Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Brad deLong on Michael Ignatieff. posted by Richard Seymour

I am not a particular fan of deLong after his silly tantrums against Noam Chomsky, (which were more than expertly taken down by Ed Herman), but he has a point in challenging Ignatieff's latest article, posted yesterday:

Michael Ignatieff admits that he has no place to hide:

"The New York Times > Magazine > The Way We Live Now: Mirage in the Desert: ...the administration's arrogance. Gen. George C. Marshall began planning the postwar occupation of Germany two years before D-Day. This administration was fumbling for a plan two months before the invasion. Who can read Bob Woodward's ''Plan of Attack'' and not find his jaw dropping at the fact that from the very beginning, in late 2001, none of the civilian leadership, not Rice, not Powell, not Tenet, not the president, asked where the plan for the occupation phase was? Who can't feel that U.S. captains, majors and lieutenants were betrayed by the Beltway wars between State and Defense? Who can't feel rage that victorious armies stood by and watched for a month while Iraq was looted bare?

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn't suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn't much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn't much excuse for our naivete either
.... "

For Ignatieff to say that there is "no excuse" for his assumption that the Bush administration was competent is not satisfactory: Ignatieff needs to tell us what chain of thought could possibly have led him to the assumption that the Bush administration was competent--or to the belief that a successful postwar reconstruction of Iraq was possible without 100,000 Arabic-speaking MPs.

Well, now I think about it, I am not certain that deLong's point gets to the heart of things. After all, one could think of many ways to describe the demonstrably baleful examples of American imperialism past, but "incompetent" would not necessarily top the list. Was this war really only objectionable because it was conducted by a chimp led by donkeys? Surely, we can come up with a deeper critique than that? Oh, wait! Thanks to Noam Chomsky , we can. Hurray!

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Ignatieff on Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

Since we're on the theme of 'human rights' ideologists, Michael Ignatieff has an interesting piece on the Iraq war in today's Independent . I'm short of time, so I'll just note that while he retains many of his assumptions, the tone is drastically different to what he has argued in the past .

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Monday, June 28, 2004

Imperialism and "Human Rights" posted by Richard Seymour

Review of David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, Pluto Press, 2002.

The Kosovo war was fought "not for territory but for values" according to Tony Blair. The bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 was conducted to help "the oppressed people of Afghanistan", according to George W. Bush, so that they may know "the generosity of America and our allies". Meanwhile, according to Jack Straw, stopping the bombing "would only prolong the suffering of the Afghan people". Pro-war adepts could easily adduce similar comforting thoughts about the war waged on Iraq in March 2003. The ideology of human rights is not only unversalist, but also universally accepted. Human rights organisations now regularly call for "humanitarian intervention" and decry the lack of attention to such crisis spots as the Democratic Republic of Congo. David Rieff notes that humanitarian organisations are now "among the most fervent interventionists". From a politics of fence-sitting to one of active political engagement, the ‘human rights’ movement has conducted a rapid and striking volte-face in the past decade, a paradigm-shift of shocking proportions. It is as if Ptolemy and Aristotle had given way to Copernicus and Descartes in ten, instead of 200, years. And David Chandler, for one, would like to know why.

Chandler’s book begins by establishing exactly how universal the doctrine of ‘human rights’ has become. Indeed, the language is ubiquitous, and no Minister of Defense can resist the temptation to sound like a UN Secretary General or an Amnesty International activist – even a liberal revolutionary, pace Tony Blair greeting cheering Kosovars with his blue shirt-sleeves rolled up and a heroic cast of expression on his kisser. And what is most objected to by the new generation of human rights activists has been precisely the demand for neutrality. Geoffrey Robertson derides the "obsessive neutrality ingrained in US personnel and procedures", while Michael Ignatieff demanded of Boutros Boutros-Ghali: "Why insist on being neutral, in the face of a clear aggressor and a clear victim, when that neutrality daily undermines the United Nations’ moral credit?" The IRCR has been widely condemned for having remained silent about the concentration camps during World War II, and recently for not divulging information it had about the mistreatment of prisoners in Bosnia with the Hague tribunal. The silence was not due to moral paucity, but to a surfeit of principle – one must never, under any circumstances, compromise one’s political neutrality. This is the idea that modern ‘human rights’ activists are inclined to question. The IRCR has pointed out that they would never have had access to suffering victims in prison camps had it not been for their reputation for neutrality, and indeed were the only charitable organisation able to operate in Serb-controlled areas. But the new humanitarians consider this a "one more blanket" approach – small gestures of alleviation that do not go to the root of the problem.

And there are a number of cases that appear to obviate the need for a specifically partisan approach. In Rwanda, for instance, many human rights organisations withdrew aid from some refugee camps because they believed that among the recipients would be genocidairres. For the first time in its history, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) did just that. The rejection of neutrality has resulted in a "new humanitarianism" among NGOs, specifically Oxfam, Save the Children and UNICEF who now see their role as being a radical attempt to alter the shape of non-Western societies. They seek to get to the root causes of deviant conduct by states and opposition groups in those societies, and challenge them. MSF, meanwhile, is the leading exponent of this approach. As Bernard Kouchner noted, "MSF’s work was political from the start", while Alain Destexhe, former secretary-general of MSF, insisted that "humanitarian action is noble when couple with political action and justice. Without them, it is doomed to fail." (It is therefore no surprise to find several of their leading theorists hailing interventions into Kosovo and Sierra Leone in their book In the Shadow of the "Just War", 2004).

Another aspect of the paradigm-shift has been the break with the traditional concern for immediate human needs, with tending the suffering of all, to the preferment for human rights. In this view, it is permissible to allow some preventable deaths in circumstances where it is deemed to lead to better long term human rights outcomes. This has been, not only contiguous with, but absolutely essential for, the growing politicisation of humanitarian aid. The attachment of aid to human rights conditions has been the official policy of the UK government since 1994. The UN World Food Programme immediately suspended aid to Afghanistan following the attack on the World Trade Centre despite a humanitarian crisis precisely because they feared it might get into the hands of the Taliban. Geoffrey Robertson argued that sanctions on post-war Serbia were justified since "most of Serbia’s 8 million citizens were guilty of indifference towards atrocities in Kosovo". There is a counter-trend to this. Oxfam’s Nick Stockton denounces the new ideology of the "undeserving victim" as "morally and ethically untenably, and practically counter-productive", fatally diluting the universalism of human rights. To withhold aid on the grounds that its recipients may be criminals is arbitrary application of punishment before trial, he argues. "Such treatment is arguably a crime against humanity".

Since humanitarian action is no longer about sustaining minimal conditions of comfort and freedom from pain for all human beings, regardless of which ‘side’ they are on, and is instead about pursuing rights-based political strategy, states are free to appropriate the language of humanitarianism. They even co-opt human rights activists into their efforts, be it in Afghanistan, Kosovo or Iraq. Michael Pugh notes that "Military humanism" is no longer an oxymoron since military action is increasingly justified in human rights terms. And it is at this point that the agenda of the ‘new humanitarian’ dovetails with that of the pro-war liberal. It was not beneath the Observer, for instance, to argue during the war on Afghanistan that if UNICEF’s predictions that continued bombing of the country could result in 100,000 extra deaths were correct, then it was still better to bomb rather than squander an opportunity for the ‘greater good’. (Editorial, Observer, 21st October 2001). The language of humanitarianism had come a long way.

Evil as The Ultimate Ethical Horizon

The attractions of an "ethical foreign policy" are Chandler’s next subject. While there is a tendency, especially among US policy officials, to pretend that human rights was embedded in its foreign policy outlook since the revolution, others argue that the doctrine of humanitarian intervention developed gradually. Beginning with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, through the 1948 Convention on Genocide, the international covenants of 1966, the 1993 UN Vienna Declaration on Human Rights to the Treaty of Rome, human rights ideology is seen to have evolved in discreet stages. Other commentators regard its new emphasis as a result of the allegedly parlous condition of the world since the end of the Cold War. The UN Convention on Global Violence asserts that there is a spreading "culture of violence" among the world’s governments, which is "sometimes perceived as an end in itself". Martin Shaw argues that "genocide has come to dominate the war strategies of many local states and state-like movements". Kouchner suggests that the post-Cold War world is "aflame", and the "world community" must be able to intervene to prevent an "explosion of human rights violations". However, as David Chandler points out, both of these explanations are ineffectual. In the first instance, because in the first instance, the Convention on Genocide was "a dead letter" during the Cold War, and was only ratified by the US Senate in 1988. Prior to the 1990s, only a few states claimed to have a foreign policy based purely, or at least centrally, on human rights. Those states typically had few strategic assets overseas. In the second case, because the statistics show a general decline in the rate of casualties from conflict compared with the Cold War period. Of 35 wars taking place during the mid-1990s, 27 originated from before 1989.

But the most popular explanation for the paradigm-shift is simply the success of normative values. The work of NGOs and the advent of the 24-hour news generation has placed civil conflicts right in everyone’s living room, so Geoffrey Robertson argues. This, again, will not do. NGOs have not the membership capable of influencing elections, have no say in the detail of international treaties, have relatively little funding to speak of, and therefore lack the clout of traditional interest groups. States prevail, and NGOs remain largely dependant on them for funding. Studies by Steve Charnowitz have shown that NGOs generally assume greater importance in times of institutional transition – hence, the 1850-1914 period, the 1920s and the last two decades. More importantly, the reason for this cycle has been the needs of government and their attempts to realign NGOs. The attempt of late has been to create an "effective adhocracy" as Alvin Toffler put it, in which NGOs can become the sounding boards for policy initiatives in collaboration with the UN, proclaiming what cautious states dare not proclaim. As for the media, the case seems somewhat over-stated. The apparently overwhelming public demand for humanitarian intervention registered as only a minority priority in US opinion polls during the Nineties. Clinton, before bombing Kosovo, had first to point it out to American audiences on a map. CNN coverage did not prompt either intervention into Rwanda and Zaire, nor was there any particular enthusiasm for the Kosovo war although people generally acquiesced.

The source of the paradigm-shift, according to Chandler, lies in the "transformation of domestic and international political frameworks" after the Cold War. In particular, with the absence of a superpower rival, Western powers have had no institutional challenge to its proclaimed role in defining and pursuing universal values. That the Soviet bloc and its associates formally supported the anti-colonial movement (while in reality often doing much to hinder it) was significant at a symbolic level as well as at a military level. The claim to universalism is undone somewhat when at least half the world seems to be against you. The other significance of the end of the Cold War has been the impact on domestic politics. The traditional constituencies of labour and capital are no longer deemed an appropriate basis for a political programme, particularly on the centre-left. Governments have instead sought for the middle ground, and have tried to locate a discourse that unites more than it divides, and that discourse is to be found in what Alain Badiou contemptuously dismisses as "nihilist" – ethics. The discourse coheres an apparently unrelated array of policy nostrums. After 9/11, that discourse took off in a startling way. Bush announced that he was protecting American values against the "heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th Century", while Blair presented his usual sequence of clipped, verb-less sentences: "We are democratic. They are not. We have respect for human life. They do not. We hold essentially liberal values. They do not." God was not available for comment, but we have the word of those two avatars that he watched from above, and approved.

The doctrine of human rights, as presently framed, thus offers a raison d’etre for the political class, and for interventions in a variety of global situations. The UK’s Strategic Defense Review, published by the Select Committee on Defense (UKSCD) notes that Britain could "take a narrow view" of its role in the world which "did not require a significant military capability … This is indeed a real choice, but not one the Government could recommend to Britain". The reason, of course, is that to do so would limit the enormous flexibility in foreign policy that accrued to Britain and other Western states following the end of the Cold War. The significance of Kosovo for the UK government was not the fate of ordinary Kosovars, who received no sympathy when they arrived in Britain, but the way in which it symbolically sealed New Labour’s zealous commitment to virtue as a cornerstone of foreign policy.

But if the ‘new humanitarianism’ provides Western states with a coherent philosophy for a flexible, but global interventionism, it does so primarily on account of its own internal weaknesses. For one thing, NGOs rarely provide any serious political or social analysis of the atrocities or abuses they record. Their role enjoins them to quantitatively monitor and describe the "human wrongs" they are endeavouring to put right. Human rights situations are thus presented devoid of social, political and economic content. In State Crimes, by Tony Ward and Penny Green (Pluto Press, 2003), we learn that governments tend to resort to torture and repression in inverse proportion to their ability to mitigate or attenuate the conditions which cause people to form opposition movements. In particular, all the Central American states repressed the peasant movements during the Cold War and after. But the level of brutality was contiguous with the capacity governments had to meet peasant needs without fundamentally altering the structure of wealth and class power in that country. El Salvador murdered in the hundreds of thousands, Honduras in the hundreds to thousands. But that sort of analysis is precisely what is verboten, even in the more perceptive and genuinely analytical output of the aid organisations. Many aid organisations feel that to provide such explanations for abuse might be to give succour to those perpetrating them. And since NGOs are campaigning organisations, they will reduce complex situations to simple uni-dimensional tales – a technique known in PR as "characterisation". The issues are usually presented in the context of simple condemnation (which is often deserved), a gesture which assumes that the problems of a particular state originate entirely from within – either due to its amoral electorate or to its immoral government. The international system with its structure of power, its sanctions and isolation techniques shapes significantly the condition of a particular state. Afghanistan is a particular example of this.

The Republic of Humanitarian Management versus The Democracy of Risk.

Another reason that the discourse of ‘human rights’ has proved so useful to political elites is that it undermines the traditional basis for legitimacy of government action. Ordinarily, governments are expected to meet their obligations to their electorate and to at least abide by its general wishes. But since the political subject is universalised in ethical discourse, the government can claim that it has just as much obligation to the citizens of Bulgaria as it does to its voters. From Mary Robinson to Kofi Annan, those whose official duty involves the preservation of human rights at some level have argued that everyone is responsible for everyone else – a transparently slender "responsibility" that is simple enough to evade, (or at least to place in the trust of political and military elites). This "moral accountability" thus removes the necessity of political accountability. Tony Blair insists that he is ready to meet his maker, but he seems curiously reluctant to meet his critics now that the Iraq war is over.

It also provides a catch-all reasoning for war. Failure is simply impossible in the new human rights paradigm since, regardless of how many victims pile up, the absence of intervention would have led to a worse outcome. (And our bodies are always accidental, or the result of deviant action by individuals). The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, while dismissing the idea that there was a Serb campaign of genocide in Kosovo, nevertheless insisted that the true issue was that Milosevic’s campaign would have continued for years if there had not been intervention, creating more death and instability than the bombing did. This provides excellent post facto cover for literally any outcome that you can imagine, except, perhaps, the death of every single Albanian at Nato hands which would, at any rate, still have been an accident, the result of a few miscreants… etc etc. Similarly, when there were calls for a cessation or pause in the bombing of Afghanistan, countless ‘humanitarian’ reasons were presented for the refusal to do so, including the prospect of the Taliban marauding triumphantly round the country, killing many more people than the bombers could. Once again, if 100,000 deaths as a result of Western action would not have invalidated the humanitarian reasoning for war, then nothing could. And, of course, in this doctrine, it is intentions that matter – alleged ones at that – rather than consequences. Hence, Peregrine Worsthorne insists that "the noble intentions should produce noble results, but if that – for reasons beyond our control – proves impossible, then it is at least something to be proud of to have had the noble intentions". Similarly, Jonathan Freedland suggested of the Kosovo war that if the West had not intervened, it would have made us "bystanders to evil". Often, the most important thing in a humanitarian engagement is what it means for us, and not for those on the ground.

Human rights theorists are quick to dismiss conceptions of state sovereignty (a concept not wholly of my own liking) in favour if humanitarian action. Since political subject is now global, her rights transcend those of the territorial state. But the vital point which should not be missed is precisely Hannah Arendt's point in The Origins of Totalitarianism that the oppressed are first stripped of state rights before they are massacred. Albeit, the gesture of over-riding state powers can be seen as an attempt to infuse democratic, political and civil rights with a moral content (by, for example, expecting countries on the receiving end of aid to pursue policies in alignment with restrictions prescribed by NGOs), Chandler notes that the freedoms of the public and political sphere (to assemble, trade, vote etc.) are negative freedoms with no value content whatsoever. That aspect is exactly what is problematic for human rights advocates. Some argue that since economic, social and cultural rights are positive rights, requiring positive state action, it is a state's right to restrict liberty for social goals, and therefore political rights are subordinate to economic, social and cultural rights in classical political theory. Unfortunately, precisely this conflation of rights of autonomy and rights of recognition which are above state sovereignty leads to human rights theorists abandoning attention to process and concentrating on outcomes. So, Paddy Ashdown suppresses democracy in Bosnia so that he can ensure the 'correct balance' of forces persist in government (see Chandler's other book, Faking Democracy After Dayton, 1999). The Nato powers in Kosovo can exclude most of the public from participation in government since they are likely to vote for the wrong people. The Serbian people are declared morally incapable of running their own affairs by that notorious intellectual fraud, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, because they voted for Slobodan Milosevic. The subordination of process to outcome has other significant consequences which I'll come to in a second.

State Sovereignty and Democracy

Chandler also involves the reader in a compelling discussion on the legal controversies of the 'new humanitarianism', which involves an apparently radical rejection of "state sovereignty", but which has profoundly elitist consequences. According to these theorists, "sovereignty is not a fact but a theory". According to Geoffrey Robertson, the classical doctrines of international law is responsible for damaging human rights, privileging "'state rights' when it is human rights that are being violated". Similarly, Max Boot argues that "most of the world's states do not have Westphalian legitimacy in the first place" but rather are "highly artificial entities, most created by Western officials in the 20th Century". (Presumably, the thought here is 'we made them, so we can do what we like with them'). But of course, the kind of 'sovereignty' that is under attack is not state sovereignty per se, but specifically the sovereignty of selected non-Western states deemed to have failed to meet certain standards of human rights. This attack does not impact on the US, for instance, whose grotesque catalogue of human rights violations since WWII beats all comers. (Go ahead and find me anything that tops Vietnam since WWII). The US is not punished for its failure to sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (being one of a handful of countries that executes non-adults). Rather, it is the wealthy states who, according to Martin Shaw, Geoffrey Robertson and The Guardian who are to be the agents of human rights practise. To be sure, Roberston et al have a point when they argue that the UN General Assembly is not really representative - countries with a population of millions are formally equal to states representing a few tens of thousands. But the alternative to this would be a global state involving the input of all citizens, which is not a measure being called for by the theorists of human rights - although George Monbiot has had a stab at outlining such an idea in his The Age of Consent, (2003). If international law is not to be based on the consent of participating nation-states, then "the distinction between law (based on formal equality) and repression (based on force and arbitrary power) disappears. The abandonment or over-riding of state sovereignty in the present conjuncture can only mean the dictatorship of the powerful nations. The failure to investigate Nato crimes in Kosovo, which Human Rights Watch described as a "disturbing disregard for the principles of humanitarianism", renders the point absolutely eloquent.

The retreat from state sovereignty, however, forebodes something rather ominous - the retreat from political democracy. Michael Pugh asserts that elections "can heighten tensions between groups and communities rather than dampen them". Roland Paris argues that "instead of promoting democratic elections ... peacebuilders could encourage rival parties to share power in a nondemocratic regime". Mary Kaldor insisted that "What is needed is an alliance between local defenders of civility and transnational institutions which would guide a strategy". Nils Roseman argues that we are no longer dealing with unelected tyrants of the ilk of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot, but elected monsters such as Milosevic, Fujimori and Vladimir Putin. The people cannot be trusted to their own devices, especially in Afghanistan where, according to John Simpson, "The Afghan's own devices are what have ruined this country...". For Clare Short the trouble, again, was the Afghans who were too "independent-minded". Alenka Savic of the Bosnia Womens' Initiative programme asserts that women's support for nationalist parties just showed how easily they could be manipulated: "People think they have an opinion but they haven't - they share the opinion of their society, of the media, of their environment. Bosnian women are not used to thinking independently, they haven't learnt that." Or, as libertarian campaigner John Wadham argues, "Elected parliaments in this country and around the world have shown that, on their own, they are not able to protect human rights properly.". This lead him to call for removing the power to appoint judges from the elected government and place it in the hands of "an independent appointments committee". Hence, "democratic government is being redefined as human rights governance." This is exemplified by the "protectorate solution" in Kosovo, which is run by a colonial governor who also happens to be an avid human rights campaigner, Bernard Kouchner. As he argues, "Everywhere, human rights are human rights. Freedom is freedom. Suffering is suffering." Those rights, however, are won only by shutting down political rights. In Bosnia, for instance, parties may discuss, debate and challenge policies. They may suggest amendments. Ultimate power, however, resides in the Office of the High Representative, run by Paddy Ashdown. Political authority is denied to those who win the majority of votes, but is not delegated to minorities either.

The Charge Sheet

The new doctrine of human rights is thus impugned by David Chandler for being internally weak, inconsistent, poor at explaining human rights violations, poor at curtailing them, anti-democratic and inherently imperialist. States are credited with moral authority precisely on account of their military power and their willingness to intervene. Meanwhile, democratic procedures are distrusted precisely because they involve governments being subject to 'special' interest as against universal, ethical interest. The concern with 'genocide' and 'atrocities' has, as Chandler suggests, little to do with the Holocaust, or the crimes of Serbia in Bosnia or the slaughter in Rwanda. It is related to domestic political considerations and the hegemonic position of Western powers. The advocates of 'human rights' fail to see that there are serious human rights consequences of abandoning state sovereignty, restricting democracy and reducing politics to morals. The failure to contextualise human rights abuses denudes them of social, political and economic content. They are rather held to attest to something constant in human nature which is to be suppressed in various ways - in particular by reducing the political spere. The human subject is held to be passive, rather than an active agent. (Hence, the famous New York Times interview with a Kosovan woman during the Balkans war, in which she explained that she had no political opinions, sympathised with the Serbs, hoped it would all end soon... See Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 2000). It is a profoundly pessimistic, and therefore conservative, view of human nature. "[H]umans need to be restrained from their inner darkness" according to Langlois. It is, as Badiou argues, a nihilist doctrine in that the only thing that can really happen to one in the ethical discourse is death. (Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, 2000). There is plenty of material in Chandler's densely researched book to underline and amplify the point over and over. Chandler argues that what is needed is not a new humanitarianism, but a new humanism. If the doctrine of 'human rights' sustains "the self-belief of the governing class", it nevertheless cannot "create stability or offer a constructive vision for the future". The active subject must be re-emphasised. Mass politics must be reinvigorated, and we must make the most of "people's capacity for autonomy and collective rational decision-making, a capacity denied by the proponents of ethical regulation from above".

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Independent in Even-Handedness Shock! posted by Richard Seymour

Well, almost. The Independent this morning has an article headed "Palestinians Retaliate With Attack on Israeli Army". Yes, that word. Used in reference to Palestinian actions. The punchline is, although the headline is written clearly in bold print on my morning edition, I can't find the damn story on the website anywhere. Presumably, the Indie editors knew they had many international (read American) readers looking at the site, so left it out. It's political correctness gone mad.

On another note, I had better acknowledged this . Yesterday, I cited an opinion poll which gave Iyad Allawi no more than 23% support from Iraqis. This latest poll is a neat reversal giving him 73%. Even more important to acknowledge is that I failed to stipulate as I have in the past, that opinion polls emanating from Iraq are not a good guide to one's politics. I have mercilessly mocked Johann Hari for forcing himself into all sorts of ideological contortions in a bid to mirror Iraqi public opinion.

Nevertheless, the support for the "coalition" presumably remains as weak as ever, and my point that Allawi has no business speaking on behalf of Iraqis, much less to praise the "coalition", remains valid.

And finally, it seems that Paul Bremer has had to go home early . The early "handover" to the puppet government is presumably a bid to avoid large-scale attacks by insurgents on the day. On a smaller scale, they could be trying to fuck up the Stop the War Coalition demonstration scheduled for this Wednesday, demanding real democracy and a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

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Sunday, June 27, 2004

Chomsky versus Perle posted by Richard Seymour

It's a bit of an old classic this, but if you haven't heard it yet, I suggest you go here right away and tune into Chomsky tearing into Perle. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said of a Chomsky opponent, he "walked straight into the propellors and was distributed into many fine particles."

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The Good News, and the Bad News. posted by Richard Seymour

The good news is, Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 911 has topped the Box Office in the US this weekend outranking movies that had far wider theatre showings.

The bad news is, Iyad Allawi, the CIA's new stooge in Iraq , has written (or put his name to) a devious, pompous and ludicrous article in the Independent on Sunday. In it, he gushes:

As Iraqis, we thank the coalition for the sacrifices made by its soldiers and its people for the liberation and rebuilding of Iraq, and for the contributions by all the countries, international organisations and NGOs that have braved the risks to assist Iraq in its time of need. We hope for the continued support of the global community as we Iraqis take the crucial steps in assuming responsibility for our own future.

So, Dr Allawi thinks he can speak for the whole of Iraq now? The opinion polls suggest not . While 23% of Iraqis are prepared to back Allawi, 61% do not. And on the "continued support of the global community", he seems again to be out of touch with most Iraqi, of whom precisely 1% support the coalition. Underline, repeat, highlight with big exclamation fucking marks:

The good news is, George W. Bush has allowed himself to go under the spotlight in an interview for RTE , and produced a few crackers:

1) "Well, I think, first of all, most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq..."

2) "Well, I think, first of all, you've got a democracy in Turkey. And you've got a democracy emerging in Afghanistan. You've got a democracy in Pakistan..." [Emphasis added]

3) "He said -- the United Nations said, disarm or face serious consequences. That's what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn't disarm. He didn't disclose his arms. And, therefore, he faced serious consequences. But we have found a capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons. He was dangerous..."

The bad news is, the Whitehouse have now pulled Laura Bush out of an interview on RTE because they say the interviewer was disrespectful etc etc. The Whitehouse lodged a complaint with RTE, and Carole Coleman, who interviewed Bush, received a call from the Whitehouse rebuking her for her tone.

The good news is, the new "Miscellany" section of the blog that has been advertised on the sidebar for some weeks now is up and running. It deals with things like the new Shrek movie, Hume on causality, Kasparov versus Deep Blue and Lacan's philosophy of love.

The bad news is, its the sort of assorted tittle-tattle that I wouldn't even waste my own time with if it didn't match my own peculiar obsessions. And there's very little editorial control going on.

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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Opponents of Occupation are also Opponents of al-Zarqawi... posted by Richard Seymour

I have insisted that there is a distinction to be had between Islamist forces like those of Muqtada al-Sadr and the sectarian cells of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That has been questioned by some contributors to the discussion in the comments boxes. Happily, the Washington Post has cleared it up for us:

Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed
unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than
100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to
take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad
advocated by Osama bin Laden.

The objections -- from anti-U.S. Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders,
including rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters
in the embattled city of Fallujah -- arose in part from revulsion at the
fact that victims of the car bombings and guerrilla assaults in six
cities and towns Thursday were overwhelmingly Iraqis. But they also
betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the fight against U.S.
occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a
Jordanian whom U.S. officials describe as a paladin in bin Laden's al
Qaeda network.

"We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and
spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a
Sunni cleric with a wide following, declared in his Friday sermon at Umm
al Qurra mosque in Baghdad.


Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has fought U.S. troops in the Sadr City slum in
eastern Baghdad and in Najaf, 90 miles to the south, ordered his
followers to lay down their weapons and cooperate with Iraqi police in
Sadr City to "deprive the terrorists and saboteurs of the chance to
incite chaos and extreme lawlessness."

"We know the Mahdi Army is ready to cooperate actively and positively
with honest elements from among the Iraqi police and other patriotic
forces, to partake in safeguarding government buildings and facilities,
such as hospitals, electricity plants, water, fuel and oil refineries,
and any other site that might be a target for terrorist attacks," said
an order from the Mahdi Army distributed in Sadr City.


"This gesture is designed to distinguish between honorable, legal
resistance against the occupation and the dishonorable resistance, which
does not target the occupation, but targets the Iraqi people," he said.

Aws Khafaji, a cleric in Sadr's militantly political stream of Shiite
Islam, disowned Thursday's violence even more clearly in a sermon at the
Hikma mosque in Sadr City.

"We condemn and denounce yesterday's bombings and attacks on police
centers and innocent Iraqis, which claimed about 100 lives," he said.
"These are attacks launched by suspects and lunatics who are bent on
destabilizing the country and ruining the peace so that the Iraqi people
will remain in need of American protection." (Edward Cody, Washington Post Foreign Service, Saturday, June 26, 2004).

Case closed.

In other news, James at Dead Men Left has a nice ear-bashing for the rancorous sectarians over at the Alliance of Workers' Liberty, notable for their refusal to support the resistance to the occupation of Iraq.

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Friday, June 25, 2004

"There is never going to be a western-style democracy in Iraq . . ." posted by Richard Seymour

Jeremy reads more broadly than I do, and hence comes up with better goodies . This time he has unearthed a cracking quote from Sir Jeremy Greenstock, (the man whom George Galloway describes as the cold, supercilious Grecian to John Negroponte's brute Roman:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK's former envoy to Iraq, told a meeting in London on Thursday: "There is never going to be a western-style democracy in Iraq . . . the worst-case scenario is an implosion of Iraqi security and society down to levels lower than the unified state . . . perhaps back to the medieval picture of local baronies."

Well, look. Since we already know that the CIA was of a mind that "the towel heads can't hack it", I can't say I am surprised. My guess is that expectations are being systematically lowered from the profoundly high-flying rhetoric that took us into war. Autocratic rule will continue, and their new "strongman" will rub so many people the wrong way that Iraq will fragment centrifugally. Or, Iraqis will unite and resist the occupiers who intend to do this to them. There is nothing in between.

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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Acts of Mass Murder Are Not Part of a Resistance... posted by Richard Seymour

So 100 Iraqis have been murdered by some Al Qaeda thugs posing as anti-imperialists. Words don't fail me. Why should they? Words didn't fail those legions of hacks who announced their aphasia after 9/11 only to expatiate at considerable length on the likely feelings of the survivors, the symbolism of this or that, the likely American response, who should be blamed, what we must do, what we must never do, who we must do it to etc etc. And there were no shortage of commentators ready to express their sympathy with the Spanish when they were blown to bits, only to denounce them in the most craven, cowardly fashion when they voted for the Socialist Party. This isn't right! they scowled. People are supposed to become pumped with fear and nationalist adrenalin when their country is attacked!

So, what's to be said. Four obvious facts impress themselves with unmediated, compulsory force:

1) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has stated that he wishes to create civil war between the Sunnis and Shi'ites of Iraq, in order to defeat the Shi'a who are "the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom." One thing you can never say of Zarqawi is that he uses one metaphor where four will do. He has stated that "targeting and hitting [the Shi'a] in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies … and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans. Despite their weakness and fragmentation, the Sunnis are the sharpest blades, the most determined, and the most loyal when they meet those Batinis (Shi`a), who are a people of treachery and cowardice."

2) This has nothing to do with resistance, (nor even with traditional Islamism which tends to be unitarian rather than sectarian). The cumulative effect of these attacks has been to turn public anger against the US-led occupation. The long term effect, however, has also been increasing despair, less hope, the increasing possibility that a terrified and exhausted public will allow some strongman to take hold of Iraqi politics. (Yeah, they support Sadr as long as he fights the Americans, but let's see him win an election). With Iraqis this shattered, who would be amazed to see America get its chosen government, get its policies rammed through without dissent and get a strongman to rule, of the sort recommended by the ridiculous Daniel Pipes?

3) The occupation is an utter, utter failure. Even on its own terms, it has led to the exact opposite of what it was supposed to deliver. We're going to fight terrorism, they said. No, terrorism is increasing. We're going to spread a wave of democratic reform in the Middle East, they said. No, repression is getting worse as Arab states utilise the rhetoric of the 'war on terrorism' to clamp down on their own internal foes. We're going to find weapons of mass destru... awe, don't make me giggle and fall off my fucking chair. And, best of all, we're going to bring democracy. Yes, this was always the clincher for the poor, ignorant sods on the pro-war Left who eagerly assumed that America really did intend democracy for Iraqis despite their past conduct and despite every indication to the contrary. Unfortunately, it turns out that the US never believed Iraq could be democratised. As the CIA charmingly put it, in a report drawn up prior to the war which recommended a new 'strongman' be found:

"The towel heads can't hack [democracy]; the only way to achieve stability in the country is to install another strongman drawn from Saddam's Sunni minority."

So, they've got Iyad Allawi in, and he's going to bring in martial law if he has to. Nice going.

4) Al Qaeda has benefited from the so-called "war on terror". This is the reason they may launch an attack on America to influence the elections , (and not for the silly reasons invented by the Department of Homeland Security). Hence, a senior American intelligence official avers:

[A]nother devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place. (Julian Borger, "Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands", The Guardian, 19th June 2004)

So ordinary Americans and Iraqis have lost from this war, and will in all likelihood continue to lose. It wouldn't be difficult, according to most experts, for Al Qaeda to acquire some soiled WMD (possibly from Russia). It hasn't been difficult for the Bush administration to capitalise on those fears. However, it is they who are providing the precious lifeblood for Al Qaeda and like groups to thrive in and proliferate. It is they who are recklessly amplifying the threat where they could attenuate it. That alone should cost Bush the election.

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"Camp David Was Clinton's Failure". posted by Richard Seymour

Concering yesterday's topic, John Pilger wrote to The Guardian to ask why noone challenged Clinton's self-serving attempt to blame Yasser Arafat for the failure of the Camp David talks:

You quote Bill Clinton as blaming Yasser Arafat for the failure of the Camp David talks (G2, June 21); yet you say nothing about Clinton's unerring, documented support for Israeli Zionism and its US lobby. What Clinton told you is a favourite myth.
The Camp David negotiations were actually steered by Robert Malley, Clinton's national security adviser for the Middle East, who has since revealed that, although Arafat rejected certain Israeli proposals, "it could be said that Israel rejected the unprecedented two-state solution put to them by the Palestinians, including the following provisions: a state of Israel incorporating some land captured in 1967 and including a very large majority of its settlers; the largest Jewish Jerusalem in the city's history [and] security guaranteed by a US-led international presence". In other words, had the Israelis accepted such an "unprecedented" offer, there might now be the germ of a just peace in occupied Palestine. If anyone failed to grasp this opportunity, it was the mendacious, self-serving Clinton.
John Pilger

He's not wrong.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Can Israel Still "Make a Deal" With Arafat? Bill Says So, Gene Says No... posted by Richard Seymour

Hot, flustered and red-palmed from reading the Clinton interview and even a bonus one with the Chief Rabbi, Gene at Harry's Place would like us all to know that even if the President is remiss enough to think a deal can be struck with Arafat after all his waywardness, he is not. What a cynic! How he mocketh his elders and betters!

Harry's Place is always good for a laugh. When its contributors aren't busily concocting eye-popping liberal excuses for imperial violence, or belittling those who don't see the light in their leaders' gloriole, they do an excellent service to power. Gene quotes the following from Clinton's latest interview , without irony:

Clinton's version is that Israel's Ehud Barak was ready to make enormous concessions but that Arafat was not able to "make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman ... he just couldn't bring himself to say yes".

Just before Clinton left office, Arafat thanked him for all his efforts and told the president he was a great man. "'Mr Chairman,' I replied, 'I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.'"

Yes, Clinton was a "failure" on account of Arafat and not, say, himself. But the only flaw with that logic is that Arafat was being offered diddly-squat. These "huge concessions" at Camp David amounted to Israel finally reaching the moral level of Apartheid South Africa by offering the Palestinians a few miserable crumbs of their land back - bantustans heavily circumscribed by armed Israeli settlements, not a continuous state.

Israel doesn't have to "make a deal" with Arafat. It has to cease its occupation and allow the Palestinian refugees their full right of return - in exchange for absolutely nothing. The onus is on the occupier and on noone else. Gene also excerpts from an interview with Chief Rabbi sacks arguing - well, suggesting - the same thing. Hmmm.

I recall Ehud Barak protesting that the Arabs didn't suffer from the Judeo-Christian guilt complex about lying - consequently, nothing they said was to be trusted, especially from that egregious towel-wearer, Yasser Arafat:

"They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie ... creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth.'"

No hint of racism in that, oooooh no. Anyway, I note that he's been loving up to former left-wing historian Benny Morris on the subject, and he says this on the subject of the bantustans:

I ask myself why is he [Arafat] lying. To put it simply, any proposal that offers 92 percent of the West Bank cannot, almost by definition, break up the territory into noncontiguous cantons. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are separate, but that cannot be helped [in a peace agreement, they would be joined by a bridge].

I won't call Barak a liar just because he has got his own lies wrong - he means to say that Israel was offering 96% of Palestinian occupied territories - but in fact, 96% represents the percentage of the occupied territories that the Israelis were even willing to discuss. Still, since no map of the proposals were ever officially released, it is perhaps understandable why Barak's imagination should be so stunted. However, maps based on information supplied both by the Palestinians and by the Israelis reveals precisely that - a discontinuous mass of land broken up by vast Israeli inroads and sprinkled with numerous armed settlements. The final status Taba Map looks even better. At any rate, former Clinton aide Robert Malley has exploded the myths surrounding Camp David's allegedly magnanimous gestures to the Palestinian side:

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley, who was Mr Clinton's special adviser on Arab-Israeli affairs, claims that Mr Barak failed to honour previous Israeli agreements – assurances which Mr Clinton had been personally guaranteed to Mr Arafat. Mr Barak, the author writes, failed to fulfil promises to withdraw from three villages around Jerusalem and to release Palestinian prisoners – provoking an angry confrontation with Mr Clinton.

And after all, wasn't this at a time when Israeli settlements were escalating rapidly, spreading even more widely and purposefully than under Netanyahu? During the final Barak-Clinton year (2000), the rate of settlement was the highest since 1992, before Oslo. Still, I won't resort to calling those who insist on peddling tired old cliches about "the self-inflicted wounds of Israel's enemies" (yeah, the Palestinians ethnically cleansed themselves) and so on liars. However, I will call the good Rabbi on this:

If, for instance, Israel takes defensive action against an organiser of suicide bombings, that is called 'genocide'.

Oh really? When Israeli helicopters strike Palestinian towns, this is called "genocide"? By whom? When? Where? Ubiquitously, or just by a few nutters in caves? No, forget the questions, Rabbi Sacks, you are a fucking liar.

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Another Example of the close "fit between the democratically minded and the pro-American" posted by Richard Seymour

In Christopher Hitchens' immortal epitaph, we have the most risible assumption of pro-war Leftists paraded before us - that America intends democracy, that it is democracy, that those who support it are democrats and those who do not are demagogues or worse. Naturally, when Hitchens made this foolish claim, Norman Finkelstein was there to pick him up on it: "[L]ike "President for Life" Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan..." ?

Well, anyway, aside from the war on terror providing a proximal stimulus to internal repression in Russia, Israel-Palestine, the Central Asian Republics and the Gulf states, there is also the question of Pakistan to consider. The Pakistani regime had virtually zero international credibility until the United States bombarded it with $3bn of aid, and made moves to elevate Musharaff to the status of Non-Nato Major Ally. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in an elevation in the level of internal repression . At the same time, in order to siphon off internal dissent over the capitulation to Bush's 'war on terror', Musharaff has been collaborating with extreme right-wing religious fanatics. The same fanatics, of course, whom the Pakistani state has been nurturing in the warm bosom of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) for some years now. The same who had worked with future Al Qaeda big shot Osama bin Laden through his Maktab al Khidamat (Office of Services) during the 1986 fight against the Soviet Union. The same who joined the United States in celebrating the arrival of Taliban rule in 1996 and who must have been pleased that between 1994 and 1997 Washington "quietly allowed Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to back the Taliban". (Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia). And the same, I suspect, who may one day put a bullet in Musharaff and bring about another pax Talibana, perhaps just as the Indian Congress Party is wiped out in the elections and the BJP revive the nuclear nightmare...

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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Liberation of Kosovo. posted by Richard Seymour

Misha Glenny reports :

Last week, Kofi Annan named the Danish civil servant Soren Jessen-Petersen as his new representative in Kosovo almost five years to the day after Nato proclaimed its victory in its war against the Yugoslav army. A time, then, for celebration and moving forward? Not a bit. Nobody, neither Albanians nor Serbs nor internationals, was celebrating the fifth anniversary. And many diplomats were very unhappy at the mechanism which led to Jessen-Petersen's selection in which national vanities triumphed over the real needs of Kosovo - a desperate and potentially violent place these days.
What a contrast with June 1999 when Kosovo Albanians threw roses as the west's tanks rolled in. The Albanians, 85% of the population, were delirious at the prospect of a UN administration backed by Kfor, the Nato-led military force. Even those who clearly had not benefited, the Serbian minority in Kosovo, accepted the new reality without resorting to sabotage or terrorism in response.

But in the past three years, Albanian joy has turned into resentment. Serb bitterness has deepened. The UN, with a creditable record in peace-keeping, has proved hopelessly inadequate at governing a complex society like Kosovo...

Told you so.

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A Rant Against the Absurdity of Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

And for those of you all who thought Iraq was about to get real democracy, I have two things to say:

1) Get real you fucking moron.

2) Read this.

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Another Shibboleth Bites the Dust. posted by Richard Seymour

They were going to "democratise the Middle East"; the war on terror, extended to Iraq, would "transform Iraq into a functioning democratic state that will inspire change in neighboring societies" . As Bush put it, "Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will set forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation".

Well, instead of Jeffersonian revolution, the Middle East is now suffering counter-revolutionary terror and repression, and it's all thanks to the "war on terror" according to Amnesty International :

The US-led "War on Terror" has had a "profound and far-reaching impact" on human rights in the Gulf region, says an Amnesty International report.
The organisation says Gulf states, along with the US, show a "disturbing disregard for the rule of law and fundamental human rights standards".

It says a region whose rights record had been improving was now using the war as a cover for repression.

The by-products of the war are torture and extra-judicial killings, it says.


The report says hundreds of people have been detained during crackdowns on Islamic militants justified by the war on terror.

It says the worst abuses include torture and ill-treatment, and apparent extra-judicial killings.

The report draws on the experiences of many people detained during the "War on Terror" and the ordeals of their relatives left at home, who are often given little or no information about their whereabouts and well-being.

An example is Nouf al-Shammari, whose first husband died at the hands of Iraqi security forces during the occupation of Kuwait in 1990, and whose second is now detained in Guantanamo Bay.

She described herself as "repeatedly crushed by injustices" and the uncertainty over her husband's future.

And furthermore :

"The 'war on terror' has evolved into a global street brawl with governments and armed groups duking it out and innocent civilians suffering severely," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Worldwide, armed groups commit atrocities serious enough to be characterized as war crimes or crimes against humanity. At the same time, too many governments have lent a veneer of legitimacy to the actions of armed groups by disregarding human rights, and in some cases, by committing war crimes and crimes against humanity themselves. Whether in the name of anti-terrorism, counter-insurgency or security, the US and other governments have suspended, circumvented or violated the law and weakened the best defense against insecurity and violence: respect for human rights. Locked in a deadly embrace of violence, armed groups and governments are riding roughshod over human rights."

I have always suspected that when neoconservatives speak of "democracy", they actually mean "free markets" - indeed, the latter seems to be a talisman opening up the former in most conservative thinking. For example, I recall a Tory MP seriously informing BBC Newsnight that the way to democratise China was to encourage privatisation, trade liberalisation and free market economics. (And not, readers, because this would encourage dissent and hasten a revolution against the autocracy, pace Chile). And bite my rock, I do discover after all that while the G8 calls for "reforms" in the Middle East, the hard negotiations are taking place over a free trade zone in the Middle East. As the State Department reports :

The U.S.-Morocco FTA will support economic and political reforms in Morocco, Zoellick said.

"In Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, and elsewhere, we are laying the building blocks that will lead to President Bush's vision of a Middle East Free Trade Area," he added.

"Step by step, the Administration is working to build bridges of free trade with economic and social reformers in the Middle East. Our plan offers trade and openness as vital tools for leaders striving to build more open, optimistic, and tolerant Islamic societies," said Zoellick.

Zoellick praised the FTA as way to "embrace reforming states, encourage their transformation and bolster their chances for success even as we open new markets for American goods and services."

In fact, "free trade" is all the rage at the moment with the Bush administration in the Middle East. But the Bush administration should listen to its own advice sometimes. After all, as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns puts it, the kinds of political and economic reforms advocated by the US "cannot be imposed from the outside" . Took you a while to figure that one out.

By the way, the net effect of all this is that most Americans now reject the Iraq war . My prediction - Bush won't win the next election; but Kerry just may lose it.

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Monday, June 21, 2004

Judging Stalinism. posted by Richard Seymour

Marc Mullholland comments on an interesting essay by Christopher Hitchens on Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky . (Notice how I moved up in historical standing with each name). Marc makes some comments which I think have considerable merit:

Deutscher's work had an enormous impact on me when I read it years ago. The greatest influence was, I think, the second volume: The Prophet Unarmed. I think this is fairly unusual, as this ‘continuity’ volume recounts Trotsky's losing struggle with Stalin in the 1920s, and moreover showed him at his worst. Trotsky refused to engage whole-heartedly in a vital struggle partly because he was out of his element in the scholastic and bureaucratic intrigues of a tiny and anti-democratic closed elite (an elite he would not repudiate). Partly Trotsky condescended to those whom thought his inferior and preferred to resign in contempt rather than risk the humiliating defeat of his fully mobilised powers.


So why did I most value The Prophet Unarmed? I approached the biography convinced of the moral and political superiority of Trotsky to Stalin. I have no reason to change my mind on this, and I'm eternally grateful that my ultra-left enthusiasms were in the Trotskyist rather than the official Communist or Maoist modes.

But the very arcane nature of the struggle in the USSR in the 1920s, as a piratical cadre in command of the listing Russian hulk groped for a way forward in ignorance of the disasters to come, highlighted for me the terrible difficulty of plotting one's way though political morality. There were no pain-free options for the Soviets in the 1920s, and Deutscher brought home the 'reasonableness' of Stalin's rejection of dependence on world revolution and his stolid willingness to practically build socialism with the resources at hand.

I could empathise with the Stalinists, the Rightists, and the renegades of the Left Opposition. More to the point I could see that, in the same circumstances, I could not be sure of my own unimpeachable probity. I appreciated anew that the road to hell is paved, if not necessarily with good intentions, then with indeterminacy, caution, uncertainty and fear.

This has effected much of my historical reasoning since, and made me hostile to the moralising 20:20 vision in hindsight of Amis's Koba the Dread and suchlike. My sympathy since has been with the mass of the confused and mistaken, rather than with the sainted individuals who pointed steadfastly to the sun-lit uplands from where we now contentedly survey the wreckage of blasted hopes and dreams...

Like I say, I understood this immediately as, having read the biography myself, I was forced into a similar kind of understanding. Of course, Mulholland is right to decry the solemn, humourless sanctimony of Martin Amis (Amis can't understand why laughter has refused to absent itself in relation to the Soviet Union). But I must say that if we take the idea that Stalinism was "reasonable" in that context, then we invite the reply that, after all, that context was supplied by the revolution. It was the Bolsheviks who took power, built up the Cheka, banned political opposition etc etc. It would be no good arguing that these were responses to the exigencies of civil war - that was an entirely predictable result of the revolution, as Trotsky himself insisted.

Mulholland isn't of course campaigning for a revival of Stalinism, nor does he say that Stalinism was necessary given the objective conditions - only that it was reasonable in the given context, and only that certain aspects of it were reasonable. Still I think he goes too far. It was, perhaps, intelligible - you could see the logic behind it. But there came a point where the project of the Stalinists ceased to be, in any meaningful sense, a "stolid willingness to practically build socialism with the resources at hand". That point, I would argue in conventional SWP fashion, was 1928 - but then I would say that, wouldn't I?

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Sovereignty is Non-Transferrable. posted by Richard Seymour

Juan Cole on the real significance of the so-called "handover of power":

ATol: Let's start with the credibility of the Iraqi caretaker government vis-a-vis the Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, more than vis-a-vis the US and the UN. Virtually everyone in the Sunni triangle and also in the Shi'ite south used to refer to the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as "the imported government". Will the same happen again to this American face of an Iraqi government?

Juan Cole: Everybody knows it's an appointed government. It doesn't spring from the rule of the Iraqi people. Grand Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani has issued a fatwa recently in which he openly said that. His view in this matter will be widely shared. It's unfortunate that the Iraqi prime minister should have been a known CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] asset. I don't think that it changes anything. The IGC, as you said, was seen as a puppet council by many people. There's much more continuity between the IGC and this government than most people seem to realize. It's pretty much the same cast of characters - either with regard to people who actually sat at the council and persons who represent factions who had a seat in that council.

ATol: What are the implications of what you're saying for the Iraqi street?

JC: That nothing really has changed. These people are not getting anything like full sovereignty. I think it is a publicity stunt - without substance. The real question for a lot of Iraqis is not so much if it's credible or not, but if it can accomplish anything for them. Since the Americans dissolved the Iraqi army, since it's not entirely clear how do you get an Iraqi army back, one can be pessimistic ...


ATol: Assuming that the neo-con dream - the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad - is now in tatters, would it be the case that now the road through Baghdad leads back to Crawford, Texas?

JC: There's some question of whether that could cost [President George W] Bush the election. A year ago, it didn't seem likely to me that Iraq would be able to affect an election. But the steady drumbeat of violence, the mounting toll of dead and wounded, the miscalculations regarding the siege of Fallujah, provoking the uprising of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, and then the Abu Ghraib scandal, the cumulative factor of all these events, according to opinion polls, really have taken a toll on Bush's standing. If he were to be re-elected it would be historic: no one has been re-elected with these kinds of poll numbers. I think Iraq has become an albatross for the Bush administration. This so-called turnover of sovereignty - they're hoping that the US press stops covering Iraq like it is doing now, very intensively, as though it is the 51st state, which essentially is being run by the American government. Everyone will have noticed that when Hamid Karzai was elected by the Loya Jirga, the very next day Afghanistan fell off the front page and went to page 17.

ATol: And now it has fallen off the papers entirely.

JC: Now you can have several American servicemen killed and they are not even reported. I discern an unwritten rule among American journalists, that the American public is not interested in places which have their own government. The real significance of the so-called handover of sovereignty is that the Bush administration and its political advisers are hoping that the American press will take this moment as a cue to turn to reporting about Laci Peterson and other nonsense stories, local murder mysteries.

ATol: Do you think this might work? With Fox News maybe, but what about the Washington Post and the New York Times?

JC: Actually, it might. It might push Iraq off the front page. I don't agree with you that it would work most of all with Fox News. Because of its militarism and its attempt to get viewers from the American right, Fox pays more attention to Iraq than most of the other networks do.

ATol: In terms of sensational images.

JC: Sensational images, but it's just inevitable that if the US military very largely votes Republican, and you want those people watching Fox programming, they're interested in what's going on in Iraq. I think capitalism in a way swings Fox towards doing more Iraq reporting than some of the other networks. If there's a firefight in Baqubah, it seems that Fox is more likely to report it than the other networks.

ATol: But they report only the Pentagon side of the story.

JC: I agree that Fox is very slanted, but the way mass media work can often be ironic. Although Fox thinks it is reporting news of interest to its right-wing viewers, reporting this firefight in Baqubah and the way the US is putting down those insurgents, anybody who actually watches this will come out with a double message: one is the Fox message, and the other message is "Jesus, a lot of trouble in Iraq".

ATol: We have learned from the resistance, from some former Saddam Hussein generals, that the resistance will actually increase after June 30, that the postwar had been planned for years, and that everyone associated in some form or another with the Americans and the new caretaker government will be a target. So there will be even more bloodshed. How will this bloodshed rebound on the US? And what about the media: will they report it?

JC: This is the problem: it's difficult for the insurgency to target the Americans. They can get some RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] against an American base, they do this every day, it usually results in some casualties, relatively light. They've mainly turned to soft targets, Iraqis, so they blow up a market in Baghdad, or police stations. They are attempting to just foment a feeling in the country that the Americans are not actually in control. That will continue and may as well increase. I read a lot about these incidents in the Arabic press - they never get reported in the Western press.


ATol - Let's examine the move against Muqtada al-Sadr. Was it another blunder by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority)?

JC: These things are not transparent. It's amazing to me, we supposedly live in a democracy in the United States. And yet, once the election has occurred, the public gives up a lot of right to know. And so the CPA has been run in a very untransparent way, we never know why they do anything, they never say, and they are constantly putting out those kinds of propagandistic statements, they're always trying to find demons to blame everything on, Saddam, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and then Muqtada al-Sadr. My own impression is that the Americans provoked this uprising by Muqtada, that he had not done anything in particular that might suggest he was a military threat. He had given strict orders to his militia not to fire on Americans. When the Americans came after Muqtada, he launched this uprising. I think the Shi'ite clerics made a decision to stay out of it, retreat from their positions and have the Mahdi Army have Najaf and Karbala. The Mahdi Army was not strong in those two places. I still think that it's plausible that it was Muqtada's reaction to the assassination of Sheikh [Ahmed] Yassin that caused the CPA to go after him. We must remember that the CPA is dominated by neo-conservatives, that twentysomething people like [neo-con pundit] Michael Ledeen's daughter [Simone Ledeen] have been running the Iraqi economy. Decision-making would be coming from people who are very close to the Likud Party and who were extremely alarmed when Muqtada al-Sadr said he was like the right arm of Hamas and would avenge the death of Sheikh Yassin.


ATol: You were arguably one of the few, if not the only one, in the West who wrote that the Shi'ites would never forgive America for the bombing of Karbala, and you also cared to explain why.

JC: Most Americans and Westerners don't understand what Karbala means. During the Iranian revolution there was a slogan that "every day is Ashura". Karbala is what an anthropologist called a paradigm in people's lives. The idea of American GIs firing tank missiles anywhere near the shrine of Imam Hussein in major battle with Shi'ites is unbearable, even considering that the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr are not liked around Karbala, they are considered lower-class thugs. I compare them to gangster rappers. So I'm not saying they were popular. I'm saying that the Shi'ites look at them as their own problem. And if there is a choice between them and the Americans, symbolically at least, regardless of what they actually do, they could never make that choice for the Americans. People are very upset all over the Shi'ite world that there was this desecration of the shrine cities. The amount of rage among the Shi'ites towards the Americans now is greater than I've seen since the Iranian revolution. It's a cost of these kinds of frankly stupid policies the Bush administration has been pursuing in Iraq. I don't believe the general American public is even aware of this. They keep asking things like "Why do they hate us?" ...


ATol: Wildly disparate estimates of the presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq range from 600 to 7,000. Do you discern any pattern, any strategy of al-Qaeda in Iraq? And do you buy the myth of al-Qaeda as this major SPECTRE-like, all-enveloping evil organization?

JC: First of all you have to begin with the definition of what al-Qaeda is. There's a technical definition of al-Qaeda: fighters who gave their loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Those are very few: a few hundred, maybe a few thousand. Then you could say people oriented towards bin Laden's way of thinking who have been Arab-Afghans, who had fought in Afghanistan: this is a much larger group, like 5,000. I've seen an estimate of 15,000, when you include groups such as the one responsible for the attacks in Casablanca. Relatively few of those had any links with Osama bin Laden - they were local, radical salafi groups. If we're talking about radical, violent salafis, they might reach 15,000. But then again there are 1,2 billion people in the Muslim world. These are small local networks, you cannot talk of an organization. Bin Laden has a general policy of not putting resources into situations that are already in turmoil. He's never done anything in the West Bank. He'd be much more interested in getting something going on in Indonesia or Malaysia. My information is that bin Laden is not interested in Iraq. I don't think there are even 600 al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq. There are foreign fighters but they are not technically al-Qaeda: rather Muslim Brotherhood types. The vast majority of the resistance is composed by Iraqis: not only ex-Ba'athists, but Sunni nationalists, salafis ... I suspect there are 25,000 or so insurgents in Iraq, doing something at least occasionally. Even if there were 400 or 500 foreign fighters, they would be a drop in the bucket.


ATol: So is there a risk of civil war in Iraq?

JC: No, not civil war. I lived in Beirut during the early years of the civil war there, and you had these militias which set pitched battles and so forth - I don't think that can happen in Iraq because the Americans are still powerful enough through their air force to stop it. What the Americans wouldn't be very good at stopping would be if you had mass urban turmoil. If you had Sunni-Shi'ite riots between Adhamiya and Kazamiya for instance, in Baghdad. You can't send attack helicopters to stop that. Or Kirkuk, which seems to me to be a tinderbox. If there is urban turmoil in the country, this is something I think the United States cannot deal with. That seems to me to be the real nightmare scenario.

It goes without saying that all this racist bullshit about "oh they'll only have a civil war if the troops pull out" is very convenient for the coalition, but not particularly congruent with the facts. Hence, the Stop the War Coalition have called a demonstration demanding real independence for Iraq. Be there, or be at work.

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Sunday, June 20, 2004

"Pro-American Iraqi Democrats" posted by Richard Seymour

According to the pro-war Left, particularly Harry's Place, the late Socialism in an Age of Waiting, and Nick Cohen, the left should support pro-American "Iraqi democrats", although they usually avoid the first predicate. Actually, the only major commentator stupid enough to make a conflation between pro-Americanism and democratic tendencies has been Christopher Hitchens and he was amply shot down by Norman Finkelstein for it. However, it is a good idea to look at wha these "democrats" propose. According to Associated Press:

Defense Minister Hazem al-Shalan promised tough action against those behind the Thursday attacks.
"We will cut off the hands of those people, we will slit their throats if it is necessary to do so," he told reporters. "For those people who want to join the new Iraqi army, we will protect them and we will find them a safe location so they can submit their applications."

Asked if the new government would impose martial law if security continues to deteriorate, interim Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said: "If we need to do it, yes, we'll do it, we won't hesitate. This is the security of our country ... the security and the life of our people."

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LIndsey German on Peter Tatchell. posted by Richard Seymour

The Guardian allowed Lindsey German a reply to Peter Tatchell:

Respect where it's due

Lindsey German responds to accusations that her party is dead in the water following last week's elections

Friday June 18, 2004

Peter Tatchell: Green is the new red

I fear that Peter Tatchell is premature. In his desire to officiate over a hasty funeral for Respect - with no flowers and few mourners - he is ignoring the very healthy level of support that we now have and on which we can certainly build.

Peter also makes some implications that should not stand. His inference that our politics prevents us from relating to those outside the left's traditional orbit is the exact opposite of the truth. In its few short months of life, Respect has reached into communities that the left has never touched.

Our candidates reflected that: 48% women, the biggest number of ethnic minority candidates - including Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and Kurds, the biggest number of young candidates with five under 25s in London alone. Our lists included people from Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and Christian backgrounds.

No other party, including the Greens, came anywhere close.

Peter is also slightly disingenuous in his omissions. You would never think from his article that the Greens actually lost votes across London compared with four years ago, and failed to hold onto one of their assembly seats in the capital.

Their candidate for London mayor, Darren Johnson, promoted widely as the fourth mayoral candidate - including extensive coverage in the media - in fact came seventh. My vote for mayor of London placed me fifth, behind Ukip but ahead of the BNP and Greens, despite little media exposure compared with all the other parties. Respect came within a whisker of winning an assembly seat and polled heavily in north and east London.

All this is ignored in Peter's desire to use the European elections to bury Respect. He claims that because we failed to make an electoral breakthrough, we mark another false dawn for the left. Now it's true that our headline figure across the whole of England and Wales amounted to only 1.7% of the vote. But that is still more than a quarter of a million votes.

Take a look at some of the local areas where we polled strongly. In Leicester we received over 9% of the vote, in Birmingham over 7%, in Luton 6%. Towns like Peterborough and Slough - not traditional bastions of the left - recorded high votes. And George Galloway scored nearly 5 % across the whole of London, with remarkable successes in east London especially, topping the poll for the European elections in Tower Hamlets.

Indeed, the aggregated votes for the four boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Hackney put Respect in third place after Labour and the Tories, ahead of the Lib Dems, Greens, Ukip and BNP.

For a party that didn't exist five months ago, that seems pretty good to me and is a base on which we can build.

But all of us on the left have a responsibility coming out of these elections. It is a shame that Peter feels the need to respond to them by attacking Respect, with whom he agrees about so much. We are, after all, anti-war, in favour of greater spending on public services, in favour of decent public transport which can help cut pollution, and against the attacks on asylum seekers which have become such an unwelcome feature of the British political landscape. We are also faced with the rapid rise of a right wing populist party, Ukip, and with high votes for the fascist BNP in some parts of the country.

Surely our first conclusion from the results should be that we have to find ways of working together - whatever our differences - to promote those issues on which we agree and to strengthen the values of social justice, peace and equality.

Respect has made a good showing in some parts of England but we are not complacent. We have to build on our successes and gain roots in areas where we are weak. But the Greens have no reason to be complacent either. Both the London and European elections show that they have not grown stronger in the past four years, and incidentally performed far worse than they expected throughout the country, failing to gain any new MEPs.

This highlights an issue that Peter Tatchell raises but then rejects: if we could unite our forces we would be very strong. In London we would probably have beaten Ukip, and that would have been the big story.

We tried desperately to obtain such an electoral pact with the Greens before the election, but we were rebuffed on every occasion. Even after the election results, the Green website contained witch-hunting attacks on Respect that only aid the right.

All those who voted for us, and many more who would be attracted to our ideas, will expect us to try to work together, to avoid electoral clashes where possible and to unite our forces to present a stronger challenge.

That, rather than attacking each other, is what we should be concentrating on. So no funerals, Peter, but hopefully causes for celebration in the not too distant future when we can hold Tony Blair to account not on the basis of narrow nationalism but on the values that we all share.

· Lindsey German was Respect candidate for London mayor

(Via Respect ).

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Saturday, June 19, 2004

IDF Shoots at MPs. posted by Richard Seymour

Normally, if someone proposed shooting at Crispin Blunt MP, I'd be inclined to suggest a more cruel means of death. (I'm joking, in case any humourless spook happens to read this). But it turns out that he and a bunch of parliamentary colleagues who were visiting Rafah were shot at by Israeli soldiers:

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Northover said one bullet hit a wall about 10ft above her head.

"I thought 'they're trying to kill us'," she told BBC News Online.

Speaking from the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, the peer said they would be demanding an explanation and apology from the Israeli ambassador to Britain when they returned on Monday.

The Israeli embassy in London said it had not received an official complaint from the UN or the politicians, but said it was checking with the military.

A source said it was unclear whether shots had been fired, and if so by whom.

He said the exchange of fire between both sides was "commonplace" in the area and had not necessarily come from Israeli forces.

Yeah, there was no gunfire and if there was, it was Palestinians, and if it wasn't, you just got "caught in the crossfire". Naturally enough, the MPs are pretty chipper about it - because they're British. That said, it was apparently an eye-opener. Lady Northover (very Wildean name, that) said:

"Our UN companions later said that if they had wanted to kill us they would have, but it was certainly our group they were targeting and seeking to scare. We were the only adults around.

"One of the most perturbing things was that we had been surrounded by children as we arrived, but they were not terrified by this - it's obviously a fairly common occurrence," she added.

In an earlier statement Lady Northover, the Liberal Democrats' international development spokesperson in the Lords, said the incident had shown her "the indiscriminate violence faced by Palestinians on a daily basis".

Meanwhile, in an increasingly analogous situation, the US has launched a missile attack on Fallujah, killing 20 . Why? Oh, they only meant to get the bad guys. Obviously.

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Ben Elton's New Musical. posted by Richard Seymour

I have obtained a sneak preview of Ben Elton's new musical comedy to be produced in 2005 at the London Astoria. Its tentative title is "Good Evenin-uh ladies an' gennulmen!":

Lights. A solitary spot-light illuminates the stage, bathing the floorboards in a nacreous glow. An obscenely loud, phlegm-worn voice barks into an off-stage mic.

VOICE: (Off Stage) Good evenin-uh ladies an' gennulmen! Would you now please kindlay pootcho hends togetha... For me, the act, Ben Elhun! Thank you!"

Enter Stage Left, Ben Elton. Striding confidently to the mic in a glittery suit, he pauses while a hysterical audience calm themselves down, and begins his show.

BEN: Thank you-uh very kindly ladies and gentlemen, I always love it when people applaud the show before I even start, lovely, fantastic. Now, (rate of comedy suddenly increases), Thatcher, road-blocks, motorway shops, one vast contraflow, dog shit, bastards, poll tax riots, environment-ladies-and-gentlemen-very-important, farty little git, female contraception, AAAAANNND...

Ben breaks into song.

Ya see it's,
It's all a journey up the squinting eye!
Life's a passage through the chocolate pie!
It's a back-door entry, make no mistake.
Yer'll only get as far as the shitchoo can take!

A single shot is fired from the rear of the stage. Ben hits the floor. Lights. Applause.

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No To A Bosses' Europe. posted by Richard Seymour

I complained a while ago that the Euro-sceptic arguments had been so hegemonised by the right that any public revolt against European bureacracy would almost certainly assist the reactionaries - hence, UKIPs strong showing in the European elections. Well, duh! Anyway, Larry Elliot provided the obvious answer to this in The Guardian this week. Namely, why doesn't the Eurosceptic Left articulate its arguments more forcefully, and why doesn't the Left in general apply that scepticism to Europe that it applies to almost every other entity?

Elliot has always been suspicious of appeals to some overseas utopia to help regenerate Britain. In The Age of Insecurity, he and Dan Atkinson expertly demolished many myths about Europe and the United States, from a radical Keynesian perspective. The same purview inflects Elliot's latest:

Who among us is not sceptical about the common agricultural policy, which costs every family of four an extra £16 in dearer food bills and stunts the development of poor countries by denying them access to European markets? Aid agencies such as Oxfam have been outspoken in the need for radical reform.

And how about the common fisheries policy? Were not the environmentalists right when they said it would result in the waters of the North Sea being hoovered dry by factory trawlers?

And then there's growth and unemployment. More than a decade ago, the Keynesian left in Britain warned that a European central bank with a deflationary mandate would result in weak growth and lengthening dole queues, and they were absolutely correct.

There is also what is deceptively referred to as "the democratic deficit", as if it were something that could simply be topped up. But since the whole thrust of the European project has been a neoliberal one, to withdraw economic powers from the hands of states and place them at the disposal of unelected central bankers with deflationary goals, it is hard to see how this "deficit" could be addressed within the current system.

Elliot got a response to his argument in today's Guardian:

Larry Elliot's "leftwing" arguments against Britain's integration in the EU (June 16) are all short-term: they concern current EU economic and monetary policies, which can be changed by the EU left acting together from within. The leftwing arguments for integration are structural and long-term. Most importantly, Britain's potential for independence from the US, over whose policies it has no guaranteed influence.
Prof Moshe Machover
London School of Economics

The suggestion that "current EU economic and monetary policies" are short-term and can be remedied from within is precisely what is false in the pro-European argument. The whole point of the project is one of capitalist consolidation in an era where social-democracy and a strong welfare state is not conducive to profitability. Moreover, those policies cannot be changed by the left acting from within, because it is a legal impossibility. The government's convergence report on the Euro states that "These Member States need to exercise firm control over domestic price pressures with regard to, inter alia, wage and unit labour costs. Support is also required from fiscal policies, which need to react flexibly to the domestic price environment." And if they want to influence the ECB in a different direction, then they may be breaking the law. It is incompatible with the Maastricht Treaty to "approve, suspend, annul or defer decisions of national central banks" or to "censor a national central bank's decisions on legal grounds". - that is, to exercise or attempt to exercise any influence whatsoever on banks which are supposed to be "independent" (read unaccountable).

In my view, Elliot has answered adequately the argument that European consolidation would provide an alternative alliance to that with America, or even (heavens forfend) a counter-power.

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Friday, June 18, 2004

New Labour - Where Will They Get Their Money From? posted by Richard Seymour

If the big battalions in the trade union movement join their comrades in the FBU and RMT, and decide to desert Labour, this lives a compelling dilemma for the party. Can it really rely on continued support from the business community, given that their natural home is the Tory party? Well, one source of funding that may remain incorrigible and perhaps invaluable is that of the Zionist lobby. Let me draw your attention to an electioneering advertisement which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on June 1st, 2001:

Since 1997 a record 57 Labour MPs have visited Israel, mostly with the Labour Friends of Israel, swelling the numbers of MPs willing to ensure balance on the Middle East in the House of Commons. More Labour MPs have visited Israel than from any other party.


Trade between Britain and Israel has grown incredibly by 20 per cent, while there have been 34 official trade missions to Israel from the UK since 1997. The unique BRITECH agreement signed by Trade Secretary Stephen Byers means there is now a 15.5 million pounds sterling joint fund to encourage co-operation between British and Israeli hi-tech industries in research and development for their own benefit.

This was signed by Tony Blair, although I expect Campbell actually PPd the fucking thing. Note that "balance" in New Labour's lexicon means support for Israel. "Hi-tech industries" is a piss-poor euphemism for Israeli military development which the UK is busily buttressing. Now, Blair joined the Labour Friends of Israel pressure group on becoming an MP, and many of New Labour's usual suspects are leading members - Stephen Twigg, Gwynneth Dunwoody, Jim Murphy. Meanwhile, Stephen Byers is hoping to resuscitate his ailing career by pitching for the leadership of the organisation. Blair himself is, of course, a good friend of pro-Israeli campaigner Lord Levy, whom he was introduced to at a dinner in the early Nineties.

But how much money can pro-Zionist organisations really muster? And how long can Labour afford such a relationship if it damages relations with core voters? Labour has a history of supporting occupied and oppressed peoples - from India and Burma to South Africa. It has been one of the left's enduring mistakes to identify Israel as some variant of socialism - even Ian Mikardo fell for this in his day. Sadly, however, the reasons for New Labour's enduring support for Israel - while drawing institutional support from this history (as with, say, John Edmonds' support for Histradut) - are less idealistic than this. Most Blairite MPs presumably recognise it as a fantastic career boost. This, of course, does not automatically conduce to strong Jewish support for Labour - although one assumes that their vote has been skewed that way. Some British Jews, like Mark Elf , do not support Israel. As the Jewish Chronicle notes today, most British Jews do not support Sharon. So why does the government continue to arm him?

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