5 July 2003

What is Australia doing to help with the reconstruction of Iraq?
An officer from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is attached to the office of the ORHA�s Chief of Staff and is working closely with retired US Army Lieutenant-General Jay Garner, the head of ORHA.

Jay Garner was dismissed as US proconsul in Iraq on 6 April. One hopes that our humanitarian commitment to Iraq is not as out-of-date (non-core?) as the prime minister's new website.

4 July 2003

asylum seekers not in the water either
Somehow Immigration Minister Ruddock just can't get it right. We now learn that the boatload of asylum seekers on Christmas island did reach the Australian mainland. Previously the minister had claimed they were intercepted offshore. First we had the children in the water. Now we've got the asylum seekers in the water. But for the Senate we'd probably have the Australian migration zone coterminous with the precincts of the parliament in Canberra.
Culture shock and awe
Bremer's task for Iraq is to form a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis. This council, approved by Bremer, will then appoint ministers and be consulted on all key decisions, which will then be made by Bremer himself. Bremer said on Tuesday that this "provisional authority" was expected to be set up by mid-July. It's now clear that the project has been flatly rejected by the moderate yet heavyweight al-Sistani, "The project in question is fundamentally unacceptable." While he still condemns the non-stop attacks against the Americans and the British, he is at pains to point out that "the [occupation] authorities don't enjoy any prerogative to appoint the members of the assembly charged to elaborate the constitution". United Nations special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello has witnessed first-hand the impatience and anger of the all-powerful al-Hawza - the "Shi'ite Vatican" in the holy city of Najaf. On Saturday, Vieira de Mello had a long conversation (behind closed doors) with al-Sistani, and then with al-Hakim and al-Sadr.

No leaders in Najaf - or anywhere in Iraq for that matter - have forgotten the promise made in February by the American special envoy to deal with the Iraqi opposition. Zalmay Khalilzad promised then that the government of the country would be handed over to Iraqis once the war ended. Al-Hakim is now saying that an Iraqi government should be formed soon "to work to end the occupation by peaceful means".

Vieira de Mello is now fully aware of the balancing act that he will have to perform to bridge the gulf between not only the Sunni community, but between the dominant Shi'ites (62 percent of the population) and the "occuliberators" (as the Americans have been dubbed by observers). Even though Shi'ite religious leaders are still talking about cooperation with the Americans and a strategy of non-violence, there is now a completely different ball game.

The best indication is the fact that al-Sistani told Vieira de Mello to deliver "a message to Paul Bremer" - implying that direct contact was not welcomed any more. The UN special envoy did not - and certainly could not - elaborate, but the message was almost certainly news about the fatwa declaring that an Iraqi constitution written by the Americans or even by Iraqis appointed by the Americans would be "illegitimate". Al-Sistani is clear: a new constitution can only be written and approved by popularly-elected Iraqis.

I think al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shi'a leader in Iraq and elsewhere, may be close to saying: 'Bring it on'. Vieira de Mello had tremendous success, in an equally difficult situation, as UN transitional administrator for East Timor. The Bush administration could do worse than replacing Bremer with Vieira de Mello.
Hicks to face military tribunal
TANYA NOLAN: And from Roma in Queensland today, Prime Minister John Howard made clear his confidence in the American system of justice.

JOHN HOWARD: I am satisfied on the information that I have that if any Australians are tried in the United States, the basic conditions of a presumption of innocence, of access to a lawyer and so forth, all of the things that are basic to the judicial system as we understand it, will be applied.

TANYA NOLAN: But that's cold comfort to Stephen Kenny.

STEPHEN KENNY: The Attorney-General has done nothing for the two Australians that were there for the last 18 months while their human rights were being abused, so I can certainly have no faith in him doing anything now.

TANYA NOLAN: Do you know with any certainty whether the outcome of a military commission could indeed result in a death penalty being handed down?

STEPHEN KENNY: Yes, it can. The military commission does have the power to hand down death penalties and the reports from the United States in recent weeks have been that they are currently planning construction of an execution chamber in Guantanamo Bay.

It raises some very serious fears in my mind because it's even worse than that. It's not just that the military tribunal are in a position of handing down a death penalty. After the hearing at the military tribunal, the matter is then referred to President Bush for his final determination and so he could personally impose the death sentence.

I would have thought even Australia's own man of steel might have looked more carefully at information provided by the Bush administration. After all, Howard is fast moving towards 'George told me' as a complete explanation of the missing WMDs. Abandoning Australian citizens to trial by drumhead court is evil enough. Lying about the procedural guarantees is worse. Scrapping Australia's long and principled opposition to the death penalty is the worst of all.
US Declaration of Independence
WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

Brad de Long has the whole text. As a founding document it's a lot more exciting than Australia's:

WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland; and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:

And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen:

Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-

Short title.
1. This Act may be cited as the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.1

Act to extend to the Queen's successors.
2. The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty's heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

Proclamation of Commonwealth
3. It shall be lawful for the Queen, with the advice of the Privy Council, to declare by proclamation2 that, on and after a day therein appointed, not being later than one year after the passing of this Act, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto, of Western Australia, shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia. But the Queen may, at any time after the proclamation, appoint a Governor-General for the Commonwealth.

and so on and so forth and blah blah blah...

And someone really should remind George Bush about the phrase: 'a decent respect for the opinions of mankind', it's a tad more elevated than: 'Bring it on'.
website of steel
Signposts blogs on the newlook prime ministerial website. I agree with Signposts:

Can anyone say presidential? Seriously, I haven't seen such blatant use of a flag in political image-making since Pauline Hanson and this photo.

Is it any wonder that the opposition leader doesn't get the same amount of support with a slick campaign site like this?

I don't know if this is as funny outside Australia, but everyone who has looked at the man of steel's new site that I have spoken to has thought it was an absolute crack-up. It looks like a campaign poster for Monty Burns in the Simpsons gubernatorial race.

We should be thankful for small mercies. The ADF doesn't have a convenient flight deck so the man of steel will prolly not be slipping on a flight suit any time soon.
The Web is dead. Long live the Grid
From CERN:

The idea of computational and data grids dates back to the first half of the 90's. The vision behind them is often explained using the electric power grid metaphor. The electric power grid delivers electric power in a pervasive and standardised way. You can use any device that requires standard voltage and has a standard plug if you are able to connect it to the electric power grid through a standard socket.

As explained by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman in Chapter 2 of their famous book "The Grid":
"The current status of computation is analogous in some respects to that of electricity around 1910. At that time, electric power generation was possible, and new devices were being devised that depended on electric power, but the need for each user to build and operate a new generator hindered use. The truly revolutionary development was not, in fact, electricity, but the electric power grid and the associated transmission and distribution technologies".

When you use electricity you don't worry were it is produced and how it is delivered, you just plug your device into the wall socket and use it. Currently we have millions of computing and storage systems all over the planet connected through the Internet. What we need is an infrastructure and standard interfaces capable of providing transparent access to all this computing power and storage space in a uniform way.

I'd been following this for a while, but today's Herald reports that the Grid goes live in a fortnight.

30 June 2003

Descending into quagmire
At 10 per 1,000 population, the point of intersection between levels two and three, Quinlivan's numbers skyrocket to 240,000. (Interestingly, just in Baghdad, where the population is roughly 5 million, there are 55,000 troops, producing a ratio of 11 per 1,000.) Matching the British experience in Malaysia and Northern Ireland at 20 per 1,000 doubles this total to 480,000, which is the total authorized strength of the active US Army. Clearly, any of these levels are impossible to sustain given the demands for and on people. Even level two ratios may be impossible, given that five of the Army's 10 active divisions currently are engaged in Iraq.

At the onset of an insurgency the government, whether it's an occupying power or what, always denounces the guerilla attacks as banditry. At the onset of a conquest the conquering power explains in vast detail how this is not really a conquest. We were told that the occupation forces would be light and be needed only briefly. We were told t would be a cakewalk. We were told the invasion would be greeted with flowers. That seems not to be happening. Each of those reasons has failed. At each stage of this Iraq project we've been given reasons why Iraq would be an exception to previous historical experience.

If the US is planning 3 years to raise an Iraqi army then the 2 years deadline is already as dead as the 6 month deadline. The previous historical experience is that you need force ratios between 10:1000 and 20:1000 to suppress an insurgency. The numbers just do not add up. And the scary incident reported by Time may tell us why no-one ever bothered with the math.
The wisdom of the Solomons
From the Age:
The Howard Government has been persuaded of this reality for the reason that if these peripheral states are insecure, so is Australia. Their insecurity is Australia's insecurity.

Australia is now prepared to behave as the leading power in this corner of the world to protect itself from the vulnerability of shaky, failing and failed states to the forces of international terrorism and transnational crime.

As the influential Australian Strategic Policy Institute has put it in a recent report, "Unless the quality of government in the South-West Pacific can be restored, and social and economic development resumed, we risk seeing our neighbourhood degenerate into lawless badlands, ruled more by criminals than by legitimate governments."

At worst, it means that a small island nation can be bought. Its resources, flag, passports, banks, territory and officials can all be made available to gangsters and terrorists for running drugs and weapons, training insurgents, launching atrocities, laundering money, smuggling people, dumping toxic wastes and other activities that are likely to be highly prejudicial to Australia's interests

The Solomons is clearly a case for international humanitarian intervention. This intervention will be at the request of the Solomons parliament and government and is supported by New Zealand and a consensus of Pacific nations. Hopefully, the South Pacific Forum will restrain the government's enthusiasm for sidelining the UN.
Out of the mouths of spellcheckers...
Mine keeps trying to force me to talk about Blair's director of communications as Alsatian Campbell.
Blair No Longer Trustworthy, Says Newspaper Poll
LONDON (Reuters) - Most Britons no longer find Prime Minister Tony Blair trustworthy and nearly half think he should quit, according to a newspaper poll Sunday.

It showed most voters also say his record on health, crime, transport and asylum-seekers is poor.

Beset by questions over whether he exaggerated the case for war against Iraq and under fire from political opponents for what they call a botched cabinet reshuffle this month, Blair emerged badly from the MORI poll commissioned by the News of the World.

Fifty-eight percent of those questioned said he was not trustworthy, against 36 percent who thought he was, while 53 percent said he had run out of ideas. Gordon Brown was trustworthy.

The poll found 48 percent thought Blair should quit, 51 percent thought Labour's record on both health and crime-fighting was poor, while 53 percent thought his record on transport was bad.

Polling figures like these are a new experience for Tony Blair. The first stage in a government jumping the shark is a few bad polls. The next is to announce there's nothing wrong with the policies but the communications strategy is wrong. Media bias is often a minor counterpoint. If I were Alastair Campbell I might be looking up the job column for retired spin doctors about now.

Link via Eschaton.

29 June 2003

Amended bill hits security target
The original bill was one of the worst introduced into the federal parliament. The amendments made by all parties have made a significant difference. Although the bill will still not satisfy those who argue against greater powers for ASIO, I believe that the right decision was made to pass the amended version as a one-off security measure. After September 11 and the Bali attack, national laws are needed to better protect the Australian people and to fulfil our international obligations to fight terrorism.

The bill can be justified in giving ASIO the power to question people about terrorism. It is true that the bill goes further than this and important reservations remain. But as a product of parliamentary compromise, it is a remarkable achievement. It is also a powerful example of the need to retain the Senate as an effective house of review.

Of course, if the prime minister's Senate proposal was now in force none of that review or compromise would have happened and the original bill would have been rammed through a joint sitting unamended.
[UK] Ministers knew war papers were forged, says diplomat
A high-ranking American official who investigated claims for the CIA that Iraq was seeking uranium to restart its nuclear programme last night accused Britain and the US of deliberately ignoring his findings to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein.

The retired US ambassador said it was all but impossible that British intelligence had not received his report - drawn up by the CIA - which revealed that documents, purporting to show a deal between Iraq and the west African state of Niger, were forgeries. When he saw similar claims in Britain's dossier on Iraq last September, he even went as far as telling CIA officials that they needed to alert their British counterparts to his investigation.

The allegation will add to the suspicions of opponents to the war that last week's row between the BBC and Tony Blair's director of communications Alastair Campbell was a sideshow to draw attention away from more serious questions about the justification for the war.

The comments of the former US diplomat appear to be at odds with those of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last week, Mr Straw said the British intelligence community had not known of the forged documents' existence "at the time when [the September dossier] was put together".

The big point, in my opinion, about the flame war over the use of intelligence in the lead-up to the war was made by Sir John Stanley to Alastair Campbell before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee:

You are a very, very skilled communicator, you are known universally as the Government's spin doctor, your business is to put the best possible presentation on the Government's policy, a perfectly bona fide role, everybody understands that, but I have to put it to you - and I do not put this to you in an offensive or personal way but in all seriousness because I share one thing in common with you, you said you were concerned to safeguard the integrity of the intelligence services and that is absolutely my position as well - as long as that policy in your paper is known, that you are in the business of making drafting suggestions to the chairman of the JIC, that Alastair Campbell's fingerprints are going to be on JIC source documents, I have to say I do not believe that is conducive to the integrity of the intelligence services.

For me, that's the heart of it. Parliaments were being given intelligence material where the data had been massaged for political advantage by people like Alastair Campbell.
No country can democratise another
Democracy means the right of people to make mistakes on the way to reclaim their own liberty. When France thought, along with the US and Britain, that the Algerians had made a mistake in voting in the 1991 primary elections for a relatively modest Islamic party in conjunction with the Algerian military they withdrew the democratic mandate. The resultant ten years of civil war, terrorism and the death of the middle class were far worse than if the electoral results had been supported.

Finally, democracies must be allowed to make fundamental political and economic decisions. The US with the complicity of Britain is making all of the vital decisions that will determine the future shape of Iraqi society before there is a government to either approve or disapprove of the decision. They have announced that there will be a privatised media, a privatised energy industry, an independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights and that Ba'athists will be persona non grata in future governments.

These may be prudent and wise decisions but they are not decisions for the United States to make. By making these sweeping changes on the ground, the fundamental sovereign decisions of an Iraqi regime have been removed. Even if in a couple of years Iraq achieves some form of minimalist democracy, the government will have nothing to do but decide the detail of how to apply the blueprints dreamt up in Washington. Democracy that empowers people is an apt answer to terrorism, which is an ideology of the powerless, but that democracy must be real.

Yesterday's decision to cancel local and provincial elections in Iraq confirms on the ground the intellectual weakness in the war party's project for Iraq. For practitioners of realpolitik they have some fairly unrealistic ideas.