Saturday, July 17, 2004

I Love the Internet

To be specific, one of the things I love is the way bloggers hover like vultures around a story, often pecking with far more vigour than the big media offers, and then suddenly there's a breakthrough and a spectacular finale (you might say, 'the kill'). That seems to have happened with the Joe Wilson affair- and I think Mark Steyn is rapidly acquiring honorary blogger status. There's something of the spirit of blog about him- and this time it's really moving (via Glenn):

'Saddam wanted yellowcake for one reason: to strike at his neighbors in the region, and beyond that at Britain, America and his other enemies. In other words, he wanted the uranium in order to kill you.'

He's never been more tabloid; but I like it.


Just to make my position on the Butler report clear (and I'm referring, as before, to the Iraq section)- I don't believe what I'm hearing from the vast majority of journalists: Butler did find a great deal he was satisfied with in terms of analysis of intelligence and judgements arising from it. The number of approving remarks Butler makes about key assessments and judgements concerning Saddam, his intentions, threat and capability, suggests strongly he is satisfied with the overall approach. I don't buy the 'devil in the detail' view point, because the details Butler takes issue with are no more significant than the details (the overwhelming number) where he agrees with what was done.

The problem seems to have been that to know exactly what was there and where required the kind of infiltration at high levels that we'd given up hope of when relying on UNscom. After that, without hope of in depth revelations we were dependent on a handful of mid-level contacts, overhead photos, and the rest was guesstimation. The problem was not dodgy contacts, bad analysis, or false conclusions- the problem was our reliance on Unscom and the blindness that resulted when UNscom left in '98 (which is not to say that Butler disapproves of Unscom- he said it had been largely effective in restraining Saddam. As a strategy for dealing with a murderous dictator's WMD ambitions though, 'largely effective' would have been a very worrisome situation- and I think Butler recognises that.)


Another reason to question our late '90s strategy is outlined in this World Magazine article about Unscam. It's a good summary of where we have got to in the saga- and I think that fears about Saddam's resurgence in the '90s were fuelled by the success he made out of Oil-for-Food - success for himself that is, not the Iraqi people (via Friends of Saddam).

Friday, July 16, 2004

Paul Reynolds has been, as they say, 'all over' the Butler report. His several analyses have, however, in my view been selective and used to enforce a simple thesis: that Butler in his unaccusatory judgements just wished to soften the blow on British Intelligence which fell so heavily on the CIA from the Senate report.

Although Reynolds suggests that the Senate 'loves criticising agencies of the government', he does not mean that the Senate's criticism may have been exaggerated (a product of the hothouse perhaps). Quite the opposite- for Reynolds it is the Butler report that has been too weak in its criticisms.

According to Reynolds, the British report was 'loathe to criticise' and 'cautious', whereas the US report was 'decisive'. For him, the task is to 'decode' the Butler report.

On this occasion, weirdly, American values appear to have won the BBC's heart!

As a sidelight to this, guess who was popping up on BBConline with his response to Butler? None other than Gregory Dyke, no doubt as bitter as Ray Parlour's (ex-)wife to have walked away with only approaching half a million pounds. And, needless to say, the Beeb's latest enthusiasm (in both NewsNight and BBC News contexts) has been the supposed 'underpinning' piece of intelligence, which was withdrawn- guess when- in July 03, just as Hutton was conducting his investigation into Gilligan's claims about the 'dodgy' dossier (and Dr Kelly's death, too).

As an indication of Reynolds' analysis, compare Reynolds' and Butler's view of intelligence sources in Iraq:

Reynolds: 'It turns out that human sources used by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) were unreliable'

Butler: 'Of the two dominant sources, the first reported accurately and authoritatively on some key issues... the second dominant source remains the subject of continuing SIS validation.'

(Reynolds' quote taken from his article 'The Devil Is In The Detail')

Not jumping to any conclusions then, are we Paul?

Actually, contrary to Reynolds' assessment, the report is full of affirmations that the assessments of the intelligence services were professional and circumspect, with only occasional exceptions.

From my reading of the report, I would offer an alternative thesis: that Butler's criticisms are mild because it was never intended that he should critique the real problem- the lack of an aggressive and detailed strategy to effectively infiltrate Saddam's regime prior to 9/11 and in the months afterwards (which is no longer relevant now that we have taken the ultimate necessary action).[Update: I should stop tinkering with what I've said here! Obviously after 9/11 infiltrating Saddam's regime would have been much harder. However, between 1998- when UNscom left- and 2001 we had little inside information. This leaves the previous wholehearted UNscom strategy open to question, as well as the period '98- 01.]

The purpose of Butler was to offer something to the Paul Reynolds's of this world as a way of saying 'look, we've had an enquiry and... etc... yawn- let's go and beat the Tories.'

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Standing Up; Being Counted.

Claudia Rosett's recent testimony to Congress on Unscam was excellent, and just a bit moving- judging from the text ( via Friends of Saddam).

Should've said yesterday: Mark Steyn had a great way to celebrate Bastille day. Truly, a man after my own heart who would like to rain on their parade (sadly, it was sunny).

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Well, Butler didn't really say very much, did he? (I've only scanned the report, but I've seen the man's public pronouncements and heard a bit more since.) Whatever he said that seemed to trap Tony Blair or his Government (no real sharp intakes of breath- so different to Hutton) was followed with a wry smile by some kind of escape route for those concerned- and no-one was to blame.

I think Tony Blair chose his men deliberately (but fairly) when he selected Hutton and Butler.

The BBC's favoured approach in reporting Butler's view of the intelligence has been been to emphasize its 'serious flaws' and that it was 'unreliable'- yet the fact that Butler denied any individual responsibility indicates that no-one either fabricated or was notoriously incompetent. This has to mean that the intelligence was not so flawed as all that, otherwise how bad does it have to be before someone is to blame?

One of the important things Butler said was that the claim that Saddam sought uranium from Niger was based on good intelligence ie. he believes it happened. I am sure that one fact- that our expert opinion believes that Saddam was clandestinely seeking materials for nuclear purposes under the nose of the IAEA- would be a clincher for many people if it were put to them directly (Belgravia Despatch has more- and cites Butler specifically- via Glenn).

Contrasting Butler's findings with those of the Hutton enquiry I'd say that in the case of Gilligan we have someone claiming a fabrication of evidence- which was found to be categorically untrue. In the Butler report we find a number of assertions that were not fabricated but were inadequately contextualised- but they were consistent with the thesis that Saddam was seeking offensive weaponry and capabilities. The intelligence, and the politician's expression of it, doesn't match the reality we know at present, but it isn't inconsistent with a general thesis we know to have been true and which justified strong action against Iraq. So, Gilligan lied (and so have the 'stoppers') and our politicians aren't as competent as we would like, but we live in a democracy- Hutton and Butler in a nutshell.

And that's ok- but I wouldn't want to leave it there. It will take more than generally about roughly right to win a war on terror- and I think the establishment hasn't woken up to that yet. On the other hand, how much more sleepy would they have had to have been if they hadn't followed up their threats against Saddam's regime? Frighteningly so it seems to me.


Brownie at Harry's Place has a simple conclusion to make (but others dissent). Norm likes what he hears from Tony Blair- and so, in fact, do I.

Butler Today.

This discussion of his dilemmas gave me a good head start (via Samizdata)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

British Empire Day Today.

Well, no it isn't, and that we abandoned what was 'Empire Day' and changed its date from Queen Vic's birthday (24th May) to Queen Liz's (June 11th) and its title to 'Commonwealth Day', and don't celebrate it either, tells its own story about head-in-the-sand British denial and self-flagellation (in this sense I'd be all for that ban on smacking ;-) ); there just seems to be a bit of reflection on the topic of Empire at the moment.

I think for a fair number of the British public the war in Iraq conjured up an image of the past; a feeling of colonial meddling that fuelled the absolutism of the marchers. If you didn't feel that way, either because you aren't British (the surest way!) or because you prefer to avoid such stereotypes as British Empire = Evil, that's perhaps why you were open to other arguments including the one that said that getting rid of Saddam was both a pre-emptive move and a progressive one, and that it was not all about oil.

I've always felt that we must resist the desire to characterise the Britsh Empire as evil. There are undoubtedly power relations that are unjust and the British Empire threw up quite a few of them, and if you want an example of overreach it would be a good one, but it's precisely in learning such faults that you see each situation as different and don't equate Rumsfeld with Palmerston or whatever comparisons the modern British mind is inclined to make. That way lunacy lies and they aren't called moonbats for nothing.


The Beeb has an article today about a minor renaissance in the teaching of the British Empire in schools. They call the British Empire a 'thorny' issue; I don't think they mean 'as a rose has thorns', I think they just mean thorny. Of course one issue clouding our history has been that our cousins in the US tended to look down on the Empire (yes, there was some history behind that!), and they certainly backed its dismantlement throughout the 20th C.. This is one reason why 'high' Tories don't back the US more wholeheartedly over Iraq.

Anyway, the Beeb article has come about because there is a new museum, The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, which has opened in Bristol. Actually it opened in 2002, so I guess the Beeb's spiel about it being acceptable to talk about Empire again is partly to deflect attention away from the fact that it's taken them so long to feature it (there are no other hits from a search of the BBC website). I stayed in Bristol last year and if I'd known about it I might have visited.


Natalie Solent has an interesting post at Samizdata. I don't know whether I'd call it an investigation of the intervention of the state into the lifestyles of traditional peoples- the story concerns the Bushmen of the Khalahari desert in Botswana- or an attempt to make sense of BBC reporting. I can definitely relate to her experience trying to piece together the implications of various BBC reports.

It also reminded me about an old book I've got called 'Our Empire Story' which I read as a child towrds the end of the 80's (very much out of line with my contemporaries). According to this book which was given to my father to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953,

'The Bushmen were the most ignorant [of three indigenous S.A. races], although it is thought they were the oldest of the three races. They were of a yellowish-brown colour, and very small. But although they were small, they were very wiry and could run with wonderful speed. They lived in caves and holes in the ground, wore no clothes, and had no possessions at all. They roamed about hunting the wild animals with which Africa swarmed, living on them and on wild plants'
I'm sure the Empire Museum won't put it quite that way- but maybe it won't call them 'wonderful' either.


Via Natalie's own blog I found a blog that seems very cutting edge in the light of the new trend in reexamining the British Empire (I'm sure the Beeb knows what it thinks about it the Empire though.). It's called 'God Save The Queen' so it should get some hits from an odd mix of British patriots and Sex Pistols devotees.


But I think I should end this evening's little disquisition (I just started so I'll finish) by saying whether I think the British Empire was 'bad'. What is my answer to this 'thorny' question? My answer is that I don't think there is such a thing as a 'bad' political entity, although many are if not most are 'bad' in practice. There are 'bad' situations, and the British Empire had many; but doubtless those situations were composed of many incidents, some of which were bad. If these situations were not solved or healed by the people who initiated them then that is 'bad'- and there's no doubt we did start things we haven't solved subsequently. Often though what is bad is the walking away. Like the blogger at God Save The Queen, I'm a fan of Philip Larkin, and he knew that fact well:

Homage To A Government

Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly.
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.

It's hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.

Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.

Philip Larkin- From 'High Windows' F&F 1974

Monday, July 12, 2004

Irony Of The Day: Iraq and France To Restore Relations

Notice how it was Iraq that severed relations with the French in 1991, and no mention is made of relations since, but, amusingly, the French say they wish 'to promote and to reinforce the ties of friendship and co-operation existing between their two countries and two peoples, on the basis of mutual respect for their sovereignty.'

'Co-operation existing', eh? 'Respect for their sovereignty', huh? Every syllable positively dripping with it- and none of it picked up by the Beeb (and neither is any of the 1991-2003 realpolitik that took place reported). By way of a retrospective, this article from March '03 is of interest. But, in the spirit of fraternity and equality, I give the French ambassador (writing April '04) the freedom to defend his country's record.

I join the email-the-biased-Beeb club.

Yup, I did it. I wrote a response in one of their feedback sections (not 'Have Your Say'- this was something I wanted to be read). Ok, it may be a bit over-written, but I needed to say something about the Beeb's behaviour towards this Al-Qaradhawi bloke, who was banned from America with good reason way back in 1999. I think I could have done it better but it's difficult writing coherently in those cramped boxes and without preview (or did I miss something?). Anyway here it is as it was wrote:

Dear Beeb, [I've tacked this on- needed an intro I think]

I am writing to complain about persistently misleading BBC reporting concerning Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi.

Consider these words of Al-Qaradhawi, reported in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London based paper (obtained from Memri):

'" First of all, due to the colonialist, occupying, racist, and [plundering] nature of Israeli society, it is, in fact, a military society. Anyone past childhood, man or woman, is drafted into the Israeli army. Every Israeli is a soldier in the army, either in practical terms or because he is a reservist soldier who can be summoned at any time for war. This fact needs no proof. Those they call 'civilians' are in effect 'soldiers' in the army of the sons of Zion.

" Second , Israeli society has a unique trait that makes it different from the other human societies, and that is that as far as the people of Palestine are concerned, it is a 'society of invaders' who came from outside the region – from Russia or America, from Europe or from the lands of the Orient – to occupy Palestine and settle in it…

"Those who are invaded have the right to fight the invaders with all means at their disposal in order to remove [the invaders] from their homes and send them back to the homes from whence they came… This is a Jihad of necessity, as the clerics call it, and not Jihad of choice… Even if an innocent child is killed as a result of this Jihad – it was not intended, but rather due to the necessities of the war… Even with the passage of time, these [Israeli] so-called 'civilians' do not stop being invaders, evil, tyrants, and oppressors…"

In the BBC2 NewsNight interview with Al-Qaradhawi the translator said that suicide bombings were legitimated because Israeli women were 'militarised'. This reflects Al-Qaradhawi's views fairly, although it ought to be explained that he means that the Israelis en masse are invaders- a fact he considers obvious when the nature of the IDF is considered- and therefore collectively fair targets. You, however, in the Online report, quoted him from the same interview saying '"an Israeli woman is not like women in our societies, because she is a soldier."' This much narrower definition- which sounds superficially less rational that his actual opinion- does not account for suicide bombings by our normal definitions, since many Israeli women in fact do not serve, and we would not consider children, old men or old women (and that you could argue meant 45+) to be in any sense 'combatants'- yet Qaradhawi would consider these targets legitimate.

The fact that Israeli women are conscripted (though many are exempted) is only a fraction of the story. The term 'militarised' much more fully reflects his views. I feel your organisation has changed his words from a natural and valid translation to make them less incendiary- moreover, diminishing them by comparison with other on-the-record statements. Since this man was supposed to be under 'close surveillance' during his stay in Britain, and since for many British people this interview and reports based on it were their 'introduction' to a man revered by groups that support Al Qaeda I regard this a matter of some gravity.

Furthermore, in your article Analysis: Interpreting Islam , you compound your misinformation by saying 'Sheikh Al-Qaradawi believes, for example, that it is right to target Israeli women, because they are army reservists who can be summoned to active duty at any time - an argument that is also used by Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas to justify suicide attacks.'

In fact Al-Qaradhawi's remarks relate to justifying suicide bombings against Israelis period. How does the fact that women can technically be called into the Israeli army justify killing children?
The point is that he has a wider justification for all of this, which you ignore: Al-Qaradhawi advocates (quite clearly) the expulsion of the Jews from the Middle East. He wants to send them back to the countries they came from, and will regard them as aggressors until they have gone.

You simply don't do Al-Qaradhawi's views justice. He's a clever and very influential man with some views that many 'culturally unaware' people would object to. You'd prefer to shield them from that reality: please desist from dissembling and tell it like it is.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Have you ever come across men or women in uniforms selling The WarCry magazine in the street? Well here's the Beeb's 'Anti-WarCry' edition for Sunday 11th July 04 (can't imagine it'll be stealth edited much)- I'll let you decide which one is more evangelical.

By the by- a startlingly interesting article on BBConline from Justin Webb that doesn't make Mark Steyn look like a genius by comparison. Steyn writes about Edwards in the Telegraph today- where there are a number of really hard-hitting and interesting articles (Cummins and Myers that I've read) of which Steyn's (for once) is not the strongest! Steyn's best can be found in the Sun-Times- and this one does make Kerry's recent attack on Bush (the focus of the BBC's Anti-WarCry) look absurd.

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