England's Sword 2.0

Monday, March 31, 2003

Destroying Local Government

Mrs Thatcher neutered local government in the UK when, for some reason, people started voting in local elections on national issues. To consolidate their positions, the extreme leftists elected on the basis that they weren't Tories challenged the national government's authority. Mrs T would not stand for this and cut a swathe through local democracy. It destroyed the left's power base, but had far reaching implications for local accountability. I think it was her greatest mistake not to restore local democracy after the left had been crushed. Now New Labour is simply finishing off what remains. As I've mentioned here before, they have forced local authorities in the South to raise their local tax bills so that they can subsidize failing councils, mostly in the North. The Telegraph calls it The penalty of thrift:

There is a simple enough way to [assess whether the rise is fair]. Look at the percentage rise in your bill, and consider whether local services have improved commensurately. If your council tax has gone up by, say, 20 per cent, have you seen 20 per cent more policemen on your streets, or 20 per cent more dustmen? And if not, where is all the money going? If you live in a Labour borough, most of it will have gone on local administration; if not, it will have gone on someone else's local administration.

The most objectionable feature of all this is that we are destroying the concept of local accountability. Labour's re-jigging of the central government allocation has the effect of rewarding profligacy and punishing thrift: the worse a council performs, the higher its block grant.

Local democracy is absolutely essential to the health of any democratic nation. I hope the Tories are able to take advantage of this in the run-up to the local elections in a month or so's time.

As I said, one Cook is too many

The "principled" resignation of Robin Cook from Tony Blair's cabinet was somewhat tarnished yesterday as he called for British troops to come home before any more died. The Daily Telegraph examines the implications of this statement:

First, and most obviously, catastrophe would fall on Basra. Any citizen who had failed to fight the British would be deemed a collaborator. In southern Iraq, this would be a very wide category indeed: soldiers who deserted, or who were insufficiently zealous in their resistance; civilians who failed to volunteer; families who sought to flee across the lines; anyone unfortunate enough to have fallen foul of the local Ba'athist gauleiters. ...

A second consequence would be, paradoxically, a prolongation of the war that Mr Cook finds so "bloody and unnecessary". British forces are holding a large section of the allied line. Pull them out and Saddam Hussein would pour his forces southward in an attempt to turn the American flank. Whether or not you think this war is justified, it is culpably irresponsible not to seek its swift conclusion.

Above all, a British withdrawal would destroy the whole basis of our post-war foreign policy, leaving us isolated in Washington and Brussels, and despised by our enemies. The Atlantic alliance would never recover from such an act of treachery; nor would Britain's reputation.

Indeed. So why did Cookie make this idiotic assertion?

In fact, there is only one plausible explanation for Mr Cook's action, and it has to do with domestic rather than international circumstances. One of the curious aspects of Tony Blair's premiership is that, unlike previous Labour prime ministers, he has had no senior Left-wing critic on his own benches. The considerable disquiet that he provokes in the Labour movement has therefore had nowhere to coalesce - until now.

In resigning when he did, Mr Cook was consciously seeking to become a kind of contemporary Nye Bevan. If this had simply been a side-effect of his genuine opposition to the war, there would be no dishonour in it. But, yesterday, Mr Cook placed his own ambition above the interests of our troops in the field. Suddenly, his resignation looks rather less principled, and he seems a meaner man.

Anyone who had followed Cook's career could have told you that. His ex-wife, the victim of a spectacular piece of adultery, could probably have done so as well.

Bill Hicks should have read this

The late comedian Bill Hicks used to do a skit about the first Gulf War which included the rather funny joke (I'm paraphrasing here), "You know, just before the war the generals were saying 'The Iraqis have dreadful weapons, terrible weapons.' How did they know? 'We checked the receipt...'"

It's all bunkum, of course. The Dissident Frogman shows us exactly who supplied Iraq with its weapons. USSR/Russia, France and China supplied 72% of Iraq's weapons between them from 1973-2002. The US supplied a measley 1% (UK -- too small to register).


The Mirror is protesting against diabolical American plans to impose Western ideas on Iraq. Stephen Pollard has the dreadful details.

TCS Column Up

Hard Cell looks at the rationale behind banning cell phone use while driving and finds it's not as clear-cut as it seems.

Moral Hazard

In today's Thunderer (always a great column for blogging), Ben Webster makes the case for abolition of concessionary travel for the elderly. I quite agree. For one, much price discrimination can take part in a free market on the part of companies. Given that yield management is a feature key to transport companies (a short explanation: yield management is selling extra seats at slightly above the marginal cost, but usually below the average cost. Think of a plane. When it takes off, the fixed costs are incurred. Therefore, selling a seat for a low amount will provide more net revenue), they have an incentive to fill buses, even at deep-discounted fares. In addition, Webster rightly notes that there's no means-testing involved for a free pass. Although elderly pressure group argue that free travel is needed for errands and visits, the same case could be made for students, another group earning low-incomes.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Why we work

Mr British Spin quotes a lovely song by Elvis Costello about Shipbuilding, one of the great lost industries of the North-East of England. At one point in the first half of the last century, half the world's ships were built on the River Wear. The industry there is as good as dead now. Yet I'm not one to wax nostalgic for dangerous occupations. My grandad was an official in the National Union of Mineworkers and the last thing he wanted was for his son to follow him in his occupation. It was dangerous, hard work, which no father should wish upon his son. That's one of the reasons I found the Miner's Strike in the early 80s so disingenuous. The claim they were fighting for jobs for the community just stuck in my craw. The authentic voice of Tommy Armstrong, the Miner's Poet, should be heard:

Men and boys set out that morning
For to earn their daily bread
Never thinking that by the evening
They'd be numbered with the dead
Let's think of Mrs Burnett
Once had sons but now has none
In the Trimdon Grange disaster
Joseph George and James are gone.

I don't know much about shipbuilding (although I do know that the job of rivet-catcher involved catching red-hot rivets flung at you in a bucket, not the most attractive of occupations), but I for one am glad there are few jobs left in mining in the North-East of England.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Everything's just peachy

I cracked a smile at The Onion's Point-Counterpoint: The War On Iraq. The antiwar forces might say, "See -- you have no argument." The interesting thing is that I was watching a Discovery Wings program today about the RAF and Winston Churchill himself said basically the same thing during the dark days of the Battle of the Atlantic. Hope for the best was essentially his message. How would he have survived modern satire?

I am the Master and you will obey me

Chad Dimpler, Election Analyst has the most important story of, well, ever...

Betrayal and its consequences

We watched Three Kings again tonight. Everyone who has an opinion on the current war should watch it if they haven't already. A more powerful explanation of the betrayal of the Iraqi people at the end of the first Gulf War is impossible to imagine. When the rebel general says he's going back to fight Saddam, you know he is going back to die, probably horribly. I wonder what George H W Bush, Norman Schwartzkopf and Colin Powell thought of this movie. And the fact that the main action takes place near Karbala just adds so much extra poignancy at the moment.

By the way, when I first saw the movie in 1999 I told Kris it had shot straight into my "top five." At the moment, I think it's no. 1.

PP: BTW, the story was by John Ridley, the man who came up with "Undercover Brother" and who also wrote for the sitcoms Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Very interesting.

Friday, March 28, 2003

BBC, yet again

Matthew Turner criticizes my anti-BBC commentary. First a bit of fact-checking. The BBC World Service is funded by the Foreign Office. The BBC Charter specifies that the World Service should work in Britain's national interest. The BBC's War Guidelines state that all views should be reflected in due proportion. Whilst they try to err on the side of the side of those opposing the war, nevertheless, all views should be reflected. So if Abu Hamza is interviewed, so should Nick Griffin, as they're mirror images. The Producers' Guidelines specify that news and editorial staff must not compromise their apparent impartiality by advocating "any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate". In addition, there may be additional constraints on those with the title of "BBC...Editor".

Therefore, the BBC's Charter states that it ought to strongly consider the national interest in times like these. It should mirror the depth and spread of opinion in the UK in times of military action. While there are many anti-war individuals interviewed, I don't think those supporting the removal of Saddam have been on too often. Mr Turner, I acknowledge that I'm not impartial and tend to hold conservative views. However, the BBC's behaviour has contradicted its own guidelines in allowing reporters to continue 'impartial' reporting on events on which they've expressed opinions. The BBC is full of talented individuals, and an individual recusing himself wouldn't be the end of the world.

Money (That's What I Want)

The recording industry has set its crosshairs on a new target: British universities. The British Phonographic Industry has warned university heads that they risk criminal punishment if they collude in copyright theft. This should be interesting, as BPI should have a hard time proving 'collusion'. I'm not quite sure about the legal details, but instinctively, I doubt failing to block Kazaa and Napster could be construed as collusion.

It's hardly the universities' fault that students find these sites attractive. After all, the university is only a service provider, not a content provider. While BPI claims that MP3 downloads clog up bandwidth and computers, there are many peripheral uses of computers which aren't academic. Arguably, I'm just as bad when I blog from a university connection. Then BPI gets on the bully pulpit, claiming that students are generally expected to adhere to the law. Although that's true, given that they represent a crowd notorious for its evasion of the law, it's hard to expect students to behave like cadets, while rock stars behave like.. like.. students. However, BPI does have a point. Universities counter by claiming that each student signs an acceptable use of IT policy. True, but the policy is rarely policed. Even if BPI gets a judgement in their favour, it's squeezing blood from a stone. They must not know about the cashflow crisis over here.

The Twisted Media

A very good column by Stephen Glover in The Spectator on the subject of those elements in the media who are just desparate for the war to go badly:

A friend of mine said to me the other day that he hoped lots of Americans were killed because the United States would be brought down a peg or two. I suspect there are many people, otherwise decent and enlightened, who would like this war to be prolonged and bloody. They may even in a twisted sort of way want lots of Iraqi civilians to be killed because their deaths will vindicate the anti-war arguments. If we did not care about our reputations, if we did not in our silly, selfish way wish always to be shown to be right, we would all ardently hope for the war to be ended as soon as possible with as few deaths as possible, and with Saddam Hussein safely under lock and key. This is, in truth, what every person and every journalist should wish for, whatever their opinions on the war. But I am not sure it is what the Daily Mirror or John Pilger or the (admittedly brilliant) Robert Fisk of the Independent wants. One feels that, whatever happens, they and their sometimes less openly anti-war colleagues in the media will continue to say that the war is not going as well as the allies expected, and they will declare a successful outcome to be deeply unsatisfactory. The war will go on in the newspaper columns and on the airwaves long after the last shot has been fired, as journalists fight to show that they were right.

It is saddening to think that these people probably think they are behaving "ethically". They aren't, and this needs to be pointed out time and time again.

That hot cross bun story...

Looks like a myth. Someone at The Guardian went to the source to check it and found them denying it vehemently:

"First of all, councils don't have the power to do that - only the individual schools have the power to decide what goes in their canteens. So we talked to other councils mentioned in the article - Tower Hamlets, York, Wakefield, Birmingham - the story's got a good geographical spread, it's all very neat and cosy. None of them had banned hot-cross buns in school canteens, and moreover none of the schools had either. I can only speak for Liverpool, but this is a preposterous, made-up story. We've never even provided hot-cross buns, like we've never provided caviar, or lobster! It's potty!

"Then Richard Littlejohn based his entire Sun column on the story, a half- page in the country's best-selling tabloid. He didn't call us either, he just took what the Sunday Telegraph had used. The Birmingham Mail ran the story. And it ran in the Municipal Journal - they reprinted the story and didn't phone to check the facts.

Yet where did the germ of this story come from? Did a Sunday Telegraph journalist simply make it up? In all myths there is a grain of truth. Something happened somewhere (perhaps an off-the-cuff comment by a junior official) or there is an agitprop unit operating in British journalism.

Worse than the shoddy initial investigation, however, was the fact that so many sources (my link was to ITN) reported the story without further reporting on the ground. British journalism has sunk to a sorry level if you can file your copy after reading it in someone else's paper. That sort of thing should be left to, well, bloggers...

Murray praises Irish comics?

No doubt some will castigate me as an apologist for the IRA for doing so, but I found Colin Quinn and Dennis Leary hilarious on "Tough Crowd" tonight. Quinn started off by suggesting that this was the most coureous war in history, and wondered whether rather than leaflets, the US might soon start dropping comment cards )"How do you rate this war?" etc).

Leary, however, had the joke of the night when he suggested that we should drop Michael Moore on Iraq. Now that would be a weapon of mass destruction...

Thursday, March 27, 2003

A Kris post on the thing that's right about America's wrongs

I’ve been thinking a lot about discussions I’ve had with left-leaning friends and family. One shared common thread is how America has done bad things in the past and therefore can not be trusted. Therefore America is bad.

Previously, I argued on other terms – countering their “examples” either by insisting they limit examples to the past 25 years or giving alternative views to their perceptions. No more. Because I’ve realized that if America was really as bad as such left-leaners believe, then they would NEVER have had those examples.

You see, America has one of the freest presses on earth. And indeed, not only are our news organizations protected by free speech, it is in those organizations’ best commercial and philosophical interests to expose corruption, misdeeds, and injustice were ever possible. In many ways, that is one of their principal reasons for existing.

If America did not have its free press, few citizens would learn of any American misdeeds. Now, if left-leaners and anti-Americans are willing to believe the press and use the press’s examples of American wrongs in their arguments, then they must trust the press. America’s government (the same one these people dislike so much) protects this free press even when the press is working to expose their policies.

This is a good thing about America. It is one of the reasons, I believe, that America always tries to do the morally correct thing. We mess up. Individuals in the government (or corporate America for that matter) do something wrong and try to hide their misdeeds, but our free press can and does expose these crimes for the greater good. Keeping America a more honest place.

So when anti-Americans start to bring up all their nonsense about how America is bad, I will explain how free speech and a free press keep our government and business far more honest and careful not to do wrong than other places on earth. Then, I will point out that years pass between America doing truly “wrong” things. Which should be remembered when comparing America to countries where the torture, murder, rape, corruption, and oppression of truly awful governments occur daily. But that is a whole different post.

-- Post by Kris Murray (Iain's American wife)

Our troops

Not to seem a jingoist, but the conduct of our allied Anglosphere forces in liberating Iraq fills me with pride. It is not the convincing victories, but the humanity with which they treat the liberated Iraqis that most Americans find the most admirable feat of the war. While many countries abound with brave soldiers, the Anglosphere is particularily noted in recent history for its concern for the citizens of the nations in which it acts. I've never heard of the French caring about the citizens of the countries in which they intervene in Africa. For the majority of those affected (excepting those close to the wounded and deceased), the war will subside in their mind far sooner than their memories of how our force treated ordinary Iraqis. From the French I know who survived WW2, they dwell far more on their interactions with individuals as opposed to the wider picture. Our troops' conduct will echo into posterity, while memories of the last war in the Gulf faded relatively quickly.

Oh dear, I just heard a BBC anchor claim that a B-52 is going to 'drop cruise missiles' on Baghdad. This is an example of its reporting. I don't mind slant nearly as much as extreme ineptitude. I'd prefer that the BBC aim at 'balance' as opposed to 'impartiality'. With balance, you get charged and inventive reporting, without the attempt to make it soporific and meaningless.

Yet another BBC distortion. As regards the missile that struck the Iraqi marketplace in Baghdad, whilst the BBC correspondent claimed that the US Army claimed that it was an Iraqi missile, they cut to a clip where the US spokesman in Qatar stated that it was "entirely possible" that the explosion was from a misguided or deliberately targeted Iraqi missile. Although it is "entirely possible" that the Milwaukee Brewers may win the World Series, or Sunderland will win the Premiership and Charity Shield Double, I'd hardly call that a claim that either team will accomplish the goal, or even a statement that such an outcome is probable.

Just heard Andrew Marr reporting from Washington. Although I may disagree with his views, and perhaps (inaccurately?) read a slight gloss into his opinions, he's one of the few who tries to be objective, or at least report what occurs, as opposed to contradicting what the clips the BBC provides states.

The Cat in the White Hat

Professor Reynolds has a link on hackers taking over Al-Jazeera's website. There's a far better target, fellows, especially given your creed of freedom of information and expression. Go here, and fire away. Oddly enough, I've heard from a friend in China that although CNN.com is banned, National Review is still permitted. Tempting, isn't it?

BBC idiocy

Every time I've watched the BBC since the crisis, let alone the war, started, the BBC anchor has always asked her correspondent whether the American public is behind the war, and always receives a very nebulous response, bordering on grudging acceptance. I'm apparently missing the bulk of US public opinion over here in the UK, or BBC North America excises that bit. Perhaps they view the number of protestors in front of the White House as indicative of American public opinion. Come to think of it, I've never seen a BBC reporter sending a story in from outside Washington or New York. Imagine what the BBC could do with Hollywood opinions. Imagine the shock when they confront Southerners and blunt Midwesterners. Perhaps they'll find that Bush's patriotism and conviction as well as Rumsfeld's straightforward manner aren't atypical, but reflective of their origins. Then again, that's far too much to ask of the BBC.

A criticism for all networks: Where did you find some of these talking heads? All of them seem to report the obvious and logical as their analysis, and I haven't ever heard of any of them. I've heard P.J. O'Rourke is a correspondent for Fox News, but haven't seen him on Sky over here.

The power to mislead

Take a look at the heart-wrenching story UK troops burn family photos. About half-way down this tale of what soldiers have to do with personal possessions in order to protect themselves from interrogation is a quotation from an army wife, saying that her son is upset that his Daddy can't carry his photo. There's an illustration there of a woman cradling her child, so we naturally assume this is the woman in question. Yet the photograph of the military man in the illustration is clearly of a sailor. Is this the woman in question, and she isn't an "army wife" at all? Or is this just a stock photo used to affect our emotions? The choice is incompetence or deliberate deception. Neither is universally acknowledged as a journalistic virtue.

PETA vs the French

While dolphins are helping us in the Gulf (yes, I thought this was a joke, but it appears to be true), the French are slaughtering them in their overfishing of certain Atlantic fish stocks. Two hundred have washed up on British beaches while HMG is virtually powerless to act. If we were outside the EU, of course, we could send fisheries protection vehicles to sort the French (and, sadly, the Spanish) out. Can we get PETA to say "Out Now!"?

Arresting development

This is worrying. HMG want police to be allowed to take fingerprints and DNA samples from anyone they arrest, not just those they charge. I agree with John Wadham of Liberty:

"If the government wants a national DNA and fingerprint database of all innocent citizens, and wants to treat us all as suspects not citizens, it should come out and say so," said Mr Wadham.

Fingerprints and DNA could already be taken if there was significant evidence that somebody was involved in a crime, he said.

"This simply treats everyone who has ever been wrongly arrested as guilty by implication," added Mr Wadham.
What next? Police allowed to take samples from those who come in to ask them a question or report a crime? After all, you never know who might be lying to you. This sort of thing will just alienate the public further from those who are supposed to be protecting them.

Ponnuru on the Anglosphere

Ramesh Ponnuru's National Review article on the Anglosphere has been shortened and reprinted in The Australian.

Demolish churches now!

This takes the cake:

[A Parliamentary motion by Andrew Rosindell MP] follows reports last week that some councils, concerned that non-Christians may be offended by the symbol of the Cross, have banned schools from serving hot-cross buns.

The Muslim Council of Britain branded it "absolutely amazing".

Count me alongside the Muslim Council of Britain. I'm sure all people of faith have been offended by this bone-headed act.

Thanks to Rich for the tip-off.

Irresponsible Journalism

The Village Voice has advertised a picket outside Senator Chuck Schumer's house, printing what apparently may be his home address. While I am no fan of Senator Schumer, I view this as the height of irresponsible journalism, especially in these times of terror. In times of peace, elected officials deserve to spend time at home without harassment or constant petitioning. With the current terrorist threat, he's now a target, and what better way to aid them than by publishing his home address! I can also assure you that there's no better way to antagonize someone in Congress than to annoy them at home. The right to petition your representative exists, but there is no right to harass, and the Village Voice is irresponsible for abetting this. I hope they get their press credentials yanked for a while to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, Schumer's too much of a publicity monger to show any discontent. It is said that the most dangerous place in Washington is between him and a television camera.

Requiescat in Pace

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the great social thinkers of his generation, has died at 75. He exemplified a type all too rare these days, a man who regarded service to his country as above partisan politics.

Indoctrinate the Children

Apparently, AA Milne has gone socialist. Found this on an apparently serious socialist site.


The Guardian's got it all wrong. Amusingly enough, it confuses popular distaste for extremist anti-war sentiments (as voiced by another Guardian writer here) with suppression of expression. I guess all the protestors in San Francisco, Washington, and New York were all arrested. To Gary Younge, disagreeing with someone else's view is 'intolerance', and acts of protests like burning the Dixie Chicks' newest album threaten democracy whilst protesting in the street and breaking laws (trespassing onto private property or obstructing its use) are kosher. While voicing your discontent with the latest celebrity idiocy is McCarthyism, trying to storm the US Embassy or Federal buildings to destroy or trash them is usual expression. From Mr Younge's perspective, we live in a country second only to North Korea in its lack of freedom. I find it amazing how skewed a notion of democracy most of these protestors have. They often expound that Blair's actions are not democratic, as he is not listening to them, yet, like Anna Stothard, claim that they need not attend any more civics or citizenship classes which conflict with protests. Radio stations in the US sponsoring troops rallies are accused of cronyism, while those financially supporting the anti-war movement deserve canonization.
They demand the arrest of Bush and Blair for war crimes, yet ignore others like Clinton, who also launched attacks on Iraq without UN authorisation. Isn't it a matter of actions taken as opposed to scale? After all, Milosevic was never at 'war'. Yet, to most of them, Uncle Joe Stalin never did any wrong, as he kept any killings within his borders. That's what sovereignty means to CND types, the right to kill your own people without interference. There are those of principle who oppose the war, but are frightened off by groups of lawbreakers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

More on the BBC

To clarify my previous post on BBC bias. I was overboard in claiming that most of the editorial staff attends Marxist marches. However, I do consider the Stop The War coalition Marxist, given that it's composed chiefly of CND, Socialist Workers, Anarchist, and Greens. Even the Economist reported in a past issue that many moderates who oppose the war have been scared away from participation by the extremist nature of the organisers. I view the situation here as analagous to that of an employee of an investment bank. Despite the fact that employees can trade on their own accord without breaking laws on insider trading (which requires actual knowledge of participation, as opposed to mere coincidence that an employee of the bank halfway across the world may be handing the underwriting, unbeknownst to the trader), all trades are vetted by a compliance officer, and failure to clear trades probably would get you fired, as the bank wishes to preserve a reputation for ethics. In that vein, if the BBC wishes to preserve a reputation for impartiality, it must be above suspicion. What strikes me as truly worrying is the conflict between Andrew Marr's position and what's become a publicly voiced desire to attend the anti-war march, given that Marr is reporting on the domestic political element of the war. Although it seems that someone leaked his desire to attend, rather than his announcing it, it puts him in a rather sticky position as regards impartial comment on the war.

What have the Americans ever done for us?

The Daily Mirror has been comparing the plight of American POWs to the prisoners at Guantanmo Bay. Tony Blair was barracked at PMQs for saying that those prisoners had no right to be treated according to the Geneva Convention. Well I hope the Mirror's hacks and the Labour backbenchers read the Boston Globe report linked to by Jeff Jarvis. Here's what one of the released prisoners had to say:

''The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day -- eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn't wash, they'd wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games,'' said Sirajuddin, 24, a taxi driver from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He said he was forcibly conscripted by the militia and captured by a notorious warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who ''sold us to the US.''

Before Kabul jail authorities told the men that they would be released, Sirajuddin said: ''The conditions here are worse than terrible. If we are to be imprisoned, I want to go back to Guantanamo,'' he said, banging on a table.

"I want to go back to Guantanamo." Those words should be thrown in the face of The Mirror and Labour and Tory relativists every time they bring the subject up.

(Oh, and before people object that "Sirajuuddin was innocent," remember that you will rarely find a prisoner who admits he should have been incarcerated).

Propaganda Count

Marc Herold is back. He has joined together with a number of British activists to create a web-based "Iraq Body Count" estimate of the number of civilian casualties in the Iraq war. Yet the new group's methodology is open to much the same criticism as his previous study, because it allows a role for propaganda that is deeply uncritical.

As the group's methodology demonstrates, if the Iraqi information minister says 50 people were killed and that is picked up uncritically by Al-Jazeera and, say, The Times of India, it goes in both the minimum and the maximum count. It is only if someone else disagrees eg CENTCOM says "yes, a bomb did go astray and killed 5 people" and that is then reported by two sources that the minimum figure is adjusted downwards. If no mention is made of the alleged attack elsewhere, then the figure remains in the minimum column. The result, of course, is a "minimum" figure that is anything but.

This is shoddy methodology. Academics should have more respect for the accuracy of data than this. An appropriate method would be to say "this is what the Iraqi state is saying and this is what we estimate Western journalists are saying" but they're not doing that.

Of course, there is a public need for estimates of the civilian body count, especially given our stated humanitarian aims in this conflict, but that public need should be satisfied by accurate rather than inaccurate information. I'd have more respect for them if they hadn't included a web-applet showing a B-2 dropping bombs for people to add to their sites. This is a further step away from responsible, scientific data-gathering.

Our Common Heritage

My friends Nile Gardiner and comedic genius John Hulsman of The Heritage Foundation deftly sum up the current America-UK-Europe dynamic in his latest Heritage Foundation issue brief. For Americans coming to the issue for the first time (as many at even the highest levels are), this is a must-read:

There is a striking correlation between the pro-federalist voices in Europe and those who oppose American power on the world stage. It is vital that the European Union does not become a rallying point for global anti-Americanism. As such, it will be in the interests of the United States to seek to weaken the federalist instincts of Berlin and Paris, and strengthen the hand of those European governments opposed to the concept of a highly centralized Europe.

In the years ahead there will be increasing calls in Washington for a Europe of independent nation states, held together not by an artificial constitution and undemocratic government, but by the principles of free trade, individual liberty and national identity. Britain, by virtue of Tony Blair' s farsighted diplomatic support for America, has assured itself of the primary role in driving this new vision of Europe, which in the end will best suit the many diverse citizens of the continent. ...

With the support of the Spaniards, Poles and other nations of Eastern and Central Europe about to enter the European Union, America and Britain must present a new vision for Europe. The grandiose dream of a united federal Europe, so beloved of French and German strategists, must be firmly rejected. In its place, Washington and London must call for a flexible Europe, united by a common heritage and culture, but which maintains the principle of national sovereignty at its core.

If I have one slight quibble, it is that the French vision of a united Europe has always been slightly different from the German. A French united Europe would retain national sovereignty limited severely by "blocks and balances," to coin a phrase. France would ignore them blithely, while relying on them to hobble Britain and Germany, I suspect. To the French technocrats, the European Project seems to me to have always been about ensuring French dominance of Europe, while the Germans viewed it as an ideal federal paradise. Nevertheless, the two have worked together so closely that it is fair to characterize them as united.

BBC Reporters, yes. BBC editors? No thanks!

I've said below that the BBC reporting of this war has been exemplary, but that the analysis of it has been as bad as anyone else's. Thanks to Harry Hatchet, ne Harry Steele, for this Guardian report about a BBC reporter who's fed up with what his editors are doing:

"I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering 'significant casualties'. This is simply not true," Adams said in the memo.

"Nor is it true to say - as the same intro stated - that coalition forces are fighting 'guerrillas'. It may be guerrilla warfare, but they are not guerrillas," he stormed.

"Who dreamed up the line that the coalition are achieving 'small victories at a very high price?' The truth is exactly the opposite. The gains are huge and costs still relatively low. This is real warfare, however one-sided, and losses are to be expected," Adams continued.

There are three layers of obsfuscation affecting the information the public is getting about this war. The first is the generally-expected "fog of war," which means that the reporters on the ground can't be sure that what they're seeing reflects the big picture, but they're reporting to the best of their ability. The second is the filter the military applies to the rest of what is happening, which may include disinformation. This is probably necessary even in advanced democracies. As Churchill (I think) said, "The truth is so important it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies." The third, which is entirely unwarranted, is the media spin, of whatever sort, that portrays one casualty as "the worst news possible" or tentative reports of an uprising as "the turning point in the war."

That's why I probably won't be commenting on events until I've seen them in several different sources, and why I certainly won't be commenting on the tactics of the war. God save us from armchair generals (I happen to agree with Stephen Pollard that Michael Gove's piece yesterday was remarkably ill-judged for a man who is so often right) and from posturing doom-mongers.

Oh, one exception on events. If the Brits are reporting something interesting that isn't making the US news, I'll report it here, although the American networks have woken up to the fact that there's at least one other country involved in serious fighting since the news about Basra broke.

Graphic Mistake

Go about half-way down this CBS News Poll and you will see one of the most egregious examples of graphic incompetence I have ever seen. Under the heading "Removing Saddam worth the cost?" are a series of numbers and a series of bars supposedly proportionate in length to the numbers. Yet the Monday figure for "yes" of 63% is half the length of the Sunday figure of 66%, and even the Thursday-Friday figure of 62%. Most of the other figures seem about right, but that mistake should have been caught.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

And if you want something different...

Chad Dimpler, Election Analyst, is back. Huzzah!


If you'd like breaking news about Basra, where British reporters suggested and British forces have now confirmed a Shi'ite uprising is taking place, check out The Command Post, which is the blog source for breaking news in this conflict, Sky News for video coverage and, yes, the Beeb.

Rapiers at dawn

John O'Sullivan is right to call the fight between Blair and Chirac the British-French duel in his excellent commentary piece for UPI. Becuase this is about more than the two men's political lives. It is about the honour and prestige of their countries. The outcome may well decide the future of Europe. The image also springs into mind of Spain and Germany acting as the respective seconds, each holding their ally's cloak. From the way some, like Robin Cook, describe it, you'd think Blair was a D'Artagnan newly arrived in Paris, having offended everyone and lining up for duel after duel. No, this is Blair versus Chirac, but Blair has his musketeers behind him. That makes Chirac, I suppose, Captain of the Cardinal's Guard...

Order in the Court

Today's British press contains several editorials accusing the US of a double standard in insisting that Iraq adhere to the Geneva Convention in treatment of POWs, while keeping Al-Qaeda operatives in Guantanamo Bay. Those visiting Guantanamo Bay state that the captives are treated humanely, and even have some perks (such as air conditioning) that their guards do not possess.

But to get onto the subject of international law. To me, much of it has lost its moral credibility. The UN Charter's defenders seem to wrap themselves in excessive legalism, without understanding of the moral principles underpinning the terms of the charter, as well as an ignorance of the historical conditions which led to the charter. The basic principles of sovereignty is a farce. While many oppressive regimes use sovereignty as a fig leaf to decry the slightest interference, they are held to be equal to the decisions of democratic states. Sovereignty's origin is in the works of Rousseau, claiming that governments derived popular sovereignty from the consent of the governed. Clearly, this is absent in oppressive regimes, yet due to the corruption of the UN system, dictatorships such as Zimbabwe have more say than the democratically elected government of Taiwan, expelled due to the One China policy. It is morally abhorrent that the opinions of butchers such as Mugabe are equally respected to that of peacefully elected governments, and as such, one would imagine that they theoretically ought not to hold the same rights as republics. It's entirely fair to question the legitimacy of decisions made by an organization whose structure's legitimacy is questionable.

Two more timely international issues are that of US refusal to adopt the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court. While the legalists insist that th US is morally obliged to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, due to President Clinton's assent, the text of the protocol specifically states in Article 24 that it is subject to ratification. Therefore, all President Clinton could do with his agreement was to assent personally, without binding the US. It's similar for the ICC. Increasingly, certain organizations have been trying to enforce their view of policy and optimal regulation through transnational bodies. The EU's use of the WTO to attempt to force the US to recognize its definition of intellectual property rights and defenses, as opposed to those agreed upon by all parties in Paris, is but an example. One wonders how democratic an organization is in which a despot casts a vote equivalent to that of a republic of millions of people. Speaking of democracy, the Greek EU Presidency invites participants to vote to help provide an opinion on the future of Europe. Just like yougov polls, the results should be interesting.

BBC Bias

Trawling through the Guardian, I came across further evidence of BBC bias. Apparently, the BBC prevented a host of its employees from showing up at the anti-war march. While it's fine for them to hold their opinions, if the BBC wishes to present itself as an impartial news source, surely the hiring of activist journalists can't help. One alternative is to present a Crossfire-esque programme, with avowed leftists going at rightists. However, it's risible to claim impartiality when most of your editorial staff flocks to Marxist marches. Many of these names are intelligent people, and far better that they voice their opinions like Rod Liddle did, then hide behind a veneer of impartiality.

BBC Reporting: more examples of quality

Glenn Reynolds himself has recommended the BBC Reporters' Log. There are a couple of interesting tidbits here:

The local Iraqi people greeted us with smiles and waves and children gleefully accepted chocolate from the troops who are with me. The troops are still keenly aware of the risks of snipers and are on constant lookout.

This seems to indicate to me that the more our forces gain control, the more likely we are to see cheering. This tends to lend credence, I think, to the official American/British position that the people will not express their true emotions until they know Saddam and his death squads are no longer a threat to them.


British troops have replaced American marines in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

The past 24 hours has been generally quiet. Whether that's a measure of the different tactics employed by the British forces rather than the Americans, it's hard to tell.

The Royal Marines are very experienced at urban conflict, patrolling street to street and zoning off areas. And they have a much more 'hearts and minds' approach than the Americans.

The Americans tended to be much more confrontational. If they saw problems they tended to retreat and open fire if necessary. Whereas the British approach certainly has been to move in with a small squad, surround the area, and detain a few people. It seems to be working on the face of it.

Followed by:

In a funny sort of way, the way the Marines are operating looks very similar to Northern Ireland. If you take the buildings away and change the architecture - you see small groups going in, one man at the back covering the rear, all the windows and openings of buildings covered, and so on.

It's a sort of warfare that these British infantry forces are very experienced in, probably a great deal more experienced than American forces in the region.

This campaign clearly requires two sorts of expertise: the strike capability that the Americans are unrivalled in, and the urban warfare that the British lead the world in (sadly). While we must take nothing away from the massive American force being deployed, I hope Americans realize that without the significant British contribution, this war would kill many more, either American troops or Iraqi civilians. The US Government must remember that after the event.

Holding the Executive to Account

It seems that Jane Eisner of the Philadelphia Inquirer is a convert to the Parliamentary system. As regular readers of this blog know, I have long believed that one area where the British constitution scores big over the American is in the realm of holding the Executive to account. This forces leaders to pay much more attention to making their case among the people as well as before the House. Here's Ms. Eisner's account of the undeniable leadership Tony Blair has shown in the last few weeks:

Blair has walked right into the lion's den, armed only with his formidable intellect, honed debating skills and an obviously deep commitment to his cause. He has taken questions from an audience of critical young people organized by MTV and from a group of openly hostile citizens in a forum moderated - if that word can be used - by an interrogator who would make the Weakest Link dominatrix look like Mary Poppins.

And he subjects himself to endless challenges in regular appearances in the raucous House of Commons, where Prime Minister's Question Time can be the verbal equivalent of an old West gunfight - broadcast live. Margaret Thatcher, not a lily-livered politician by any means, used to say that she could barely eat before QT, the experience was that demanding. (And stomach-churning.)

Imagine President Bush appearing before the Philadelphia City Council. Twice a week.

Actually, Tony Blair abolished the old system of twice a week 15 minute PMQs and replaced it with one 30 minute session. This is a case where the sum of the parts was greater than the whole.

As you may know, I favor the separation of the executive from the legislature in Britain, but I still believe this feature of accountability should be retained. Ministers could be called to the bar of the House to account for their actions, which would make for an even more uncomfortable experience, given that they would have no cheering backbenchers behind them. I also have a gut feeling that the House should retain its right to vote no confidence in a government, thereby forcing an election, and that the Prime Minister should retain the right to seek a new mandate, although I'm not sure how this could be made workable in practice to avoid revolving door democracy (perhaps if a vote of no confidence also forced a dissolution of the House, members might be less willing to use their power).

Anyway, Ms Eisner finishes with a gracious nod to the British people and Tony Blair:

All this despite the drubbing the British took from our own defense secretary, and the awful death toll they have suffered in the last few days at the hands of American friendly fire. Nobody handles adversity like the British. Right now, nobody leads like them, either.

Leadership is strengthened by accountability. Is it any wonder tyrants seek to avoid it?

Monday, March 24, 2003


Also up on the UPI site is my Commentary: British public opinion on war, which distills a lot of what I've said here about British will and the UN.

Recent Research Suggests Up

My latest UPI column is up here.

War Moment

Like Harry Steele, I don't propose to provide minute-by-minute updates on the war. Many who do, on both sides of the pro-war/ anti-war divide are failing to see the wood for the trees, in my opinion, and that, I think, is the only thing worth substantively commenting on at present.

I've grown increasingly frustrated at the TV coverage of this war. There are, quite simply, too many talking heads 'opining' (as Donald Rumsfeld would put it) about whatever minor incident happens to have taken place within the eyepiece of an embedded reporter's videophone. Small firefights have had endless tactical analysis devoted to them while the battle around Basra got virtually no play anywhere.

As a result, there are only two channels I have any time for: Fox, for the simple reason that its Pentagon reporters are far more plugged in than the other channels', meaning that they get breaking news like the discovery of the possible chemical weapons facility earlier than anyone else. The other, and this will come as a surprise to those who have read my repeated pleas to privatize the beast, is the BBC. It is important for us to know what questions are being asked about this conflict elsewhere in the world, and the Beeb provides the best coverage of that. So its reporters ask tough, skeptical questions of the Generals? So what? I agree its pretty silly to ask questions that they know the Generals won't or can't answer, but it's also pretty silly to ask softball questions. The Beeb also provides at least some coverage of the British operations. To watch anything other than Fox (which at least has some Sky feed occasionally) over here you'd be unaware that the UK had devoted 40,000 men to this action. The only mention the Brits get on CNN or MSNBC is when friendly fire or accidents kill yet more British troops.

(Incidentally, on friendly fire, I do not agree with Harry's call for apologies. For the US to apologize immediately is to prejudge the issue. Who knows whose fault these incidents were? The US can express regret, as it has done, but apologies are for later, when all the facts are known. I note that it has now done so in the case of the downed Tornado, following the investigation).

Where the BBC is at fault and deserves criticism is not in its reporting, but in its analysis. This piece by Paul Reynolds is a case in point. You'd have to be an idiot not to guess that Umm Qasr, the main deep water port of Iraq, would be a target. Basing your argument on those two words is plain silly. But this story shows the overall quality of the reporting itself:

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Qatar, said: "Some of the reporting surrounding what's going on has been terribly, terribly misleading, because it is focusing on some specific episodes which at the level here, the big strategic level, are almost irrelevant.

"You have to keep your eye on the big picture, and the big picture is one of extraordinarily rapid progress."

That's the best summary of the media coverage of the war I've come across so far.

Currant Affairs

Peter Cuthbertson (whose blog has moved) recommends au currant: politics, media & lowbrow culture. He's right to do so.

Michael Moore is a Big Fat Idiot

Now there's a title for a book. Anyone who manages to get booed at an Oscar ceremony for being too liberal must have serious questions asked about their judgment. Also funny how in all the references to the "unelected President" he makes he never addresses the possibility that his support for Ralph Nader might have swung the election to said President. Anyway, Ken Layne has a great series of links to liberal take-downs of Moore's supposed documentary.

Increasing influence?

Here we go. Javier Solana, the EU's "High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy," a title one step below Lord High Poohbah in my opinion, has finally suggested that the EU should have one seat at the UN. Those idiots who say that Britain has to be in the EU to increase its influence internationally are revealed as bare-faced liars. Membership of the EU could strip Britain of its permanent UNSC seat and veto, which would result in a clear diminution of its international influence. I've been saying this would happen almost as long as this blog has been going. I'll be interested to hear official reaction to this from around the EU. If the French say yes, we know what the real agenda is.

One Cook is One Too Many

Robin Cook is really setting out his stall as leader of the British Transnationalists, challenging Charles Kennedy more than Tony Blair, I think. According to this EUobserver precis of an interview with him in the Observer, he seems to want Britain to kowtow to Chirac and his cronies:

"Britain must heal the wounds with Europe, particularly France and Germany," says Robin Cook in his first major interview since resigning from Tony Blair's Cabinet in protest over the British Iraq policy.

So we heal our "wounds" with Europe by stabbing Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and the applicant countries in the back, do we? No, Cookie has failed to appreciate what should be blindingly obvious: that this isn't Britain vs Europe. Europe itself is divided. Next:

In an interview published on Sunday by the Observer, Mr Cook said, "the Bush administration does not share the values of Britain or Europe".

"If Britain does not find a way to say no to the US then the concept of international solidarity is dead".

This begs the question: what are those values America does not share? The clue, perhaps, is that reference to "international solidarity," which seems to mean the imposition of views that not everyone shares on all nations. The irony is that Cook seems to believe that the US is doing this, while in reality what is happening underlines that nations can have differing opinions on serious matters. International solidarity is not a greater good than certain other values historically shared by Britain and the US. If Cook believes it is, then he might just be a Transnational Progressive. Onwards:

"America is a hyper-power, it can afford to go it alone,'" Mr Cook said. "Britain is not a superpower. It is not in our interests to contribute to a weakening and a sidelining of international bodies like the Security Council. The Security Council and the system of world order governed by rules have been badly damaged."

Cook uses the transnationalists' shibboleth -- "hyper-power" -- and then goes on to diss his own nation. As I've said many times here, Britain is probably the second most powerful nation on Earth, based on the combination of military strength, ability to project it and economic might. Who exactly poses a threat to Britain that the UN is frightening off? And surely even Cook recognizes that rules that are inappropriate to modern situations need to be changed.

This interview encapsulates all that is wrong about the transnationalists' approach to the world. Charlie should invite him to join the Lib Dems, given that he clearly shares so much of their agenda.

TCS Column Up

My latest Tech Central Station column is up. $6.1 Million Men looks at the arcane science of valuing life, and suggests that the EPA may have produced inflated benefits for its environmental schemes as a result of ascribing too high a value to life.

Nepotism and the War

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Dubya Bush is not the only second-generation individual involved in the war. Yesterday, the Independent ran Zoe Pilger's editorial, today, it's Anna Stothard's turn to justify truancy due to political involvement. Both these individuals are myopic enough not to realize that a large amount of these protests are led by agit-prop socialists and teachers. Pilger's article seems to have been written with Daddy's help (see Tim Blair), while I wouldn't attribute Anna Stothard's opinions to the former editor of the Times.

Anna claims that "it's foolish to encourage students to learn about politics... but not to let them express their views in public". Last I checked, no one was preventing them from free expression, only demanding that they follow the legal requirement to stay in school during school hours. After all, there are quite a few protests on the weekend and after hours, so this excuse falls by the wayside. She also accepts some of the naivete of the protest movement as well as the undercurrent of truancy. Her argument rests on the assertion that participating in these protests is an open-air classroom in international relations. Well, if they want to do the extra credit work on the weekend, they're welcome to protest. But I don't see how skipping your history class helps you learn more history, especially given that most of these protestors haven't the slightest clue what actually went on in Iraq, and only recently have found out where it is. I hear more conspiracy theories from the mouths of protestors ("after all, Condi Rice has an oil tanker named after her". So does Glenn Tilton, CEO of United.. they served on Chevron's board together... and I don't have the foggiest what Mr Tilton thinks about the war) than from many other sources. If listening to Chomskyite theories about how corporations govern the planet is education, so is reading the Sun. Students hardly lack a voice, given the plethora of events avaliable for them to opine within the school.

Next time, instead of hearing from a columnist or editor's daughter, I'd love to hear a socialist organizer write a piece on the war. That would help display how truly loony these people are, and how it's probably best not to have children learning anything from them (especially a sense of hygiene).

Sunday, March 23, 2003

More thoughts

First of all, I am appalled by the BBC's broadcasting of the war. 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. If you take your lifeblood from the teat of government, you owe it an obligation. If not, the funding should be cut. I'm looking forward to having my door beaten down by TV licensing officials after receiving yet another threatening letter from TV Licensing... despite the fact that I've never had a TV.

Secondly, Bush's role in Iraq must be increased after the Al-Jazeera airing of the murder of US POWs. I'm convinced that Americans will turn incandescent after viewing the pictures and video. As Andrew Sullivan has said, it's Daniel Pearl all over again, except on a larger scale. Previously, Bush could have viewed the action as a success (politically) if there was a regime change. Now, I believe that Bush needs to get Saddam and make an example of him. While deaths are regrettably part of war, and probably accepted grudgingly by Americans, showing pictures of corpses on TV is beyond the pale of expectations, leading to a resulting bloodlust. To the millions of irate voters, a victory is no longer enough. Revenge will be desired. I'm not sure if the President's suggestion of a war crimes tribunal for the perpetrators will be enough.

Friday, March 21, 2003

True Friends

The French Embassy in the US has a paean to our shared values... rather amusing.

And the Kings of earth in fear

Just saw the first pictures I've seen of jubilant Iraqis celebrating Allied arrival. Jolly good. But what was more important was what they were saying: "Saddam is dead," according to the translators. In some ways, this makes the question of whether we killed Saddam or not irrelevant. If the word of mouth is spreading that Saddam is dead, then his regime is over.

Which makes the line I quote above (from the poem whence this blog's title is derived) seem more and more apposite:

"And the Kings of earth in fear shall shudder when they hear
What the hand of God hath wrought for the Houses and the Word."

Tyrants all over the world should take Saddam's fate to heart. With the very first shot of the war we may have killed him and at the very least loosened his grip of fear over his people.

PP: They're now saying the people were saying "Saddam's days are numbered." Ah well. Still, I think Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il will probably have required a change of trousers after they heard the news.


Sadly, this is unsourced, but sounds right:


The absence of the British Defence Minister, Geoff Hoon, from a routine EU defence ministers' meeting in Greece on Friday and Saturday (He had "more urgent business" to attend to in London, he said) could not have been more symbolic. Nonetheless, the French Defence Minister, Michel Alliot-Marie, tried to pretend that all was well: "Our transient differences," she said, "will not impede our will to make progress with European defence." The only problem with her optimistic statement is that the backbone of European defence is Franco-British co-operation - the one relationship which has soured more than any other within the EU.

At the beginning of April, the EU is to take over from Nato in the running of Macedonia, and supporters of European defence are looking forward to this with glee. (They seem less interested in the actual resolution of the crisis in that country, so keen are they to have their own EU protectorate.) But apparently Macedonia is only the amuse-bouche for other more important military dishes: the EU wants to take over peacekeeping operations in Bosnia as well. There seems, therefore, to be little chance of the situation being resolved there either, now that institutional interests are firmly driving the agenda. The EU already has a police mission in Bosnia & Herzegovina composed of 510 policemen under the command of Javier Solana; it is now looking forward to greater glory.

CFSP is dead, thank goodness. Wouldn't surprise me, though, if it rose like a vampire in a year or so.

Collateral Benefit

The Irish National Platform is an isolationist group that almost got the Nice Treaty on the future of the EU scuppered. They're currently anti-war, which I think is consistent with their general outlook. Anyway, in their recent e-mail alerts have been a couple of very interesting gobbets gleaned from European sources, such as:


The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who supports the US-UK attack on Iraq, has expressed the fear that the chances of the European constitution being signed in Rome in December, as planned, are receding. Although Berlusconi, in a meeting with Gerhard Schroder, has said that he was very attached to the December deadline, because he wanted the new constitution to be signed in Rome. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the chairman of the Convention which is drawing up the document, admitted on 14th March that the Constitution could probably not be presented to the European Council in Thessaloniki on 20th and 21st June, as planned. He claimed to see no problem in delaying the conclusion of his Convention's work to the end of September; but the risk, in the eyes of the supporters of the constitution, is that any delay now will only snowball.

Giscard thinks there should be a special summit devoted only to the constitution, to be held in October or November; but there might still be disagreements then, especially since the new member states are involved in the process too. Four member states (Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the United Kingdom) have joined six candidate countries (Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Latvia) in asking for a period of reflection between the end of the Convention's work and the beginning of the Inter-governmental Conference that will actually draw up the new treaty.

The EU candidate states do not want the Constitution to be signed before they join on 1st May 2004, by which time the presidency will be held by Ireland. So Berlusconi seems to have lost grip of "his" ceremony in Rome this December. But according to commentators, his support for the British, Danish, Portuguese and Spanish governments on the Iraq crisis has pushed suspicion among EU states to their highest imaginable level. Under the circumstances created by the Iraq crisis, Paris and Berlin are unlikely to accept that foreign policy should be decided by majority vote. But just as disagreements and national reflexes of the European states could not be greater, Giscard is still talking about the "profound unity of European peoples" which he wants to "come to the surface." [Liberation, 18th March 2003]

The Iraq crisis has turned over the stone of "European unity." There are all sorts of unpleasant things crawling underneath.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Idle thoughts

Watching the news tonight, I am completely sick of the excuse for opposing the war given by certain Muslims that Hussein is their co-religionist. Somehow, I doubt he's observant. Therefore, in a similar vein, all Christians ought to support Milosevic, Mugabe, Gerry Adams, et al, given that they all respect the cross. Given that Islam has condemned the Crusades for that exact mentality, it's rank hypocrisy to belief support of Hussein for that reason to be any better. After all, aren't the Kurds and Shi'ites fellow Muslims?

Furthermore, what's all this demanded linkage between Iraq and Israel/Palestine? It befuddles the mind. Although Arabs may believe it to be unfair, let's turn the question on its head. If the US and UN proposed to solve the Israel issue tomorrow, ought objectors have a right to oppose due to the fact that measures on Iraq are not included? Again, the resolutions against Israel are of a different nature than that to Iraq.

The beliefs of many young protestors are dangerously naive. Apparently, the Iraqis have free reign to overthrow Hussein, despite several noticeable failures. The belief that mobs in the street equate to democracy is foolish. After all, many voters aren't happy with the government they elected. If we let the mobs rule, why don't we descend to anarchy? After all, that's the way democracy works. I don't agree with Roe v. Wade, but I don't consider the government illegitimate as a result. A much needed introduction to the real world for these blinded youth.

More on crime

The second and third parts of my crime series are now up at the UPI site.

Sacre bleu!

Ricin found in Paris. Chriac set to blame America. BBC to host special Question Time devoted to the issue with guests Dominique de Villepin, Tam Dalyell, Michael Moore and Osama bin Laden, with Jolly Josh Fischer as the comedian.

The humble soldier

As Stephen Pollard says, Lt. Col. Tim Collins' speech to his men makes me proud to be British too.

America's role in the (crime) world

The first part of my 2500 word magnum opus on just how crime-ridden America is compared with the rest of the world has been put out by UPI at Analysis: America the crime-free, Part 1. This part tackles the question of whether America's murder rate is a good guide to how crime-ridden its society is.

Panic and security

Boris Johnson conjures up a wonderful image of the degree of panic being spread in the UK at the moment:

In the restaurants of London, we are invited to imagine that Levantine waiters will sidle up and sprinkle anthrax on our spaghetti. Out of the doner huts and falafel dens will swarm the tarbooshed hordes, plotting to release their deadly vapours on the Tube.

It's the Phony War again, isn't it? And the upshot is a bizarre contradiction:

Worse was to follow when Ann tried to fly to Scotland for a wedding. Now she was told she needed a passport for the plane to Scotland! No ifs, no buts, she needed a passport or photo ID - which she did not have - if she wished to travel within what is still the United Kingdom. Why? "Security."

Something has gone seriously wrong, if we are so obsessed by security that we inhibit the right of a freeborn Batley girl to fly to Scotland. If we are so worried about undesirable aliens within our borders, wouldn't it make more sense to crack down on the freedom of movement of asylum seekers?

After the policeman was killed in Manchester, I discovered that in 2001 there were 2,665 Algerian applications for asylum, of which 2,530 were turned down.

Guess how many were either removed or departed? 125. No doubt many of these are good people, who deserve sympathy. But shouldn't something be done to sort out this abuse of the system, before taking away, from British people, in a hysteria about "security", the basic right to move around their own country?

Actually, people do have a right to move around Britain, just not necessarily to fly. We've accepte that in the US for some time. If they're demanding papers at Kings Cross railway station and at roadblocks on the M1 going North towards Edinburgh, then that is a problem and the right is being denied. I don't think that's happening, though. Yet.

Child abuse

Yesterday, there were many protests by schoolchildren over the war. They played truant to demonstrate, but their teachers "understand." Hmmm. This Telegraph editorial has it right. There are two problems. First, what this tells us about our schools (as if we didn't know already):

The head of education at the National Union of Teachers, John Bangs, told Radio 4's Today programme yesterday: "I don't condone young people leaving school, but we have to understand it. These are major events." Equivocation over whether this truancy should be punished is tacitly to politicise education.

Second, the fact that immature minds are being used in such a fashion demonstrates the intellectual poverty of the antiwar movement:

A sort of pacifist jingoism has, lately, replaced real and thoughtful dissent. Just as jingoism is a perversion of the admirable values of patriotism, Stop the War is a perversion of pacifism. Militantly and flatly, the peace jingoists assert that all soldiers are bad, all government untrustworthy, any use of military force motivated by economic agendas. The children of Servicemen should not be made to feel defensive as they watch their schoolmates protest on television. Those children must be rightly proud of their parents. It is the child protest organisers who should be ashamed.

It seems that the dumbing-down of education has now spread to the level of protest. How ironic. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

HM's Message

Her Majesty the Queen has sent a message to her troops that says it all, really:

"May your mission be swift and decisive, your courage steady and true, and your conduct in the highest traditions of your service both in waging war and bringing peace," she said.

"My thoughts are with you all, and with your families and friends who wait at home for news and pray for your safe return."

Simple yet elegant, and exactly what needed to be said.

Well, the Guardian often gets it wrong...

I forget on whose site I found this, but it deserves posting everywhere. Back in 1999, The Guardian was reporting on a meeting between Saddam's people and Al Qa'eda. Even if it was rebuffed, it is still evidence that the supposed hostility between the two is not nearly as deep as people say it is.

Le deluge

Iain Dale is a publisher as well as a blogger. He's decided to publish a humor book on "why we hate the French" and, as part of the research, wants us to send him our best anti-French jokes. Fire away!

Useful source

From what I've seen of the American coverage so far, it looks like Sky News, Fox's sister network in the UK (but without the reputation), is the best source for up-to-the-minute news on what's happening in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

If you're tired of watching C-SPAN

Or Fox News, or CNN or even MSNBC, try to catch the reruns of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tomorrow. My friend John Hulsman from Heritage is on it and he really puts the case for action in Iraq as well as can be expected in the circumstances...

Resignation Issue

I have an article over at The American Enterprise Magazine Online explaining for an American audience the significance, or lack of it, of the various resignations from the British Government over the Iraq issue.

Buggers at work in EU

Officials at the building that House of the EU Council of Ministers have uncovered mystery buggings of the offices of the UK, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Austrian delegations. Curious that this should have been discovered on Feb 28 but only made public today. Less curious that the French newspapers should blame the US. Watch this space for developments.

Timeo Danaos et Dona Ferentes?

The Greek presidency of the EU has decided to use the internet to give Europeans a voice in their government. Hmmm. I wonder what will become of this, given the unrepresentative nature of the internet. Anyway, Vote for the EU YOU want is the intiative. Thanks to Dan Hannan MEP for the heads up.


A brief exchange between my good friend Paul Robinson and Eugene Volokh on the dangers of precedents in warfare is up at The Volokh Conspiracy. I think both sides make good points. But if the onrushing war is a military disaster, or even just less effective a solution than we thought it would be based on the precedents of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, I think the "dangerous precedent" argument won't hold much water, because there will be severe negatives in following it. It will probably remain a "good precedent" until we run into trouble, at which point a new precedent will be set.

The ongoing political war

Now the British public is moving to acceptance of war, there will be two political wars ongoing there. First, the Civil War within Labour, where I think Blair will win handsomely. More interesting perhaps will be the war between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Like Chirac, I think Kennedy overplayed his hand in thinking that British antiwar feeling was stronger than it is. The Tories should be able to exploit this and paint the Liberals as the leftists they are. Peter Cuthbertson, a Second Lieutenant in the Tory forces, comes out with guns blazing in this particular fight.

Blair for an Independent Britain

Excellent analysis by Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post of Tony Blair's internal contradictions over Iraq. She concludes that Blair's decision is a rejection of transnationalism:

But they [Blair's opponents] won't all come around, because the debate about Iraq in Britain is actually about far more than Iraq. It is about making a choice between two radically different options. Either Britain will become further enmeshed in the world of multilateral institutions, eventually diluting its sovereignty in the European Union; or Britain will continue to have its own foreign policy and a distinct international role. Blair knows this, and said yesterday that the decision to go to war in Iraq "will determine the pattern of politics for the next generation." Putting it more grandly, the British philosopher Roger Scruton has described this as a test of whether Britain will remain a "nation-state" at all.

Odd though it sounds, Blair is asserting his country's independence by siding with George Bush. If he is perceived to fail -- if the war goes badly, if his party votes him out of office -- his career will be at an end, and so will a very old British foreign policy tradition. After such a setback, it's hard to see how any future British prime minister would ever be able to defy European conventional wisdom again. Until now, Blair has always tried to play by the rules of multilateral Europe and to back the United States. Now he knows that he can't have it both ways, and his agony shows on his face.

I think she's right. If the war goes badly, the British may well lose the self-confidence they have been regaining gradually since Thatcher, and might throw themselves wholly into the European project as a way of preventing such tragedy again. Europe will become a protectionist hedgehog, rolling itself up in the face of any danger, only with no spines to protect it. We can but pray that the Generals know what they're doing.

Kris on "So you think you might be a tyrant?"

Not sure what counts as tyranny? Perhaps you think you can spread the definition so thinly as to apply to any leader, thereby making the concept of tyrants irrelevant (and thus protect yourself).

Well, here goes….

If you think gassing men, women, and children for political gain is okay, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If teaching your sons how to torture is a fun way to spend a Saturday, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If holding your government’s family members in prison is a good way to get the votes you need, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If keeping the home fires lit involves covering citizens with oil and igniting them, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If shredding old documents and people is a good way to tidy up the place, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If your idea of urban renewal is to build dozens of palaces while your people starve, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If rape is a good way to meet a girl, control a father, or get driving directions, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If shooting unwanted party guests is a good way to keep your shindigs intimate, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If you think you need to be on constant move and only sleep 4 hours a night, well, then you might be a tyrant.

If your “posse” consists of thousands of heavily armed soldiers, well, then you might be a tyrant.

Some people might call certain leaders tyrants because they hold a different political view than they. Some people might call certain leaders tyrants because they made one horrible mistake. But let’s not lessen the term by bandying it about. Tyrants do unimaginably horrible things for a long time. Let’s leave the past behind us. We can not change what has happened there. Let’s start looking at leaders who have for the past, say 10 years, been truly tyrannical and concentrate on getting rid of them. Let’s call for a new approach where these evil men are no longer tolerated or supported.

-- Post by Kris Murray (Iain's wife)

Old World Order

Janet Daley has a compelling column in the Telegraph where she says this is the dawn of the New World's order. Some good points well made, but her last sentence set me thinking:

And so they will fight this fight now in the only way that it can be fought: with the unflinching dedication of true believers, while the Old Europeans cringe on the sidelines.

The current "new" world view is in many ways a reversion to the Evangelical era of British foreign policy. The view was that, if something is wrong, then it will be stamped out, whether it be sati (the Hindi practice of immolating widows on their husband's funeral pyre) or the slave trade. Yes, some these actions had serious consequences: 15,000 in total died in the Indian Mutiny that was inspired by the imposition of "British values" on India. But as 7,500 women died in just Bengal in the years 1813-1825, I think it's fair to say far more lives were saved than lost.

The evangelical era died out because the British lost the confidence that they were right, coupled with the crippling costs of World War I. This new era has two crucial differences: first, it is secular, not religious and belief in democracy, personal liberty and social justice is unlikely to be eroded as quickly as was belief in evangelicism. Second, the British had rivals to its hegemony who were able to drag it into debilitating war. We are unlikely to see that happen to the US any time soon.

There is also another aspect to this. This new era reflects, as Jim Bennett has written, an understanding between the American Jacksonians and the British Gladstonians, typified by Tony Blair. In realising that he is a Gladstonian, Blair may be beginning to reject European-style transnationalism. We'll see when the European issue comes back to the table, but the bitter personal attacks of the European transnationalists against him cannot but have had some effect on his worldview.

Watch C-SPAN if you can

And try to catch the LA Times debate on American Power and the Crisis Over Iraq. Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff effectively destroy the "dirty hands" argument, Hitchens dealing particularly well with the accusation of double standards over his treatments of Kissinger and Wolfowitz.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

"Tommy" seems apposite here

More evidence that the UN was a distraction in British public opinion. Thanks to commenter Richard for pointing me towards this ITV poll that shows 50% support for war. A far cry from the ten percent of a couple of weeks ago. And whose fault is the collapse of the UN process in the opinion of the British public?

French President Jacques Chirac has few supporters for his stance. Sixty eight per cent said he was wrong to block UN backing for the threat of force. Just 21 per cent felt that he was right and 11 per cent didn't know.

Mr Chirac also gets most blame for the failure of the international community to work together through the UN. Fifty per cent said it was his fault. Thirty five per cent thought George Bush was responsible and Mr Blair was blamed by just two per cent. The don't know tally was 13 per cent.

This was a YouGov poll, whose previous methods have tended to lean things leftwards when compared with other polls, so I'm not surprised the President only gets 38 percent support in this one, but it's remarkable to see these numbers on war support and blaming the French in one of their surveys.

Terrorists caught

Meanwhile, "three European men" have been arrested after 'home-made bombs' were found at their flat.

Uh-oh en Francais

It seems that realization is growing in France and Germany that they blew it badly. Germany first:

In Berlin, a reporter talking to a German official heard that the Schroeder government initially believed Iraq was a one-issue crisis, narrowly confinable to disagreement on the military undertaking and the painful although surmountable problem (in the middle term) of Germany's nonparticipation.

But reacting in fear of isolation, the official suggested, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's willingness to subordinate Germany to a French view of confrontation with the United States on many wider fronts has brought the government to a position it now finds an awkward fit with Germany's long-term interests, outside the two men's realm of when they ran for re-election on a pacifist platform last September.

In very less specific terms, this notion of things having gone too far appeared to suffuse remarks on Monday by Fischer that American policy was absolutely nonimperial in nature, that the United States was the irreplacable element of global and regional security, that there was no alternative to good trans-Atlantic relationships and that he well understood how the new East European membership of the European Union could have a "very different view" of their security than this or that EU founding member.

So Germany is crawling back. What about France?

For the first time, French publications, reporting on the disarray of political analysts, are now asking: Who are we against, Saddam or Bush? Or: Where was the sense in Chirac's promising a veto of a new UN resolution when such a gesture was not an absolute necessity? And even: How did France manage to reject British revisions to its draft resolution last week hours before Iraq did?

"Have They Gone Overboard?" this week's cover-story in Le Point, a center-right newsmagazine, wondered over a picture of Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominic de Villepin. Its lead editorial's response was mostly yes, noting viperishly that France was rather good at accommodating itself to any detestable status quo. But that hardly signaled some kind of special unease, no more than the middle-ground financial daily La Tribune did in saying Tuesday that France would pay dearly for its gratuitous threat of a veto.

Instead, the notion that a botch may well be at hand for France came in a well-researched article in the current issue of the left-populist magazine Marianne, normally a font of anti-American tweaks and bellows, which analyzed recent French diplomacy under the title, "Visionary Policy or Operetta-Style Gaullism?"

It said France always sought if possible to propel its own policies with a European motor but found that its disagreement these days with many of the EU's members and candidates about the French desire for a Europe defined by its opposition to America eliminated any hope of a common policy.

And, all of a sudden, the French are beginning to confront the reality of Iraq possibly using WMDs on the battlefield:

There were other, more palpable aspects of French policy that caused discomfort among the French. Therese Delpech, a Frenchwoman who is director of strategic affairs at the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and a commissioner in charge of Iraqi affairs for the UN's control, verification and inspection commission, pointed to a French dilemma if American or British troops were felled by Iraqi chemical or biological arms.

"In a case like that, it will be very difficult (for France) not to participate," she said. "You've got to look (the situation) straight in the eye. If chemical weapons are used against American or British troops, that's really going to be very difficult."

De Villepin referred to the issue Monday, telling a radio interviewer that in those circumstances, France would be alongside what he called "its precious friends." When an American official in Washington was asked if knew of such a contingency, he said no and called the French gesture "meaningless."

I suspect a British official's off-the-record reaction would have been a little more, how can I put it, Anglo-Saxon.

And the upshot?

In the sense of the French having brazenly overreached, while the Germans were stuck holding on to Chirac's shirttail, that has some of Germany's foreign policy professionals regarding the circumstances with irony and tinges of regret. Whatever Fischer says, theirs is a Germany that could come out of the war with deteriorated relations with America, tarnished ones with an Eastern Europe it did not quickly raise its voice to defend and ties well short of full confidence with France.

For the French, the regrets may not yet be full blown. But what is moldering now is a parallel sense of France's having eaten up all its room for maneuver, and all the potential of its star-turn in the run-up to the war through an excess, in the words of a German official, of the French "prestige imperative."

Ah, Chirac. L'etat c'est lui?

Blair wins both votes comfortably

The amendment that there was no justification for war was defeated 396 to 217, including about 140 Labour rebels. The substantive motion approving military action only had 149 voting against it, if I heard right. This was a pretty good result for the Prime Minister.

It's up to the Generals now.

PP: Just to put this in perspective, he would have won without the Tories' 163 votes (although some Tories voted against). While the rebellion was a large one, 2/3rds of Labour MPs supported him. The Labour left simply isn't strong enough to damage him significantly at present.

A quick distraction

My latest TCS column is up in full form (an earlier glitch meant only the first half was posted). TV in the Dock takes a detailed look at the latest study to claim TV causes violence. There's something there, but it's not in black and white like they claim.

They don't do this in Congress...

Britain may have its constitutional problems, but packed Parliamentary debates are great theater. How about this from the much-missed William Hague:

William Hague stands up - and cannot avoid the temptation to have a go at the leader of the Lib Dems, saying if the Iraqi army "collapses under fire as quickly as his argument, it will be a short war indeed!"

Mr Kennedy picks his nose and turns red.

Mr Hague then compliments Robin Cook on his speech last night, before commenting on Clare Short that he has never seen "a more spectacular failure to resign."

He jokes that Mr Blair has had his revenge on her by forcing her to stay IN the cabinet...Mr Blair laughs.

Under fire from Jon Owen Jones, Mr Hague reveals he would not have supported the US invasion of Grenada - but quotes this as showing that backing for America is not unconditional, but vital at this particular time.

Mr Hague goes on that Saudia Arabia and Kuwait "do not care what happens to Saddam Hussein", revelations he has made travelling to those countries since his resignation as Tory leader. "They will not shed a tear for him" he adds, saying the Israel/Palestinian conflict is far more important to those countries.

But he backs pre-emptive action against "rogue states and sponsors of terrorism."

Mr Hague commends the prime minister's stance, urges colleagues to vote for it, and receives a nod of thanks from Mr Blair.

We also learn that the Lib Dem's junior foreign affairs spokesman is Michael Moore. Aha!