Monday, February 28, 2005

fuel for Iran

New issue of Foreign Affairs: Greg has already commented here on Kenneth Pollack and Ray Takeyh's Taking on Tehran . I will confine myself to noting the latest news on the deal between Russia and Iran on the supply of nuclear fuel :
According to the AFP news agency, Iran was initially reluctant to agree to Russian demands for all spent fuel to be returned, citing the risks involved in transporting it. But Russia insisted on the guarantee to ensure no spent fuel was diverted for the manufacture of weapons.
Provided the safeguards are adequate, this seems to satisfy most of the outlines for a resolution of the problem, as put forward by Carnegie and others. That is, that Iran should be allowed a peaceful nuclear programme, but allowing them to enrich uranium themselves is too risky and the fuel should be supplied by and returned to an outside power. That was always likely to be Russia. Condi's background in Soviet analysis could come in useful after all!

The US objections seem to me to be unreasonable. I looked in The New York Times on Saturday, but couldn't see anything on this. The quotation above is from the BBC report.

Update (1 Mar), more free goodies: continuing controversy in Red-Handed by Mitchell B. Reiss, Robert Gallucci, et al.on North Korea's nuclear programmes.

And The Flip Side of the Record by Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson on "The Sources of American Legitimacy" (previously discussed here):
To prove that the United States ought not to respect international law, Kagan maintains that such respect is not part of the nation's record since 1945.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Moazzam Begg

Interview on Channel 4 News, extracts here...

Update (25 Feb) It's interesting: somebody can be radicalized by Bosnia and Chechnya (Palestine and Israel were never mentioned as far as I recall), but still be opposed to what happened on 11 Sept - an unprovoked attack , he called it.

On the subject of Guantánamo, I might mention again the article in the FT Magazine of December 11, 2004 (subscribers only link)   This is available on the Christus Rex website(see comments here, though this does have the irritating habit of changing the headings.
Here they have [Inside the Guantánamo Bay hearings
Barbarian "Justice" dispensed by KGB-style "military tribunals"]   

The headings of the original were [Dock of the bay
The Pentagon says there is nothing wrong with the hearings it has been forced to set up to ensure that the Guantánamo Bay inmates are being justifiably imprisoned. The FT security correspondent went to Cuba to see for himself. ]  [Inside the Guantánamo Bay hearings] appeared on the front cover of the print edition.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Defining European identity

Derrida and Habermas argued that European identity can and must be built on the basis of overt opposition to the US.
'Partial visions', by Anatol Lieven, FT Magazine, 19 February 2005 (subscribers only -- more here), highlighted quotation from the print edition. It continues:
...European nations were largely formed by defining themselves as enemies of other European nations: a German was a German because he was neither a Pole nor a Frenchman, and so on. Can a new European identity be created along these lines, on the basis of hostility to the US? And should it be?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ukraine, Lebanon...

According to C4News last night, the Chechen insurgents, who have recently declared a ceasefire, are seeking to pass a message to Russia, via the US.

'Talking Point' on Lebanon (with Nadim Shehadi, Director of the Centre for Lebanese Studies in Oxford, Dr Bouthaina Shabaan, Syria's minister for emigrant affairs and a former foreign ministry spokeswoman and the Lebanese MP Dr Ghattas Khoury). Missed it on Sunday. Listened via the internet here (don't try to 'Watch Talking Point' on a 56Kbs line). More on BBC WS last night. Interestingly, many are looking to the example of Ukraine.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ayman Nur

'Tangerine dream', by Mark Leonard, FT Magazine, February 11 2005 18:51    subscribers only --
The man I went to see in Cairo is now in prison. I had seen Ayman Nur, the leader of Al-Ghad (The Party of Tomorrow), in the pride of his growing fame and success: at the peak of the growth of a movement which he created...
Nur has been called the Egyptian Tony Blair. .... Like Blair, he instinctively tunes into the thoughts and desires of aspirational Egyptians.
This article certainly provides a fascinating insight into how Egyptian 'democracy' works.
The fact that so much of Egypt's revenue comes from outside insulates the government both from the demands of its citizens, who are not asked to pay much tax, and from the need to reform. Egypt receives more than $1bn from the US and almost as much from the EU. Kassem, in the course of a drive around Cairo, explains to me what the rentier state means in practice. "See that television building there? It has 11,000 votes. They are collected in boxes of 900 votes. If 800 out of 900 are not for the government then everyone can forget their bonuses."

The network of control extends beyond state employees and their families: nothing will move in Egypt without the approval of the governing party. Even though the private sector now makes up 70 per cent of the economy, the balance of power has not shifted. The formal bureaucratic procedures are so cumbersome that most economic activity depends on political patronage, or it is simply driven underground. A good example is the housing sector. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, working with the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, has estimated that, if an Egyptian follows legal procedures to build and register a dwelling after acquiring state-owned desert land, he would have to perform 77 bureaucratic procedures in 31 offices. The process would take from six to 14 years. The result is that the vast majority of people resort to bribery or break the law. An estimated 62 per cent of Cairo's population lives in housing that does not formally exist.
---   Link here. Harry's Place has some further developments here.

Freedom and development

Tyranny is a very great evil, and freedom a very precious good; but there are other evils, and other goods. The week after the president's address, Europe's three major leaders -- Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder -- addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Blair, as ever, defended President Bush's self-assigned mission of democracy promotion. But he went on to say that ''if America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too.'' And Blair, like Chirac and Schroder, defined the core of that agenda very differently from President Bush. For all three, strikingly, the great good worth striving for was the elimination of global poverty, and the paramount means was an increase in aid.
The administration has said it will spend $5 billion a year on Millennium Challenge. Unfortunately, after two years the fund has yet to dispense a penny on actual poverty reduction; and it is this program that the administration is now proposing to cut. Restoring that $2 billion might not be a bad way of demonstrating to our steadfast friend Tony Blair that we take his agenda as seriously as he takes ours.
Freedom, From Want, James Traub, NYT Magazine, February 13, 2005.
''When I arrived at the airport,'' Abdulhamid says, ''I was told I had to go to political security. It took me some time to find out exactly which security apparatus wanted to speak to me, but then I met with them for two days in a row. I was very up front about my activities and even talked about things they didn't know yet, like an article I had co-written with an Israeli. One of my interrogators told me that what I was doing would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and he's right. I got the sense from even some of the security police that they see there has to be a new way of doing things in Syria.''
A Liberal in Damascus, Lee Smith, NYT Magazine, February 13, 2005, on Ammar Abdulhamid, the 38-year-old Syrian novelist, poet and liberal dissident . The contradictory signals coming out of Syria seem to indicate that Bashar is not fully in control. Roula Khalaf, writing of the 'Man in the News' (FT, 19 Feb), says
Long before the assasination, the actions of the new, inexperienced Syrian regime had confounded western diplomats and raised doubts about Mr Assad's control over an opaque administration that relies on an array of intelligence services.

"When Hafez was alive he ran Syria with the help of the intelligence and the military. Now the intelligence and the military seem to be running Syria with the help of Bashar," says a Lebanese political analyst. 

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A bomb in Beirut

Two previous posts - here and here

From The Financial Times Magazine, 5 Feb,  'The last fling' by David Gardner (link here)
Since Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad as Syria’s president four years ago, those in charge in Damascus - including Ghazi Kenaan, the military intelligence chief who ran Lebanon for 20 years - appear most interested in the economics of Lebanon.

”This is no more than a giant racket,” says one opposition leader. “Under Hafez al-Assad Syria saw Lebanon as political patrimony to be used in the larger Middle East game. But these people are no longer even interested in the politics.”
[Walid] Jumblatt and Hamade’s real crime, however, has been to foster cross-communal unity. Three years ago the Druze leader received the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, in a historic reconciliation between the two communities that devolved into an alliance between Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc and the mainstream Christian opposition. That was bad enough from the Syrians’ point of view, but they got really spooked once Hamade became the link-man in the emerging alliance between Hariri’s powerful Sunni bloc and the opposition. As Nayla Moawad, widow of the president who died for doing much the same thing, puts it: “The great taboo for the Syrians is to have any bridge between the communities.”

Four different government and opposition sources, moreover, confirm that the Syrian leadership reacted implacably to Lebanese hostility to its enforced extension of President Lahoud’s mandate. It said it would burn Beirut rather than leave it: “We destroyed the country once and we can do it again - we will never allow ourselves to be pushed out,” was the precise threat.
But what ranks as an almost gratuitous act of political vandalism was the way Syria burnt its bridges with France and Jacques Chirac. This relationship, facilitated by Hariri, was Damascus’s only real window on the world. Yet the Ba’athist leadership not only rebuffed insistent French suggestions it withdraw from Lebanon, Assad simply ignored letters from Chirac, including one lobbying for a $700m gas contract that instead went to a little known consortium with ties to the nomenklatura. “This is the inebriation of corruption,” says one person familiar with the details.
This of course was before Monday's events in Beirut shot Lebanon back to the top of the news.

Update (19 Feb)
Comments here.
Guy links to some more weblog commentaries here.Harry's Place has a couple of posts - I have commented on Rounding up the usual suspect.

e-mail to star from Mosul
We'd all like to vote for the best man but he's never a candidate.

'I wonder why wise men didn't like voting! Search for quotes encouraging us to vote.. They're very few! But the one telling us not to vote are too many that I had to choose which one to put here..'

'Maybe 4 years from now, I'll go vote.'
'Democracy is the worst possible form of government - apart fom all the others that have been tried.' Winston Churchill, from memory. (Maybe he's not the best person to quote: he thought about using gas warfare in Iraq in the 1920s and sent British troops in to take control in 1941, when it seemed that Iraqis might go over to the German Nazis. )  

Still, in Iraq now the current process, elections and so on, are the worst possible course of action - apart from all the others that might be thought of.

Americans establish order first, before any elections - continued occupation - nobody wants that or thinks it would work.

Americans just hand over to an Iraqi government - who would be seen as puppets anyway.

Americans withdraw their troops - 'elections cannot be held under occupation' - leading to chaos and/or seizing of power by small unrepresentative group (again).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Norm the radio star

Norman Geras was on BBC Radio4's 'The Message' today. See here. You can 'listen again'. it's about 9 minutes into the programme. As he put it, it is an informal, or democratic, means of journalism, where you don't have to have access to a printing press or be part of a big media organization.

As others have pointed out, he has also written an essay here.
Somewhat over a year ago I asked that my name be removed from the list of contributing editors to the Socialist Register. It was a departure without either anger or animus on my side or on the side of the two main editors, who both responded in a friendly and regretful spirit; and it was a step I had taken with some regret myself, because I have always held the Register in affection and regard, and I still have friends among those who edit and write for it. The step was an inevitable one for me, all the same. In the light of the concerns I have articulated in this essay, I looked at the contents list of the recent (post-9/11) volumes, to find that the Register was just not where I am.

Update (17 Feb): If you skipped over the first 9 minutes, you would have missed a bit that occasioned the following e-mail:
reactionaries and the Pope

A contributor on your programme described the Pope as 'one of the most reactionary'. This seems to me to be using labelling as a substitute for thought. Now, I'm not even a Catholic, nor do I share his pacifist position. Yet that has been consistent,  concerning not just the 2003 Iraq war (when it was so fashionable), but  going back to the one of 1990-1, as far as the Warsaw rising of 1944.

At the time when he was bishop of Cracow he showed how peaceful means could be used to bring about change. There is one particularly instructive story: in the early 1950s, a huge steelworks had been built at Nowa Huta on the outskirts of the city.  Housing and so on was built for the workers, but no churches. A persistent and patient campaign led by Karol Wojtyła resulted eventually in the authorities allowing a church to be built and consecrated in 1977.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The new fascists

Cette étrange synthèse entre un faux socialisme et un vrai nationalisme - sans oublier le racisme, le sexisme et l’homophobie - porte un nom : fascisme.
Les ennemis de nos ennemis ne sont pas forcément nos amis, par Fatiha Kaoues et Pierre Tévanian Réflexions sur le cas Alain Soral (Deuxième partie) ===
Establishing free institutions in Iraq was the best reason to support the war -- now it is the only reason -- and for that very reason democracy there has ceased to be a respectable cause. The administration's ideologues ... have managed the nearly impossible: to turn democracy itself into a disreputable slogan. Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neoconservative bombast. Meanwhile, antiwar ideologues can't support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions. Finally there are the ideological fools in the Arab world and even a few here at home who think the ''insurgents'' are fighting a just war against American imperialism. All this makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates. The right name for such people is fascists.

What may also be silencing voices in support of Iraqi democracy is the conventional wisdom that has been thrown over the debate on Iraq like a fire blanket -- everyone believes that Iraq is a disaster: hence elections are doomed. As I was told by one suave European observer, with a look of self-satisfaction on his face, all that remains is the final act. We are waiting, he said, for the helicopters to lift off the last Americans from the roofs of the green zone in Baghdad. For its part, the administration sometimes seems to support the elections less to give the Iraqis a chance at freedom than to provide what Henry Kissinger, speaking of Vietnam, called ''a decent interval'' before inevitable collapse

... Those who were against [the war] tell us that democracy can't be imposed at gunpoint, when the actual issue is whether it can survive being hijacked at gunpoint.
'The Uncommitted', Michael Ignatieff in The New York Times Magazine, January 30, 2005.

For Iran, Iraq etc ......... LIAISON COMMITTEE - THE PRIME MINISTER - Tuesday 8 February 2005 - RT HON TONY BLAIR MP (Uncorrected Evidence 318)

Update (10 Feb): the substance of Ignatieff's article was also printed in The Observer, apparently.

Andy Stern

'The New Boss',  Matt Bai, NYT Magazine, January 30, 2005. Andy Stern is a union leader in the US.
Wal-Mart has, in a sense, turned the American retail model inside out. It used to be that a manufacturer made, say, a clock radio, determined its price and the wages of the employees who made it and then sold the radio to a retail outlet at a profit. Wal-Mart's power is such that the process now works in reverse: in practice, Wal-Mart sets the price for that clock radio, and the manufacturer, very likely located overseas, figures out how low wages will have to be in order to make it profitable to produce it. In this way, Wal-Mart not only resists unions in its stores with unwavering ferocity but also drives down the wages of its manufacturers -- all in the service of bringing consumers the lowest possible price.
... What Stern says he is deeply worried about is what he sees as the next generation of Wal-Marts, which are on his turf: French, British and Scandinavian companies whose entry into the American market threatens to drive down wages in service industries, which are often less visible than retail. ... Most of these companies have no objection to unionizing in Europe, where organized labor is the norm. But when they come to the United States, they immediately follow the Wal-Mart model, undercutting their competitors by shutting out unions and squeezing paychecks.
Then there is a story of international co-operation. Tony Woodley is a British union leader.
Stern and Woodley told me about the case of First Student, a company that in the last few years had become the largest, most aggressive private school-bus company in the United States. The company had become a target of S.E.I.U. locals in several cities because it wouldn't let its drivers unionize. ''We keep seeing these things about them in the union newsletter,'' Stern said. ''And it starts nibbling at your brain. I said: 'Who are these people, First Student? What's going on here?' And then we do a little research, and we find out what idiots we are. This is a major multinational company. They're 80 percent unionized in the United Kingdom. So we write a letter to the union here, and we say, 'Can you help us?' ''

Woodley sent British bus drivers to Chicago to meet with their American counterparts. Then the American bus drivers went to London, and lobbyists for the British union took them to see members of Parliament. They also held a joint demonstration outside the company's annual meeting. Woodley told me that First Student -- known as First Group in Britain -- was now making a bid for rail contracts there, and his union intended to lobby against it unless the company sat down with its American counterparts in Florida and Illinois.

I asked Woodley, who looks like Rudy Giuliani with more hair, why he would use his own union's political capital to help the S.E.I.U. He nodded quickly, in a way that suggested that there were a lot of people who didn't yet understand this. He explained that it worked both ways; his union was suffering at the hands of multinationals, too, and Stern would be able to return the favor by pressuring American companies doing business in Britain. Moreover, Woodley went on to say, if European companies get used to operating without unions in America, it might be only a matter of time before they tried to export that same mentality back to Europe.
There's quite a lot about China and the globalized economy, too. Worth reading (Link here).   See also the blog at   the ILO ...


A couple of things I got round to reading: first, 'The Making of a Molester', Daniel Bergner, NYT Magazine, January 23, 2005
What are the causes of child sexual molestation, which is committed against perhaps 20 percent of girls and 5 to 10 percent of boys under the age of consent in the United States, according to David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. (Finkelhor, who has examined the studies extensively, added that the numbers range widely from 10 to 40 percent for girls and 2 to 15 percent for boys, depending on definitions and methods. The victims are preadolescents about as frequently as they are older. Most are abused by someone they know, often by a member of their family.) What parts are played by biology, by an abuser's own childhood, by aspects of isolation in his (for males make up around 90 percent of offenders) current life...
''We want there to be the clear line; we want there to be the sloped forehead,'' David D'Amora [head of the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior] has said ..., ''It just doesn't exist. We want them to be the few, the perverted, the far away. Most are not.''

What research has been done seems to back this up. Dr. Richard Green, a psychiatrist at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London and professor emeritus of psychiatry at U.C.L.A., wrote two years ago in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior about a 1989 study: the psychologists John Briere and Marsha Runtz found that ''in a sample of nearly 200 university males, 21 percent reported some sexual attraction to small children.'' Specifically, ''9 percent described sexual fantasies involving children, 5 percent admitted to having masturbated to sexual fantasies of children and 7 percent indicated they might have sex with a child if not caught. Briere and Runtz remarked that 'given the probable social undesirability of such admissions, we may hypothesize that the actual rates were even higher.''' Green wrote as well of the work done in 1970 by the researchers Kurt Freund and R. Costell. Forty-eight Czech soldiers were hooked to a ''penile responsivity'' meter known as a plethysmograph. Viewing a series of slides, ''28 of 48 showed penile response to the female children age 4-10.''

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


On the front page of Le Monde Des Livres, 4 Feb, review of Les Nouveaux Imposteurs by Antoine Vitkine.

'These deliriums have been for a long time a speciality of the extreme right. ...Vitkine shows to what extent this way of thinking, creeping and irrational, has become very common. Since 11 Sept., one finds it almost everywhere. In particular on the extreme left, as well as among a large number of anti-globalists (altermondialistes), ecologists and pacifists.'

All this is very obvious, but nonetheless worth repeating. The review's title, 'La vérité est ailleurs', is apparently from  X-files catchphrase, but in the English 'The truth is out there', there is always implied 'somewhere'. Anyway, a bit more in French:
C'est en réalisant pour Arte deux reportages sur le livre de Thierry Meyssan, L'Effroyable Imposture, qu'Antoine Vitkine a pris conscience de l'ampleur de ce phénomène. Meyssan cherchait à faire croire qu'aucun avion ne s'était abattu sur le Pentagone le 11 septembre 2001. La vérité serait une tentative de putsch à l'intérieur de l'armée américaine. Peu importe cette élucubration - après tout, il existe bien un ouvrage qui prétend montrer que Napoléon Ier n'a jamais existé. Plus préoccupants : le succès du livre (parmi les meilleures ventes de 2002), ses traductions en vingt-huit langues, sa starisation dans les pays arabes. Et ce souci inquiétant, désormais répandu, de dénoncer complots et impostures inventés de toutes pièces.
'Capitalist Punishment', John Gapper, Financial Times, January 29, 2005 (link here).
The English High Court of Chancery, which succeeded the King's Chapel, was dismantled in 1875, but Delaware's version, founded in 1792, survives.
Unlike in two-thirds of states, Delaware judges are appointed rather than elected.


Back in the UK, Simon Jenkins in The Times Wedsnesday (2 Feb) writes that Iraq is the most chaotic place on  earth. Has he never heard of Chechnya? Or many parts of Africa?

In the FT Mag, a review-essay on various books relating to Chechnya... Tolstoy's indispensable novel (foreword by Colm Toibin). Maybe the translation is somewhat better than the online one I found on the web.

From the FT review: 'Did Vladimir Putin not read Hadji Murat at school? It's not too late.'

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More about headgear

Tuesday (1 Feb): on French TV, Fadéla Amara leader of the movement Ni putes, ni soumises (neither whoredom, nor submission). More here in French. The remarks of Pierre Tévanian in lmsi seem a little unfair.
Note: le beur = young man born in France, of North African immigrant parents; la beurrette is the same in the feminine.

Excited debate in the French National Assembly about Poland. I didn't quite grasp what it was all about and I have not seen any more since.

Wednesday (2 Feb): I started watching a CNN interview with Victor Yuschenko, but switched over in their interval to something on French TV and stayed with that. This was a programme about Turkey, Islam and Europe. This is the sort of discussion programme we don't get much of in the UK. Apart from Michel Rocard, they had several people who had written books in some ways related to the subject - in fact, including Michel Rocard who's also got a book out. Alongside Rocard, speaking in favour of Turkey's accession to the EU, was a 'Franco-Turk'.

Those against were the familiar combination of feminists and secularists with conservatives and 'isolationists' (for want of a better word). Does Europe want a border with Iran, Iraq etc.? Wouldn't Turkey be a Trojan horse for Britain & America? And so on. Alain Minc has warned against the EU expanding so far that it becomes a 'regional subsidiary of UN' (Le Monde, 1-2 Feb). The obvious difference is that the EU demands certain standards of democracy and human rights.

One woman spoke about Turkey having an Islamist government, citing the FT from early December. If this was referring to a long article by Vincent Boland, 'Eastern Premise', in the Magazine of 4 Dec, I thought that was quite favourable towards Turkey and Erdogan. Another point brought up was that Turkey's Prime Minister sends his daughters abroad so that they can do their studies veiled (see my post from October for this and other issues that keep being brought up). What does this in fact reveal? That Turkey has a secular state where, like in France, there are bans on the wearing of headscarves, but that as a matter of personal choice Erdogan prefers to send his daughters where they can wear headscarves. Of the girls' preference in the matter we are not told.

The core issue in my opinion is, what would Turkey do, if denied entry to the EU?  I suspect that, for many people, the answer is, we don't care.

Since I last wrote about Turkey, there has been a bit of serious notice taken in the UK (see here), in response to an article by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. This 'has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das Türkenproblem” '.

Going back to France, politicians there fall into a grid of all the possible combinations from 'oui-oui' (yes to the constitution, yes to Turkey) to 'non-non' (Le Monde, 1-2 Feb, again).

Monday, February 07, 2005

abstracting the core

Eliza Griswold writes in the NYT Magazine, January 23, 2005, of 'The Next Islamist Revolution?' in Bangladesh (link here):
Last spring, Bangla Bhai, whose followers probably number around 10,000, decided to try an Islamist revolution in several provinces of Bangladesh that border on India. ...  He has said that he acquired this nom de guerre while waging jihad in Afghanistan and that he was now going to bring about the Talibanization of his part of Bangladesh. Men were to grow beards, women to wear burkas. This was all rather new to the area, which was religiously diverse.
Christopher Caldwell on 'The Triumph of Gesture Politics', NYT Magazine, January 23, 2005 (link here):
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who chose not to cut short his own vacation in Egypt, finds himself cast as the arch-goat. Blair's government was quite active during the days that followed the tsunami. But even though Britain has offered substantial assistance to the wave-damaged region, that is somehow insufficient. For the past month, the British news media have savaged their prime minister for his ''colossal act of disrespect.'' According to an editorial in The Independent, ''Blair has failed to grasp the essence of leadership.''

If that accusation is fair, then the essence of leadership has changed into something that is less and less about significant undertakings and more and more about dramatic stunts.
An important article in the FT Magazine (29 Jan) - 'War stories', by Carne Ross, 'from 1998 to 2002, the British “expert” on Iraq for the UK delegation to the UN Security Council'. Two extracts:
It was, of course, a complex story that we managed to divide into two distinct and opposing narratives. The atmosphere between the delegations on the Security Council was aggressive and adversarial, as it remained until - and after - the invasion. Political divisions were allowed to degenerate into personal animosities. The Council, its chambers and corridors became a diplomatic battlezone where the more we fought, the more we entrenched our positions into competing blacks and whites. Thus were we able to obscure the more complex, deeper and more important truth, perhaps even the truth
There is a tendency in government to see intelligence material as being at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of information. Awash with information, government reifies the skill of abstracting the core from the mass (indeed it is a skill tested in the entrance exams when you join, for instance, the Foreign Office). Unlike the voluminous flow of diplomatic telegrams, memos and open-source information that hits computers on desks across government every day, intelligence arrives in slim folders, adorned with colourful stickers announcing not only the secrecy of the information therein but the restricted circulation it enjoys. The impression thus given, a product of these aesthetics, is of access to the real thing, the secret core denied to all but the elite few.
The 'Chomskyan sort of conspiracy led by Big Oil' is also mentioned. Chomsky has replied in a letter in Saturday's FT (4 Feb),  which shows little more than that a) he is still alive and b) has read the article and found it interesting.

Update (8 Feb): Interesting reflections by Ceteris P concerning France's shift before the Iraq war: part1 ..... part2.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Years of the Locusts

I haven't looked at the usual weblogs for a while. So, starting here, ...John Harris's. 'So Now Who Do We Vote For?', extracts in The Guardian, on the Vardy Foundation and the (City) Academies.   Billy Bragg reviews   John Harris's look at the alternatives to voting Labour.

My instincts remain to be 'bearish' on the prospects for Labour at the election: two interesting sites here and here.

Update (10 Feb): I forgot to mention this from marcmulholland, with comments by some very illustrious people - in the blog world, that is. My favourite was siaw, responding to dsquared: ' if you really believe that “the Vietnamese managed to kill as many Cambodians as Pol Pot did”, you’ll believe anything.'

SIAW rightly draws attention to the UK going along with French and German plans to lift the arms embargo on China, with not a murmur of protest.

On Shostakovich’s Opus 103, if I'm thinking of the same piece, as BBC Radio 3 pointed out, it commemorates the events in St Petersburg 100 years ago (on 21 Jan), but also, written in 1957, had in mind the events in Budapest the previous year.
From Jim Higgins' 'More Years for the Locust', extracts here, and scroll down.

The last chapter of the book (chapter 14) opens with a description of how religious groups 'developed doctrinal differences which necessitated them breaking away to form their own church.' Then there is 'the ever-growing proliferation of sects, sectlets and insects claiming direct descent from the master.'

That is not the only way in which some of the Left is similar. There is the same constant examination of and appeal to the sacred texts, in this case Lenin and Trotsky:  'quote chapter and verse', somebody is challenged during one dispute. Like Christians waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah,  one looks to the ever-imminent crisis of capitalism, leading to the triumph of the revolution. This, from the 1970s: 'The SW Perspective article appears to say that there is really not much we can do until the prediction eventually comes true, so it follows that clarity about the present period is not all that important.' (App6) Sometimes, though, it is possible for the organised Left to give a helping hand to try to push capitalism over the edge. See for example the fight at ENV in the 1960s against the employers who 'were continuously attempting to steal a march by the introduction of new machines and practices.' (Ch7)

It all started in a promising way, with a group, that was small but open to debate.
In these days of harsh "Leninist" orthodoxy, it is hard to recall the atmosphere at the cusp of the Socialist Review Group and the International Socialism Group [1960]. The regime was relaxed and activity was directed by persuasion and moral pressure rather than the threat of sanctions. It did not require the mindless uniformity that characterises both Stalinism and graveyards, nor did it suffer from the delusions of grandeur that afflicted orthodox Trotskyism and Baron Munchausen. (Ch6)
By March 1974, the Group (International Socialists and its antecedents) had grown 'to thousands, rather than the hundreds it had been a few years before, and the tens it had been a few years before that'. (Ch11) Things rapidly went downhill from this point. One particularly instructive episode  was in Birmingham. Activists were getting a toehold in the AUEW by realising they had to 'live in a real world'. Central leadership, however, was determined to impose its own views.  
Disagreement was disloyal, arguing was disloyal, marginal doubt was disloyal, even the inability to keep up with the chameleon-like speed with which the line changed was disloyal and disloyalty had to be extirpated with the utmost dispatch and never mind the constitutional niceties. Mick Rice [one of the union activists, wrote]: "IS is more, much more than a command structure, with an immaculate leadership uniquely gifted with the authority of decision. Marxism is about mutual development, of interaction and synthesis. The Marxist party should enshrine the principles of free discussion not from bourgeois ethics but because without it there can be no serious practice and no party."
Things now proceeded in the normal Stalinist manner:
The shadows were definitely lengthening on the IS Opposition. In November 1975, representatives of the ISO were called before the Control Commission ... if its members were not expelled they left in sympathy with those that were. ... The dynamics of the sect had won again. Many of the tormentors of that time became sooner or later the tormented.(Ch13)
In the sixties, there is a mention of 'the Labour government dedication to incomes policy and strike breaking at home (and grovelling support for America's war in Vietnam)'.

By 1974-5, where the book effectively ends, the infighting has consumed everything to such an extent that I don't think the main part of the book even mentions that another Labour government has come to power. In the document setting out the platform of the IS Opposition (Appendix 6), however, we do get this: 'We agree that the phenomenon of ‘Bennery’ is not an expression of a left wing; we would go further and say that it is an expression of state capitalism as a model for reviving British capitalism.' (For the arcane disputes going back to the 1930's and 40's about 'state capitalism' versus 'the workers' state' , which led to factional - and party - splits, you need to read the early chapters.) Benn, nonetheless, did favour nationalisation and workers control. It was the 'without compensation' bit in the IS programme that he would not have gone along with.

Of course, since then such things have become distant dreams, and Tony B has been left with nothing but anti-American rhetoric. As for the IS, 'The promise now was for the Socialist Workers Party in 1976.' (Ch13)

It's a very sad story.