Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraq: conservatives, radicals and realists

Peter Oborne has had quite a bit of time on Channel 4 ('Unreported World', 19 Nov;  'Iraq: The Final Reckoning', 22 Nov). Apart from the predictable stuff about anarchy and chaos and the biggest mistake since whenever, here are some of the points he makes:
  • Iraq is an artificial country; only a despot like Saddam Hussein could hold it together.
  • the chaos is slightly less now only because the Americans and British have ceded  control to militias run by (Shi'a) religious parties. 
  • for example, force women to wear islamic head-coverings (which was not the case under Saddam Hussein) .
  • thus, we have ended up creating a country like Iran.
I'm not sure that Christopher Hitchens ('Nowhere To Go', Slate, 22 Nov 2005  - via DsTfW) quite manages to resolve the contradictions between secularism and democracy, but he has a good try:  
No, there are two absolutely crucial things that made me a supporter of regime change before Bush, and that will keep me that way whether he fights a competent war or not.

The first of these is the face, and the voice, of Iraqi and Kurdish democrats and secularists. Not only are these people looking at death every day, from the hysterical campaign of murder and sabotage that Baathists and Bin Ladenists mount every day, but they also have to fight a war within the war, against clerical factions and eager foreign-based forces from Turkey or Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia. On this, it is not possible to be morally or politically neutral. And, on this, much of the time at least, American force is exerted on the right side. It is the only force in the region, indeed, that places its bet on the victory and the values of the Iraqis who stand in line to vote.
Here's The Economist on the debate in the US and, more importantly  on changing attitudes in Iraq and the wider Arab world :
Yet despite such verbal sparring and the vicious bloodletting on the ground, a degree of convergence can be detected. A huge majority of Iraqis want the occupation to end—some 82% according to a poll conducted by the British Ministry of Defence in August. The argument is over how to go about it. Most Iraqis also shun jihadist zeal, including many members of the broader Sunni resistance who feel that the radicals tarnish their cause. Despite deep mistrust of political institutions that have failed to provide security and a decent infrastructure, and despite the heightening of sectarian loyalty generated by two years of fear and chaos, the weary Iraqi public does not appear to have lost faith in the possibility of a political solution.
The fact remains that Iraq is a nasty and dangerous place, where even a widening commitment to political solutions may not prevent disintegration into civil war. Recent revelations about police death-squads targeting Sunnis, and the bombing of Shia mosques, have intensified sectarian animosities. The vexed questions of federalism and how to share oil revenues remain to be settled. The secret objectives of Iran—whether it just wants to burn American fingers or to install a look-alike theocratic state—are unknown. The jihadists who have made Iraq their playground may have lost their wider appeal, but they are not going to disappear.

Yet there appears to be a growing consensus, within Iraq and outside, that the time has come to settle down and get on with life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


If you understand French, listen to this: interview with Pierre PEAN : Auteur de " noires fureurs, blancs menteurs" (RWANDA 1990-1994) éditions MILLE ET UNE NUITS 

More later, hopefiully. 

Update:  here are some notes from the broadcast:

The Tutsi FPR forces led by Paul Kagame.
1 Oct 1990 The Tutsi were helped by Uganda. It was reasonable for France to defend the Hutu government against an outside force trying to gain power on behalf of a minority.
1994 - assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi:  Kagame was responsible for bringing down the aeroplane, in order to provoke massacres of the Tutsis, his own people. 

The role of France: a failure, but it was the only country which tried (Belgium soon lost interest in its former colony). On the international front, the US (supported by the UK) saw it as in its interest for the Tutsi minoritey to hold power in Rwanda. This 'opened a door' towards what was still then Zaire (the DRC). At least, this was the policy of the US military, to support the FPR: the State Department had a different policy, at least until 1992. They wanted to sweep aside Mobutu; Laurent Kabila was a puppet of  Kagame.

There are some written sources here and here (in French, of course).

( assassinat President de Burundi, descendu l'avion, role de la France: echec mais c'est le seul pays qui a essaye. Etats-Unis interet minorite Tutsi tiennent le Rwanda. porte vers Zaire (DRC).
Et-U (defense) + Angleterre soutient FPR, State jusqu 1992. balaye Mobutu. Laurent Kabila.. marionnette de Kagame. )

Meyer unspun

Leaving aside all the controversy over breaches of confidentiality, what does Sir Christopher Meyer add to our knowledge about Iraq. In the following, I have not indented quotations, but it is based on the series in The Guardian, with minimal editing and the odd emphases of my own added. Oh, and it will be as long as it needs to be.

Meyer was  British ambassador to Washington from 1997 to February 2003,

On weapons of mass destruction,  "This is one of history's loose ends, which may yet be tied," he suggests defensively. But he denies that the government suspected all along that Saddam was less of a threat than was being claimed in public. "I do not know anyone of any stature in 2002 who was going around saying they don't have this stuff." Sir Christopher suggests WMD could have been "spirited out of the country into Syria or maybe even Iran. That is a possibility".

US officials who planned the war, such as deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, "thought it was possible to bring not perfect democracy but start with a fairly rough and ready version that would be the basis from which you could move on to higher things. Put it like that and it doesn't sound so loony,"

When he got back to London, he was not granted the traditional formal farewell interview with the prime minister. By contrast, the president and his wife hosted a private dinner party in the White House.

[The following is written by Meyer in the first person.]
History will doubtless charge Blair and Bush with a number of sins of omission and commission in Iraq; and its judgment may be harsh. But on the central accusation - that they conspired together from early 2002 deliberately to mislead their publics as to their true, bellicose intentions - they are, in my view, innocent. I believe them to have been sincere when they said that a peaceful outcome was possible and war the last option. Equally, I had little doubt that Bush and Blair thought that it would come to war. Neither had any confidence in Saddam's doing the right thing. Who did?

Other questions remain. Throughout 2002, the British embassy in Washington warned that that the linkage between the political and the military components in planning for Iraq was defective; that the political could not be left to the Pentagon; that planning in Washington for the administration of Iraq after Saddam's demise was rudimentary; and that the timetables of the military and the UN inspectors could not be reconciled. The role of coercive diplomacy is a neglected element in the polemic about the Iraq war: without the US military threat, the inspectors would never have been readmitted.

The embassy also said that Britain had the leverage to do something about all this. What leverage? When I have made this point to former colleagues in the British government, they have disagreed vehemently. They cite Bush's offer to Blair that Britain stay out of the war if it was going to be too difficult politically, or Rumsfeld's apparent dismissal of the British military contribution. But these things were said at two minutes to midnight when war was inevitable.

Even in the autumn and early winter of 2002, my contacts were regularly confirming that Bush had not yet taken an irrevocable decision to go to war. War was, of course, by far and away the most likely outcome. But that was not the same thing. London was not fertile ground for the notion of leverage or the tough negotiating position that must sometimes be taken even with the closest allies [...]. By the early autumn of 2002, despite Blair's earlier expressions of unconditional support, Britain should have made its participation in any war dependent on a fully worked-out plan, agreed by both sides, for the rehabilitation of Iraq after Saddam's demise.

This would have been the appropriate quid pro quo for Blair's display of "cojones". We may have been the junior partner in the enterprise, but the ace up our sleeves was that America did not want to go it alone. Had Britain so insisted, Iraq after Saddam might have avoided the violence that may yet prove fatal to the entire enterprise. Unfortunately, and unavoidably, at precisely this moment, political energy in London had become consumed by a titanic struggle to keep public opinion, parliament and the Labour party onside for war. There was little energy left in No 10 to think about the aftermath. Since Downing Street drove Iraq policy, efforts made by the Foreign Office to engage with the Americans on the subject came to nothing.

A notorious Downing Street memorandum, recording a meeting between Blair and close advisers in July, 2002, suggests that the head of the intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, had already concluded that war was inevitable. To a degree, this is hardly surprising. Those sitting inside the military and intelligence machines, tasked to prepare for the contingency of war, and absorbed in their preparations, were always likely to conclude that war was the irrevocable intention.

The more interesting question is whether No 10, relying heavily - maybe too heavily - on the views of these military and intelligence advisers, as a consequence underestimated its political leverage and ability to affect the course of events. I believe the US and the UK would have stood a better chance of going to war in good order had they planned the campaign not for the spring of 2003, but the autumn - the next spell of cool weather in Iraq.

Besides giving more time to prepare for the aftermath of war, a more deliberate timetable might have made it possible to reach agreement on a second UN resolution. Once that happened, Saddam would have known the game was up. It might have sufficiently ratcheted up the pressure to lead to a coup against him or his flight into exile.

I never interpreted the French refusal to accept the draft of a second resolution as a refusal for ever and a day. In diplomacy, you never say never. Talking to me in private, French officials accuse America and Britain of deliberately exaggerating France's position to justify going to war without further UN cover. We will know the full truth only when the archives are opened.

Crucially, a slower timetable for war would have avoided that frantic search for a "smoking gun" between December 2002 and the outbreak of war. By going down that road, the Americans and British shifted the burden of proof from Saddam to themselves. We had to show that he was guilty. This turned out to be a strategic error, which to this day, in the absence of WMD, continues cruelly to torment Blair and Bush. It was precisely these pressures which led to the mistakes and misjudgments of the two British dossiers on Saddam's WMD.

Enormous controversy surrounds the intelligence on which Blair and Bush relied. I saw a great deal of intelligence material in 2002, and I was myself persuaded that Iraq had WMD. There is nothing of which I am aware that Blair said publicly about the intelligence for which he did not have cover either from the joint intelligence committee (JIC) or from its chairman, John Scarlett. If either succumbed to political pressure, that is another story. Had I been in Alastair Campbell's place, I too would have wanted as categorical a public depiction of Saddam's threat as possible. Equally I would have expected the JIC to be rigorous in telling me how far I could go.

Tony Blair chose to take his stand against Saddam and alongside Bush from the highest of high moral ground. It is the definitive riposte to the idea that Blair was merely the president's poodle, seduced though he and his team always appeared to be by the proximity and glamour of American power.But the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages. They place your destiny in the hands of the ally. They fly above the tangled history of Sunni, Shia and Kurd. They discourage descent into the dull detail of tough and necessary bargaining: meat [...].

Even if the most optimistic predictions are finally realised for Iraq, the question will still be asked: why did the Americans and British make it so hard for themselves and even harder for Iraqis? Iraq ran like a toxic stream through my time in Washington. When I arrived in 1997, Saddam was already playing cat and mouse with the first generation of UN weapons inspectors. It was hugely embarrassing to President Bush, and more so to Tony Blair, because he had rested his case for war exclusively on the Iraqi leader's failure to disarm.

But Saddam's real threat was his ambition and intent, and his long-term corrosion of the UN's credibility. To his credit, Blair spotted this as early as 1998. You can agree or disagree with the prime minister on Iraq, but you cannot fault him on consistency. He was a true believer in the menace of Saddam. In Washington, seeking Saddam's overthrow - or "regime change" - became official policy under Bill Clinton as long ago as 1998.

After 9/11, everything changed. The "neocon" hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle saw Iraq as the anvil on which they could forge a realignment of the Middle East, favourable to the United States and Israel, would be struck. The new Iraq, they argued, would inject stable democracy into a region of tyrants. Colin Powell may have thought the standard bearers of this strategy were "f***ing crazies", and history's verdict looks likely to be that it was terminally flawed both in conception and execution. At the time, the "realists" of American foreign policy were unable to withstand the intellectual elan and polemical skill of the strategy's protagonists.

Looking back at the 18 months between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion in March 2003, one question dominates all others. It is about the inevitability of war. The integrity and reputation of Bush and Blair depend upon it. The timing of the Iraq campaign, the wisdom or otherwise of the way in which the war was executed and its aftermath managed, the controversy in Britain over the September and dodgy dossiers shape history's judgment on Bush and Blair. But they are qualitatively different from that of inevitability.

If, as many allege, they decided come hell or high water to go to war at their White House meeting on September 20 2001, or at the Crawford summit in April 2002, or at their Camp David summit in September 2002, each can be justifiably charged with duplicity on a grand scale: with deceiving his public and using the UN both as smokescreen and facilitator for a conflict that was the first option, not the last. Those who believe Bush and Blair guilty as charged see a straight linear progression from, say, the start of military planning in early 2002 to the outbreak of war on March 20 2003. Sitting in Washington, working at the coalface, talking to contacts, the road to war looked to me at that time anything but straight or the destination preordained.

I had a handful of especially important contacts in the higher echelons of the US administration - people at the heart of planning for the Iraq campaign. I was told things that were highly sensitive. Absolute trust was the indispensable ingredient in our relationship. After each conversation, one of them would always say: "Don't get me burned." Sensitive information was not given to me because my friends liked the colour of my eyes. I had to give something in return.

From a very early stage they assumed - rightly - that whatever Bush chose to do, Blair wanted to be with him. But these contacts knew the political difficulties this would cause in Westminster and inside the cabinet. They saw the tension between No 10 and the Foreign Office. I found myself repeatedly answering the question: did something said by Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon represent the prime minister's views? Sometimes it did not. Indeed, throughout this period, the Foreign Office impinged little on my life. Between 9/11 and the day I retired at the end of February 2003, on the eve of war, I had not a single substantive policy discussion on the secure phone with the FO.

I had picked up from our military staff in the embassy the beginning of contingency planning in the Pentagon for an attack on Iraq. By the first few months of 2002 it was clear that Bush was determined to implement the official American policy of regime change, but debate inside the administration was fuelled by a growing awareness of the political risks and practical difficulties: the how and when of it was were uncertain. It made war probable but not inevitable.

It was time to put Britain's fix into American thinking before it coagulated and Blair arrived at Crawford, and I arranged to have lunch with Paul Wolfowitz. My report of this encounter was leaked. By this stage, Tony Blair had already taken the decision to support regime change, though he was discreet about saying so in public. Blair was also firmly wedded to the Clinton proposition that, to have influence in Washington, it was necessary to hug the Americans close and that the world would inevitably be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

Support for regime change caused deep concern inside the Foreign Office. The King Charles Street legal experts' advice was that regime change, however desirable, could not alone justify going to war. The central task was to demonstrate to the Bush administration that it was both possible and desirable to reconcile its mission with the concerns of America's friends. I knew this would call for some very plain speaking in private, but the leverage was there. For all their brave talk, the Americans always preferred to act with allies rather than without.

To reinforce my credentials with Wolfowitz, I emphasised the prime minister's commitment to regime change. I wanted him to know that we were starting from the same premise - but that, in Britain, this was not without political cost. It was the diplomacy of 'Yes, but ... '

I told him there had to be a strategy for building international support. What was needed was a clever plan that convinced people there was a legal basis for toppling Saddam. The UN had to be at the heart of such a strategy. One way was to demand the readmission of UN weapons inspectors into Iraq. If he refused, this would not only put him in the wrong but also turn the searchlight onto the security council resolutions of which he remained in breach. I also stressed the critical importance of making progress in defusing the violence between Israel and the Palestinians, to help carry Muslim opinion. Wolfowitz listened carefully, but he was noncommittal.

A similar list of conditions appears in another leaked document, drawn up following Tony Blair's summit with Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, a few weeks later in April 2002. This Cabinet Office note recorded that Blair had told Bush that Britain would support military action "provided that certain conditions were met". These conditions were that efforts were made to construct a coalition, that the Israel-Palestine crisis was "quiescent", and that "options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through UN weapons inspectors" were exhausted.

When this document was drafted none of those conditions was anywhere near to being met. Nor, at the time the leaked cabinet note was drafted, had we left the starting gate in pursuit of the UN or building an international coalition. Since the Crawford meeting, a question began growing in my mind. When is a condition not a condition? Had Blair said at Crawford that he would be unable to support a war unless British wishes were met? I doubted it.

I was not present for the two leaders' exchanges at the ranch. For long periods they were alone together. And on the Sunday morning, Blair had given a significant speech on the subject of pre-emption. The lesson of 9/11, Blair said, was that you did not wait to be hit if you saw a threat coming. You dealt with it before it materialised. Saddam Hussein was such a threat. Doing nothing about him was not an option.

For the first time in my hearing, Blair had publicly embraced regime change. But it was another passage in the speech that made me sit up. In a reference to democratic values, Blair said that when "America is fighting for those values, then, however tough, we fight with her - no grandstanding, no offering implausible and impractical advice from the touchline." To an American audience it was another unconditional statement of solidarity among several that Blair had uttered since 9/11. His words were heard, as they were meant to be, as a commitment to stand by America, however the cards fell but the commitment was not the same thing as an operational decision to go to war in the spring of 2003 even if it was the probable outcome.

Preconditions do not mix easily, if at all, with a commitment like that. They become instead what you would like to have, if possible, rather than what you insist on. There comes a point where, if you hug too close, it becomes an end in itself.

As the outcome of the Crawford summit began to percolate through the American administration, this became rapidly apparent. In the middle of May I had a conversation with a senior contact at the heart of contingency planning for Iraq, who warned me that the "buts" in our "yes, but" position were being forgotten. People were hearing what they wanted to hear. By early July I told London that the UK risked being taken for granted. We were getting too little in return for our public support.

This was a lousy backdrop to taking part in any military action against Iraq. There needed to be a plain-speaking conversation between prime minister and president. Blair sent a message to Washington - one of a pithy series in his characteristic short-sentence, short-paragraph style. At the beginning of September 2002, just before Blair arrived for new talks at Camp David, Bush announced what London desperately wanted to hear. He would go to the UN to seek support for tackling Saddam. It is hard to gauge Britain's influence on his decision. A private meeting between Bush and Colin Powell on August 5 looks to have been decisive. A note of this meeting later found its way into my hands; it recorded Powell's compelling description of the likely damage to American interests around the world if the US chose to go it alone against Saddam.

Something then occurred to me: Britain was acquiring the status of indispensable ally. I had depressed myself by the thought that Blair's unconditional support for Bush had destroyed British leverage; but it dawned on me that the Americans really needed us by their side if it came to war. "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, said to me later that we were the only ally that mattered. That was a powerful lever. Bush's decision to take the UN route was welcome, as far as it went, but it left a host of questions unanswered.

Just before Blair arrived at Camp David, I received a phone call from one of the most experienced and prominent foreign policy practitioners of the Clinton administration. The familiar voice warned me that Cheney, Bush's sometimes intimidating vice-president, would be present throughout Blair's discussions with the president. "How the hell do you know?" I asked. "Don't ask, don't tell," was the enigmatic reply. "But Blair had better watch out." The voice was right. Cheney attended all the meetings, including those where Blair and Bush were alone with their closest aides. After one of these conclaves Bush emerged to announce that Blair had "cojones", I may have been the only member of the waiting British team who understood this meant balls. It was a tribute to Blair's unequivocal reaffirmation to Bush of his earlier commitment to stand by the Americans, including in a war. This was what the Americans wanted from the Camp David summit.

Bush, in return would go to the UN to give Saddam one last chance to meet his international obligations. There were also many other policy gaps that still needed filling. Biggest of all, post-war Iraq was a blind spot in Washington. The White House appeared to have bought fully into the neocon idea that with the overthrow of Saddam, all would be sweetness and light, with automatic benefits elsewhere in the Middle East. This failure to grasp the political nature of the Iraqi enterprise, and the need to think about the peace as well as the war, led to many of the difficulties later experienced by the US and its allies.

Diplomatic arm-twisting at the UN continued with tortured slowness. Bush's patience was being tested by the slowness of negotiations, and I warned No 10 to prepare for everything going wrong.

In early October, I visited the great US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, and spent the day on the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Harry S Truman. The captain told me they were ready to sail for the Gulf at any time. This raised the most crucial question of all. Had US mobilisation reached such a point that there was already an insoluble contradiction between the planned timing of military action and the timetable for weapons inspections, if and when the inspectors got back into Iraq? When I put this last point to a White House contact, I was told that the president had not yet signed off on going to war. Nothing was yet irrevocable.

I knew that I was in a tiny minority in thinking at the time that if it all went wrong at the UN negotiations, and the US was faced with going to war alone, it seemed to me that Bush might blink. Or, to put it another way: what Britain decided to do in such circumstances could be the decisive factor in the White House. Then, in November 2002, came a breakthrough - the passage of UN Resolution 1441, demanding a full and final disclosure of all Saddam's weapons. Saddam agreed to comply and the weapons inspectors went back in. There was a brief period of hope that Saddam could be disarmed peacefully.

Against a backdrop of intensifying military preparations, anxiety gripped the Bush administration. It feared a prolonged inspection process that failed to reveal Saddam's WMD; troops going stale as they kicked their heels; allies going off the boil; and a once-and-for-all opportunity to be rid of Saddam slipping through American fingers. The issue of the moment became how to find the "smoking gun" that would justify action against Saddam - the irrefutable proof that he had weapons of mass destruction.

The risk was that, through impatience and excessive pressure on the weapons inspectors, America would shatter any international coalition for war before it had even got started. I no longer thought that, in the event of opposition to war from most of the UN security council, Bush would blink. Yet he would still have an agonising decision to take early in 2003. And if it was agonising for him, it would be doubly so for Blair.

The advice the British prime minister then gave the US president would never have been more important in my time in Washington. It could even be the swing vote for war or peace. The pendulum never swung back again. If the president had left himself any space to step back from war, he closed it down early with his state of the union speech on January 29 2003.

Even by Bush's standards the speech was unusually messianic in tone. The destruction of Saddam was a crusade against evil to be undertaken by God's chosen nation: "This call of history has come to the right people." Blair now paid one more visit to Washington. The meeting with Bush on January 31 2003 took place against a deeply unpromising background. Transatlantic relations were in a trough. British attempts to overcome France and Germany's vocal opposition to war were sinking beneath the waves. The prime minister's best hope seemed to be to ensure that we and the US went to war in the best possible company. To do this, he needed to secure Bush's solid support for a second UN resolution, explicitly sanctioning military action.

When just before their press conference president and prime minister came down from the tete-a-tete meeting upstairs in the White House it looked at first as if Blair had secured Bush's solid support for a second resolution. We were all milling around the state dining room, advisers from both sides, as Bush and Blair put the final touches to what they were going to say to the media at the usual press conference in the main lobby of the White House. Bush had a note pad on which he had written a form of words which sounded to me pretty forward leaning. He read it out. Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary said that Bush had never said this before and it would be a big story. Condoleezza Rice said that she and others in the administration had already said something very similar in public. That, said Fleischer, is not the same thing as the president saying it. There was a silence. I waited for Blair to say that he needed something as supportive as possible. He said nothing. I waited for somebody on the No 10 team to say something.

Nothing was said. I cursed myself afterwards for not piping up. At the press conference Bush gave only perfunctory and lukewarm support for a second resolution. It was neither his nor Blair's finest performance. I left Washington and retired from the diplomatic service a month later. We went to war without benefit of a further resolution and in the company of a motley, ad hoc coalition of allies.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

PS: [Slightly off the subject.] Cherie was so upset. After all, hadn't Al Gore really won? "Get over it," I said. "Bush is president and that's that." I prayed that Blair himself had not been infected by this childishness. Whatever No 10 had wished for in private, it had been good at maintaining strict public neutrality during the election campaign. It would be rank folly to spoil it all now. I need not have worried. Blair was too pragmatic and aware of the importance of the United States to let this happen. After all he had ringing in his ears Clinton's advice to "Hug them close".

Update (as if this post wasn't  long enough already): After the sub-editors, or headline writers had worked themselves into a frenzy ('Blair's litany of failures on Iraq - ambassador's damning verdict'), the commentators at the Guardian/Observer realized that Sir Christopher wasn't quite speaking from the right script. On the substantive issue: 'His central thesis, though, that 'the ace up our sleeve was that America did not want to go alone' into Iraq, simply does not stand up. [...]America would still have stormed to war with or without Britain' (Andrew Stephen's review in The Observer); 'The idea that Blair could somehow have nudged this war on to a wholly different course is a folly of diplomatic grandeur. [...] Blair was helpless in the face of neocons' (Simon Jenkins) .

The most balanced response came in Martin Kettle's review in The Guardian. I can't resist quoting this little dig: 'Meyer is also more generous to Gordon Brown in these pages - I wonder why that could be? - than he was in private, when he regularly complained about the chancellor's repeated and childish snubs.'

Monday, November 28, 2005


If you want to read one article from the New Statesman, try this - Denis MacShane with Observations on censorship:
Imagine Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes being put on trial for saying that writers should discuss the one million Indians who died in 1944 and the many thousands of Irish who died in the 19th century because of British policy. That is what Turkey is doing to its greatest living novelist, Orhan Pamuk[...]
Oh sh.., I've got a question about Tariq Ramadan to answer there...

'The culture of secrecy in Turkmenistan that means even outbreaks of TB and Plague go unreported.'  Part of this report can be heard at the start of 'Pick of the world. The 'Assignment' web page did not seem to have it. 

Elinor Goodman keeps her hand in with The Week in Westminster. If you really want to, you can hear Ken Clarke on Iraq (about 20 minutes in): the worst foreign policy decision since the second world war, apparently. (Cf. Peter Oborne, in a trailer endlessly repeated on  Channel 4 last week, saying it was the biggest mistake since Munich.)

What was in The Sunday Times (20 Nov) ? Jon Snow said that it had extensive coverage of the ´Bush wanted to bomb al-Jazeera´ leaked memo and that he would have been sent to jail if he had read it out on Channel 4 News, but this was the most anybody could come up with on their forum.

Iran: French analysis

Editorial by Pierre Rousselin in Le Figaro, 24 Nov 2005:
La médiation qui vient d'être proposée à Moscou n'a de chance de réussir que parce qu'elle a le soutien de Washington. Il s'agit d'obliger les Iraniens à effectuer en Russie l'enrichissement de leur uranium, qui sera ainsi étroitement contrôlé. En échange de quoi, ils seront autorisés à poursuivre à Ispahan la phase moins sensible du processus, celle de la conversion. Compte tenu des intérêts convergents des Russes et des Iraniens, il n'est pas impossible que cette proposition aboutisse. La diplomatie russe aura réussi là où notre diplomatie, décidément inopérante, aura échoué.

Ce nouveau camouflet, s'il a lieu, ne doit pas pour autant condamner l'initiative européenne. Elle a eu le grand mérite, en 2003, d'établir le contact avec Téhéran sur le dossier nucléaire, au moment où Washington ne parlait que de «changement de régime» et de menaces militaires. Depuis, le programme iranien est beaucoup mieux connu. Les inspecteurs de l'Agence internationale de l'énergie atomique ont accumulé des données sur toutes les activités que les Iraniens avaient dissimulées depuis vingt ans.

Paradoxalement, les choses se sont compliquées, pour les Européens, à partir du moment où les Américains ont publiquement appuyé leur démarche, au début de cette année. Depuis lors, on a le sentiment que le vrai marchandage a lieu entre Téhéran et Washington et concerne aussi l'avenir de l'Irak, auquel l'Iran attache évidemment le plus vif intérêt. Il ne resterait plus, alors, aux Européens qu'à jouer leur rôle avec la plus grande humilité. 
In his Chronique last Thursday, 'Mollahs contre mollahs',  Bernard Guetta focussed on the rejection of Mohsen Tasalloti, the third man to be presented as candidate for oil minister
[...] les députés ont trouvé tous les défauts de la terre au dernier en date des postulants, éconduit par 257 voix contre 77. Ils l’ont jugé incompétent, sans stature internationale, incapable d’accroître la production iranienne [...]  mais ce que les élus lui reprochaient avant tout c’est de leur être présenté par le nouveau Président de la République, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
En Iran, le régime se demande, lui, s’il n’a pas accouché d’un Savonarole, prêt à revenir aux années de la Révolution. Les plus conservateurs l’avaient soutenu pour faire barrage aux réformateurs. Ils avaient voulu se servir de lui pour que le vent du changement n’ébranle pas trop la République islamique mais maintenant qu’il est aux commandes [...] beaucoup des conservateurs se rapprochent des réformateurs qui, forts de ce retournement de situation, redonnent de la voix. [...]
La bataille fait rage entre ceux qui voudraient, à un rythme ou l’autre, intégrer l’Iran à l’économie mondiale et ceux qui voudraient lui redonner un leadership, ravi par les sunnites d’Al Quaeda, sur les mouvements islamistes.
The Economist has further analysis on the oil minister saga: [Ahmadinejad embarrassed again ]
Most worrying for the president, three months into his tenure, he does not have a grip on the oil ministry, the linchpin of the system he detests. Here, Mr Rafsanjani, a grandee who retains much influence over the ministry, has been helped by parliament, which also gets on badly with the new president. This autumn, deputies withheld votes of confidence in two of Mr Ahmadinejad’s successive nominees to be oil minister; this week they rejected Mohsen Tasalloti, his third choice.

For some lawmakers, the problem lies with the government’s plans for the oil sector. This week, one top oil official criticised plans to spend $3 billion of oil revenues to buy petrol, of which Iran consumes far more than it produces, and its refusal to stop subsidising prices at the pump. Another questioned the existence of what the president calls the “oil mafia”. For others in parliament, however, the real issue is Mr Ahmadinejad’s choice of candidates. Lawmakers have questioned Mr Tasalloti’s loyalty to the Islamic Republic. He has denied claims that he holds an American “green card” residency permit and that his daughter has secured British citizenship.

Three rejections in a row represent a huge embarrassment for Mr Ahmadinejad, and threaten to cast Iran into uncharted political waters. Parliament is dominated by conservatives, many of whom were happy to see Mr Ahmadinejad trounce Mr Rafsanjani in the second round of the presidential election, in June. But the spats since he took office have shown that only a minority can be relied on to support the president.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pickled Politics

This really is a superb site. For example, Sunny in 'The Guardian (and me) on British Muslims after 7/7', where some of the best bits are in the comments.
As [Tariq] Ramadan said, there needs to be a seperation of the religious and political aspect.

People link the two, but why should anger against the war translate to suicide bombings? That is a huge step to make and a result of some hardcore brain-washing. The point is why is this brain-washing taking place, who is doing it, and what can be done to stop it. The war in Iraq is merely a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda - they’ve been killing Muslims and non-Muslims for years before that.
On marches failing to 'stop the war':
I went on the march too. But political decisions don’t always go your way. This is a long political struggle that Muslims should get involved in. Just having one march, and then expecting things to go your way is politically naive.
On having a march against Al Qaida:
Do I really have to point this out? It’s a symbolic act towards Muslims and non-Muslims. How exactly does it show solidarity towards Islamophobes? If this country was full of Islamophobes than the extent to which Muslims are treated would be a lot, lot worse. You forget that Muslims have killed more people than non-Muslims have in religious hatred crimes (taking 7/7 into account).
On the alcohol issue:
You seem to be quite naive if you think politics revolves around the pub. Despite that, they don’t have a “no Muslims allowed” sign. Go in there and drink an orange juice. After all, alcohol is served in restaurants and Muslims have no issues going into them.  ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Dominique Strauss-Kahn interviewed on France Inter yesterday morning. He mentioned something I heard last week, but forgot to write about. Local councils in Paris are supposed to ensure a certain proportion of social housing (habitation à loyer modéré or HLM ) is built. Many councils, however, prefer to pay the fines imposed for not doing so, rather than allowing undesirables into their neighbourhoods.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Aiming high

Apparently, Aim (Alternative Investment Market) stocks are increasingly being used as a shelter from inheritance tax, following the extension of tax relief to them in 1996 (FT Money supplement, 1 Oct 2005). I must admit that about four of the companies I am interested in (OK, I've got shares in them) have moved from the main market to Aim in the last few years.

When this happens, they have to be taken out of an ISA or PEP wrapper, if they are held there. Of course, the money can be re-invested in qualifying stocks and the value of that tax shelter is thereby preserved.

Just to clarify something I posted a while ago: 'the anger is directed not against capitalism as such, but against profits going out of France...' This is happening at a high rate at the moment, due to a 'fiscal amnesty' or temporary tax rebate. Hewlett Packard, who were planning 6000 job losses in Europe, of which 1200 in France, announced in August the repatriation of $14.5bn of profits. It is estimated that around $400bn of US companies' profits 'permanently invested abroad' before the end of June 2003 are eligible for the rebate. This is at least twice as much as estimates made when the US Congress voted in the rebate last year (Le Figaro Économie, 5 Oct 2005). There is no suggestion that the US is doing anything unfair, merely pulling back from a double taxation system that excessively encouraged investment abroad.

The FT also mentioned this temporary tax concession, in a leader of 19 Nov, and noted that it may be giving an artificial boost to the dollar. (Remember that one of the things the French were always complaining about back in May was that the Euro was over-valued).

Sarah Kane's Hippolytus

As I noted in one of my very earliest posts, the treatment of the Phaedra / Hippolytus legend, where a woman struggles with an uncontrollable passion for a younger man, over the millennia is fascinating. Sarah Kane's 'Phaedra's Love' is another one. From an article called 'Forever Young' by Patrick Marmion in the FT Magazine, 10 sept: 
Kane's Hippolytus is every inch the modern couch potato who binges on fast food, television and masturbation. And yet he exerts the gravitational and fatal attraction of a black hole.
The play was written by Kane at the age of 25 - 3 years before she killed herself in 1999. Some  reviews of a recent production can be found here and here; and some blogger stuff here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

US compromise

The BBC had extensive coverage, Friday, of the 'documents on how to build a crucial part of a nuclear bomb.' More precisely, these are about how to form uranium metal into "hemispherical forms". 

The NYT further reported ( 'Bush Backs Plan to Move Iran's Uranium Enrichment to Russia', 18 Nov 2005) from Pusan, South Korea:
President Bush told President Vladimir V. Putin today that the United States was willing to accept a nuclear compromise - rejected by Tehran in recent days - that would move all of Iran's enrichment of uranium to Russia.

"We hope that over time Iran will see the virtue of this approach, and it may provide a way out," Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, told reporters here today, after the two leaders met.
Until a few days ago, the United States seemed poised to press for a vote [on referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions]  when the [I.A.E.A.'s] board meets late next week. But in recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attended the meeting today with Mr. Putin, has signaled that she may delay that vote again, perhaps in hopes of gathering more votes.

"The Russians are getting very, very frustrated with the refusal of the Iranians to move to a middle ground," one senior American official said. A senior Russian delegation that went to Tehran last week was unable to persuade the Iranians to consider giving up enriching uranium on their own soil, the American officials said.
Under the nuclear plan proposed by Russia and endorsed by Britain, France and Germany [...] Tehran would be permitted to continue to convert raw uranium into a gas form, called UF6. That gas can be enriched if poured into high-speed centrifuges, which made up most of the technology Dr. Khan's network sold to Iran in 1987, and in a series of deals that resumed in 1994. [...] Iran would no longer be able to enrich uranium on its soil. The Iranian government has said it will never give up its right to enrich, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Hadley, in describing the proposed compromise in public for the first time today, said that Iran, "while retaining its right to enrichment and reprocessing, would, nonetheless, find it in its interest to give up that right in terms of its own territory." An enrichment facility would be built in Russia, "in which Iran would have management and financial interest, but not a technical interest." In other words, Iran would have no control over the level to which the uranium is enriched, preventing it from making bomb fuel.

"This is an interesting idea," Mr. Hadley said. "The Iranians, probably not surprisingly, initially have said no." But he said he hoped Iran would come around.
[my emphasis]
A similar report was carried in the FT, which also indicated that officials from the EU3, Russia, China and the US met in London to discuss the issue, Friday.

For earlier comments, see fuel for Iran.

BBC (Radio 4) also had a report ( that I'd heard a day or two before, but I can't remember where) on how the Ahmadinejad government is replacing numerous moderates, or reformists, in positions like university professors.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Conservatives and Europe

The second of David Cameron's decisions, or definite positions taken, that I have noted:  to withdraw British Conservatives from the European People's Party grouping in the European Parliament. One person explained it like theis on the radio a week or so ago: it is no longer appropriate to sit with outmoded Christian Democrat parties and so on. Like Angela Merkel's ?

More here (follow the links).

Dress Codes

Timothy Garton Ash on Iran in the NYRB (via David Aaronovitch's column in The Times).
The clothes worn by men have a less familiar symbolic language. A law student came to see me dressed in a dark suit and tie. At first, I thought he must be a young fogey; but I could not have been more wrong. Because the regime's regulation dress for men is strictly tie-less (as was President Ahmadinejad when he addressed the UN), to wear a suit and tie is a mark of brave nonconformity.
This is just a flavour. Read the whole thing, as they say.

Somewhat more recent, but still subscribers only, 'Girl power' by Noha Mellor:
Nancy, a young and attractive Arab woman with long flowing hair, blue eyes and fluttering eyelashes, is serving the drinks in a cafe where all the customers are young men. She flits among the tables, smiling and wearing a skimpy dress. Then she looks into the camera and sings [...]

“The stereotypical image of the Arab woman is that she is simply a ‘body’, with less intellectual and spiritual capabilities than a man - and video clips in fact support that perception,” says Amina al-Dhaheri, professor of mass communications at United Arab Emirates University [...]

[...] perhaps provocative female behaviour can challenge male domination, rather than confirm it - or at least, that is the professed hope of Nadine Labaki, director of some of Nancy Ajram’s most controversial videos. Labaki defends her video of Ajram dancing for a group of men in a public cafe: “As Arab women, we used to live in fear of the Other’s gaze; we were imprisoned in our own bodies. So I wanted to create a new female character that is not afraid and has no problem with her body.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Lawrence Lessig on Battling for Control of the Internet :
I’ve been a critic of ICANN for a long time, especially in its early stages. But I think what it’s trying to do now is pretty close to what it ought to be doing, which is just trying to serve technical functions in the narrowest possible way. They’ve resisted a lot of policy work that they could have been doing.

Right now, I hope that ICANN continues to exercise control. It’s not because I have any affection for the U.S. government’s control over ICANN, but because I think that they’ve developed an internal norm about making as light a regulatory footprint as they can. I would be worried about transferring authority because I think that some other body coming in might imagine it can use its power over the domain names to try to regulate all sorts of policy objectives. We’d all be worse off if that happened.
Update (21 Nov): the French aren't too happy though:
Essayez donc de faire une adresse avec .kp, et vous aurez pour réponse : « The web site cannot be found. » [...] Cela ne fera peut-être pas pleurer grand monde parce que kp, c’est la Corée du Nord.
Le pouvoir de l’ICANN est donc immense dans un monde où l’Internet joue un rôle déterminant. Il est juste de dire qu’en dehors du cas de la Corée du Nord, les Américains n’en ont pas usé jusqu’à présent.
On the other hand, another French person, from Reporters without Borders, on BBC's 'Talking Point' said "We don't want the UN to get its hands on the Internet, because we don't trust the UN on human rights."

Europe and the US

Bernard Guetta on France Inter this morning: 'Washington et Bruxelles, c’est tout l’Occident qui est en crise.'
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered the deal which sees the Rafah border due to open on 25 November. European foreign policy envoy Javier Solana has nominated a senior Italian military policeman to head a European monitoring presence at Rafah.
Ms Rice had extended her Middle East visit to help nail down the agreement. [... She] had spent the night shuttling back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. She said she got only two hours' sleep.
Diplomats hail Gaza border deal

Letter to France

Sometimes comments threads go cold, as here, but I wanted to record this anyway.

C'est vrai, il y avait beaucoup de couverture à la BBC. We are interested in you, my dear French friends. Mais ne mettez pas tous les 'anglo-saxones' dans le meme sac: schadenfreude - cela vient des Americains, mais après tous les sentiments anti-americain de ces 4 années passées, et surtout Katrina, on peut les excuser.

L'idée "d'arabisation" de l'Europe: également, c'est plutôt les Americains qui avancent cela.

Une chose que j'ai entendu dire (en Angleterre): 'It could happen to us.'

Update: the news on More4 (an offshoot of Channel4) last night (Tuesday) picked up on the exaggerated coverage in the US media - 'Paris is Burning' on Fox News, etc. 

Monday, November 14, 2005

Notes on the violence (part 3)

Comment in the FT (12 Nov) on the violence in France. Their leader says the biggest frustration for the rioters is the French model which 'teaches that every citizen of the republic must be absolutely equal and able to exercise his full rights, but as an individual, and not as member of some religious or ethnic group.' Christopher Caldwell says that France must not abandon its model and warns against Muslim groups developing private agendas, 'setting up parallel social-service structures in poor neighbourhoods' (a la Hamas or Hezbollah). The violence has been less in Marseilles, where according to its mayor, 'the strict division of church and state under a 1905 French law has been blurred.'

Jack Lang is quoted from an FT interview earlier this year: "Sarkozy will be his own worst enemy. He goes over the top. [...]  He is intelligent [...] He is brave. But you sense he is a little foolish. It is a paradox that this man you is minister of security will create a sense of insecurity."
Update: BBC Radio 4 on Sunday evening, 'in a change to our scheduled programmes',  had a profile of Nicholas Sarkozy.
The neo-conservative project of democracy for the Middle East is coming under pressure from from people who are, well, just plain conservatives and anti-Islamists. Daniel Pipes said that it was senseless to distinguish between the Muslim Brotherhood, which renounces violence, and extremist groups. "They are all part of a radical utopian movement."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

From The Economist:
ANDIJAN'S prison, rammed at high speed on May 13th by a hijacked truck to free prisoners, now has new gates and zig-zag concrete blocks outside. The town hall, where government hostages were held by protesters, is being reconstructed.
Surveillance and security have been ratcheted up still further. There are police every 50 metres in Tashkent and dozens of roadblocks on the single mountainous road that leads to the Fergana valley, where Andijan is located. New methods of control include civilian informers who report directly to the police. Indigenous neighbourhood committees now keep tabs on the population. Most foreign NGOs have been closed down, the remaining few threatened.
Meanwhile, the economic situation in Uzbekistan grows steadily worse. The country has enormous gold reserves, is one of the world's largest cotton producers, and has uranium and sizeable oil and gas deposits. But virtually no wealth trickles down to people beyond an elite circle of a few thousand. Cotton pickers earn a pittance, while farmers are forced not only to grow crops selected by the government but then to sell their entire crop at low state prices. Smuggling is widespread; there is scarcely any industry to provide jobs or create wealth.
Efforts to undercut the social unrest, including releasing long-overdue pensions, wages and salaries, have been undermined by a subsequent wave of arrests of anyone believed to be connected to or have knowledge of the uprising. There have been beatings and forced confessions.

Despite the grim outlook, many Uzbeks think the chances of change are slim. Some say they fear a bloodbath. Others say that 67-year-old President Karimov is politically stronger than ever. He is financially self-sufficient, and protected by the region's largest and best equipped army and security forces, which are estimated to employ one in three of the population.

Even so, others believe that another popular uprising like the one in Andijan could happen. None of its underlying causes have been addressed. “It could take another harsh winter and all heat and power failing as it did recently, for the people to rebel,” says one observer, adding that security forces might well refuse to turn on the people again. One well-informed source said that within the elite tough questions are urgently being asked about the wisdom of the new anti-western course being pursued—and about the efficacy of the president's policies.

I am unlikely to blog much before next week. One last comment, at pickledpolitics.

Smoking and driving

George Monbiot's 'Will they never stand up to the carmakers and save our lungs?' (via Norm):
some 54 bar staff in the UK die as a result of their exposure to other people's cigarette smoke. And every year, according to the EU, some 39,000 deaths in this country are caused or hastened by air pollution, most of which comes from vehicles.
Nonetheless, Monbiot is a supporter of the smoking ban which 'will save some fraction of the bar staff who die every year'  Some fraction? Like 5? 1?

So much for the token politics of the smoking ban. Vehicle pollution, on the other hand, is a serious issue and deserves a serious analysis. Monbiot pursues a familiar line: it's all the fault of the carmakers (in the same way, Michael Moore justifies his witch-hunt on smokers by claiming that he is attacking tobacco companies). Never mind that people want to drive cars (not to mention those who work producing them).

'But in 2000 the decline in the most dangerous pollutant - small particles of soot - came to a halt.' The particles are produced by diesel engines. However, they can be practically eliminated by the filters that manufacturers have introduced on some cars (mentioned towards the end of Monbiot's article, completely out of context - 'Why, in this age of particulate filters and hypercars...').

Diesel engines do have one big advantage: they consume less fuel and therefore produce less of the greenhouse gases. (Strange, that someone who is supposed to have environmental credentials does not even mention global warming.)  The consultancy Integral Powertrain says that 'diesel throws up a CO2 emission benefit of around 27 per cent based on comparing engines of the same power rating.' (*)

Manufacturers are subject to increasingly stringent regulations from the EU and US as to the emissions their vehicles produce.

However, planned European emissions rules could add as much as €1500 to the cost of a diesel car. This might reduce the market penetration of diesel and consequently increase the problem of carbon dioxide,  according to the European Association of Automobile Manufacturers (*).

People could also hang on longer to their older cars, which are subject to less stringent regulations.

Finally, the failure 'to stand up to a handful of motor manufacturers who no longer even operate here?' But who still produce cars in Britain: Toyota (with their hybrid Prius), Ford and Peugeot-Citroen (who are co-operating on designing diesel engines) and so on.

*  Financial Times, Motor Industry special report, 13 Sep 2005 (this is available online, but it's  subscribers only)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Notes on the violence (part 2)

Comment on Harry's Place. Hugh Schofield says racaille is not quite as derogatory as 'scum' (Alain Rey pointed out on Friday that the word is from the same root as English 'rascal').  Someone else on BBC WS Newshour reflecting on the lessons learnt from the 1981 riots in Brixton and elsewhere: a British home secretary would never refer to people as 'scum'; he/she might think it...

Monday; hunting rifles have been used to shoot policemen in the suburb of Grigny, south of Paris... Jack Lang and someone from the UMP on the BBC... Bernard Guetta has this (« Pourquoi Paris brûle » ):
Autre grand type de réactions, celle des gens qui ne comprennent pas que la France ne reconnaisse pas des communautés en son sein. Aux Etats-Unis, on est très naturellement Italo-Américains, Afro-Américains, Irlando-Américains, Arabo-Américains etc. Il en va sensiblement de même en Grande-Bretagne et la volonté assimilatrice de la France est souvent vue dans le monde, surtout depuis l’interdiction du voile à l’école, comme une preuve d’arrogance nationale et de refus de l’internationalisation des Etats-nations, voire de leur dépassement.

Beaucoup d’Africains et de Nord-Africains immigrés aux Etats-Unis ou en Grande-Bretagne ont ainsi écrit à la BBC pour dire qu’ils se sentaient mieux dans ces pays où ils pouvaient être eux-mêmes plus facilement qu’en France.
8h20-8H30 (CET) : Jean-François Copé, government spokesman, Mayor of Meaux  and Jean-Marie Colombani, of "Le Monde". Copé claims that the government has been replacing the high-rise buildings with lower-density developments, 4-storey apartment blocks.

Here's Jack Lang again:
La police de proximité coûtait trop cher, nous dit-on. Combien coûtent les gadgets américains de M. Sarkozy [...] ?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Notes on the violence

Apart from massive economic deprivation on the one hand and the need to re-establish order and law on the other, what else can one say about the continuing violence in France? Here are a few notes in no particular order.

As one BBC report put it a few days ago, Aulnay is actually quite a nice place; it's just the estates...

Police de proximité (neighbourhood police or 'bobbies on the beat'): Sarkozy either did away with local police stations altogether, or reduced the budget for them, depending one which version you believe. 

The influence of Islamic fundamentalism: either as the organising force behind the disturbances; or as something those who are alienated from French society can identify with.

One commentator on BBC World Service, Saturday night (Dominique Moissé, I think) put it this way: the banlieues are ignored in normal times, but when cars are set alight the BBC and CNN give it huge coverage; for the excluded there it must seem as if 'I destroy, therefore I exist'. Nice to know the philosophical tradition of Descartes and Sartre is alive and well. 

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Torture was "technically illegal" in England at the time, except "in exceptional circumstances". There was only one rack in existence, kept in the Tower of London.
(from BBC's Timewatch, last night)

There is a recording we made from Andijan so chilling that people cannot speak while it is playing.

It is an open line to the mobile phone of one of the demonstrators. You can hear a wall of automatic gunfire, like siege fire, and among it people muttering their last prayers: "Allah-u Akbar, Allah-u Akbar - God is great."

As the shooting grows louder and louder, the voices become thinner until, after more than an hour there is a click, and silence.

The man with the phone was killed.

'From our own Correspondent'. Monica Whitlock can be heard here - first up on the Radio 4 edition. Hugh Schofield on Paris is second up.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Social-conservatism in Poland

From France Inter:
Les Finances, d’abord, grand point d’achoppement des négociations entre les deux droites, reviennent à une universitaire qui avait participé à la mise en place de la thérapie de choc libérale après l’écroulement du communisme mais qui s’opposait farouchement à la volonté de la droite libérale de passer à un taux d’imposition unique quel que soit le niveau de revenus. Le plus important, disait-elle récemment, est de « réconcilier les gens », de ne pas aggraver, autrement dit, la polarisation politique entre ceux qui profitent du marché et ses laissés-pour-compte. Cette nomination se veut celle d’un juste milieu mais c’est entre les Affaires étrangères et la Défense que la volonté d’équilibre est la plus frappante. Les premières reviennent à un historien de la Révolution française né en France, ancien ambassadeur à Paris et européen convaincu ; la seconde à un journaliste réfugié en Grande-Bretagne après l’état de guerre, devenu citoyen britannique, marié à une Américaine et atlantiste militant. La diplomatie à un Français, les Armées à un Britannique – cela fait deux fers au feu de l’Europe.
In English and to put some names to it:
The new foreign minister, Stefan Meller, is currently ambassador to Russia. Oxford-educated Radek Sikorski, until recently a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is the new defence minister. He backs close ties with the US. [...] Finance: Teresa Lubinska [...] In general, the new government will be more wary of Brussels and adopting the euro, our correspondent says. The conservatives will keep Poland closely allied to the US and may even keep the Polish troop contingent in Iraq longer than expected.
Update (5 Nov): the new Finance Minister has apparently said that Tesco is not welcome in Poland. This has been picked up by the British press and the BBC's review thereof.

Actually, it's on the front page of the FT, with an interview with her inside.

More on France, from Hugh Schofield:
So for once, Mr Sarkozy finds that his tough-talking is out of kilter with the national mood, which urgently wants a return to quiet and knows that the best way of getting it is if the government makes the right kind of gestures.
The BBC at last have a decent map.

Sanjar Umarov

Things have continued to get even grimmer in Uzbekistan since the events of Andijan:
Uzbek opposition group Sunshine Uzbekistan fears its leader, Sanjar Umarov, has been drugged in custody. Mr Umarov's lawyer said he visited his client on Tuesday and found him naked in his cell and in a incoherent state. Mr Umarov was arrested on Saturday, charged with stealing an undisclosed sum of money. Sunshine Uzbekistan, a vocal critic of President Islam Karimov's repressive regime, says the charges have been fabricated.
Sunshine Uzbekistan is calling for free market reforms in the authoritarian Central Asian republic. The offices of the group were searched on Saturday by dozens of men in plain clothes, and a large number of documents were taken away.
There has been a wave of arrests of government critics since May. At the beginning of October, a human rights worker was arrested and held in a psychiatric hospital.
[She] has said authorities are trying to make her declare herself mentally ill. Yelena Urlayeva was arrested a month ago for distributing leaflets bearing a political cartoon.
Hospital Number Two, for severe and dangerous psychiatric cases, is run like a prison, with little or no access to patients. It is a relic of the Soviet Union, which critics say the Uzbek government uses just like its Soviet forebears to repress critics of its authoritarian policies.
The BBC is suspending its newsgathering operations... Regional Head Behrouz Afagh said
"Over the past four months since the unrest in Andijan, BBC staff in Uzbekistan have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation which has made it very difficult for them to report on events in the country," Mr Afagh said.

"BBC World Service remains committed to covering events in Uzbekistan, and its English language correspondents will continue to seek access to the country and to report on events there as and when they are granted visas."

In June, the World Service correspondent, Monica Whitlock, was forced to leave Tashkent under pressure from the government. Two local members of staff have since been granted refugee status by the United Nations. The Uzbek Ambassador to London has declined an invitation to discuss the issue with the BBC.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Le coupable

I'm sure that Barbara Lefebvre and Eve Bonnivard were mentioned in The Times a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't find anything online. I did find this though ('De l’antisémitisme au terrorisme'):  
Barbara Lefebvre prétend détecter dans cette vision « une mollesse idéologique débouchant sur la dénonciation d’un seul coupable aux yeux de la planète » : l’Amérique.
If you want something in English, try this: 'Book Learning'.

Riots in Paris: the banlieues or suburbs can perhaps best be understood in terms of what we British are apt to call 'estates'  (cf. Broadwater Farm ),  high-rise developments with massive social deprivation.

Tariq Ramadan, on BBC WS Newshour last night, pointed out the irrelevance of French emphasis on 'cultural integration' (for example, banning the Muslim headscarf). These sort of measures, however, have widespread support (about 75%, I heard). Nicolas Sarkozy is taking much of the blame, for his incendiary language. He has introduced many of us to a new word: racaille, translated as scum or riff-raff. Although he seems to be politically isolated, his tough measures, again, have popular support. What impact this will have for la Presidentielle of 2007, we shall have to wait and see...

More riots overnight (2-3 Nov), though confined to the North-East of Paris, in places that will be familiar to anyone who has travelled by train (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the centre of town - Aulnay-sous-Bois (again), Villepinte... France Inter reported that somebody said (threatened) that the disturbances will continue until Sarkozy resigns. (Tariq Ramadan was on again, this time on Radio 4's Today around 7:34: they have kindly provided a direct link to this.)

Crisis too in Germany, where they are still struggling to put together a new government. All this puts the troubles over the man who was once Sarkozy's British equivalent as Interior Minister into perspective, though Britain has seen disturbances in its own cities.  Nick Cohen points to a general trend:
Across the planet, you heard the same demonic accusations of blood-sucking, corruption and secret influence about the Chinese business class in south east Asia, the white farmers in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Spanish ‘whites’ in Latin America, the Jews in Russia, the Ibo in Nigeria, the Croats in Milosevic’s Yugoslavia and the Americans everywhere.

Vasily Grossman

Russian reporter of the Second World War and novelist. Programme about him available on the website (should be until Friday). Antony Beevor describes him as a man of great moral courage.  -- Great Lives ---

If you haven't heard it, Frank Gardner talking to victims of the July 7 London bombing is also  available on the Broadcasting House website.
And I'm still making comments on the C4 News Forum about the Uranium from Niger issue. Emmanuel at Ceteribus Paribus asks some questions (in French) as to why Lewis Libby was not indicted for blowing a CIA agent's cover. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Young Angry and Muslim

I don't really feel like doing a 'proper' post on this.  There are some comments on the Dispatches programme here. Navid Akhtar has also written an article in The Guardian.

He is right to say that the British government announced it was planning to proscribe Hizb ut Tahrir, without giving any reasons. I checked it out on the Downing Street website. However, the reasons for doing so are fairly obvious: they argue for the restoration of the caliphate; i.e. they have the same ideology of al Qaeda, although (they say) they don't approve of terror bombs (at least in London).

I must make it clear, though, that I don't think the case for banning Hizb ut Tahrir is very strong.

Nick Cohen has also written an article about Hizb ut Tahrir - 'When Harriet met Hizb'.  Comments can be found here. His weblog is like Harrys's Place 18 months ago, a bit like those clubs where those who know go, before they get too popular, not that I've ever gone to those sort of clubs.