Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Obscure London journals

From Harper’s Weekly, New York, February 15th 1862:
The papers in question are not known, even by name, to the bulk of our readers, and their utterances are entitled to no more notice than would be paid here to the disquisitions of any of our fourth or fifth rate political sheets. Yet our people are so absurdly sensitive to every thing that is said of them abroad, and foreign papers are somehow regarded as so much more reliable than journals at home, that the idle nonsense of the London Observer and the Manchester Guardian disturbed men’s digestion, and caused a general decline in the stock market.
Martin still finds idle nonsense in those pages today. Further comment from The Contentious Centrist.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 5

Previous posts in the series: one, two, three and four.

As explained in earlier posts, this series is based on reading some online material by Thomas PM Barnett, his recent blog posts, some articles, and book descriptions. I haven’t read the books, and would be interested in reactions from anyone who has. Links to some of what I’ve read are to be found in the earlier posts, and more links are in the final postscript below.

This is the last in the series.

Setting aside democracy

There are points in Thomas PM Barnett’s writing where the main impression is one of arrogance. The basic premise of it being imperative for Core states to expand globalisation throughout Gap states, by force if necessary, seems at odds with principles of self-determination, of national sovereignity, at odds with proud histories of independence struggles throughout the post-colonial world. That TPM Barnett suggests a continuity between 19th and 20th Century imperialism and 21st Century globalisation doesn’t help, nor does his focus on nation states rather than populations and individuals. With a rationale of focusing on strategy and leaving tactics to others he gives the impression of an impersonal, uncaring, unprincipled, amoral and inhumane view of the world.

Yet the aim of his grand project is humane and moral - an end to war through the expansion of economic interdependence, and along the way a fight against poverty, against disease, and against the murderous fanaticism that thrives in the Gap.

Much of what I’ve read of his writing - granted a small portion of the total - seems derived from two cases: The threat that emerged from an isolated, underdeveloped, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and China’s success to date in integrating a undemocratic state into the global economy. The result is a theory which sees global development as the United States’ primary strategy against external threats, and regards the promotion of democracy and universal human rights as of lesser importance, even as a potential threat to the primary strategy.

To play the naming game, one might characterise TPM Barnett as a neo-realist, someone who regards certain principles as appropriate to be set aside in pursuit of victory. There are a number of differences between this neo-realist and the old-school realists of the Cold War. TPM Barnett has a different enemy in view, he does not view containment as strategically viable, (though I presume it remains a tactical option,) and he doesn’t define success as victory for the American nation, but as victory for the American economic system.

I think the downgrading of democracy and universal human rights in all this is an error, and a strategic error as well as a moral one.

An undemocratic leadership can’t claim a legal mandate for its actions, as whatever law it follows is not accountable to the population. So however much the population may participate in economic development, the legal status of much of that development will be in doubt. Sustainable economic globalisation depends on having a stable legal basis on which to operate.

An undemocratic leadership is able to plunder national wealth with impunity, in which case economic benefit will no longer serve to maintain the support of the population, and as repression can only achieve so much then some other unifying idea is needed, popular choices being nationalism, racism, religion, class warfare, and so-called anti-imperialism. None of these is amenable to deeper global economic integration. (TPM Barnett seems to see economic benefits in religion, but I am unconvinced. If some religions appear to have greater economic benefit than others, this suggests to me that perhaps it isn’t the religious aspect of the religions that are beneficial, but cultural aspects of those particular religions.)

As TPM Barnett places contemporary economic globalisation (Globalisation III in his terminology) in a narrative that begins with 19th and 20th Century colonial imperialism (Globalisation I) and continues with the Cold War period (Globalisation II), I think it’s worth considering the issue of democracy and universal human rights in connection with the failures of those earlier periods of globalisation.

The empires of Globalisation I proved unsustainable as whatever economic benefit they may have brought colonised populations were outweighed by demand for national liberation, while undemocratic client states of Globalisation II were vulnerable to extreme corruption, political violence, and totalitarian ideology sold under the brand of anti-imperialism. Most of the problems of the Gap states, from the prime example of Afghanistan on, are legacies of the failures in Globalisation I and II to see democracy and universal human rights as essential elements in sustainable global economic integration.

Where they continue to follow the models of Globalisation I and II, the current governments of Russia and China hinder the success of Globalisation III. I have in mind not just the invasion of Georgia, and the Russian government’s attempt to maintain a sphere of influence through economic and military threats, but also its unhelpful semi-alliance with Iran, and in the case of the Chinese government, its dealings with Sudan.

In emphasising the need for economic development to combat violent political extremism, TPM Barnett would seem to be in line with contemporary military counter-insurgency thinking, but counter-insurgency theory sees the population as the territory, not the state leadership. When TPM Barnett allows his strategic viewpoint to restrict him to seeing the world in terms of nation states, he loses sight of populations and the complexities of their motivations. Those motivations are more complex than pure economics, as illustrated by the fact that Al Qaeda emerged from wealthy Saudi Arabia.

As I understand it, successful counter-insurgency depends not just on military force and economic development, but on empowering populations by providing military security, political power, economic development, open communications, and legal accountability. All are essential and interdependent, and any prioritisation is tactical and temporary.

While TPM Barnett’s writing has much to offer, his Core and Gap model seems too crude and too shallow to me. The future of the world is not just in the hands of its current leaders. With advancing communications, populations are more powerful than ever, and their world is not so neatly divided by borders between nation states, much less by TPM Barnett’s border between Core and Gap.

Postscript one: Globalisation 55 BC


Thomas PM Barnett begins the story of globalisation with 19th Century colonial imperialism. Joseph Conrad looks back even farther. His Heart of Darkness opens not in the Congo, but in the mouth of the Thames, as darkness falls and friends in a boat wait for the turning of the tide. It is one of these, Marlow, who has the tale to tell. Before talking of African colonies, however, he speculates on the Romans who came empire-building to Britain.
‘And this also’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’
He continues -
‘I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago - the other day . . . Light came out of this river since - you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker - may it last as long ass the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine - what d’ye call ’em? - trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries - a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been, too - used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here - the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina - and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages - precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in the wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay - cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death - ’
There is more, speculation about other Romans, the decent young citizen come north to mend his fortunes after too much dice, feeling the utter savagery of alien Britain closing round him, the mystery ‘in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men.’
‘He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination - you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.’
How to survive such a challenge? Marlow continues, expressing first a criticism of Rome that he later makes of Europe’s ventures in Africa, a charge that today’s anti-imperialists level at globalisation, that the venture is purely one of narrow self-interest.
‘They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force - nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; an unselfish belief in the idea - something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to . . .’
The question of idealism versus rapaciousness, and of how much of the idealistic rhetoric of colonialism was sincere, is a theme that runs through Heart of Darkness. The character with the highest ideals in the book is Kurtz, and it is he who falls farthest as his belief in his own words carries him beyond the boundaries of civilisation. Well, perhaps they were the wrong ideals. Heart of Darkness becomes increasingly vague as Conrad and his alter ego Marlow approach the book’s subject.

At the time Conrad wrote that the Romans were ‘no colonists’ he couldn’t know how short-lived Europe’s empires of the time would be compared with Rome’s over four centuries of rule in England. Even so, their ideas lasted longer than their rule, so his emphasis on the idea holds. There is a parallel here with TPM Barnett’s notion of success being victory for American ideas rather than for the American nation.

Postscript two: These Romans are crazy


The most important texts on Roman imperialism are of course the Asterix books written by René Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, set in the year 50 BC and concerning a small village of indomitable Gauls resisting Roman rule. Of these, Obelix & Co. from 1976 is particularly relevant to economic globalisation as a counter-insurgency strategy, telling of how Julius Caesar’s adviser Caius Preposterous, fresh out of the Latin School of Economics, tries to conquer the Gaulish village, not through force of arms but by engaging them in trade.

Caius starts buying menhirs from Asterix’s best friend Obelix, introducing the Gaul to the concept of currency and encouraging him to expand his business by employing other villagers in order to step up production. Some villagers are jealous of Obelix’s success and set up menhir production businesses in competition with him. For a time the strategy is a success as Gaulish attacks on Romans cease, all of them being too busy making money, and Caius markets the menhirs as luxury goods in Rome allowing him to turn a profit - but not for long.

Caius obviously wasn’t a good student at the LSE as his strategy leads to a menhir bubble as Roman producers enter the market, undercutting the price of imported Gaulish menhirs. The result is a financial crisis as the Imperial Treasury is overexposed in menhirs when the bubble bursts. Even worse, Obelix loses interest in business when he finds that there isn’t much interesting to spend his money on, Caius having overlooked the option of exporting desirable goods to the Gaulish village. Finally, Obelix’s village competitors are furious when they discover the market for their menhirs has evaporated, and as they haven’t diversified their businesses they instead go back to bashing Romans. In the romantic, anti-imperialist, anti-urban world of Asterix and Obelix, happiness is staying in the Gap.

One shouldn’t think from this that Goscinny was always a reflexive anti-establishment satirist. My favourite story of his is the Lucky Luke version of Jesse James, drawn by Morris. In it he takes apart the fantasy of Jesse James as Robin Hood. In his version Jesse is inspired by Robin of Sherwood to take up crime, but once he has his hands on some loot is troubled by the notion giving it to the poor. His brother Frank has the solution: they take it in turns to be poor so they can pass their swag back and forth, keeping it in the family.

Postscript three: Related links

A collection of reactions to Tom Barnett, mainly with regard to his comments on the Russian invasion of Georgia, gathered by blogger Fabius Maximus. I haven’t had time to follow all of them.

Some Barnett blog posts on preferring market-led economic penalties over military responses to Russian actions in Georgia: By all means vote with your dollars, August 14th, Hit ’em where they is, August 28, Georgia ‘opportunity’ cost: $8B, September 4th, Russian backlash adds up, September 15th, More evidence, September 18th.

More Barnett on Russia: The limits of authoritarianism, and Putin’s limits, September 25th. Barnett sees rule of law as essential, but seems to regard economic consequences as the best corrective for unlawful rule, not democratic accountability.

Some Barnett posts on democracy: Some truly bad thinking, August 4th, and Immature democracies are dangerous, August 19th - note the article linked to in that post cites a death toll figure very much out of date. Finally from August 20th a post praising an article by Spengler in Asia Times Online, Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess, which begins:
On the night of November 22, 2004, then-Russian president - now premier - Vladimir Putin watched the television news in his dacha near Moscow. People who were with Putin that night report his anger and disbelief at the unfolding ‘Orange’ revolution in Ukraine. “They lied to me,” Putin said bitterly of the United States. “I’ll never trust them again.” The Russians still can’t fathom why the West threw over a potential strategic alliance for Ukraine. They underestimate the stupidity of the West.
And further on continues:
The Russians know (as every newspaper reader does) that Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is not a model democrat, but a nasty piece of work who deployed riot police against protesters and shut down opposition media when it suited him - in short, a politician in Putin's mold. America’s interest in Georgia, the Russians believe, has nothing more to do with promoting democracy than its support for the gangsters to whom it handed the Serbian province of Kosovo in February.

Again, the Russians misjudge American stupidity. Former president Ronald Reagan used to say that if there was a pile of manure, it must mean there was a pony around somewhere. His epigones have trouble distinguishing the pony from the manure pile. The ideological reflex for promoting democracy dominates the George W Bush administration to the point that some of its senior people hold their noses and pretend that Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia are the genuine article.
Charming.

A rather more enjoyable article Barnett linked to: Babble Rouser, a Forbes piece on Denis O’Brien, a mobile phone entrepeneur specialising in developing countries, from the August 11th issue.

On neocons versus realists, neo or otherwise, Barnett linked disapprovingly to this piece by Robert Kagan from the Wall Street Journal of August 30th on Russia and Georgia, and on contemporary realists and neoconservatives. The comments on Barnett’s post lead me to a Newsweek article by Fareed Zakaria on Obama, ‘the true realist’, July 19th, and Who’s more realistic: McCain or Obama? from September 14th.

A couple of recent related articles not linked to by Barnett: from the IHT, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski on negotiating the missile defence deal, September 23rd, and on Russia’s challenge to European strategic thinking, September 26th.

Also, the BBC’s Bridget Kendall interviews Mikhail Saakashvili, September 27th. He too points to the economic consequences for Russia, which he asserts were much worse than those for Georgia. There will be no new cold war, he says, as Russia is politically isolated and much weaker than the old Soviet bloc. He says that Georgia can’t defeat Russia with tanks, but that there are two political systems in competition here, and he sees Georgia on the winning side. He believes the appeal of democracy is depriving the undemocratic Russian government of international allies. Russia needs to modernise, he says.

An indication of the distance Russia still has to travel to modernise politically: war trophies on show, and remembering Putin’s first day as president - handing out hunting knives to Russian soldiers in Chechnya.

FIN.

Romulus and Remus illustration from the Times Higher Education Supplement, 1994.

Obelix and Co. copyright © 1976 Goscinny/Uderzo. Translators: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Busy neighbours - 2


Laurance next door has been busy too. Take a look.

Busy neighbours - 1



Caroline round the corner has made a film, a noisy one it seems. A Message to the World is a documentary on Jesse Hector of The Hammersmith Gorillas. Some words about it here, and a trailer below.



Showing at Raindance, October 4th, and at the Barbican, October 7th.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Missing - have you seen these paintings?

The following three paintings are missing, feared stolen. Have you seen them?

The paintings are all illustrations for my picture book. They were on show last year at the Ian Logan Design Shop, Charterhouse Square, London EC1. The shop closed in January 2008, but I only learned of this some months later. Today I was told that the paintings haven’t been found in storage with other items from the shop.

This amounts to months of work lost. They are irreplaceable. Any help in recovering them would be greatly appreciated.

You can download a wanted poster here.

Ian Logan Design Company London
Ian Logan Design Shop London
Ian Logan Design London

If these have been stolen, sad to say it wouldn’t be the first time for me.

UPDATE 22 January 2012

Two of the paintings have been recovered! Yesterday I collected the second and third pictured above. The first, of Sadie getting dressed, is still missing.

 Thanks to Ruth in East London, who saw them at a car boot sale in Epping some three years ago, and had the good taste to buy them for her young son, and thanks to her sharp eyed friend who recently recognised them as being from the book. Ruth’s lad now has two framed digital prints of the images in his room to replace the paintings, as well as a signed first edition of Sadie the Air Mail Pilot. He’s lived with the images for a long time, but never read the book before. I hope the story lives up to any he may have daydreamed for himself!

You think I look bad?

Y’should see the hedge.



Drawn for The Yellow Press, in 1993 or ’94. I’m not certain if these were ever published, but if so then maybe in issue 10, which I’ve mislaid.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Vikings

nancy farmer the sea of trolls
Another detail of a painting in progress, previously glimpsed here and here. It’s for a book cover.

During the summer we spent some time in Denmark, mostly on the island of Bornholm, but we also managed to get to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde to see the return of the replica longship Sea Stallion from its voyage to Ireland.

Also worth a visit, BBC Radio 4’s series The Viking Way from 2005, still available to hear online.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Giving credit for the surge

George Packer on the surge, and doing the right thing after having exhausted every other alternative: Credit where it’s due, not where it isn’t.
To give him credit feels like praising a man for calling 911 well after his carelessness started a fire that had killed half his neighbors by the time he picked up the phone. And yet, for making an improbable decision against the advice of most of his Administration and in the face of all the political winds blowing through the country, Bush deserves credit.
[...]
I was in Baghdad when Bush announced the surge. An Iraqi friend expressed a forlorn hope that the new security plan would work, and though I told him that I shared the sentiment, inwardly I felt embarrassed that he still had any faith left in the U.S. government, which no longer deserved it. I had already lost mine and doubted that the surge - which I supported in the absence of anything other than the ongoing apocalypse - could succeed. My friend had no choice; he was Iraqi.

Friday, 19 September 2008

False choice

Michael J Totten today on the false choice between fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. Also at greater length here. A quote:
Obama is rightly worried about the safe havens Al Qaeda has created in Pakistan, and it’s to his credit that he refuses to let up about it. But for years he’s been entirely blasé about the safe havens Al Qaeda created in Iraq - in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baqubah, Mosul, and parts of Baghdad. For years he has aggressively promoted a policy of abandoning the fight in that country which quite obviously would have allowed Al Qaeda to preserve those safe havens and possibly even expand them.

Pretty Polly

dragon
In future I should limit myself to paintings no larger than two inches square. Remind me. Please.

Not finished, near wing could be better. 

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Teaching evolution, challenging creationism

charles darwin
This came up Saturday before last at a birthday dinner for the Professor, and now it’s all over the papers, though with a different cast of characters.

Here’s a hard line from Oliver Kamm, hearts and minds (and follow up) from Francis Sedgemore, and practical experience from Shuggy, who writes:
Sometimes you talk about it, sometimes it’s appropriate to close conversations down. It's a balance that is difficult to strike - no doubt we get it wrong on many occasions, but I have not the least doubt that any attempt to routinise the practice even in the most limited way would make this more difficult than it already is.
(Update: Shuggy has now written a good follow up  too.)

Back at the Prof’s dinner I brought up Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason provides the best argument I know of for resolving the conflict between the religious impulse and scientific method. By defining God as the creator of the universe, and by arguing that God’s creation, not the word of dead men, is the only true evidence of the nature of God, Paine provides a view of God that is grander than the petty conjurer of the old holy books, but that can in no way be in conflict with science, because science is the only reliable path to understanding the works of God.

The so-called creationists set the words of dead prophets above the evidence of God’s creation. This is human hubris in the face of a creation grander than they can imagine.

The central statement in The Age of Reason is this: “The only idea man can affix to the name of God is that of a first cause, the cause of all things.” There are later passages in the work which I think fall short, where despite that principle Paine attempts to ascribe motives to God, to prove God’s benevolence. It doesn’t work. However, read the following extract if you will - a definition of God the creator wholly compatible with science.
But some, perhaps, will say: Are we to have no word of God — no revelation? I answer, Yes; there is a word of God; there is a revelation.

THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.

Human language is local and changeable, and is therefore incapable of being used as the means of unchangeable and universal information. The idea that God sent Jesus Christ to publish, as they say, the glad tidings to all nations, from one end of the earth to the other, is consistent only with the ignorance of those who knew nothing of the extent of the world, and who believed, as those world-saviours believed, and continued to believe for several centuries (and that in contradiction to the discoveries of philosophers and the experience of navigators), that the earth was flat like a trencher, and that man might walk to the end of it.

But how was Jesus Christ to make anything known to all nations? He could speak but one language which was Hebrew, and there are in the world several hundred languages. Scarcely any two nations speak the same language, or understand each other; and as to translations, every man who knows anything of languages knows that it is impossible to translate from one language to another, not only without losing a great part of the original, but frequently of mistaking the sense; and besides all this, the art of printing was wholly unknown at the time Christ lived.

It is always necessary that the means that are to accomplish any end be equal to the accomplishment of that end, or the end cannot be accomplished. It is in this that the difference between finite and infinite power and wisdom discovers itself. Man frequently fails in accomplishing his ends, from a natural inability of the power to the purpose, and frequently from the want of wisdom to apply power properly. But it is impossible for infinite power and wisdom to fail as man faileth. The means it useth are always equal to the end; but human language, more especially as there is not an universal language, is incapable of being used as an universal means of unchangeable and uniform information, and therefore it is not the means that God useth in manifesting himself universally to man.

It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they may be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God.

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed! Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make, but the Scripture called the Creation.

The only idea man can affix to the name of God is that of a first cause, the cause of all things. And incomprehensible and difficult as it is for a man to conceive what a first cause is, he arrives at the belief of it from the tenfold greater difficulty of disbelieving it. It is difficult beyond description to conceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult to conceive an end. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive an eternal duration of what we call time; but it is more impossible to conceive a time when there shall be no time.

In like manner of reasoning, everything we behold carries in itself the internal evidence that it did not make itself. Every man is an evidence to himself that he did not make himself; neither could his father make himself, nor his grandfather, nor any of his race; neither could any tree, plant, or animal make itself; and it is the conviction arising from this evidence that carries us on, as it were, by necessity to the belief of a first cause eternally existing, of a nature totally different to any material existence we know of, and by the power of which all things exist; and this first cause man calls God.
Darwin drawing drawn from yellowed pages of an ancient Times Higher Education Supplement.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Socrates and Zionism

Sultan Knish and The Contentious Centrist seem at odds. I am with the latter. (Update: Snoopy too, I see. I am a dabbler, a babe in the woods on this, nevertheless...)
“Consider, then, Socrates,” the laws perhaps might say, “whether we say truly that in what you are now attempting you are attempting to do what is not just toward us. For we, having given you birth, nurtured, instructed you, and having imparted to you and all other citizens all the good in our power, still proclaim, by giving the power to every Athenian who pleases, when he has arrived at years of discretion, and become acquainted with the business of the state, and us, the laws, that any one who is not satisfied with us may take his property, and go wherever he pleases. And if any one of you wishes to go to a colony, if he is not satisfied with us and the city, or to migrate and settle in another country, none of us, the laws, hinder or forbid him going whithersoever he pleases, taking with him all his property.
“But whoever continues with us after he has seen the manner in which we administer justice, and in other respects govern the city, we now say that he has in fact entered into a compact with us to do what we order; and we affirm that he who does not obey is in three respects guilty of injustice—because he does not obey us who gave him being, and because he does not obey us who nurtured him, and because, having made a compact that he would obey us, he neither does so, nor does he persuade us if we do any thing wrongly; though we propose for his consideration, and do not rigidly command him to do what we order, but leave him the choice of one of two things, either to persuade us, or to do what we require, and yet he does neither of these.”
The words of Socrates in Plato’s Crito, arguing the case against evading his own death sentence. Socrates concludes the argument:
“Then, O Socrates! be persuaded by us who have nurtured you, and do not set a higher value on your children, or on life, or on any thing else than justice, that, when you arrive in Hades, you may have all this to say in your defense before those who have dominion there. For neither here in this life, if you do what is proposed, does it appear to be better, or more just, or more holy to yourself, or any of your friends; nor will it be better for you when you arrive there. But now you depart, if you do depart, unjustly treated, not by us, the laws, but by men; but should you escape, having thus disgracefully returned injury for injury, and evil for evil, having violated your own compacts and conventions which you made with us, and having done evil to those to whom you least of all should have done it—namely, yourself, your friends, your country, and us—both we shall be indignant with you as long as you live, and there our brothers, the laws in Hades, will not receive you favorably knowing that you attempted, so far as you were able, to destroy us. Let not Crito, then, persuade you to do what he advises, rather than we.”

These things, my dear friend Crito, be assured, I seem to hear as the votaries of Cybele seem to hear the flutes. And the sound of these words booms in my ear, and makes me incapable of hearing any thing else. Be sure, then, so long as I retain my present opinions, if you should say any thing contrary to these, you will speak in vain. If, however, you think that you can prevail at all, say on.

Critio: But, Socrates, I have nothing to say.

Socrates: Desist, then, Crito, and let us pursue this course, since this way the deity leads us.
Related: BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time on Socrates.

And I linked to it before, but here it is again: Uncle Eddie serves up Cicero.

UPDATE: Related, Radical Settlers Take On Israel, New York Times Sept. 25th 2008, also in the IHT.

‘Hundreds join’ settler violence, BBC News Oct. 2nd 2008.

Sadie wins the Concours d’Elegance

I worked hard to raise her strong and smart, and she’s done me proud. Off she went into the world, seeking fame, fortune, and most of all adventure. Now I hear reports of her exploits across oceans and continents. Oh, I am a proud papa.


More details here.

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

charlie bone jenny nimmoFinally delivered all art for the French edition of Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone and the Time Twister last week. It turned out to be much more of a struggle than the first one. I’ll post the cover as soon as it arrives back from the printers, but in the meantime here’s an interior drawing that was surplus to requirements.

UK edition of the book here, with cover art by David Wyatt.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 4

Continued from here.

First post in the series here, second post here, fifth and final here.

Russia in the Gap: the cost

To recap from the previous instalment, Thomas PM Barnett reasons that in his strategic model of the world, Russia must be included in the Core, which means “those parts of the world that are actively integrating their national economies into a global economy and that adhere to globalization’s emerging security rule set,” as opposed to the Gap, “regions of the world that are largely disconnected from the global economy.” According to his model, present and future strategic threats come from the Gap, and the Core must close the Gap by expanding economic globalisation, backed by the use of military force where necessary. Core states are not a strategic threat to each other in TPM Barnett’s model.

His reasoning for including Russia seems based on two points. One, Russia’s economic connections with the wider world are strong enough to qualify, and two, not including Russia in the core is too costly in terms of greater demands on remaining Core nations, both in dealing with Russia and with dealing with the rest of the Gap without help from Russia.

In the previous post I argued against Russia currently qualifying as a core state. In this post I want to look at the argument regarding the cost of not including Russia.

In one way the question seems senseless. Either Russia qualifies as a Core state or it doesn’t. Surely the model should reflect reality? But it seems the model is as much intended to shape reality as interpret it. The Core states are those where TPM Barnett believes America should not expect to go to war. The priority is closing the Gap and all military resources possible should be directed in supporting that effort. The danger he sees is that treating Russia as a Gap state will divide military resources with a new cold war running alongside efforts to close the Gap, and closing the Gap will be further complicated by Russia playing a competing rather than complimentary role in Gap conflicts.

The problem I have with this view is that it seems to imply that Western opposition to Russian expansionism in the Caucasus will lead to Russian opposition to Western efforts in the Gap, ignoring that Russia has been opposing for some time, has in fact never fully stopped opposing, on Nato membership for former Soviet bloc states in Europe, on the Balkans, on Iraq, on Iran. None of these policies of opposition have been helpful in expanding and deepening economic globalisation. The former Soviet states slowest to connect with globalisation have been those where Russian power is greatest.

For globalisation to work as the means of eliminating military threat, TPM Barnett’s aim, we cannot have Russia sitting on subject states. We cannot have Russia propping up spoiler regimes around the world. The current Russian leadership is not a friend of globalisation. The threat to globalisation arising out of Russia’s invasion of Georgia is not that the West might provoke Russia into playing a spoiling game, it is that the West might allow Russia to think it can get away with carving out a little empire of subject states, economically isolated from the wider world and with the money going through Moscow. Stopping Russia now will cost less than allowing the problem to grow.

To be clear, TPM Barnett does believe that Russia will and should suffer a penalty for actions in Georgia, but he wants that penalty to be economic, not military. There is a degree in interdependence between economic and military though, and here I think he doesn’t fully weigh the economic and political costs of an inadequate military response. If Georgia as a whole had fallen to Russia, or if it were now left inadequately defended, the resulting insecurity would affect the rest of the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet states in Asia.

If Georgia had fallen, or if it falls in future, the immediate economic and political implications of Eastern European energy dependence on Russia would be severe. It is true that the energy route through Georgia can’t by itself solve this problem, but the bigger solutions will take time, and in the meantime East European confidence must be maintained if Russian influence is not to increase.

The cost of containing Russian military threats to its neighbours should not equal that of the cold war. Russia is smaller and weaker than was the USSR, even with its oil and gas, and more dependent on its economic connections with the West too. The case that needs to be made is of the need to accompany military support to Georgia and other concerned Russian neighbours with greater efforts at economic integration. The West needs to finish closing the Gap in Eastern Europe. The West needs to close the gap in the Caucasus rather than leaving them vulnerable. And to do this, the West needs to co-operate more in closing the Gap in Turkey.


The last in this series is here, and it includes comics!


Road and rail links between Georgia and Turkey. Note that the only rail link runs through Armenia. Detail from map copyright © Gizi Map. Buy it from Stanfords.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Submarines and Sea Monsters



Two exciting drawings by Bo. 

Above: A submarine attacking four sea monsters. The craft is covered with sensors and guns that fire explosive harpoons.

Below: Unmanned midget subs attacking two sea monsters. The mini subs have pincers and shoot incendiary electric shock harpoons.

Sea monsters by Bo’s father can be found in an earlier post here.

More submarines at The Sub Report, through which we found Iranian subs large and small at Iran Ballistic. Bo also enjoyed this BBC report on a Scottish built rescue sub made for export to China.

Art copyright © Bo Jacobs Strøm

Thursday, 11 September 2008

In Dreams



Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 3

jan de hartog andre morell pamela brown frederick richterContinued from here.

First post in the series here. Fourth post here. Fifth post here.

Is Russia a Core state?

The most obvious objection to Thomas PM Barnett’s view of the Russian invasion of Georgia is of course the one he begins by anticipating, namely that including Russia amongst the Core nations in his global strategic model is a mistake. His reasoning for including Russia seems based on two points. One, Russia’s economic connections with the wider world are strong enough to qualify, and two, not including Russia in the core is too costly in terms of greater demands on remaining Core nations, both in dealing with Russia and with dealing with the rest of the Gap without help from Russia.

On the first point, I’m unclear why TPM Barnett feels Russia qualifies for the Core while other oil rich states do not; I’m thinking particularly of those nations in the Gulf who invest widely in other countries and are therefore important in the global economy beyond their role as suppliers of oil.

80% of Russia’s exports are commodities; there is not the focus on manufactured goods or services seen in China and India, other big countries that TPM Barnett also counts as New Core states. Despite Russia’s gas and oil boom, Russian economic growth this century is below average amongst former Soviet states. In 2007 the Russian economy grew at only two-thirds the rate of the Georgian economy for example, though the other side of that story is that Georgia is growing from a much lower base.

There is a strong danger then that the current Russian economy based on exploitation of natural resources may be stuck in an asset stripping mentality, and the only expansion it will be capable of will be in gaining control of more natural resources beyond the state’s borders, by fair means or foul.

The bigger problem in regarding Russia as a Core state is in the attitude of the current Russian leadership to the rule of law, and how this affects globalisation, firstly in working against the integration of the Russian economy into the global system, and secondly in the role Russia plays in affecting other nations’ progress towards global economic integration.

Russia has long been a gangster state, most obviously in the time of Yeltsin when various parties competed in a lawless scramble to secure assets as the Soviet state was demolished, but also before then when the gang in control was the Party, when there was no law outside of the Party, no higher authority, no alternative. Now there is one gang in charge again, and having defeated or incorporated the other gangs at home it now uses the same gangster methods abroad, in Ukraine, in Britain, and now in Georgia.

Use of violence with no legal sanction is only the most extreme manifestation of gangsterism here. Russia’s pipeline policy is indicative of a gangster mentality. They want a monopoly on the dope they’re peddling, squeezing competing supplier nations, pushing out foreign investors while pushing into foreign markets, threatening cold turkey on anyone who doesn’t co-operate.

TPM Barnett sets aside systems of political government when considering whether a country belongs in the Core. That China is a one party state, that Russia has become a Potempkin democracy, these issues are less important than that China and Russia are ‘actively integrating their national economies into a global economy’. So China qualifies as it imports raw materials from round the world, exports manufactured goods round the world, and invests abroad. But does Russia qualify?

Made in China goods are ubiquitous, and are now central to the world economy. China’s need for raw materials worldwide gives it an interest in global stability. While some of its resulting engagements in the wider world are negative, most prominently in Sudan, and look like exporting totalitarianism rather than encouraging globalisation, it is also clear that China is growing globalisation within its borders. The results may yet confirm TPM Barnett’s view of economic integration being more urgent than political reform.

To Russia: I don’t see Made in Russia on anything I buy in the supermarket. I do see spam apparently facilitated by Russian ISPs clogging my inbox. I do see the after-effects of a London house price boom fuelled partly by wealthy Russians insecure about staying in Russia. I see antique-looking Russian strategic bombers showing off in the UK ADIZ. And I see the flames on our stove burning blue and hear the hum of the gas fired boiler when we run the bath. The bills are going up, and we’re looking for alternatives.

The Russian monopoly strategy on energy is not compatible with advancing a competitive global economy. Neither is the focus on asset-stripping which reduces the Russian economic system to commodities out, money and manufactured goods in: a classic Gap economy, like the Gulf states, like Nigeria, or to return to Conrad, like the Congo. The company in this case is not a Belgian elite exploiting African resources, it’s a Russian elite exploiting the resources of Russia and its neighbours.

While the Chinese model requires dispersal of economic power amongst the population to foster enterprise and competition, Russia’s asset-stripping, dope-peddling model is leading to the opposite, a re-centralisation of power. The ruling gang are maintaining domestic support through nationalism promoted via a controlled media rather than broad-based economic progress. The population is not empowered in such an economy. It’s out of their control as much as it is for the native population in Heart of Darkness. And the populations of neighbouring states falling under Russian control would see no benefits, except for those amongst them given the privilege of preying on their neighbours. From Joseph Conrad’s book:
‘A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets ful of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of the ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with aclarity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I was also a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings.’
Continued here.

Related: The Real Price of Oil by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, December 3 2001.

Top image: illustration for the Times Higher Education Supplement, 17 February 1995, accompanying a review of Cold War histories. Click on the image to see the article.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Waiting for the echo

jan de hartog andre morell pamela brown frederick richter
I would like a television receiver capable of viewing this - an apparatus able to detect a distant echo of the signal bouncing off some faraway heavenly body. How much will it cost me?

Image from issue 6 of The Penguin Film Review, April 1948, live production at BBC Television, Alexandra Palace.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

All at sea


Regarding missile defence, some commentators prefer sea-based interceptors to the interceptors planned for deployment in Poland, reasoning that a sea-based system is less provocative. Matthew Yglesias posts on the subject here

According to this BBC News story from last month, the planned deployment of 10 interceptors in Poland is part of a larger deployment that includes 44 land based interceptors in Alaska and California, and 130 interceptors on ships, so the sea-based element would already seem larger just in terms of numbers.

If Russia’s given reasons for objecting to Polish based interceptors were genuine, wouldn’t one expect Russia to be even more concerned about the sea based system? There is quite a lot of sea around Europe, with no locals to object, so the potential for a sea based system to scale up to the point where it might pose some strategic challenge to Russia’s nuclear deterrence of 4,000 warheads would seem to be greater than the couple of handfuls of interceptors destined for Poland.

All of this casts further doubt on Russia’s objections to Poland accepting the interceptor deployment, and indicates that what they dislike is not the physical abilities of the actual interceptors, but what they represent in terms of further integrating Poland with the West, and the implications of that integration for other Eastern European countries.

Earlier post on Yglesias and missile defence here.

Above: detail from an as yet unfinished colour version of this Airforce Amazons page.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 2

Continued from here.

Part three here. Part four here. Part five here.

Maps, jargon, and economics before all else

Thomas PM Barnett’s series of books on his Core and Gap strategic theory begin with The Pentagon’s New Map. Declaration of ignorance: I haven’t read it. I’m going instead by the large amount of information on his sprawling website. First, here is the map:


Or at least a detail of the map - click on it to see the whole world divided into Core and Gap, or download a PDF version here. As to what these divisions mean, TPM Barnett provides a glossary:
FUNCTIONING CORE: Those parts of the world that are actively integrating their national economies into a global economy and that adhere to globalization’s emerging security rule set.

NON-INTEGRATING GAP: Regions of the world that are largely disconnected from the global economy and the rule sets that define its stability. [...] These regions constitute globalization’s ‘ozone hole,’ where connectivity remains thin or absent in far too many cases. Of course, each region contains some countries that are very Core-like in their attributes (just as there are Gap-like pockets throughout the Core defined primarily by poverty), but these are like mansions in an otherwise seedy neighborhood, and as such are trapped by these larger Gap-defining circumstances.
So this division is defined by economic infrastructure. It’s not defined by political systems, not by levels of industrialisation or wealth, and not by military might - he believes these are secondary characteristics that flow from globalisation.

TPM Barnett argues that all serious strategic threats come from the Gap, and so to ensure future security the Core must work to close the Gap by expanding globalisation, by use of force where necessary. A repeat of the Cold War strategy of containing the enemy is insufficient, because the Gap is already defined by failure, and it is from failure that the danger comes. Afghanistan and Iraq are key examples for him, both of how threats come from the gap, and of how military force will in the future be used in the Gap rather than between countries of the Core.

And this is where I came in, because TPM Barnett places China and Russia in the Core, and conflict with China and Russia is at best a distraction from the main task according to his theory. But I don’t want to get onto that yet. First Heart of Darkness, and the steamer landing soldiers and customs officers all down the coast of Africa. The resonance with the New Map proposal is obvious. And TPM Barnett’s history of globalisation includes the colonial period. From the glossary:
The history of globalization can divided into three parts, each governed by its own rule set.
Globalization I from 1870 to 1914, was ended by the start of World War I.
Globalization II from 1945 to 1980, was initiated by the United States at the end of World War II, and continued until the effective end of the Cold War.
Globalization III (1980 -2001) has been an era of relative peace and enormous economic growth around the world that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but whose rule sets have now been challenged by rogue states and international terrorists, as exemplified by 9/11.
Here is someone who sees globalisation as the global strategic priority, and yet seems to confirm the far left view of globalisation as a continuation of Western imperialism. But while he sees a continuity he also wants to differentiate ‘Globalisation III’ from what went before. From the book proposal for The Pentagon’s New Map:
Does that sound like America running a global empire? It shouldn’t. We’re interested in enforcing minimum rule sets, not the maximal rule sets associated with imperialism. We want a level playing field not just in global trade, but in global security as well. We want to administer the global security system, not rule it. Like those ‘system administrators’ that keep the Internet up and running, America needs to play system administrator to the global security network. We need to keep globalization up and running - to be, in effect, its bodyguard.
Having not read the book nor its sequel, I don’t know whether this aspect survives intact therein. Four years later, he seems to be less sure that America is to be the sole systems administrator for globalisation, and instead is talking about competing rules being advanced by other Core nations as they move into the Gap. They don’t need to be America’s rules, just rules that America can live with. From TPM Barnett’s blog, August 21 2008:
I want a confident, demanding Russia. I need it to run some parts of the world and help shrink some parts of the Gap I won’t pretend anybody else is stepping up to handle. But I need a rule set for how that’s done that I can live with, along with the rest of the Core. By not integrating Russia better into Core institutions (like NATO, which should have been killed a while ago and reborn immediately as something from Vancouver to Vladivostock - remember that one from Jim Baker?), we’ve done a half-assed job, giving Russia just enough connectivity [...] to get rich but not enough larger [political-military] context to truly make itself happy and secure inside the Core.
That snippet comes from a follow-up to his post on Russia’s invasion of Georgia that got me started on reading all this. Here’s a big piece of that, where he explains his opposition to returning to a Cold War view of Russia:
Russia’s too much in the club (or Core, as I call it) to make such a divorce anything but highly disruptive to too many economic and investment and network interests, and therein lies my basic position on Russia belonging to the Core. Until it transgresses enough to resurrect itself as a credible direct-threat scenario (meaning we have a reasonable anticipation of possible direct war with Russia), we - along with the rest of the Core - are going to finesse this situation.

Being in the Core doesn’t mean never going to war, especially against Gap nations. Indeed, my whole point in making the original delineation was to point out that while intra-Core war becomes an increasingly distant possibility, wars inside the Gap by Core nations will be anything but. Just look at our record since the end of the Cold War.

The notion of the Core doesn’t presuppose that only America will have permission to do this sort of thing unilaterally. In fact, in both my books, I cited the danger of other Core powers starting to replicate our example if we weren’t careful about embedding our own interventions within an acceptable A-to-Z rule set that the Core as a whole could sign up for, meaning we’d eventually see other Core great powers launching their own efforts inside the Gap - according to their own rules and agendas. To some extent, Russia’s kinetic version is as challenging as China’s non-kinetic version - say - in Africa.

But make no mistake: the longer the U.S. gives off the vibe that it’s a ‘dangerous chaotic world’ where Core great powers do what they must to protect their interests, the more we will see this sort of behavior. If I’m Russia, and I’ve been watching imperious Washington this past two decades, I feel wholly within my rights in my own neighborhood, because those Americans certainly show themselves to take advantage or do what they feel they must in places all over the world but especially in their own backyard.

Again, this is where the strategic vision ‘thing’ or the lack thereof really hurts. We go off on a strategic bender after 9/11 and start remaking the Middle East as we see fit and we can’t expect every other Core great power to simply stand by and see what happens. We set the example, we model the behavior, and we eschew the larger schemes of cooperation as ‘naive’ or ‘too compromising’ or ‘too distasteful’ because ‘those regimes’ aren’t democracies like we are, and we’re going to find ourselves battling alternative great-power rule sets, which - in effect - Russia is proposing right now regarding the Caucasus.
He expresses the argument in more measured tones in this column dated September 7th.
Think about what made America the world’s most stable and prosperous democracy for almost a century and a half: the middle class ideology that emerged when we knit together our sectional economies into a continental juggernaut following the Civil War. That class consciousness wasn’t born when the victorious North imposed itself on the prostrate South but when the ambitious East integrated the frontier West.

Today’s globalization echoes American experience as West networks East and East integrates South, reducing global poverty at speeds never before seen in human history. This international liberal trade order, modeled on our ‘uniting states,’ is America’s greatest gift to the world.

[...]

The problem is the time required, as people must be enriched before they can be empowered - Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Such strategic patience is difficult for an America that idealizes its own tumultuous political history.

[...]

Now America faces the great temptation to swap out the frustrating ‘war on terror’ for the more familiar dynamics of cold war with Russia. What disturbs me most about that choice? The war on terror accurately targets extremist opponents of globalization’s advance, while strategic brinkmanship with Moscow's oligarchs does not.

Pursued with our usual demonizing tendencies, a ‘league of democracies’ combating rising great power autocracies will result in globalization being fenced off into a cluster of armed regional camps, replete with destructive trade protectionism.

Russia’s economic ambitions are as understandable as its penchant for brute force is unacceptable, but Moscow doesn’t seek to overthrow our international liberal trade order nor does it dream of civilizational apartheid like radical Islam. The same is true of autocratic China.
While I see much of worth in what TPM Barnett writes, my opposition to his conclusions on Russia has clarified to a great degree, and led me to also find fault elsewhere in his proposals. Now that I’ve sounded the depths I’ll aim to navigate my own passage through these murky waters in the coming days.

Continued here.

Playing with matches 4

Azarmehr quotes last Friday’s sermon by Ayatollah Jannati, member of Iran’s Guardian Council:
“Soon the Islamic Republic will posess a power so great that no one will be tempted to attack it.”
David Kay in today’s Washington Post:
“Inflation runs rampant and domestic unrest is growing, but the leadership is banding together in support of the country’s nuclear program. Threat assessment and war planning are (or should be) about best-guessing capabilities and intentions. When it comes to Iran, these calculations are difficult, but there are things we can - and must - figure out. Given what we know and what we can best-guess, it looks as if Iran is 80 percent of the way to a functioning nuclear weapon.”
Later in the same article, he writes that Iran believes:
“it has gained a strategic advantage against the United States as a result of its being tied down in Iraq, and against Israel, because of the tactical blunting, if not defeat, of its military in Lebanon.”
Sietske in Beirut, August 27:
“People are telling me – quite convinced, but not convincingly (yet) – that the Israelis will bomb us in September. I haven’t heard yet when in September, but I am sure that I will be informed shortly on the exact date as well. I think it is rather nice, to know in advance when you will be bombed. Really takes a load of your shoulders, now doesn’t it?”
“By now it should be clear that we do not believe the US will attack Iran during the Bush administration. With that said, we will not be surprised at all if one day Israel attacks Iran. The question for forward deployed naval forces must always be, if Iran decides to violate just about every possible international law, not to mention piss off just about every major world power except Russia and shut down the Strait of Hormuz, what will be asked of the US Navy to open the strait back up?

“While amateurs, usually from a political perspective, tend to focus on carriers as a benchmark for Iran, professionals keep an eye on the number of ESGs forward deployed. For all the talk about small boats, mines, submarines, and ballistic missiles; from a tactical assessment perspective we see the three primary hurdles for military forces to reopen the Straits of Hormuz to be three islands, specifically Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. These islands sit very close to the deep water channel, but more importantly, they have a bunch of troops on them. Those islands will have to be taken in order to open up the Strait of Hormuz.” 
BBC News, 3rd September:
“The six Gulf Cooperation Council states have condemned Tehran for opening offices on disputed islands in the waters between Iran and the UAE.

“Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands are controlled by Iran but claimed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with broad Arab support.”
Reuters, 7th September:
“Iran’s armed forces will begin three days of war games on Monday involving anti-aircraft defense systems, Iranian media said on Sunday.

“The exercises will be held amid persistent speculation about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the West and Israel say are part of a clandestine bid to build atomic bombs, despite Tehran's denials.”
Fabius Maximus has been reading Stratfor, 5 September:
“We have heard nothing from the Bush administration on Iran since before the war in Georgia - although a State Department official told us on Thursday that the last official statement was issued by the U.S. Treasury on Aug. 12. Certainly, the constant barrage of comments by the Bush administration on the Iranian threat has decreased dramatically. Frankly, while there might have been passing mentions, the administration appears to have simply dropped the subject.

“The silence is, of course, enormously significant.”
It may be significant, but the comments that follow show a lack of consensus as to what it signifies.

Earlier: Playing with matches one, two, and three.
Follow up posts: five, six and seven.

Earlier post relating to David Kay: Ooops 2.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap

From Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
‘I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they have there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and customs officers.’
In the late 19th Century, Marlow, an English sailor looking for adventure, is a passenger on a steamer going down the west coast of Africa. He has signed up with the Company to captain a riverboat, but first comes this long journey as spectator.
‘The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along, stoppped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more soldiers - to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably. Some, I hear, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went.’
I read Heart of Darkness for the first time on our recent trip to the wilds of the Isle of Mull, and with the insect bites, the grass and moss and other vegetation growing right down to the edge of the salt water, the tree trunks covered with moss and lichen and other life soaking up the moisture and growing like a green plague, the green and gold hills across the Sound of Mull in mist and sun, well, the whole effect was quite convincing at times: Africa in Scotland.

It was curious reading a book that was already so familiar before even opening it, from all the references made to it, from Apocalypse Now, and from Jan de Hartog’s novel of the Dutch East Indies, The Spiral Road. I want to write about his colonial tale in a later post, but first to a more recent echo I heard as I read the above passage - the strategic model proposed by Thomas PM Barnett of a world divided into the Core and the Gap.

TPM Barnett has been around awhile, has written successful books about his view of the world, and seems to have quite a following. (See for example the Information Dissemination post I linked to at the end of my last post before the Mull Expedition.) However I only came across his writing in the last month, and in circumstances not suited to winning me over.

The first I read of his was about how to react to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, a piece which placed much greater emphasis on maintaining Russia’s position in the Core part of his global strategic model, rather than giving much consideration to how to defend nations on Russia’s borders threatened by a gangster regime. My gut was opposed to the sentiment of the post, but there were strong arguments there, and it was rooted in that strategic model of his, with which I was wholly unfamiliar.
‘It was upward of thirty days before I saw the mouth of the big river. We anchored off the seat of the government. But my work would not begin till some two hundred miles farther on. So as soon as I could I made a start for a place thirty miles higher up.’ 
Continued in part two here.

Part three here. Part four here. Part five here.