Friday, 30 October 2009

Don’t open that door!

This month’s song from John Dog is
When There Was A World Outside.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Three from Arja Kajermo

arja kajermo in dublin
After a recent morbid exchange on an issue of blame, I was reminded of the above strip, my favourite of many by Dublin’s leading Finnish cartoonist, Arja Kajermo. (Click image to enlarge.)

Regarding God and his mam in the last panel, as Iraqi Mojo will explain, America is God now.

arja kajermo in dublin
In the hunt through back issues of In Dublin magazine for the first strip, I also found this one, on terrorists infiltrating RTE television programmes.

From 1977 to 1993 Ireland’s national broadcaster was explicitly prohibited from broadcasting statements by spokespersons for Sinn Féin, the Provisional IRA, or other proscribed terrorist organisations under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act. There were a number of breaches of this, as explained in a snippet from The Irish Emigrant, March 27 1988:

The young reporter who compiled the report that had Martin McGuinness speaking on the air was dismissed by RTE on Monday. Jenny McGeever has now taken the matter to the High Court and has been given leave to apply for a judicial review of her dismissal. No action is being taken against the editor and assistant editor of the programme. McGeever was a freelance reporter on contract to RTE. She is claiming that she could not report effectively if she did not tape interviews with various people. The fact that one of these interviews went out on the air was simply an oversight caused by the pressure to have the story ready for transmission.

This news item gave rise to a couple of related stories. The Gay Byrne morning radio programme was investigating the impact of emigration on families. He invited to the studio a woman whose husband had emigrated because he could not find work. After the programme was broadcast it was discovered that the woman was a member of Sinn Fein. The other programme under the eye of the press and politicians is “Questions and Answers.” This programme goes out on television on Sunday nights and is hosted by Olivia O’Leary. The format consists of a panel of politicians and other personalities giving their opinions on issues raised by individuals in an audience drawn from members of the public who apply for tickets. Members of Sinn Fein appear to have been particularly successful in obtaining tickets.
RTE’s Questions and Answers programme used the same format as the BBC’s Question Time, so there’s topicality for you.

arja kajermo in dublin
Finally, the perfect portrayal of Dublin life as I remember it from those days. For more, have a look at Arja’s place.

All comics copyright © Arja Kajermo.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

“I rang up the Taliban in Quetta and complained”

Video: Talking Helmand, the Political Officer’s advice for armies campaigning in the Pashtoon heartland.

Ghosts of Alexander points to this very interesting talk by Michael Semple last month at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Abu Muqawama picks up on it too.

Michael Semple received a degree of press attention when working in Afghanistan as the acting representative for the EU. In December 2007, along with a UN official, he was arrested and expelled by the government of Hamid Karzai because of talks he was conducting with Taliban-linked elements in Helmand. From The Guardian:
Semple told the Guardian that he and the UN official Mervyn Patterson, who was also expelled, were victims of local politics. He said a local leader in Helmand province falsely blamed them for talking to what he described as “one of the irreconcilables” in the conflict. They had, he said, opened no such channel to al-Qaida-linked Taliban.

“There is a critical difference between what is discreet and what is covert,” Semple said. “What we were doing was simply discreet because that was what was required. But it was totally in line with official policy to bring people in from the cold.”
In the Carr Center talk, Michael Semple gives a glimpse of his long and colourful past in Afghanistan, then talks about a recent attack in Ganjgal, and how it illustrates the local political complexities that need to be navigated in order to understand events.

He looks back at the success and failure of the political officers of Britain’s Victorian forays into Afghanistan, particularly Mohan Lal. He goes on to compare their actions with the work of the current day equivalent of the political officer in Afghanistan, and discusses the wide range of topics that a political officer needs to cover in briefing military units on their way to a place like Helmand.

At this point Rory Stewart of the Carr Center, who introduced the talk, challenges him on why he would want to work for the military, why he would want to help bring about a military victory, and what his wider aim is. Michael Semple responds as follows (edited for repetitions/clarifications):
Why I think it’s interesting today is partly because of the difference between the J2 [intelligence officer] and the political officer. For me the attraction of the political officer is that although inevitably nowadays, because there is a military component in the intervention in Afghanistan, they have some kind of relationship with the military whether they’re working directly with the military as a POLAD, or whether they are meeting with the military like a UNAMA political officer like in my days as a political officer with UNAMA, that for the political officer the military is one small part of our intervention and the preference is for civilian forms of action, and there is an assumption that such goals as we’d like to achieve [..] the political officer believes that it is possible to pursue that through political means, through a process of reconciling rather than pursuing conflicts, of cutting across all different sides in a conflict, and relying on the military for specific tasks.
I feel that with the spread of counterinsurgency doctrine it’s as if the political officer is being squeezed out of existence, and is being turned into this POLAD who’s never really going to be able to get things done. If a political officer really just were a J2, somebody who both is a good intelligence analyst, a reasonable field operator, and can give a few bits of good advice to the commander, I don't think i would have wanted to be one. If I was happy to be one, it’s because the idea that we can pursue politics [while] keeping counterinsurgency sort of intellectually at bay with the idea that an integrated approach to achieve legitimate ends does not mean subordinating all civilian action, either politically or intellectually, to the demands of a counterinsurgency doctrine or the command of the military, but actually in an integrated approach we primarily do politics with political officers giving some ideas on how it should be done, and co-ordinate with the military action.
Incidentally, Rory Stewart of the Carr Center who asked that question, and also introduced the talk, is not short of ground level experience in Afghanistan either. He is a sceptic when it comes to General McChrystal’s plan for US-led counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, primarily because he views it as unsustainable over the long term due to American domestic politics, and his main concern is that whatever action is taken, it needs to be long term as the problems in Afghanistan are deeper than deep.

I think Rory Stewart’s analysis as outlined in this interview has a couple of problems.The idea that domestic political resistance is directly related to the scale of deployment seems to me over-simplistic. Factors such as the electorate’s understanding and support for strategic aims, confidence or otherwise in success, perceptions of the effect on the local population, and of course military casualties; all these would seem more important in deciding the strength of domestic opposition.

As well as that, his use of troop number figures seems somewhat selective, leaving out the number of troops already deployed.

Rory Stewart’s colleague at the Carr Center, Tyler Moselle, also argues against McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan in this opinion piece for the Financial Times, maintaining that a counterinsurgency strategy would increase resistance by serving as “a rallying call for global jihadists” and arguing instead for a counterterrorism campaign based on drone strikes and special forces raids. But drone strikes are not the surgical cost-free option they seem, and can also lead to increased alienation and support for insurgents in the population.

As for special forces raids, that is of course General McChrystal’s speciality, and he doesn’t see it as a route to resolution, only to endless killing. The insurgency in Iraq wasn’t subdued by the killing of Saddam’s sons, nor by the capture of Saddam himself, nor by the killing of Musab al-Zarqawi.

Where Tyler Moselle’s argument is harder to dismiss is on the current government of Afghanistan. The military’s purpose cannot be to prop up Hamid Karzai. Hopefully US and NATO leaders understand this. The question is whether they can muster political resources to match the military ones proposed by McChrystal so as to advance beyond the current position.

And this brings us back to Michael Semple’s talk.

The next question to Michael Semple from the audience is on the corrupted first round of the presidential election. He discusses this at length, covering the role of UNAMA, both its leadership and its leading dissenter, the role of the US, the actions of Karzai, legitimate as well as illegitimate, as well as the history of elections in Afghanistan, and what needs to happen next.

He argues that the US has not shown sufficient political understanding of Afghanistan, is “not good enough at applying the non-military tools of influence,” and he argues for more of a political officer approach.

So counterinsurgency in itself will not be enough. Increased political sophistication within the military will not be enough. Kabul-centric deals will not be enough. The challenge will be to find political solutions that reach down to ground level: to implement a population centric political strategy to go beyond the military’s population centric COIN strategy.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Send in the women

As noted earlier, Tom Ricks has been writing on the particular value of women soldiers in counterinsurgency warfare. He received a response from Corporal Nicole M Zook, a US Marine deployed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, who wrote of her experiences with Female Engagement Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. An excerpt:
These young ladies understand that through the FETs, they are being given the opportunity to make a connection and make a difference with Afghan women. Many times I see male Marines come to the Middle East with the attitude that everyone here is an enemy, and killing is the only answer. The FET volunteers care about the people of Afghanistan, and Iraq, as individuals, on a human level, with no preformed prejudice. That is why the program works so well. FETs go in with the right attitude, and the people know this. They are instantly welcoming, and we can see the difference we make among the women and children of Afghanistan firsthand - and we know that, in turn, they are making a difference among the nation's men through their family connections.

The powers that be are calling for more troops in Afghanistan. I agree, wholeheartedly. But let them be the right kind of troops. What we need, more than just bodies, are EOD technicians, able-bodied interpreters, counterintelligence specialists, and FET volunteers. Lots and lots of FET volunteers.

The topic is now receiving coverage elsewhere. On October 13th, The Takeaway discussed women in counterinsurgency with Army Reserve Maj. Paula Broadwell, researcher at the Center for Public Leadership; and retired Army Sgt. Genevieve Chase, founder of American Women Veterans, and today the New York Times ran an opinion piece by Paula Broadwell.

Those last two items found via Akinoluna’s blog on military women. She adds her own comments on the New York Times article.

Meanwhile, over on The Helmand Blog, there was a recent story on Sergeant Isabella McManus, MoD police, and her successful work mentoring policewomen in Afghanistan. Which leads to another thought. Last spring it was reported that Iran’s national police chief had stated his force’s readiness to help in training police in Afghanistan. Could he perhaps be persuaded to send these women officers?

Iran’s dissenting clerics

Yesterday’s broadcast from BBC Radio 4’s Analysis series, Ayatollogy:
Edward Stourton asks if a battle over theology could help bring about the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The demonstrations have been suppressed and the president is still in power, so has the storm that blew up in Iran after this summer's elections been stilled? Far from it, and now the opposition is coming from where you'd least expect. Some of the country's top theologians and clergymen think that President Ahmadinejad is doing grave damage to the standing of Islam and they want him out.


Below are some background links on clerical dissent mostly collected from earlier Iran posts.

Translations from the words of dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar: On the Role of the Leader, and Where are the Ayatollahs? An excerpt:
Which Islam? The Black Islam or the Green Islam? The Islam of Ayatollah Montazeri or the Islam of Ayatollah Khamenei? the Islam of Mousavi or the Islam of Jannati? The Islam of Mesbah Yazdi or the Islam of Sanei?

There’s a world of difference here, do not put everything under one category. The ruling system in Iran has behaved tyrannically in the name of Islam, that’s a correct assessment and those who have suffered the most are these Muslims themselves.

Consider this: Iranian Christians in Tehran have their own churches, but Sunni Muslims in Tehran, in Mashad, in Qom, in Tabriz, … they are not allowed to have their own mosques. Dervish Iranians are not permitted to have places of worship in religious cities in Iran, like in Qom, in Mashad. These are Muslims. We have Jewish synagogues, but as a Sunni Muslim or Dervish Muslim, we can not have our own places of worship.

Or consider this, I have the same religion and same faith as these gentlemen [Shia Islam], but I don’t agree with their stance on anything. If I want to go for the Fetr or Ghorban prayer, if I want to go for Friday prayer, I have no place to go in Tehran. In the Shah’s time, Ayatollah Taleqani had his own mosque, Hedayat Mosque. In the Islamic Republic, we do not have an inch of space for ourselves. They’ve turned all mosques into government and state mosques.

This is the way this system treats the Muslims, the Shi’a Muslims, the Sunni Muslims, the dervish Muslims.

Defending the Islamic Republic by Any Means?! Translation of an article by cleric Mohammad Motahari.

Iran Arrests Children of Dissident Clerics, New York Times, 15 September.

Christopher Hitchens on the connectivity between Shi’ite dissent in Iran and Shi’ite clerics in Iraq.

Reject the rule of the dead, on Iraqi cleric and parliamentarian Iyad Jamal Al-Din.

The Ayatollahs Love to Write Letters, and Pedestrian runs to keep up.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Charlie Bone et le château des Miroirs

charlie bone jenny nimmo
Copies arrived in the post today of this, the French edition of Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors, with cover and 21 interior line illustrations by yours truly. Available at Amazon France.

For all Charlie Bone posts, click here.

charlie bone jenny nimmo

Friday, 16 October 2009

Once so important and fiercely contested

In the LA Times, Iraq’s plan for referendum on U.S. pullout fades.
Sunni Muslim politicians had wanted the referendum on the U.S.-Iraqi security pact to be conducted in January, at the same time as national elections. But with the clock ticking on preparations for the elections and the parliament still deadlocked over a new election law, there no longer is time to also draft and approve the legislation required to simultaneously hold a referendum, legislators say.

Perhaps more significant, the political will to hold a referendum appears to have evaporated amid the realization that U.S. troops are leaving anyway, and that it may not be in Iraq’s interests to have them pull out even sooner.

“The political blocs are no longer interested in this issue. They want to ignore it because they are busy with the elections. They don't see it as something they could use to their advantage,” said Salim Jabouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, which previously insisted on a referendum.


“We still have concerns that Iraq does need American forces to be on the ground. The challenge of Iran still exists, and also the people are not confident in the performance of the Iraqi security forces,” Jabouri said. “I can’t say we want the Americans to stay [until the deadline] because that could cause some misunderstandings. But I will say that if they stay, it will have its advantages.”
More at the LA Times, via the SWJ.

Previous post on this topic: Signals and noise 3.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Pilger links

Reading this, I felt it necessary to gather together links on a few John Pilger stories that had stuck in the mind over the years:

Martin Shaw, Research Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, on Pilger's downplaying of Saddam Hussein's responsibility in the suffering of the Iraqi people.

BBC special correspondent John Sweeney on the same topic.

Historian Marko Attila Hoare on Pilger's denial of genocide in Kosovo.

Martin Shaw on the same topic. (Also here.)

Ian Black, diplomatic editor of The Guardian, writing on Pilger's conspiracy theories about NATO action in Kosovo in 1999. The column by Pilger that he was responding to is here.

Pilger's support for those deliberately targeting civilians in Iraq.

Pilger's defence of the deliberate targeting of civilians in Israel.

Added, Pilger misrepresents the views of Independent Jewish Voices. (Thanks to Flesh is Grass.)

Added, 1 March 2010, Oliver Kamm on John Pilger’s approval of Gilad Atzmon:
“I’d like to know - and I invite him to comment on it - why Pilger is citing this bigot as a voice of conscience and an advocate of justice.”
More on Pilger and Atzmon at Engage and the CST blog.

Added, 10 June 2010, Michael Ezra takes on just one paragraph from  Pilger’s latest cornucopia of conspiracy theory. This is on the Vietnam War, though the Pilger New Statesman piece it comes from, The way to lie about another war, also raves on about Israel, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Japan, and Oxbridge, all sites of “master illusions” and “black propaganda”. Oh yes, the quotation marks come thick and heavy in this piece of “journalism”. See also Mick Harley’s comments.

Another collection of Pilger links can be found on David Thompson’s blog, including one to a post by Tim Blair in 2004 reproducing Pilger’s declarations that American, British and Australian soldiers in Iraq were “legitimate targets”, and that:
“I think the situation in Iraq is so dire that unless the United States is defeated there that we’re likely to see an attack on Iran, we’re likely to see an attack on North Korea and all the way down the road it could be even an attack on China within a decade.”

Oliver Kamm collected criticisms of Pilger’s documentaries on Cambodia and on nuclear weapons in his 2006 post, Celebrating John Pilger.

Added, 19 December 2010, lawyer David Allen Green provides a legal commentary on Pilger on Assange. (Via Shiraz Socialist.)

Added, 5 June 2011, Denying Rwanda: An Open Letter to John Pilger, by Adam Jones PhD, author of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers 2010. (Via Max Dunbar.)

Added, 16 September 2011, Decline and Fall, Peter Ryley on Pilger and Libya.

Added, 30 October 2011, “Most egregious” competition, Gene of Harry’s Place compares comments by right wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and John Pilger, on the Obama administration’s intervention against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

A commenter responding to that post helpfully links to a 2008 article by Sunny Hundal, The racist flip side of anti-imperialism, which begins:
What do Ralph Nader, John Pilger and Ayman al-Zawahiri have in common?

Before Barack Obama has even taken office or signed a single bill, all three have dismissed him as a sellout by using racial slurs. One might be tempted to say, “at least give the guy a chance,” but that would be a futile exercise.

The activist Ralph Nader and documentary filmmaker John Pilger both referred to him as an “Uncle Tom”, while, more recently, al-Qaida No 2 al-Zawahiri said Obama was “the direct opposite of honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, and lumped Obama together with Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell as “house slaves”.
The Pilger column referred to is here.

Kitty Admiral

A drawing for Bo.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Counterinsurgency on the screen

Above, broadcast on PBS yesterday, a Frontline documentary on Afghanistan, Obama’s War. There’s a discussion on the programme at Abu Muqawama.

Below, from 1961, counterinsurgency in Sicily: Salvatore Giuliano, directed by Francesco Rosi. Available on YouTube, but watch the DVD to do it justice.

I also highly recommend Rosi’s Hands Over the City on politics and corruption in Naples. (Thanks to HJ for suggesting them.)

salvatore giuliano

salvatore giuliano
salvatore giuliano
salvatore giuliano
salvatore giuliano
salvatore giuliano

Update: the SWJ has started compiling a long list of COIN-related films.

Financial frolics

The personal finance pages are not the most amusing section of a newspaper even in good times. These drawings were an attempt to give levity to such dull care, all commissioned for the Sunday Telegraph around the turn of the century.

With a couple of them, I’ve happily forgotten what the point of it all was.

These were all rendered in ballpoint pen and liquid watercolour washes.

Something to do with balancing risk and reward, I guess.

Even on a nice country walk there is no escape from financial worry.

Always consult an independent financial advisor, like this one.

More financial advice in this earlier post.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Women in COIN

Tom Ricks on the advantages of deploying women soldiers in counterinsurgency operations, via the SWJ.

Added: Akinoluna, a female US marine, posts regular round-ups of military women in the media, the latest here. (Also via Alec.)

Earlier related posts:

Saturday, 10 October 2009


At Tehran Bureau, My Uncle’s Wife by Noah Arjomand, one of his Stories from Away.

Drawing from StairCaseNotes, copyright © Susanna Jacobs.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Alec and Mick on the Nobel Prize for Good Intentions.

And in the comments at Harry’s Place, Mesquito responds:
Meanwhile, his government at this VERY MOMENT is bombing the shit out of the fucking MOON!
But Norm sees justification for the award.

Added, Yoni Brenner in the NYT: Norwegian Word.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Code Pink rethinks Afghanistan

‘Code Pink’ rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout
In Afghanistan, the US women’s activist group finds that their Afghan counterparts want US troop presence – as well as more reconstruction.

By Aunohita Mojumdar, correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 2009

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - When Medea Benjamin stood up in a Kabul meeting hall this weekend to ask Masooda Jalal if she would prefer more international troops or more development funds, the cofounder of US antiwar group Code Pink was hoping her fellow activist would support her call for US troop withdrawal.

She was disappointed.

Ms. Jalhal, the former Afghan minister of women, bluntly told her both were needed. “It is good for Afghanistan to have more troops – more troops committed with the aim of building peace and against war, terrorism, and security – along with other resources,” she answered. “Coming together they will help with better reconstruction.”

Code Pink, founded in 2002 to oppose the US invasion of Iraq, is one of the more high-profile women's antiwar groups being forced to rethink its position as Afghan women explain theirs: Without international troops, they say, armed groups could return with a vengeance – and that would leave women most vulnerable.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A cup of tea

cup of tea
I’m feeling much better now, thank you.

Walking forwards, looking backwards

Amongst all the hundreds of opinion pieces on Afghanistan that attempt to draw lessons from some snippet of history, this post by Steve Coll of The New Yorker is unusual and interesting: Gorbachev Was Right.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

On the NATO Channel

Via The Helmand Blog, three films on Afghan women in business:

More video from the warmongering western imperialists: Women of Hope, and A Clinic Called Maryam.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Bob’s Iran linkorama

Bob from Brockley keeps the focus on the fight for democracy in his Iran linkorama. Highly recommended.

On the nuclear issue, visit Arms Control Wonk for all the detail you can handle on technologies and legalities. There are a whole run of posts on Iran, and it’s ongoing.

Some guy with a fancy title argues in the Telegraph for sanctions based on human rights violations rather than the nuclear issue. Not via the UN Security Council you don’t, Russia and China would never agree to it.

Comment on why supporting political change within Iran seems the only realistic path forward right now comes from Eliot A. Cohen in the WSJ. (Ignore the headline and sub-head, the opinion editor can’t have read the piece to the end.) How to effectively support political change is another question.

As well as being very clear on the downsides of military action, Mr Cohen is very skeptical on the efficacy of economic sanctions. Certainly when dictatorial regimes endure economic sanctions for years on end, you start to wonder whether they actually help a regime to contain and control their population, rather than help the population overthrow the regime.

Might not dropping economic sanctions in some cases actually be more of a disruption for a repressive regime than continuing them?

The need for the Security Council to take into account the welfare of Iran’s population in considering sanctions has already been publicly raised by Bernard Kouchner and others. As well as carefully weighing new sanctions, existing economic sanctions should be reassessed, and where ineffective in promoting change they should be dropped, not through negotiations with the regime (which would make it a win for the regime), but without conditions in a display of solidarity with the people of Iran.