Monday, March 31, 2003

Danger! Attempt to post something about the war. Bound to be proved wrong in two hours.

Anyway, what I was going to say is that it's going pretty well, isn't it? We're winning, it's going (mainly) to plan, UK casualties (particularly from enemy fire) are very light, and yet most of the hawk's suppositions have proved untrue enough to make the US public think harder about invading Iran or Syria or Saudi or whoever.

Friendly fire casualties are inevitable in war, but it doesn't make them any easier to deal with. This article in today's Guardian is particularly disturbing.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Today's Sunday Telegraph is an excellent example of why much of the critcism of the BBC's reporting of the war in Iraq is nonsensical:

On page six it has two critical articles about the BBC's reporting -- one quoting the Labour Party Chairman with that -- oh so original -- description of the BBC as the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation, and another from a staffer in Eritrea who says that listening to the World Service she 'thought we were losing'.

What about if you were stuck in Eritrea with the Sunday Telegraph, Britain's most right-wing and pro-war newspaper by a mile?

First you would spill your cornflakes when on page 1 you read that the only British reporter to enter Basra found the inhabitants calling her 'the enemy. On page 2 you would choke on an article praising the bravery of Iraqi troops when they attack tanks with AK47s. On page 4 you would learn that Baghdad 'distrusts tyrants and liberators'. As deepening gloom set in, on page 8 you would read that 'Anger is growing on Baghdad's streets as the death toll mounts', on page 11 you would get angry reading a former editor of the Daily Telegrap tell you that 'we expected too much from the americans -- and so did they', on page 12 you would read that 'w're losing the battle for hearts and minds' (oh but you could dismiss this because it is from the BBC's world affairs editor). Maybe heartened by that, on p.15 Saddam's biographer, Con Coughlin, would tell you that 'we can't beat him at his own game', and on p.16 and p.17 you would read a searing critique of Don Rumsfeld's handling of the war. Unless you've already gone off to turn Dominic Lawson into Special Branch, you'd find the comment pages you just as defeatist.

Now of course there were other articles in the ST giving a more favourable view of the situation (though actually not many), but this is about as sophisticated as criticism of the BBC gets -- watching hours of coverage and picking a few stories out to make your case. Maybe I'll launch a blog dedicated to exposing the left-wing bias of the Sunday Telegraph -- Biased Sunday Telegraph?

Friday, March 28, 2003

Why did Blair risk it? Frustration at his domestic impotentence, suggets Ross Mckibben , one of this sites' favourite political commentators. A few tasters...

"Blair, we are told, is an admirer of the Asquith Government, but I wonder how much he knows of it. This, after all, was a government which was prepared to take on the House of Lords, the Tory Party, a good part of the ruling class, the rich, even the monarchy, and was dependent on the fruitful relationship between a Prime Minister who in the end sided with the Left and a Chancellor (Lloyd George) who enjoyed offending almost everybody. To read the Liberal Party's rhetoric during the 1910 elections is to realise that we live in a different world. It is inconceivable that Blair or Brown would behave that way."

"I don't imagine Blair made a calculation that unless one country (i.e. Britain) took on the role of America's ally no one would be in a position to restrain America's unilateralism - though that could have been an incidental outcome. It was belief. The result is that both the old Foreign Office elites and New Labour elites have a view of America that is not shared by the rest of the population. America is widely admired, but also widely disliked; and the America whose chief ally we have become represents the America which is widely disliked. It is faith which leads the Prime Minister to argue with immense force that challenges to America's freedom and way of life are also challenges to ours - something which is simply not true, though it might well become true. "

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

This election mapping service from the Ordnance Survey is fascinating. Designed for party officials and election planners, you can see at at street level every constiuency, local election boundary etc etc in the UK. Well I found it interesting...

Nice bit of symmetry on the BBC's website (if you can believe it!). The UK has pledged $47m to help rebuild Iraq, and Congress has been asked by President Bush for $74bn to help destroy it.

The BBC is often criticised in wartime for being either too pro- or too-anti 'our boys'. However Frank Sensenbrenner, on the otherwise excellent Edge of England's Sword takes this too a new level with his complaint that the fact the BBC banned its senior staff from going on the anti-war march shows its is irredeemably biased. He says, 'it's risible to claim impartiality when most of your editorial staff flocks to Marxist marches'.

Aside from the fact that they didn't go on the march, and the fact that you can go on the march without being an 'activist' (as it is commonly understood) it is obvious that Sensenbrenner would be the first to complain if the saw a BBC news presenter on an anti-war march (incidentally the examples in the Guardian story he links to are merely illustrative as far as I can see).

Sensenbrenner's view of the BBC is made pretty clear from his post a few earlier, where he says:

'As numerous politicians have said, when the BBC's country is at war, it loses its duty to be 'impartial'. After all, it is state-funded. The BBC World Service Budget comes from the Foreign Office budget. The BBC is all too willing to criticize its own nation and its allies, but never to go after the nations' enemies. '

Of course most of that is untrue or grossly exaggerated. But anyway, would he really prefer the BBC to become a Tass-style mouthpiece for the UK government, as if that would enhance its credibility and help British forces? The BBC has worked hard over the last 70 years to build up a reputation for honesty and objectivity outside of the UK, and it would be folly to throw it away merely so a few bad days in an otherwise successful war go unreported.

Just a few random war thoughts.

As Daniel Davies noted, if you were to pick a Dream Team to lose a war even given a vast military advantage you would pick W, Rummy and Cheney. Rumsfeld clearly believed his own propaganda that all the Iraqis would welcome the US forces as liberators so only about 100 marines were required (the current forces' level were against Rumsfeld's wishes). Given not all Europeans welcomed the Allies when they liberatred them from the Nazis, this was always a little unrealistic.

Luckily the 'Dream Team' is against Saddam Hussein, whose history in military matters is to be worse than his useless opponents. Just for a start -- (and for any stupid readers, I am clearly not saying this would have beeen anything other than reprehensible) why didn't he buy some Guantanamo-style red tracksuits with hoods, and some cages, and make the US POWs wear the tracksuits and sit in the cages? How could Rumsfeld have complained?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't know much about most things, but even within that embarassment of stupidty war is one of my weaker areas. However does anyone else get the impression that maybe Saddam Hussein's heart isn't in this conflict? There seems to be only light resistance (with some exceptions -- see the Ft's lead story at this time about the Royal Marines), there don't seem to be many burning oil wells, Baghdad is said to be only lightly defended... I am sure things will get harder, but even the British military commanders are saying it could all be over by Sunday.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I often link to Timothy Garton-Ash because on the whole he is usually right when it comes to international affairs. This article in today's Guardian follows in that tradtion. A flavour...

"The Rumsfeldian idea - if idea is not too dignified a word - is that American might is right. It's right because it's American. ...The Rumsfeldian vision is half right and therefore all wrong. It's probably true that the United States can now win most wars on its own. But it can't win the peace on its own. And victory in the "war against terrorism" is all about winning the peace - in Iraq, in the wider Middle East, and beyond. "

"The Chiraco-Putinesque idea - if idea is not too dignified a word - is that American might is, by definition, dangerous...The Chiraco-Putinesque vision is half right and therefore all wrong. It's true that it's unhealthy for any single power - however democratic and benign - to be as preponderant as the United States is today. But for France to make common cause with a semi-democratic Russia (the butcher of Chechnya) and a wholly non-democratic China in a diplomatic campaign which brought temporary succour to Saddam Hussein is not the brightest way to advance towards a multipolar world. "

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I've never been the greatest fan of the Liberal Democrats for the simple reason that I prefer the Labour party, but some of the criticism they are getting for their principled and let us remember -- democratic -- stance on the American invasion of Iraq is absurd. Obviously you expect it from Peter Cuthbertson who after all thinks anyone anti-war is a 'moron' and thinks that the Lib Dems 'hate Britain' (a view so ridiculous it's hard to understand what he means at first). But you expect a little more thought from Chris Bertram, who argues "I think it significant that on this issue the Labour and Conservative parties both contained a significant variety of opinions but that the Lib Dems voted as one. An indication, I think, that they are all about positioning and opportunism rather than substance".

It seems strange to me that a political party can be seen to be opportunist if its MPs hold a view which is held by the majority of the British public, the vast majority of the European public, most Labour MPs if it wasn't for Tony Blair, and I did believe Chris Bertram himself, at least until recently.

Of course the Lib Dems don't hold a single opinion on Iraq. Listening to their speeches on the subject would tell you that. What they hold is a view that at this moment, and in this way, military action is unnecesary.

Well the BBC is reporting US troops are already in the demilitarised zone (nice irony) so let's say it'll all be over by Friday not Saturday.

The Economist from time to time runs a 'recession watch', in which it counts how many times the word 'recession' appears in the global press. In the past if has found that this is a reasonable forward looking indicator of recessionary activity. In the same way I think it would be constructive to look at how many times 'iran' and 'north korea' appear in blogs.

Such a measure will probably be a reasonable forward indicator of the next stage of the War Against Terror. With the war against Iraq almost over (let's give it until Saturday) the hawk's attention is bound to turn to Iran and North Korea. Already serious ( serious as they get) right-wing commentators are suggesting nuking North Korea. and a quick victory in Iraq will surely turn the sights of the Rumsfeld, Perle and the other one onto Iran?

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I've never been one to arrive at the party before it ends, so may I take this opportunity to recommend DSquared Digest. Not that it is ending, but sadly since DSquared decided (correctly) to launch a (now-ended) jihad at Stephen Den Best (Den Beste is a bit like the Daily Mail in that he asks thousands of questions to which the answer is 'no', e.g. Will France nuke the US? NO (really he has been musing about this)), his comments board has been inundated with the mad pro-war ramblings of Den Beste's followers. Basically, what Daniel Davies failed to realise is that THEIR BOREDOM THRESHOLD IS MUCH HIGHER THAN HIS. When someone's boredom threshold is higher than yours, or in many cases when they don't have a threshold, you just can't win. Anyway it's still worth reading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Chris Bertram's piece on the UN today is just superb.

Germany's stock market is over 70% down from its early 2000 highs and Brad De Long wonders about the impact it is having on the German share-owning class, economy and society.

I'd imagine the answer is 'less than he fears'. Partly because shares in German have never been as important as they are in the US. Stock market capitalisation as a % of gdp was only 27% in 1996 when the US level was around 80%, and even in 2000 it reached only 67.8% when the figure in the US was 154%, the UK 182% and in Switzerland 331%. Thus the 70% fall (if we assume the figures I just quoted were the highs, which is probably good enough) corresponds to fall of about 40% of gdp, whereas the UK market's fall of 50% would be a fall of 90% of Gdp.

Now obviously this is not the end of the story. If the non-quoted Germany industry has seen its value fall similarly then there may be other repercussions, particularly on the banking system which owns a lot of it. However on a purely share market level I think the impact will have been less than in many other countries.

An important article by Martin Wolf in today's FT (unfortunately it is subscription only) makes a point that I have been making (less successfully), that this is not only the 'defining moment' for the EU, Nato and the UN, but also the UK and US 'special relationship'. Will this for the British political establishment what Suez was for the French -- the moment when they realise they can never trust the US?

Wolf argues:

"European unity may in fact be closer than many suppose, as a result of Mr Blair's strategy. The UK is no longer a bridge between the US and Europe but is now anchored, by Mr Blair's choice, to the US end. If this decision, taken against the wishes of a large part of his own party and the country, is perceived to be a disaster, the UK's long-standing policy of aligning itself with the US will be tested to breaking point. One outcome could be the end of Mr Blair's career. Another could be a decision by the British elite that safety now lies with the countervailing coalition. That, in turn, would greatly enhance Europe's capacity and will to pursue an independent policy."

Wolf continues:

"I am saying that if the US behaves solely as a 19th-century power - be it liberal imperialist or nationalist - of a kind it once abhorred, it will promote a 19th-century world. Examples matter; great examples matter greatly. The American people must ask themselves whether this truly is the world they wish to inhabit."

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Some genuinely confusing posts on our favourite weblog, Conservative Commentary. The first was on ayslum seekers, and Oliver Letwin's plan to reduce their number to 20,000 a year (we have subsequently learnt that this will free up enough money to solve crime, but that's a different story, albeit a similar promise -- i.e one he knows he'll never have to keep).

Peter Cuthbertson wrote 'As we currently take in 110,000 with around 90% of them being bogus' (note the use of the word bogus, a word the right only use when talking about asylum seekers or people collecting welfare benefits). Now apart from getting his numbers wrong (there's an appeals system, and there is another category which takes some of those who otherwise would have to be given asylum) saying this is like saying '27,000 of the undergraduates a year that Bristol University takes in aren't good enough to be accepted' even though Bristol, university rejects 27,000 applicants and takes in only 3,000 The whole point of the system is to see which asylum seekers pass our (stringent) qualifications and which don't! There is a major issue about the tardiness with which those who aren't accepted are removed, but until the last point of the comments its not clear Peter realises the distinction.

The second strange post is this one about using nuclear weapons in the fight against terror (of which even Peter is not in favour of at present). He says;

"I think the key is not to lose sight of what must remain an essential objective - a missile defence system that will protect America and her close allies from nuclear attack. I seem to be the only person in the world who has realised this, but not only would this protect us against nuclear missiles, but also against the suitcase bombs everyone warns that our enemies will revert to as soon as the missile shield is established. If any country attempts a suitcase attack, then given a missile shield, we can nuke them without fear of retaliation in kind. They will know this, and will be far less likely to use a suitcase bomb in the first place. QED. "

Again the only response is...what? The reason it is argued a missile shield is necessary is that the policy of nuclear deterrence no longer works. If such a policy no longer works, then it must be because the other country does not fear its destruction. If it does not fear its destruction then it does not fear its destruction in a retaliation for launching a suitcase bomb. Thus a missile shield is no deterrence to launching a suitcase bomb.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The US Administration is expected not to put Saudi Arabia on a blacklist of countries that do not allow religious freedom despite a recommendation from a committee setup to look into such issues. Why? No-one who examines the situation for a moment coud believe that Saudia Arabia allows religious freedom. I wonder whether it could be because of -- not it couldn't be, could it? Repeat after me, it's not about Oil!

Thursday, March 06, 2003

This example of the pro-war lobby's power of argument really should be on Stephen Pollard's blog, but it's not meant to be a discussion board so I thought I would post it here.

Bob Briant made some perfectly reasonable points against the war, of which the first was

(1) A war could easily end up killing many thousands of people - an entirely credible possibility given this report by a mainstream American TV network of the war plan:
A very rude man called David Carr then replied, starting with this 'Pure speculation. If the Americans were that reckless about civilian casualties then why haven't they turned the whole country into molten glass (which they could do without breaking sweat). '

Now that's not an argument, even if you call Mr Briant 'stupid' and sprinkle the word 'fucking' around. Think it through a little -- for a start anything anyone says about this war can be labelled 'pure speculation', but it doesn't really get us anywhere. Much of the rest of your comments was pure speculation. Then the second bit, well that's a bit like saying 'I'm worried US bombing in Vietnam might kill thousands of civilians' and receiveing the response 'Stupid. Fucking. If the US wanted to kill civilians it could have nuked Vietnam already'. Just because something hasn't happened already, doesn't mean it isn't going to happen. Just because the US isn't deliberately targeting civilians, doesn't mean they won't die.

Truly abysmal.

The Quiet Man, IDS, was on Newsnight yesterday. On the whole he was pretty poor, although not uniformly. When talking about military and defence matters, he didn't really seem to understand them, but he did seem to believe what he was saying. On domestic issues however he just seemed to occasionally remember that voters like to hear about certain issues, and quickly mentioned them. An example would be (not a direct quote), 'Kirsty, the people want to hear about our policies for health, education, crime, er....fighting crime, law and order, health'. His worst bit came when he compared himself to Winston Churchill, in an attempt to explain away his treasonable behaviour during the last (most recent? no, last is probably more accurate) Conservative government.

Sadly as I said in the post below, he hasn't got long to go. I expect another lurch to the right, poor results in the May local elections, and then a leadership election in the summer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Labour are 12% ahead according to the latest MORI poll, for the Financial Times. This is only looking at those who say they are certain to vote in a general election. IDS can't have long.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

A rather good essay by Martin Amis on the forthcoming war with Iraq. I particularly liked this bit;

"There are two rules of war that have not yet been invalidated by the new world order. The first rule is that the belligerent nation must be fairly sure that its actions will make things better; the second rule is that the belligerent nation must be more or less certain that its actions won't make things worse. America could perhaps claim to be satisfying the first rule (while admitting that the improvement may be only local and short term). It cannot begin to satisfy the second. "