Thursday, April 24, 2003

BIZARRE BOASTING CORPORATION: Fresh from quagmire coverage, the BBC criticises the American Media coverage of the war.

"If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism. This is happening in the United States and if it continues, will undermine the credibility of the U.S. electronic news media."
Meanwhile the British viewers vote with their remotes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

INSPIRED: by Jonathan Last and the inflexive need to misquote, I offer this wee GCSE of a quiz: Which of the following statements could be rendered true by the deletion of the phrase “a bit”:

A) “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different from the one we’d war-gamed against” Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace
B) “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different from the one we’d war-gamed against “ Russian Military advisors to Saddam Hussein;
C) “I’m a bit disappointed in the performance of the Elite Republican Guard” Saddam Hussein;
D) “I’m a bit disappointed in the performance of the Elite Republican Guard” The Arab Street;
E) “The reports we’re hearing Sharrf are a bit less credible than the ones I've reported“ ; Rageh Omar, BBC;
F) “The ethics we’re obliged to comply with are a bit different from the ones we tell you we strive to attain; CNN
G) "The number of refugees we’re receiving are a bit different from the number we’d refugee-gamed against (and asked for money for” UN Refugee spokesman;
H) “I’m a bit mad”: Robert Fisk, The Independent

“”Its new wealth came in raw, as money to invest or spend. Spain chose to spend – on luxury and war. War is the most wasteful of uses: it destroys rather than builds; it knows no reason or constraints; and the inevitable unevenness and shortage of recourses lead to a ruthless irrationality, which simply increases costs. Spain spent all the more freely because its wealth was unexpected and unearned. It is always easier to throw away windfall wealth.”
Thus David Landes described 16th century Spain in “The wealth and Poverty of Nations”, but its a description that could as easily apply to any of the oil rich Arab nations, and in particular Iraq. The last 20 years of Iraqi history has been a story of unearned wealth spent on pointless wars and shag pile luxury and at its pinnacle lay the “ruthless irrationality” of the Baath regime.

In economics this phenomenon is inaptly labelled the "!Dutch disease" – a description of the response of the Dutch economy to the unexpected discovery of natural gas in the 70’s. Ironically, however it was the Dutch that showed the cure; by the middle of the 17th century, just as Spain was starting to choke in bankruptcy, Holland had become the wealthiest of European nations through its relentless pursuit of wealth - principally through trade, but also through industry.

So will Iraq follow the Dutch road? The potential must certainly be there; a well educated populations, a Diaspora (who ironically fled the Saddam) that gives it international connections and now, perhaps, a brief window when the world’s spotlight benignly falls on its well-being and potential. And, perhaps also, a resource rich country grown rich through graft, that will be a good guide.

But like cold beers in the fridge, temptation lurks to take the easy route and all the world seems keen to see this gold. “Its all about oil, oil” the papers, pundits and people[ cry. Like most slogans it contains a grain of truth, but in the bellow of the mob its real meaning has meandered. If its all about oil, its all about how oil has cursed a region un-needing of its blessing. And like concerned onlookers ringed round a car wreck, our words and actions impede, not save the sufferer.

Most obviously, the earnest insistence by the conspiracy minded that Halliburton started the war may soothe a certain affliction in our hearts, but abroad it may wreck havoc. From the halls of Harvard to the Arab street the cry of "its all about oil" has ringed loud. But to the Iraqi poor this message reads, do nothing now but try to safeguard your hold on your countries oil wealth - the beers in the fridge.

It’s tempting to impugn some blame for this obsession on the French and Russians, who have so fervently focused on the scraps falling from the UN food for oil feast. Ironically however, they may be inadvertently leading the way forward. The French recently signalled that they would accede to the relaxation of sanctions, but stonewalled on the relaxation of the oil program. For the man in the street the message this send is that the opportunities lie now in trade, you’ll have to wait for the unearned wealth. Optimistically, this might mean that the people of Baghdad and Basra start to try to sell their wares.

A certain Alphonso de Castro of gold rich Spain remarked:

“Let London manufacture those fabrics to her hearts content; Holland her chambrays; Florence her cloth” and Iraq is indeed surrounded by many 16th Century Spain’s.

Of course this is the rose scenario; the budding entrepreneur may instead ask himself why he should sweat for the dimes of trade when the dollars of oil wealth awaits, and decide to wait. But the fiercer the deadlock that encompasses oil, the more he may be inclined to the latter view and perhaps the longer the wrangling continues, the more likely he will be to cast his lot in with the pursuit of dimes.

But there is also wine in the fridge; the call for democracy, now, as soon as possible. This may prove to be as insidious a temptation against work as the unearned wealth from the inheritance of oil. For most of the lives of most of the people of Iraq, government has merely meant the ability to control and bleed the incomes of others. For many a businessman, the notion that democracy is but 6 or 12 months away means not freedom to trade but a future of brides. Why set to work now before you know who the leaches will be? Why not invest your time now in political connections instead of economic production?

This cynicism can perhaps be seen in the group that was “a bit different from the one we’d development-gamed against” – the Shias. The poorest of the Iraqis they were meant to have risen up to assist the allies; instead they’ve clamoured for Sharia. While this has unsettled many a pie eyed neo con, perhaps it points to a greater truth.
For a people bleed dry for 30 years by the actions of autocrats, they crave a law and order outside the hands of man.

So maybe it would be well not to presume that the Iraqi’s just want the things we crave in the west – democracy, whisky and oil – but to look also to desires shaped by forces we have never experienced – poverty, oppression and hopelessness.

A TORTURED ANALOGY: but worth considering.
DEEP THROAT: Deep Throat said to be White House lawyer. I say its more likely to be an intern. But then again I’m not a 60’s boy so who cares?
LAW BORE: Perhaps more contentious than the oil and sanctions negotiations will be the dispute over the reform of the Iraqi legal code. On the one hand, at the civil level there is clearly a desire to implement some sort of Islamic law; on the other, at the commercial level, the tussle is between English and American law - a conflict that is being fought all across the newly globalised world; the prize being whether the project finance comes from Goldman Sachs via London or New York. In New York’s favour, the fact they control all but the southern two provinces. In England’s favour, that in countries such as Pakistan there is a legal template that incorporates both Islamic civil law and English commercial law. Watch this space
BATTLELINES: The EU Commission rejects the draft plans for the EU constitution:

The European Commission said plans by M Giscard's 105-member Convention on the Future of Europe failed to give any clear answer to the question of "who does what?"
Like what you do? Nothing hopefully.

It added that they were "unlikely to foster the development of a consensus on these difficult institutional issues".

By “Consensus” – don’t you mean control? Anyway, no thanks.


Aage Bjerre, who owns Aage's Pizza in Nordby on the island of Fanoe, has said he is tired of French and German attitudes toward the United States, calling them "disloyal" and "anti-American"….

The French are cowards and they are banned for life, and as long as the Germans behave disloyally towards the USA, I can't be bothered to make food for them," he said.”

He’s being sued for discrimination. Anyone in Austin feel like ordering a take away from this guy?

Monday, April 21, 2003

YOUR REWARD: The Royal Irish Regiment, fresh from liberating Basra are to be disbanded because of terrorist demands. You just couldn’t make it up.
WAR CRIME: Another atrocity?
EUR JOKING: George Monibot in The Guardian makes a compelling argument for joining the Euro:

“If the euro is adopted by all the members of the union, which suffers from none of the major underlying crises afflicting the US economy, it will begin to look like a more stable and more attractive investment than the dollar.”
Like 10% unemployment and stagnant growth? But then he moves on to this:

“Last year, Javad Yarjani, a senior official at Opec, the oil producers' cartel, put forward several compelling reasons why his members might one day start selling their produce in euros. Europe is the Middle East's biggest trading partner; it imports more oil and petrol products than the US; it has a bigger share of global trade; and its external accounts are better balanced. One key tipping point, he suggested, could be the adoption of the euro by Europe's two principal oil producers: Norway and the United Kingdom, whose Brent crude is one of the "markers" for international oil prices. "This might," Yarjani said, "create a momentum to shift the oil pricing system to euros." “I

So, the UK should join the Euro because OPEC wants it to? Yes, that sounds like a referendum winning argument.

GALLOWAY: The Telegraph seems to have struck a veritable fountain of dirt in the Ministry of Information. The latest story is that George Galloway, the British MP, was in Saddam’s pay; an easy accusation to make since it can hardly be construed as libel in Galloway’s case.

The Telegraph seems to have decided to serialise the Iraq Files; two weeks ago it was Putin, last weekend Schroeder, this weekend, who knows, perhaps someone beginning with “C”. Still, given that Schroeder was prepared to sue a paper over whether he dyed his hair, but has taken no action over an allegation that his government was in cahoots with Saddam, the files seem to have a ring of truth about them. But I doubt that they were found as easily as David Blair describes; it seems more likely that they were reluctantly handed over by the CIA or MI6.

OXFORD DICTIONARY OF MISQUOTATIONS: The Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations will include memorable quotes from the Second Gulf War, including, The Times reports:
“Other recorded quotations include one from Lieutenant-General William Wallace, Commander of the US Army Fifth Corps: “The enemy we are fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed.”
Should the phrase “a bit” be in there? Ah well, so looks like History is going to be written by the Independent.

FISKING GLOVER: Andrewsullivan links to this Spectator article claiming that the pro war rags gained while the peacenik papers saw their circulations plummet. The Economist came to the opposite conclusion. Looking at the ABC figures the economist is probably right but the figures relate to the “story” in March. However, it will be interesting to see how the circulations change once the “reality” of April is audited.
DODGY DEALINGS: The news that Schroeder attempted to cut a deal with Saddam’s regime in return for UN support has not come as a great surprise. But combined with the “non story” of the kidnapped 15 German tourists in Algeria suggest a risky precedent – the Reagan administration in the 80’s and its dealings with terrorists. First there was Iran –Contragate, where the Americans secretly dealt with a regime that they publicly considered a tyranny (like the Germans publicly professed Saddam to be). Second, there were the negotiations with the Beirut hostage takers (conducted in secret, like the Germans negotiations with the Algerian hostage takers). Neither strategy worked in the long term and both looked bad in retrospect. "The seagulls follow the trawler because they think ther will be sardines."

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