Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fox News Lite - all the slant you could ever hope for.

(I thought this link from that post was particularly enlightening.)

I watched a wee bit of 18 Tory Street last night and it wasn't an enjoyable experience (quite apart from the fact that the "live stream" stuttered like Arkwright replying to a request for discount). They were talking about multiculturalism. Fox News Lite was exactly what it looked like.
The Sun's front page on Tuesday was quite something. Obsolete says what I thought when I saw it (but better and with links).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blowback Redux

There's a good article over at CiF on the possibility that Ahmadinejad is on his way out.

I'm going to flesh out the comment I left there to address a couple of points.

Those arguing that Ahmadinejad current position demonstrates the success of Bush's confrontational approach are being marvellously selective in their analysis. As I've already said, any realistic assessment of Bush's approach to Iran should start with the "axis of evil" speech in 2002. At that time, Iran's President was Khatami, a relative moderate who introduced the concept of "Dialogue Among Civilizations".

After the invasion of Iraq and in the face of continuing hostile rhetoric, Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. Now, there are signs that Iran's Supreme Leader is getting ready to dump Ahmadinejad. At best, another reformer similar to Khatami will take his place. More likely, it'll be a traditional Islamic conservative.

At very best, Iran in 2007 will be a bit like it was in 2002 when the sabre rattling started. And Iran's Supreme Leader, who has a lot more power than the President, has been the same all the way through. Only by deliberately selecting evidence to fit your theory could you argue that Bush's actions have been successful. If Bush had agreed to the proposed dialogue with Khatami back in 2003, then things might have been different.

(On a slight tangent, Ahmadinejad's rise and fall are both partly explained by domestic Iranian issues, particularly the economy. It is amusing to see the way this is played up and/or down to fit the theory. Support for Ahmadinejad in 2005 was caused by domestic issues, not the hostile posture of the U.S. government. Waning support in 2007 is caused by that same hostility, not his failure to deliver on the promises he made on domestic issues. Hmm, a model of consistency there... In reality, there's a bit of both in both.)

On the other side, those arguing that Ahmadinejad is just misunderstood are mistaken. Leaving aside the recent barrage of anti-Iran propaganda (*waves at Con Coughlin*) Ahmadinejad is still not one of the good guys. He's a liability to the Iranian people and most Iranians realise that. He's on his way out, a good thing for the people of Iran, unless Bush and co. launch a military attack and rally Iranians behind their President.

For anyone who doubts this would happen, look at Bush's popularity among Americans post-9/11. After the attacks, his approval ratings jumped by about 30%. People from all sides of the political spectrum were lining up to express their support for the President. A similar thing will happen if the U.S. takes military action against Iran.

But most Iranians do not share the views of their current President. The anti-Western sentiment caused by the CIA sponsored coup against Mossadegh in 1953 and the subsequent British and American support for the Shah is still strong but it does not have the resonance it once did. For most of Iran's relatively youthful population, the coup was a long time ago.

Now, as Iran's well educated young population looks to move their country forwards, Bush's hostility threatens to create a whole new wave of anti-American sentiment. Unsurprisingly, Bush and his advisers have learnt nothing from the years of self-serving Western support for the Shah and the enormous blowback which it caused.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Who Wants To Be President?

The other day, while watching Blair make a bad job of delivering a televised speech, I was struck by one thought; that's it, he's finished. I was just about to articulate this when the other person in the room turned to me and said "he's finished, isn't he?"

Thursday's QT saw Matthew Parris say "I honestly think that he's losing his reason" to much applause. Parris pointed out that Blair's refusal to attend the Iraq debate in parliament was far more damaging than anything that could have happened to him if he'd attended the debate. I doubt there's more than a handful of Labour Party member in the whole country who would disagree. Leaving aside the morals of it, avoiding the debate was an absolutely awful political judgement. He's lost it.

Over at Blairwatch, Tom asks if Tony is fit to govern. I wonder if even his closest supporters could look you in the eye and tell you that he is.

But the Labour Party, aware that he's going soon and worried about creating a scene, are now content to let him have his final few months. Why they think that it's a kindness to Blair or to the Labour Party to allow this shell of a man to continue as leader is one of life's little mysteries. The Tories are the only one's who're actually going to benefit.

Tom picked out a quotation from Blair's interview with Jon Soppel:
I won an election in 2005.
This isn't a further sign that he has lost it; it's been clear for a long time that Blair has no respect for the conventions of British parliamentary democracy. He's thought of himself as Presidential in even his most rational moments. In the U.K, we elect a parliament of MPs and everything else is built on that. Blair's inability to understand that fundamental principle (and its implications) was one of his greatest failings.

It is interesting to note that Blair Lite appears to think exactly the same way. Voters did not vote for Blair at the last general election just as they won't vote for Dave in the next one. If the boy wonder wants to be elected President, he should say so and start campaigning for a new constitutional arrangement.

Instead, he appears to have accepted Blair's doctrine. Rather than promising to repair parliamentary democracy, he accepts that Blair's abuse of the unwritten rules of the current system has created a Presidential Prime Minister and he wants to be the next one at the earliest opportunity.

But what about Brown? I don't have the faintest idea what he thinks. Between the Blairite spinning against him, the Brownite spinning for him and his own supine acquiescence and his endless positioning to keep Blair onside, it is impossible to know.

If Brown's refuses to hold an early election, especially if Labour goes through a boost in the polls when he takes over and it looks like they could win, this could, perhaps bizarrely, be a demonstration of his commitment to British parliamentary democracy. A snap election during a poll bounce, on the other hand, would be cynical indeed.

Either way, Brown's continuing involvement in the Blair government means that he already has a whole lot of baggage to contend with. It'll take a lot more than a few headline grabbing initiatives to shake that legacy off his back. To be honest, I can't see how it can be done.

I know this is fanciful but wouldn't it be great if democracy was about more than just choosing the least worst option?
This week's Scottish blog roundup is out compiled by guest host, holyroodwatcher. Good stuff.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Diplomatic Solution

Newsday: The misunderstood Islamic divide
In what is viewed here as another example of the Bush administration's flawed understanding of basic forces in the Middle East, the president in his State of the Union address Tuesday lumped together Shia and Sunni militant groups as posing the same threat to America.

"The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," President George W. Bush said. "They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale."
ABC News: Potential New Evidence of Iran Providing Weapons to Iraqi Insurgents
Out of all the enemies the United States faces in Iraq, the most troubling ones come from Iran, and according to U.S. officials, the Pentagon will soon present evidence that Iran is providing deadly weapons to insurgents.
Washington Post: Bush OKs Countering Iranians in Iraq
President Bush has authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to take whatever actions are necessary to counter Iranian agents deemed a threat to American troops or the public at large, the White House said Friday.

"It makes sense that if somebody's trying to harm our troops, or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them," Bush said. "It's an obligation we all have ... to protect our folks and achieve our goal."
New York Post: How to Fight Iran
THE American carrier the USS John Stennis and its strike group are headed to the Persian Gulf to join another carrier group in a show of force meant to make Iran rethink its nuclear program. It may be a prelude to war.

The conventional wisdom is that there are "no good options" in dealing with Iran. Most commentators see one of two scenarios, both nightmares: a large, bloody and expensive ground invasion and occupation that would cause oil to spike through the roof or a monthslong aerial bombardment of Iran's estimated 1,500 nuclear-related targets that would trigger a worldwide terrorist backlash. (Alternately, the Israelis could do it for us and set the Middle East ablaze.)

Yet there is a third option, of which our show of force with two carrier groups could be the opening move: a naval and air campaign to topple the ayatollahs without a single U.S. soldier's setting foot on Iranian soil.
Front Page: Constitutional Authority to Attack Iran
It may be too much to expect George W. Bush to be another FDR, but it is not too much to hope that our current President will emulate Harry Truman—who dropped two atomic bombs in order to end the war in the Pacific and prevent countless more American deaths, and who knew that the buck stops in the Oval Office.
Bush has denied that he intends to take military action against Iran itself. He said that it was "a presumption that's simply not accurate".

On 10th March 2003 Blair wrote that "no decision has been taken to launch military action against Iraq".

On 12th March 2003, he again wrote that "no decision has been taken to launch military action against Iraq".

On 14th March 2003, he wrote that "no decision to launch military action against Iraq has been taken".

On 18th March 2003, he asked the House of Commons to rubber stamp his decision to go to war.

The war started on 20th March.

Just to be clear, it is impossible to be sure of Bush's intentions but it seems unlikely that an attack on Iran is days away.

But it should also be borne in mind that any U.S. attack on Iran would be different to the invasion of Iraq. As a ground invasion is not an option, there wouldn't be the need for a long build up to manoeuvre troops into position. Much of the equipment and manpower needed to launch an air attack is already in place and the second American carrier group will arrive in the region in a matter of weeks. And faced with an unfriendly Congress, Bush is highly unlikely to seek Congressional approval in advance. The actual attack, if/when it comes, is likely to come out of the blue.

For all the differences, all the sign are that public opinion is being prepared for some sort of military action against Iran just as it was before the invasion of Iraq.

Friday, January 26, 2007

It's all just a bit of a laugh

Like many others, the thought of John Reid becoming Prime Minister fills me with horror. I'm not a gambler myself but it does seem that the odds of it happening are pretty slim. Brown is odds on to become the next Labour leader and Reid is in a very distant second place.

As Mike Smithson notes, it is interesting that Reid's still second favourite at all given the way the tabloid press, and the Scum in particular, have decided to go after him. To my mind, that's a sign of just how impoverished the Labour Party has become under Blair. His insistence on a Presidential style government in which all the major decisions go through him - Brown's relative independence, secured in the infamous deal, aside - has damaged the ability other members of the party to develop as credible candidates to succeed him. The unintended consequence of Blair's centralist approach, it's legacy if you like, is that there really isn't a credible challenger to Brown. I think we all know what Blair thinks about that.

(Just in case you don't, remember that before there was an alleged plot by Brownites to depose Blair, there was an actual plot by Blairites to undermine the Chancellor and push Alan Johnson as the next PM!)

Mike concludes, rightly in my opinion, that that Reid will definitely not be elected as the next Labour leader. The Scum shows every intention of continuing their search for Reid's brain until any credibility he might have had is destroyed.

The fact that Reid is hugely unlikely to become the next Prime Minister makes me happy.

But does this mean that I'm grateful to Rupert Murdoch and the traitor for taking him down? Does this mean I'm now going to reconsider my opinion of these unscrupulous manipulators of public opinions? Should I now be not be quite so worried that Murdoch uses his power and influence to promote his own self-serving right-wing agenda while employees of his disingenuous rag pretend that it's all just a bit of a laugh?

No, obviously not; your enemy's enemy is not always your friend.

In conclusion, for reasons which should become increasingly obvious if you click through, here's a link to a post on he who speaks only in the third person. Hamster finds himself in full agreement...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More on Con

After yesterday's post on the man, I've just noticed that Con Coughlin is under investigation by the Press Complaints Commission. It'll be interesting to see whether anything comes of that.

I failed to mention yesterday that Con's article just happened to appear the morning after Bush's State of the Union address. It too was hostile towards Iran.

Unsurprisingly, my comment on his "blog" yesterday didn't make it past the moderators. It was only a question about his sources.

There is, however, a textbook screed on "appeasement" (by Sun Tzu of all people) just where my comment should be. It was written roughly half an hour after I posted my comment but that might just be a coincidence (Note - that isn't sarcasm, it may very well be a coincidence). Here it is in any event:
Hey no big deal all we have to do is talk. All we have to do is to look back at history. Remember he who does not know history will repeat it.

On 29th September, 1938, Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred to Germany the Sudetenland, a fortified frontier region that contained a large German-speaking population.

In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action Adolf Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement.

Now we have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Hitler) and Kim Jong il (Mussolini) of N Korea playing the same game all over again.

Now you think we should all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya"….It looks like the lights are on but no one is home. Ignorance is bliss.

”If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu (6th–5th century B.C.), Chinese general. The Art of War, ch. 3, Axiom 18 (c. 490 B.C., ed. by James Clavell, 1981).

Wake the hell up before you find yourself and your family simply ashes blowing in the wind.
Crikey. That really is top class string pulling there.

Fortunately, FlyingRodent recently reminded me that Larry had looked into the history of appeasement in some detail.

One other point worth noting. I couldn't help but notice that Con didn't manage to get anyone from the government to provide a quotation on his "story" for today's paper. In fact, the only politician Con managed to find to quote today was Conservative MP James Arbuthnot. He apparently found the report "deeply disturbing".

So did I mate but probably not for quite the same reasons.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In praise of proper light relief.

Totally agree. Meant to post about it during the first series but never got round to it. Get it!

That Con Man Again

As some readers may know, The Telegraph's Con Coughlin has something of a history when it comes to spreading the unsubstantiated claims of the security services and hiding the real source of the story from his readers. In a story about Colonel Gadafy's son, he wrote that the story had been supplied to him by a "British banking official" when he meant to write that it had been supplied by "MI6 agents". It is impossible to say whether he deliberately misled his readers; perhaps he has a faulty keyboard.

The truth of this only came to light when the Telegraph, in hot water because they couldn't substantiate their claim in court, was forced to admit the real source of the story.

With that in mind, Con has been making a lot of noise today about a connection between North Korea and Iran. His article on the subject is on the front page of the Telegraph. Links to an opinion piece and a pretend blog post are also featured on the Telegraph's interwebs. (What chance do you think my comment on Con's "blog" has of making it past the moderator?) The Telegraph also ran a leader on the story.

Con also appeared on the Today programme this morning to repeat the claims. (Thanks to J for the link.)

Con's source is "a senior European defence official".


Before giving any credence whatsoever to Con's assertions, it may be be a good idea to see whether anyone from the British government is prepared to go on the record to confirm these claims.

Remember, Bush never explicitly claimed that Saddam was involved in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The administration used implication and spin to send the message. Friendly journalists were encouraged and/or exploited to make claims which the administration knew they themselves couldn't substantiate.

Back in 2002, one journalists was taken to task by Warren Bass, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, for publishing a book "overblowing Iraq's link to the war on terrorism". The author of the book made a number of claims which didn't stand up to scrutiny or were based on dubious unidentified sources. Can you guess which journalist it was?

Pedantic note: It's not MI6, it's SIS. I've used MI6 because that's what was used in the article.

Why now?

Tony Blair's answer to the House of Commons was this:
The current Vanguard submarines have a service life of 25 years. The first boat should leave service in 2017. We can extend that for five years, so in 2022 that extension will be concluded, and in 2024 the second boat will also end its extended service life. By that time, we will have only two Vanguard submarines. That will be insufficient to guarantee continuous patrolling.

The best evidence we have is that it will take us 17 years to design, build and deploy a new submarine. Working back from 2024, therefore, that means that we have to take the decision in 2007.
So the Vanguard submarine has a maximum lifespan of 30 years.

Richard Garwin (whose title may be Mr, Dr or Professor depending on who you believe) gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee yesterday. He said:
US Trident submarines operate two-thirds of the time at sea, the UK subs about one-quarter of the time. The lifetime of the US submarines has been extended to 45 years.
He said:
I would expect that the UK submarines, from the point of view of wear-out, would last 100 years.. I see no reason why they shouldn't last 45 years.
He said the steam generators would wear out but that they could be replaced easily and relatively cheaply.

He said:
If Britain wants to preserve a strategic nuclear choice, then taking a decision now to replace the Trident submarines is a highly premature and wasteful approach. Unless some grave error has been made in the design of the Vanguard, it should last 100 years.
So there's a problem and when it comes to matters of trust, Blair starts with an obvious disadvantage. Even if he didn't though, I'd still be inclined to believe that it's the nuclear physicist who's right.

Why now?

It might be possible to spot the answer in this article which manages to be on exactly the same subject and on an entirely different subject at exactly the same time.

(A note for clarity - the U.S. navy doesn't use the Vanguard. They have their own design, the Ohio class. Comparisons are similar for similar, not like for like.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Remember those bloody looters? Those despicable scenes were a clear sign that the citizen of that country had no respect for law and order. Trying to build democracy there was a lost cause from day one.


There seem to be an awful lot of people who supported the Iraq war who now want to blame Iraqis for everything that's gone wrong since 2003. They seem to think that Iraqis are somehow less developed than members of the "civilised" nations.

But they don't seem to have asked themselves to consider how the citizens of the U.K. or the U.S. would behave if the authorities ability to maintain law and order completely collapsed. If you're one of those people, there's a wee clue to the answer in the link above.
Here's an example of a well-connected conservative manipulating the blogosphere's anti-establishment sentiment in order to, er, defend the establishment. And it worked.

Freedom! (to continue to spin, to manipulate, to misrepresent, to create fake grass roots, to drown out real voices with different views, and to make lots of money while doing so.)

Remind you of anyone?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Comment Settings

Bloggerheads: The De-Briefing (Guido and his political astro-turfers)

*Sticks head above parapet*

I agree with Tim.

*Ducks down again*

I really do urge you to read that post.

On a related note, I've been considering whether to turn on the registered users only option for comments here. I've never thought to do it before because I want to make it easy for people to express their opinions and because it didn't really occur to me that anyone would bother to astroturf here. I doubt anyone ever will but it might be worth taking steps to discourage it just in case.

The problem is, it's so easy to register blogger accounts, it really isn't much of a deterrent. Anyone determined enough to astroturf in this obscure corner of the interwebs is probably not going to be put off by that.

It would make this impossible though. I've got profile images turned on which would help to some extent but many people wouldn't notice that. And lots of people don't have an image saved anyway.

On reflection, because it would be so easy to pretend to be someone else with the current settings, I may well switch it on. Anyone who wants to comment can easily sign up for a blogger account. Any opinions?

And does anyone know if that'd affect comments already left by unregistered users on previous posts? I wouldn't really want them deleted.


I've decided to keep things as they are for now. See comments below for details.

Dedication oh, Dedication oh, Dedication

That's what you need

Exciting news this week as Nick Cohen's strawman is widely rumoured to have reached record breaking proportions. Sources are claiming that it is now so large that it entirely obscures his view of reality.

Officials from the Brewers Book of Really Big Things were set to measure the strawman on Sunday but eventually had to admit defeat. Embarrassingly, they had not brought anything with them big enough to measure it with. In a statement, a spokeman for the famous reference work said that a custom built device was now under construction and that it may take weeks to complete.

Under questioning by our intrepid reporter, he was forced to concede that no-one had ever imagined you could build a strawman that big. He went on to stress that he could not officially confirm that a new record had been set until accurate measurements had been properly recorded.

Greatest Challenge

"The truth is, this may be one of our greatest challenges" he added.

Another attempt to measure the strawman is expected sometime in early March.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Quote of the year?
One Cabinet colleague said Blair would go of his own volition if he felt it necessary. 'The stakes are immeasurably high. But what he will never do is to be pushed. About the only circumstances in which he would say "I will call it a day" is if he really felt he was damaging the party.'
How can something so extraordinary be so unsurprising?

I've never been a member of the Labour Party (or any other political party for that matter) but there must surely be some sort of mechanism for making him understand.

Bravery in the Face of Defeat

Blair likes to praise the bravery of our troops on occasion. There are those who think this insincere but I disagree. It is often the case that those who lack a certain characteristic genuinely and sincerely admire those who have it in abundance.

He has sent others to their deaths but does not have the bravery to personally face the barrage of nasty words which might come his way in this debate. Perhaps he lacks a sense of perspective. Perhaps he thinks nasty words are more dangerous than the bullets and bombs he has ordered others to face.

I'm being facetious. It's not just nasty words. As has been obvious for a very long time now, Blair has gone to great lengths to avoid having to participate in an honest debate about Iraq. He clearly feels that such a debate would damage his reputation, his legacy and the length of his career. He undoubtedly considers putting those at risk a far more serious and troublesome undertaking than merely risking the lives of a few unimportant squadies or a few tens of thousands of Iraqis. It's a risk he's simply not prepared to take. The stakes are just too high.

He is, in short, a self-serving coward.
The fifteenth edition of the Scottish Blog Roundup is out now.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Labour's reaction to the arrest of Ruth Turner has been quite something. These are the very same people who constantly argue that the police should be trusted with more summary powers.

Ruth Turner was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. It's an imprisonable offence. As such, the police had the right to take a sample of her DNA and store a record of it on their DNA database. Because of the arrest, the police now have the authority store her DNA on the database permanently even if she is never charged with any offence.

I wonder if they did?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Legacy

Ruth Turner, Blair's Director of Government relations, has been arrested.
She was questioned over honours allegations and suspicion of perverting the course of justice. She has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Whatever happens with this, it amazes me that there are still so many Labour MPs and activists prepared to let Blair depart "with dignity". Faced with distrusted, disliked and laughably inept Tory opposition during his entire time in office, Blair has still, almost single-handedly, managed to totally destroyed Labour's reputation. That's quite a feat.

Those who continue to support him are only making it even more likely that the whole Party will go down with his sinking ship. There are signs that self-interest has finally started to motivate them in ways that mere principles never could but it may very well already be too late.
This week's post have all been rather serious in nature. How about a little light relief to lighten the mood?
Brownie: The truth that dare not speak its name is that on Iran, Bush and Blair have played a blinder.

Gene: But let's not forget... even if Ahmadinejad is forced out, the struggle for freedom in Iran will be far from over.
No, stop. My sides...

Brownie's "blinder" is that it is possible that the situation in Iran might revert back to something like the one which existed in 2002 when Bush described the country as part of the "axis of evil".

That is, Ahmadinejad might be replaced by a "moderate"" like the previous President. Khatami did try to reform Iranian society but was hampered by the relative lack of power of the President in Iran's political system. He also introduced the concept of a dialogue of civilisations. When he stepped down in 2005 (having served his maximum two terms), the hardline Ahmadinejad was elected to replace him.

Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, now appears to be worried by the failures of Ahmadinejad's economic policies and concerned that his belligerent rhetoric is making it more difficult for Iran to implement their nuclear programme (which he maintains is for peaceful purposes only). There are signs that he may have withdrawn his support for the President.

But, Gene reminds us, even if that happened and Ahmadinejad was removed, that shouldn't mean that Bush and Blair should tone down their own "struggle for freedom" rhetoric.


Man, those guys crack me up.
Guido Fawkes 2.0?

Now that's an escalation.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Core Beliefs

Remember Cully Stimpson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs? He's the one who launched an attack on law firms representing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and encouraged the media to join in. It was a small object lesson in the Bush administration's cosy relationship with the right-wing media and the way they try to exploit that relationship. This time, fortunately, it backfired badly. The administration has had to deploy their plausible deniability defence.

Stimson has even apologised. Sort of.

There's an audio link to the original interview here (wma). He said:
Actually you know I think the news story that you're really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request through a major news organization, somebody asked, 'Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there,' and you know what, it's shocking.
He then listed a number of firms and went on:
I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.
It was an outrageous suggestion and has quite rightly been shouted down.

Note that there's no messing around with words like "alleged" or "suspected" for Stimson. The "very terrorists" he said. That this man has any involvement in the process of giving the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay a "fair trial" is a farce.

Now he says his comments didn't reflect his "core beliefs".

There's a good sign of the sincerity of this apology in the way he addressed the other allegation he made concerning payment. He now says:
During a radio interview last week, I brought up the topic of pro bono work and habeas corpus representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not.
Nice use of the word "zealous" there in his apology.

But that's not the point. The point is to compare his apology with what he's actually apologising for. When asked who was paying the firms, he said:
It's not clear, is it? Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they're doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving monies from who knows where, and I'd be curious to have them explain that.
The implication couldn't be clearer, particularly in the context of his previous remarks. The only impression these comments left was the one that they were specifically intended to leave. Regrettably, my comments left the impression... It is probably not the most honest apology you've ever encountered.

He has not been sacked.

But then, that'd be no way to repay a deniable lackey who walked up to the plate, sucked it up and took one for the team. He'll probably be promoted.

Relax? Don't Do It

Many people now believe that the Bush administration desperately wants to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. In fact, almost everyone would agree that that's what they want to do.

Many people are also concerned by recent signs which suggest that the Bush administration has already started down the road towards making it happen. There are others, however, who argue that whatever Bush's intentions might be, this desperately unpopular lame duck President doesn't have the authority to make it happen. "Relax" they say, "Congress would not allow it".

Given everything we know about the Bush administration, the last thing we should do is relax.

Let's start at the beginning. Pat Buchanan, for all that there's a very clear agenda behind this article, is essentially right about the Democrats. Back in 2002/03, the Democrats cheered Bush into launching a disastrous war of choice in much the same way that the Tories cheered Blair. Neither opposition party, neither legislature in fact, has a record to boast of when it comes to opposing Bush and Blair's rush to quagmire in Iraq. Neither is now in the lead in demanding that Bush and Blair be held to account for their actions.

The comforting thought now is that although Congress did not oppose Bush over Iraq, the political climate today is very different to the one which existed in 2002/03. Indeed, it is precisely because of Iraq that Bush's words and actions are now subject to far greater scrutiny and scepticism. The strategies which the administration employed to justify that war will not work again this time. For those reasons, it is argued, Bush won't be having his military action against Iran, whether he wants it or not.

That the political climate has changed in Congress and in the U.S. as a whole is beyond dispute. After Bush's speech. Ron Paul, a Republican member of Congress, said he was concerned that "a contrived Gulf of Tonkin-type incident may occur to gain popular support for an attack on Iran". He also noted that "speculation in Washington focuses on when, not if, either Israel or the U.S. will bomb Iran".

Walter Jones, a another Republican Congressman, has introduced a Joint Resolution demanding that Bush seek Congressional approval before ordering any use of military force against Iran. From the Buchanan article:
The day after Bush's threat to Iran, Jones introduced a Joint Resolution, "Concerning the Use of Military Force by the United States Against Iran." Under HJR 14, "Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States, its territories, possessions or its armed forces, the president shall consult with Congress, and receive specific authorization pursuant to law from Congress, prior to initiating any use of force on Iran."
That this resolution is the work of one of the men who brought Freedom Fries to Congress is as potent a sign of the changed political climate as you'll ever find. How could Bush possibly get what he wants in the face of such opposition even from within his own party?

Well, Bush almost certainly believes that he has the authority to order military action against Iran without the express approval of Congress. This again from the Pat Buchanan article:
On ABC last Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, while denying Bush intends to attack Iran, nonetheless did not deny Bush had the authority to escalate the war -- right into Iran.

George Stephanopoulos: "So you don't believe you have the authority to go into Iran?"

Stephen Hadley: "I didn't say that. That is another issue. Any time you have questions about crossing international borders, there are legal questions."

Any doubt how Attorney General Gonzales would come down on those "legal questions"? Any doubt how the Supreme Court would rule?
No, I don't think there is.

Bush has made a mockery of the accepted limits of Presidential power under the Constitution almost from the very start of his Presidency.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law.


On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.

After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief.
Even if Congress approves the resolution put forward by Freedom Fries Jones, even if the Bush administration utters not one word of opposition to it, there's no reason to believe that Bush wouldn't simply issue a signing statement to the effect that it was unconstitutional and that he could therefore ignore its provisions.

There is, rather, every reason to believe that he considers previous Congressional support for the "war" on terror to be all the authorisation he needs to conduct whatever military action he deems necessary anywhere in the world.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said he was not aware of any consultations with Congress before the assault.
This was the first overt U.S. military action in Somalia since 1994. and the first Congress knew of it was when they heard it on the news. When Bush claims to be "decider in chief", he's not messing around.

In truth, it would be very difficult for Congress to stop the Bush administration from getting what it wants on Iran. To be absolutely certain, Bush and Cheney would need to be removed from office before the crisis/excuse/manufactured incident occurs (take your pick). The question is, does Congress have the bottle to take out Bush and Cheney in a pre-emptive strike? Could they possibly do it without conclusive evidence of the administrations intentions, evidence the administration is extremely unlikely to provide? Now there's an irony.

There may be a handful of members of Congress with the courage to attempt this but no more than that. The vast majority of them, career politicians first and foremost, will not. Instead, they'll simply position themselves so that they can't personally be blamed for Bush's actions. Freedom Fries Jones, who undoubtedly knows the President's attitude towards Congressional restrictions on his role as commander in chief, has got his positioning in nice and early. "I tried to stop him, it wasn't my fault..."

Public opinion may not have any effect on the Bush administration but it does have an effect on most members of Congress. If there's any way to stop Bush, it's to make members of Congress understand that simply adopting the posture of opposition is not enough.

Here's Ron Paul's fatalistic assessment again: "Speculation in Washington focuses on when, not if, either Israel or the U.S. will bomb Iran". That's not good enough. Now is not the time to relax.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Your Country Needs You!

Vote Brian Haw.

Seriously. Imagine the message that'd send to the politicians in their cosy Westminster bubble.

It'll only take half a minute to vote. Why not encourage other like minded people to do the same? Go on. I'll owe you one.

Those not familiar with Brian should start here.
Tim has a post up about Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines). Interesting.

Can't help but notice that Guido has comment moderation on again. If that was simply about deleting "boring" posts, why go to the bother of having to personally approve every single one of the numerous comments his site receives? (It wouldn't be too much trouble for the comments he submits himself, of course.) And pretty much real time too if my not at all scientific checks in the early hours of this morning and then just now are any indication. Surely an occasional scan through to delete these "boring" posts would be all that's required. Unless Guido has some sort of overwhelming phobia about "boring" posts, he's behaving rather strangely. It's almost as if he's got something to hide.

And as Tim points out today, Guido's response is far from open. Did he answer any of the points Tim raised or did he indulge in the sort of smearing which is so popular among the politicians he claims to despise? He didn't even link to Tim's post to make one of his "witty" remarks about it. Clearly Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) really doesn't want you to read the post.

Guido can do what he likes of course but his responses to Tim's post have been informative in their own way.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Remember when Blair approved the sale of a hugely expensive BAE Systems military air traffic control system to Tanzania despite the fact that Tanzania had almost no military aircraft? The SFO has discovered that BAE paid a middleman a $12 million "commission" to grease the wheels of that transaction. I wonder how Lord Falconer will quash that investigation?

And what's this? Remember Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate Blair helped out with various deals after he donated £125,000 to the Labour Party? You know, the man Blair claimed he helped because he was the owner of a British company despite the fact that the company in question was actually registered in the Dutch Antilles? Well, he now intends to donate £2 million to the Labour Party. Well I never.

Do you think Polly still as a few of her nosepegs handy? The stench is getting to be almost unbearable.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars points out that even some Republican have openly expressed concern that Bush may be planning to create a Gulf of Tonkin type incident in order to justify military action against Iran.

So it's not just us leftie moonbats who're worried.

The linked article on Bush's proposed replacement for John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence is also worth reading.

Scottish Blog Roundup 14.

Get it while it's hot.

Repeat until Believable

Edward Pearce on Blair:
"The point about Blair is that he combines maximum assurance with maximum delusion." The comment, made privately by the leader of a Labour council, is the exact and perfect judgment. No other analyst need apply.
Indeed but here's a little bit more analysis anyway. This particular topic has been covered here before but if the PM is going to continue to say it, it seems only fair to continue to point out that he's talking utter garbage.

In his "warfighter" speech, he argued that this country must continue to be willing to participate in the illegitimate use of violence as a means to combat the illegitimate use of violence of others. He didn't phrase it that way of course but that's essentially what he said. He also blamed the media, the public and the military for that fact that the policy wasn't working.

He said:
They now know that if a suicide bomber kills 100 completely innocent people in Baghdad, in defiance of the wishes of the majority of Iraqis who voted for a non-sectarian government, then the image presented to a Western public is as likely to be, more likely to be, one of a failed Western policy, not another outrage against democracy.
The majority of Iraqis voted for a non-sectarian government?

If you are a dedicated sophist, you could just about argue that there's a tiny sliver of truth in that but sophistry and the power of Blair's delusions and pronouncements have no impact on the real world. Blair's refusal to accept that may be one of his most alarming traits.

The reality is that the vast majority of Iraqis voted along sectarian lines. Even Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, could not avoid concluding that "it looks as if people have preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identities". It's not in any way controversial.

And yet Blair continues to make these absurd claims, lies in fact, and the majority of MPs and activists in the Labour Party continue to let him. And the Tories, the party who did/didn't support the war (delete as appropriate), are not exactly doing a sterling job of holding him to account either. When our PM can repeatedly lie about the situation in Iraq without facing any consequence whatsoever, is it any wonder confidence in politicians is at an all time low?

Still, I suppose that's all our fault too. If only we were the credulous, unquestioning fools Blair would like us to be, our democracy would be in the best of health.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

They Hate Our Freedoms

Clive Stafford Smith on a new approach to the U.S. government's defence of Guantánamo Bay internment camp.
The ink was barely dry on all the criticisms issued on the five-year anniversary of Guantánamo Bay before the US department of defence began its desperate riposte. On the day of the anniversary, January 11 2007, Cully Stimson, a "deputy assistant secretary of defence for detainee affairs" went on Federal News Radio to launch an assault on the law firms who represent the prisoners. (You can listen to his interview here.)

The deputy secretary, a lawyer with the department of defence (DoD), knows "the news story that you're really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks" about Guantánamo Bay. A freedom of information request has, he says, elicited the names of the lawyers representing the prisoners.

"And you know what?" he asks rhetorically. "It's shocking." He goes on to list a Who's Who of the American legal profession, which he obviously had prepared to read out on the radio programme. I could name many others.

He suggests that this information should be passed along to the CEOs of American businesses who currently employ these firms, because the lawyers "are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001." He thinks that those CEOs should "make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." This scandalous story, he says, "is going to have major play" in the media.
Read more. If anything, it gets worse.

(I've changed the link to the interview to a more useful one that that used in the original article. The link I used is from this page on Federal Radio News)

Friday, January 12, 2007

An Army of Frothers

Right, I will change the record shortly but one more post on Iran for now.

Via a comment by redpesto, my attention is drawn to one Andrew McCarthy writing for the National Review's The Corner. From what I've read elsewhere, the Iranian government building raided in Irbil may not have been an officially designated consulate but the Iranians presence was certainly fully authorised by the Kurdish authorities. McCarthy, however, accepts that it was a consulate.

He writes:
[T]he raid on the Iranian consulate in Iraq's Kurdish region has to be welcome news. We would certainly regard that as an act of war if the tables were turned.
Hurray for acts of war!

To fully understand where McCarthy is coming from, I'll first go back to quoting something I wrote before Bush made his speech. It concerns the anonymously leaked claims that the Iranians are aiding both sides of the sectarian conflict in Iraq in order to provoke instability.
If he [Bush] goes on record with these claims, I'll be extremely surprised and I'd still want the captured documents made available to independent experts for translation and corroboration before giving any weight to them. It is, however, far more likely that he will insinuate that the claims are true without actually saying so directly. Frothing warmongers will then complain that he didn't go far enough, that he should have made the case explicit, that he should have published the captured intelligence, without considering possibility that he didn't do any of these things for the very good reasons that the intelligence doesn't actually exist.
Hopefully, we're now all up to the speed with the fact that Bush made no explicit reference to these claims and have understood the implications of that omission.

But what did McCarthy make of Bush's speech? He was underwhelmed. While welcoming Bush's words, he did not think Bush went far enough.
Under the Bush Doctrine as articulated in September 2001, it [material support for America's enemies] is supposed to be met with a vigorous American response because we deem rogue regimes to be just like the terrorists they abet. Patently, in the case of Iran and Syria, we have not done that. In turning away from the Bush Doctrine in this most essential of its potential applications, we have turned away from the blueprint for winning the war — not the Battle of Baghdad but the War on Terror.

In the raging sectarian warfare, Iran promotes jihadists of both Sunni and Shiite stripe. Plainly, it sees its interest in a destabilized Iraq.

Actions, the old saw tells us, speak louder than words. Given our actions, and what they imply about our sentiments, it’s going to take a lot more than last night’s rhetoric to make an impression on Iran and Syria.
Froth, froth, bomb, bomb, kill kill.

If I could be bothered to wade through all the bile, I'm quite sure I could find many more examples of this sort of war drumming in other neo-con publications today. It's not that McCarthy is involved in some deep dark conspiracy (at least, I very much doubt he is), just that his own prejudices make it easy for the Bush administration to manipulate him.

Sometimes, for all that I try, it is simply impossible to avoid saying I told you so. But it's not that difficult to predict this sort of thing when exactly the same tactic was used before the invasion of Iraq.

Cowboy Diplomacy Rides Again

As far as I can tell, the British media doesn't really seem to have grasped the importance of the Iranian angle to Bush's escalation speech. I've been banging on about it here but it doesn't seem to have been given the coverage it deserves in the British media.

It's almost enough to make a person wonder whether he's barking up the wrong tree.

But then again.

Only this president, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even messianic certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq, by offering an entrance strategy for Iran.

Only this president could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me” — only to follow that by proposing to repeat the identical mistake ... in Iran.

Only this president could extol the “thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group,” and then take its most far-sighted recommendation — “engage Syria and Iran” — and transform it into “threaten Syria and Iran” — when al-Qaida would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us.

This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes. And to Iran and Syria — and, yes, also to the insurgents in Iraq — we must look like a country run by the equivalent of the drunken pest who gets battered to the floor of the saloon by one punch, then staggers to his feet, and shouts at the other guy’s friends, “Ok, which one of you is next?”
Full transript here (via).

And there's more (via a comment by rick). And more. And more. And a bit more. I could go on but you probably get the picture.

And there are some British voices who have noticed too. Our old friend Con Coughlin is all for this escalation against Iran. Well, who would have thought it?

In a previous post, I suggested that Blair might understand that British involvement in attacks on Iran would be a step too far for him. I may have been over-optimistic. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Blair is today making a speech on the need for continued support for American policy and stressing the need for British armed forces to "be war fighters" and for us to "pay the cost of that fight, whatever it may be".

Or perhaps it isn't.

By the way, Olbermann, for all that he's often bang on the money on Bush's many failings, made a rather grotesque claim in his special comment. A vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq? I think you'll find the vista is far more littered with corpses than that, Keith. Or do only Americans count?
At this point, it's worth repeating something retired U.S. Colonel Sam Gardiner said last year (via the now sadly defunct Whiskey Bar).
When I discuss the possibility of an American military strike on Iran with my European friends, they invariably point out that an armed confrontation does not make sense -- that it would be unlikely to yield any of the results that American policymakers do want, and that it would be highly likely to yield results that they do not. I tell them they cannot understand U.S. policy if they insist on passing options through that filter. The "making sense" filter was not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be applied in evaluating whether to attack Iran.
- The End of the "Summer of Diplomacy" (pdf)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

John Reid = hugely unpopular.

Listen to that sweet, sweet music.

Nudge Nudge

Tim is back. Yay!

As the Iraqi end of Bush's speech is well covered there, I'll continue to concentrate on the Iranian angle. Let's look at the references to Iran in yesterday's speech. I'll ruin the tension straight away and tell you that he didn't explicitly reference the "captured intelligence" reported by the New York Sun.

Right, here's the first mention of Iran.
Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause, and they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra -- in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
It is undisputed that the Iranians support the SCIRI and therefore the Badr Organisation so the explicit, but actually very limited claim made here is probably true. No reference here to Iranian support for Sunni extremists though or of an Iranian policy of intentionally fuelling sectarian conflict. Instead, Iran is mentioned in the context of the attack on the Golden Mosque and a strategy of provoking sectarian violence. Note that the NYS article suggests that the Iranians are "clandestinely cooperating, with Sunni Jihadists who attacked the Golden Mosque". Bush didn't explicitly make the same suggestion. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

I've run out of time. More on this in an update to this post this evening.


We interrupt the analysis of Bush's speech to point out that U.S. escalation against the Iranians is ongoing.

For some reason, I'm reminded of the way Bush wanted to provoke Saddam into retaliatory action by painting U2 spy planes in UN colours and then flying them over Iraq. The thinking was that if Saddam did react, this could then be used as a justification for the military action Bush had already decided to take. That plan was never actually carried out, of course.

More later.

Update 2

Right, here are the rest of Bush's references to Iran in yesterday's speech.
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
This time, mention of Iran is embedded in a series of key words and phrases. Radical Islamic extremism, chaos, Iran, nuclear weapons, our enemies, safe haven, attacks on the American people. The ultimate key phrase, "September the 11th, 2001", is also there. No explicit link is made (apart from the nuclear one) but the implication that Iran is somehow connected to all of these phrases is obviously intentional.

In fact, of course, victory in Iraq, the stabilisation of the Shiite dominated government, would be a victory for the Iranians. Failure of the sort Bush imagines, a Sunni extremist, al Qaeda style group taking control of Iraq, would be very bad news for the Iranians too.

Last section now and this is the really troubling one.
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
This is the escalation as it relates to Iran. Rather than talking to the Iranians as recommended by the Iraq Study Group, Bush goes all out and claims that the Iranians are providing "material support for attacks on American troops". Instead of dialogue, there will be increased military pressure on the Iranians.

As far the claim that Iran and Syria are "allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq" goes, this is pure misdirection. The U.S. are on the other side of those borders. If it was so easy to stop insurgents moving across them, why don't they do it? It's because it would be enormously difficult. Iraq's borders with these countries are long and extremely difficult to police. You could probably stop a conventional military force from crossing because a conventional military force is large and pretty obvious. Terrorists and insurgents, on the other hand, are not easily spotted. That's sort of the point.. You might as well claim that the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 terrorists to move into their territory before the attacks. It's quite true but it says nothing about whether they supported the terrorists activities. (Note to conspiracy theorists: not interested, take it elsewhere.)

It may be true that the Iranians are providing "material support for attacks on Americans troops". Juan Cole offers a considerably more plausible explanation.
Although Bush keeps implying that Iran is supplying weapons and aid to US enemies in Iraq, the circumstantial evidence is that it was helping the two main US allies in Iraq with their paramilitary capabilities-- Kurdistan and SCIRI. But it is likely that the money and weapons do bleed over into insurgent groups and have a destabilizing effect.
It certainly wouldn't surprise me if they are supplying material aid to Shiite and Kurdish groups in order to bolster their ability to fight Sunni insurgents, particularly the Baathists (all three groups hated Saddam's regime with a vengeance). And, as the Professor says, in the chaotic world of today's Iraq it is highly likely that some of this material aid could be diverted from its intended purpose. Material aid delivered by the British and Americans has certainly found its way into the wrong hands.

That's a far cry from an Iranian strategy of deliberately targeting U.S. troops or indeed fuelling the sectarian violence by supporting each side against the other (the second of which, as I said, Bush did not in any way claim). It is certainly true that Iran is actively involved in Iraq but all the evidence suggests that Iranian involvement is at the active request of Shiite and Kurdish members of Iraq's "unified and democratic" government.

If they are provoking instability, it is only to the extent that they are aiding the Shiites, and to a lesser extent the Kurds, in their efforts to defeat Sunni insurgents. This is exactly what the U.S. government says it has been doing in Iraq these last three years. I wonder if that counts as fuelling instability and sectarian violence too?

For those who think the difference is that the Iranians are funding Shiite death squads, think again. Check the date of that article. How does that correspond with the rise of Shiite death squads in Iraq?

Just to re-emphasise one more time, at no point did Bush claim that the Iranians were playing Sunni against Shiite in Iraq. But he did make some pretty serious threats.
We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq... I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will... deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
These are not small measures. One U.S. carrier group is an extremely powerful force; having two in the region is significant. As a means to combat Iraq's sectarian strife, two U.S. carriers groups would be overkill in all senses of the word. And what are the Patriot air defence systems for? You certainly don't fight terrorists or insurgents with an air defence system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. These are systems designed to be used against a conventional military force. What did Bush say they are being sent for? "To reassure our friends and allies". To reassure them against what exactly?

It is possible that all of this is just sabre rattling designed to pressure the Iranians into halting its nuclear enrichment programme but Bush is not known for making empty threats. He is, rather, known for his propensity to favour violence as a means to achieve his stated goals. If that's what he intends to do, I doubt the Democrats or anyone else will be able to stop him.

If he does escalate the conflict and start attacking Iranian facilities in any significant way, it'll make what's happened so far look like that elusive "cakewalk" we were promised. Because if the Iranians really start to cause trouble for U.S. forces in the region, it'll be a whole lot worse than anything that has gone before.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

As regular readers may know, the idea that John Reid could be the next PM scares me silly. The ex-communist bully boy he has a reputation for competence which seems to be based solely on the fact that he can string sentences together in a semi-coherent fashion. This, admittedly, is something that not all members of the government are capable of but it's hardly a good indicator of wider competence in running a government deperatment, never mind the whole country.

So it is fortunate, in a way, that the Doctor's efforts at the Home Office are revealing the depths of his "competence" for all of us to see.

And here's a wee reminder of Reid's not so distant past.
Reid is not without serious blemish. A few months before his Ulster posting [2000/01], he was the first senior cabinet member ever to be severely censured by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Elizabeth Filkin. It was a tangled affair, but in essence he was accused of using parliamentary allowances, taxpayer's cash, to pay the salaries of staff, again including his son, in his constituency office, knowing that they were really working for Labour's electoral campaign. In the course of the inquiry, it emerged that Reid had held "discussions" with other witnesses, which in plain unparliamentary language sounded a lot like threats. Conveniently for Reid, Filkin's censure was overturned by a Labour-dominated House of Commons committee. It was a political fix that undermined her office, and diminished the notion of independent parliamentary scrutiny of MPs' conduct.
Reid is the personification of everything that is wrong with New Labour.

Use of Weapons

So President Bush is to announce his long awaited new strategy for Iraq today (actually 2am, Thursday morning in British money).

If you aren't intending to stay up to watch his speech, here's an exclusive BSSC preview.

Bush's trusted cabal of foreign policy advisers are ideologically committed to the use of violence as the main means to achieve their objectives. They believe that the U.S. government's current difficulties are due to the fact that they have not used enough violence, that their problems would be solved if they could really take the gloves off and let rip. That's one of the reasons why they are so hostile to the "liberal" media; TV pictures of the actual consequences of the U.S. use of violence in far away places, beamed into the living rooms of the American public, act as a restraint on their ability to pursue their agenda.

The conviction that violence is the primary solution is held with religious fervour and no amount of real world evidence or rational argument will shake their faith in the power of violence. This week's attacks on "suspected terrorists" in Somalia are an expression of that belief.

Bush is essentially going to announce more of the same as the solution to Iraq's problems.

These same advisers, this same mindset, will also be the main influence on President Bush's decisions on policy towards Iran. In an earlier post, I highlighted this report from the NYS which claimed that the U.S. government had captured intelligence which showed that Iran has been playing Sunni against Shiite in Iraq in order to provoke civil war. The claims made in that article have spread like a rash.

Mel Phillips, unsurprisingly, has swallowed them whole, even going so far as to say that it is "blindingly obvious " that Iran is "the principle instigator" of the current war. As Mel doesn't allow comments on her own site, I decided to ask one of her supporters on the CiF thread ( why it was that this apparently hugely significant find had been announced by anonymous officials to the NYS. Why, I asked, had Bush himself not made any reference to these claims. No answer was forthcoming but this oddity did nothing to dent Sluijser's confidence in the essential truth of the claims made in the article.

There is one possibility (other than the obvious one that the claims are entirely spurious). It has been exactly one week since the NYS claimed that the U.S. government has this damning intelligence. I can't find the link now but I read one anonymous official tell the Washington Post (I think) that President Bush's comments on Iran in today's speech would be "informed by" the claims made in the NYS article. Is Bush saving this bombshell for today's speech?

If he goes on record with these claims, I'll be extremely surprised and I'd still want the captured documents made available to independent experts for translation and corroboration before giving any weight to them. It is, however, far more likely that he will insinuate that the claims are true without actually saying so directly. Frothing warmongers will then complain that he didn't go far enough, that he should have made the case explicit, that he should have published the captured intelligence, without considering possibility that he didn't do any of these things for the very good reasons that the intelligence doesn't actually exist.

In the campaign to build popular support for the invasion of Iraq, this method, using anonymous briefings and playing to the prejudices of friendly journalists and warbloggers, was how the direct link between Saddam and the September 11th attacks was created in the minds of the American people (some of them at least). When Bush says he never claimed that there was such a link - "This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda" - he's not lying. All he ever did was imply one; his army of useful idiots did the rest.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, it's all just a little bit of history repeating.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Spooks in your Inbox

From tomorrow (Tuesday), MI5 is offering a new service.
MI5 is to send emails alerting the public to the prospect of an imminent terror attack. From tomorrow, the security service's website will provide a free registration service for those wanting the latest information about the threat level. Subscribers entering their email address will receive a message with the words ''MI5 news update'' whenever there is a change on the website.
I hate to be a party pooper but I already have a service in place which alerts me to any changes in the terror threat level. I call it "the news". And the great thing is, anyone with an internet connection, a TV or a radio can already access this extraordinarily useful service.

It's a wonder MI5 didn't know that. I might email them. They'll already have spent the money now and have gone to all that effort at what must be a very busy time but at least they'll know for the next time.
Dear Spooks,

I am writing to direct your attention to a service you may not have heard of. It's called the BBC News website. This publicly available service is specifically designed to disseminate newsworthy materials and I'm reliably informed that it reaches a rather large number of people. While you appear to be unaware of it, the BBC and other media organisations (companies who specialise in providing factual information to the public) have an impeccable track record when it comes to this sort of thing. A simple phone call to a person called a "journalist" would be a simple and cost-effective way to advise the public of any changes to the terrorist threat level.

Sorry for taking up so much of your time with this email but I thought that knowledge of these "news services" might be of some help to you in your tireless efforts to defeat the terrorist menace.

Yours humbly,

Perhaps I'm being unkind. Maybe this is actually part of a new cunning but secret plan to win the war on terror with a deluge of unfiltered spam.
Steven Poole on "Melanie Phillips". Heh.

Smoking Guns and Propaganda

This year, everyone will be talking about Iran. Whatever the intentions of the Iranian government, Iran's leaders are now in a position where they will find it impossible to halt their uranium enrichment programme in the face of American demands. Unless the U.S. government is prepared to offer concessions of a size that'd make Iran the unambiguous winner of this confrontation, and the Bush administration certainly wont do that, the Iranians will not back down.

Regarding the intentions of the Iranian government, it should be remembered that while certainly possible, there is no conclusive evidence to support the view that they have a nuclear weapons programme. It is also worth noting that Iran's stated reason for developing nuclear power is to reduce their dependence on their finite oil resources in order to make more oil available for export and for processing into petrochemicals.

This rationale has been slated as ridiculous by many but it was considered perfectly credible when then the U.S. government was offering assistance to the Shah in the 1970's. A strategy paper signed by President Ford stated that the "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals." Iran obviously has less oil now than then so it's slightly strange that so many people now consider this possibility so utterly implausible.

There are, nevertheless, still questions as to whether the Iranians are being entirely honest. The IAEA have said that "Iran possesses a document related to [the] casting and machining of enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms". There is, as far as I'm aware, only one use for these hemispherical uranium forms. and it isn't as the latest design of Nike football.

But then again, despite fatuous reports that Iran's spiritual leaders had issued a fatwa allowing the use of nuclear weapons (the reported "fatwa" actually came from a minor figure, a student called Mohsen Gharavian who immediately complained that he had been misquoted), Iran's Supreme leader has actually issued a fatwa expressly stating that "the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons".

It is hard to know what the real intentions of the Iranians are. President Bush, however, has no such difficulties. Never one to question the validity of his own judgements, he's already decided that he does know exactly what's going on and he has been clear as to the approach he intends to take. Several times, he has stated that a nuclear armed Iran is "unacceptable".

The noise in the media concerning military action against Iranian nuclear facilities has been steadily increasing in recent months. 2007 may well be the year in which the U.S. and/or Israel takes military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. It is hard to avoid concluding that a campaign is under way to prepare the public.

Here's an example of this in action. The small silver lining to the cloud is that this does suggest that the U.K. government may not be so keen this time round.

According to Newsnight's sources, the "meddling" Iranian's captured by the U.S. military in Iraq, the one's in Iraq at the express invitation of the Iraqi government, were there to meet with various Shiite factions.
Officials told Newsnight the arrests produced highly important intelligence, but no "smoking gun" about weapons supplies or attacks on coalition forces.

They said that the arrested men were in Iraq to hold high-level meeting with representatives of several Iraqi Shia factions.
This makes perfect sense. While giving the general impression that the Iranians are "up to no good", the extent of the anti-Iranian message is limited.

On the other side of the pond, however, a notoriously right-wing newspaper is telling a different story. Here what the the New York Sun had to say on the matter (via).
Iran is supporting both Sunni and Shiite terrorists in the Iraqi civil war, according to secret Iranian documents captured by Americans in Iraq.

The news that American forces had captured Iranians in Iraq was widely reported last month, but less well known is that the Iranians were carrying documents that offered Americans insight into Iranian activities in Iraq.

An American intelligence official said the new material, which has been authenticated within the intelligence community, confirms "that Iran is working closely with both the Shiite militias and Sunni Jihadist groups."


Another American official who has seen the summaries of the reporting affiliated with the arrests said it comprised a "smoking gun." "We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to," the official said.
Just to reiterate, both of these reports concern the same captured Iranians. Clearly, these two reports of the captured intelligence cannot both be accurate.

What's going on there then? I'm going to have to speculate to an extent but I suspect Con Coughlin would probably understand it.

It's safe to assume that if British intelligence services genuinely had access to this sort of smoking gun, the British government would be very keen to make sure that we all heard about it. The Blair government are desperate to divert blame for the failure of their Iraq misadventure onto anyone but themselves. If they'd had access to captured intelligence which showed that the Iranians genuinely were fuelling Iraq's instability by playing one side off against the other, they'd tell everyone who'd listen. The fact that they haven't can surely only mean that they don't have access to this sort of intelligence.

Given what American intelligence officials have told the New York Sun, that leaves two realistic possibilities. The first is that the U.S. government has this information but has decided not to pass it on to the British but this would make no sense at all. The Bush administration wants the British to help them pressure the Iranians and are trying to turn worldwide public opinion against Iran's government. In such a circumstance, why would they withhold such information? Even taking into account the famously secretive nature of the secret services, it just doesn't add up. Why tell the NYS but not your main ally?

The second possibility is that this intelligence is a fiction, one that even the British government is not prepared to propagate. That seems to me to be the most likely explanation. It is explicitly illegal in the U.S. for the government to conduct disinformation campaigns against its own citizens. This is almost certainly the reason why the "information" has been released to a friendly newspaper by anonymous intelligence officials. Anyone heard any member of the U.S. government go on record with these allegations? No? Perhaps that's because it is illegal for a U.S. government official to tell the U.S. public something they know to be false.

But they don't need to make an official statement. Despite the absence of any on the record expression of these allegations, the echo chamber of the interwebs (along with more traditional forms of communication) will spread this sort of disinformation and add to its apparent authenticity without any further manipulation from the government. Here's an example from the Christian Broadcasting Network (via). One of the bizarre ironies of the interwebs is that those who uncritically disseminates propaganda like this are also highly likely to be entirely too fond of calling people with alternate views "useful idiots".

In any event, to seems safe to conclude that the intended effect of this propaganda is to provide a boost in U.S. public support for military action against Iran. It appears to be a strong indication that the U.S. government is preparing for another use of force.

As noted earlier, the fact that Blair has apparently refused allow similar leaks from British intelligence may be a sign that he knows that significant U.K. involvement in this is simply not an option. It is highly unlikely that he does not want to participate, more that he feels it'd be politically unacceptable. For all that the Labour Party has been unforgivably compliant with regard to Blair over Iraq, there are signs that they're near to breaking point. It should be remembered that Blair's stance during the crisis in Lebanon caused considerable instability within the party. Active British involvement in military action against Iran would probably be the final straw.

Blair has, however, been happy to pump out as much anti-Iranian rhetoric as he can. It looks like he's trying to get into the position of being able to offer at least diplomatic support for the U.S./Israeli military effort.

But if Blair did decide not to involve British forces in military action against Iran, that wouldn't be the end of the matter. There's every chance that British troops in Iraq could get caught up in Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces thus drawing the U.K. into the new conflict.

There's an idea going around that there could be a relatively cost free limited air campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities. To see how dangerous this is, consider Blair's recent claim that the reason Iraq has been difficult is because he didn't realise that when you use force to achieve an objective, other people will tend to use force to try to stop you. He really isn't as bright as is sometimes claimed. The idea that the Iranians will not have a major say in the scale of any military confrontation initiated by the U.S. seems to be based on the same wilful naivety. Whether the plan is for a limited military action or not, the U.S. is highly likely to become sucked further into an ever more treacherous quagmire if it attacks Iran militarily. It's hard to see how U.K. forces could avoid becoming involved too.

All the signs are that this could be a very difficult year.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

This week's Scottish Blog Roundup is out now. Lot's of bloggy goodness as usual.

On an only very slightly related subject, I still haven't finalised the new layout here yet. I'm in something of a quandary with regard to my blogroll and that's the reason why it hasn't reappeared in the new template yet.

The social aspect of it has always appealed (although I've always been very bad at maintaining the thing and there are any number of bloggers who I meant to add but never got round to).

But I don't really want the clutter of listing so many links, especially now that I've only got one sidebar. Also, there are disadvantages to listing an enormous number of links on your front page when it comes to google rankings and that sort of thing. For those reasons, I'd sort of like to trim it down. But that'd mean removing some from the list and even if I didn't want to add more, that'd be very difficult indeed. The problem is that there are just too many good bloggers and not enough space.

I'm wondering whether I might do something similar to Nosemonkey and list them on separate pages with a link from the main page. Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?

Friday, January 05, 2007

In Search of the Strings

This is quick follow up to the previous post. It concerns Bush's intention to crush the al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and is speculative, perhaps even bordering on conspiraloonacy.

The U.S. administration has had a problem with al-Sadr ever since the Mahdi Army's 2004 uprisings but the current obsession with him is a relatively new phenomenon. It is perfectly possible to understand this as an expression of the bizarre machinations a desperate U.S. administration but it is also possible that other actors have fuelled this new desire to disband his militia.

And the question then is, who gains? Al-Sadr has shown himself willing to co-operate with the Iranian government but contrary to some reports, and unlike members of the SCIRI, he is not particularly keen on the idea of the Iranian government acquiring too much influence in Iraq. In fact, he and his homegrown Iraqi militia present a barrier to the extension of Iranian influence.

And he is in direct competition with the SCIRI and their Badr Organisation for the loyalty of Iraq's Shiites. It is already clear that al-Hakim is trying to manipulate the U.S. into destroying all Sunni resistance and therefore removing one barrier to SCIRI/Iranian power in Iraq. Is it such a stretch to imagine that members of the SCIRI might also be attempting to manipulate the U.S. military into crushing their main Shiite rival too? I'm not sure it is. Without the Mahdi Army in Iraq, the SCIRI would be in an even stronger position and that would suit them and their Iranian supporters nicely.

(Note - I've used "SCIRI/Iranian power" as a sort of shorthand. They have a very close relationship but shouldn't be thought of as one unified block.)

It is not a given that the U.S. military will succeed in disbanding the Mahdi Army, far from it in fact. Disbanding a militia which has popular support is hugely difficult and, as I've said many times, the U.S. military is particularly unsuited to this sort of operation. But, whether as unwitting puppets or not, the U.S. is about to begin a campaign which, in the unlikely event that it succeeds, will only advance Iranian interests in Iraq yet further.

Every time you think there might be some possibility that these idiots have finally realised the size of the hole they've got themselves into, it turns out that they were actually only pausing for long enough to find themselves an even bigger spade.