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Monthly Archives: January 2010

DSS NEWS QEII Conference Centre in London: The proceedings began much as everyone expected with Lord Chilcot giving Blair direct questions about the legality of the war. Blair put up his usual admiral defence rebutting all of Chilcot’s accusations:

Blair: Look, you know Saddam Hussein was a nasty terrible man. He was a threat to the region. He used WMDs on own people….you know, he…. he was not a pretty straight sort of guy.

Chilcot: But the argument you made at the time Mr Blair was that Saddam’s possession of WMDs was the reason for war not only because he was evil.

Blair: Look, President Bush and I both thought that if we did not take him out now he would be just sitting there making WMDs day in and day out. We could not allow this to happen. I mean after threatening to remove Saddam for having WMDs we could not then just sit there. Now…come on lets be honest, we really gave him the impetuous to have WMDs because, you know, we are not going to go removing Dictators that could actually deploy weapons that can, well, cause mass destruction. I mean that would be stupid.

Both the panel of members of the inquiry and Blair went back and forth on the arguments for and against the war in painstaking detail. Neither side was really showing any progress. The tension of the inquiry was lapsing into boredom. Then after 45 minutes Blair appeared to undergo a sudden change:

Blair: Look mistakes were made. That is clear. I mean I really pushed George to get that second resolution to make it OK. He did’nt want to but it was I that convinced him. We really had a strong moral argument for the war. We were the good guys. … Saddam was a really really evil horrible man. He used WMDs on his own people! I had to get rid of him. His time had come. But then everyone kept on talking about the legality of the war. But we could build a democracy could you imagine a democracy!  I know people told me it was risky. But he who dares wins, right? But then we invaded and it went so wrong. I did’nt listen to those that warned me. They told me how this would be a disaster and now thousands of people have lost their lives. And it was supposed to Saddam that was the mass murderer not me! …[Blair looks up and Chilcot] Oh Chilcot what have I done. Is it possible that I was the evil one? Is it really? Am I the criminal? Forgive me! Forgive me! Iraq Britain the world forgive me and George for what we have done! Please please Lord Chilcot arrest me!

Chilcot: Come come none of that now. Seriously Mr Blair please get back in your chair. [Chilcot clears his throat] Well lucky for you Mr Blair this is not a court room just an inquiry. [Again Chilcot clears his throat] So it does not really matter…urm if [Chilcot looks at Blair who now looks as if he is about to cry]… if you are a criminal or not. Tut tut now, theres a good chap, stop crying. Come come, its OK…. Yes Mr Blair, well. Urrm I think a cup of tea for Mr Blair? Someone? Thank you. Ok now. Now come Mr Blair be a good sport. Yes yes SILENCE everyone. I think we can concluded that…. well…I think it is clear that this inquiry has learnt the way decisions were made and actions taken, we have establish as accurately and reliably as possible what happened, and also identified lessons that can be learnt. So bravo everyone. Well indeed, thank you everyone inquiry closed.

The startling scenes left everyone quite bedaffled at the inquiry. Alistar Campbell who was at the back of the gallery lost complete control when Chilcot brought proceedings to a close. He was heard shouting as he was dragged out by police. “You fucking English bastard, you fucking pussy. I knew you were’nt a real fucking Scot. But we got that evil motherfucker and I proud. You here that you fuckers I am really proud! And Blair you fucking morally grey bastard you better learn what I taught you. You have to pick sides in this world. You are with the fucking good guys or the fucking losers.”

After the hearing, Jack Straw issued a press release saying that he had been duped into the whole thing and it was not his idea to begin with anyway. Lord Goldsmith announced that the war did not after all have any sort of legal grounds and he was forced by Mr Blair to say that a war would be legal. Elizabeth Wimshurst stated that she would be running for parliament under the slogan “I told you so”.

Iraqis in Baghdad were shown pulling down statues of Blair in Baghdad square. In the US Barack Obama refused to comment. George Bush stated that this was a war between good and evil. “If Tony thinks he is evil now, well shucks this is confusing. Because when I was with him he was definitely good guy but now he says he is evil and he did evil things like Saddam? Well shame on him. And shame on Saddam. Because you know two evil guys make a good guy.”

Entering the first month of the year and already two major disasters have hit very close to home. Although I  do not know anyone that has died in either Haiti or the Ethiopian airline crash it appears many of my friends did. When disaster strikes nearby it always of course makes it more real. I just cannot image what living in Baghdad is like as yet another bomb explodes and kills 18 people. Disaster continues day in and day out. When will it stop?

Foreign policy by Britain and the US is still mired in confusion, bias and prejudice. It is plain to see that the policy towards the Middle East is fundamentally flawed yet it continues unchanged year after year, disaster after disaster. No it’s not just America’s fault but Administrations come and go; US and British foreign policy in the region stays the same. Who would support US and Britain’s foreign policy in the region at the moment, except for expansionist Zionists and the evangelical right? If you are out there please step forward, would love to hear from you. No really. I want to “get it”.

My previous pessimism regarding Obama and the Middle East strategy is only confirmed by people like Stephan Walt calling for Obama’s Mid East envoy Mitchell to resign:

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign.

Walt is very clear and insightful (as usual) as to where it has all gone wrong:

Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through.

Clear thinking…if only. Who has a clue what Obama or Brown’s foreign policy strategy is. I can only see policies that are unplanned, reactionary and weak. That will in the end lead to a tide of unplanned decisions creating a whirlpool of disaster.

In Britain at the moment the argument continues as to wether the Iraq war was legal or not. Security council resolution 1441 that passed unanimously by the security council is at the centre of the debate. Did it allow a pre-emptive strike or not? I am not a lawyer but I wonder how much does it matter if it was legal or not. What really matters is why such an obviously disasters occupation was allowed to go ahead regardless of the legal implications. Why is there not a foreign policy enquiry being carried out that analysis why Britain, and the US as well, has continually screwed up and misunderstood this region. The reason of course is that they don’t want to upset the people they support in the region that keep the oil flowing. But there is another way.

I do believe the West can have oil without creating the kind of misguided policies that are in existence today. I don’t believe in a utopia where everyone will be getting along fine after decades of conflict. But the support of the kind of brutal regimes and equally brutal capitalistic models that we would never accept in our own societies does not have to occur. Why are we not looking seriously at ways to create more sensible foreign policies towards Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and of course Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine?

Instead the Chilcot inquiry is chugging along, deepening everyones pessimism about the democratic system and foreign policy. There are few sane Kantians left now.

There are some great websites that are painstakingly following the events of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq invasion. And there are even people out there supporting Tony Blair who is due to give his testament soon. This blog that is passionatley for Blair and his invasion makes your stomach turn, here are some wonderful quotes from the blog to get your blood boiling:

THE NUMBER OF DEAD IS NO REASON TO DECRY THE INVASION

The last one makes me want to hit my head on my desk several times. Instead I think of Ghandi and breath:

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

Bin Laden is back with a new tape. Surprised?

So are commentators calling for an invasion of Iran, worryingly by people who should know better. Surprised?

Everyone is predicting a Hezbollah-Israeli war, which will be the war to end all wars. Surprised?

If there was a firm US policy that matches action with words and is more responsive to the justifiable grievances of the region, I personally believe that Bin Laden would be reduced, Hezbollah-Israel tension would be reduced and those calling for war would be marginalised. Instead all three remain on the front line.

After declaring Mitchell Mid East Peace envoy was Missing In Action he turns up at my door….well Beirut.

Watching Mitchell talk about the peace process is almost as painful when members of the Bush administration used to come to town (I say almost). Of course you don’t feel the vile hatred that a member of the Bush corporation would bring up deep inside of you. Instead I think of the buzz that Mitchell created and to see it all dissolve to the sorry state that the peace process is today. When Mitchell talks the emptiness of what he says it is deeply depressing, we are back to where we started. Although, thinking about it we never actually went anywhere. The same old chasm has appeared between political rhetoric and actions on the ground. Stuck, fed up, frustrated, angered, feeling duped, lied to….  There must be a plan of action? But where the hell is it!!?

As Khoury states in a great editorial:

We still have no idea of how Obama hopes to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular, because he has not articulated the US view on core issues like refugees, the ultimate status of the settlements, and Jerusalem.

Obama is allowing a moral vacuum to appear. Of course Israel is a difficult customer if you are a US President. The Israel lobby is not after all pissing around like most Arab regimes. Israel knows who its Daddy is but more importantly knows that it is Mum (i.e. the lobby groups and media) that is the neck that turns Daddy’s head. Khoury meanwhile articulates devistatingly what Arab activism is going on to change this:

The total absence of serious Arab diplomacy or initiatives is one of the profound shortcomings of our contemporary Arab political system, in which regimes are largely immobilized on the international scene because of their near total preoccupation with maintaining power at home.

A politician that has actually seen active combat, set up his own organisation, is a Harvard professor and likes talking to ordinary people is the image that Rory Stewart has carefully constructed (see this great profile by the Guardian as well). He likes to call himself the “walking politician”. He walked some 5,000 miles through Afghanistan, Iran, India….Brad Pitt has apparently bought the movie rights to his life and he is creating a sensation in the various magazines in the US (a profile in the National Geographic, articles in the NYRB and a profile in the or THE New Yorker). Now Stewart is bringing the show home. Standing as a Conservative MP in Bracknell and the Border.  Arise “Rory the Tory”.

Almost everyone in Britain (including myself) is gulping it down. I never thought I would want to see an Etonian educated Tory get elected or someone Craig Murray the activist and former British Ambassador has described as: “the crusading neo-Conservative Rory Stewart.”

This however, is where the crux lies for the Tories. Stewart is going to attract a lot of attention for the party and may even win votes from unlikely quarters. But he is no doubt a sword with two very sharp sides and my guess is that “Rory the Tory” may not roll so easily off the tongue for the conservative elite when they get into power.

Stewart is a big intellect there is not doubt about that. His articles on Afghanistan in the London Review of Books and more recently the New York Review of Books have been devastatingly insightful and visionary. I am gutted I cannot see his profile of T E Lawrence which from the reviews was a sensation. His critique of the current strategy in Afghanistan is masterful and his solutions refreshingly sensible sticking closely to common sense and the art of the possible:

The US and its NATO allies would be able to survive withdrawal from Afghanistan but it would be damaging to their reputations. While we cannot write a blank check to Afghans, we would like to prevent their country from falling into civil war, which would probably result in tens of thousands of deaths. It makes sense to stay, if we can maintain a realistic, affordable, and legitimate presence in Afghanistan and do some good.

As others have noticed Stewart is remarkably humble in his foreign policy outlook for one who is so ambitious.

If allowed to have any say in foreign policy issues “Rory the Tory” could drastically change the Britain does this most tricky of dark arts. Imagine a British Foreign Minister that said things like this:”… we should trust Iraqis and Afghans more; that they were much more competent than we acknowledged.”

But Foreign Minister to be William Hague will surely not appreciate the smooth talking Stewart one bit…nor for that matter will Cameron either. “Rory the Tory” will do his upmost to force himself onto the Tory stage and is already subtly showing the sort of pressure he is going to apply:

“I wanted to help change the culture of government. So I put my name forward, after the expenses scandal, when David Cameron said he was prepared to have candidates who, like me, had never been involved in politics before.”

Cameron maybe more fearful of Stewart than he is of Brown. Quotes like that must keep Cameron up at night…especially when none of Stewart’s foreign policy positions line up with the Tories at all! Not even close…the hilarious question on Newsnight when Stewart was asked straight up how he will line up his views with the party he bluntly said he did not know! For a man that likes to walk as much as he does though something tells me he knows where exactly where he is going! Revolution did I hear?

I would describe Stewart as almost a classical realist, with a sprinkle of  liberalism, E. H. Carr comes to mind. That should makes Tories shudder. Surely this is an accident waiting to happen for the Tories? A battle between Stewart and Cameron/Hauge is surely an inevitability?

At last Britain has the possibility of having a foreign policy and I for one am going to enjoy the political bloodbath that Stewart will no doubt create trying to achieve it.

P.S.

Stewart is obviously loving being the centre of attention and is already slipping into the old political paths where reality and rhetoric run alongside each other.

Rhetoric = “I applied for Penrith and the Border in part because I found it the most beautiful place in England.” (especially love the cheeky “in part”)

Reality = Penrith and the Border is one of the safest conservative seats in the country and I am almost guaranteed to get elected.

I have just returned from a brilliant lecture by Salman Abu Sitta, the Palestinian researcher and writer, entitled “Palestinians:Reversing Ethnic Cleansing”.

Sitta’s argument is simple, loud and clear: the right of return is a fundamental right that is not up for negotiation and the return of Palestinians to Palestine is inevitable. Further to this, the right of return is enshrined in international law through UN Resolution 194 that he rejects was a recommendation: “…the UN has affirmed resolution 194 about 135 times, a case unprecedented in UN history.”

Sitta comes out with some devastating facts that we have all heard before but to me at least still causes disbelief. “UNRWA has a budget that allocates $76 per Palestinian refugee per year, while the US in military and aid give a total of $1000 per Israeli per year.”

Sitta produced some wonderful and painstakingly detailed maps and graph (compiled into his book the Atlas of Palestine 1948). He details how now after ejecting the Palestinians from the land 27% of the this so sacred land is made up of military zones. Sitta describes how Gaza that represents 1% of the total surface area of Palestine now roughly contains the same number of people as Palestine as a whole did in 1948. Of course you have heard all this before….

The interesting part of the Sitta’s argument that I have not heard is his take on UN Resolution 194 that calls for the right of return. Sitta focuses on a third element of resolution 194 that he argues is all too often ignored. This is the creation of a mechanism to implement the right of return: the UN Conciliation Committee for Palestine (UNCCP). The UNCCP ceased functioning in 1966 and Sitta calls for the UNCCP to be reactivated for the return and rehabilitation of refugees.

Sitta is a Palestinian that really believes in the international system. Despite being denied the right to return for all these decades he still believes that by shouting and screaming Palestinians will achieve their right of return. He argues that in Europe esepcially attitudes are changing. When challenged by a German lady in the audience who did not believe this to be the case, Sitta replied that Germany is different but in Scandinavia and in Britain (the people but not the government) there has been a remarkable change in opinion. “In the 1960s in Britain I could not even say Palestine now the public are very supportive.” But of course the way British power is used is very different which Sitta stating that Blair always has a “ever ready present of cash” to block the right of return. So for the UK he may have a point that public opinion may have changed but it is no where near enough.

Salman Abu Sitta is a man that feels he can wait this one out…that return is inevitable. I can’t help feel that is wishful thinking in a hopeless situation….the reality is that return is not inevitable and the balance of power as it is and with things getting worse rather than better this long conflict is only going to get longer. But I hope I am wrong. And as I was reading just the other day South African activists never thought the day would come when in 1990 de Klerk announced the release of Mandela. I am sure this can be applied to many other major historical triumphs but….

In relation to this ever going conflict…many analysts over on Qifa Nabki are predicting that 2010 is going to be the year of a new war between Hezbollah and Israel. The environment in Lebanon seems so far from that atmosphere at the moment. And I really really hope that I am right on that one!

When George Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy by Obama there was a lot of rice and flower throwing by those who felt finally the US has a envoy that can shift the deadlock between Israelis-Palestinians. Mitchell it was said did wonders in Northern Ireland, he is the best of the best, he can really get the Israelis to stop settlement building and create a Palestinian state. It definitely did have  those on the Israeli side worried claiming that a “fair” diplomat like Mitchell was not what the Israelis expect of a US Mid East envoy.

When Mitchell/Obama got going they looked like they were really going to do something about Israeli settlements and their “natural growth”. The ending was not however, something out of Walt Disney…it was instead closer to the grimy reality that goes on in making many of these enduring spectacles.

Since the bump of the US and Israel over the settlement it looks like Clinton and Dennis Ross are calling the shots on Middle East policy that is slowly returning back to the status quo. Clinton and Ross are taking over policy so much so that there are rumours, that should be treated with more than a health inspectors recommendation of salt, that Mitchell may resign.

However, even if he did who would notice now? I mean where has the man gone….where have the loft days of hope that was created by Obama’s Cairo speech? The heady days of change in 09 seem far away now and Mitchell is certainly not attracting the attention (adulation/nervousness) he once did.

But now there are the rumblings that Mitchell is trying to re-start peace negotiations. Mitchell went to France and is again starting to talk tough to Israel saying that the US could withdraw loan guarantees. But now there is not even a hint of seriousness in the Israeli response. The Israeli Finance Minister responded with a big….shrug:

“We don’t need to use these guarantees…We are doing just fine. But several months ago we agreed with the American treasury on guarantees for 2010 and 2011, and there were no conditions.”

Something tells me the Old George will soon go Missing In Action again….as will any serious change in Middle East policy by the US and stagnation will be the flavour of the year. The Israelis have won there battle against any change in the direction of US policy…but they did’nt really even have to fight.

Yemeni fever is everywhere at the moment and while there is a lot of reactionary talk there is also a lot of great commentary being written so here is a short list of some of the stuff that I have recently come across:

Sean over at the Human Province has produced some great posts on Yemen lately (see here and here). He created a list of fantastic articles on Yemen ; I particularly recommend the articles by Fred Haliday who I am a huge fan of. The article that Sean links to is about his book Arabia Without Sultans that he wrote in the 70s and although not really about Yemen it is a article on the essential issues of the region. Haliday has written elsewhere specifically about Yemen: Yemen Travails of Unity. This is a fantastic article that he did in June 09 that pretty much predicts the fever pitch over Yemen that has occurred over the recent weeks:

Barack Obama – and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton – may at present think that they have no reason to think about Yemen. But it has held surprises before: for its Arab neighbours, for America, and for the world. It may well do again. Indeed, it has. Yemen is in trouble, and needs the world’s constructive and engaged attention as never before.

Marc Lynch has written a extensive piece on his blog warning the public  not to get too excited over Yemen. As he puts it:

Direct American military intervention in Yemen is so obviously ludicrous that it shouldn’t even need to be said.

Even the usual imperialist war mongers in the US are not beating the drum for war at the moment but it could of course start at any time. Lynch also has a series of great links in the article. In particular the horribly titled think tank The Centre for a New American Security (I cringe every time I say that title so writing it is painful!) has done an extensive briefing paper on Yemen that is worth a dip into but far to military heavy for my lefty heart. Lynch also links to Joost R. Hiltermann of the ICG who writes an interesting piece on Saudi’s war on Yemen. The best bit of the piece is the hip-hop inspired title “Disorder on the Border”! But Hiltermann also makes some beautiful rhetorical sweeps that get right to the heart of the problem:

The conflict can only be permanently solved by addressing the social, political, and religious grievances that motivate the rebels — not by defeating them on the battlefield. In fact, sending soldiers (whether they be Yemeni, Saudi, or even tribal) and opening a new front would likely further destabilize Yemen, causing chaos that would be costly for all: al Qaeda would find fertile ground, and hundreds of thousands of refugees would put pressure on the borders of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, risking a humanitarian disaster. Many Yemenis resent the Saudis, whom they often portray as opportunistic and corrupt, and the more Saudi support the Yemeni government receives, the more domestic legitimacy it loses. Foreign backing only makes Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih’s government appear more incapable of effectively ruling the country.