Sunday, July 30, 2006

The search for peace

Friday (28 Jul) On the BBC WS (radio), they spoke to an Hezbollah MP, Ali Mikdad (phonetic): Hezbollah don't  refuse the idea of a UN force. They will accept an international force, but not one with a role of disarming Hezbollah (kind of obvious really), that UN forces would take the role of Israel (interview with Michael Buchanan).
Saturday (29 Jul) Deputy Secretary General of the UN Mark Malloch Brown, talking of a robust peace-keeping force, said 'what mustn't happen is an expectation that it can complete the business that Israel has begun and that it could itself forcefully disarm Hezbollah... There's got to be this political agreement which leads Hezbollah to disarm voluntarily because it's felt that at least some of its political objectives have been met.'

In the FT, 'US, UK in another push for Lebanon truce':
Mr Blair stressed the need for Hizbollahto accept a ceasefire before a multinational force could operate. He said such a force would not “fight their way in . . . This can only work if Hizbollah are prepared to allow it to work.” Mr Bush had a different view about the preconditions for the international force: “The key is to have the Lebanese and Israeli governments agree to it,” he said. “Hizbollah is not a state.”
In the paper edition (UK), there was the following passage, which is omitted from the website article:
The US and UK also differ with France [and other countries], which believe that troops cannot be despatched until a wide-ranging peace deal has been struck. "We believe that this force can only play its role once agreement has been reached among the parties involved, including, in one way or another, Hizbollah," said a French official. (UN 'may move on Lebanon force next week') 
(The 'many ways to skin a cat' remark is attributed to Kofi Annan, not Bush.) So, despite what almost everybody says about Britain's position being identical to the US's, in some ways it is close to France's.

The Economist's main piece on Lebanon is subscriber-only, but they conclude that the best option, or least bad option, is a rapid end to the fighting. Another article, Mind those proportions:
Since 1945, there has been a new emphasis in diplomacy and jurisprudence, and in the language of human-rights lobbies, on the other big dilemma in military ethics: jus in bello—literally, law in war. The question here is this: once the bullets are flying and you are a belligerent, by what methods and weaponry is it legitimate to wage your war? How careful must you be to spare civilians and non-combatants, such as prisoners and wounded? That is what the four Geneva Conventions (extensively revised in 1949, though born of a process that began 80 years earlier) and their three “additional protocols” are all about.
They also have this, on the German role the light of talk about European troops going to Lebanon. German officials do not exclude that possibility, given Germany's historical responsibility to defend Israel. Others say it is precisely because of history that German uniforms cannot be seen near Israel's borders.
Sunday (30 Jul) Turkey say they will deploy if there is a full ceasefire beforehand, if both Israel and Lebanon are in agreement for it.

BBC4 vs Channel 4 News vs More4 News

Why is Channel 4 News quite so bad nowadays? Reporters making points as they report. Their coverage of the crisis in Lebanon now seems to be even worse than what they did over Iraq.

Friday (28 Jul), after watching their evening bulletin, I turned to More4 News. More of the same. The same hysterical report by Jonathan Rugman from Washington on the Bush-Blair meeting. Then a piece about why the US gives such unconditional support to Israel: is it the Jewish lobby or the Christian fundamentalists? In other words, Israel (and the US) is the problem. That was as much as I could stand.

So I switched over to the news on BBC4. This was more in the style of what C4 used to do 15 or 20 years ago. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer it: reporters report, then you get a couple of 'experts', of different viewpoints, to analyze. I was in time to catch a discussion with Dennis Ross and Lord (Donald) Anderson. Anderson described some of the calls for an immediate ceasefire as 'facile'. They then had a report about 'end time theology': I've not got a problem with that (I mean with them reporting it). If it wasn't for the fact that I prefer to watch the TV news at 7:00 PM rather than 8:00...

For the benefit of readers from outside the UK, BBC4 is a digital service, free-to-view, but you need a set top box at a cost of around 50 Pounds (translate that into dollars? I'm not going to go that far.) Incidentally, C4 news introduced a broadband streaming service a month or so ago. They also have an MP3 that can be downloaded in the morning, though I haven't tried that yet. Again, for readers outside the UK, it might be worth trying these, just as an exercise....

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The logic of war

Jeff Weintraub says, 'Furthermore, this time around we haven't seen such an explosion of open hatred against Israel as in previous crises.'

I don't know about this. I can only give a few impressions. Much of the British media is strongly angled against Israel (and beyond it, the US). I'm thinking of Channel 4 News, but also the BBC, to a degree. Yet quite a few people still support Israel's right to self-defence or don't automatically think the worst of incidents like the one where 4 UN observers were killed (which does look bad).

Maybe Jeff's right. It's not so much hatred as a weariness after Iraq, and the feeling is directed more against the US than Israel. Someone on a phone-in said he felt like throwing his Labour Party card in the bin over this. (It's not mentioned in the 'blog', but it was soon after 17:30 GMT).

Much of it derives from the canard that Blair decided from the beginning that there should not be a cigarette paper between Britain's position and the US's. It may be a canard but it's coming from some people in pretty high places: Tony Blair's former foreign policy adviser Sir Stephen Wall (Wall was also interviewed on the BBC WS, World Today, around 7:15 GMT.).

Anyway, as I've said before, the British are unlikely to take part in an international force -.too tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan... (Maybe a token force, but what good is that?) 
For the US, similar considerations would seem to apply: any forces they have available for the region would be better used to deal with the security situation in Iraq. (I heard first that they were merely redeploying forces internally within Iraq to Baghdad, then that they were bringing in 3000 extra from Kuwait.)
Still, I have heard the opinion that the Americans and British should be in the south, the Russians and Turks in the north (of southern Lebanon) ...
It is said that the Germans would not take part either because of the 'sensitivities'. Personally, I wouldn't object to it. (On the diplomatic front, Angela Merkel's government is said to be quite close to the US and Britain's position.)
So, attention has focused on 3 mediterranean countries who are supportive of the US in Afghanistan, but not in the more difficult case of Iraq:  
Spain, who I heard might provide 200 troops (another token force);  Italy;  above all, France.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, French FM on France Inter this morning (27 Jul; Question directe  and Radiocom, c'est vous ). The view that has been put out in the British media (on Channel 4 News), that France is going cold on the idea of an international force, seems to me to be unfounded. Nonetheless, I do find the French position confusing.

On the one hand, they call for the implementation of resolution 1559 (ie disarming Hezbollah) and the immediate unconditional release of the two capured Israeli soldiers. On the other, they call for an immediate ceasefire and for the international force to be UN rather than NATO (this would be seen as a western force, they say).

Hezbollah would accept a ceasefire, at least so the Syrians say, but not the unconditional release of the capured Israeli soldiers. Douste-Blazy thinks that negotiations should include the release of the 'Lebanese prisoners' held by the Israelis (**). So, if a ceasefire were to come into force tomorrow, say, Israel would stay in control of the small area of south Lebanon they have occupied so far, until it can hand over to an international force. This would then have to ensure the disarming of Hezbollah in the rest of the buffer zone, as far as the Litani river. That's the least Israel would accept. Or maybe they would just be assisting the Lebanese army in doing this. But there are considerable problems with this, as previously discussed.

There are a lot of ifs and a lot of contradictions. But there again, as I suggested in the last post, a 'plan' does not have to be logical, if it stands no chance of being put into effect.

(*) canard: this isn't really the right word. What I mean is that it's an argument that is irrelevant to the real issues: the ceasefire, the international force, Hezbollah's agression and the pretexts for it...

(**) The prisoners Again, I can only give my own impressions, but I've heard a lot of the coverage (from France Inter and Europe 1 as well as the British media) and I haven't heard anything that gives the full picture about this. Harry's Place had this:
According to The NY Times: Israel is holding close to 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, though the number of Lebanese prisoners is believed to be small. Many of the Lebanese prisoners were freed in the swap two years ago, which was mediated by Germany. Comment by: Gene at July 19, 2006 05:23 PM
Israel cannot accept any 'linkage' with the Palestinian prisoners issue, since this would concede to Hezbollah the right to intervene whenever it doesn't like anything Israel is doing in Gaza (or the West Bank).

The BBC has this on its website: '... Israel now admits to holding just three Lebanese. Chief among those is Samir Qantar...'

Update 2: Channel 4 News had another interview with Stephen Wall tonight (27 Jul). They also had a piece about Samir Quntar - 'the symbol of the prisoners' (or the one Lebanese prisoner) held by the Israelis. They said that the Israelis refuse to release him because 'he has Israeli blood on his hands'.  Lindsey Hilsum continued: 'The US & Israel did not choose the timing of this war.' The US & Israel did not choose this war full stop.

Another commenter (on Harry's Place) referred to this, on the French position: 'La France solidaire du Liban sans condamner Israël'.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Neutralising Hezbollah

Roula Khalaf in the FT (via Gregory Djerejian) :
The determination – and the military sophistication – of the group is at the heart of the international conundrum over how to resolve what is happening in Lebanon. The world has been seized by the tragedy of Lebanon. The small Mediterranean country is seen as paying the price for the standoff between the US and the axis of Syria and Iran.

Envoys have rushed to Beirut to offer their sympathy to a government dominated by a pro-western coalition that, while not endorsing Hizbollah’s actions, has implored the world to intervene to halt Israel’s retaliation. A similar show of support will be mounted on Wednesday when foreign ministers from the US, Europe and Arab states gather in Rome to hammer out the shape of a possible ceasefire.

But most of the ideas for a ceasefire assume that Israel will be able to neutralise Hizbollah, paving the way for the implementation of UN Security Council 1559, which calls for the group’s disarmament.
Nicholas Burns, US under-secretary of state, told the BBC that, when you speak to governments behind the scenes, they don't really want an immediate ceasefire.

Clearly, the more the Israelis weaken Hezbollah, the easier the task of any international force and/or the Lebanese army, in purely military terms. For the broader issues, read the whole of Roula Khalaf's article (which is called 'Inside Lebanon: why Hizbollah may be winning the battle for hearts and minds') or the longer extracts Greg gives therefrom.

The morning's news (26 Jul): 4 UN observers have been killed by the Israelis. Israel claims it has killed a senior Hezbollah commander, identified as Abu Jaffa. Nasrallah promises to extend the strikes beyond Haifa. In Gaza, 7 have been killed: Israel says 5 militants and 2 civilians (1 a 3-year-old).

Olivier Rafovitch, Porte-Parole de l'Armée Israelienne, on France Inter.
This from the BBC, yesterday: 'A new force for peace?'.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shebaa Farms

Jeff Weintraub sent me another response:
But as I indicated, what this primarily requires is a "diplomatic solution" with Syria (as the relevant UN resolutions stipulate).  If Syria agrees to hand over the so-called Shebaa Farms area to Lebanon--which it has refused to do--then a diplomatic settlement of the issue with Israel becomes easy.
On my point about Hezbollah having "broad Lebanese political support" on this issue :
   I'm afraid this is true ... and to the extent that it is, the non-Hezbollah and anti-Hezbollah Lebanese who supported Hezbollah's fiction that Israel was still "occupying" part of Lebanon share some responsibility for what is now happening.  As I said in What Hezbollah is fighting for - A reality check ...

Hezbollah seized on the "Shebaa Farms" issue simply as a pretext for continuing armed confrontation with Israel. Unfortunately, ever since 2000 other Lebanese political tendencies, including groups that are strongly opposed to Hezbollah, have echoed this rhetoric and colluded in the pretense that Israel's occupation of Lebanese territory was not unambiguously over. It is easy to understand some of the political reasons that might lead them to do this, but it has been abundantly clear since 2000 that if they kept it up they were unwisely and irresponsibly playing with dynamite--which has just blown up in their faces.
I came across an article by Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz - The road to peace runs through Shaba Farms  (via Gregory Djerejian)

Jeff responded again:
Zvi Bar'el:
Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah representative, announced that once the IDF withdrew from the Shaba Farms area, Hezbollah's role as a "liberating" army would be over, and it would stick to a purely a defensive role.
   Right.  But other Hezbollah spokespeople (some of them considerably more senior than Fneish) have said the contrary on many occasions--i.e., even if Israel gave up the Shebaa Farms area, they would continue "resistance" (i.e., armed conflict) until Israel was destroyed.  So while this may mean something, it may not.  One can't simply take it at face value--though one should certainly pay attention to it.
This is a very significant statement, because it begins to define the conditions for Hezbollah's disarmament.
   Not really.  I see nothing in that statement about Hezbollah's disarmament.
At this stage, however, it is not enough for only Hezbollah and the Lebanese government to agree that the return of the Shaba Farms area would spell an end to the movement's "liberating" role. Syria is no less an important player in this regard. In keeping with maps approved by the UN, the Shaba Farms area lies in Syrian territory, so an official document in which Damascus relinquishes the area would be required too.
The next stage would have to be securing Israel's consent to withdraw from the Shaba Farms area, as this would then be a withdrawal from Lebanese territory; and only then could the Lebanese Army take up positions in the south, perhaps with the assistance of a multinational force if Hezbollah gives its okay.
So, at least part of Israeli opinion believes the area should be part of Lebanon. This seems to be in accord with what Jeff argues. Just going back to the politicians' "every last inch of Lebanon" (I heard it from Ehud Barak, I think), it's technically correct, but things are a bit more complicated than that (what's new?).  
    Yes, it is more complicated.  But what you quoted just bears out what I said before.  Israelis have no special interest in holding on to the Shebaa (or Shaba) farms area per se.  (According to Syria, the UN, and just about every other government in the world, this area is part of the Golan Heights, which will presumably go back to Syria in some future Syrian-Israeli peace accord anyway, if such a treaty is ever signed.)  The key to a solution is for Syria to acknowledge that this area is not Syrian territory (or for Syria and Lebanon to work out a diplomatic resolution of the issue--as stipulated in UN Security Council resolution 1680).

    Whatever the legal rights or wrongs of the matter (which, in themselves, are of quite secondary importance), it might well make sense for Israel to give up the Shebaa Farms area for reasons of realpolitik, if this came in the context of a reasonable diplomatic/political agreement--for which Syria probably holds the key.  No problem ... and in fact various Israelis have suggested this in the past (see, e.g., David Edelstein's recent post, "Plans").  In the context of a wider resolution of the current crisis (which would have to include major involvement by the so-called "international community"), a concession by Israel on the Shebaa Farms as part of the package would probably make excellent sense.  Among other things, if it were handled right, it could allow the Lebanese government to claim "success" on the issue and might make it politically possible for the government to sign on to an agreement that Hezbollah (and Iran & Syria) would strongly dislike. Let's hope that something like that actually occurs.

    But that in no way contradicts the simple and unequivocal fact that the use of this fabricated issue as a pretext for Hezbollah's continued "armed struggle" with Israel is completely bogus.  One shouldn't confuse these issues.

 =>  Having said all that, Fneish's statement might be significant as a sign that Hezbollah might be susceptible to pressure on this matter, and that it's trying to position itself for a face-saving adjustment of its position.  If so, possibly a good sign.  Or, possibly, it means nothing.  We'll see.

Jeff Weintraub

The fog of war - replies

Comments on 'The fog of war', from Jeff Weintraub.
   I am mostly in accord with the thoughts expressed in that post, and especially with their tentative character.  But I'm not entirely in accord.  For example ...
The captured soldiers Israeli rhetoric talks about them being 'hostages kidnapped by terrorists'. But many regard them as legitimate targets and prisoners of war. Their capture was an act of war (that can be qualified in various ways: the war was undeclared; the act was unprovoked).
   This is correct, though they can be described as "legitimate" targets only in terms of what "just war" doctrine calls jus in bello considerations (i.e., how military conflicts are being conducted), but not necessarily in terms of jus ad bellum considerations (as the parenthetical remarks quoted above indicate).  In the broader sense, the Israeli soldiers attacked in northern Israel a week and a half ago were not legitimate targets.

   On the other hand, it is quite correct to describe this attack as an act of war rather than an act of terrorism.  Whatever specific terms one wants to use, there is a fundamental difference between attacks against soldiers and deliberate targeting of ordinary non-combatant civilians.  The Israelis (and others) are often too careless about this.

   With respect to the Hezbollah attack, however, Olmert specifically said something different:
'I want to make it clear, the events of this morning are not a terror attack but an act by a sovereign state which attacked the state of Israel without reason or provocation,' the premier, who called an emergency cabinet meeting for Wednesday evening, told reporters in Jerusalem
This is right, in so far as this was not a terrorist attack but an act of war. 

   On the other hand, of course, it is a bit of a stretch to describe this as an act "by" a sovereign state, since it is well known that this attack was not directly ordered or carried out by a unified Lebanese state, but by an entity that could be regarded as one fragment of it.  Lebanon does not have a fully coherent state apparatus that meets minimal Weberian definitions, particularly since there is no state monopoly on the use of large-scale legitimate violence.  However, with respect to the legal fictions customarily used for recognized sovereign states, the Lebanese state certainly can be held responsible for this attack and is also responsible for returning the captured soldiers.  (But this is one of those cases where legal fictions and political realities diverge considerably.)
Israeli spokesmen claim that they withdrew in 2000 'from the last inch' of Lebanese territory. But this is disputed: 'Hezbollah, with broad Lebanese political support, says the Shebaa Farms area is occupied Lebanese territory - but Israel, backed by the UN, says the farms are on the Syrian side of the border and so are part of the Golan Heights...' Another outstanding issue is the Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. I am not sure what the exact status of these is.
Well, yes ... but these "issues" are quite bogus.  They are pretexts, not legitimate or even plausible grievances.  On these matters, see:   What Hezbollah is fighting for - A reality check

 =>  I don't want to get involved in an extensive discussion of the main substantive issues.  But I might mention that one person whose commentaries on this unfolding crisis have been unusually intelligent, well-informed, and humane is Jonathan Edelstein, who blogs under the title Head Heeb.  I just linked to one of his earlier posts on this subject, which I think is still well worth reading.  (He has posted others since then.)  I largely (though not entirely) agreed with what Edelstein said there, especially his emphasis on the fact that the crises in Gaza and Lebanon present quite different moral and political issues in important respects.
The escalation along the Lebanese border is obviously in conjunction with the fighting in Gaza, but the two have differences as well as common dimensions. My thoughts on the Gaza crisis have thus far been very mixed, and I find it hard to reflexively condemn either side. [....] 

I have no such trouble assigning blame for the escalation in Lebanon. Hizbullah, quite simply, committed an unprovoked act of war, and despite Nasrallah's rhetoric about solidarity with the Palestinians and liberation of Lebanese prisoners, the raid was fairly obviously aimed at maintaining political relevance. Hizbullah was once a genuine resistance group that fought Israeli occupation, but that occupation has been over since 2000, and lately it's been more in the business of provoking Israel than resisting it. The identity of the aggressor in Gaza is ambiguous, but on the Lebanese frontier it isn't.

Jeff Weintraub
My comments.

On Olmert and the 'act by a sovereign state': yes, I heard that too. I have also heard several Israeli spokesmen talking about terrorists etc. 

I thought I had covered the weakness of the Lebanese state, particularly in 'The fog of war - 2'. That's why I supported the idea of an international force. Bernard Kouchner, in the interview I mentioned, also talked about the 'political fictions'.

The Shebaa Farms may well be 'a sliver of land' and a 'pretext' for Hezbollah, but unless the BBC is wrong, they have "broad Lebanese political support". As Jeff says, a diplomatic solution should be sought.
Kouchner also said he doubted whether there were "thousands" of Lebanese prisoners held by the Israelis. Jeff, in his post  What Hezbollah is fighting for - A reality check,  has this:
When it gets specific, Hezbollah tends to mention three names (yes, that's 3), ...
Read the rest, in the link above. People speaking for the Arab side usually prefix their remarks with a formula such as, 'nobody speaks about the Lebanese prisoners...' Yet they are given plenty of access to the BBC, say, and they always mention it.

I have no reason to doubt the truth of what Jeff says, backed by an authority like Yossi or Joseph Alpher. If so, then the propaganda is unspeakably bad on the Israeli side, since this fact is not widely known.

I think I reached more or less the same conclusion as Jeff and Jonathan Edelstein / the Head Heeb,  regarding Gaza vs Lebanon.

In another message, Jeff says:
the long-term Likud policy of permanent occupation and large-scale settlement in the West Bank and Gaza was not only unjust, oppressive, and morally indefensible--it was also lunatic and self-defeating from Israel's own perspective.  Most Israelis have come to realize this themselves ... but they should have paid more attention earlier on to people inside and outside Israel who pointed this out to them
I think a lot of nonsense is talked about Gaza. Nobody is talking about re-establishing the settlements there. Military intervention there is a different matter, though I agree, whether the recent actions are appropriate is open to doubt. 

Update:  Something I didn't mention from yesterday morning (24 Jul): Michel Barnier, French FM 2004-5, said on France Inter that international assistance could also be provided for strengthening the Lebanese army. This aspect seems to be the most acceptable one for the Lebanese (Newshour, 20:05).

This morning, Tim Franks, from Jerusalem, reports on a 'startling shift' in Israeli thinking. If an international force is acceptable in Lebanon, to provide Israel's security, why not in Gaza, as part of implementing the road map? For Israelis, this is a second-best... ( BBC Radio 4audio; also broadcast on the World Today, 6:32 GMT , where it was followed by questions to Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor.)

I missed this: profile of 'the controversial leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah'.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The fog of war - 3

Since the current crisis started in Gaza, it's to Gaza that I return. Harvey Morris, in The Financial Times:
The armed wing takes orders from the Hamas leadership in Damascus and not from the seemingly more moderate representatives on the ground such as Ismail Haniyeh, PA prime minister.

When the crisis erupted Mr Haniyeh was focused on fudging an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, PA president, that would have averted a national referendum scheduled for July 26 by tacitly acknowledging Israel's existence. Hardliners in the movement did not favour the concession. Neither did others in the region, including Hizbollah, who viewed it as a retreat for the wider Islamist cause.

Israel recognised where the power lay and Tippi Livni, its foreign minister, co-opted the Russian and Turkish governments to act as mediators with Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, who was seen as blocking Egyptian and French diplomacy inside Gaza to secure Cpl Shalit's release. Israeli officials said whatever optimism there was in Jerusalem that the crisis might be defused was abandoned on July 12 when Hizbollah struck.
According to an article in The Economist, quoted by Joshua Landis, 'the quandary posed by Hamas has chilled American enthusiasm for change.' Advances towards democracy have been turned back across the region. For example:
Since last year's parliamentary and presidential elections, Egypt's government has backtracked too. Among other measures, it has cancelled some municipal polls, imprisoned the runner-up to President Hosni Mubarak in last year's vote, arrested 600-odd members of the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, sent police goons to beat up peaceful protesters, passed laws enshrining executive authority over the judiciary and banned two Washington-based institutes that promote democracy from working in the country. ("Democracy in the Arab World: Not yet, thanks", Jun 29th 2006)
See my previous remarks about Egypt in the current crisis.

: (Monday 24 Jul) In the morning, there was disappointment that Condi Rice was not to visit Beirut. She did go of course, on an unannounced visit. More talk about the international force: the French and Italians, but not the Germans, mentioned on the EU side, also Jordan and Egypt. Dominique Moïsi on Europe Today (first item - Listen here ). Channel 4 News, in London, says there are divisions within the French government and military. Russia might want to get involved.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The fog of war - 2

To continue and to return to the theme of disproportionality. Clearly an argument can be made for the airstrikes on al Manar TV. Precedents can be cited in the actions of NATO and US-led coalitions: Belgrade, Kabul, Baghdad.

But some people are looking for earlier precedents. Ami Isseroff, quoted by Jeff Weintraub: 'Nor does it matter if more Palestinian Arabs were killed. In the end, allied bombings of Germany killed many more Germans than the number of British killed by the Luftwaffe.'  It's a familiar theme. Benjamin Netanyahu on the BBC, Thursday 20/7:  'And if bodycount is the way you decide whether things are just or unjust, then the Nazis were right, because many more German civilians were killed than British or American civilians.' Isseroff continued, 'Nobody insisted that Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were "war criminals." '

Speaking as a British person, I have to say that this won't wash. The actions of Britain (and the US) in bombing German cities during the war would not have been acceptable under today's conventions. Some consider also that the actions were not militarily effective. Michael Axworthy, while conceding that 'in extremis, ends may justify means' and 'a mistake, however grave the consequences, is not necessarily a crime' argues that 'with hindsight [...] precision bombing would have been more effective in realising the allies' war aims, though RAF losses might well have been higher, at least initially' and 'by early 1945, at the latest, it should have been plain that the area bombing policy had not worked, that it had been a mistake.'  (Prospect magazine, March 2006)

Does Israel, in the current conflict, face 'an existential struggle, in which the losing side faced extinction of its political principles and way of life - at least' ? The impression is given that Israelis regard every crisis in that way. And one can understand that. But the self-image is the diametric opposite of the image many on the outside have, of the greatest military power in the region, backed by  the greatest military power in the world.

Some things are obvious in this crisis, such as the effect on Muslim opinion: it gives one more reason for them to hate Israel (and through it the US and its allies). This reaches a level of irrationality where dialogue breaks down: they refuse to listen to the arguments put by people on the Israeli / Jewish side. That was the impression I got from listening to part of the BBC's World Have your Say on Wednesday. In the Arab world, governments are criticised for their subservience to the US. Opposition parties in Egypt call for their country to turn its back on the peace agreement with Israel (The World Today, Friday morning). Large protests followed after Friday prayers, people expressing their support for Hezbollah. On the other hand, a BBC analyst pointed out that there is a small but influential number of writers who argue that the ideology of seeking confrontation with Israel is misguided and that the history of Arab states looking for conflict with Israel has been a disaster.

Kofi Annan, after his meeting with Tony Blair, Monday morning (17 Jul), put forward the idea of an international force. It has been recalled more than once in the French media that the French were involved with the Americans in a previous such force that was forced to withdraw ignominiously in 1983. It would be facing an enemy equipped with anti-tank weapons and so on, as we have seen. It would be going into an environment at least as difficult as Iraq or Afghanistan.

But calls for the Lebanese government to extend its authority to the southern border and disarm the militia are not realistic. It is too weak to do that. Israel may not really trust anyone other than itself, not even the US, to defend it, but it could accept the idea. Its red line is that Hezbollah be disarmed.

Bernard Kouchner, in his interview Friday that I linked to previously, returned time and time again to this idea of an international force (force d'interposition). He stressed that it needs to be a coercive one, deployed under chapter VII of the UN. It would face a difficult task, but as Kouchner says, ‘Arrêtons de croire que le principe de précaution va régler le problème.’ (Radio-Com, 21/7 3:30-5:09). Let´s stop thinking that there is an easy and safe solution to this problem. The solution passes through, not only the setting up of humanitarian corridors, but also accepting the right to intervene (droit d'ingérence). As well as the difficulties the force would face on the ground, Russia and China could block any resolution to authorise it in the UNSC, Kouchner thinks.

So, although the US and Britain may seem to be in a minority now, in opposing an immediate ceasefire, they could be supported by France in a proposal to deploy a force. After all, this would be with the aim of carrying out resolution 1559, which the America and France - 'united for once' - put through.

Later on Friday, after Condoleeza Rice announced details of visit to the Middle East, there was more talk of an intervention force: this would be mainly European, with a large French component. Turkey might also be involved. Ms Rice was also due to go to Rome, after her visit to the Middle East, to discuss the wider issues in the region. So, the pieces for diplomatic progress could be falling into place.

(More to follow. For the time being, here are links to a couple of pieces in today's FT that are worth reading, especially the first: War that came from a clear blue sky, Harvey Morris;   In Beirut it - almost - feels like the 1980s all over again, Roula Khalaf }

Friday, July 21, 2006

The fog of war

Prince Hassan of Jordan, on the radio last weekend described how we are heading into the abyss: Gaza... Lebanon... Iraq... Iran... North Korea... Third World War. It is not the first time he has spoken in these terms. If you prophecy disaster consistently for long enough, you are bound to be right in the end.
 At the time of a previous crisis, I noted the worrying prospect of Israel extending its 'war on terrorism' to Lebanon. Prince Hassan, on BBC Radio 4 on 25 Mar 2004, spoke of the possibility of 'Beirut in rubble' (again). See also Moshe Ya'alon's 'icy warning'. Lebanon was not sucked in then. So why now?

A few weeks ago, there was a sort of armed stand-off between Israel and the Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, much as there had been for the last six years. Things changed when Palestinian militants emerged from a tunnel into Israel and captured a soldier. Subsequently, Hezbollah captured two more soldiers in a raid into northern Israel.

The captured soldiers Israeli rhetoric talks about them being 'hostages kidnapped by terrorists'. But many regard them as legitimate targets and prisoners of war. Their capture was an act of war (that can be qualified in various ways: the war was undeclared; the act was unprovoked).

The Rockets Qassam missiles launched by Hamas were said to be the real reason for Israel's attacks on Gaza. Most comment, though, concludes that these were mainly an irritation. Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, on the other hand, are now causing Israel real pain.

Hezbollah launched its actions, it could claim, in solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza. Other people claim it acted to further the interests of, or on the instructions of, Iran and Syria. Whichever of these you believe, Israel's actions in Gaza gave Hezbollah their pretext.

Iran The election of the new President last year could have been a turning point, though people say he is not the ultimate power in Iran. But Ahmedinejad's rhetoric has undoubtedly contributed to the worsening atmosphere.

Many have looked with suspicion on the timing of Hezbollah's attack. Iran was due to meet on Thursday 13 Jul with the 6 major powers (EU3, US, Russia, China) in Paris. Attention was drawn away from this meeting, where Iran's nuclear programme was to have been discussed. (Ali Larijani made a stopover in Damascus on his way back from Europe - FT 15 Jul.) But Iranian representatives were reported at the weekend (15-16 Jul) to have described the 6 powers' proposals as satisfactory. Furthermore, it is unclear whether Hezbollah could capture Israeli soldiers whenever they wanted to, not to mention whether Iran and Syria have such a close operational control over them.

Israeli spokesmen claim that they withdrew in 2000 'from the last inch' of Lebanese territory. But this is disputed: 'Hezbollah, with broad Lebanese political support, says the Shebaa Farms area is occupied Lebanese territory - but Israel, backed by the UN, says the farms are on the Syrian side of the border and so are part of the Golan Heights...' Another outstanding issue is the Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails. I am not sure what the exact status of these is.

Escalating violence On Wednesday 12 Jul, as well as capturing the two soldiers, Hezbollah launched Katyusha rockets, targeting the town of Shlomi and outposts in the Shebaa Farms area. The town had been targeted before. Israel responded with airstrikes. Hezbollah responded by launching Katyusha rockets deeper into Israel.

As I said myself, Israel's attacks in Gaza can well be described as disproportionate. It is harder to make the case for this regarding the attacks on Hezbollah (though things like attacking Beirut International Airport can be criticized): Israel can claim it is acting in legitimate self-defence. Hezbollah's actions have given Israel a pretext, to attempt to demolish their infrastructure in Lebanon.

Jim Muir on the BBC, 19 Jul, said that Israel's military operations did not seem to be being successful, since two Israelis had been killed and only one from Hezbollah. But it's not a football match: attackers usually take more casualties than defenders; that doesn't mean they aren't achieving their objectives. Whether Israel's actions will achieve its objectives in the long run is another question.

I don't claim to have covered all the issues here. As the title of the post may suggest, I've tried to pick out some of the themes  from a confused situation. I've also highlighted a couple of things from the past. More to follow hopefully. More views: belgraviadispatchdoves_eyeJoshua Landis/syriablog.

Update: Channel 4 News reported last night the remarks of Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State, to a Senate Committee,  that Iranian representatives were present at North Korea's missile test.  A few hours later, the State Department withdrew the claims, saying that Mr Hill had "misspoke", according to the  BBC WS.  (This seems to have disappeared from the online world; I looked on Google, the BBC, NYT websites.  State had this;  no mention of Iran - "That concludes my remarks, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to your questions"; see on the Foreign Relations Committee website - the link at the top seems to be to an audio.)  What are we to make of this?  My guess is that the first version is the true one;  Mr Hill is the negotiator on North Korea;  but the people looking after the Iranian side withdrew the remark because of "sensitivities".  This could be good news or bad news.

Update 2: Worth listening to: BBC (R4) this morning (their security correspondent pointed out that the number of rockets fired has fallen from140 to 50);  Bernard Kouchner on France Inter. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have weighed into the debate.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

70 years ago - 2

'In Granada, General Miguel Campins stayed loyal to the Republic...' Some colonels set the rising in motion. Campins was arrested on 20 July 1936 and shot later 'for having opposed the "movimiento salvador de España".' (Beevor, 2006, P75)

Later we are told, 'most of those who continued to serve the government, including seven generals and an admiral, were shot on the grounds of "rebellion".' (P88) What Beevor calls 'this remarkable reversal of definitions' reminds one of Henry VII, who is supposed to have backdated the start of his reign to one day before the battle of Bosworth, so that he could convict those who fought for the king of treason...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The FT's line

On the NatWest ThreeThe Financial Times says in a leader, 11 July: 'Three British men stand accused of a serious crime [...] for which they could be tried, quite legitimately, in a US court.' They seem to think everything would be OK if only the US senate ratified the extradition treaty. Their line, then, is more or less the same as the Labour government's.
(link, you need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing, but you get the general idea anyway.)

I would imagine that they now find John-Paul Flintoff's article something of an embarassment. He works for The Sunday Times now, I understand. The FT also carried a letter two days later: 'On the facts in the public domain, it seems entirely plausible that the US prosecutors could have constructed a prima facie case against the NatWest Three if they were obliged to... if we expect to be able to try foreign businessmen accused of offences damaging British property or interests in the UK, I cannot for the life of me see what is to be objected to in being tried by, for example, a US, German or French court if offences are alleged to have been committed in those jurisdictions.'

By contrast, The Economist, which I believe is also owned by the FT group, has this: 'The suspects are British; their victim is British; virtually all the alleged wrongful dealing was carried out in Britain.…' (again, subscriber-only etc)

70 years ago...

On 17 July 1936, a military uprising began in the Spanish-held part of Morocco. By the 18th, it had spread to the mainland of Spain...

According to France Inter radio, Pope Benedict XVI is now asking for 'pardon' for the Church's collaboration with the Franquists (Francoists)... According to someone on the BBC WS, 30 per cent of  Spaniards still think the coup was justified (listen, around 6:50 GMT).

Monday, July 17, 2006

'British foreign policy'

Last week, on Tuesday (4 Jul), I happened to hear half an hour of Tony Blair being questioned by a parliamentary committee (BBC Radio 4 Long Wave). My impression was that they hardly laid a glove on him. The BBC's website had a summary. They also gave a link, which wasn't very useful. I could not find any record of the session in the Commons liaison committee pages. I eventually found a link to the  transcript on the main page. I heard approximately from Q392 ('Mrs Dunwoody: Life is difficult ...') to Q457 ('Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, the situation in Gaza is extremely serious...').

Media coverage that night focused on this passage:
The idea that we are not trying to engage with the Muslim community - we are trying to engage with them but in the end Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities. I am probably not the person to go into the Muslim community and persuade them that this extreme view of Islam is completely mistaken and completely contrary to the proper tenets of the religion of Islam. It is better that you mobilise the Islamic community itself to do this. (Q355)
Channel 4 News that night had a discussion, in which 2 of the 4 people taking part said that Mr Blair was thereby trying to shift all the blame off the government and onto the Muslim community (for details of the participants and so on, see drinksoakedtrotsforwar ).  In many ways, we are not much further forward than we were a year ago.  People are still unwilling,  or unable,  to dispute the blanket assertion that 'British foreign policy must change'.  Even Irshad Manji ('The Trouble with Islam'),  on the BBC World Service,  when she was up against someone from the MAB,  did not do this.  People talk instead about issues like 'why don't your imams learn English?'

'British foreign policy' is normally used as a proxy for attacking US foreign policy. Dr Azzam Tamimi is soon foaming at the mouth about neo-cons in Washington. So let's look at a few concrete issues.

The policy of the US is often described as being 'against Muslims'.  Let's look at Bosnia, then, where NATO intervened  when  Serb nationalist were massacring Muslims. Too little too late, they say. Of course, European indecisiveness allowed these atrocities to continue far too long, but it was the US that insisted that a solution be found and backed by NATO force as required. Kosovo? That fits seamlessly into the anti-war rhetoric, but again NATO intervened  to prevent the massacres of Muslims (which Chomsky and so on deny happened).

The US is accused of having a record of supporting dictators in the Middle East. But when they act to remove one (while continuing to support or tolerate others - Egypt, Saudi Arabia), that is the biggest anti-US issue of all. Accusations of inconsistency cut both ways: if US foreign policy is so inconsistent, how can they so consistently oppose it?

As Eric (at drinksoakedtrotsforwar) says 'if you are going to say that UK policy is not a legitimate grievance, then say why it isn't. [..] Challenge them.' Few are prepared to challenge them as effectively as Tony Blair himself:  
Do you accept that tens of thousands of Iraqis are now dead as a result of this invasion?

Mr Blair: Well, hang on a minute, they are not dead as a result of the invasion or the removal of Saddam. They are dead as the result of the activities of a criminal minority who want to stop the majority getting the democracy they want. As for these politicians that you talk about in this way as though they do not represent anybody, they stood for election. [..] There is no reason whatever why they should not have it except for the activities of this criminal minority. Our job should be when these people are killing the innocent and butchering them with this appalling terrorism and atrocities, to stand with the democrats against the terrorists. (Q427)
OK, I cheated. I missed out the bit that went, 'If the Iraqi people wanted to get Saddam back they could have voted for the Saddam Party. They did not and they did not for a very simple reason; that like the rest of us they prefer freedom.' But the Ba'ath Party is banned, isn't it. To continue:
I think it is part of the total global picture that when these people want to disrupt the desire of the majority to get a democracy ‑ and they do desire it because that is what they voted for, they participated in this election despite being harried and hounded and subjected to acts of terrorism - when they elect their government, why on earth should we not be standing alongside them trying to help them get the democracy they want, instead of saying to them, "I am sorry, you have got a choice. You can either have a brutal dictator who used to murder you if you disagreed with him or, alternatively, you can have sectarians who will murder you if you disagree with them." Why should they not have the same rights as everybody else? Why should not our job as the international community ‑ and after all we are there with a UN mandate now and have been for three years ‑ to be behind them? (Q428)
(Sorry this is so late. I was so angry about the NatWest Three business that I didn't really feel like saying anything good about Mr Blair. So apologies again, if this is even more incoherent than usual, but otherwise it would never have got written.)

There was also a very interesting discussion on The Moral Maze (first broadcast Wednesday, 5 Jul). I hope to find time to post more about this. See also the debate at pickledpolitics. And there was an intriguing piece on the BBC WS, Thursday (6 Jul), about Mohammed Sidiqh Khan and the other 7 July bombers.  

Regaining control ?

'Talking to the Taliban'. I know this is in the New Statesman - subscribe now! get a free book! by John Pilger. But Kate Clark is always worth reading  [ Monday 17th July 2006 ]
The reasons they fought but are no longer fighting are complex, to do with economics as well as politics. Some desire a normal life after years of fighting; some still consider America and Karzai as enemies but do not want to be "tools of Pakistan and its intelligence service".
There is some hope that the new British command in Helmand and at Nato understands, as the US military never really has, that this complex insurgency requires political rather than military solutions.
Many in the south who, unlike northerners, never suffered Taliban abuse - the beheadings of teachers and Afghan aid workers, the burning of schools, extortion of money and suicide bombings - look back to the time of Taliban rule as a golden age. "There was no crime or killing, and security was good," an elder from Helmand told me. "Many people now support the Taliban, not because they're religious, but because of all the problems." Some elders in Helmand still try to steer a course between the Taliban and the government, but for other communities the old option has become the more attractive of the two.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there was a disturbing report from Afghanistan, late Friday. I will put it in the opposite sequence to the way the BBC presented it: British forces were almost overrun by Taliban fighters; they called in an American airstrike; estimates of civilian casualties vary between 25 and 200. Cue an Afghan saying, 'At least under the Taliban we had peace...' See another blogger's take on this.

By Saturday, the BBC was putting a different spin on the story: the British, supported by US, Canadian etc forces had established control of the town, which is at a key crossroads in the province.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Laughing about North Korea

A couple of weeks ago, North Korea tested some long-range nuclear missiles. Nothing has changed, basically on the ground since the end of 2002. Seoul is within artillery range of the North Korean army. People there assume that the city would be reduced to rubble if there were any military action to deal with the North, who continue to develop their nuclear bombs and the capacity to deliver them. Clearly, if they had the capacity for a nuclear strike on Japan, or even Alaska (if they ever get their rockets to work), they would have an even greater deterrence power.

It's interesting, though, that the point that was once the preserve of nutcases on various forums is now posed by people like Jon Snow, presenter of Channel 4 News: doesn't this prove that if you have nuclear weapons, you are safe from US attack.

And then there are those smartarses like the people on The Now Show (BBC Radio 4, repeated Saturday at 12:30, or you should be able to listen again on their website for the next few days), who take the chance to make cheap cracks at the US. I know it's only a comedy show, but if London were in the same position as Seoul, I don't think we'd be laughing quite so loudly.

Friday, July 14, 2006


There is a proposal 'that Dreyfus's remains be laid alongside those of Zola in the Panthéon, the final resting place of French Republican heroes. Any decision would have to be made by President Jacques Chirac...' (The New York Times, July 7, 2006; link, but you will probably now run into a subscription wall). I understand, from French radio on 12 Jul, the centenary of Alfred Dreyfus's acquittal by France's Supreme Court, that he is not likely to be 'panthéonized', since that is reserved for heroes, not victims.

Belarus opposition leader jailed  …’Alexander Kozulin, one of two opposition candidates to run against [President Alexander] Lukashenko, was jailed for five and a half years at a court in Minsk. He was convicted of hooliganism and incitement to mass disorder.’
0727 Natwest Three due to appear in Texas Court today.

Israel, Lebanon... (and Gaza)

(Thursday) Israel is demanding that the government in Lebanon extend its control of the country to the borders with Israel... Jim Muir, on the BBC, said that the Lebanese army was like a stick that would break if it were used against Hezbollah militia in the South...
The United States vetoed a UN resolution concerning Gaza.  US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said that the resolution was 'unbalanced' in its condemnation of Israel, in spite of the fact that it was redrafted several times to include criticism of actions by the Palestinians. Ten Security Council members voted in favour of Qatar's motion, while four abstained (including Britain).

This morning, Israel is attacking the road from Beirut to Damascus.
Edward Djerejian on the BBC WS (Listen Again: 7:32  )
Rob Malley on BBC R4 (The UN Security Council holds an emergency session today in New York to discuss the violence in Middle East).
Hubert Védrine on France Inter  7:20

Update: More experts on the BBC's Newshour, Friday night(around 20:12 GMT ). Well worth a listen. Almost everything else was squeezed out by this, but there was time for a disturbing report from Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Day of shame

On the question whether it is easier to extradite people from the UK than the US: 'US ambassador Robert Tuttle said "roughly" the same standards applied.'  (Interview with the American ambassador on the Today Programme, 12 Jul, 8:22)

A few hours later, in Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair said that 'in the Attorney-General’s view, the test that the United States applies—probable cause—is roughly analogous to the test that we apply in this country'. An emergency debate followed, immediately after PMQs. A man with a connection to the affair, Neil Coulbeck, is found dead in the East of London.

More on the Today Programme (13 Jul, 7:24). The debate etc is now available online. Update: In the PMQs Mr Blair says, 'It would not be right if we ended up applying a higher standard and burden of proof to America than to many other countries, including European countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even countries such as Azerbaijan and Albania.' The hole he is digging gets bigger and bigger. So, we could  face extradition to Azerbaijan in the same way? Is that supposed to make us feel better? People commenting on the BBC website are, I would say, at least 5 to 1 angry about the extradition.
Email to Denis MacShane, MP; copies to my MP and Joan Ryan:
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): How would my hon. Friend regard a British firm whose criminal activity led to the destruction of thousands of people’s lives, their homes, pensions and their children’s education? What if we wanted to bring back to this country someone to give evidence on the international ramifications of such activity, but another sovereign legislature refused to accept our claim? We should not forget that we are talking about international law and international crime.

Joan Ryan [Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department] : Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes the case for the measure.
Absolutely. But the point is that the US prosecutors used the threat of prosecution to bring undue pressure on the 'NatWest Three' to give evidence against Andrew Fastow in the Enron case. Gary Mulgrew said, “We were offered a deal. [... But] I would not want to stand up in court and perjure myself [in giving evidence against Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay].”

The ironies here are beyond belief. John-Paul Flintoff tells us:
Judges award additional time in jail to defendants who plead innocent and give testimony in their own defence, because this is regarded as perjury. To avoid this eventuality, many defendants prefer not to say anything at all. The courts in Washington state have ruled that these sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional, and no longer use them. (The matter is going for review to the US Supreme Court.) But Texas still uses federal sentencing guidelines...
Email Email to Greg Djerejian (Belgravia Dispatch)

Have you seen any coverage over there on the 'NatWest Three' affair? This concerns extradition arrangements between the US and the UK. I looked on The New York Times Europe page yesterday, but didn't see anything.

A bitter row has broken out in Britain over this. I have my own opinion on the matter, but what is perhaps most important is that opinion in sections of the media (The Daily Telegraph) and political parties (the Tories) that was previously supportive of Tony Blair's closeness to the US (over Iraq) is now hostile. And this is going on as a new corruption scandal breaks close to Mr Blair.

On the Left, as I am sure you are aware, a small, but not often heard, number of people supported at least the principle of the intervention in Iraq. On this extradition issue, I have not as yet heard any of the usual voices take up the cause...
Email to the FT:

In view of the failure of attempts by the British Parliament to hold the government to account over the shameful new extradition arrangements and the impact this is said to have on the business community, when are the company's corporate owners going to compel the Royal Bank of Scotland to behave honourably in this affair?

The three former NatWest bankers are on a flight to the US (13 July 2006, 09:43).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Update on the 'NatWest Three'

There seem to be one or two bloggers on the Euston aggregation who take an opposite view from me. Fortunately,  Stephen Pollard's post, attacking the critics of the extradition, has received a hostile response.

The affair gets more and more kafkaesque: 'Lord Goodhart, the Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, said that he would move amendments today aimed at blocking extradition to the US without evidence of guilt being provided. [...] But Baroness Scotland urged them to delay until she had the chance to make the case to the Americans. “I want to have the opportunity to explain face to face our frustration at the Senate’s delay without having to defend a spurious and wrong-headed amendment designed to score an anti-American party political point.” ' (The Times, 11 July 2006 )  The legislators are urged to delay, while the men are sent off to the US without delay.

For your convenience, here is an alternative link to John-Paul Flintoff's 2004 article. has much more of the press coverage.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Supporting the theocracy - 2

Stalin is not the only dictator who is still being celebrated. A debate in the European Parliament this week heard the regimes of Spain's Franco and Portugal's Salazar being praised. The Polish MEP Maciej Giertych said Europe lacks such statesmen today. Spanish Green MEP Raul Romeva who is no fan of Franco's. I first asked the Polish MEP what was so good about these dictators...
This is what I found on the BBC website, after hearing a piece on Europe Today last week (7 Jul) - Dictatorial legacies. The Polish MEP said that 'the civil war was started by the fact that the socialists took power in Spain ... and directed their policy against the Catholic church and this was a very murderous approach that they took towards the Spanish...' I emailed the programme:
In fact, there were no ministers from the socialist party (PSOE) in the Popular Front government between the elections of February 1936 and the General's uprising of 17-18 July. The socialists did not join the government until October.

The Right's case, greatly exaggerated by their newspapers, was that Spain was becoming ungovernable...
What party is this Polish MEP from?
See also Mark Mardell's Europe diary: 'Now Mr Giertych is not some marginal figure. He was a presidential candidate and his party is a coalition partner in the Polish government. His son doubles as deputy prime minister and education minister.' Judging by the comments at the end, his pro-Franco position is quite widespread in Eastern Europe.

Supporting the theocracy

A note to my previous post.

Beevor is still of the opinion that, in view of the poor quality of French equipment and the obsolete nature of what Britain could supply, 'probably the only country capable of satisfying [the needs of the Republic], apart from the Soviet Union, was the United States.' (2006, P430;1982, P414) Foreign visitors to Spain were asked how it was possible that in a democracy like America, where the majority of the population supported the Republic, the government refused it arms for self-defence. (1982, P251)

But the Catholic lobby got to work. A young Irishwoman, Aileen O'Brien 'spoke on the telephone to every Catholic bishop in the United States and begged them to request their parish priests to ask all members of their congregations to telegraph in protest to President Roosevelt.' As a result, more than a million telegrams were received at the White House and a shipment of munitions to the Republic was stopped.

Congressmen who depended on the Catholic vote were frightened into opposing the repeal of the arms ban. This was in spite of the fact that only 40 per cent of Catholics supported the Nationalists. (P253; Luis Bolín)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Complain again

The NatWest Three (Updated)

I had a reply to my previous email, but it didn't really answer my question. So, I am sending another one, as follows.

I am sure that our courts have acted in accordance with the laws as laid down by Parliament. However, I have grave concerns about the laws agreed by yourself and your colleagues.
Sally Ireland, senior legal officer at Justice, the human rights group, said the laws placed defendants in the "bizarre situation" of being able to avoid extradition only if they could show there was enough proof of their guilt to try them domestically.

"If the authorities here think there is enough evidence against you, you are protected from extradition," she said. "Whereas if they think there isn't enough evidence against you, you are not protected."
The Financial Times, 8 July 2006. (Listen also to the The Today Progamme interview with  Baroness Scotland. )

Towards the end of the article in today's FT, it says:
Last-minute attempts to stop the transfer of the men continue, through business protests and a proposed amendment to the police and justice bill to establish a presumption that those suspected of crimes committed entirely or in part on UK soil should be tried domestically.
I urge you to support any such proposal.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Prototyping the theocracy

“¡Viva la muerte!”, Spain 1936

Jeremy Treglown, in his review, wrote: 
Something not generally emphasised about the Spanish civil war, at least outside Spain, is that, at the time, it represented a victory of religion over secularism. In today’s world, with its unexpectedly renewed theocracies, this is one of many reasons why we should be interested.
The parallels, while not exact, are sometimes striking. Orwell, in Homage to Catalonia:
It struck me that the people in this part of Spain must be genuinely without religious feeling--religious feeling, I mean, in the orthodox sense. It is curious that all the time I was in Spain I never once saw a person cross himself; yet you would think such a movement would become instinctive, revolution or no revolution. Obviously the Spanish Church will come back [...], but there is no doubt that at the outbreak of the revolution it collapsed and was smashed up to an extent that would be unthinkable even for the moribund C. of E. in like circumstances. To the Spanish people, at any rate in Catalonia and Aragon, the Church was a racket pure and simple. And possibly Christian belief was replaced to some extent by Anarchism, whose influence is widely spread and which undoubtedly has a religious tinge. (Chapter 6)
“¡Viva la muerte!” (Long live death!) was the cry General Millán Astray gave to his Spanish Foreign Legion. On one occasion, a speech took up a constant theme of the Nationalists, attacking 'the cancer of the nation', which must be cured by the scalpel of fascism. Millán Astray and the Falangists in the audience took up the cry - “Long live death!” The philosopher Unamuno rebuked them: 'I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes, must tell you as an expert authority that this paradox is repellent to me.'  In spite of the continued shouts, he concluded by saying that the rebels would conquer, but not convince (1982, P120-1; account in Spanish). After the war, Cardinal Goma admitted that there had been no real religious revival in Spain.
The church was in a position to establish a thorough control of public morals. One of their posters ordered: 'No immoral dances, no indecent frocks, no bare legs, no heathen beaches.' (The Falange, meanwhile, seized girls on the street whom they considered to be immodestly dressed and cropped their hair forcibly.)
The school curricula were changed to put all the emphasis on religious instruction (which meant a hypnotic chanting of the catechism),  [...] singing was limited to hymns or patriotic anthems.  (Beevor, 1982, P385; some of these details are omitted from his latest book)
Anyone who did not attend mass faithfully was likely to be suspected of 'red' tendencies (1982, P116). The rebel generals 'had a virulent hatred of "reds", a term including liberals and all.those opposed to a right-wing dictatorship. This attitude was expressed by General Mola in his instructions for the rising: "He who is not with us is against us." ' (oops!)
Pope Pius XII infamously congratulated Franco on the fall of Madrid: 'Lifting our hearts to God, we give thanks with your Excellency for the victory of Catholic Spain.' The Catholic church may seem to be very different nowadays, but Beevor's new book has a telling recent report: on a visit to Madrid, Pope John Paul II strongly reaffirmed the church's position, that priests murdered by Republican sympathisers were martyrs, and beatified another victim of Republican violence: he failed, however, to mention the Basque priests killed by the Nationalists. (P241; El País, 5 May 2003)

In the propaganda war, it was claimed that anti-clericalism of the Republic went as far as the raping of nuns. As Beevor points out, similar fabrications were made in the Middle Ages, when they were used to justify the slaughter of Jews. When the Nationalists published an indictment of republican crimes in 1946, they offered no evidence for any such incident, only hinting at one case.

When the poet Federico Garcia Lorca was killed, his 'executioner' said, 'We were sick and tired of queers in Granada ... I fired two bullets into his arse for being a queer'.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Revising History - 6

Another thing that should not be forgotten is the economic and social consequences of the war.

This was how Orwell was thinking shortly after the Barcelona 'May Days' (my emphasis):
It was easy to see that the Caballero Government would fall and be replaced by a more Right-wing Government with a stronger Communist influence (this happened a week or two later), which would set itself to break the power of the trade unions once and for all. And afterwards, when Franco was beaten [..] the prospect was not rosy. As for the newspaper talk about this being a 'war for democracy', it was plain eyewash. No one in his senses supposed that there was any hope of democracy, even as we understand it in England or France, in a country so divided and exhausted as Spain would be when the war was over. It would have to be a dictatorship, and it was clear that the chance of a working-class dictatorship had passed. That meant that the general movement would be in the direction of some kind of Fascism. Fascism called, no doubt, by some politer name [..]

But it did not follow that the Government was not worth fighting for as against the more naked and developed Fascism of Franco and Hitler. Whatever faults the post-war Government might have, Franco's regime would certainly be worse. To the workers--the town proletariat--it might in the end make very little difference who won, but Spain is primarily an agricultural country and the peasants would almost certainly benefit by a Government victory. Some at least of the seized lands would remain in their possession, in which case there would also be a distribution of land in the territory that had been Franco's, and the virtual serfdom that had existed in some parts of Spain was not likely to be restored.
And at the time of writing HtC (about six months later):
I may say that I now think much more highly of the Negrin Government than I did when it came into office. It [..] has shown more political tolerance than anyone expected. But I still believe that [..] the tendency of the post-war Government is bound to be Fascistic. (Chapter 12)
Orwell's predictions of the likely consequences of Franco's victory, of course, turned out to be accurate (Beevor, 1982, P387; Beevor, 2006, P403). Furthermore, 'wages were fixed and in the countryside were reduced to half of what they had been under the Republic. They would not again reach the level of 1931 until 1956.' (In Max Hastings' review this becomes, 'The civil war brought untold misery upon the Spanish. It was 1956 before they regained the standard of living they possessed in 1931.')

Monday, July 03, 2006

Revising History - 5

More Orwell
And what is a Trotskyist? This terrible word--in Spain at this moment you can be thrown into jail and kept there indefinitely, without trial, on the mere rumour that you are a Trotskyist--is only beginning to be bandied to and fro in England. (Spilling The Spanish Beans)
I have recently re-read Homage to Catalonia  (admittedly, very rapidly). Reading this, and his other essays on the war in Spain, it is impossible to escape the impression that here was the inspiration for his 'classics' - 1984 and especially Animal Farm. But this is not often fully acknowledged. For example, for a recent dramatisation of Animal Farm, the programme notes say merely, 'as the political situation worsened, Orwell and his wife narrowly escaped arrest and returned to England.'

As Timothy Garton Ash's East European contacts once asked him, how did Orwell know 'about everything, from the shortage of razor blades to the deep psychology of doublethink?' Of course, there were the Moscow show trials and Stalin's purges, but Orwell was not there for those. He was there for the 'May Days' (Barcelona, 1937), observing and even participating (to an extent which, again, is often overlooked).

If Spain matters for nothing else, it matters because it was such a formative experience for one of the most seminal writers of the twentieth century.

Here is the passage that Fernández-Armesto quotes Orwell from (see Part 2):
'Those are the Socialists' (meaning the [communist-controlled] P.S.U.C.), I was puzzled and said: 'Aren't we all Socialists?' I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their lives should have separate parties; my attitude always was, 'Why can't we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?' This of course was the correct 'anti-Fascist' attitude which had been carefully disseminated by the English newspapers, largely in order to prevent people from grasping the real nature of the struggle.
Whatever new material has come to light, I doubt whether much shakes Orwell's summary:
The Anarchists probably saved the situation in the first two months, but they were incapable of organizing resistance beyond a certain point; the Communists probably saved the situation in October-December, but to win the war outright was a different matter. ( Homage to Catalonia , Chapter 5)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Revising History - 4

Oliver Kamm, quoting Beevor (Kamm's emphasis): 'There is nothing in any recent book on the subject to soften the cold brutality of the Nationalists… But more than enough has emerged to confirm that all those who went to fight on behalf of the Republic in the cause of freedom were completely duped'.

Undoubtedly, it's true that those who joined the International Brigades (which were Communist-controlled) were duped. But some, like Orwell, fought for the Republic with other militia. It is probably more accurate to say that they were betrayed, along with millions of Spanish workers.

Writing in 1942, Orwell asked two key questions:
Yet in the most mean, cowardly, hypocritical way the British ruling class did all they could to hand Spain over to Franco and the Nazis. Why? Because they were pro-Fascist, was the obvious answer. Undoubtedly they were, and yet when it came to the final showdown they chose to stand up to Germany.
Did [the Russians], as the pinks believed, intervene in Spain in order to defend democracy and thwart the Nazis? Then why did they intervene on such a niggardly scale and finally leave Spain in the lurch? (Looking Back On The Spanish War)
We have a fairly good idea of the anwer to at least part of the second question. After the communists in Spain had followed 'moderate' policies in the hope of bringing 'the western democracies' (i.e. Britain and France) in on the side of the Republic, the Munich agreement in 1938 'led to Stalin's decision that Russia's only hope lay in a rapprochement with Hitler' (Beevor, 1982, Ch. XXV, P353) .

To the first of Orwell's questions, in spite of what is often described as our media's obsession with the Second World War, I am still not sure of the answer.  Churchill certainly was not, initially, favourable to the Republic. The conventional answer, I suppose, is that after Munich Hitler could not be trusted to 'behave like a gentleman', to observe the rules of international order, to such an extent that even an alliance with Stalin was possible to defeat him.

Update: on the Russians' niggardly intervention, here is one answer: 'Stalin at first agreed to the non- intervention pact for fear of antagonising the West. The first arms did not arrive until October and then it was out of fear that German and Italian arms would give a decisive edge to the fascists. Aid was given "covertly and in order to limit the possibility of involving Russia in a war" (Krivitsky [...]). Because of this fear of involvement in war with Germany and Italy, aid was limited to bolstering the resistance until such time as Britain and France might intervene.' An Anarchist Perspective on the Spanish Civil War -  acknowledgement, Niall Ferguson (!).