Saturday, June 19, 2004

I'll still be reading Sullivan 

Many readers have asked whether I'll be removing the link to Andrew Sullivan from my blogroll. Actually that's a lie, no one has asked me that - as if anyone would care what I think about the issue anyway.

If you are a blogsphere fanatic you are probably already aware of the whole Andrew Sullivan controversy. If, on the other hand, like the 99.9% of the population you're not a political junky, you probably don't and it's just as well. We obsessives all too often tend to get caught up in storm-in-a-teacup controversies that have little relevance and resonance outside the broadband Beltway.

In summary: Andrew Sullivan, one of the blogsphere's centre-right greats has declared that he won't be supporting Bush in November. Andrew, who in the past disagreed with W over economic policy (too much government spending), social policy (the conservative parts of it) and aspects of the foreign policy (the conduct of, but not the concept of the liberation of Iraq), had reached a breaking point over Bush's support for the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Andrew, one of the very few prominent and vocal gay right-of-centrists (I use this term advisedly, instead of "conservative") and a long-standing and passionate supporter of gay marriage, felt that enough was enough.

I don't necessarily agree with Andrew that opposing gay marriage is tantamount to discrimination and bigotry, or that it's the litmus test for a president ("if we ban gay marriage the Islamofascist terrorists will have won") but hey, it's a free world and everyone's entitled to their opinions and judgments. I tend to agree with Glenn Reynolds (who also happens to disagree with Bush over a whole range of issues, mostly social) that the war on terror is the issue of today, which trumps everything else - just like the war with communism was in my opinion the uber-issue of the second half of the last century. That in turn meant that the coalition of the willing, so to speak, could include libertarians, paleo-cons, neo-cons, mainstream cons, Christian democrats, centrists and anti-totalitarian social democrats. One's opinion on budget deficits or abortion was of secondary importance.

This is not so anymore - the war on terror and the war in Iraq are much more intra-ideologically polarising - libertarians take issues, as do paleo-cons. And even though for me "it's the war, stupid", I don't see any reasons for ostricising Andrew, or crying about "treason to the cause" for his sin of having a different perspective and different priorities. The centre-right movement is - or at least should be - bigger than that.

I might personally consider Andrew's disendorsement of George Bush to be unfortunate, but in the hierarchy of the issues, I'd much rather have him understand the importance of the struggle with fascism and terrorism and damn Bush over gay marriage, then sing the President's praises while remaining blind to the reality and importance of the war on terror. I know that there will be some who'll say "But how can he be serious about the war on terror if he doesn't care if John Kerry might get into the White House?" There's some truth to that, but hey, that's life; Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller are in the same boat - doesn't make them less decent for that either.

Update: I've been corrected by readers: Zell Miller is actually supporting Bush. To the best of my knowledge, Lieberman will still vote for his party's candidate. You can read his views on terror and Iraq here (via Instapundit) - I have a feeling that if Liebraman was the Democratic prsidential nominee, Andrew Sullivan would endorse him.


The war goes on 

The American hostage Paul Johnson beheaded by his captors (another set of graphic photos which won't be widely shown in the West).

Abdulaziz Al-Muqrin, the alleged al Qaeda leader is Saudi Arabia gunned down by security forces.

Nek Mohammed, former Taliban commander who sheltered al Qaeda in Pakistan, killed in a rocket attack.

The war goes on.


No link? Part II: Saddo-Ladenism strikes again 

A reader, Dominic Olivastro, brought to my attention this little document from six years ago:

"In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the Government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."
The quote comes from the 1998 indictment of bin Laden and al Qaeda for the bombings of American embassies in Africa.

It was alright to say some things during a Democratic administration, but alas not during a Republican one. Go figure. And go check out the continuing coverage and commentary at Powerline Blog - there's tons of stuff there - just keep scrolling.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has stuck to his guns, saying that British intelligence had evidence of the Saddo-Ladenistic links. Interestingly, Vladimir Putin has come out saying that "Russia gave the Bush administration intelligence after the September 11 attacks that suggested Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was preparing attacks in the United States" (but not "that Saddam's regime had actually been behind any terrorist acts", which contra to the mainstream media, the Bush Administration has never argued). Putin's admission is curious, considering that he "said the intelligence didn't cause Russia to waver from its firm opposition to the war."

The problem is that everytime somebody now starts saying "The intelligence services told us..." the left and their media cheerleaders are bound to burst out laughing - you know, with the non-WMDs, the Bush Administration's appalling security lapses pre-S11, and all that, who would ever trust intelligence agencies again?

The problem for the left is that intelligence agencies have a very long and distinguished history of providing unreliable intelligence, including the gross overestimation of the Soviet economic capacity in the late 1970s and early 80s, all the way to the chemical weapons installation/civilian drug factory (depending which story you believe) bombed by Clinton in Sudan. Presidents, both Republican and Democratic ones, have to and do rely on the intelligence services to provide them with timely and accurate information to help in making some very important decision. John Kerry, should he become president in November, or any other Democrat who will do so in the future, will also have to rely on the intelligence services for information. Sometimes the results will be good, sometimes they won't. That's why the left is digging a huge hole for their future favourites in power: to avoid being misinformed and mislead by their spies the future Democratic Administrations can of course not listen to them at all - but this is, of course, not a viable option. Failing that, they can try to make the best of out the intelligence provided to them - which will put them in exactly the same position and at the same risk as the Bush Administration. Good luck.


Friday, June 18, 2004

UNready, UNwilling and UNable 

For all the fans of the "only the UN can save Iraq" argument:

"U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in New York Thursday there's still too much violence in Iraq to permit staff from the world body to return there."
Which makes it all quite pointless, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, to the west of Mesopotamia:

"Jean Ziegler, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and Special Rapporteur on the right to food, warned that the US giant manufacturer of bulldozers and heavy machinery, Caterpillar, of being complicit with the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) in violating the human rights of the Palestinian people.

"In a letter to the company, Ziegler expressed 'deep concern' over the company's sales of bulldozers and armored bulldozers to the Israeli forces, which have been used in demolishing homes and other civilian structures.

"Caterpillar's actions in supplying the D-9 and D-10 bulldozers mean they may be complicit in violating the right to food, Ziegler said."
Fair enough, but why pick on just the manufacturers of heavy equipment - don't the arms manufacturers generally have more to do with violating human rights?


Jacek Kuron, RIP 

Jacek Kuron, a veteran of the anti-communist opposition in Poland, has died at the age of 70, from throat cancer (he was a chain-smoker).

Kuron started of as a communist, but in his youth became disillusioned with the system and broke away from the Party. No one would ever describe him as a right-winger (he remained a committed social democrat), but in the 1970s and 80s he was instrumental in providing intellectual backbone, first to the scattered opposition and then to "Solidarity". As Lech Walesa said about him yesterday, "without Jacek it would have been impossible."

The "Daily Telegraph" notes:

"Mr Kuron served several jail sentences as well as two terms as Poland's labour minister after the collapse of communism."
Too much for one person to bear, I would think.

There passes away a good leftie. Rest in peace, Kuron, but for God's sake, lay off the smokes.


Saddam - oui, voters - non 

Jacques Chirac has finally managed to find appeasement he doesn't like:

"An irate President Jacques Chirac of France last night rounded on Tony Blair for thwarting the ambitions of the EU[,] to appease Eurosceptic opinion in Britain."
Appeasing foreign dictators - good; appeasing your own voters - bad. Glad we got that sorted out. The report goes on to note that

"His public denunciation of the British negotiating position came just a week after he openly derided a plan jointly proposed at the G8 summit by Mr Blair and President George Bush to encourage democracy in the Middle East."
Consistency, at least; why bother about democracy in the Middle East, if you couldn't be stuffed about democracy in Europe?

In case you were wondering what's at stake for Tony Blair:

"Britain's retention of vetoes on tax harmonisation and limiting the power of the European Court to use a new charter of rights to make judgments that could interfere with Britain's industrial relations laws."
Translation: Blair doesn't want company taxes high and unions running amok. Clearly un-European sentiments.


From the other battleground 

President Bush's single-minded obsession with Iraq has unfortunately only served to distract us from the main game - the war of the sexes. Here's the latest.

New Hampshire state Attorney General is forced to resign after allegations that he groped several women at a conference. In case you were wondering, the conference was concerned with domestic and sexual violence.

Meanwhile, a Covington, Kentucky, School Superintendent is in trouble after sending 20 of his female staff to a "morale boosting" male stripping show. "We just laughed and laughed and laughed," said Jena Meehan, the Superintendent's secretary. "It was a spectacle, to be sure, and to have all of us there was even funnier." I bet it was.

And in China, "Female panda [gets] pregnant after watching panda porn." 4-year old Hua Mei, born at San Diego Zoo, "was sent to the Wolong Panda Protection Centre in south-western China for several months of sex education lessons, which included watching hours of panda pornography. They hoped the sex videos might put her in a lustful mood for one of many 'blind dates' she would encounter in their efforts to get her pregnant - and the videos paid off." I thought that these things only happened in Denmark.

And to top it all off:

"Scientists have tweaked the genes of promiscuous male rodents, transforming them at a stroke into faithful, attentive and caring partners.

"They changed the behaviour of the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus, by implanting a single gene into its genome, and reported their results in the current issue of the journal Nature.

"This playboy of the grasslands thinks nothing about mating with several females at one time and leaving them to rear his offspring while he wanders off in search of his next conquest."
What's the bet that the entertainment industry, for so long fascinated with self-enhancement, will suddently draw the line at this crazy "Brave New World"-"playing God" stuff.

Update: I just don't know where all these stories are coming from today: "An eccentric multimillionaire running for mayor of this rough border city [Tijuana] has apologized for saying his favorite animal is 'woman'."


Let my Saddam go! 

Now I'm sure he'll get off quite easily:

"The head of a legal team defending former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein welcomed an official US probe into the September 11 attacks which found no evidence linking Iraq and the al-Qaeda terror network.

"Jordanian lawyer Mohammad Rashdan said the results of the probe proved once more 'that the Anglo-American aggression launched against Iraq is null and not based on any legal reason'.

" '(Saddam's) defence committee challenges the US administration, President (George W.) Bush and all his advisers to show one, single legal reason for this treacherous aggression against the Arab and Muslim nation,' Mr Rashdan said in a statement."
All I can say is, thank God that Saddam won't be judged by the S11 Commission but by the people of Iraq, who - unlike Mr Rashdan - had the privilege to live under the wise and benevolent rule of the great Saddam. I have an inkling that for the Iraqis the Saddo-bin-Ladenistic link, or for that matter the question of the WMD (except for the Kurds), might not be too high on the indictment.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Ask Angelina 

"World Refugee Day: Ask Angelina Jolie", proposes BBC:

"We will be discussing the plight of refugees around the world with UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie on our global phone-in programme, Talking Point on Sunday 20 June at 1400 GMT. If you would like to take part in the refugee debate then please include your phone number."
Arguably, questions like "Is it true that you tried to steal Kylie Minogue's boyfriend?" and "Did you really stopped seeing Colin Farrell because he kept exposing himself in public?" might be somewhat inappropriate.

But feel free to ask Angelina about the fact that

"The number of refugees and displaced people around the world has fallen by 18% to just over 17m - the lowest level in a decade."
So Angelina, "[t]he United Nations refugee agency, which released the figures, said this was due to increased international efforts to help uprooted people"; do you think that the United Nations bureaucracy will even be able to find a better euphemism than "increased international efforts" in order not to have to give credit to the United States for solving the refugee problem in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Update: Here's more from Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in a full self-congratulatory mode:

"The phenomenal return of Afghans to their homeland over the past few years underscores the benefits of sustained international attention and support for the work of UNHCR and its partners... The impact is felt as far away as Europe, where the numbers of Afghan asylum seekers have plunged."
A miracle!

Not wanting to rain on Lubbers' parade but for all the good humanitarian work that the UN does around the world the US armed forces have done more in a few weeks than the United Nations have done in more than 20 years to ensure that the Afghan (and Iraqi)refugees can finally come back home. I guess that's what can happen when UNHCR's "partners" include the US Marine Corp.


S11 Commission: Saddam not the father of bin Laden's child 

"Sure there would have been contacts. The Nazis would have wanted to know what Stalin was up to. But I think it's quite clear that they were in opposition, that the fascist movement was certainly no friend of a secular movement in the Soviet Union and I don't think we ought to spend a heck of a lot of time on it."
Richard Ben-Veniste's grandfather, on the eve of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939.

Just joking. This is what Richard Ben-Veniste said today about the conclusions reached by the S11 Commission:

"Sure there would have been contacts. The Iraqis would have wanted to know what bin Laden was up to. But I think it's quite clear that they were in opposition, that the Jihadist movement was certainly no friend of a secular movement in Iraq and I don't think we ought to spend a heck of a lot of time on it."
I'm glad that Commissioner Ben-Veniste is able to grasp basic lessons, not just of history but of life generally, such as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Ben-Veniste, the former Watergate prosecutor, should surely have realised by now that the world is an amazing place.


Is business as usual America's business? 

I've been a neo-con since the day I was born and will probably remain one till I die. Well, it's a slight exaggeration - when I was running around in nappies I had no idea who Kristol, Podhoretz and "Scoop" Jackson were, but I have considered myself to be a neo-con long before the media and the commentariat have two years ago suddenly discovered this dangerous Zionist/neo-imperialist conspiracy at the heart of American democracy.

From that point of view I recommend today's reading, Lawrence Kaplan's "Springtime for Realism" in the latest issue of "The New Republic." Lawrence was, and remains an enemy of the realist school of international relations. Not for him the Kissingerian and Scowcroftian passion (or should it be dispassion?) for power politics divorced from morality and value judgments. Stability doesn't trump democracy for Kaplan, and the pursuit of national interest, narrowly construed, leaves him cold. So it's interesting to watch Kaplan as he follows the neo-cons' apparent fall from grace in Washington and the new realist ascendancy taking place (hint: he doesn't like it and he thinks it's noy going to work). This is Kaplan's message for all those who think that America's business is business as usual:

"[T]he United States is entitled [to promote democracy]--on September 11, the aim of a democratic Middle East became a matter of our national well-being, even survival. And the United States is obligated [to promote democracy]--because either pressure for democracy in the Arab world will come from the United States or it will come from nowhere at all. For the source of America's entitlement, look no further than the region's 'friendly regimes.' Not only has repression fueled terrorist movements in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; the very governments we prop up have sanctioned the worst elements as a way to deflect popular anger from their palace gates. The absence of civil society, the weakness of independent media outlets, the weakness of secular opposition parties--all these things underpin the truth that, as Bush said in a recent speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, 'as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready to export.'

"This is more than conjecture. A recent study by Princeton's Alan Krueger and Czech scholar Jitka Maleckova analyzed data on terrorist attacks and measured it against the characteristics of the terrorists' countries of origin. The study found that 'the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists.' Unfortunately, according to the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report, not a single Arab state offers such freedoms. One could plausibly have argued before September 11 that this was none of America's business. But, on that day, the Arab world's predicament became our own--thrusting the United States into a war of ideas to which realism has no adequate response."
Not surprisingly, I tend to agree with Kaplan, not just about the Middle East but about the spread of democracy and freedom generally. I also tend to take a rather long view about this war of ours, which helps me avoid the emotional roller-coaster that much of the commentariat seems to be riding on. The decline of neo-cons (if that's what it is) is neither unprecedented nor permanent. Various policy factions will rise and fall, but the war will go on.


Let them all eat Euro-cakes 

European elections and the revolting masses - Mark Steyn, as always, says it best: "The lunatic mainstream had better start worrying fast":

"In the late 20th century sur le Continent, politics evolved to the point where almost any issue worth talking about was ruled beneath discussion, beyond the bounds of polite society. In Austria, year in, year out, whether you voted for the centre-Left party or the centre-Right party, you wound up with the same centre-Left/centre-Right coalition presiding over what was in effect a two-party one-party state. Then Jörg Haider came along.

"In France in 2002, the presidential election was supposed to be between Jacques Chirac, the Left of Right of Left of centre candidate, and Lionel Jospin, the Right of Left of Right of Left of centre candidate. Chospin and Jirac ran on identical platforms, both fully committed to high taxes, high unemployment and high crime. Faced with a choice between Eurodee and Eurodum, the French electorate decided they fancied a real choice and stuck Jean-Marie Le Pen in there. Same in Holland until Pim Fortuyn got gunned down by a crazed vegetarian, the first fruitarian to kill a fruit Aryan...

"One reason why the Eutopian dream has fizzled across the Continent is because the entire political class took it for granted no right-thinking person could possibly disagree with them, so they never felt they had to bother arguing the case and, now they have to, they can't remember what the arguments were."
Democratic consensus, just like democratic socialism (indeed the two are almost identical anyway), are nice ideas defeated in the long run by their internal contradictions. The question is what happens when the majority of voters falls out of love. The Euro elite still hasn't quite come to terms with such a democratic possibility. In the past the "peasant revolts" have been somewhat of a flash in the pan political phenomenon; poll 30% today, gone tomorrow. The Eutopians are counting on this trend continuing. It's a big gamble.


No link? 

The "New York Times" on a September 11 Commission conclusion:

"A report of a clandestine meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer first surfaced shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. And even though serious doubt was cast on the report, it was repeatedly cited by some Bush administration officials and others as evidence of a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

"But on Wednesday, the Sept. 11 commission said its investigation had found that the meeting never took place.

"In its report on the Sept. 11 plot, the commission staff disclosed for the first time F.B.I. evidence that strongly suggested that Mr. Atta was in the United States at the time of the supposed Prague meeting.

"The report cited a photograph taken by a bank surveillance camera in Virginia showing Mr. Atta withdrawing money on April 4, 2001, a few days before the supposed Prague meeting on April 9, and records showing his cell phone was used on April 6, 9, 10 and 11 in Florida."
There are a few small problems with that:

1) how is Atta's withdrawing money from an ATM on April 4 the evidence that he was still in the US five days later, on April 9?

2) the phone records show his cell phone was used in Florida - unfortunately they don't show who actually used the phone. When he withdrew money on April 4, Atta was traveling with his roommate, Marwan Al-Shehhi. How can authorities be sure that Atta didn't leave his cell phone with Al-Shehhi or another associate?

None of it is really new stuff - you can read about it here and here. By the way, contrary to Western media reports in early 2002, the Czech authorities never officially backed down on their claim that the Prague meeting took place.


Racism in Australia 

"Muslims 'face increased racism'" says the headline in today's "Australian", referring to a latest report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into post-S11 experiences of Australian Muslims:

"A key finding of the report was that 90 per cent of female respondents reported experiencing racism abuse or violence since September 11."
Racially (or religion) motivated abuse or discrimination is un-Australian and wrong; if criminal offences such as assault have been committed, the perpetrators should be punished - there's no doubt about it. I'm not denying the problem (God knows, no section of the community has got the monopoly on stupid people), but I'm a bit concerned whether it hasn't been inadvertently exaggerated. Looking at the study's methodology, we can find this:

"When planning consultations with Australians of Arab background, we relied on Arab community organisations to invite Arab participants from a variety of national, ethnic and religious backgrounds... [F]lyers and invitations were translated into Arabic for wide distribution through these networks in an effort to attract Arabic-speaking participants...

"[Also] 1,475 self-complete questionnaires (in Arabic and English) were distributed to individuals and through community organisations and mosques in NSW (685) and Victoria (790) between August and November 2003... 186 people returned questionnaires, a response rate of 12.6%, and one third agreed to a follow-up interview."
Now, a self-selecting sample is never quite representative. If you are publicising a study about racially motivated vilification, you will be more likely to be contacted by people who have experienced such incidents, rather than those who didn't. Bearing in mind that consultative meetings with Australian Muslims were all "hosted" by various ethnic community groups and organisations, it's only a matter of time before some unkind talk-show host or a columnists will come out saying "the ethnic industry - here they go again." And that would be very unfortunate; racism and prejudice are real enough problems - they don't need exaggeration. And as the Attorney-General says, education - not more laws - is the answer.

P.S. Gnu Hunter has got other observations about the report.


Crucial weasel infrastructure hard hit 

As the terrorist attacks against oil infrastructure in southern Iraq halt the exports for at a week, other freedom fighters around the world are picking up on the tactics from Iraq:

"French electricity and gas workers hit central Paris in their anti-privatization strike on Wednesday, briefly slashing power to the Champs Elysees, the presidential palace and the U.S. embassy.

"Workers also curbed the top European power exporter's power flow to Spain and hit operations at Gaz de France's terminals and storage facilities, the CGT union said."
Poor Spain, gets in the way again.

Those concerned about shortages of electricity during the hot summer months in Iraq should also pray that the industrial action by the French electricity workers doesn't continue much longer. We can all remember after all "the brutal Gallic summer" of 2003 when up to 15,000 mostly elderly people perished in a heat wave. Now imagine 2003 but without electricity and you'll know why France should tremble before its electrical union jihadis.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Spinning to death 

The latest opinion poll from Iraq, leaked to "Newsweek", is bad news for the Coalition. While some Iraqi institutions enjoy reasonable levels of trust and Iraqis are generally optimistic about the prospects for their country, the Coalition's stocks are at an all time low (for example, 92% of those polled see the Coalition as occupiers and only 2% sees them as liberators).

"We've lost the Iraqis," comments Andrew Sullivan. However he considers the poll "skewed because it doesn't include the Kurds." That's not quite correct, the polling was done in Mosul too (as well as Baghdad, Basrah, Hillah, Diwaniyah and Baqubah). Having said that, I wouldn't mind knowing the full methodology - the sample does seem somewhat skewed towards the Sunni parts of Iraq at the expense of Shia and the Kurds. The latter have traditionally been strongly pro-Coalition (see my comments on the previous Iraqi poll), but you only have to read the Kurdish Media recently to know that the Kurds are now feeling betrayed over the transition process.

With all the bad news to choose from, you would have thought that "Newsweek" would just be able to report the results in a straight-forward way. Here's hoping. "[T]he vast majority of Iraqis want Coalition troops out of the country 'immediately'," says the story's blurb. That's actually not right. You have to look into the detailed results to see that the "vast majority" consists of 41% of those polled. 45% believe that the Coalition forces should leave after permanent government is elected (i.e. no sooner than early 2005), a further 6% think that the Coalition should stay as long as it thinks is necessary for stability and 4% think the Coalition should stay another two years. So how's this for a blurb instead: "55% of Iraqis believe that the Coalition forces should stay for at least half a year more"? But that would be accurate reporting.

And while the polling is bad news for the Coalition, the proponents of the "we need UN to give transition legitimacy" argument won't get much cheer either: 66% of those polled have no or not much confidence in the UN - this is a better figure than for the Coalition forces (87%) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (85%) but still not much to build on.

One last caveat - the polling was taken between mid-April and mid-May, at the height of fighting in Fallujah and in the South, as well as at the height of the prisoner abuse scandal. We can only hope that with less violence and the transition of sovereignty the public mood will improve.

More overnight thoughts: I keep thinking about the Kurds, and the earlier poll, which was taken between March 22 and April 3, that is not that long before the current one. The responses from the Kurdish areas were quite overwhelming then: 95% supported the Coalition military action (versus 31% overall), 96% thought the attacks on Coalition forces were unjustified (versus 47% overall), 95% though the Coalition forces should stay longer (versus 36% overall), 97% considered the Americans to be liberators (versus 19% overall). I know that a lot can change over a few weeks, but the Kurds compose somewhere between 15% and 20% of the Iraqi population. The current poll just doesn't quite seem right with its extreme one-way results.

On another aspect: 62% of Iraqis think it's very likely, and 25% that it's somewhat likely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to maintain security without the Coalition forces. 55% would feel more safe if the Coalition forces left immediately. 79% believe that the attacks have increased because people lost faith in the Coalition forces. I fear that Iraqis might be in for a nasty surprise when they discover that violence is only partly related to the Coalition presence. The assassinations of Iraqi officials, attacks on Iraqi army and police (update: like this), as well as the constant sabotage of oil and electricity infrastructure should already give them the hint that the terrorists have larger objectives than just making the US leave.


Why the bastards haven't spoken 

The European commentariat is still going through depression about the election results. It's the old "the people have spoken, the bastards" syndrome, except in this case it's more like "the people mainly haven't spoken, the bastards, and those who did don't like us very much."

The newly admitted East and Central European states have proved to be a particular disappointment to the EU establishment ("Brussels flummoxed"), with Slovakia generating a 16.7% turn-out, followed by Poland at 20.4%, Estonia at 26.9%, with Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary not far behind. Before regretting the EU expansion east, however, a few things to bear in mind:

1) While one would have expected that people who for so long were denied their democratic aspirations would be more enthusiastic about exercising their democratic rights, three caveats: firstly, trying to make ends meet in often difficult economic conditions tends to distract people from politics, particularly if; secondly, while democracy is respected, the political process isn't - politicians are widely seen as lazy, self-serving and corrupt, more interested in their own party games and own advancement than facing numerous economic and social challenges (and how much less relevant can Brussels seem then Warsaw or Bratislava?); and thirdly, the countries in question are "EU-ed out" at the moment, having only recently gone through their EU accession referenda.

2) Eastern and Central Europeans see the EU more as a free trade area (or less charitably, a huge safety net) rather than a superstate. Having recently liberated themselves from foreign influence they are not too keen to replace Moscow with Brussels, even if the new order is largely benign and beneficial by comparison. Patriotic and nationalist feelings run deep in the East, and people there see themselves as members of their own national communities first and foremost; there is little feeling of supra-national, European super-identity. Hence this BBC lament:

"[T]his election result has again thrown doubt on the prospects for creating such an international democracy on a continent with many different languages. There was almost no cross-border campaigning for the elections.

"Voters have again shown that they see the EU as remote. The result is a patchwork of party groups, chosen by less than half the EU's voters."
Exactly. Memo to Brussels: how about "the Europe of nations" rather than "the nation of Europe"? (on all the choices read this)

3) The experiences of many of the new EU members in the run up to their inclusion were far from positive. The EU negotiators were perceived as driving some very hard bargains against vulnerable East and Central European states. The new members are, and will for quite some time remain, second class European citizens, denied many of the benefits of EU memberships that the established members enjoy.

4) The Old European condescension is still remembered across the New Europe. Regardless how one felt about the war in Iraq, and the East was as split on the topic as the rest of Europe, the patronising attitude exhibited by some Western European politicians at the time was taken as indicative of the way France and Germany like to run the EU. For as long as the Paris-Berlin axis dominates the EU's affairs, the smaller Eastern and Central European states will remain stand-offish.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Al Zarqawi - plagiarising himself four months on 

A document titled "The text of al-Zarqawi's message to Osama bin Laden about holy war in Iraq" has been published on several Islamic websites, including the ones that have previously carried statements claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The document says in part:

"The space of movement is starting to get smaller... The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors' necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening... [If we fail to take over Iraq] we will have to leave for another land to uphold the (Islamic) banner, or until God chooses us as martyrs."
The document goes to say, however, that attacks on the Coalition forces as well as Iraqi authorities will be intensified in the coming months, before the Iraqis, described as "the occupier's eye, ear and hand" are "fully in control."

A few questions spring to mind:

1) Has the document been really written by al Zarqawi or under his instructions?

2) If so, does it represent al Qaeda's actual perception of the situation, or is it just a ruse to confuse the authorities?

3) In other words, bearing in mind its somewhat panicky and defeatist tone, why has it been made public?

Curiously, this is not the first letter from al Zarqawi made public recently. Al Qaeda's man in Iraq had in February this year (allegedly) penned another missive, similarly whining and pessimistic in tone (you can read the full version here). In fact, some of the passages and sentiments are almost identical:

"[I]t has been extremely difficult to lodge and keep safe a number of brothers, and also train new recruits...

"The Iraqi troops, police, and agents these are the eyes, ears, and hand of the occupier. With god's permission, we are determined to target them with force in the near future, before their power strengthens.

"[W]e can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like it has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!"
In both documents al Zarqawi claims credit for 25 suicide bombing operations - as if nothing more has happened in the time between the two letters.

It looks like al Zarqawi just keeps repeating himself four months on. And it's not like al Qaeda hasn't had a good run recently, considering all the hostage executions, suicide bombings and the fighting in Fallujah. So why the long face? What's really happening?

Update: What's happening? Well, it seems that the Associated Press has simply published the old al Zarqawi letter without realising it's four months old. Lt Smash had caught onto it too.


"Portrait of a man with a cigar" ca 2004, attributed to Simmie Knox 

A meteorite bearing deadly alien germs of political good-will and bi-partisanship had struck Washington DC causing considerable damage and a lot of indigestion. Following last week's glowing and heart-felt farewells to the Gipper by the people who didn't think too much of him while he was still alive, this dangerous trend continues today, as Bill Clinton discovers you don't necessarily have to die for your opponents to be nice to you.

This from President Bush, on the occasion of unveiling Clinton's portrait in the White House:

"The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man. As a candidate for any office, whether it be the state attorney general or the president, Bill Clinton showed incredible energy and great personal appeal. As chief executive, he showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit the Americans like in a president. Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead -- and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer."
I was hoping that for the decency's sake Clinton would have been painted from the waist up, but apparently not.

Meanwhile the artist, Simmie Knox, says that "he feels a special connection to Clinton because the two men grew up poor in the South." Or as "Atlanta Constitution-Journal" puts it "Clinton, artist share roots". I would certainly hope not (unfortunately only available by subscription only, but check it here). Mr Knox has also previously painted a portrait of Hillary Clinton. I'm led to believe that the two paintings won't be sharing a common residence, particularly once the former First Lady does find out about those shared roots.


Take back our ketchup! 

This blog normally doesn't endorse commercial products, but feel free to check out Bush Country Ketchup, and the efforts of two brave souls not to allow the Kerry-Heinz conspiracy control what you eat.


Big Brother is laughing at you 

Everyone - mostly in Australia but not exclusively - is still talking about the political statement made by the latest "Big Brother" evictee, Merlin Luck (that's his real name, by the way), who upon his exit from the house unfurled a hand-made banner saying "Free th[e] refugees" and staged a silent protest in place of the usual Q&A session with the show's hostess (for non-Australian readers, this refers to the Government's policy of holding illegal immigrants in detention centres until their status is determined).

Merlin apparently "hoped his action would help demonstrate that it was possible to be a normal person and have a political conscience." Or, for that matter, not be able to spell (although Merlin claims the letter fell off on the way - the magic obviously didn't work).

The current "Big Brother" household is, of course, an intellectual powerhouse as far as politics are concerned:

"Last week the legitimacy of US and Australian involvement in Iraq was the topic of a rather passionate discussion in the Big Brother kitchen.

"Housemate Bree stated that George W. Bush's motivation for sending troops to Iraq was driven by a personal vendetta. According to the attractive Queenslander, Saddam Hussein had killed George Bush Sr during the first Gulf conflict and now George Jr was out for some good old-fashioned Texas-style payback.

"Another bimbo in residence, dizzy brunette Ashalea, had previously asked: 'Where's the Berlin Wall?' This display of ignorance was only compounded by pretty-boy Wesley, a housemate who has vocalised his desire to be Australian PM. The budding politico sagaciously put his arm around Ashalea and explained that the Berlin Wall ran down the middle of a 'communist country' known as Berlin. It was erected by the 'rich' communists of the east side of the country to 'keep out' their 'poor' comrades from the west."
Never mind demonstrating a political conscience; how about demonstrating first some intelligence?

The stunt wasn't popular - Tim Ferguson in the "Sydney Morning Herald" notes that the crowd booed Marlin's actions, which gave Tim a launching pad to have a go at the "Queensland squinting suburbanites" in the audience for showing "their true, dark, colours." As a squinting Queensland suburbanite myself, and somebody who had to wait in a queue to get into this country (unlike Merlin, whose parents illegally overstayed their tourist visa, and who in his 20 years here couldn't have been bothered to obtain Australian citizenship): Tim, we might all have two heads each up here in Queensland, and barbed wire around our houses, but lately we've learned how to make a pretty good cafe latte.


Monday, June 14, 2004

Spinning the Euro-results 

See also: My new post "Why the bastards haven't spoken."

The Euro-election results are in, and it seems that every governing party, with the exception of Spanish Socialist*, is a loser. This is how AP sees the new political landscape:

"European voters punished leaders in Britain, Italy and the Netherlands for getting involved in Iraq - but also turned their ire on the war's chief opponents German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac over local issues, projections showed Sunday."
Isn't it nice how the pro-war leaders are punished for their pro-war stance, whereas anti-war leaders are punished over "local issues"? There obviously aren't any local issues in Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, but plenty in Germany and France.

I'm not sure about the domestic politics in Italy and the Netherlands (maybe some readers can enlighten us), but looking at the British results, while Labour did suffer an almost 6% swing against it, the much touted anti-war alternative to both major parties, the Liberal Democrats, only had a swing towards them of just over 2%. The voters might have punished Labor, but they have voted for pro-war and cautiously Euro-sceptic Conservatives (who actually had a bigger swing against them than Labour) and strongly Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party. Local issues, anyone? By the way, one of the stars of the UKIP who got swept into the Euro Parliament is Robert Kilroy-Silk, the former TV personality who created some controversy by describing Arabs in his newspaper column as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors" and murderers of "3,000 civilians on September 11" who "danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate".

I also had a look at the results in my native Poland. Out of 54 Euro seats, 27 went to pro-EU, pro-war centre-right parties, 18 to anti-EU, anti-war populist-nationalist right, and 6 to the governing pro-EU, pro-war left-wing party (with the last 3 going to a mainstream peasants' party). The ruling, pro-war party did indeed get a drubbing, but the pro-Europe, pro-US, pro-war parties have won a pretty clear majority.

Overall, the election is a victory for European centre-right:

"The European People's Party (EPP), the centre-right grouping, is set to hold 269 seats in the 732-member parliament, ahead of the European Socialists on 199, according to parliament President Pat Cox late Sunday. But he said eurosceptics and extreme nationalist parties have also boosted their support, and are set to make up 10-15 percent of members in the new parliament."
Good news, with a caveat: being on the right of politics in Europe guarantees neither commitment to a sensible foreign policy nor support for free market principles. Just remember that Jacques Chirac is on the "right" in France.

* As AP writes,

"Among the few that did well were Spain's Socialists, who recently withdrew troops from Iraq after a backlash over a March 11 terrorist attack. The Socialists - surprise victors in elections days after the bombings - won a new stamp of legitimacy by emerging on top in the European parliamentary vote as well."
The Socialists' decision to withdraw troops from Iraq might have of course contributed to their victory in European election; seeing however that all other incumbent parties experienced voter backlash, the other possibility is that the SpanSocs being in power for only three months now haven't yet generated as much ill will towards them as all the other governments.

Update: James Tarranto notes in today's "Best of the Web" that Reuters engages in the same spin: "So let's see if we have this straight: When pro-war parties do badly in elections, it's because voters are antiwar. When antiwar parties do badly--as in Germany and France--it's because of . . . well, who knows?" Exactly.

Update II: The spinning continues. This is how BBC portrays what in effect has been the vitory by the governing right in Italy:

"Mr Berlusconi's open support for the war against Iraq and US President George W Bush is seen as one reason why his own party's share of the vote decreased, while that of his coalition partners increased."
Get that? Even the result in Spain is hardly a watershed:

"The governing Socialists repeated their general-election victory, but by a much narrower margin than opinion polls had predicted. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's list edged out the Popular Party by only two percentage points, winning 25 seats to the conservative opposition party's 23."
And while you're all here: Why not check out my regular round-up of news from Europe, "All in the same EU-Boat", and the third installment of the ever popular "Good News from Iraq" segment.


Around the world in 20 blogs 

Time to check what the friends of Chrenk around the world are up to today.

Tim Blair comments on an insider's view of Bush's very own "October Surprise" - the very public trial of Saddam Hussein, just to remind the voters before the election what a bad boy Saddam had been. Will it work? I'm not so sure, both timing-wise, and media-wise. Never underestimate the media's ability to "move on" from an "old story", particularly if that "old story" doesn't fit the agenda.

Elsewhere in the land of Oz, we continue to be fascinated by Labor Party's celebrity politics (don't worry, my American friends, you might get one of the Beastie Boys to run for Congress one day too). Niner Charlie speculates on the true motives behind the Peter Garrett push into federal politics (hint: Garrett will be a puppet; God knows, he already moves like one), and Gnu Hunter shows how easily the media spins the polling numbers in Garrett's favour (Nanny Watcher has more thoughts on rock star's opportunism). Slatts doesn't like "Guardian" journalists, Reckers New South Wales teachers, Kev Gillett people who criticise his view on torture, and Man of Lettuce young girls who shouldn't be where they are (he should know, he's a taxi driver). Hey, we Aussies aren't all that negative - it's just my Monday spin.

In the Land of the Free, Hindrocket at Powerline Blog has some thoughts about Bush's latest poll numbers (Pejman has more thoughts). Meanwhile, Iowahawk on how media really remembers Ronald Reagan (as always, pure gold), and MuD & PHuD writes on what they really said about the Gipper. Blackfive has problems "pseudonym-ing" (in good military tradition) his soon-to-arrive daughter - can you help? My "good liberal" friend Dean Esmay says blacklists are bad, and Clayton Cramer has lots of fun reading some very very old New England diaries.

Damian Penny notes the allegations of extremism in Canadian politics - but it's not where you think. Down south, Carib Pundit writes on Cuba's black gold.

In Zeropa, No Pasaran reports on France's very own African quagmire, and DownEast Blog has all the low-down (no pun intended) on the European Parliament elections. And in the Mid East, Israellycool comments on the Iranian suicide bomber application form.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Lawrence out of Arabia by Christmas 

The president of the Australian Labor Party, Carmen Lawrence, accused the US government of trying to interfere in Australian elections by helping the Howard Government get re-elected. Said Lawrence about repeated warnings from Washington that Labor's policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas would be "disastrous":

"The US conservative administration is supporting the Australian conservative administration. These are political points that are being made, not long-term strategic points and to that extent, somewhat disappointing. [The Australian electorate] don't much like being told how to conduct themselves by other governments".
C'mon Carmen, your own leader, Mark Latham, has called George Bush "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory." If Bush is so incompetent, why worry about him trying to help John Howard?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, back from his talks in Washington, Labor's foreign affairs shadow spokesman, Kevin Rudd, disagrees with Carmen Lawrence. According to the "Australian", Rudd "said he saw 'no evidence' that President George W. Bush's intervention was the result of a set-up or conspiracy between the Bush administration and Howard Government." On the other hand, Rudd was quite optimistic about the standing of the potential Prime Minister:

"I've not detected any evidence to suggest that Mark Latham would not be received appropriately as the prime minister of Australia should he visit Washington in future."
Well, yes, but even Jacques Chirac is received "appropriately." They don't pull down your pants and whack you on the face with a cream pie if they don't like you in Washington, Kevin. That's not the point.

But regardless, it seems that poor Mark Latham just can't win:

"The campaign of the Democratic candidate for the US presidency, John Kerry, has for the first time rejected Mark Latham's plan to recall Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas, leaving the Labor leader without support for the policy in America's political mainstream.

"James Rubin, a foreign policy adviser to Senator Kerry, told the Herald in Washington: 'John Kerry has been very clear that regardless of what you think about how we got here, here we are. And failure is not an option in Iraq'."
Alas, failure if always an option for Mark Latham. Mark, should he become the Prime Minister of Australia later on this year, faces of prospect of being considered an unreliable opportunist both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, and that's regardless whether the Republican or the Democrats, or Labour or Conservatives are in power. What an achievement!


It's the Nazism, stupid 

The separation of church and state doesn't prevent men of the cloth from holding and voicing strong political opinions; but neither does the direct line to the Holy Spirit guarantee that one will not talk shit on matters outside of theology. For the latest example see Father Andrew Greeley's column in Chicago "Sun Times", joyfully titled "Is U.S. like Germany of the '30s?"

Kind of, yes, according to Father Greeley. You see, people wanted a strong leader, so they democratically elected one, albeit not by a majority. Geddit? How's that for a sophisticated historical analysis? Never mind that Germany endured a humiliating defeat in a world war, while America triumphed in the Cold War. Never mind that Germany in the 1920s and the early 30s was a political mess, while America has a stable and legitimate government. Never mind that German economy was a basketcase hit with a double-whammy of war reparations and the world depression, while America still enjoys the status of economic superpower. Never mind that Hitler acted out of mixture of racial hatred and political irredentism, while America was provoked into its current war by a terrorist attack. Oh, just never mind.

Having established uncanny parallels between the Germany of the 1930s and his present day homeland, the good Father goes on to cast his eye at the political leadership then and now:
"[Bush] is not another Hitler. Yet there is a certain parallelism. They have in common a demagogic appeal to the worst side of a country's heritage in a crisis. Bush is doubtless sincere in his vision of what is best for America. So too was Hitler. The crew around the president -- Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Karl Rove, the 'neo-cons' like Paul Wolfowitz -- are not as crazy perhaps as Himmler and Goering and Goebbels. Yet like them, they are practitioners of the Big Lie -- weapons of mass destruction, Iraq democracy, only a few 'bad apples'."
Don't you just love the whole "Bush is not Hitler, but..." thing? Not too worry, though, a bit more demagoguery, a bit more craziness, a few more lies, and Father Greeley's dream of the Bush Administration exterminating six million Jews might yet come true.

In case you were wondering, there is no mention in the whole opinion piece of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. The contrast with real evil could perhaps inadvertently shake the credibility of the good Father's argument. No mention either of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq who don't have to suffer anymore under two of the most oppressive regimes of recent times. How curious, these omissions. Why, it's almost like discussing the American involvement in World War Two without even once mentioning Hitler or Tojo; or the Holocaust for the matter.

Not for me, of course, to teach Father Greeley about some Christian virtues, but how about a bit more charity towards victims (real victims) of dictatorships and theocracies (no, Father Greeley, the United States doesn't qualify)? I understand how no good Christian could have rejoiced in the carnage and horror of the Second World War, but surely once it was all over, there was a good case for going down on one's knees and thanking the Almighty that the obscenity of Nazism had been vanquished. But the problem for Father Greeley, I fear, is not that the war has been fought, but that in Afghanistan and Iraq the wrong side won.


Blaming Reagan for al Qaeda 

Tired of being nice about a deceased president that you've intensely disliked while he was in office? Want to criticise his record, but make it at the same time contemporary and topical, so that people will think that you're making a valid political point?

It's not as difficult as it seems: just remind everyone that Ronald Reagan was ultimately responsible for the creation of al Qaeda. You know how the story goes: the Gipper was so obsessed with communism that he financed Islamic fundamentalists who were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and thus helped to create and unleash bin Laden. It's called blow-back. It's also very morally satisfying: no Reagan, no S11, no problem. For some recent examples see here, here, here, and for a somewhat more sophisticated version of the story, see Fred Kaplan's piece in "Slate".

A popular president, who happens to be a good communicator, temporarily allies himself with unsavoury totalitarians for the purpose of defeating a deadly enemy; he provides them with vital technical and logistical assistance which helps to win the war. But it's all in vain; the totalitarians now turn against him and America is dragged into a long, hard and deadly struggle with her former ally of convenience.

But enough about Franklin D Roosevelt. Isn't it funny though how the left, which never tires of blaming the right-wingers in the White House for the Afghanistan blow-back, somehow never criticises FDR for helping to keep the Soviet Union afloat during World War Two, only to see it repay all the assistance with the Cold War.

But let's return to the Reagan-al Qaeda link. Here's why it's bullshit:

1) fundamentalist, anti-Western Islamism pre-dates the Reagan presidency by decades. To credit Reagan with creating this problem is to engage in ingenious historical revisionism. People like bin Laden weren't our friends who suddenly turned on us; they always knew that the United States was their enemy too; they just had more pressing things to do in the meantime - like fighting the Soviets. So did we.

2) the mudjahedin resistance in Afghanistan would have taken place with or without the American assistance. In fact, for the first few years it did. Ditto the involvement of the so called "Arab fighters", the foreign jihadis who flocked to Afghanistan to fight the infidel communists. The foreign fighters, the future core of al Qaeda, didn't have to - and didn't - wait for the official White House fatwa to go and fight alongside their Muslim brothers against foreign invasion. I challenge any of the critics to come up with just one foreign mudjahedin who would say: "I fought in Afghanistan because Ronald Reagan and the CIA told me to do so."

3) yes, the critics say, but the United States helped to finance the mudjahedin thus helping to water the seedling that in time grew into a pretty ugly tree. True, the United States did spend a lot of money in Afghanistan, but most, if not all, of that money and support was directed at indigenous Afghan resistance. And isn't it funny how Afghani nationals nowadays simply don't figure very prominently in any of the al Qaeda's foreign operations against Western targets? Hardly a blow-back? True, Afghanistan did provide al Qaeda with its most recent base of operations, but the Taliban are a post-Afghan war phenomenon, formed out of exiles educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan.

4) does anyone actually think that had the United States stayed away from Afghanistan, so would everyone else? There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia would have been involved regardless, funding the resistance; ditto for Pakistan and its secret service. Bin Laden himself hardly needed funds from the Americans; he used his own family money and he fundraised furiously around the Gulf states in order to finance his Afghani jihad.

Blaming Reagan for creating al Qaeda might be politically satisfying; it might even be useful as a way of distracting attention from Bill Clinton's eight years of wasted opportunities, but it's bad logic and bad history pursued in bad faith. Which means we're likely to hear a lot more about it from the left.


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