21 June 2003

The accession of Queen Victoria

Saturday June 24, 1837

QUEEN VICTORIA - The accession of our young queen is a circumstance full of hope and promise. Humanly speaking, it is perhaps desirable that the event should have been postponed a few years, that her character might have become more fixed, and her acquaintance with the world and with those branches of knowledge which are peculiarly appropriate to her situation and her duties, more enlarged. But it has been ordained otherwise, and, we have no doubt, ordained for the best.

From all that we have read and heard, her majesty's conduct hitherto seems to have been marked by great propriety both of feeling and demeanour. Her address to the privy council, on the day of her accession, which will be found in a subsequent column, was every thing that could be wished; and there is not a true Englishman who will not warmly respond to her prayer, that "Providence may give her strength for the performance of the work to which she has been thus early called." The declaration, beautiful in its composition, and constitutional in its spirit as it is, has been savagely criticised and misrepresented by the Times. We trust, however, and believe, that very many even of the tories recoil with unmingled disgust from the hateful spirit which that journal so perseveringly evinces.

That would all be a quaint piece of history if Australia did not have a constitution which describes a mythical Australia largely ruled by Queen Victoria. More to the point the royal prerogative remains intact, although it it is in the hands of the prime minister, and authorises more than faintly monarchical statements like:

PRIME MINISTER: I'm the person who was responsible for them going and if the outcome had been very different people would not have been reluctant in anyway to criticise me and I'd have accepted responsibility for it. I don't think it's unreasonable that I welcome people home. He says I hog the limelight. Well, I'm the Prime Minister, I'm the person who's to blame, I'm the person responsible. If I didn't turn up? Just imagine if I didn't turn up at the parade and I said nothing - people would say, for heaven's above, he's the bloke who sent us, he hasn't even come along to welcome us back.

20 June 2003

Iran muddies Afghanistan's waters
The Asia Times again reports US/Taliban negotiations.

KARACHI - With the ground situation in Afghanistan expected to deteriorate even further in the coming weeks, Pakistan will once again serve as a back yard for US military and diplomatic initiatives to contain the spreading guerrilla warfare.

At the same time, Iran, which is steadily being pushed against the wall by the United States, still has a few cards left to play in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, in an attempt to tie down harassed US forces further in those countries and divert attention from itself.


The decision for these operations follows the breakdown of tentative talks among the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban. A first contact was dismissed out of hand by the Taliban because the go-between was former Taliban leader Mullah Ghous, who had been expelled from the hierarchy when the Taliban were still in power in Kabul. Another round of talks with a more acceptable intermediary was held in Quetta, Pakistan, but they failed to make any headway.


And the re-emergence of the Taliban movement suits some elements in Pakistan, who hanker after the days when Pakistan, through its support of the Taliban, wielded much influence in Afghanistan - for example, the former director general of the Inter-Service Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Mehmood Ahmed. Mehmood was chosen by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to talk the Taliban into a peaceful solution to the Afghan situation after September 11, 2001, when Pakistan, under US pressure, renounced its support of the Taliban. Instead, though, Mehmood prepared the Taliban to fight the United States. He was removed from his post when the US attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and placed under house arrest. He has now been released, and serves as managing director of Fauji Fertilizer (a production unit owned by the Pakistani army).

Such hawkish elements in the army and among Pakistan's militant groups are just waiting to make Afghanistan their playground once again.

Unlike Saddam, the Iranians are unlikely to sit and wait for the US to come to them. Unlike Saddam, the Iranians control a cohesive and powerful state that has not been wrecked by years of sanctions and bombings. The US armed forces are stretched thin covering Afghanistan and Iraq. I am almost prepared to bet that we will soon be told the way to relieve the military pressure in Afghanistan and Iraq is to take out Iran.
US wages war from within Iran
With commendable stupidity usually only reserved for the most powerful and isolated from reality, President George W Bush has managed to go some way towards repeating the catastrophic mistakes of Lyndon Johnson and ensnare the United States in an increasingly unpopular and probably unwinnable foreign military involvement. Just two months after the sudden collapse of organized Iraqi resistance to the US-led invasion, US troops are back in a Vietnam-scenario with the ambushing of military convoys, the regular use of grenades and rocket launchers against isolated American targets and indeed suicide bombers.

It has always been a truism that if you cannot avoid wars, then at least learn the lessons of previous conflicts. This, however, the US has signally failed to do. Not content with the ultimate failures of the campaigns in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, of Somalia, and indeed even Afghanistan, to achieve the stated aims and the supposed improvement in the state of the inhabitants of those nations, the US has blindly embarked on a dangerous and unsound course of action. US forces are already launching operations suspiciously similar to the "search-and-destroy" tactics of 40 years ago and with a similar response from an increasingly hostile civilian population.

Using a marked degree of devious propaganda about the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction and largely in the dark about the true allegiance and likely response of the majority of Iraqis, the US has now succeeded in alienating much of both the developed and Third World, and indeed signaled to both Russia and China that Washington's new-found military belligerence and diplomatic toughness are a profound threat to their influence and future powerbase. Not content with expending much of America's wealth and the lives of its young service personnel in largely fruitless campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington is now clearly preparing the ground for an attack on Iran.

What offends me most about the neo-realpolitik school of diplomacy is that it is so damn unrealistic. Their prewar claims of WMDs, a clear and serious threat, a brief occupation, a light occupation force are all now discredited. The carnage they said would never happen continues and their only response is Rumsfeld trying to spin the number of US and British dead by conflating dissimilar statistics. These people have been spinning so long they've forgotten there's a real world which cannot be spun. If Iraq was a distraction from the failures against al-Qa'ida I guess logic dictates a new distraction to disguise the failure in Iraq.

Tehran here we come. The same drivel about light mobile forces and no need for a large garrison can be expected as well. After all, it worked in Afghanistan didn't it? And in iraq?

19 June 2003

Iraq democratizing Iran?
In Najaf, SAIRI cadres are actually hoping that the Iranian Islamic Republic will not influence Iraq; they'd rather see the new Iraqi experiment being able to democratize Iran. Meanwhile in Qom, the Grand Ayatollah Saanei, who talked to Asia Times Online last year, has told French daily Le Monde that "it is out of the question to transfer our system to Iraq. The United States should not interfere politically in Iraq, and this also applies to ourselves." Saanei remarked that all great "sources of imitation" - or marja'a, the highest echelon of the Shi'ite clergy - who have lived in Qom, all of them came from Najaf. For him, Najaf and Qom complement each other.

Will Iran and Iraq complement each other? The answer may hinge on the impact of the more than 3,000 Iraqi Shi'ite religious leaders who came back home from exile in Iran. If a separation between religion and politics successfully takes place in Iraq, the road is paved for a secular Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi regime being able to give the Iranian theocracy a democracy lesson. If the Americans allow it, of course.

The whole article should be read, if only because the neologism 'occuberator' deserves to get a run. More seriously, there must be someone among the Bush advisers who knows something about the tensions between Iraq's Shi'a clergy and Iran's. Surely? Please? Maybe?
snark of the week
From Hellblazer:
The Libertarian utopian fantasy is that if we could all just communicate, everything would be all peachy and we'd live in some Libertarian free market love fest of ideas. But like all Libertarian utopias, it just descends into despotism and roving bands of warlords. Heathers on crack.

Blogdom is the Somalia of the web.

I was beginning to worry...
Whale Watchers Demand Voice at World Whaling Body
BERLIN (Reuters) - Whale watchers say their industry, now worth over $1.5 billion per year, has come of age, and want recognition at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) -- to the consternation of whaling nations.

The International Alliance for Commercial Whale Watchers (IACWW) made its first appearance as an observer at the annual IWC meeting this week and called for the body to recognize their industry, and that whaling threatens it.

They also want the commission to tackle conservation issues, such as pollution, which pose a risk to whales.

"We see ourselves as the new whalers," Frank Future, the Australian head of the fledgling IACWW, told Reuters.

Whaling nations, led by Japan and Norway, insisting the IWC should stick to its original aim of deciding hunting quotas. They say conservation and whale watching are side issues.

This is amusing. Given the fairly parlous state of the old whalers I'd love to be a fly on the wall while they argue that slaughter is good but more profitable nonlethal industries are bad.

18 June 2003

Bush's 9/11 coverup?
For months, the commission was struggling to get by on a minuscule budget of $3 million. That low funding and the yearlong delay in creating the commission stand in stark contrast to previous panels formed to investigate momentous disasters in American history.

For instance, on April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg, killing approximately 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. According to historians, Titanic survivors began disembarking in New York at 10 o'clock on the night of April 18. The next morning at 10:30, a special panel of the Senate Commerce Committee was gaveled into session inside the ornate East Room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.

Last year, when Cheney called Daschle to urge him to limit any hearings into 9/11, the V.P. argued it would drain sources away from the war on terrorism. By contrast, just 11 days after Japanese bombers hit the U.S. with a sneak attack killing nearly 3,000 people, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order creating a commission to "ascertain and report the facts relating to the attack made by Japanese armed forces upon the Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941 ... and to provide bases for sound decisions whether any derelictions of duty or errors of judgment on the part of United States Army or Navy personnel contributed to such successes as were achieved by the enemy on the occasion mentioned." It was the first of eight government-led investigations into the Pearl Harbor.

The Warren Commission, headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, was formed just seven days after President Kennedy was assassinated. Last February, after seven astronauts died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated 200,000 feet above Texas, NASA's Columbia Accident Investigation Board was created 90 minutes after the incident; $50 million was immediately set aside for the probe. And in just four months, the board has already made public significant findings about the crash investigation.

By contrast, nearly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the 9/11 commission only recently opened up its New York City office. The commission's budget has been increased to $14 million, but many experts say that's still far short of the sum needed to do the job right.

It's just weird that the US could hold an independent commission while fighting World War II but not now. But then an independent commission might ask why US air defence was AWOL that morning.
Bumps in the Road Map
The recent promises by Sharon's government to eliminate some, or even all, of the "illegal" settlement outposts (as if to imply that all the settlements are not equally illegal) should not be allowed to obscure Israel's long-term policy vis-�-vis the occupation, most concretely demonstrated by the vast, multimillion-dollar "separation wall" now under construction. Seventy-five miles of this forbidding structure have already been built, with a total projected length of more than 200 miles. The wall, which is more than twenty feet high, with guard towers, electronic fences and two-lane patrol roads, would annex up to 10 percent of the West Bank to Israel; it has already cut off thousands of Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank and from their agricultural lands. The 40,000 citizens of Qalqilya, for example, are now surrounded on three sides by this wall, and most of their farmland has been seized. They are now virtually imprisoned.

This is a grim scenario, but the situation still offers some possibility of forward movement. A recent poll by Israel's Jaffee Institute for Strategic Studies shows that 56 percent of Israelis--up from 48 percent last year--would "support a unilateral withdrawal from the territories in the context of a peace accord, even if that meant ceding all settlements." Here is the signpost for a realistic road map that could be charted by the Bush Administration. If the Administration were to insist unequivocally on a total Israeli withdrawal from the territories as part of a regional peace treaty, it would find widespread support within Israel, perhaps far more than expected. And Washington could use the power of its purse to ease the transition, guaranteeing a subsidy for every Israeli settler moving back to Israel proper. There would no doubt be resistance from the Washington lobbyists and Congress, but the Administration would have compelling arguments on its side. Thirty-two months of conflict have not only devastated the Palestinian civil society and economy, they have led Israel to a dead end. The dream of Greater Israel has become a nightmare.

It would be a very good thing if John Howard, his new role as the hyperally, suggested this course to the Bush administration. It would be an even better thing if George Bush looked more closely at the failure of Greater Israel and applied the lessons of that failure to the project for Greater America.

17 June 2003

Governmental cock and bull about Iraq
Andrew Wilkie writes:

But sooner or later the cock and bull surrounding Iraq and WMD is going to catch up with the Australian Government. The deception and its consequences are just too great to be ignored.

The Government sold us the war on the basis of Iraq's "massive" WMD program. The image was of a huge and deadly arsenal imperilling us all. Time was of the essence.

Allowing the chief United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, the little more time he asked for would have been foolish (even though the Coalition is now taking for itself much more than the little extra time he asked for.)

However, no huge program has been found. If the WMD program was destroyed just before the war it must have been small. And whatever may yet be found would need to be so limited in scale as to have been concealable during weeks of searching.

Wilkie is a former senior analyst with the office of national asessments. He appears on Thursday before the house of commons select committee on foreign affairs.

The coalition governments are just going to have to learn that you can't fool all of the people all of the time in a world of asymmetric media. No doubt Wilkie will appear before the inevitable Australian inquiry as well. The prime minister's bleat that: 'Those from the opposition who now seek to denigrate what this government and this country do are, in effect, calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein as the ruler of Iraq.' will not make the questions go away.
Downer and intelligence
From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer today said he was told Bali could be a terrorist target four months before the deadly attacks that killed more than 200 people - but Australia had no intelligence information or specific advice that the Bali attack was likely to occur.

Speaking to reporters in Darwin, Mr Downer said the warning came from an Office of National Assessment (ONA) analyst who was theorising about likely targets for terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) in the South-East Asian region.

Officers from the ONA met Mr Downer on June 18 and 19 last year and one officer told him Bali, the Indonesian province of Riau, and Singapore would be attractive targets for the JI terrorist network.

"This was hypothesising, it was theorising by one particular analyst; it wasn't based on any (specific) information that he had," Mr Downer said.

"Of course, perceptive as it turned out, ... (because it was) based on theorising by one particular analyst and not based on any hard information, there was no sense among the officials or ONA that we should upgrade our travel advisories.

"Our travel advisory was already warning people about possible terrorist attacks in Indonesia."

I'm glad the foreign minister views intelligence with such a sceptic eye. Now if only he had done the same with the intelligence on the missing WMDs, but somehow when there's a war to justify mere hypothesis seems good enough for the minister.