Wednesday, 30 July 2008

David Kilcullen

From Dave Kilcullen, My Views on Iraq,  yesterday on the Small Wars Journal blog. An excerpt:
Anyone who knows me has been well aware of my position on Iraq for years. When I went to Iraq in 2007 (and on both previous occasions) it was to end the war, by suppressing the violence and defeating the insurgency. (Note: I said END the war, not abandon it half-way through, leaving the Iraqis to be slaughtered. When we invaded Iraq, we took on a moral and legal responsibility for its people’s wellbeing. Regardless of anyone’s position on the decision to invade, those obligations still stand and cannot be wished away merely because they have proven inconvenient).

Like every other counterinsurgency professional, I warned against the war in 2002-3 on the grounds that it was likely to be extremely difficult, demand far more resources than our leaders seemed willing to commit, inflame world Muslim opinion making our counterterrorism tasks harder, and entail a significant opportunity cost in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This was hardly an original or brilliant insight. Nor was it particularly newsworthy: it was a view shared with the rest of my community, and you would be hard-pressed to find any professional counterinsurgent who thought the 2003/4 strategy was sensible.

The question of whether we were right to invade Iraq is a fascinating debate for historians and politicians, and a valid issue for the American people to consider in an election year. As it happens, I think it was a mistake. But that is not my key concern. The issue for practitioners in the field is not to second-guess a decision from six years ago, but to get on with the job at hand which, I believe, is what both Americans and Iraqis expect of us. In that respect, the new strategy and tactics implemented in 2007, and which relied for their effectiveness on the extra troop numbers of the Surge, ARE succeeding and need to be supported. In 2006, a normal night in Baghdad involved 120 to 150 dead Iraqi civilians, and each month we lost dozens of Americans killed or maimed. This year, a bad night involves one or two dead civilians, U.S. losses are dramatically down, and security is restored. Therefore, even on the most conservative estimate, in the eighteen months of the surge to date we have saved 12 to 16 thousand Iraqis and hundreds of American lives. And we are now in a position to pursue a political strategy that will ultimately see Iraq stable, our forces withdrawn, and this whole sorry adventure tidied up to the maximum extent possible so that we can get on with the fight in other theaters – most pressingly, Afghanistan. [more]

See also George Packer’s 2006 New Yorker article on David Kilcullen, which I linked to in this post. BBC Radio 4’s Analysis broadcast an interesting programme about him last year. The audio version of it isn’t online anymore, but you can find a transcript here.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Playing with matches 2

Another week has gone by since this post.

UPDATE: But why the rush?
The Washington Times, July 30th:
The forthcoming Russian anti-aircraft system in Iran may precipitate an early Israeli strike - or promote the posture of mutually assured destruction (MAD) between Israel and Iran. Both options look bad.

In March 2009, Russia will deploy modern S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles in Iran. By June 2009, they will become fully operational, as Iranian teams finish training with Russian instructors, according to U.S. and Russian sources.

Follow up posts threefour, five, six and seven.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Obama’s Iraq Problem 3

or Redecorating the Rose Garden

The first post of this mini series concerned a George Packer opinion piece in The New Yorker. My comments drew on a speech Senator Obama made back in September 2007 about Iraq, as well as the plan he published at the time.

That speech is still on his website here, and the PDF of the plan is still here, but a visitor to the site might have difficulty finding them as the main page on Iraq no longer links to them. The speech can still be found deep in the press archive. If there’s still a link anywhere on the site to the PDF, I can’t find it. Just in case they vanish completely I’ve placed a copy of the speech here, and of the PDF here.

The Obama website now gives a heavily edited version of the plan at the foot of the Iraq page. Gone for example is any reference to a UN Constitutional Convention. From the original:
A United Nations-Led Constitutional Convention: Iraq’s constitution, approved in an October 2005 referendum, is the product of a Kurdish–Shiite deal. Iraq’s government was supposed to immediately revise the constitution to be more inclusive of Sunnis and to develop a more sustainable balance between Baghdad’s centralized authority and provincial governments. They never did. Barack Obama would have the United Nations convene a constitutional convention in Iraq that would include representatives from all levels of Iraqi society. The convention would not adjourn until national reconciliation is reached and contentious questions such as federalism, oil revenue sharing, and de-Ba’athification are resolved.
In other words Obama wanted to strong-arm the sovereign government of Iraq into changing the democratically approved constitution. His speech went further in detailing what he expected of them:
Now the Iraqis may come out of this process choosing some kind of soft partition into three regions - one Sunni, one Shia, one Kurd. But it must be their choice. America should not impose the division of Iraq.
So the original plan was, to paraphrase, ‘nobody leaves the conference until the constitution is re-written, and you might want to re-write it something like this, not that I’m telling anyone what to do of course’.

Another aspect of the plan is still there, but in soft focus:
He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary.
Here’s the original:
Obama would supply armed escorts to civilians who voluntarily choose to move from religiously heterogeneous areas to communities where they feel they will be more secure.
As I pointed out earlier, his former adviser Samantha Power was even clearer on this, saying on BBC Radio 4 that the plan involved “moving potentially people from mixed neighborhoods to homogenous neighborhoods, tragic that it's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible but if that is the choice of people there...”

A perverse use of the word ‘choice’ which I still find incredible to behold.

There have been other changes to Obama’s Iraq page. Gateway Pundit has details, via the LA Times Top of the Ticket blog, via Terry Ann Online, who says she used to lean towards supporting Obama, but changed her mind when she got a close look, and she now seems near to tearing her hair out.

Related: Obama’s Iraq Problem post one and two, and Let’s Squeeze Them post one and two.

Illustration: painting the roses, one of John Tenniel’s drawings for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Brutal banter

In the comments to the coconut nutritionist post on Harry’s Place, Ben Goldacre of Bad Science writes:
incidentally i love the lefty-bomb-them gang, which i assume harry is in, especially kamm and pootergeek, although it’s true i do disagree with them.
to which another commenter responds:
Are you in the “leave Radovans slivovic fuelled gunners alone in those hills around Sarajevo” gang, ben?
That would be this gang.

Back to Ben Goldacre, this Bad Science post is positively brutal. You are what you eat, so don’t swallow that newspaper whole.

Happy birthday Normblog

5 years, from here to here, via Euston, listening to Radio 4, reading The Guardian (one of the links on that post points to this dead end, on which more here, original article mirrored here), watching TV, reading books, listening to music, going to the theatre, and then blogging, occasionally in code, more often with great clarity, sometimes understated, on news values, on the UN, on anti-Americanism, on Rumsfeld, on self help mantras, on actors, on arrogance, on one way that bigots don’t discriminate, on apologies, on liberation, on peaceful intentions, on elections, on the unbalanced left, on torture, on Jews, on somebody’s notion of the authentic resistance, on feminism and solidarity, on executing tyrants, on responsibility, on a stone and some dead birds, on command and control, on moderate terrorists, on sorrowful Bunting, on unreasonable demands for courtesy, on democracy, on time, on discrimination and evenhandedness, on blasphemy, on the Rev. Wright, on class struggle. And that was just skimming the surface.

A rolling blog gathers more links.

(Of course I disagree with him on some points. Russel Hoban’s Bedtime for Frances? I binned it, despite my love for the art of illustrator Garth Williams. May I recommend Margaret Wise Brown’s Wait till the Moon is Full instead?)

Frame by Frame Fun

This has been some of the best fun we’ve had in a long time. My son Bo and daughter Peggy, along with their cousins Maisie and Beattie, did a bunch of drawings for this stop motion film, a birthday present to their maternal grandparents. There are a couple of drawings by their friends Clara and Verity in there too. I helped the children animate it, and Bo sang and played piano on the soundtrack.

The finished production was three and a half minutes. You can see just under a minute of it here in Quicktime.

The film was made with a normal amateur digital video camera, a Mac laptop, and some very easy to use (and free) animation software called FrameByFrame. Sound and editing was completed in iMovie.

We made it very quickly, with little regard for consistency in lighting or even focus, and it was an extremely enjoyable hands-on playtime.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Pat Plank

Pat Plank was, I think, one of the most splendid things in The Yellow Press. The other pages of this long-lost Irish periodical served well just to protect the sublime poetry and masterful draftsmanship of Seán McArdle’s creation when rolled up in the inside pocket of the jacket, or lovingly preserved under the mattress.

Above, from issue no. 3 of The Yellow Press.
And below, from issue no. 5.

More from The Yellow Press here, and here, and here, and of course here.

Pat Plank copyright © Seán McArdle 1992, 1993. 

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Liars good and bad

In his book The Lost Sea (1957), Dutch novelist Jan de Hartog tells of a young lad shanghaied to work as a cabin boy on a fishing boat sailing the Zuider Zee. During one evening in port, the sailors invite a Liar aboard:
I had heard about the Liars before, but I had never been very interested in them, for they never did anything real; they just sat down in a circle of people and told lies. I had never seen one because for some reason all  Liars were Urkers. Kris told me more about them; he said they were very funny because they told impossible stories about mermen ringing at midwives’ doors at night to get help for their mermaid-wives who were having a child, about turtles in China so big that whole gardens grew on their backs, about sea monsters with seven heads, and the skinning of Eskimo women. The funny thing about these stories was that the Liars told them as if all this had happened to them personally; they never told a story in the third person, but always began: ‘One day when I was in Tasmania,’ although everybody knew that they had never been out  of the Zuider Zee.
Like the boy in the book, the author was also a cabin boy on a sailing ship at the age of ten, but that doesn’t mean he claimed that The Lost Sea was a true story. On the contrary, Jan de Hartog was proud to call himself a Liar.

It’s a curious thing that as a species we have such a desire for lies. Lies hold pride of place in bookshops. In popular cinema it’s nearly all lies. Even when a film is based on some truth, a dramatisation is always more successful than a straight documentary. Art is a lie that tells the truth? No, art tells lies about the truth.

So if you’re looking for history, perhaps you shouldn’t turn to a renowned  Liar. Certainly that would seem good advice after reading some reviews and comments on novelist Nicholson Baker’s strange sounding history of the Second World War, Human Smoke.

While I don’t think I’ll have either the time or the inclination to pick that one up, there is a non fiction book by one of my favourite Liars that I would like to recommend, Erich Kästner’s memoir When I Was a Little Boy (also 1957), a book about childhood written for children.

Kästner was born in 1899 in Dresden, which he describes as follows:
If it is correct to say that I can not only judge of what is horrible and ugly but also of what is beautiful, I attribute this gift to my good fortune in having grown up in Dresden. I did not have to learn first out of books what is beautiful, neither at school nor at the University. I could breathe in beauty as foresters’ children breathe in woodland air. The Catholic Hofkirche, Georg Bähr’s Frauenkirche, the Zwinger, Pillnitz Castle, the Japanese Palace, the Jüdenhof and the Dinglingerhaus, theRampische Strasse with its baroque façades, the Renaissance windows of the Schloss Strasse, the Cosel Palace, the Palace in the Grosser Garten with the Little Houses of the Cavaliers and, looking down from the Loschwitzhöhe, the vista of the city in silhouette, with its noble and venerable towers... But really there is not much sense in reciting the glories that were Dresden like the multiplication table.

I could not describe even a chair so accurately that Kunze the carpenter could reproduce it in his workshop from my description. How then could I hope to describe Schloss Moritzburg with its four round towers reflected in the water, or that sculptured vase by the Italian Corradini near the Palace Pond, almost opposite the Café Pollender; or the Kronentor of the Zwinger? I can see that I shall have to ask the artist to please make a special set of drawings for this chapter so that you may get at least some faint idea of how beautiful my native city was.



Yes, Dresden was a wonderful city. You may take my word for it. And you have to take my word for it, because none of you, however rich your father may be, can go there to see if I am right. For the city of Dresden is no more. It has vanished, except for a few fragments. In one single night and with a single movement of its hand the Second World War wiped it off the map. It had taken centuries to create its incomparable beauty. A few hours sufficed to spirit it off the face of the earth. This happened on the night of February 13th, 1945. Eight hundred planes rained down high explosive and incendiary bombs on it. When they had gone, nothing remained but a desert with a few giant ruins which looked like ocean liners heeling over.

Two years later I stood in the midst of that endles desert and could not make out where I was. Among the broken, dust-covered bricks lay the name-plate of a street - ‘Prager Strasse’, I deciphered with difficulty. Could it be that I was standing in the Prager Strasse, the world-famous Prager Strasse, the most magnificent street of my childhood? The street with the loveliest shop windows? The most wonderful street at Christmas-time? I was standing in a waste half a mile long by half a mile wide, a desert of broken bricks and rubble and utter desolation.

To this day the Governments of the great Powers are disputing with each other as to who murdered Dresden. To this day people are arguing as to whether fifty thousand, a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand lie dead under that desert of nothingness. And none of them will admit having done it: each says it was the fault of the others. Ah, but what is the use of quarreling about it? You will not bring Dresden back to life by so doing - neither its beauty nor its dead. Punish the Governments in future and not the people. And don’t punish them afterwards. Punish them at once. Does this sound simpler than it is? No, it is simpler than it sounds.

I have beside me a Danish translation of Notabene 45, Kästner's wartime diary. I don’t believe it’s ever been translated into English. It tells in one part of how his parents lived through the bombing of Dresden while he was in a cellar in Berlin sheltering from a raid there, following dry radio announcements with a co-ordinate map called ‘Square-Else’ where each square had a name, and hearing more and more clearly that the bomber formations were approaching the square on the map ‘Martha Heinrich’. There was no telephone contact with Dresden after the raid. A travel ban was decreed. It was over a week later that he first heard from them. They were alive and well. But there was more news:
Berlin 27 February 1945
Yesterday evening Orthmann’s courier came with frightful news. Dresden is said to have been wiped out. The fire from the burning town hall sucked in people who were fleeing from Waisenhausstrasse, through the air into the flames, as if they were moths. Others were to have jumped into the reservoirs to save themselves, but the water boiled and they were scalded like crabs. Tens of thousands of corpses lay between and below the ruins. And my parents live! Sorrow, indignation and gratitude rattle together in my heart. Like locomotives in fog.

Roman generals threw themselves, face to face with the unavoidable defeat, onto their own sword. A suicide like that by foreign hand is being committed by the third reich. The third reich is ending its days. But the corpse is called Germany.

Related: all my posts on Erich Kästner are here, and on Jan de Hartog here, and on WWII revisionism here.

Elsewhere: Deborah Lipstadt about Liars and liars on Dresden, here and here, and Francis Sedgemore has a little bundle of posts on the importance of Liars linked to here.

The Lost Sea is copyright © 1957 by Jan de Hartog.

When I Was a Little Boy is copyright © 1957 by Atrium Verlag A. G. Zürich, English version copyright © 1959 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. London, translated from German by Isabel and Florence McHugh.

The drawings are by Horst Lemke, Kästner’s regular illustrator following the death of Walter Trier.

Quote from Notabene 45 is my translation from the Danish edition, copyright © 1961 by Branner og Korchs Forlag A/S, Copenhagen.

“Let’s squeeze them” 2

Following up an earlier post on Iraqi PM Maliki’s recent statements, here are a few more interesting links.

From Iraq the Model, July 22nd:
The state-owned Al-Sabah quoted a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, as saying: “The change in the prime minister’s position has to do with his own perception of the political developments in the United States…Maliki thinks that Obama is most likely to win in the presidential election and that he will withdraw his country’s troops from Iraq as he pledged in his campaign.” The official added that Maliki sees that “he’s got to take preemptive steps before Obama gets to the White House.” [more]

From Steve Schippert at Threats Watch, via the Small Wars Journal blog, July 23rd:
The leader of the Iraq Awakening is still waiting for that call from an interested US broadcast news organization. Crickets… No major broadcast anchor lifted the phone to contact Sheikh Ahmad al-Rishawi, who met with Senator Obama, to inquire about the discussion from his perspective. He has a number and can be reached. But it is as if his views as the head of the Iraq Awakening - an important Iraqi living an Iraqi reality - just don’t matter. How else to explain it?

Leave it then to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network to bother to ask al-Rishawi a single question. Below is a transcript of a three-minute phone call between the Saudi network and al-Rishawi, aired in Arabic by Al-Araibyah yesterday. [more]

From Iraq the Model, July 9th:
For a long time, when the government was very weak, Maliki and Rubaie (especially Rubaie) were clearly against the idea of setting timetables, at least in public. What has changed now is that these politicians have gone to the Ayatollah [Sistani] and told him that their domestic foes have been more or less neutralized and that they are ready to use these gains for the benefit of the sect.

What I am saying here is that the statement “we are strong” does not reflect the Iraq-US balance of power in terms of two states negotiating a deal. It reflects the presumed balance of power between Shiite faith (in its regional context) on the one hand and the US, Sunni Arabs and Kurds on the other.

Related: Neo-Neocon writes:
…for those who can’t stop writing about Obama. I take the first step, admitting that I have no power over my addiction, that my life has become unmanageable. [more]

UPDATED: Terry Ann reads that Spiegel interview and wonders at those remarks not so widely reported:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the war and its consequences have cost more than 100,000 lives and caused great suffering in your country. Saddam Hussein and his regime are now part of the past. Was all of this worth the price?

Maliki: The casualties have been and continue to be enormous. But anyone who was familiar with the dictator's nature and his intentions knows what could have been in store for us instead of this war. Saddam waged wars against Iran and Kuwait, and against Iraqis in the north and south of his own country, wars in which hundreds of thousands died. And he was capable of instigating even more wars. Yes, the casualties are great, but I see our struggle as an enormous effort to avoid other such wars in the future.

Illustration originally commissioned by Business Age magazine, sometime towards the end of the last century.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

On Karadzic’s arrest

From Martin Bright, political editor of the New Statesman:
I have always believed that all British school children should be taught about the unique horror of the Srebrenica massacre in the same way that they are all taught about Auschwitz. The failure of the international community to come to the aid of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men massacred in the safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995. The massacre had a huge influence on Tony Blair's policy of humanitarian intervention, which he relied on as justification for intervention in Kosovo and, to some extent Afghanistan and Iraq. [more]
From the Americans for Bosnia blog:
Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the Karadzic arrest is an internal Serbian matter. Considering that ALL of the indictments against Karadzic concern events in Bosnia, which--despite the best efforts of Greater Serb nationalists--is not part of Serbia, this is a very strange position to take. [more]
And Marko Attila Hoare looks at the implications of the history of Karadzic for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al Bashir, very recently indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court:
The Bashir indictment is to be celebrated, because whether or not it results in the tyrant ever facing justice, it represents a nail in his political coffin; a push sending him further along the road already trodden by Milosevic and Karadzic.

His international isolation will increase; what is left of his legitimacy will decrease; it will be more difficult for other states to collaborate with him; and if he survives his eventual overthrow, the successor regime will have to collaborate with the ICC in bringing him to trial, which will be a catalyst to its own democratic reform - just as enforced collaboration with the ICTY catalysed democratic reform in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. [more]

UPDATE 23 JULY - From Oliver Kamm:
We know, from records of telephone conversations between Milosevic and Karadzic in July 1991, that Belgrade was making clandestine shipments of arms directly to the Bosnian Serbs.

This was in preparation for the adoption by the UN Security Council, at the request of Yugoslavia, on 25 September 1991 of Resolution 713 imposing an arms embargo. The resolution thus left the newly independent states helpless against Serb aggression. [more]
UPDATE 2 - after reading a bizarre claim in the LRB, Bob from Brockley gives a reality check:
What was the position of Western politicians? Some Western politicians, like Bob Dole, called for action. The majority of the Bush I clique American politicians, epitomised by James Baker, Lawrence Eagleberger, Dick Cheney, Brent Snowcroft and Colin Powell, opted for a "realist" response: doing nothing, shifting responsibility to Europe. Samantha Power has dubbed the Bush policy as a policy of disapproval: disapprove, but do nothing. In Baker's memorable words, America "did not have a dog in this fight".

Clinton, who won the Democratic Party nomination for president during the period of ethnic cleansing, called for action. It was only after his election at the end of '92 that intervention became politically possible. But despite some American politicians (notably Dole, Frank McCloskey, Al Gore and Joe Biden, as well as Madeline Albright), calling for action to finally be taken, the majority of Republicans and Democrats denounced them as war-mongers.

Thirteen months into the war, well over a hundred thousand Bosnians massacred, Clinton finally sent Carter-era hack Warren Christopher to Europe to persuade the Europeans not to actually act but to lift the arms embargo so the victims of cleansing could defend themselves. He came back having changed his mind, and the Bush I policy of disapproval and inactivity continued for months, a continuity signalled by Colin Powell remaining in post. Warren Christopher even claimed the Muslims were themselves responsible for their own genocide. The official line was: this is a tragic civil war, there's nothing we can do.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the David Owen led European diplomatic initiative was signally ineffective. The UN came up with a tepid "safe areas" plan over a year into the slaughter (de facto accepting genocide outside the safe areas), but failed to send anywhere enough troops to defend them. France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark were the only European countries to actively support this. Mitterand, under pressure from both left and right-wing politicians to act more decisively, accepted a minimal UN presence. Only when Chirac took over in 1995 did France take a more robust position. Italy opposed intervention from the start. Greece not only opposed intervention but supported Milosovic. Helmut Kohl, to the intense irritation of Major and Mitterand, took a stronger line - but Germany's official military neutrality stopped it from actually committing troops.

What was Britain's position? Under John Major and Douglas Hurd, Britain took an even more anti-interventionist "realist" position than Bush I.


“Let’s squeeze them”

George Packer of The New Yorker comments today on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s reported remarks regarding Obama and withdrawal, looking at it not just in terms of the politics between Shia parties, but also the implications for Sunnis.

Along the way he touches on how the surge encouraged Sunni shifts in allegiance away from the insurgency, something I felt was ignored in an earlier opinion piece he wrote for the magazine. Details in my earlier post: Obama’s Iraq Problem.

Also on George Packer, Martin in the Margins posted a review yesterday of his book, The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq

On Iraqi PM Maliki, see also this piece from Robert H Reid of AP last Sunday:

Analysis: Iraq playing US politics for best deal
The Iraqi prime minister's seeming endorsement of Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan is part of Baghdad's strategy to play U.S. politics for the best deal possible over America's military mission.

The goal is not necessarily to push out the Americans quickly, but instead give Iraqis a major voice in how long U.S. troops stay and what they will do while still there.


With the talks bogged down, the Iraqis sensed desperation by the Americans to wrap up a deal quickly before the presidential campaign was in full swing.

“Let's squeeze them,” al-Maliki told his advisers, who related the conversation to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Follow up post: “Let’s squeeze them” 2 

The Galway Advertiser

It’s not every day that Harry’s Place has a story from the pages of the Galway Advertiser, a local paper in the west of Ireland. It’s a newspaper close to my narcissistic heart as it was the first one to publish my drawings, thanks to founder and then editor Ronnie O’Gorman.

What attracted the interest of Harry’s Place was this story on poet Kevin Higgins, and his disenchantment with the anti-imperialist far left. His criticism of the Socialist Workers’ Party stance on Darfur led to this crude response, also published in the Advertiser. Read the full Harry’s Place post here.

Related: my earlier post on anti-imperialism

My own fifteen minutes in the pages of the Advertiser began with a Christmas comic strip published in 1981, when I was fourteen. Ronnie O’Gorman also introduced me to Campbell Spray, then features editor of the now long gone national daily The Irish Press, who also commissioned a Christmas strip from me the same year. Both stories were written by my mother, Dor Walsh.

Above is a drawing from a couple of years later, one of a series done to advertise a gym that my uncle was part owner of. This particular one was published at the time of Ronald Reagan’s visit to Galway. I was seventeen at the time.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Playing with matches

On Iran, some are counting months (via Norm), others are counting weeks, but none of them see a neat way to a nice end state.

Art from Andy’s Atomic Adventures, posted on the Hairy Green Eyeball blog, copyright I know not who or when.

Also on the subject of the A-Bomb, an article by GM Giangreco about the ultimate hard case, Was Dwindling US Army Manpower a Factor in the Atom Bombing of Hiroshima? Link via Oliver Kamm.

UPDATE 29 JULY 2008: the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty on Israel, Iran, the bomb and ‘the kitsch left’, via Terry Glavin.

Follow up posts two, threefour, five, six and seven.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Rick O’Shea of the Old IRA

In this recent article, historians John Bew and Martyn Frampton argue that the circumstances of the Northern Ireland Peace Process make it a poor model to apply to the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Francis Sedgemore found fault with aspects of their account in this post, and I subsequently found fault with his view in the comments.

Specifically, Francis wrote, “Bew and Frampton overlook the complex relationship between the IRA and the Irish political establishment, and the level of popular support throughout Ireland for the republican movement,” to which I responded as follows:
You say the article overlooks the relationship between the IRA and the Irish political establishment, but the authors refer to “an initial period in which the Irish government showed itself to be somewhat ambivalent on the IRA (with which it shared an ideological heritage)”.

It’s true that most major parties in the Republic of Ireland are descended from earlier splits in the IRA, with the main exception being the Irish Labour Party. And it’s true that some form of republicanism has been supported by the majority of the population since independence. But to suggest that the article overlooks the level of popular support for the republican movement throughout Ireland, well, Provisional Sinn Féin currently has 4 seats out of 166, it was 5 in the previous parliament, 1 before that, 0 before 1997, and this under a proportional representation system. If you go back to the ’80s you find no Provisional Sinn Féin members, and between 0 and 3 Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party members per parliament.

Compared with how well extremist nationalist parties perform in some other European countries, I’d say these results were satisfyingly miserable.
Francis also had words to say on English nationalist delusions, and while I’m very happy to see nationalist delusions of any kind being knocked about, I don’t favour such selectivity in this context, and so I reminisced:
There’s no doubt some truth to talk about English delusions, but having grown up with the same 1916 propaganda poster on the wall of every primary and secondary school I attended, the Irish nationalist delusions are more vivid for me, even after 15 years in London. That poster was even on the wall of my third primary school, the Protestant one, and we had the same narrow nationalist history curriculum there too.
There’s more of this back and forth on Francis Sedgemore’s blog.

Whoops - well, perhaps not.

All this talk of the delusions of Irish republican nationalism reminded me of a fine comic strip by my old friend Gerard Crowley and his collaborators Ray and Senan Molony. Rick O'Shea of the Old IRA was published in issue no. 1 of The Yellow Press, an Irish satirical magazine from the early 1990s. Gerard was editor of the magazine, a position of much responsibility but no power as it was owned by the artists and writers.

More on Gerard Crowley here, and more on The Yellow Press here.

Comic strip copyright © Ray Molony, Senan Molony, Gerard Crowley.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Boomerangs and dominoes

More wonders at Harry’s Place. Following the events outlined in an earlier post here, where a UK Hamas activist threatened a writer on Harry’s Place with a libel suit, various UK journalists and politicians pulled out of an event organised by, amongst others, the same Hamas activist.

One organisation that didn’t pull out was think tank Demos, whose communications manager gave this justification yesterday, which led to this response by journalist Nick Cohen, which led to this infantile outburst from director of Demos Catherine Fieschi, which just might have something to do with her reported resignation today.


See also this post on Flesh is Grass about this story in particular, and Harry’s Place in general. Some excerpts:


I predict that people who for brevity I will pigeon-hole as New Stalinists and Islamist extremists, if and when they react, will try to make us believe that the BMI-Harry’s Place dispute is about whether British Muslims have a right to participate in public life. It isn’t - it’s about whether on not British society accepts a potentially disastrous Muslim Brotherhood bid for political influence in Britain. It would be very wrong and very prejudiced to assume that ordinary Muslims were part of this phenomenon of extremism. Ordinary Muslims are not the problem. The problem is when the self-appointed leaders of organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami and Hisb-ut-Tahrir hijack Muslim political participation.


Harry’s Place is not Islamophobic, it is responding to the real threat of terror in the name of Islam without ever placing responsibility for this threat at the door of ordinary Muslims. It notes that many Muslim immigrants to this country moved here in flight from the ‘pure’ ultra-conservative (i.e. based on 12th century interpretation) varieties of Islam for which organisations like the British Muslim Initiative are conduits. Harry’s place is against discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. It never denies the rise and real threat of Islamophobia and maintains a focus (where it considers Islam) on Islamist extremists and a clear distinction between Muslims and the Muslim Council of Britain. When Harry’s Place attracts the Islamophobes, which seems to happen quite frequently to people who expose the Islamist extremists, it disowns the racists.
Read the full post here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Updating old hat

I hadn’t the heart to give Obama’s new speech a new post, when all it seemed to do was repeat the same old stuff, so for those masochistic enough to read about it, I’ve just updated yesterday’s Obama post.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Boy, girl, crow.

nancy farmer the sea of trolls

Obama’s Iraq Problem 2

My earlier post on this topic was in reaction to an opinion piece by George Packer in The New Yorker. Here is a shorter follow-up.

Candidate Obama on Saturday:
I am there to listen, but there is no doubt that my core position, which is that we need a timetable for withdrawal, not only to relieve pressure on our military but also to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, is now a position that is also held by the Iraqi government itself.
The Iraqi government is now in favour of putting pressure on the Iraqi government? This seems just a little unlikely. Perhaps there’s something about the Iraqi government’s position that Obama has not quite understood? Such as that the Iraqi government wants withdrawal to be conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security. Such as that there’s an election coming up in Iraq too, and what the Iraqi government needs is to neutralise the Sadrists by showing that the US military presence is not permanent, while ensuring  that the US won’t abandon Iraq prematurely.

It seems the Iraqi government is engaged, naturally enough, in a little pre-election spin, and Obama is using their spin for his own yarn.

Here’s Obama yesterday in a New York Times opinion piece:
In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.
Where to begin? Obama’s original call in January 2007 was to have troops out by March 2008. In that time period  he now recognises massive improvements. Does that mean he made a mistake? Oh no, of course not. “The same factors which led me to oppose the surge still hold true.”

Following the surge, he points to Iraqi  ground security forces being expected to be ready to take over in the middle of 2009. What then would have happened then in early 2008 if his original plan had been put into action? If US troops had been withdrawn long before Iraqi forces were ready? What kind of horror would we now be looking at in Iraq?

See also Jennifer Rubin, Where is Obama Going?

My earlier post: Obama’s Iraq Problem

UPDATE 16 JULY: A new speech from Obama yesterday. Well, not that new. Again the line is get out of Iraq to win in Afghanistan. It's so not new that Christopher Hitchens answered the speech the day before Obama made it. See his article in Slate, The War Between the Wars.

Incredibly, in his speech Obama is still trying to spin the surge as a failure:
In the 18 months since the surge began, the strain on our military has increased, our troops and their families have borne an enormous burden, and American taxpayers have spent another $200 billion in Iraq. That’s over $10 billion each month. That is a consequence of our current strategy.

In the 18 months since the surge began, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. June was our highest casualty month of the war. The Taliban has been on the offensive, even launching a brazen attack on one of our bases. Al Qaeda has a growing sanctuary in Pakistan. That is a consequence of our current strategy.

In the 18 months since the surge began, as I warned at the outset – Iraq’s leaders have not made the political progress that was the purpose of the surge. They have not invested tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues to rebuild their country. They have not resolved their differences or shaped a new political compact.
The surge in Iraq is a failure because it cost money. The surge in Iraq is a failure because it wasn’t in Afghanistan. The surge in Iraq is a failure because the Iraq government hasn’t made political progress.

But wait, this last point is also past it’s sell-by date. It was answered by Peter Wehner in Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog, again the day before the speech:
[...] for Obama to state that Iraq’s leaders “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge” is misleading and false. Iraqi leaders have reached comprehensive political accommodations, including passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification. In fact, a report card issued in May judged that Iraq’s efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are “satisfactory”–almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. Is Obama unaware of these achievements? Does he care at all about them?
Washington Post editorial here.

New York Times coverage here and here.

Related, Gary Kent of Labour Friends of Iraq writes about the negative consequences of decreasing coverage of Iraq for development in the country here: Iraq is not a four letter word.

And on supporting development in Iraq, this LA Times article gives a look at how environmentalism and energy security can meet.

UPDATE 20th SEPTEMBER: Michael J Totten on the false choice between fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Round one to Harry’s Place

For those coming in late, this is about the senior activist in a hateful, anti-semitic, terrorist organisation who is suing an anti-fascist website, Harry’s Place, for publishing a translation of words attributed to him by the news organisation Al Jazeera.

Mohammed Sawalha, whose relationship with Hamas has been reported by BBC’s Panorama, claims these disputed words imply that he is “anti-semetic and hateful”. As David T of Harry’s Place points out, a member of Hamas has no reputation to defend in this regard.

If this sounds silly, that may not be enough to protect Harry’s Place under Britain’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly  libel laws.

So far however, the only damage this particular plaintiff seems to be doing is to his own cause. Watch with glee as one self-inflicted shot to the foot is followed by another, and another. Oops, one more toe gone.

Of course some people still don’t get it. This is about anti-fascism, not bigoted sectarianism.

Related though not directly relevant, on the issue of British libel law see Deborah Lipstadt and George Monbiot on libel tourism.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Paper lighthouses

They weren’t what I went looking for, but I was very glad I found them.

Also in the same place are maritime items not made of paper, and paper models not of the sea, but that’s almost a disappointment after the purity of the page of paper lighthouses. How did I end up there? Ah, that’s a post for another time.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Wrong again

From BBC News:
A marriage registrar was harassed for refusing to conduct same-sex ceremonies, a tribunal has ruled.

Lillian Ladele, who said the civil partnership ceremonies went against her Christian faith, hailed the decision as a "victory for religious liberty".
They were wrong before, now they’re wrong again. If these employment tribunal decisions cannot be overturned on appeal, if employment law is so badly drafted that these decisions are legal, then the law needs to be revisited urgently.
Miss Ladele said she was being effectively forced to choose between her religion and her £31,000-a-year job as a result.
But religion is a choice. She wants to keep her job, but to do only those parts she chooses. There is no question of disability here. She has no impairment preventing her from doing the job. It’s all about her choice. That choice should be between doing the job or resigning. If someone takes on a job, they take on the totality of the job, not just the parts that suit them. In this case the job was to provide a full range of services laid down in law, not just the ones approved of by some non-governmental fan club of  long dead prophets.

See also Brett on HP.

UPDATE: Martin in the Margins tries to see both sides.

The above illustration was originally drawn for the December 1995 issue of Business Age magazine.

Charity myths

Further to this earlier post on the subject of government funding for religious charities, and this follow up, here’s one line from a survey report produced by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the UK on faith and voluntary action:
“Religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering.”
For more see Brett’s commentary at Harry’s Place, or get the full report on the NCVO site. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

This can’t be happening...

. . . so it isn’t.

In news from Doonesbury, a TV reporter has to spin like crazy in order to report progress in Iraq. The strips below are from this week.

In news from the real world, correspondents find that TV networks don’t want to hear so much about progress. From The New York Times:
According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of the war in Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq war coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to the war, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed. [...]

Interviews with executives and correspondents at television news networks suggested that while the CBS cutbacks are the most extensive to date in Baghdad, many journalists shared varying levels of frustration about placing war stories onto newscasts. “I’ve never met a journalist who hasn’t been frustrated about getting his or her stories on the air,” said Terry McCarthy, an ABC News correspondent in Baghdad.

By telephone from Baghdad, Mr. McCarthy said he was not as busy as he was a year ago. A decline in the relative amount of violence “is taking the urgency out” of some of the coverage, he said. Still, he gets on ABC’s “World News” and other programs with stories, including one on Friday about American gains in northern Iraq.

Anita McNaught, a correspondent for the Fox News Channel, agreed. “The violence itself is not the story anymore,” she said. She counted eight reports she had filed since arriving in Baghdad six weeks ago, noting that cable news channels like Fox News and CNN have considerably more time to fill with news than the networks. [...]

On “The Daily Show,” [Lara] Logan [chief foreign correspondent CBS News] echoed the comments of other journalists when she said that many Americans seem uninterested in the wars now. Mr. McCarthy said that when he is in the United States, bringing up Baghdad at a dinner party “is like a conversation killer.”
Complete story here. It seems in the real world that Doonesbury’s TV reporter might do better business by spinning bad news instead of good.

Of course the smartest spin is the cartoonist spinning good news as bad by caricaturing a journalist as spinning bad news as good . It makes me dizzy.

UPDATE: Oops, forgot to make the strips enlargeable - fixed now, just click on them.

UPDATE 2.5: Dept. of Internet Rumour - from The Patriot Room, an unverified story about ABC News asking sixty US soldiers in Iraq who they’ll vote for. Fifty-four say McCain, but the subsequent broadcast only included three of the GIs supporting Obama and two supporting Clinton. Via But I Am A Liberal and The Homesick American. The ABC News item this refers to is here. It was broadcast April 7th 2008.

ABC News journalist Martha Raddatz denies the story. Her response is to be found on, and points to at least one aspect of the rumour which is incorrect: she wasn’t accompanying McCain on the trip, but Dick Cheney. Another doubtful aspect is that the person starting the rumour seems impossible to locate. A more complete version of her denial is here

Now this story from ABC News is not doing Obama any favours. Broadcast on July 11th 2008, it’s also by Martha Raddatz. The headline: Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal Plan May Prove Difficult. The sub-head: US commanders in Iraq warn of security dangers, see logistical nightmare. Read it all and watch video here. While the soldiers interviewed for this piece don’t express overt political preferences, they certainly don’t show any support for Obama’s Iraq policy.

Doonesbury copyright © GB Trudeau

The Key

Following an earlier post that was in part about the author Jan de Hartog, I was very pleased to learn from Harrie Verstappen that The Key has been released on DVD.

Directed by Carol Reed, The Key is an adaptation of Jan de Hartog's novel Stella. It’s about tugboat crews doing search and rescue work in the Atlantic during World War II.

Like his novel The Captain, which came up in the earlier post, the story is about war, about the difficulties and responsibilities of leadership, about the comforts of humanity, a little bit about religion, but mostly about the terror of death.

While the film has one or two flaws, it succeeds very well in evoking Jan de Hartog’s dark themes and powerful writing. 

The cast is headed by William Holden, Sophia Loren and Trevor Howard.

Trevor Howard is particularly good as one of the tugboat captains.

The film was previously only available in pan and scan versions on laserdisc and VHS, and only in the American release version, which had a different ending to the European original.

Now at last I’ve seen it properly, in widescreen with the original finale, and I do recommend it. One glitch, however: the DVD is encoded in 2.35:1 ratio, which looks all wrong. I reset my player to show it in 16:9 ratio, which seems correct as you can see in these screenshots.

The Region 2 DVD is available from Amazon.

Here is the film’s IMDB page.

There are some more details and images on the Sophia Loren Archives site.

For Jan de Hartog, this account of his life is a compelling read.

Don't forget Harrie Verstappen’s comprehensive Jan de Hartog page.

All my Jan de Hartog posts are here, and my contribution to Normblog’s Writer’s Choice series on Jan de Hartog and others is here.

Images copyright © Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Being charitable

That earlier post on candidate Obama’s policy for giving more federal government money to religious groups to deliver social services, I dropped it into the incredibly long election thread at The Comics Journal Message Board, and it got, in part, this response:
Do many charities not have paid employees? Or pay others to assist in their charitable work? Therefore, I don't see how "a religious organisation getting paid by the government to deliver social services is not charity, it's paid work" is necessarily true.

And secular charitable organizations are also aided in their work with government funding. Is making this secular organization "look good" a bad thing too? And would refusing to aid religious charities in doing the same type of good deeds not be, in effect, anti-religious discrimination?

By making an exception through denying aid to church-based charities, would the government then not be treating society as "a whole," and specifically singling out those who are religious?
To which I replied:

If of my own free will I pay someone to do something charitable, then I'm the one being charitable. If they pay me to do it of their own free will, then they are the ones being charitable. So a fully paid employee of a registered charity is not being charitable by just doing their job.

If I pay my taxes, and the government uses the money to pay a registered charity to deliver social services, then nobody is being charitable, but I am being a good citizen, and also staying out of jail.

And 'secular' is not a belief system. It doesn't mean anti-religious, just not tied to any particular religion. If any religious person feels moved to do good work with a government supported charity, they can go and volunteer for any secular charity they like. The only drawback will be that they won't be promoting their faith at the same time.

I don't know about other religions, but if they're Christian they should welcome the opportunity to do good work without simultaneously promoting their faith.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

(Never thought it would come to this, quoting the goddamn Bible on the Comics Journal Message Board...)

Original post here. Follow up post here.