Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Beijing

Michael Pettis has a thought provoking Modest Proposal that suggests China should invest in American infrastructure to help make up for the huge trade deficit betwee the two countries.

What Pettis’ “modest proposal” is really suggesting, once you strip it down to its core, is that reserve-rich export-man countries like China launch a kind of neo-colonial “mission civilisatrice” for the economically backwards import-man nations of the world such as the US.

And I think it could work! But we must modify his modest proposal to make it even more “modest”.

The original colonialism was based on the idea of advanced industrializing countries going into the back waters of the world and investing in infrastructure, and then trying to “civilize” the natives by imposing new cultural norms on them which allowed these natives to extract resources, and finally exporting the native’s raw materials back to the home country. This system only worked because the investment in infrastructure was socialized (for the glory of the Empire) while the profits where privatized into special chartered companies who were granted monopolies by autocratic powers.

Marx was actually quite supportive of colonialism (later qualified that only if led by a proletariat government) and since at least in theory the Chinese Politburo would seem to meet this criteria, it seems the China should have no ideological qualms about taking on the export-man’s burden.

But they would have to re-conceptualize colonialism a bit. Sure, the standard colonial model could still would work to some extent (forcing the natives to gather natural resources for shipment back to the home country) but the problem is that only a small percentage of the American population has much of a memory of, or is in any physical condition to do, any hard work. That would take a huge amount of cultural and physical reprogramming to get the import-man natives even half as productive as your average export-man. And in the end, just as European agricultural techniques often failed in tropic colonies, so to trying to impose the Chinese work ethic in modern America may also prove futile as well.

So a much more modern updated version of Colonialism would need to be conceptualized. Nowadays America’s best natural resource is plentiful aggregate demand, based the gluttonous consumption by many of its natives, but due to the incompetence of its banker class, the supply lines of consumables are being blocked from reaching import-man end-users by such silly notions as repaying debts! So the infrastructure the Chinese neo-imperialists could build would have to use the latest technology to bridge these debt swamps the natives have not been able to master in order to get these vital consumables into the hands of import-man. So it seems quite reasonable that the Chinese would want to come to America and build the train networks, the road systems, the airports, etc, to keep their products moving effectively to their end users in various import-man settlements.

As for political problems, that’s easy. The Chinese could do what the original colonizers always did, co-opt the local elite by promising to allow them to maintain their elevated status in return for their faithful execution of the colonizer’s policies. In other words the Chinese just have to go out and find a faithful roi nègre among the local native elite. And this local American elite would still be allowed to maintain many of their barbaric customs, including their various televised spectacles and diversions that keep the locals in such a calm and happy mood. And at the same time, who knows, maybe even some of the superior export-man ways would rub off by osmosis onto import-man?

But there are pitfalls in Colonialism that the Chinese would have to guard against. The most obvious is the danger of “going native”. Might not the Chinese viceroys and others imperial officers start to ape the no-work, all-play ways of the very natives they are charged with civilizing? Maybe the Chinese would even start tapping into some of the pacifying consumer goods stash in the pipeline before it got to the natives. Why shouldn’t they start “using” some of these goodies, they are a long way from home and they could stop any time they want, right?

And what if the natives start to get uppity and the radicals among them start to organize? Some natives might even try to claim that import-man is the equal of export-man. Other native factions may believe that they have made the transformation by learning the ways of export-man and so it is time for them to run the show. Maybe these groups would even get brave enough to start spray painting revolutionary slogans on the walls of the new infrastructure about throwing off the Chinese jackboot and whatnot?

And in the worst case the whole system could even collapse. Maybe in the end the import-man would manage to organize himself and when combined with the inevitable softening of the Chinese overlords, the Americans may actually manage to regain their independence again. But the question will be, are they really ready to stand on their own in an export-man’s world? What if they are not, what if all that infrastructure, all the new roads, airports, the high-speed train networks started to fall into disrepair after independence? What if in the end, import-man had been unable to imbibe enough of the export-man’s culture to understand why these assets are so important and after several years of import-man independence, the few trains still working would only manage to run at low speed, the roads were slowly reverting back to their natural state, and the airports were falling into disrepair? Would export-man, after organizing a few benefit concerts, in the end just stare down from afar and shake his head at the mess import-man had made of his former paradise?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kabuki





The following are a couple of comments left at Naked Capitalism that sum up pretty well my attitude towards Democrats in general and health care in particular. What I didn’t see at the time was that the eventual bill passed by the Democrats would pose such a threat to Medicare:

This is from October 8, 2009:

The Democrats are falling into their "Washington Generals" mode on health care. For those who do not remember, the Generals were the hard-luck "opponents" of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Washington Generals’ job was not to win, instead they were there to provide the illusion of an actual contest. Through deliberately futile opposition--they almost never won a game--they provided a useful service.

On Health Care, Americans don’t just want to be told by a unitary elite that the less fortunate among them will continue to have third world health care while a wealthy minority maintains top quality service. No, it is much better to have a little political exhibition game where, after a simulated tough struggle, the Democrats lose a squeaker. And it is quite useful to establish a health insurance dolchstosslegende (stabbed in the back legend) to help maintain Democratic party loyalty in the wake of this approaching Democratic defeat (in the form of a meaninglessly empty bill) and the recriminations that will follow from some party members.

As for the New York Times, we must remember that first and foremost they are a business and the health insurance industry is a major source of advertising revenue for them. So it only makes sense they would back their clients this way. The only potential downside for the NYT would be if the Obama Administration retaliated by cutting them out of the upcoming newspaper bailout. Taking this risk seriously presupposes that Obama and the Democrats are playing to win on Health Care. But everybody knows the Washington Generals never play to win. Thus the Valentine cards to the health insurance industry on the front page of the NYT.



And this from October 15, 2009 in response to someone who dared defend the Democrats:


Please. Let’s just look at health care to see the fundamental problem with the Democrats.

The Democrats have 60 Senators, control of the House and the Presidency. They could have had a bill on the President’s desk last January. But instead now they are blaming the Republicans for delaying this bill.

The Republicans long ago did their job on health care. Their rich supporters who matter (their peasant supporters obvious don’t) have had excellent health care for some time, often subsidized by working class taxpayers who have crap health care. So of course the Republicans will delay it; they see any new health care bill as watering down the excellent plans their rich supporter already have. It’s Democratic supporters who need health care and it’s the Democrats who have the power but apparently not the will to act.

As mentioned above after the 2008 elections the Democrats have total control of all three branches of government. At that point they had three ways to move forward. Now just to make my point more clearly, I will use a metaphor of the three classifications of male animals in evolutionary psychology, Alphas (dominators), Betas (stable providers), and Omegas (evolutionary dead-enders, no females ever mate with them) to show the three approaches available to the Democrats.

The Alpha move would have been to get the best health care bill possible with 50 senators and then cram it down the Republicans throats with gusto, forcing them to filibuster. Once the filibuster got started the Alpha would use it to humiliate the Republicans as crying sissies. Once the Republicans realized their adversaries had spines of steel, they would meekly submit to the Democratic Alpha’s dominance and wait their turn in line at feeding time. This would have been my approach but then again I’m from a working class background.

The Beta move would have been to get the best bill you can get with 60 Senators and then gently force down the Republican’s throats while uttering the occasional apology. In this case a health care bill would have passed in February. It’s a slightly wimpy move but I could live with this approach since social animals often need to compromise to survive.

The Omega move would be to ask the more dominant Republicans to cooperate and approve any bill. The Omega is scared at every step and would never take an independent move for fear of displeasing the more dominant males. Sadly this is the approach the Democrats have chosen.

Omega political parties, just like Omega males, provoke disgust in all observant beings who come in contact with them. Omegas exist for one reason only: to die. This is because their genetic line needs to be wiped out in order for the species to prosper. This is the inescapable fate of the Omega; and this should be the fate of the Democrats.

But alas, the Democrats have been Omegas since just after LBJ left office and so you may ask why are they still alive? That’s because within the limited political ecosystem of the two-party US, the Omega Democrats serve the wealthy in the very important function of blocking out any real Alpha party with power from developing to serve the interests of the majority of the American people. So it should be clear that keeping the Omega Democrats alive, however nice their spineless words may sound on paper, is evolutionary suicide for middle and working class Americans.

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Gold feather





I spend most of my blogging time at Naked Capitalism. As the Iraq War wound down and the economic crisis hit in 2008, it became clear to me that I was woefully ignorant about economic issues. I started reading Calculated Risk (and I still do) but the posts are short with not much analysis. The comments are lively but again I was pretty limited in what I could learn.

Through his links I discovered Naked Capitalism, written by Yves Smith. Here in Europe at least, Yves is a man’s name and it took a month or two of constant incongruity before I realized Yves was a she. I fact Yves (which is pronounced just like Eve) is a very clever take off on Adam Smith! In any case Yves tends to write in a long essay format which I feel much more comfortable with. Her posts are sometimes extremely detailed about esoteric financial subjects such as CDS (Credit Default Swaps). I wade through these in order pick up knowledge useful to a generalist (I am certainly never going to acquire detailed knowledge about many of these subjects). But often she picks more general subjects which I feel more comfortable commenting on.

The comments section of Naked Capitalism is also a gold mine of ideas and features many talented writers. The best part about it that while on the one hand it features people of many different ideological backgrounds, most of these people have come to the same conclusion as I have that our two-party system is a complete sham and we are being ruled into the ground by a wealthy and unitary political elite.

Yesterday featured a post on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) by Rob Parentheau, who serves as a professor running a sort of graduate school seminar in the comment thread. MMT tends to push for more fiscal spending as I explain below. A clever comment was left by, an opponent of MMT Dan Duncan in response:


Rob’s concept of money has a certain Unbearable Lightness of Being about it.

Sure, the eternal recurrence of something like the gold standard imposes a "heaviness" on our lives and on the decisions we make (it gives them weight, to borrow from Nietzsche's metaphor), a heaviness that Nietzsche thought could be either a tremendous burden or great benefit depending on one's perspective.

The German expression Einmal ist keinmal encapsulates "lightness" so what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all.

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As a result, our government is deluded into thinking that decisions do not really matter. These decisions (Wars, unrealistic entitlements, etc., etc) are rendered light, because they do not cause personal suffering (just print more!). Yet, simultaneously, the insignificance of decisions ultimately is doomed to cause us great suffering and this is perceived as the Unbearable Lightness of Being...and Modern Money. This insignificance is existentially unbearable when it is considered that people want their labor, assets and savings to have credible sense of meaning.


My response follows:

I found Dan’s metaphor to be quite a useful tool for understanding the problem of monetary arrangements for the non-specialists among us! It conjured up in my mind the image of an hot air balloon to represent the overall monetary machine. The goal is to keep the system afloat within a reasonable range of altitude (inflation). Failure occurs when the balloon gets dangerously close to the ground (deflation) or when it sails off into the stratosphere (hyper inflation). There is also a political dimension to this; wealth will naturally want the balloon to fly closer to the ground (inflation rate 1-2%) while the masses prefer it to soar a little higher (5-7%). Among the variables that control the height of the balloon would be monetary policies (a sort of ballast), fiscal policies (the temperature or composition of the gas), as well as the overall productivity of the economy (the open flame burner). These policies could either tend towards giving lift to the balloon (fiscal spending) or adding weight (tight control of the supply, cost, or availability of money). For example tying a monetary arrangement to a gold standard is easily visualized as adding ballast to the balloon. When this ballast overloads the balloon due to decreases in economies’ buoyancy (fall in overall productivity, fall in fiscal spending) this gold standard must start to be jettisoned to compensate.

In reading more and more about MMT (thanks for the link Rob) the penny is slowing starting to drop that in fact one of the main tenets of this way of thinking is that there is no actual link between taxes collected and money spent by a government; in other words that the concept of a government deficit is a false analogy to household and business deficits. To go back to the balloon metaphor, the application off MMT ideas would be similar to finding a lighter gas to fill the balloon. Clearly increased fiscal spending will add buoyancy to the overall system, which up to a limit, is a good thing. And in reading the comments of the critics one possible defence of the concept of government deficits is that while the concept is ultimately false, this lie is noble in the sense that it serves the purpose of controlling the buoyancy of the system. Critics would respond that the control this noble lie gives comes at the cost of unemployment for the masses.

I think one limit that the critics of MMT are searching for is how will the added buoyancy ultimately be checked in case our balloon starts soaring upwards out of control; especially considering that Nixon long ago jettisoned the gold ballast? Are monetary tools sufficient to lower the open flame of production? Can we trust policy makers to cut back the fiscal spending in times of an inflationary crisis?

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Warchitect




Below was one of my anti-Iraq rants. It was a comment to a Belmont Club post that referenced a post on bridge design by Stephen Wolfram. Wretchard (the writer behind the Belmont Club) made the case that the US started with a bad plan. I went a little further:

Wolfram clearly does not understand which factors are important in determining the design of bridges. While structural loading is certainly the most important of many criteria, it is not necessarily explicitly expressed in the final design of a bridge. With more and more architects getting involved with bridge design, image and aesthetic qualities are the driving factors in the appearance of a bridge and the only way that randomness and complexity will enter into bridge design is if the architect wants them to. But whatever the desired image, the structural, economic, and construction time criteria (among many others) must all be met for a successful project. Norman Foster’s fiasco over the Thames with the Millennium Bridge is a prime example of what happens when the architect’s desire for image trumps the critical criteria of structural stability, cost, and schedule.

Now if the various criteria (especially cost) are getting out of control there is always a temptation for the architect – who wants to build his dream no matter what -- to lie (or downplay) these defeatist factors so that the client will at least start the process of construction and then once underway the client will be less likely to pull the plug when the real costs and time schedule become known. A wise client takes steps to avoid being placed in this situation by having independent consultants verifying the costs and designs presented by the architect.

This of course brings us to Iraq. Just like loading criteria can take a back seat when designing a bridge, it was not the actual military criteria (how to defeat an insurgency) that determined the conception of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) -- but there was most certainly a Plan for Iraq. The desired image for the project was of a decisive, dick-swinging American President who was going to create the required tableau rasa of all utopian dreams by sweeping away the house of cards that was Saddam’s Iraq and from its ashes to raise a monument to globalisation, free trade, and multi-national corporate profit and good old-fashioned American hegemony. And this edifice was going to be built whether the indigenous folks who found themselves living in Iraq liked it or not. And the UN, EU, and other impotent international organizations were going to eat dust in the process. (Please refer to Naomi Klein’s “Baghdad Year Zero” for details).

We all know for example that while a bridge to Hawaii might make a great design statement, it would however very likely pose some serious practical problems. In the same vein the dream of a corporate paradise in Iraq did present many serious military, budgetary, and time challenges. For instance since WW2 a great power occupying a foreign country has never defeated a nationalist inspired insurgency (only the British defeated a Marxist insurgency in Malaya). And even if the counter insurgency work was possible, history shows it takes an exorbitant amount of time and money.

But the architects of OIF were not stupid. They knew from past experience that although the demolition of the Saddam regime would be rather easy, the construction of their dream state would take much time and money. But they also knew their client would be loath to accept so expensive and long-term a project. And while there is no doubt the US military is good at demolition, how practised are their actual construction skills? So instead of telling the truth, the architects instead played the client for a fool and promised OIF would be cheap and easy – a cakewalk in fact. And the client -- the American people -- bought it hook line and sinker. And what about those consultants the client should have checking up on his architect? Well the media and opposition parties got either sucked in by the architect’s enthusiasm for his project or were scared by threats to their pampered status and in any case they totally failed to do their jobs of controlling the architects.

And guess what? Building the new Iraq is not so easy. It’s going to take more time. It is going to cost more money. And it is not going to be the neocon corporate paradise once imagined. And in fact it might never get built at all. But who’s to blame for all these delays and cost overruns? Well if you ask the architect and his supporter it’s all the American people’s fault of course. And maybe they are correct about this, after all in 2004 the American people were led to believe they had a chance to fire the architect and perhaps bring a much reduced project to a close but they didn’t. They believed the lies that the building of the new Iraq, as originally planned, would be completed soon.

The architects also blame with exaggerated venom the opposition party and media -- some of who have ever so slightly started to do their job in protecting their client’s interests. Most, however, are still failing – perhaps in order to cover up for their lack of any diligence in 2002-3. And perhaps the architects are right about this too; if these two groups of people had called out the lies in 2002-3 then we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

And so what is a client to do now, almost four and a half years after construction has started with nothing to show for all the blood and tears except for more blood and tears? Give his architect one more chance? Perhaps we really are “turning the corner” and the project will soon be finished. Or is the project so important that it must be built no matter what the cost? The architect and his supporters sure think so but that is usually a decision left up to the client, the American people. And no one should be surprised that the many Americans are totally disgusted with all the lies and just want to cut their losses by firing the architect and walking away from the whole project. In the real world that’s how things work.

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Tenebrae




Below is a comment (slightly edited) that I posted to the Belmont Club probably late in 2004. Those archives are lost but I found this comment searching for the word tenebrific! The discussion was about Global Warming. In order to provide a more mythical justification to rising up to meet this challenge, I employed a much more poetic approach than I would normally use. I always liked this comment and about six months


Ten thousand years ago, emerging from under his forest’s tenebrific canopy, newly civilized man, lying on his back to rest from the labour of his freshly ploughed fields, was at last face to face with his new rival; the startling immensity of the open sky. Tempests, droughts, and worst of all, lightning replaced the beasts and shadows of his former life amongst the trees. With the nature of his relationship to this pale blue antagonist hanging in the balance, man made a fateful choice. Whether directly or through appointed deities, with all the audacity he could muster our ancestor declared himself sovereign over the forces of nature.

How terrifying the annual ritual of the winter solstice must have been to our distant forbearers. Ever shortening days, the seemingly imminent victory of darkness -- the more mathematically inclined of them may have even calculated to the day the eventual total disappearance of the sun and mankind’s descent into perpetual night. The tales of their heroic efforts to stave off disaster are lost to us forever.

I am not qualified to comment on the science of the Global Warming. However the movement to face up to it -- I do understand. In taking on this challenge one sees what is most noble in man. Standing before a realm, he declares sovereignty; faced with a threat, he takes the initiative. Laugh as we may at our progeny as they overreacted to ward off the disappearance of the sun so many centuries ago; it is man’s choice to react to the challenges posed by nature, it is the beast’s fate to not.

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I'm Back




I've been away from this blog for more than five years but now I am going to attempt to restart it.

During the past five years I have been busy raising our three young children while also being occupied with an exciting but stressful project at work. Now the children are in primary school and my work has settled into a more leisurely pattern (but still with the occasion outbursts of stress) so I have more time to devote to this blog.

During the past five years I have been busy posting comments at various blogs. This allowed my different forums to express my ideas while preserving the flexibility to fade away during times my workload exploded. I will try to collect and post some of my better comments from these blogs over the next several weeks.

During the past five years I have also spent a lot of time studying different subjects, particularly military strategy, history of all sorts, economics, general civilization theory, and most recently evolutionary psychology. These studies have proved invaluable in arming me with enough knowledge to develop concepts and express ideas about the world.

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Friday, September 17, 2004

Concerning the current ongoing debate in foreign policy circles regarding attacking Iran, we are seeing a repeat of the errors committed in Europe in the late 30’s that lead to the German invasion of France in May, 1940. This time it is the foreign policy establishment of the United States (and Israel) that is ossified in its strategic thinking, paralyzed by the need to cling on to past certainties, manifested by the preference for boilerplate solutions to problems instead of actual geopolitical strategic analysis. This situation is leading, as in France in 1940, to US strategists insisting on re-fighting the last war (the Cold War) instead of meeting the new, complicated and profoundly unsettling challenges that actually face them.

Today, ten nations (plus or minus) currently possess nuclear weapons. Ten years from now, this number will be no less than thirty, and in twenty years, 60-70 nations will be nuclear armed.

The Wehrmacht, in May 1940, aided by revolutionary new military tactics, smashed through the French defensive lines at Sedan, in northern France. This is the point at which Europe lost its global hegemony and was henceforth dependent on the US and USSR to save it from itself. The “Sedan” point for nuclear proliferation will be argued about for some time; was it Pakistan developing its nuclear capabilities, was it Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, or as I prefer, was it the moment that North Korea was allowed to start reprocessing its spent nuclear rods. Combine the Khan group, the fear induced by an aggressive United States, and the multitude of “unknowables” associated with the North Koreans, and one thing becomes clear, the nuclear proliferation genie is out of the bottle, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are not going to be putting this genie back in its bottle again.

Mass nuclear proliferation and non-state geopolitical actors are baffling today’s statesmen in a similar way that the introduction of the Stuka dive bomber and massed armor confounded the prewar French military thinkers, who from painful experience had learned that in modern warfare, quick breakthroughs of your opponent’s line were virtually impossible. The heavy artillery bombardment that necessarily preceded such attacks always alerted the enemy to your intentions and a couple well-placed machine gun embankments could easily hold off battalions of charging infantrymen. If the impossible did happen and a breakthrough occurred, the salient that the attackers thus created was open to murderous machine gun fire along its flanks. The attackers artillery had to move forward into the former frontlines where the ground would have been horribly chewed up by the previous pounding by the artillery. The defending artillery was falling back on to its own lines, which is military infinitely easier to do than to move forward.

German military thinkers solved these problems in two ways. By simply replacing the traditional artillery attacks by waves of Stukas and placing the charging infantry into tanks, the Germans rendered obsolete the French generals preference for static defense and leisurely concepts of time on the battlefield. Only Charles de Gaulle, among French generals, saw the coming danger, but the hierarchical and deeply conservative French military establishment ignored his pleas to forget Verdun and start planning for the true German threat.

Until November 2004, the Europeans (Britain, France and Germany) are providing Iran with the diplomatic version of a Patriot missile defense system. No serious thinker can actually believe that the Iranians are going to give up their nuclear program in this fashion, least of all the Europeans, who are playing along with this charade. Place yourself in the corridors of power in Tehran and try to imagine a coherent argument as to why the Iranians should not acquire nuclear weapons. There is none. Whether they have them already or not is a moot point, they can always buy them from North Korea if they really need them. The only thing left to work out is the endgame of actually declaring themselves a nuclear power.

The Israelis have every right to fear a nuclear-armed Iran, it is indeed not only an existential threat, but because of the threat posed by certain non-state actors, it makes the occupation of Palestine practically impossible to continue.

The US certainly has less to fear than Israel concerning Iran.. MAD still functions with the Iranians and the non-state threat is only slightly increased since Al Qaida is the real problem for the US and they are not relying on Tehran for weapons.

Which brings me back to this November deadline set by the Europeans. Obviously the Israelis would love for the US to attempt some military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program. This entails huge risks for the Bush Administration. Israel is going to need to apply a huge amount of pressure, an existential threat to the Bush Administration, if you will, in order to get the US to move on this. On November 2, the Israelis task of putting pressure to bear on Bush will become infinitely greater (assuming he wins re-election). Anything the Israelis are holding over Bush’s head is much more valuable in October and next to useless in November. For instance, if Mossad had been trailing the Sept. 11th suspects throughout the US during 2001 and had given the US a detailed warning of what was coming, as has been reported in the press, the leaking of this memo would sink Bush’s re-election chances. One wonders if the recent IAPAC spy scandal is not a Bush Administration attempt to insert some deterrence for Israel into the equation.

The Iranians would no doubt (secretly) welcome an Israeli/American military strike. Such a strike would completely destroy the already moribund Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The mullahs of Tehran are certainly not stupid enough to have placed their weapon programs in an obvious location, they will have spread them out around the country--buried deep in the ground-- as much as possible, while at the same time leaving one or two obvious targets on which the Israelis could sate their appetites for action. Such an attack would most likely be nuclear. No one, I mean no one could complain, if six months later, the Iranians tested a nuclear device, having themselves just been victims of such an attack, self-defense would be a clear justification. Sanctions would not even be discussed. Not only that, but the Iranians would “owe Israel one”, an IOU they would count on for later collection. Of course, I am not even taking into account here the likelihood of an Iranian counterattack. Almost no one in Washington or Tel Aviv is discussing--the very likely--possibility of Iran already possessing nuclear arms and what the ramification of that is on the military planning for an attack on Iran.

The neoconservative in the US and Israel are still convinced that it was their exaggeration of the Soviet threat in the 70’s and 80’s--subsequent arms build-up--that lead the USSR to collapse, and thus secured victory for the US. Most Soviet commentators would say that it was actually the high standard of living that the Social Democrats in Sweden (among others) had provided for their population—within the capitalist system—compared to the low standard of living in the Soviet bloc, that convinced the Soviets of the futility of Communism. No lessons have been learned by the debacle in Iraq, where fourth generational warfare has again baffled and defeated a western power. The same neoconservative boilerplate solution will be applied to Iran, and the results will be similar; by trying to stop the unstoppable, they will just increase the speed and amplitude of nuclear proliferation. The final battle will be within the Bush Administration itself, balancing political realities with foreign policy fantasies. After the election, it will be much more difficult for Bush to move on this one. Only a nuclear terrorist attack in the US would give him the political cover to try such a risky move.

Gun nuts in the US are proud of the “polite society” created by an armed to the teeth populace. We will be seeing the same phenomenon on the international scene when most major nations are armed with nuclear weapons. The cost of war will again be too high. The antithesis of this polite society will be on the level of non-state actors, where MAD does not function. Finding the synthesis of these two forces is where our future Charles de Gaulle-like geopolitical strategists need to be spending their time, if we want to avoid repeating the mistakes of the French. I don’t even want to imagine what the American equivalent would be of to the situation of a French General standing on the ridge, overlooking the Meuse, and watching Nazi tanks flood into his country through the gaping hole they had just punched through the French lines, sure in the knowledge that there was no longer a damn thing his country could do to stop them.


Friday, May 28, 2004

The nature of the Iraqi conflict is about to change if promises for December 2004 elections are taken seriously. From today's Independent:

US retreats after failing to capture militia chief

United States forces agreed yesterday to withdraw from the Shia holy city of Najaf and end fighting with the militia of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In a climbdown by the Americans, who had vowed to kill or capture Sadr, it now appears he will be allowed to remain free. His Army of Mehdi militia will also withdraw under the deal.

The Americans appeared to have given up their two main demands to end the fighting in Najaf: that Sadr surrender to them and that the Mehdi Army be disbanded immediately.
The American agreement to withdraw without capturing Sadr will be seen in Iraq as a second embarrassing capitulation in as many months, after US forces ended their April siege of the Sunni city of Fallujah without capturing those responsible for killing and mutilating the bodies of four American contractors - the original reason for the siege in which hundreds of Iraqi civilians are believed to have died.

[….]

Mohammed al-Musawi, a Shia leader who was involved in extensive efforts to arrange a peaceful end to the fighting in Najaf, claimed the deal included an agreement that Sadr will not face any prosecution until after an elected Iraqi government takes office, which will not happen until next year. He also said that under the deal the Mehdi Army would become a political organisation.

Whether Sadr will get that much remains to be seen, but at any rate he appeared to have got the most out of yesterday's deal. It was a good result for him after scores of his militiamen were killed in the past few days.


Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army is about to become Iraq’s version of the Lebanese Shiite militia/political party Hezbollah. For an excellent bckground article on Hezbollah and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, I recommend Adam Shatz’s recent article, “In search of Hezbollah,” from the New York Times Review of Books.

Most of the residents of southern Beirut, where Nasrallah has his headquarters, are Shiites, who account for 40 percent of Lebanon's population, outnumbering both Christians and Sunnis. Until the 1960s, Lebanon's Shiites were a neglected, invisible community, oppressed by feudal landlords and disdained by their fellow Lebanese. Today, they are a rising political force, thanks in large part to the militant political movement Hezbollah. It is now a virtual state-within-a-state, with an army of several thousand men, an extensive social service network, a popular satellite television station called al-Manar ("the Beacon of Light"), and an annual budget in excess of $100 million, much of which comes from Iran, Hezbollah's major patron.

The movement first emerged during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which between twelve and nineteen thousand Lebanese died, most of them civilians and many of them Shiites. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Hezbollah's original cadres were organized and trained by a 1,500-member contingent of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who arrived in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in the summer of 1982, with the permission of the Syrian government. For Iran, whose efforts to spread the Islamic revolution to the Arab world had been stymied by its war with Iraq, Hezbollah provided a means of gaining a foothold in Middle East politics.

Syria's vehemently secular leader Hafez Assad, for his part, had no affection for Hezbollah's religious ideology but keenly grasped its potential as a proxy militia. For Syria, whose principal goal has been to reclaim the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, Hezbollah is the only "card" it has to pressure its far more powerful neighbor. Unlike the leftist Lebanese forces that, until that point, had led the resistance to the Israelis, Hezbollah guerrillas could not be penetrated by Israeli intelligence. And in their discipline and willingness to die for their cause they had few rivals, as the world was to discover the following year, when members of the clandestine "Islamic Resistance" (a precursor to Hezbollah, which did not yet officially exist) launched a series of terrifying suicide attacks in Lebanon against American, French, and Israeli targets.

Following the bombings, the Western forces made a fast exit from Beirut; in 1985, faced with fierce resistance from Hezbollah fighters, Israel withdrew to a so-called security zone, a strip of territory along Lebanon's southern border that soon became known as its "insecurity zone." Over the next fifteen years, Hezbollah waged an efficient, disciplined, and popular guerrilla war against the Israeli military.

In May 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to bring an end to an occupation that had cost more than one thousand Israeli lives, and ordered a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The withdrawal did not include a formal peace agreement with Lebanon, and the Israeli army continued to occupy the patch of border territory called the Shebaa Farms, which Hezbollah regards as part of Lebanon. But Lebanese Shiites (as well as a number of Barak's Israeli critics) saw the withdrawal as a major Hez- bollah victory—"the first Arab victory in the history of Arab-Israeli conflict," as Hezbollah often proclaims. It is an event that has helped make Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, one of the most important men in Lebanon.

Hezbollah now has some 100,000 supporters, about half of whom are party members. When Nasrallah raises his voice, the Lebanese pay close attention to what he says, whether or not they like him. Bashar Assad, Syria's young leader and Hezbollah's other major sponsor, is said to revere him. Although Nasrallah depends on Iranian arms and Syria's support for his military operations, he has achieved a significant degree of autonomy from both parties, which may complicate future efforts to disband it. Hezbollah, which adheres to the principle of wilayat al-faqih, or rule by the Islamic jurist, regards Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as its ultimate leader, and maintains close ties to Iran's leadership, especially to the hard-line clerics who helped organize the party in the early 1980s. It was Khamenei who reportedly influenced Hezbollah's decision to maintain its armed wing rather than devote all its energies to Lebanese politics after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. But Hezbollah has long ceased to be an Iranian-controlled militia. (The last remaining Revolutionary Guards left the Bekaa Valley in 1998.) Although Hezbollah is believed to coordinate foreign policy matters with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese and Western experts I've talked to say it reaches most of its everyday decisions without consulting Iran. Moreover, they say, Khamenei has never overruled Nasrallah.


So far, one excellent historic parallel throughout the second Iraqi conflict has been the 1954-1962 conflict in Algeria. As we move towards possible elections, a new parallel might be the annulled second round of Algerian elections in 1991:

The populist appeal of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) resulted in its astonishing successes in the June 1990 local elections (the first free elections in the nation's history) and the December 1991 first round of delayed parliamentary elections, although the top FIS leaders had been imprisoned since June 1991. Stunned "secular" military and civilian elites fearing the establishment of an Islamic state overthrew President Chadli Benjedid in January 1992. The new High Council of State (HCS) quickly annulled the elections and outlawed the FIS. The 1992 coup outraged many Muslims and led to protests and mounting violence, including the June 1992 assassination of HCS-installed president Mohammed Boudiaf. There was international condemnation of both the government's repression of political liberties and often brutal efforts to suppress the opposition and the increasingly divisive and radicalized Islamic movement's targeting of intellectuals, journalists, feminists, and foreigners.


Again from Adam Shatz, this time from the July 3, 2003 New York Review of Books (no link):

The FIS was about to defeat the FLN in the second round of elections, but Nezzar and his army colleagues made sure that never happened. Always suspicious of the democratic experiment that began in 1989, General Nezzar, who was then Algeria's minister of defense, forced President Chadli Bendjedid, who came to power with army support in 1979, to resign. The elections were canceled, and two months later the FIS was banned. Nezzar declared a state of emergency. The Islamic Salvation Army, the FIS's armed wing, responded with attacks on government security forces. They were soon joined by more radical outfits like the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a nebulous network of jihadists that included a number of self-described "Afghan Arabs." The jihadists assassinated secular intellectuals and unveiled women; they finally turned against their own followers when they showed insufficient zeal for holy warfare.

The "conciliators" among Algeria's political leaders, among them several former ministers, advocated a political solution, starting with negotiations with the FIS; but the hard-line "eradicators" led by General Nezzar won out. They struck back ruthlessly, borrowing tactics the French paratroopers used against the FLN, including torture, summary execution, and secret detention in camps in the Sahara. Tens of thousands of Algerians, some of them Islamic radicals but many of them ordinary civilians and soldiers, have been killed since 1992; about seven thousand have disappeared, mostly at the hands of security forces, according to a damning report released late this February by Human Rights Watch. The violence has subsided since 1997, when the FIS laid down its arms, but the GIA and other rebels remain active. Almost every day, a few people die in political violence, a pattern that has become so familiar that no one in Algeria pays much attention. The regime, now headed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was elected in 1999, appears to have no interest in stopping the violence; one former high-ranking Algerian official told me, "The state can't let terrorism die. It's the only thing keeping it afloat."

On his recent visit to Algiers, William Burns, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told President Bouteflika, "Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism." But what exactly does it have to learn? "If we had let the Islamists win, Algeria would have become Afghanistan and you would have had to bomb us," Nezzar said, laughing loudly. I passed on Nezzar's remark to Ahmed Djeddai, the secretary of the Socialist Forces Front, a social-democratic opposition party, largely made up of Berbers, the non-Arab minority who speak their own language and make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population. He sighed with a weary, theatrical air. "If you look at Algeria today—100,000 dead, maybe more; thousands handicapped; a million displaced—it seems to me that the generals are the ones who've turned this country into Afghanistan."


Clearly the fake democracy of Algeria is the best existing model for an occupying power to use to continue their rule by proxy. The government is extremely pro-western and the country has a secular tradition that is somewhat similar to Iraq. If a moderate State Department official is praising the Algerian leader, this is a sure sign of the current US position towards democracy in the Middle East.




Thursday, May 27, 2004

My Enemy is my Liberator is my Enemy


The Guardian is staying all over the Chalabi is an Iranian spy story. Yesterday it was Andrew Cockburn adding some nice details to the story:

In the aftermath of last week's raid by Iraqi's police and US forces on the elegant Baghdad mansion currently inhabited by Ahmad Chalabi (it actually belongs to his sister), his angry spokesman cited as evidence of the intruders' barbarity the fact that they seized "even his holy Koran - his personal holy Koran was taken as a document".

If reports that US intelligence has at last woken up to Chalabi's Iranian connection are true, then taking his Koran may have been more than personal spite, since, according to a former close associate, the Pentagon's erstwhile favorite Iraqi owns one bearing an affectionate inscription from the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself, evidence of how deep and long standing a relationship he has had with the Islamic Republic. "Ahmad helped Iran very much during the war [the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s]," recalls this former associate and friend. "Khomeini was very pleased, and he sent him a copy of the Holy Koran inscribed 'To My Son Ahmed.'"

[....]

Chalabi was not shy about his Iranian intelligence connections. "When I met him in December 1997 he said he had tremendous connections with Iranian intelligence," recalls Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector. "He said that some of his best intelligence came from the Iranians and offered to set up a meeting for me with the head of Iranian intelligence." Had Ritter made the trip (the CIA refused him permission), he would have been dealing with Chalabi's chums in Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence, a faction which regarded Saddam with a venomous hatred spawned both by the bloody war of the 1980s and the Iraqi dictator's continuing support of the terrorist Mojaheddin Khalq group.


However, the most stupefying statement comes in the last paragraph of the story:

[Bob] Baer, who served in the CIA outpost in the mid 1990s, says that "a lot of people in the CIA believe that the Iranians used Chalabi, and or Arras, to manipulate us into a war. Maybe they just thought they were steering us to keep up the pressure on Saddam, keeping him under sanctions and no fly zones, never dreaming that he would actually get the US to go to war and put the US army right on the Iranian border. It's the law of unintended consequences."


This statement reeks of denial and wishful thinking. The US military is far more of a threat to Iran while sitting in its US bases, ready to be deployed at a moments notice. The 135,000 troop currently tied down in Iraq are of absolutely no concern to the Iranians. With these troops currently unable to successfully complete their missions in Iraq, I hardly think that invading and occupying Iran is likely to be added to their task lists any time soon.

There is no evidence at all that the Iranians preferred containment over invasion. Chalabi was pushing the WMD line hard, he was feeding lies to nine different western intelligence agencies about the horrific weapons that Saddam possessed. Shiites are a majority in Iraq and there is no way they--or the Iranians--would have actively worked to only contain Saddam and therefore accept Sunni domination for generations to come. No, they wanted Saddam gone and they wanted the US to do it for them.

There is an historic precedent for Shiites using their enemies to liberate them. In the early eighties, during the Lebanese Civil War, the Shiites of southern Lebanon were basically occupied by the PLO. Israel, in 1982, retaliated for the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov, by invading Lebanon to crush the PLO. Never mind the fact that the gunmen worked for Abu Nidal, a sworn enemy of the PLO. The Shiites of southern Lebanon at first tolerated the Israeli invasion because it rid them of their hated PLO oppressors, but in 1984 Hezbollah was formed to fight the occupation. In 2000, along with its rivals Amal, they succeeded in forcing an Israeli retreat from Lebanon.

In this light one can see Chalabi not only pushing for an invasion but also promising Shiite cooperation in order to keep the number of American troops down. It is true that if the US had sent 500,000 troops into Iraq, Iran would have had something to worry about. At a little more than 100,000, the Shiites in Iraq--heavily influenced by Iran--hold the keys to a successful American occupation. The second the Shiites became dissatisfied, they can pull the rug out from under the US’s feet since occupying Iraq with a hostile Shiite population would in fact take 500,000 soldier, or about 300,000 more than the US has available. Even better, by having the US dependant on its acquiescence towards the occupation, Iran is assured that Israel will not by striking at its nascent nuclear programs any time soon. For the time being, the Shiites and Iran are content to allow the US to pour money into Iraq and to battle the potential Sunni enemy, knowing full well that at an appropriate time, they will ask the US to leave, and the Shiites will be running Iraq.

I think it would be going to far to say that the Iranians totally created the invasion of Iraq out of thin air, that the idea would have never otherwise occurred to Bush. What can be said for certain is that the Iranians enabled the invasion and helped spread the fatal overconfidence, through the optimistic reports and empty promises of Chalabi, that were ultimately to doom the invasion into a US strategic defeat, and an Iranian victory.









Not So Fast


Four Nations to Seek Delay on U.S. Resolution on Iraq

May 26 (Bloomberg) -- China, France, Germany and Russia say a U.S. and U.K. draft resolution on Iraq shouldn't be adopted by the United Nations Security Council until the Iraqi people and neighboring countries accept the interim government that is scheduled to take over from the U.S.-led coalition June 30.

``Our positions are similar,'' Russian envoy Alexander Konuzin said. ``If the government is accepted by Iraqi society it will be very easy to quickly finalize the resolution. We shall consult the new leaders. We shall invite them here.''

[....]

Konuzin repeated Russia's call for a conference in New York that would include leaders of the interim government and representatives of neighboring countries such as Iran, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. He called acceptance of the interim government by Iraq's neighbors ``very important'' to the resolution's adoption.


The Gang of Four (China, France, Germany and Russia) are holding all the cards this time around at the UN. George W. Bush, for domestic political purposes, wants a light coat of sovereignty to be applied to the next Iraqi “government”, at least until after the November US elections. He needs the UN to sovereignty-wash Iraq in order to counter growing criticism that he a unilateralist.

The Gang of Fout want contracts, oil contracts. No vetoes will be necessary, the Gang control more than enough votes to prevent any resolution being passed. In fact there is no law against them presenting their own resolution that would go far further than the current Anglo-American resolution towards giving the new Iraqi government real powers. Then it would be the US that would be forced into a position of vetoing Iraqi sovereignty.

My guess is that the Gang of Four will win this round but that after the November elections, growing chaos will force the US to desolve the caretaker government and the occupation will resume.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Maximum-Security Iraqi Penitentiary for Traitors and Collaborators.


It was made perfectly clear in George Bush’s speech last night: that talk of Iraqi sovereignty is meaningless.

A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.

America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.


First of all has anyone polled the citizens of Iraq as to whether they want a new maximum-security prison? And if they do want a prison, does anyone really think that the people of Iraq want the United States of America to finance (and surely build) this new prison?

Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state surely excelled at one thing; building prisons. I find it surprising that there is such a shortage that Bechtel needs to start building a new prison right away.

My guess is that if the Iraqi people decided they needed a new prison, they would prefer to design and build it themselves or get help from any other country except the US. It is not really going to be a vote winning idea for an Iraqi politician to be saying the words US and prisons in the same sentence. The signal it sends is a strong one, the US will still be in charge of Iraq after June 30th.

Dachau and Auschwitz were preserved after the Second World War as a reminder of Hitler’s genocidal policies, it is possible that Iraqis would want to preserve Abu Ghraib as a monument against torture, perhaps with help from Amnesty International It would be a huge tourist attraction if and when things finally settle down in Iraq.

Decisions like these should be left to the “sovereign” government of Iraq. Perhaps an idea competition for Iraqi architects and designers could be held, after elections, to settle Abu Ghraib’s future. The sovereign government of Iraq, and not George WTF Bush, could then make the announcement concerning the fate of Abu Ghraib.

Bush’s statement also shows that the US has no plans to leave Iraq any time soon. Designing and building a modern high-security prison is a complicated project, in the best of situations it would take three years from conception to completion. In a war zone, with an American designed building being built in a desert by workers unfamiliar with American building techniques, it will take much longer. Just getting the Iraqi workers up to speed with feet and inches is going to take some time, since surely the incompetent Young Republican project manager, that will be running his first project ever, would never let a system of measurement created by the French to be used in Iraq.

So we are looking at five to six years minimum before Abu Ghraib is torn down and there is no chance that the US will still be in Iraq at that time. If a new prison is ever built it will be by the new Iranian backed Islamist government of Iraq, led by Ayatollah Sadr, and the prison will most likely be built to house all of the Iraqis who collaborated with the US during the occupation. Ahmed Chalabi may even get his own suite.





Operation Iranian Lebensraum


America’s Newspaper of Record is, as usual, performing its job in an exemplary manner.

From today’s Guardian:

US intelligence fears Iran duped hawks into Iraq war

An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.
According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.

The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.
The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war.
"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."

Larry Johnson, a former senior counter-terrorist official at the state department, said: "When the story ultimately comes out we'll see that Iran has run one of the most masterful intelligence operations in history. They persuaded the US and Britain to dispose of its greatest enemy."


This is the kind of story that can “LBJ-ify” the Presidency of Bush II. This strikes right into the heart of his base, lays bare for all to see the utter ineptness of the current administration’s foreign policy, and makes laughable any claims that the invasion of Iraq has anything to do with “fighting” terrorism. A far better argument is that this military adventure is actually nurturing and promoting terrorism.

Elements within the intelligence community are obviously pushing this story, just as they have been feeding Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker on Abu Ghraib , and adding fuel to the fire on the Plame Affair, where an active CIA agent was outed by the Bush White House.

I find it highly unlikely the George W. Bush will remain the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States in 2004.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Iraq Car Bomb Kills Eight U.S. Soldiers

This is very bad news. Eight dead soldiers is horrific, but if this suicide attack is the harbinger of a new insurgent tactic, it will be a devastating blow to the American led coalition in Iraq.

The goal in any insurgency is to crystallize public opinion against the occupying forces. The classic way to do this is to goad the occupiers into committing atrocities against civilians. Iraq is already a place of extreme stress for armed to the teeth American teenage and young adult soldiers. The Arab news channels are already inundating their viewers with images of the civilian suffering in Iraq, which is helping to fuel the growing insurgency. From now on, every car that approaches a checkpoint is a possible rolling bomb, ready to kill the US soldier that wants to check it for weapons. The result will be more innocent civilian casualties as overstressed troops take the easy way out of shooting and asking questions later, effectively driving a further wedge into the already shaky relationship between US troops and the Iraqi public, fueling further violence, and creating an even more stressful situation. It is hard to see an end to this cyclical amplification of violence.

Most commentators will be pointing the finger at Muqtada al-Sadr, who recently threatened to start launching martyrdom operations, which in turn will lead to further pressure on George W. Bush to launch a potentially disastrous assault on Najaf. On the political side, Bush is going to come under increasing criticism from his right-wing base for having not moved decisively against al-Sadr earlier.

The worst part of all this remains, however, the pain that the families and loved ones of these brave soldiers will feel when the news of their depature arrives.






Sunday, April 11, 2004

We are witnessing the clash of two world-views in Iraq. From today's Sunday Telegraph:

US tactics condemned by British officers
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate.

One senior Army officer told The Telegraph that America's aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of "unease and frustration" among the British high command.

The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen - the Nazi expression for "sub-humans".

Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: "My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.

"The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."

The phrase untermenschen - literally "under-people" - was brought to prominence by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, published in 1925. He used the term to describe those he regarded as racially inferior: Jews, Slaves and gipsies.

Although no formal complaints have as yet been made to their American counterparts, the officer said the British Government was aware of its commanders' "concerns and fears".

The officer explained that, under British military rules of war, British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks similar to those being conducted by the US military, in which helicopter gunships have been used to fire on targets in urban areas.

British rules of engagement only allow troops to open fire when attacked, using the minimum force necessary and only at identified targets.

The American approach was markedly different: "When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.

"They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers.

"The British response in Iraq has been much softer. During and after the war the British set about trying to win the confidence of the local population. There have been problems, it hasn't been easy but on the whole it was succeeding."

The officer believed that America had now lost the military initiative in Iraq, and it could only be regained with carefully planned, precision attacks against the "terrorists".

"The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach - it has failed," he said. "They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people.

"Our objective is to create a stable, democratic and safe Iraq. That's achievable but not in the short term. It is going to take up to 10 years."


The other side makes its case in The Washington Post:

Iraq's Governing Council to Press for Ceasefire
By Pamela Constable

FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 10 -- U.S. Marines reined in their troops in this urban war zone Saturday, allowing members of Iraq's Governing Council to meet with local leaders to try to negotiate an end to the week-long battle that has pitted 2,500 Marines against hundreds of well-armed insurgents.


Iraqi officials in Baghdad reportedly said insurgent leaders had offered through intermediaries to lay down their arms if the Marines withdraw three kilometers -- about 1.8 miles -- from the city, but it seemed unlikely that U.S. military officials would make such a deal.

Marine officials here expressed deep skepticism that the talks in a local mosque would yield any results. Their troops were impatient to plunge back into fray after a two-day lull in fighting that the U.S. military have already observed to permit tens of thousands of women and children to leave the embattled city, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.

"Given the virulent nature of the enemy, the prospect of some city father walking in and getting Joe Jihadi to give himself up is pretty slim," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands the 5th Marine Battalion here, using the Arabic word for Islamic warrior.

"That's fine," Byrne added, "because they'll get whipped up, come out fighting again and get mowed down."

A third battalion of Marines reached Fallujah Saturday, adding more than 1,000 troops to the operation that was launched last Sunday to hunt down and wipe out an armed urban resistance, believed to include Islamic extremists, former members of Saddam Hussein's military forces and common criminals.

As the reinforcements moved into place and civilians continued to stream out of the city, the Marines prepared for a first aggressive thrust into several heavily populated districts, deploying more heavy weapons, including artillery and AC-130 gunships.

"What comes next is the destruction of anti-coalition forces in Fallujah," Byrne told reporters late Saturday. "Their only choices are to submit or die." He said his sniper teams had killed at least 40 insurgents and possibly killed another 15 since the operation, called Vigilant Resolve, began.

But the expected launch of this new offensive -- which Marine officers said Saturday morning might include air strikes from bomber jets based on aircraft carriers -- was abruptly called off at noon when word reached here of the planned negotiating visit by officials from Baghdad.

The meetings were arranged after Iraqi political and religious leaders criticized the U.S. military offensive, which one Governing Council member described as "collective punishment" for an entire city, and concerns mounted that Fallujah residents were trapped and unable to buy food, reach hospitals or bury their dead.

Long after nightfall, Byrne's forces had received no word on the outcome of the meetings, and many Marines expressed concern that the break would give their opponents a chance to regroup after five days of intense combat.

"Any pause in the battle on our part gives a chance for them to refit themselves and come back a little harder," said Sgt. Daryl Hill, 38, whose company has spent four days and nights positioned along the front line between a deserted industrial area where the Marines are based and a residential district from which snipers shoot at them.

Hill said his company, which lost a popular lieutenant and staff sergeant to enemy fire in the same incident Thursday, had since gotten help from night gunship raids. "The gunships relieved some of the stress on us, but now it's time to get moving," he said. "They took some comrades from us, but we can't sit back and grieve over our loss. It's payback time."

Marine officers and troops said they continued to come under fire from snipers with assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades as they searched Fallujah's industrial zone for weapons.

Three Marines were wounded by mortar fragments Saturday, and several mortar attacks shook the Marine base late at night.

Meanwhile, civilians poured out of the besieged city for a second day after U.S. forces urged all women and children as well as elderly men to seek safety elsewhere. Marines reported seeing thousands of people leaving by various roads Saturday, and Byrne estimated that a total of 60,000 had fled.

Byrne said residents choosing to remain were being told to stay in their homes, and he said the Marines may take food and other supplies to individual homes when they are searched.

As they prepare for a full-fledged push into the residential areas that shelter the rebels, Marine forces are being allowed to operate under slightly less restrictive rules, with field officers authorized to approve tank and artillery fire, and troops permitted to pursue attackers more aggressively. "If we're shot at, we won't knock on the door any more, we're going right in," said Sgt. Scott Moss, who was gulping a sandwich at the Marine base between 12-hour stints on the front lines. "But we expect a lot of people will be gone, and when we bring in armor, it's more for dramatic effect than to blast the whole city. It's a statement to say we're serious."

At the same time, the troops said they remained keenly aware of the need not to unnecessarily provoke or upset the civilians who have remained in the city and who may be expecting the worst.

"We trained a lot about this," said Moss. "You don't talk to people with your sunglasses on, you don't show Iraqis the bottoms of your feet, you don't bark commands." He stooped to show how he had reassured a scared child in one house being searched, dropping his gun and holding out both hands.

"I haven't had the chance to enter a building peacefully yet, but I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Friday, April 2, 2004

My blog has been on hold for some time now as I have been trying to juggle caring for our three children and working full-time. My work as an architect looks to be slowing down in the very near future, and the twins are almost one year old now, so I am going to restart the blog, albeit slowly at first, but I should be up to full speed by the end of April.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

As war once again began engulfing Iraq last spring, I started reading Alistair Horne’s “A Savage War of Peace (Algeria 1954-1962)” which clarified for me what the events in Iraq during the summer and autumn that followed the invasion really meant. I am not sure if Philip Gourevitch has read the book but he has definitely seen the film and written an excellent essay about links between Algeria and Iraq.

One day late last summer, as the tally of bombings, shootings, and acts of sabotage against the American occupation in Iraq took on the unmistakable profile of a war of guerrilla insurgency, the office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, at the Pentagon, designed and distributed e-mail flyers with a cautionary headline: “how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas.” The e-mail invited those involved in the “wot”—the war on terrorism—to a private screening of the Italian Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece, “The Battle of Algiers.” The movie, which will be rereleased in theatres next month, is surely the most harrowing, and realistic, political epic ever filmed. It depicts the conflict between Algerian nationalist insurgents and French colonial forces in the late nineteen-fifties, or, as the flyer put it: “Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar?”

For all the differences between France’s fight to keep Algeria—a country it had occupied since 1830—and America’s current dispensation in Iraq, the parallels between the drama of insurgency and counter-insurgency in “The Battle of Algiers” and our present Iraqi predicament are as clear and as depressing as the Pentagon film programmers promised. The ugly truth that Pontecorvo lays vividly bare, as his camera tacks back and forth between the Algerian guerrillas and the French paratroopers, is that terrorism works. For, although the film focusses on a chapter in the Algerian struggle when France succeeded in crushing the rebel movement, the final moments of the movie show how within a few years the French were forced to accept defeat and retreat, an outcome that in retrospect appears historically inevitable.

Such is the bind that the Bush Administration has led us into in Iraq. Appalling, intolerable—in all senses, maddening—as the terrorist tactics of the Iraqi insurgents may be, their truck bombs, donkey-cart missile launchers, and sniper rifles are tactical political instruments that have steadily and systematically succeeded in isolating American forces in Iraq. They have effectively driven the United Nations, the international staff of the Red Cross, and other aid groups from the country, and—more disastrously—they have fostered a mutual sense of alienation between the American forces and the Iraqi people they are supposed to be liberating.

Triumphalist pronouncements from Washington notwithstanding, our occupying forces are now clearly on the defensive. And the more aggressive their defense becomes, the more it serves the insurgents’ purposes. When an American adviser in Iraq speaks of a new strategy of “terrorism versus terrorism,” as Seymour M. Hersh reported in these pages last week, and an American lieutenant colonel tells the Times, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,” one may be forgiven for concluding that the enemy is defining the terms of the fight to his advantage.
In “The Battle of Algiers,” there comes a moment when the commander of the French paratroopers, Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu, realizes that, despite a spate of strategic successes against the insurgency, he is losing the larger battle for public opinion. At a press conference, reporters confront him with allegations that his men have tortured Algerian informants. Mathieu reminds the reporters that the press had originally been unanimous in calling for the suppression of the rebellion. “That’s why we were sent here,” he says. “And we’re neither crazy nor sadistic. . . . We are soldiers. Our duty is to win. Since we’re being precise, I’ll now ask you a question. Is France to remain in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, you must accept all the necessary consequences.”

President Bush has consistently assured us that America will “stay the course” in Iraq, but what he means by that—what that course is—is not clear. Just as the official reasons for the war keep shifting, so does the Administration’s proclaimed objective. For now, we are in Iraq because the President and his most influential advisers wanted to go to war there. Having made a misleading case for the war, the Bush team drastically mismanaged the crucial early period of the occupation, and has recently responded to the Iraqi insurgency by scrapping its original plan for political revitalization in favor of a hastier schedule of “Iraqization.” With Bush’s attention turning ever more urgently to holding on to the White House in next year’s election, he is pushing for the election of an Iraqi transitional government by the middle of next year. “We’re going to get out of there as quickly as we can, but not before we finish the mission at hand,” Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, explained the other day.

Unlike the French mission in Algeria, Washington’s goal in Iraq is not to prevent the people from governing their own country but to help them to do so. Presumably, the insurgents—about whose politics, allegiances, organization, and objectives shockingly little is known—also want to see Iraqis in power, if not the same ones that Washington might favor. The question “Is America to remain in Iraq?” would ultimately receive the same negative answer from the occupiers as from the guerrillas. But, as the Bush Administration pushes for speedy elections and a speedy exit, Algeria’s example is again worth bearing in mind. In the early nineties, an Islamic fundamentalist party won elections in that country by a solid majority but was prevented from taking power by the secular military, which refused to accept the democratic election of an anti-democratic government. As a result, the country descended into a civil war that is reported to have claimed a hundred thousand lives.
Right now, there is no Iraqi state and, in the absence of an Iraqi leader, President Bush holds power. Of course, Iraqis won’t get to vote for him when they do eventually go to the polls, and for that, at least, he can be grateful. His apparent impatience to get out of the country suggests that he recognizes how difficult it will be to maintain the claim that he is that country’s liberator even as he serves as Commander-in-Chief of an increasingly relentless counter-insurgency campaign. The President cannot afford to lose Iraq. What is less obvious, with the guerrillas setting the agenda, is what the price would be to win it.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

As many in America hope and pray that the capture of Saddam Hussein will bring a quick end to the resistance against the occupation of Iraq, the US military has a more realistic analysis of the possible consequences that could follow the removal of the former dictator from the Iraqi political equation:

A top-secret report prepared for the American military command in Iraq just before Saddam Hussein was caught predicted that guerrilla attacks would increase after his arrest, as more anti-Saddam Iraqis joined the resistance.

The report argued that seizing Saddam could provoke more attacks by making the insurgency more acceptable to Sunni Muslims who weren't members of Saddam's Baath Party elite, according to senior administration officials who've seen it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the report is classified.

The insurgency in Iraq has been strongest in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where most of Iraq's Sunni minority lives, and where Saddam drew his strongest political support.

Hopes that Saddam's capture might end the resistance appeared premature Tuesday, as U.S. soldiers captured a senior Iraqi rebel leader and 78 others in a raid on a northeastern village a day after guerrillas ambushed an American patrol in a firefight that left 11 assailants dead.

The top U.S. military official in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, on Tuesday conceded that Saddam's capture has had little effect on the pace of attacks on American troops. He said U.S. troops had clashed with insurgents about 18 times in the past 24 hours. That was the same as the average for the past two weeks, although drastically lower than the 40 attacks a day a month ago.

"We expect it'll be some time before we see any possible effects of what we've accomplished," Sanchez said. "As I've stated over and over, we expect the violence to continue at some level for some time. We're prepared for that."

The report says Sunnis - Baathists and non-Baathists - consider themselves the big losers because they have no place in the evolving provisional government. The majority Shiite Muslims, according to the report, are represented adequately through two parties on the Iraqi Governing Council. So are Kurdish and exile political groups. As a result, Sunnis are more willing to support the resistance, the report says.

The theory is that the Sunnis think it's better to force Americans out now, while there's still a chance of restoring Sunni political power. The Sunnis, including Saddam, have dominated Iraq's political system for most of the last century. They don't want to wait for elections, caucuses, a constitution that would hand power to the majority Shiites or the creation of an anti-Sunni coalition of Shiites and Kurds.

The influence of radical Islamists in the resistance is also likely to grow with Saddam gone. In the coming months, possible confusion caused by the rotation of U.S. troops and activities aimed at preparing for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on July 1 also could encourage an increase in attacks.



Saturday, November 1, 2003

Toussaint (All Saint’s Day) is a public holiday today across Europe; it is the day of the year that is set aside for remembering departed loved ones. Trips are often taken to cemeteries and many candles are lighted in churches. My three-year-old son is working on a painting that we will send to my sister in California to place on my father William’s grave, it was five years ago that he passed away.

Toussaint is also the day that the Algerian War began in 1954, with uprisings against French colonial rule across Algeria. The eventual victory by the F.L.N. is still regarded, across the Arab world, as the one shining example of an Arab victory against a militarily superior Western power.

Juan Cole today links to an article in the Charleston Gazette that describes a call for a “day of resistance” today in Iraq: I have not seen much mention of this in the larger, national newspapers.

Graffiti and fliers that U.S. officials believe were generated by supporters of Saddam Hussein popped up around Baghdad on Friday, calling for a three-day strike starting today to mark the beginning of an uprising against Americans.

“Nov. 1 is resistance day! No to occupation!” read some graffiti on the blue masonry wall of al Farazdak primary school. Fliers threatened that shopkeepers could be killed if they opened for business.

One flier, in Arabic, asked government employees, shopkeepers and transportation workers to stay home, warning: “Anyone who does not take this seriously will be responsible for his life and his possessions.” It also told merchants not to deal in foreign goods, even though such goods were widely available under the old regime.


So far the resistance to the American occupation of Iraq has taken the form of military/terrorist activity, i.e. bombings and attacks on foreign (American usually) soldiers. There has not really been a political element to it. Normally during a guerilla war there are lots of slogans and propaganda being thrown around. General strikes are common tool to disrupt economic activity, thereby putting pressure on the ruling entities. Within the guerrilla movements themselves, there is often much conflict between the political and military wings. But in the end the terrorists/freedom fighters have political goals in mind (i.e. the departure of the American-lead occupation and the installation of a new government that reflects the beliefs of the guerrilla movement). We are witnessing the start of a political campaign by at least one of the participants in the resistance (it is likely there are several different groups fighting the Americans, and that these groups may have very different political aims).

According to Le Monde, the general strike called for in Iraq has been generally observed:

Samedi matin, le trafic routier dans la capitale, habituellement dense, était extrêmement fluide et de nombreuses écoles étaient vides. Les parents ont préféré ne pas envoyer leurs enfants dans les établissements scolaires.

Les administrations et des organisations internationales comme CARE ou l'ONU tournaient au ralenti, une grande partie des employés ne s'étant pas rendue au travail. Des gardiens et des policiers irakiens étaient déployés devant les écoles et les établissements de la ville.

Des rumeurs se sont répandues à travers le pays sur des tracts qui auraient été distribués pour mettre en garde contre des attentats majeurs et proclamant le 1er novembre "Journée de la résistance" contre les forces de la coalition.


Saturday is the beginning of the workweek in the Islamic world. The New York Times is also reporting that the general strike has been a success:

Most Baghdad schools were deserted and normally busy shopping areas were quiet. Residents said they were worried that schools, markets and mosques could be the target of attacks.

"My family wouldn't allow my two sisters to go to school today because of the threats. Even my friends at university and college are staying at home," said Luay Adeeb, 19, a cigarette vendor in a Baghdad commercial district.

"To be honest, I'm scared, but I have to work."


The mainstream media will spin this in a couple of ways. They have been emphasizing the threat of new “spectacular” attacks against Western targets this weekend, when these fail to materialize, the “day of resistance” will be called a failure. The fact is that guerrilla movements usually don’t announce attacks a couple of days before executing them, since guerrilla movements normally prefer not to go up against the enemy at full strength and in a state of heighten awareness. I will be very surprised if there are any major attacks during this three-day period.

The other analytical trail that the mass media consumer will be corralled through will be that the Iraqi people stayed home, not out of sympathy for the resistance, but out of fear of attacks on civilian targets. At best it is extremely difficult for any observer to quantify exactly why people take certain actions, but given the amount of animosity that has built up between the American occupation and the Iraqi people, many will be taking a political decision to stay home today. In fact it is going to be quite difficult for the Bush Administration to continue the “it’s morning in Iraq” storyline if the country is regularly shut down by general strikes. In a country where people have never really been allowed a say, they may be taking the opportunity here to vote against the occupation.

The choice of Toussaint to launch the political side of the Iraqi resistance is not a coincidence. There are many strong parallels between the two conflicts, as well as some strong differences (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is actually a better match). At the very least, the Algerian War demonstrates some of the problems that a Western power will face in trying to occupy an Arab country. The best single volume history of the conflict is A Savage War of Peace , by Alistair Horne.


Saturday, September 27, 2003

I have not updated my links for a while. At the start of the Iraqi invasion I started reading the Daily Kos regularly. My favorite posting were by Steve Gilliard, who was sort of the foreign correspondent for Kos. Anyway, Steve has started his own blog, please go check it out.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

It looks like the Kay Report that was supposed to prove what a wise choice it had been to spend $7 billion a week on the Iraqi invasion and occupation by documenting what a clear and present danger the Saddam Hussein was to the rest of the world, is going to finally see the light of day. This should knock about ten more points off Bush’s numbers, if it’s followed up by some strong Democratic attacks.

The hunt for weapons of mass destruction yields – nothing.

Intelligence claims of huge Iraqi stockpiles were wrong, says report

Julian Borger in Washington, Ewen MacAskill and Patrick Wintour
Thursday September 25, 2003
The Guardian

An intensive six-month search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has failed to find a single trace of an illegal arsenal, according to accounts of a report circulated in Washington and London.

A draft of the report, compiled by the CIA-led 1,400-strong Iraq Survey Group (ISG), has been sent to the White House, the Pentagon and Downing Street, a US intelligence source said, and will contain no evidence of Iraqi stockpiles of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

"It demonstrates that the main judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in October 2002, that Saddam had hundreds of tonnes of chemical and biological agents ready, are false," said the source.

The timing of this disclosure could hardly be worse for Tony Blair, just days before the start of the Labour party conference. Iraq has dogged the prime minister almost continuously for five months, overshadowing the domestic agenda. Downing Street had been hoping for respite after the end of Lord Hutton's inquiry, which closes today.

Mr Blair put forward Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the reason for going to war and he has repeatedly insisted that the weapons would be found.

He told a sceptical Conservative MP in the Commons on April 30 that he was absolutely convinced that Iraq had such weapons and predicted that, when the report was published, "you and others will be eating some of your words."

Although Downing Street last night officially dismissed the leak as speculation, government sources confirmed that it was accurate.

A No 10 spokesman said: "People should wait. The reports today are speculation about an unfinished draft of an interim report that has not even been presented yet. And when it comes it will be an interim report. The ISG's work will go on."

He added: "Our clear expectation is that this interim report will not reach firm conclusions about Iraq's possession of WMD."

The government defence will be to stress that failure to find WMD does not mean that it does not exist.

Last night's leak will fuel the anti-war sentiment ahead of Saturday's demonstration in London for withdrawal of US and British troops from Iraq. It will also make it harder for Labour party organisers to resist grassroots pressure for a debate on Iraq.

The interim report is at present pencilled in for publication next week but the Labour, party, anxious to avoid it landing in the middle of its conference, is trying to get that changed.

The results of the ISG's search are also disappointing for the White House.

There is a debate within the administration over whether the report would be delivered to Congress at all, but congressional aides said they expected to hear from the head of the ISG, the former UN in spector David Kay, as early as next week.

He arrived back from Iraq last Wednesday and since then has been working on the report.

It is now thought that the ISG investigation will dwell on Saddam Hussein's capability and intentions.

The NIE was put together by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies, and claimed that the Iraqi leader had chemical and biological stockpiles, and a continuing nuclear programme that could produce a home-made bomb before the end of the decade.

The NIE became a key document in the propaganda war waged by President Bush in the runup to the invasion of Iraq in March, although intelligence officials warned that many of the nuances and cautionary notes from original reports had been removed from the final documents.

According to accounts of the ISG draft, captured Iraqi scientists gave the investigation an account of how weapons were destroyed, but those accounts refer back to the period immediately after the 1991 Gulf war.

The nuclear section of the survey group has also finished its work and left Iraq.

After addressing the Senate in July, a bullish Mr Kay claimed "solid evidence" was being gathered and warned journalists to expect "surprises".

No such surprises appear to be in the draft.

The CIA took the unusual step of playing down expectations of the report yesterday. "Dr Kay is still receiving information from the field. It will be just the first progress report, and we expect that it will reach no firm conclusions, nor will it rule anything in or out," the chief agency spokesman, Bill Harlow, said.

An intelligence official added yesterday that the timing of the report's release "had yet to be determined".

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "It is David Kay's report. We do not have it. We will comment on it when it is presented.

"When it comes, it will be an interim report. ISG's work will continue. The reports are speculation about an unfinished draft of an interim report that has not yet even been presented yet."

David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, said: "It's clear that the US and British governments wildly exaggerated the case for going to war." But he added that the fact that the survey group had not found concrete evidence of weapons did not mean that the Baghdad regime did not have programmes to quickly reconstitute programmes and weapons at short notice.

"Just because they can't find it, doesn't mean its not there," Mr Albright said.

"I'm not surprised, given how incompetent this search had been. They've had bad relations with the [Iraqi] scientists from the start because they treated them all as criminals."

Many of the Iraqi scientists and officials who surrendered to US forces have been held in detention for months without contact with their families, despite assurances they would be well treated if they cooperated.

But recently the Bush administration, under mounting pressure to justify the invasion, has been trying to improve the incentives for former Saddam loyalists to provide information.

Reuters quoted a senior US official yesterday as saying that the former defence minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmed, had been given "effective" immunity in the hope that he would provide information on Saddam's weapons programmes.

The foreign secretary Jack Straw, speaking at the United Nations general assembly in New York, declined to comment on the ISG report.

"If people want evidence, they don't have to wait for Dr Kay's report, what they can do is look at the volumes of reports from the weapons inspectors going back over a dozen years including the final report from Unmovic on March 7 this year, which set out 29 separate areas of unanswered disarmament questions to Iraq," he said.

The shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram, described the leak as "another damaging blow to the prime minister's credibility" and renewed calls for a judicial inquiry into the war.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said: "If this report is true, there was no

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