

"That letter went to the Americans to say that we are ready to talk, we are ready to address our issues," explains Seyed Adeli, who was then a deputy foreign minister in Iran. But in Washington, the letter was ignored. Larry Wilkerson, who was then chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, thinks that was a big mistake.

"In my mind it was one of those things you throw up in the air and say I can't believe we did this."

He says the hardliners who stood against dialogue had a memorable refrain.  "We don't speak to evil".
From memory,  if I heard it correctly,  on Newshour Corera was more specific:  the Vice-President had a constant refrain. "We don't speak to evil".
The problem was that at the very moment that Iranian vulnerability was at its greatest, thanks to America's swift march to Baghdad, Washington was at its most triumphalist.
This surely was a failure of American policy at a critical moment.  And,  as I recall,  the attitude of the British government,  especially from Straw, was more emollient towards Iran, at that time.

Update(2 Oct): On the Iranian offer in May 2003:  Larry Wilkerson recalls, 'I can only guess, but my guess is going to be pretty accurate: that the Vice-President said [..], "We don't speak to evil".

Discussion with Michael Gove and Ali An-Sari, reader in History at St Andrews University, on The Today Programme (Saturday 30th September 2006, 0750).

Update(4 Oct): Jeff Weintraub posts: Bob Woodward abandons the sinking ship?  Ah, but which is the sinking ship? Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld  - or Iraq?

Woodward has always been critical of Cheney, for example. The only one of his books that I've read is Plan of Attack. Here are a couple of quotes (Sources... ):
Powell... sensed that Cheney was "terrified" because once the diplomatic road was opened, it might work.    (P155-7)
Powell detected a kind of fever in Cheney. He was not the steady, unemotional rock that he had witnessed a dozen years earlier during the run-up to the Gulf War.  (P175, WP3)
Anyway, if the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld ship sinks, who do we get - McCain ? Do you see any candidate coming up for 2008, to continue the Cheney/Rumsfeld disaster?

Update (13 Oct): 'Mixed messages, missed opportunities' is on the BBC World Service, Assignment, this week (on the website until next Thursday). Uncovering Iran is there too.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Antony Beevor in French

La guerre d'Espagne has been published in France. Antony Beevor was interviewed on the radio last night: this link - et pourtant elle tourne - will be quickly outdated, but here it is anyway. There is also a podcast / mp3 download.  Update (15:20): The interview is at 24m 20. Earlier there is discussion of Darfur (Darfour).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ignoring Darfur

I haven't got anything substantive to say about Sudan, but I did hear a particularly devastating report by Magdi Abdelhadi, on the BBC World Service. I couldn't find much on the web, though. I don't think us plebs are supposed to have access to this: Order for 2200 GMT World Briefing Tuesday.
Q23 (22) Abdelhadi Darfur Media  629 Approved 22:34:45 0:02:08 [..]
The pressure on the UN is heightened by the western media's focus on the plight of the two million people who have been driven from their homes. But as our Arab Affairs Analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, explains the Arab media has not shown the same interest in their fellow Muslims in Darfur. Magdi Abdelhadi reporting.
I'm a little confused by the times given. What I heard was on 'World Briefing' at around 21:25 GMT (22:25 BST). By chance, I also came across this, evidently from 2003:
Abstract: With just hours to go before the American ultimatum to President Saddam Hussein expires, people in Baghdad are bracing themselves for war, with hospitals clearing their beds to deal with casualties. The Iraqi authorities remain defiant. Our correspondent reports from Baghdad, a city where few shops are open and essential goods have shot up in price.US and British forces have been moving into forwar[..]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Islamist and fascists

What is to be made of the phrase "Islamic fascists"?  Is anyone who uses it to be labelled "neo-conservative" and thus dismissed?  One neo-conservative, Daniel Pipes,  dislikes the use of the word fascist in the context of Islam:  'Few historic or philosophic connections exist between fascism and radical Islam. [..] Radical Islam has many more ties, both historic and philosophic, to Marxism-Leninism.'  ( article  via yankeewombat)

Fred Halliday,  on the other hand,  points out that 'long before [Islamic militants] were attacking “imperialism”, they were attacking and killing the left,' but he concludes:  'The habit of categorising radical Islamist groups and their ideology as “fascist” is unnecessary as well as careless, since the many differences with that European model make the comparison redundant'.  ( The Left and Jihad, via Jeff Weintraub)
Rageh Omaar,  writing about reaction to the uncovering of an alleged bomb plot in Britain on 10 August:
Several hours later I heard words on the radio, again out of the blue, that shocked me. [..]  [President George W Bush] spoke of Britain and the US fighting a "war against Islamic fascists". I'd only ever read that phrase used by a small and predictable list of columnists who share an unyielding belief that it is impossible to be western and Muslim. But outside this absolutist-minded circle of neoconservatives and left-wing intellectuals, I had never heard it spoken by a prominent western politician. I am no longer sure if Bush's successor, Democrat or Republican, would use different rhetoric about Muslims. What is Bush's point? Does he believe that it is Islam which is fascist, and not simply the individuals who wanted to blow up thousands of people, including fellow Muslims? ('Fascism in a soundbite', New Statesman, 21 August 2006)
Surely the second possibility is intended - that it is some individuals who are fascist,  not all Muslims. The phrase does not mean that 'it is impossible to be western and Muslim'.  But easier to repeat this canard than to explain why al Qaeda and the Taliban have absolutely nothing in common with fascists. Pipes gives some more examples of this canard.

The expression "Islamofascists",  on the other hand,  is to be deprecated, since it is open to misinterpretation.

Olivier Roy, interviewed on France Inter, argues that the term "Islamic fascists" is pointless,  since it does not lead to action  (ne permet pas de déboucher sur une politique concrète, sur de l’actionInter - activ, 11.9.2006;  the remarks are 17min 50 into the interview).  I find this argument bizarre:  the idea of fighting against fascism might lead us to have the will to continue supporting the elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I should make one thing absolutely clear:  I am not in favour of a ban on groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.  If there is one thing on which Euston Group bloggers  (and others,  like Dstfw)  have a "party line",  it is this.  Michael Gove,  a British Conservative neo-conservative,  though thinks that Tony Blair should honour his promise to proscribe them,  made after the July 2005 bombings  (cf. Channel 4’s 'Who Speaks For Muslims?' on 7 July 2006 or this rather large report from a Conservative  thinktank (p28) - this is one of many things I would have written about earlier,  had not "events" intervened).

But their arguments should be firmly opposed:  a good example of this from The Pedant-General in Ordinary.  I was going to say that this is not always the case in the "mainstream media",  but the Islamists sometimes go so far in absurdity that a reaction reaches even the letters page of The Times.

Note: Since Fred Halliday mentioned the Spanish civil war,  there are some quite striking parallels, as I noted before.  Beevor, in his 2006 book,  recounts one contrapuntal  incident:  'Detachments [of troops taking part in the coup] attacked en route made barricades to defend themselves,  but these were charged by heavy lorries driven in suicidal assaults.' (p68) The tactic was,  of course,  being used by "our" side.  But it is important to distinguish tactics from ideology.  Incidentally, I finished reading the book a week or so ago, and hope to return to the topic in due course.

Update:  Stephen Twigg,  Labour MP and former minister said 'actually I think the fascist phrase with regard to al-Qaeda is an appropriate phrase.'  (Any Questions? 11 August 2006) Whether he counts as 'a prominent western politician',  I don't know.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Iran and Britain, 30 years ago

From the New Statesman's archives: 
As a result of current orders from the US and UK alone, by the early Eighties Iran will have more tanks, warplanes, or helicopters than any state in the world excepting the two superpowers. [..] Congress has estimated that by 1980 up to 60,000 US personnel will be stationed in Iran on defence contracts and while, typically, there are no available British figures [..] (The Iranian Connection, Robin Cook, 10 December 1976; republished 4th September, 2006)
It's true: it's said that in 1980, when Iran was at war with Iraq, there were more Challenger tanks in the Iranian army than in the British (William L.Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 1994). Of course, by that time they were in the hands of the Islamic Republic.

The final paragraph starts with a phrase that is less likely to be heard these days: 'Socialists can only hope that...' Ah, those were the days! Cook continues:
... can only hope that, despite the efforts of our arms exporters, a more democratic regime will succeed in sweeping aside Reza Shah, and reopen the contracts for hospitals, roads and housing now being sacrificed to maintain the momentum of arms purchases. However, it is certain that they will not concede any such contracts to the Anglo-Saxon world, whom they will never forgive for providing the Shah with the means of repression. We are putting an enormous investment in one man who is making himself an awful lot of enemies.
Update (at 16:45):  those who listen to Radio 4 in the UK will probably be aware that there is a programme coming up on this subject, on Sunday (17 Sep) at 13:30. Further details as I have them.  Update (19 Sept):  it is possible to listen to the programme here - Iran: a Revolutionary State. The series will be on the World Service from 9 Oct, when it will probably be possible to download or podcast the programmes.  Update: Mixed Messages and Secret Diplomacy - Monday 25 Sept, 8.00pm  - ... looks at the tangled relationship between Iran and the United States since 9/11 -  Listen again (Gordon Corera).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Update on Hamas

Further to my remarks on Hamas, here is Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group (and formerly adviser in the Clinton administration):
The [June 25] document reflects a significant step forward for Hamas, but there is no mistaking it for a peace platform. It does not recognize Israel, and reaffirms the rights of resistance as well as return. The Quartet got something that it should acknowledge and respond to; it did not get what it was asking for.
—August 24, 2006
(A New Middle East, 21 September 2006, The New York Review of Books)
Malley sums up the previous 5 months thus (my emphasis, to show the hidden motives of some):
Unwilling to accept the outcome of the elections, Fatah officials alternatively blamed it on the electoral system they had themselves devised or on internal divisions for which they were responsible. Not wasting any time, they started looking for ways to reverse it. Within hours of the results, they were considering whether President Mahmoud Abbas could legally dissolve parliament and call for new elections (he can't); they also considered whether he could declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament (he can, but only temporarily), or otherwise cut short Hamas's time in office. Some in Fatah contemplated a military confrontation; if it had to occur, they reasoned, it was better that it happen before the Islamists consolidated their power.

Fatah officials early on rejected suggestions of a national unity government, fearing it would only strengthen Hamas, allowing Hamas to benefit from Fatah's international legitimacy without paying the price Fatah had paid to achieve it. Publicly bemoaning the West's policy toward Hamas, Fatah leaders privately supported that policy, encouraging the US and EU to maintain their three conditions for resuming donor aid. With US help, they hoped to establish a channel of communication between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert in order to circumvent and marginalize Hamas. And they discreetly promoted subtle forms of insubordination by civil servants who, deprived of salaries, hardly needed encouragement. Hamas has won power but cannot exercise it. The Islamists do not have the funds to pay the civil servants - who did not intend to take orders from them in the first place.

Pressure on Hamas has emanated from other sources. Members of the Quartet [..] halted their assistance until the new government meets its three conditions while Israel both withheld tax revenues it collects on the PA's behalf and impeded movement within the occupied territories as well as trade with them. The goal seemed clear: squeeze the government, arouse popular dissatisfaction with its performance, find ways to strengthen President Abbas, and ensure that Hamas's days in power would come to a rapid and unsuccessful end. Hardly pleased with the emergence of an Islamist government, let alone through democratic elections, Arab governments discreetly shared these objectives.
Update: on Monday (11 Sept), what came over on the news was that, while Hamas would not recognize Israel, it might be part of a government that would do so and this could be the basis for progress.

On Tuesday, Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, said:
Yesterday's announcement of a government of national unity in Palestine is precisely what I hoped for. On the basis it is faithful to the conditions spelled out by the quartet - the UN, EU, US and Russia - we should lift the economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and be prepared to deal with the government, the whole government. (Speech to the TUC). 

Monday, September 11, 2006


While I was away, I did buy a copy of the Guardian, a couple of weeks ago. This caught my eye, from Sari Orabi, deputy editor of the Minbar al-Islah, or the Platform of Reform, a Hamas newspaper:
"What happened in Lebanon increased the belief of people living in the area that resistance is the only language that the occupation understands," he said. He sought to distinguish Hizbullah from the Palestinian militant movements [..] He noted the differences between the two sides, pointing to what he said were Hizbullah's tactical advantages.

"We don't enjoy support from outside the country like Hizbullah does," he said [..] " Remember also we are under direct occupation by the Israelis, not like Hizbullah." (26.08.06: Hizbullah: the new heroes on the streets of Ramallah )
So, what sort of an occupation are Hezbollah and Lebanon under?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dealing with islamists

Jeff Weintraub, inspired by André Glucksmann , a few weeks ago:
the deaths of Lebanese civilians count far more than the deaths of civilians in Chechnya, Iraq, Darfur, and a range of other places.
Another place is Sri Lanka.

I agree with much of what Glucksmann says and he's certainly an important voice in France, speaking against the prevailing discourse, etc. But I have a couple of points.
Do they really believe that sans Israeli-Palestinian conflict nothing bad would have happened, neither the deadly Khomeini Revolution, nor the bloody Baathist dictatorships in Syria and Iraq, nor the decade of Islamic terrorism in Algeria...
As far as Iran goes, there was the little matter of British and American interference in their affairs, notably in 1953, and continuing support for the Shah's dictatorship. My main point, though, concerns Algeria, since Glucksmann takes a similar view to that expressed by Paul Berman in his talk for the EM group and one that I believe Christopher Hitchens also shares (here, for example), though Jeff is more balanced in his own comments. It's a little difficult to blame the Islamists for the tragic decade in Algeria, since they won elections in 1991, whose results were overridden. I know people make the argument about ‘one man, one vote, one time’, but I think the dangers of this are greatly exaggerated. See for example this article.

So people are torn between respect for a democratic outcome and profound distaste for an ideology. For Hitchens etc, secularism trumps everything. Exactly the same dilemma is faced now over Hamas, of course.

I had a reply from Jeff Weintraub. He makes the point that Iran and the Algerian civil war in the 1990s 'had nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict (which many journalists and pundits refer to quite naturally as "the Middle East conflict," as if there were no other conflicts in the Middle East)' and argues that this is all that's relevant for the point that Glucksmann is making.

It's true, it's quite common for the British media to talk about "the Middle East" when they mean the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I find this very annoying.

However, I continue to insist on the centrality of analogies regarding respect for the democratic process. Britain and America intervened in Iran to replace an elected government with one more to their liking. Much the same happened in Algeria, with the approval of some of "us". I cannot go along with a sort of secular totalitarianism.  (*)

Of course Israel cannot be expected to deal with a government, even an elected one, that denies its right to exist and shows no signs of moderating its position. But, as I noted before, in the National Conciliation Document on 25 June, Hamas indicated a willingness to at least implicitly recognise Israel. Mahmoud Abbas did not get exactly the language he wanted - to "limit", instead of "concentrate", resistance outside of Israel in its1948-1967 borders. Still, it showed some movement on the part of Hamas.

Jeff also drew my attention to a post of his, from shortly after the election of Hamas (also published on on normblog). Here he remarks parenthetically: 
I suspect that the leaders of the Fatah-affiliated 'security' services would be happy to impose an Algerian solution if they could, but they can't.
In the event, the "international community", including the EU, did what they could to destroy the Hamas government by a economic blockade. Then, of course, there were the more direct actions of Israel, though, as we have seen with Lebanon, attempts by Israel to change the balance of power within an Arab state are likely to be counter-productive.

Incidentally, Chechnya is not a very good example, since the West may not care much about it, but al Qaeda and co do. And of course Russian repression there goes back to the tsars, just as does their anti-semitism.

(Sorry for the delay in posting: I have been on holiday, then catching up with various things before and after. )

(*) That is why I am a critic of headscarf bans in France and Turkey. Merve Kavakci says that, just as in the other two Abrahamic religions, in Islam the wearing of a headscarf is (or should be) a matter of personal conscience. (On the BBC's Heart and Soul, Sunday 20 Aug. It is no longer possible to 'listen again' to this - another drawback to my delay.)

Friday, September 08, 2006


MPs deliver anti-Semitism report (Thursday 7 Sept - 7:32). It's worth reading the report in full for examples etc.
111. Antisemitism is no longer the sole preserve of the political far right, as it was throughout much of the twentieth century. It now occurs across the political spectrum.
119. [..] In its 2005 General Election manifesto, the BNP included a promise not to go to war for “neocon adventures on behalf of the Zionist government of Israel”.
Spot the difference from those who claim to be at the other end of the spectrum.

From a quick look at the Euston Manifesto aggregation, Normblog points to a later discussion on the Today Programme and comments on one of the contributors. Some people though continue to deny reality. A commenter at Harry's Place says:
No, the BNP becomes HP. Both fanatically anti-Islam and ready to champion Israel's right to attack Iran pre-emptively. Different people, same Middle East policy.
Lionel Jospin (incredibly enough still thought of as a possible presidential candidate for the PS, in spite of coming third in 2002) says that Sarkozy is "too American" and has not criticized the invasion of Iraq recently  (interview on France Inter, Mon 4 Sept).
Update (14 Sept) Antisemitism is Back - Denis MacShane, MP  (Comment is Free)
Sadly, it is no longer possible to post on the CiF thread. Here is my comment for what it's worth:
I know what the comments below this short blog will be before they are posted. Can I just respectfully ask Cif readers to hold back a while and read our report.
Some of us downloaded the report as soon as we heard about it on the radio and have been blogging in support of it. The BBC had a fair amount of coverage.