Friday, April 18, 2003

OLD EUROPE: It has long been argued in economic circles that the sclerosis afflicting Europe is primarily seated in it’s restrictive employment legislation. How easy it will be to change these laws if a 64 million dollar question. The Independent reports that the Red Brigade lives on and is ready to fight labour market liberalisation.
I DIDN’T INHALE: The Telegraph reports

Mountaineers on an anniversary Everest expedition are taking the impotence drug Viagra, which scientists believe will relieve high-altitude lung problems.

Lucky for Bill that Monica never read about this.

DIGGERS: It looks like the Aussies aren’t called "diggers" for nothing.

More than 50 fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles and guns and huge amounts of ammunition have been found buried and hidden at a base in western Iraq.


Based on reports by Austrian news magazine "profil", the German daily Die Welt is reporting that Algerian officials are in contact with kidnappers of at least some of the tourists who have gone missing in the Sahara over the past month:
The goal is apparently to force the release of four Algerian extremists recently sentenced in Frankfurt for planning an attack on the Strassburg Christmas Market. The German foreign ministry did not want to comment. “Nothing is being ruled out” in the investigation and all leads are being persued, a spokesman said. Officially, all countries involved are still viewing kidnapping only as a possible scenario about the tourists’ whereabouts.

So 31 tourists go missing for 2 months and their respective governments say nothing. A case of the dog that didn’t bark? Whilst you can appreciate the necessity for secrecy in delicate situations like these, the fact that the relevant governments have not even disclosed whether they know the hostages are alive or that negotiations are in progress is worrying. Doesn’t it imply that the German government is preparing to make concessions without revealing that decisions were coerced on to it as a result of blackmail? It’s hard to imagine someone like Schroeder doing something like that isn’t it?

More on this in the Independent.
THE GRAVY TRAIN: If you want to understand the UN’s resistance to ending the Iraqi crisis just read this article; since 1996, the Oil for Food program has provided nearly $1 billion to the UN in administration fees. Not much? Well, the program employs 1,000 UN staff and 3,000 Iraqis (all of whom must belong to the Baath party) so that’s about a quarter of a million dollar per head – and that’s including the Iraqi personnel (per capita GDP in Iraq is around $5,000 dollar per capita). Since, presumably the UN personnel got more than the average, these figure probably understate the case, but by how much more we don’t know as full accounts aren’t published.

But hang on; it’s all humanitarian food aid? Wrong; in 2002 only 1.2 billion out of 4.4 billion went for food. Thus while Tommy Frank’s quip that it is really an Oil for Palaces program is perhaps overstated, it is clearly not Oil for Food. After all the purchases included items such as “armoured telecommunications cables”. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as Oil for Friends operation with the UN as an expensive middleman?

So who benefits apart from the UN. Well, while we all know that France is the largest beneficiary, we don’t know exactly how much they gain because, again, full accounts aren’t polished. But a clue can be gleaned from the figures quoted. Since Phase IX (2001), the accounts were compiled in Euros; a strange choice given that the price of oil is internationally quoted in dollars - unless of course the oil was only being used to purchase European produce.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

THE MORNING AFTER: A translation of a Le Monde Editorial at Europundits looks over the past few months:

The President’s conduct reflected public opinion. In the future, we will talk about the hysteria, the collective intoxication that shook France for months on end, the anguish of the Apocalypse that seized our better halves, the almost Soviet ambiance that welded together 90% of the population in a triumph of monolithic thought, allergic to the slightest dissent. In the future, we will have to study the media’s partisan coverage of the war—with few exceptions, this coverage was more activist than objective, minimizing the horrors of the Baathist tyranny in order to better reproach the Anglo-American expedition, guilty of all crimes, all problems, all misfortunes in the region.

Read it all.


The EU external affairs commissioner Chris Patten, in Australia for trade talks, launched a thinly veiled attack on the policy in a speech in Canberra.
"We've started something in Iraq which doesn't finish with the disappearence of the Republican Guard," he said. "The best response to those who have criticised the war would be to ensure that we played a part in creating something a great deal better."
Yes I’ve completely forgotten what Chris was saying last month.

CONTRADICTORY. The Russians present their position on the sanctions on Iraq:

" Mr Ivanov said. "For the Security Council to take this decision, we need to be certain whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not."

So if Iraq has Weapons of Mass destruction then sanctions should be maintained but if they don’t, they should be released? Or is it the other way round? I think we should be told.

CAT AND MOUSE: This is an interesting story from the Sydney Morning Herald:

"He's a bully; he's not brave. He left half his bodyguards in one of the safe houses he was using in this war, knowing it was about to be attacked. Most of them were his cousins - they died in the air strike.”

Which suggests that Saddam may have been behind the initial tip off about his were abouts, presumably In order to throw the allies off his trail in the first days of the war. And perhaps he played the same trick again in the second hit. After all it does seem to a bit of a coincidence that that both attempts occurred on the first and last days of the conflict. But we’ll probably never know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

HARD YARDS: As this story reports the Aussie troops have been doing a great job in the desert. As this story reports the Coalition are asking for more. Having done the hard yards of fighting, is Howard willing to commit to the hard yakka of peacekeeping? I hope so.

Interestingly Tim Blair reports that amongst the Ozzie forces are “PSYOPS mavens from the Australian SAS's elite mockery division” – also known in England as the Australian Cricket team. So we can expect a declaration before tea today, then?

DUD LINK: The Indie pitches in:

“A terrorist, yes, but no proof of Saddam's links to Bin Laden”

It doesn’t however provide any evidence that Bin Laden is alive and therefore that any such link could ever be proven.

TO THE VICTORS THE CONFLICT: Via EnglandsSword this article by John Lloyd on the “Blair doctrine”.

"A line has been crossed, and politics must deal with its crossing. Tony Blair is the leader who, of all others in the world, has given himself and his country the responsibility of dealing with it. And now the longer test, of him and of us, begins.
The line he crossed that which has gone on since the end of the Cold War: it went under many names, but the one which has stuck is that of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This has been the realisation that, as Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, put it in a speech last February, ‘human rights and the evolving nature of humanitarian law will mean little if a principle (of sovereignty) guarded by states is always allowed to trump the protection of citizens within them’. "

Two things to note; firstly this is a doctrine Europeans can sign up to, and perhaps one they are already signing up to. Secondly, while it may agree with the Bush pre-emptive security doctrine on Iraq, it won’t necessarily do so in the future e.g. Syria.

FISK WIFE: Need I say it but the Fisk Wife is at it again:

“It's going wrong, faster than anyone could have imagined”

Except, of course, you. Really it’s time someone wrote a Fisk report generating program, or sued the Indie for passing off by filing his reports in the Arguments not Arts section.

TERRORIST CONNECTION: The main story of the day has been the arrest of Abbas. However, as with much of this war, this news has been overshadowed by the actions of the people who were meant to report this news. Andrewsullivan, Instapundit and the rest of the “BBC Blog Inspectors” have been on the ball noting how initial reports of that someone died during the hijack arranged by Abbas have morphed into an admission that he was actually killed before finally fronting up that those PLF “freedom fighters” shot and dumped overboard a disabled 60 year old Jew. But not before an opinion piece had been written rubbishing the importance of this arrest. Anyway everyone else has this story better than me so follow them

Interestingly the Telegraph has more on the Islamic terrorist connection. Like the Putin Blair spy scandal, this one comes from the looting of the Ministry of Information. It seems that while the Baghdad media sheep wondered the streets looking for American atrocities and glum Iraqi's, the Telegraph actually had a journalist on the ground who realised in which building the money stories would lie.

GLOAT: Chirac reveals the guiding philosophy of current French Foreign policy

“Still dazed by the speed of Iraq's capitulation, M Chirac is groping for a sequel to his defiance of the march to war. He has dispatched his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, all over the Middle East to seek out a French role in whatever comes next.”
Yes, whatever.

IN MY NAME: How we all laughed at the “Not in My Name” protest slogan – as though Tommy Franks was ever going to name the Iraqi Invasion “Operation Free Fisk” or “Operation Enduring Dowd”. But it wasn’t entirely a joke; as the smoke of conflict clears, the battle over the right to use “My Name” has started in earnest behind the front lines. Already talk of quagmire starts to seem appropriate.

Unknown combatants disguising themselves in the clothes of earnest concern have started to mount guerrilla operations against coalition relief efforts, refusing to allow their name to be associated in any way with the military-industrial complex. A number of small scale skirmishes have occurred. Perhaps the most serious engagement occurred in Bagdad where guerrillas, believed to belong to the hack media Fedayeen, ambushed and held hostage a seriously injured 12 year old. Fortunately, this battle was resolved peacefully after “tribute” was paid to the appropriate charities, but nonetheless questions remain over how many more such conflicts are occurring up and down the country - both sides seemingly unwilling to release reliable casualty figures. And the resitance isn't limited to civilian groups,; other countries forces appear to be entering the conflict. Today, supply lines were hit in the UN region when threats were made to maintain the oil for food program - a gravy pipeline that provides billions in exports to economically dependent counties such as France.

While at presnt the situation remains confused, it seems that the guerrillas can be broadly divided into two groups. The first group is made up of the foreign mercenaries that have joined the Fedayeen; motivated principally by financial considerations, theirs is essentially an opportunistic war. However it would appear that the conflict is being won against these elements; isolated, unsure of the terrain and suffering attacks by the local population, many are now desperately seeking to escape the conflict zone. The second group, the so called “My Name” Fedayeen faction, may however prove a tougher nut to crack. Organising themselves into cells, commonly known as NGO’s, these groups operate autonomously, their actions coordinated by a combination of fanatical internationalism and personal moral vanity. Already at editorial desks around the world, the word “Kosovo” is starting to be heard.

CRY WOLF: Funny how Fisk now seems to have become be a permanent fixture at Marine HQ in Bagdad:-

"When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning ­ flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows ­ I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire". I gave the map location, the precise name ­ in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the scene ­ and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air. "

You can just imagine - "Sarg, the guy who thinks we're in Stalingrad is here again and says a biblical museum is on fire, oh and he's now talking Arabic". "Get him a cup a tea and call someone from the mental health social services."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

MODO: Simon Jenkins catches Modo-Fisk fever in the Times today.
Modo-Fisk fever: Symptoms:- writing unintelligible fact/fiction articles in major broadsheet. Cause: unexpected reality.

ROAD MAP: Hamish McRae has a good road map in the Indie today - and like Rumsfeld's its flexible.
SLICK SHIFT GEARS: Chirac proves that French foreign policy can shift from forward to reverse faster than a French tank.

AND ELSE WHERE: Ivory Coast seems to have slipped off the radar screen but the situation hardly seems stable (nothing like as bad a s Baghdad of course). But the whole conflict raises a couple of interesting questions.

Firstly, this conflict was dealt with in a nuanced fashion – both the rebels and government signed up to a French brokered peace deal. As time wore on it became apparent that neither side had any intention of abiding by the terms of the deal – it was drafted in French after all!

Secondly, for those of you following Andrew Sullivan and his unease about peaceniks fronting up about secretly seeking American body bags, ask yourself this; wouldn’t you secretly like to see La France get a bloody nose in this conflict, regardless of how the people of the ivory coast suffer as a result?

ALI, ALI: - To me the most meaningful story of this conflict so far it is young Ali. Largely ignored by the US media he had dominated the copy in Europe – and it’s not hard to see why. But his suffering encapsulates the vapid and ultimately venal emotionalism now sweeping Europe. On day 1 of his story we heard sympathy and a desire to do something to save him from the affliction visited on him by Yankee bombs. And on day 2 we heard more sympathy, but nothing was done.. and on day 3 great concern, but again, nothing was done and day 4, …well you know the pattern by now.

As Susan Ryan notes today, instead his image was used by NGOs to raise funds;

The most blatant deceit, well-meaning though it may be, is that of the Daily Mirror's "Ali Appeal", which has so far raised £140,000. Despite its name and the acres of copy on him that accompany the appeal information, none of the money will actually go to Ali. The appeal is for Unicef. “

And in a paragraph this sums up the posture that has passed for European morality throughout this conflict.
For 12 months Old Europe has maintained that it is the true guardian on of human rights, the safety of the world and concern for the Iraqi people, but it has done nothing about it nor urged anything to be done. Why? Because like Ali, the Iraqi question was not about Iraq or the people of the region – the moral position adopted by Chirac and Schroder was used just as a fundraiser for the European Super state and an attempt to co-opt the support of anti American mob.
But this is just politics; consider this paragraph and realise the rot is much deeper
Most are signed up to the Red Cross code of conduct, which stipulates that they must not allow themselves to be used as an instrument of foreign policy.
"When Bush came out and said if you are not with us, you are against us, it made us all stop and think," one director told me. "If he forced us to make the choice, then we would be against him, because we are not for or against anyone - we are a global family. I think there is a feeling out there that 'you made the mess, you clear it up'.”

So if they had to choose between a child’s life and their political beliefs, they’d choose, well?

Monday, April 14, 2003

LIFE IS A FUSSIN AND A’ FIGHTIN’: So sang Bob Marley and Libby Purvis agrees in The Times today. Its time we started ditching the belief that disagreement is a condition to be treated by psychiatrists as opposed to a fundamental human condition and more importantly a dynamic for political, social and personal development.

"Europe’s history is about more than commonality: it is about conflict, and that should be admitted and even celebrated.”

HUMAN SHEILDS: David Yutar of the Cape Argus politely manages to avoid the “w*£k?r” word but still hits the nail on the head.
MILK AND HONEY: Instapundit quotes 4 positive (but by no means realised) developments so far:-
(1) A high-profile Iranian conservative calls for a reexamination of Iran's relationship with Israel.
(2) North Korea may enter multilateral talks -- the kind that the Bush administration has demanded -- about its nuclear program.
(3) Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has picked a reformist cabinet. (Arafat, the power-hungry jerk, has rejected it.)
(4) Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ally and champion of settlement builders, may uproot his West Bank base "faster than people think."

From the Saffie Independent, add a fifth -

The Zimbabwe government is moving to restore some confiscated farms to white farmers, to compensate evicted farmers for improvements to their farms and to amend draconian security and media laws, the South African government said on Friday.”

So it looks like even Mugabe is joining the act. It would be touching to think that the recent death of Zim Hero Piper Christopher Muzvuru in Basra had a role in this.

REFORM: John Howard proposes dumping the French:
"Prime Minister John Howard wants to reform the United Nations, saying the presence of France as a permanent member of the Security Council "distorts" the council.
He wants Japan, a South American country and India to be represented on the Security Council. France was there only because it was a global power at the end of World War II, he said".

While I agree that countries like India are due a place at the top table, I wonder whether dumping France is the answer. Surely that answer to the UN’s problems is to stack the UN Security Council with such a diverse bunch of veto wielding powers that resolutions are only possible on the most banal of issues. This will surely kill once and for all the delusion of the UN as a final arbiter of right and wrong

HARD COP SOFT COP: while many have argued that the fall of Baghdad signals the end of the road for the Bush Blair partnership, it seems to me that the Syrian question offers its best opportunity yet. As Amir Taheri argues in the times today, the Assad regime is evil, but unlike the Saddam regime neither delusional nor irrational. If any regime is amenable to a combination of the Bush “big stick” and Blair “one happy world” approaches, it is this one. It seems likely a parting of ways in the public statements on Syria will occur but in this endeavour perhaps the common purpose will be applied more effectively than ever.
PARANOID PARRIS: The letters column in the Times today rather puts down Mathew Parris’s assertion that Blair is mad and the Americans dangerous.
As an aside, Parris wrote a recent travel article extolling the safety of travelling in Southern Algeria. Will he be retracting that statement as well soon? Some hope.

A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS: FRENCH philosophy or pretentious gibberish? T

The question has nagged ever since Eric Cantona ripped up the book of football clichés eight years ago to declare that “when the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea”….
Cantona returned to France last night with the riddle still unsolved. “I was dreaming at night and wrote some words down,” he said. “I put them together. It should have some meaning but I don’t know what exactly.”
“I put them together. It should have some meaning but I don’t know what exactly.”

Words that could be used to descibe Chirac's Iraq policy?

Sunday, April 13, 2003

OH THOSE RUSSIANS: A good quote from the telegraph explains why the Three Monkeys' house of cards was always bound to collapse:

"The day after a summit of the main anti-war countries ended in St Petersburg without a formal communique, Moscow officials conceded that sooner or later the Kremlin would resume normal relations with Washington
The source added that Russia never expected any long-term principled position from either France or Germany

ISN’T THAT OUR CAR? Coming back in last night I heard a rather amusing exchange when I switched on the TV. The Gophers had just won the NCAA title and, in celebration, rioting broke out in Dinkytown. KARE –11 were soon on the scene and in the newsroom- link up the following exchange with the reporter on the ground (or words to the effect) took place:-
“Hi, Bob, can you tell us what’s happening”
“Well, the situations unclear at the moment but”
“Is that a car burning behind you, Bob?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Isn’t it a Cherrokee,?”
“Yes, it is “
“Hang on, isn’t that our car?”
“Yes, it is”
Now in light of recent events, two comment spring to mind. First, that celebrations often lead to disorder; the Minneapolis police seemed content to leave things until they subsided a bit before stepping in. Seems reasonable, so why do we fret so when the same happens on a larger scale – both in terms of the importance of the celebrations and the disorder - in Baghdad ?
And secondly, there was a certain poetic justice in the fact that it was a media vehicle that was torched. After all, how profitable would the news be without trouble and strife to report on? Looks like the news bites back.

THE GREAT GAME: Barbara Amiel writes in the Telegraph:-

President Bush certainly wants to make a deal with Mr Putin, but has failed so far. The White House believes there is a shared interest in deposing Middle East radicals, given Russian problems with Islamists and Chechens. Perhaps Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, has focused too much on the moral and strategic value of the Iraqi operation, rather than its tangible benefits to Mr Putin. Russia, after all, might be more interested in oil contracts and a pay-off. Its president comes from a KGB culture and Mr Bush and Miss Rice, when all is said and done, are not KGB sort-of-thinkers. Possibly, in spite of Mr Bush's background as an oilman, the deal Mr Putin wanted was too far out of the moral ballpark.

In London, Mr Blair, having won his hand, seems to think it is time now to give it away. His support of the UN and his apparent desire to plant Britain squarely back in the Franco-German camp seem perverse. For all Mr Blair's stellar qualities, his attraction to the miasmic notion of nation states joining together in an international jamboree is junior common room circa the 1960s. Indeed, those holding sway in Europe now, from Gerhard Schröder to Mr Blair, remind me of what Dostoevsky observed about Russian novelists when he said "we all came out of Gogol's Cloak". This lot all emerged from Tom Wolfe's "quasi-Marxist fog".

I agree, but I think maybe the fog was smoke, man.

BLAIR’S COLIN POWELL MOMENT?: Will the Russian spy revelations I turn out to be Blair’s Colin Powell moment - the moment he grows up and realises that not everyone is your friend, that people lie and that the leaders of countries should understand this? Unfortunately this story suggests not.

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