Saturday, March 27, 2004

Apologies mount up for Kofi. After agreeing that an enquiry is needed into the Food-for-Oil Progamme to Iraq that helped prop up Saddam so effectively, now Kofi Annan is apologising for the UN's failure to stop a genocide occurring in Rwanda ten years ago. It's a weekend for apologies, after Richard Clarke's barbed apology to America for failing to prevent the Sept 11th 2001 attacks. Mark Steyn, meanwhile, makes a good case for saying that the UN's apologies are nowhere near enough.

Evening News Round-Up. First up I advise my legions of visitors to check out a new blog committed to watching the Beeb. USSNeverdock will be appearing on my blogroll soon.

In other important 'international' news former ABofC George Carey has been fiercely condemned for mildly chastising (as Anglicans are wont to do) the Muslim world for not pulling its weight for a millenium or so. The Tories are calling for a referendum on the European constitution devised by that Giscard D'Estaing fella (this was the top story of the Best Behaviour Corporation at 5:50pm) after Al Quaeda's elect cast their pro-European vote. Chickens in British supermarkets may well be more off than I thought at the time of sale. Probably also lots of things have been happening in America.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Opportunistic BBC. Today the layout of the main BBC web page was most instructive- an item about US troops being sent to Afghanistan dominated (the story was about hunting Al Quaeda, though habitually such a report would be from the quagmire genre), and to the right a story about a firefight in Fallujah which seems to have killed a few bad guys (my interpretation); but right below that came the story of GWB's WMD joke

The article itself is a joke: Robert Fisk could have written it. 'President George W Bush has sparked a political firestorm' it begins portentiously. When questioned about it, Donald Rumsfeld 'dodged the issue' (see, all the Usual Suspects). The Beeb's 'news' report says he 'dodged' it- not 'seemed to evade' or 'changed the subject quickly', but 'dodged'. According to the Beeb's layout one could construct a headline "US troops are fighting (maybe dying, given the ambiguity of the report) and GWB is joking about missing WMD's!". Fine, except that US troops are by and large NOT fighting and dying in Iraq, and GWB rarely makes jokes about WMD, and then against himself. Certainly the two items are unlikely to be found together except on the BBC's Website or in a Democrat's soundbyte.

There's another interesting angle to it as well. Remember Greg Dyke's spiel about 'flag-waving' US journalism on Iraq? Well, look who was laughing at Dubya's joke: 'the Radio and Television Correspondent's Association' at their 60th annunal dinner. See! That proves that Greg Woz Right! The Beeb then moves into full creative journalism mode (remember that this is not an opinion piece, but a 'news' report). They describe how 'in the cold light of day things looked less amusing'. Cue a poe-faced statement from JFK that blends right in. Apparently it was all 'stunningly cavalier'. I'm surprised they didn't depict GWB quaffing flutes of champagne and dancing on the tables before a noble Kerry came in and said, 'sir, I don't believe you're fit to speak to these people. I served in Vietnam and......'

Mark Steyn- Man of Letters. Openness and accountabliity: these are some of the most popular words among politicians in Britain, I would guess. That's probably why we have so little of it, and why I find US politics refreshing. Something you have to talk about rather than practise is bound to be scarce in reality. The same is true of journalism too. For all the talk of people writing what the audience wants to hear, and being chained to populism for commercial reasons, in reality few writers are prepared to face their readership. That's one reason I am a fan of Mark Steyn.

I love the way he includes so many reader's letters, including offensive ones (the ones he particularly likes!) on his website. I love the way he so often bases his writing on the feedback he receives. Letters are wonderful records of a person's views at a particular time, and a great yardstick by which to measure rightness or wrongness. I'm sure I've written some stupid things in letters (or emails, I won't distinguish), but I'm very glad I didn't write this:

"Your column seemed so out of date with developments over the weekend, so seemingly out of touch with the current situation, so, as you would say, so September 10th. You see Mark, as you well know, the story of the day was not precision weapons but the growing bluster and embarrassment of the U.S. administration.”

So wrote Mr John Black as the invasion of Iraq was underway this time last year. It would be ok without the sarcastic attempt to parody Steyn- 'as you would say, so September 10th'- and the patronising tone of 'you see Mark'.

I can only compare Mark's policy of publishing letters in full, including typos, with the BBC's policy of publishing excerpts from a 'select' bunch of respondents in their Don't 'Have Your Say' section. The banality of the Don't 'Have Your Say' comments contrasts strikingly with Steyn's thoughtful contributors and critics.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Richard's Paying. It looks to me as though the party's on Clarke regarding the media jamboree created by the 9/11 commission. CNN yesterday led with the quote (though today it's dropped into the main report) that said it all- "your government failed you, and I failed you". Some have been reading (or presenting) that as critical of Bush's administration, and Clarke intends it that way, but the evidence given points to a situation where Clarke's idiosyncratic approach met a new administration and found it less flattering to him than the previous one. Clarke's statement only really says 'I was in Government twenty years, and failed. The Bush administration was in Government barely nine months, and failed to appreciate my approach'.

The BBC called it 'political dynamite'. That's ridiculous, since the main criticisms have already been made and Madeline Albright and co have taken the real hits- and they're people whose careers scarcely need dynamiting anymore. To be fair, despite the headlines most of the reports have demonstrated the essential solidity of Bush's defence, not surprising with such a short span of responsibility to defend. Clarke, however, has a long, long time to account for, and it's obvious he's using every trick to do so. If it damages anyone it will be John F. Kerry, but even there it ought not to be 'dynamite' unless he alligns himself with the Clinton past. Enough! Instapundit has much useful digging on the subject.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I promised poetry, and this is a lovely poem (let's see how it looks!). It ties in with an undying justification for the Iraq war. It also points out that the responsiblity to oppose (Islamo)fascism is a serious and important one. I'd like also to point to when it was written- March 1939- to demonstrate that genocidal tendencies need to be worked against and confronted before poets start writing laments about them. It was by WH Auden, the Anglo-American writer who also wrote the verse I've put at the head of this blog- taken from 'In Memory of W.B Yeats.'

Refugee Blues

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

W.H. Auden
March 1939

Case...whatever. I have friends here in England who were extremely sceptical over the Iraq war. They more or less insisted that the only justification for it they would consider was the argument from 'immediate threat', which demanded that the WMD argument was watertight. Whilst I didn't trust in the competence of Governments because I never do (but believed that as usual you have to work constructively with whatever you can get), I trusted that Saddam was a bad man who knew other bad men. Naive or simplistic- take your pick. Anyway, I believe that Saddam was a threat, and that Governments are incompetent, to this day. Today though I read an article which tied into another article (one I read weeks ago) which could not represent a 'meme' but might constitute a rationale that appeals to practical people like me. Can't get my head around 'nobody told Saddam (ha ha) he had no WMD' type arguments, but I could understand this and this.

The first article is by an Israeli defence expert with plentiful intelligence experience. The other is by a man who worked for the coalition authorities in Iraq last year, who is very critical of the approach of the WMD search teams. Their criticisms dovetail in a very authentic manner. Naturally, after ripping into Mr Clarke below about his self-preserving 'critique' of Bush's anti-terror credentials, I've given the background of these guys a bit of thought. I haven't felt like dropping their analyses yet though.

Surprised- not. Instapundit and Belgravia Dispatch have drawn my attention to a bit of predictable Richard Clarke contradiction. Consistency in public life is not conspicuously evident, but when someone is reported thus:

Clarke emphasized that the C.I.A. director, George Tenet, President Bush, and, before him, President Clinton were all deeply committed to stopping bin Laden; nonetheless, Clarke said, their best efforts had been doomed by bureaucratic clashes, caution, and incessant problems with Pakistan." - New Yorker Aug 4 2003

You don't then expect them to say this just eight months later:

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Surely in the second Clarke statement the latter comments are driven by the former; 'I find it outrageous' leads to 'he ignored terrorism'. Emotionally rather than intellectually driven, it seems to me.

Meanwhile, reading CNN's account of proceedings at the 9/11 commission, we are treated to a sequence that shows why it's less than 'outrageous' that Bush should see his anti-terrorism record as a campaign plus. All the attacks made by Al Quaeda on US targets occurred during the Clinton years, except for 9/11. In other words, the Bush administration had not one serious 'crunch time' about retaliation, or reassessment of defence priorities, until 9/11. Clinton, with Clarke as a leading figure, had 'the World Trade Center in 1993; the bombing of Khobar Towers, a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in 1996; the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.' Five strikes not enough to be considered 'out' in the credibility game?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Two Men, Again. So very often comparisons between two people spark off thoughts. Yesterday Mark Steyn and Yohann Hari, today David Frum and Richard Clarke (caution, partisan bio). First of all you'd have to admit Frum's a Bush loyalist. Although he no longer works for the President as speechwriter, it was Frum who coined the term 'Axis of Evil'- the unnuanced phrase that has made Europeans froth and, to be fair, despots quake, ever since. Since abandoning the President's coin, Frum's gone freelance, writing for the NRO and hooking up with that spooky-looking Richard Perle to write books about the WoT- again, a phrase Frum endorsed as speechwriter to the GOP. Frum's a man who has helped and is helping to frame the future in terms of 'victory'- or 'defeat'.

And then we have Clarke- a man verging on retirement who had a twenty year career in counter-terrorism at the highest level under four Presidents- last night on Panorama quoted by Paxman as saying that the Bush Whitehouse didn't understand nuance, among other things (heh). Actually that Bush ignored the threat of Al Quaeda prior to Sept 11, was obsessed with Iraq, and yes, everything else you've heard levelled by Democrats and Europeans at GWB. If there was one word for the performance of Clarke on Panorama last night it was 'stereotypical'. That may be good enough for the BBC (although Paxman did look unstimulated), but when you hear Clarke saying that Bush 'ordered' him to find a link between Osama and Saddam, and you think back to the angry GWB that emerged, barrel-chested and defiant after Sept 11th, it's so easy to see this fellow as a shrivelled functionary with an outdated lexicon confronted by an incandescent President, and you see him now, petulantly playing his audience with whiny soundbytes, shifting blame and selling his book. It enables people who have a stake in the future of the WoT, like David Frum, to show gravitas and good sense in pointing out the obvious. The culmination of Frum's career may be yet to come; Clarke's culminated in Sept 11. That's a big difference to see between two men.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The Enthusiasm that Dare Not Speak its Name. You know, I think that Stephen Pollard's a secret BBBC enthusiast. It's the way that he has a whole section of posts about the BBC (mainly about bias), and always seems to include the terms 'Biased' and 'BBC' in the titles of his posts. It's just the fact that he's rarely (to my knowledge) mentioned that particular website that's the stumper. Tonight he is slamming what I sometimes call BBC 'mayonnaise'. Ok, Ok, an odd term I know. I mean the oleaginous (adj. oily; fawning or sycophantic) presentations the BBC sometimes gives to placate one or another of its favourite special interests. Today it's in the course of remembering the sweet old man who surfed the mobs in his metal chair and 'inspired' the cult of death on Israel's streets.

American 'can do' vs BBC 'can't'. Not a long post; just a note about an exasperated summary of BBC negativism over Iraq from the erudite people of the New Criterion Weblog, 'Arma Virumque'. It's funny, sometimes I get the feeling that the Beeb thinks it was an unBritish thing to do to get involved in Iraq alongside the US. I always feel like pointing out it was a stroke of genius to get involved in this successful but difficult operation at such little cost, by getting the plum sphere of operations in Basra. If, and I say this cautiously, if we in the UK are attacked by Al Quaeda, at least we can say that our troops are among Islamic people who were desperate for outside intervention and grateful for our actions, and that we've done so much more for Islamic people than Bin Laden ever has or will.

Two Fellas who can Write, and have taken agin each other. That'd be Mark Steyn and Johann Hari, doyen of the right and aspiring doyen of the left, respectively. Both of them have recently had me laughing and nodding at things they've written, writing whose quality of observation and expression enable what they say to, off and on, carry the irresistible ring of authenticity. Steyn's latest effort on John Kerry in the Chicago Sun-Times, reminds me of the Scarlet Pimpernel (alright, I mean the film version with Anthony Andrews) fighting Chauvelin- each time they approach each other, Chauvelin lunges and the S.P. nips one of the buttons off his clothing. On and on this continues, until, lo, Chauvelin is somewhat exposed. There's even a French connection too. Hari's contribution to the mirth is a hilarious account of an interview with 'Busted' (via Harry's Place), in which the odd triumvirate are more 'Gutted' than 'Busted', as Hari exposes by turns their pettiness, shallowness and artificiality in a way painful to the funny muscles (mind you, I find myself asking, why just them?). What marks both of these writers is the ability to turn a phrase and a delight in not pulling punches. Maybe each recognising the other's writing strategums is what makes them instantly begin to carp at each other across the ideological divide. Normally Righties accept the 'likely' idiocy and moral superiorism of Lefties without personal anima, and Lefties accept that Righties are 'probably' corrupt, populist and manipulative. However, in this case Hari thinks Steyn is 'odious', while Steyn said something about as offensive about Hari in the Spectator recently. Both, incidentally(?), supported the war in Iraq quite vociferously- as do I.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Controversy over at BBBC, where until recently I've posted a lot but am currently resting. In the wake of the Madrid bombing, Patrick Crozier posted an angry denunciation of the BBC's coverage, mainly referencing Channel 4 news (which can be the most annoying of the entire media I know) in which he expressed the hope that journalists might 'feel their pain' in a more literal way than is usually intended by that phrase- by torture in fact. Choice quotes include 'I want these people to feel pain. I mean real pain. The sort of thing only a professional torturer can dole out'. Despicable, say some commenters, while others join in the lurid fantasy, adding their own thoughts.

Why the vitriol, on either side? Well, BBBC was started to give a voice to people who are alienated by BBC coverage, who are concerned at its effects, and dismayed by its failings. There's always a fine balance between staying rational and maintaining a sense of indignation at bias, error, conceit and smugness. I think that, despite appearances to the contrary, Patrick did that in this case. His point, reading between the lines, was that not Hutton, not the License fee/charter renewal discussions, not criticism in the press and internationally, will dissuade the BBC from their cultural crusading at the expense of ordinary bystanders to the political process. I think he's right in that analysis. It'd be unrealistic to think otherwise... and that leaves us with the extreme positions that will upset the unprepared and infuriate the idealist. Of course, I don't agree with extremism. Not at all. But it's good to know where you're forced to stand nevertheless. Let's be clear too: it was a fantasy entertained under the duress of the moment. It was not, and could not be, the position of

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