Saturday, February 15, 2003


Kanan Makiya, an adviser to Iraq's main opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, says America now appears to have dumped its commitment to bring Western-style democracy to Iraq. Instead, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, Washington is preparing to leave Iraq under the control of President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Read his views in full here.

Interestingly for those who (like myself) often see Powell as the voice of reason, Makiya says that Bush is backing democracy and the Iraqi opposition while the State Department and the CIA support appeasing the Saudis and others. As Makiya says: "The plan reverses a decade-long moral and financial commitment by the US to the Iraqi opposition, and is guaranteed to turn that opposition from the close ally it has always been during the 1990s into an opponent of the United States on the streets of Baghdad the day after liberation. "

It will be interesting to see whether those in the US who consider their country to be engaged in bringing democracy to Iraq make any noise about this. Especially interesting to see if the usually noisy US bloggers find anything unpalatable about their government backing what amounts to a Nazism without Hitler approach to liberation.

One group who won't have any interest in this whatsoever are the British left. Nick Cohen is back in force with this damning critique of the Stop the War Coalition and their betrayal of Iraqi democrats.

"When Saddam is sent to rendezvous with a judge in The Hague, or a rope on a lamppost, the democratic opposition in Iraq will need help. It has many enemies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the CIA and the Foreign Office want to replace the old tyrant with a new, compliant dictator - a Saddam without a moustache. As the moment of decision arrives, Iraqi democrats and socialists have discovered that their natural allies in the European Left don't want to know them. They must add the shameless Stop the War coalition to the enemies list. "

UPDATE: One of the most-read US-based blogger/columnist's Andrew Sullivan has dealt with this.

posted by BA on 5:20 PM link

Over a million people marched in Rome today against "the war".

They obviously hadn't taken any notice of one of the Prime Minister of the free Kurdish zone of Iraq when he was in the Italian capital last month.

Speaking to the council of the Socialist International he said: "We hear much about Muslim solidarity and the so-called "Arab Street". I know the streets of Baghdad. I can assure you that they will be filled with jubilant Iraqis after the dictator has gone.

Let us remember the joy of liberation in Rome in June 1944, the scenes of cheering crowds in Kosovo in June 1999, the Afghans who danced in the streets in November 2001. Liberation did not create paradise in any of these places, but it created hope and opportunity."

I urge any anti-war readers to digest what Dr Barham Salih had to say in his speech. Read it all -and then tell me we should nothing.

posted by BA on 12:47 PM link

The live webchat is not usually a medium to produce much in the way of clarity or serious discussion but the Guardian Chat with Nick Cohen and Jonathan Freedland at least offered a look at the current thinking of one of Cohen, one of the left's favourite columnists - who has been strangely quiet on Iraq of late but set out his stall back in August with this forthright piece.

Cohen is a passionate advocate of the Iraqi democratic opposition and has little time for what he calls "The Marxist-Leninists and religious fundamentalists in the Stop the War coalition" and condemns "the curious Left wing racism which denies a voice to democrats and secularists who have a right to demand a fair hearing.....I do not see how anyone can march on Saturday until they have taken on the arguments of the people they speak FOR but never listen TO."

Cohen also deals with the claim of some on the left that the US will merely install another dictator and makes three very valid points:

There's a battle going on from which the western left, in its insularity, has absented itself. There are three reasons to be optimistic.

1. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 actually obliges the US president to support democracy in Iraq.

2. In liberated Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds have built a democratic state with jobs for women and a free press and all kinds of other shocking liberties - they have built it moreover under the protection of the imperialist RAF and USAF.

3. The Kurds in particular and the Iraqis in general will not accept a new dictatorship without a fight. Why should the West want to impose them. Support for tyranny in the Middle East bought it 11 September.

Cohen is right to highlight the views of the Iraqi democratic opposition but I think increasingly we will start to hear from them.

This letter to the Guardian from an Iraqi doctor in London is another voice that will have raised some uncomfortable questions for those who marched against international action.

posted by BA on 12:39 PM link

Up to a million people are expected to be on the streets of London today making their objections to the possible use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime and overthrow Saddam Hussein - it is likely to end up being the largest demonstration in British history.

The ultra-left nature of the Stop the War coalition's leadership is not really the issue anymore - the size of the demonstration has swamped the usual suspects in a sea of concerned citizenry. Respected centre-left politicians such as Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats and former Labour cabinet minister Mo Mowlam will address the rally in Hyde Park. The anti-war movement has clearly crossed into the mainstream.

As someone who devoted a far bit of effort into trying to make radical politics reach beyond the ghetto of the sectarian subculture I should be pleased to see this remarkable movement of people on the streets. And on one level it is of course pleasing to see people making their voices heard and taking an interest in a serious matter. It would be a cause for real concern if Britain was preparing to send troops into action and no-one raised any objections or asked any difficult questions. Apathy has been the first victim of this war and that is a good thing.

But still, I am not with the marchers either physically or politically.

As much as I am disgusted at the sabre-rattling, arrogance, intollerance and more recently downright xenophobia of much of the right-wing pro-war campaign in the US media, as much as a I find it hard to take seriously the president of the United States and his cliched and primitive style of politics, as much as I doubt the intentions of sinister figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, I still could not bring myself to rally to the slogan Hands Off Iraq.

Why? Well, as Johann Hari puts it in the Independent today:

"My recurring nightmare – literally – is that, when all this is over, I meet up again with some of the friends I made in Iraq (and who I talk to everyday by e-mail), and they say to me: "You knew we hated Saddam, with his torture chambers, his secret police and his 100 per cent 'election' results. You knew we were desperate to overthrow him. You knew about the 5,000 people he gassed at Halabjah. You knew. So when British and American planes were just miles away, waiting to kill Saddam so we could begin to rebuild our country, what did you do?"

How could I possibly tell them I went on a march opposing the war? How will I explain that one million people in my home town actually did?

Those of on the left who have refused to join in the essentially populist calls to Stop the War have been accused of all manner of 'crimes'. Some of you who read this weblog have sent me emails which could be accurately described as hate-mail.

The claim is that people on the left who are not against military action on principle have 'sold-out' to the right, have 'caved in' and have abandoned their core beliefs.

In fact far from taking the easy way out, people on the left who have taken a strongly anti-Saddam line, have found themselves among an unfashionable minority in Britain and Europe - as I said anti-war is now mainstream.

Of course it is no great sacrificice for an anonymous blogger such as myself, but the likes of Hari and Aaronovitch in the media and those Labour MP's who have taken a supportive position to the Prime Minister, deserve respect for taking a dent to their popularity and being willing to stand against the flow.

And yes, that includes Tony Blair.

A man accused of being a follower of fads, obsessed with opinion polls and lacking the leadership ability to take a stand on issues of principle has been prepared to take a huge hit in popularity because he thinks he is taking the moral and principled position.

How high would Blair be soaring in the polls if he had taken a German or French approach? How much begrudging applause would he be winning from the party rank and file if he was on the podium today in Hyde Park criticising George Bush?

Instead he was at the Scottish Labour Party conference making the case for his stand and carefully and calmly addressing the arguements of the protesters outside in one of his most impressive speeches.

Clearly much will be made of the numbers on the marches today but Blair managed to put those numbers into perspective.

"This isn't a regime with Weapons of Mass Destruction that is otherwise benign. This is a regime that contravenes every single principle or value anyone of our politics believes in.

There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule, no righteous anger over the torture chambers which if he is left in power, will be left in being.

I rejoice that we live in a country where peaceful protest is a natural part of our democratic process.

But I ask the marchers to understand this.

I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction.

But as you watch your TV pictures of the march, ponder this:

If there are 500,000 on that march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for.

If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started."

posted by BA on 6:08 AM link

Friday, February 14, 2003


Apologies for the unannounced absence from blogging over the past few days - workload has been heavy and also the rather bizarre turn in international relations has left my head spinning somewhat - my only escape has been to eat lots and lots of Camembert cheese while watching the hilarious Fox News on the satellite - call it cultural fusion.

As you will see I have also finished the project of redesigning this blog and adding some new features which will continued to be developed. The design is an adapted version of a template I borrowed from Blog Skins (a web resource site not a political movement!) and I think it is an improvement on the rather uniform standard template I originally took from Blogger.

I have updated the links to blogs and news sources and also introduced two new elements. There is now a news feed on the right column which supposedly updates every 15 minutes with global headlines - lets see. I have also made a lame attempt to try and cover some of the blogging costs to the old phone bill by introducing Harry's Bookshop which will have rotating content related to the material here. Harry's Place gets a cut on any books that you buy of course.

Anyway let me know what you think of the changes and after I've finished this fine cheese and turned off the Monkey's CD then I'll get round to some posting. Oh yes, in case you were wondering Sectarian Worker will not be on sale at Saturday's anti-war demo but the march is expected to generate some tales for the tabloid the sects love to hate.

posted by BA on 5:33 PM link

Monday, February 10, 2003


Jonathan Steele's article in the Guardian about the enthusiasm of the likes of Hungary and the Czech Republic for a US-led war on Iraq has caused something of a storm in some areas of Blogland.

Steele (no relation!) argues that the new democracies of central and eastern Europe are basically following past form of acquesience to big powers. He writes: After all, eastern Europe's elites had spent 40 years accommodating themselves to superior power. Neither the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968 nor Solidarity in Poland in 1981 challenged their countries' links with Moscow. It was only when Mikhail Gorbachev told them in 1987 that they need not follow the Soviet lead that they began to break loose. It was therefore inevitable that after the USSR collapsed these countries would sense the new reality that Europe belongs to the US. The fact that ex-communist leaders such as Aleksander Kwasniewski, Gyula Horn and Ion Iliescu led the way is not a paradox so much as proof that the survival instinct usually trumps vision or principle.

This prompted an angry retort from Andrew Sullivan who claimed "This is as historically inaccurate as it is morally foul. The writer...seems to forget that the reason that Eastern European countries were vassals of the Soviets is because such subservience was enforced by tanks in the streets. No such tanks now exist. And maybe - just maybe - the Eastern Europeans have a better appreciation of what tyranny is and therefore a deeper loathing for Saddam than, say, columnists for the Guardian."

Cowboy-hatted LA Blogmeister Matt Welch calls Steele's view "ignorant rot" and seems to think he has some sympathy for the former communist rulers of the region.

I reckon Matt and Sullivan have both missed Steele's point. It was not the Hungarian or Czech people who signed up to the letter of the Euro Eight. In the case of Hungary it was their ex-communist PM Peter Medgyessy - and his decision has come in for some criticism in Hungary.

Steele is right about one thing - the likes of the Hungarian government, made up of former communist aparatchiks were well-used to being yes-men to a great power, when it was the USSR. Alleged ex-spy Peter Medgyessy is merely following previous form. The majority of Hungarian public are against war on Iraq but their government wants to keep things sweet with the US for their own reasons - which are not necessarily bad ones of course.

But Sullivan's idea that ex-communist leaders have a "better of appreciation of what tyranny is and therefore a deeper loathing for Saddam" is laughable when of course they were the ones doing the oppressing!

To use Sullivan's logic though the Hungarian people, unlike many American newspaper columnists, have had direct experience of war and having their city bombed and then occupied - that might explain why they are reluctant for their leaders to sign them up to support war without consultation.

posted by BA on 9:18 AM link

British Spin
Tom Watson
Stephen Pollard
Nick Barlow
Paul Anderson
Matthew Turner
Jeff Jarvis

Vox Politics
Conservative Commentary
Slugger O'Toole
Public Interest
Emily Jones
Edge of England's Sword
Au Currant
Natalie Solent
Brendan O'Neill
Look Back in Anger
Cinderella Bloggerfeller
Matt Welch