Friday, January 31, 2003


I've long been an admirer of Julie Burchill's aggressive writing and was waiting and waiting for her verdict on Iraq. Well here it is in today's Guardian and it is a truly superb piece of Burchill - effectively the socialist case for war, or perhaps more accurately the socialist case against the 'anti-war movement'

She rips to shreds, in her own unique way, the arguements we have all heard a million times. Do read the whole thing but here is just a taster of her tackling but one of the standard refrains of the isolationist left:

"Saddam Hussein may have killed hundreds of thousands of his own people - but he hasn't done anything to us! We shouldn't invade any country unless it attacks us!" I love this one, it's so mind-bogglingly selfish - and it's always wheeled out by people who call themselves "internationalists", too. These were the people who thought that a population living in terror under the Taliban was preferable to a bit of liberating foreign fire power, even fighting side by side with an Afghani resistance.

On this principle, if we'd known about Hitler gassing the Jews all through the 1930s, we still shouldn't have invaded Germany; the Jews were, after all, German citizens and not our business. If you really think it's better for more people to die over decades under a tyrannical regime than for fewer people to die during a brief attack by an outside power, you're really weird and nationalistic and not any sort of socialist that I recognise.

posted by BA on 5:32 PM link

Thursday, January 30, 2003


Seamus Milne argues in the Guardian against military intervention on Iraq using a damn sight more intelligence and finesse than John Pilger (see below) and most of the other anti-war campaigners.

While that dubious figure of 500,000 child deaths from sanctions reappears again (see this for an investigation of this much quoted figure) and I don't agree with all Milne's points, I was refreshed to see someone get to the crux of the matter.

Forget all the does-he doesn't-he? weapons inspection hide and seek, the whole war thing hinges on whether or not America (and whoever tags along with them) should liberate the country. Will it be done properly and more importantly do the Iraqi people want outside bombing of their capital city to liberate them?

Milne argues there is no indication that the Iraqi opposition do want war.

"Nor is there any evidence that most Iraqis, either inside or outside the country, want their country attacked and occupied by the US and Britain, however much they would like to see the back of the Iraqi dictator. Assessing the real state of opinion among Iraqis in exile is difficult enough, let alone in Iraq itself. But there are telling pointers that the licensed intellectuals and club-class politicians routinely quoted in the western media enthusing about US plans for their country are utterly unrepresentative of the Iraqi people as a whole.

Even the main US-sponsored organisations such as the Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord, which are being groomed to be part of a puppet administration, find it impossible directly to voice support for a US invasion, suggesting little enthusiasm among their potential constituency. Laith Hayali - an Iraqi opposition activist who helped found the British-based solidarity group Cardri in the late 1970s and later fought against Saddam Hussein's forces in Kurdistan - is one of many independent voices who insist that a large majority of Iraqi exiles are opposed to war. Anecdotal evidence from those coming in and out of Iraq itself tell a similar story, which is perhaps hardly surprising given the expected scale of casualties and destruction. "

As Milne admits, none of us really know much about what the Iraqi opposition think about a proposed war and if I ever get time I will search through these opposition websites and see if there is anything there. These two articles from Open Democracy give a taste of the arguements that must be going on among Iraqis.

Whether Milne is right or not, what is really amazing is how little work the media have been doing to find out about Iraqi opinion, or at least exiled Iraqi opinion. Of course there is a consensus that Saddam should go but do Iraqis really want to see their new regime created by a foreign power? And will those foreign powers leave a post-Saddam Iraq to choose its own democratic path?

It is a vital question, especially given the shameful betrayal of the Iraqi opposition in 1991 - and ominously we are not hearing much on the post-Saddam game plan.

Will at least the US administration finally tell us what role Iraqis will be given in the liberation of their country? So far all we know is that a 1,000 opposition militants are being trained at US army base in Hungary.

One final point. Milne is absolutely right to scotch this piece of bull that keeps getting repeated by pro-war propagandists:

"Where was the "left movement against Saddam" 20 years ago? one critic demanded recently.

In fact, leftwingers were pretty well the only people in the west campaigning against the Iraqi regime two decades ago - left activists were being imprisoned and executed in their hundreds by Saddam Hussein at the time - while the US and British political establishments were busy arming Iraq in its war against Iran and turning a blind eye to his worst human rights abuses, including the gas attacks on the Kurds in the late 1980s."

Well said.

posted by BA on 5:00 PM link

John Pilger has lost the plot completely judging from his rant in the Mirror today entitled 'Blair is a coward'.

About Tony Blair he says: "Like those in the dock at Nuremberg, he has no democratic cover."

On the US President: "Bush's State of the Union speech last night was reminiscent of that other great moment in 1938 when Hitler called his generals together and told them: "I must have war." He then had it."

On the US administration: "The current American elite is the Third Reich of our times"

On the future: "The next American attack is likely to be Iran - the Israelis want this - and their aircraft are already in place in Turkey. Then it may be China's turn."

posted by BA on 8:02 AM link

Tuesday, January 28, 2003


Everyone seems to be having fun with this today. I had a little try and came up with this

posted by BA on 2:44 PM link

What an incredible piece of breathless, excitable hyperbabble from George Monboit today.

Monboit, as usual, is trying to talk up the importance of the 'anti-globalisation movement' who are meeting in Porto Alegre at the moment and in particular he is angry about the apparent lack of media coverage for this talking shop.

Sorry George, but unless I am mistaken every week or so doesn't one of Britain's leading daily newspapers, the Guardian, the paper most close to the government of our country, actually pay you money to promote your political group?

This despite the fact that in Britain your 'movement' has no registered public support at all. The only political party that gives backing to your movement is the silly Socialist Alliance - regularly beaten in local elections by all mainstream parties, residents candidates, independents and even fascists.

The main anti-globalisation group in the UK is called Globalise Resistance which apart from George consists mainly of members of the good old Socialist Workers Party - wealthy enough middle class people able to fly to places such as Seattle, Genoa, Florence and Porto Alegre for meetings.

But at the end of his article George says it doesn't really matter whether his "revolutionary movement" continues to be given broadsheet space in the Guardian. Because, as every revolutionary knows, victory is inevitable.

"Whether we are noticed or not is no longer relevant. We know that, with or without the media's help, we are a gathering force which might one day prove unstoppable."

posted by BA on 4:27 AM link

Monday, January 27, 2003


Rick Bruner points out this excellent piece on the growing American Anti-Europeanism by Timothy Garton Ash in the New York Review of Books.

To give you a taste here is the intro: This year, especially if the United States goes to war against Iraq, you will doubtless see more articles in the American press on "Anti-Americanism in Europe." But what about anti-Europeanism in the United States? Consider this:

To the list of polities destined to slip down the Eurinal of history, we must add the European Union and France's Fifth Republic. The only question is how messy their disintegration will be.
(Mark Steyn, Jewish World Review, May 1, 2002)

Even the phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" is used [to describe the French] as often as the French say "screw the Jews." Oops, sorry, that's a different popular French expression.
(Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, July 16, 2002)
Or, from a rather different corner:

"You want to know what I really think of the Europeans?" asked the senior State Department Official. "I think they have been wrong on just about every major international issue for the past 20 years."
(Quoted by Martin Walker, UPI, November 13, 2002)

Statements such as these recently brought me to the United States—to Boston, New York, Washington, and the Bible-belt states of Kansas and Missouri—to look at changing American attitudes toward Europe in the shadow of a possible second Gulf war. Virtually everyone I spoke to on the East Coast agreed that there is a level of irritation with Europe and Europeans higher even than at the last memorable peak, in the early 1980s.

posted by BA on 4:11 PM link

Bloggy Opinions may not be too impressed with this site but the amount of people passing through is slowly growing - thanks to all of you for popping in and special thanks to those who have encouraged me to stick it at such as Peter and Emily.

What I do enjoy about this blogging business is that not many of those who have spared a moment to offer a bit of help (and a link!) would fit into the same political camp as myself (Peter certainly doesn't) but they do enjoy discussion and have been willing to pass on tips and encouragement. This is in marked contrast to the world of left-wing mailing lists that I left behind when I turned to blogging. The rancour and abuse that flies at places such as UK Left Network among people who share the same political outlook is unbelievable.

Harry's Place has now passed the, ahem, landmark of 3,000 hits, at an average of 75 visits per day (not counting my own visits!) - hardly a mass audience but it is still nice to see some people appreciate the effort.

It is initially a bit strange writing and linking when you are not sure if anyone is actually reading the posts. As a new centre-left blog I don't have the advantage of being able to tap into the huge traffic of right wing Blogland USA. Nor do I go out of my way to be outragous and attract attention through the shock factor.

As always suggestions are welcome by the comments box of if you prefer by email and any of you with your own blogs - a link helps keep the debate flowing.

Thanks again.

posted by BA on 1:00 PM link

I am surprised there has been such little attention paid to the latest poll on UK attitudes to a war with Iraq. The figures are startling and given the nature of our Prime Minister extremely significant.

There is an impressive 72 percent support for military action if it backed by the UN but that then becomes only a miserly 20 percent if it is a bilateral US-UK effort.

Make no mistake - these figures are bad news for both hardcore hawks and softcore doves.

They are bad news for Blair because he knows he is probably not going to get a widely supported second resolution through the UN and so, if he sticks to his current line, will have to work on the 20 percent support for unilateral action – hardly the backing he would want.

The poll is bad news for the ‘anti-war’ campaigners because it shows that the case for action against Iraq is accepted by the vast majority of people. It seems the only gripe we have is that we want to see the UN rubber stamp it.

So what motivates the 50% whose support switches according to who mandates military action?

Frankly I doubt that the British public are really motivated by a strong desire to support the UN as the vehicle for global intervention.

We are not daft and we know that if it became a matter for the security council China, Russia and probably France could all employ a veto. Even in the general assembly the chances of getting broad support for an all-out attack are pretty slim – there are Arab states, Moslem states, dictatorships and all manner of dodgy regimes who do not want to assist in the creation of a global norm that the west has the right to take action against rogue states.

No, what I think this position shows is simply a desire on the part of the British people for us to be part of a broad coalition. We don’t want to be the only ones backing the US. We are starting to feel lonely in our ‘special relationship’, we want to spread the responsibility around. We know that it is right to liberate Iraq but we don’t want to be seen as America’s little sidekick.

I suspect there is an element of wounded national pride at play here. Reading some of the message boards populated by elements of the anti-American far left and I am struck by the constant references to the ‘humiliation’ of Blair being a ‘poodle’ of America.

Of course Blair denies he is a poodle of George Bush. He says has played himself into a position where he is the only foreign leader who Washington will listen to and he is right to an extent – he certainly is the only one who gets a good press in the States – just look at the reaction to Germany and France’s position (however much the US may misunderstand Germany in particular).

The problem is that the US have not yet shown much interest in listening to Blair’s agenda – the special relationship still looks a one-way street.

As Bruce Anderson puts it in the Independent today: “Far from being a partnership of equals, the special relationship has barely been a partnership at all. The Americans have been happy to have us with them, but only as long as we did their bidding. In terms of broad retrospect, the special relationship may seem harmonious; the detailed history makes it clear that the UK found it much harder to manage than most of our politicians were prepared to admit at the time. With the possible exception of the Falklands, there has been no instance of America supporting the UK when it was not in their interests to do so.”

Blair then needs a tangible result to show the public that his strategy of being ‘in the tent’ is working. There is not much point in having the best access to Bush if he still going to ignore you.

Of course the ‘anti-war’ camp refuse to acknowledge that Britain does have a separate agenda that it is trying to convince the Americans to listen to.

Yet you only need to browse through the speeches of Jack Straw in particular to realise that Britain is putting a settlement of the Israel-Palestine question right at the heart of the middle-east strategy in a way the US is not.

The attempted conference in London, wrecked by Sharon, was one example of this approach in practice. Tentative support for reformist elements in Iran is another sign that the Blair government seeks a broader settlement for the Middle East. With the possible exception of Colin Powell, the US administration do not show signs of having understood the vital need to deal with the Israel-Palestine issue as part of an overall post-Saddam package.

Even though it is a point often employed by those who will jump on any justification to do nothing about Saddam there is no doubt that the double-standards argument, in relation to Israel, is a major block to winning Arab support for an intervention against Iraq – or at the very least to undercutting outright hostility to the West.

And frankly those Arabs are right. It is incredible that the West can consider taking all the risks and costs involved in imposing democracy on Iraq yet still shies away from imposing peace on Israel and Palestine. Sharon and Arafat show just the kind of belligerence and lack of interest in UN resolutions, international norms and respect for human rights that merits an outside intervention.

There is a broad range of support globally for Britain’s position, particularly in Europe. And here we get to the grist of the issue. America may lament the lack of international support it is receiving at the moment but it has done very little to try and foster it. It has responded to some of the knee-jerk anti-Americanism in some parts of Europe with a childish knee-jerk anti-European position which, among other things, has badly weakened Blair’s hand.

Blair could be seen as being trapped between a rock and a hard place. But looked at another way he now has the perfect opportunity to show that his concept of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the US is a workable diplomatic reality and not just a nice soundbite.

If at Camp David this week Blair can succeed in winning Bush back to the need for a broad coalition and to give a very clear statement of war aims (which we are still sorely lacking) then he can go back to Europe and seek to bring the EU on board in some form.

That would be a huge achievement for Blair and Britain and one which would go along way to satisfying that large section of public opinion, uneasy at our junior partner role – but on top of that it would simply be the right way to go.

posted by BA on 5:25 AM link

Instapundit, the most prolific and best known of the conservative bloggers, seems happy to join in the current trend for Euro-bashing with this piece of nonsense, which kind of sums up what I mean by the knee-jerk anti-Europeanism of some on the American right:

"The United States would, I think, be happy if Europe took actual responsibility for some of the world's problems instead of carping from the sidelines."

Would they really? Is expressing an opinion or a criticism not taking responsibility? Or does 'taking actual responsiblity' mean to just do as we are told by the Americans?

And then there is this from the same source: Most of America's biggest problem areas, after all, from Vietnam to the Middle East, were inherited from others. But so long as Europe favors subsidies over substance, carping from the sidelines will be all it can do.

Now then, who was it who armed Saddam and helped him in his war with Iran? Who was it who armed the Mujhadeen in Afghanistan and who used radical Islamisist groups as anti-Soviet hitsquads?

And what the hell have state subsidies got to do with the rise of terrorism?

EDIT: Interesting piece in the Washington Post on this theme

Commenting on the dumb 'Old Europe' jibe from Saddam's old pal Rumsfeld, Michael Dobbs writes:

Although it may be true that NATO's center of gravity is shifting to the east, military analysts point out that France and Germany contributed many troops to peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans and could have a similarly important role in stabilizing a post-Hussein Iraq. Without strong European participation in the Iraq peacekeeping effort, said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, the United States might even have to expand its standing army to provide a long-term occupation force.

"If Rumsfeld had thought through how much we will need these allies for the occupation of Iraq, I presume he would not have made such a stupid comment," said O'Hanlon, who estimates that the postwar stabilization force could number about 100,000 troops for the first three years and 50,000 for five more years. "In Kosovo and Bosnia, we provided only 15 percent of the peacekeeping forces. Europe provided most of the rest."

posted by BA on 5:20 AM link

Sunday, January 26, 2003


A number of Conservative MP's and senior figures are opposed to British involvement in a unilateral, non-UN mandated military action in Iraq, reports the Independent on Sunday. I wonder when we will see Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo wearing a Not in Our Name badge?

There would have been a time when this was a startling and vital piece of news but while interesting to politics junkies in the big picture it really doesn't matter much at all does it?

The Tories are totally irrelevant to this whole issue. The real debate (as on so many issues these days) is between the left of the Labour Party and the government. Judging from his piece in today's Observer Charles Kennedy now appears to be part of the left opposition.

Elsewhere in the Sunday papers, Andrew Rawnsley makes this very astute point about Blair: "A man so often in the past depicted as mesmerised by focus groups has supported the United States against the grain of opinion among both the voters and within his party. It is one of the many ironies of his situation that the very same people who used to revile him for being enslaved to opinion polls now lambast him for not listening to the public. "

And what are that great British public saying about the Iraq situation? The latest YouGov poll shows that 72 percent would support British participation in military action if it is backed by the United Nations. Good.

But if there is no UN backing then that figure slumps dramatically down to just 20 percent support. Now why would that be?

posted by BA on 9:54 AM link

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