Antimedia

How to honour those who die for democracy

Posted in human rights, Terror, Terrorism, War by Deputy city editor on January 4, 2010

There are calls to ban a proposed ‘extremist’ Muslim memorial march in Wootton Bassett to honour the mostly Muslim civilian dead in the terror wars.  Wootton Bassett is previously known for honouring the corpses of British soldiers killed in our wars in the East.

The Muslim militant behind this suggests to the outrage of The Sun that the killed British soldiers have died for nothing. But this is true.

He further suggests that Britain should convert to Islam. I should say he is free to say so.

Tens of thousands are protesting this dastardly plan on Facebook.  Newspaper websites are ablaze.

The British accuse others of lacking irony!

Update: the prime minister has declared the proposed demonstration inappropriate. So now I am certain it should go ahead.

Update: The march was cancelled but the government has banned the group that proposed it anyway.  This may be the first time a group has been banned under the terrorism laws for proposing a peaceful anti-war demonstration.

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Defeat in Iraq – Whitehall finds the words

Posted in Britain, defence, defense, Iraq, Terror, Terrorism, War by Deputy city editor on August 13, 2007

It has been the frequent good fortune of war-mongering politicians that there are usually generals who will indulge their fantasies, in the interests of their own careers. A senior military class should, with its first-hand knowledge of the unpredictability of war, be doing everything it can to dissuade politicians from waging it. This involves a necessary modesty about the real capabilities of all those ill-equipped soliders, landlocked sailors and aircraftless airmen last seen in the BAE Systems hospitality chalet at the Paris air show.

But the sound of bugles makes for promotions and so all too often, ambitious soliders become complicit in the catastrophe that ensues. Thus has it been for Britain’s disastrous military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the dimensions of the disaster are revealed, the officers are reduced to spouting the very same lies as their political masters. That this is demoralising for soliders, who know a fuck-up when they see one, goes without saying.

The disgrace of the British political and media classes for the war in Iraq must therefore also be shared by the senior officers who did not stand up against what was always a mad idea of simultaneously fighting two distant wars without enough air lift, soliders, specialised equipment or even bullets.

Now might be thought time for the senior officers to tell the truth. The defeat in Iraq has left remaining British forces there exposed and in terrible danger. Afghanistan is not so far from this. Yet the media trope of the excellence of our armed forces, “best in the world,” experience gained on the streets of Northern Ireland, etc., etc. (see all newspapers) survives contact with facts that show that no matter how brave and willing our soldiers, they are as ever led by donkeys.

This series of entanglements has been built on lies. Not a shot was to be fired, promised the former defense secretary John Reid, announcing the British deployment to Helmand. Officers and editors knew this was a lie. This was to have been a “reconstruction” mission. Well it’s clearly failed. Indeed, it is worse. The operation has failed to prevent, and may even have encouraged,  a come-back of the Taliban.

Hearts and minds have not be won by the massive killing and destruction for which British forces are held locally to blame. Neither have our soldiers inhibited the drugs trade, which is thriving.

British forces are now operating beyond their resources. Senior officers knew this was likely to be an operation with Falklands-level casualties yet Reid misled parliament and yet not one seems to have said a word. Let us hope a new generation of careerists now tell Gordon Brown the truth, in the interest of their own promotions.

The situation in Afghanistan suggests strongly that the war is lost there, too. It is indeed worse than ever as military operations including brutal air strikes have turned the population against the British and NATO troops who are suffering continuing casualties and making no apparent progress whatsoever. The drug traffic is at a record level. (My own suggestion on this, War on terror, how to win it, has been ignored.) Tony Blair’s promises that British troops would get everything they needed have of course been broken – with the compliance of silent senior officers.

Perhaps we should expect at a minimum a dignified silence from those who have commanded these disasters. Not a bit of it! Instead, we get more lies. We have notably had the spectacle of Air Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of the defence staff, in yesterday’s Sunday Times. Here he is denying the claim in the Washington Post last week (and in I told you so a month ago) that Britain has basically lost its war in Iraq. Not at all boasts the air marshall: “”Our mission there was to get the place and the people to a state where the Iraquis could run that part of the country if they chose to and we’re very nearly there.”

Let us deconstruct this sentence which the French would call an “engrenage” or spiral, in this case of falsehood. The “line” taken by the air marshall is in fact garbage. This was not our war aim. The war aim, originally, was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found. The politicians, inasmuch as they have ever been consistent, have spoken of elimination of Iraq’s terrorist infrastructure, or protecting oil supplies, and precluding a hostile Iraq (or Iran) from dominating the Persian gulf. Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Baghdad, spoke of a free, democratic and independent Iraq. There was none of the air marshall’s subjunctiveness about it. So the mission now described by the air marshall was never in fact the mission. Then there is his phrase: “We’re very nearly there.” Where? We know and assume that politicians dissemble. One of the things I used to find admirable about officers was their professional candour – for they knew the risks of pretending things were what they were not. I suppose I have always been naïve.

Measured by every single single one of these objectives, the British have completely failed in the south. Worse, conditions are deteriorating for a residual British force of 5,500. They are currently beseiged in a manner than is reminiscent of Gordon of Khartoum. Every night they must dispatch a 100-vehicle convoy from the beseiged airport to the beseiged Palace, and every night this is attacked.

It is actually quite hard to see how the British can withdraw in good order. If our armed forces were more capable, we’d be sending MORE soliders to the area to cover the retreat. (If we had any.) I have written before of the lessons of Clausewitz and how the British government and its commanders as yet show no signs of knowing them. So there is a really ghastly prospect of further disasters ahead.

Now is the time to tell the truth – but the senior officer in Her Majesty’s armed forces will have none of it. He is inventing war aims as he goes along.

Sir Jock’s very lack of fitness for purpose is what makes him so attractive to politicians. An airman, he is from the most expensive and incapable arm of the armed forces. Sir Jock has been up to his neck in the insane Eurofighter project (a plane so far incapable of fighting a day in the war on terror). He is like the operetta admiral who never went to sea, who is now in charge of the Queen’s navy.

I told you so noted the nature of British failure in Iraq here.

The Washington Post said the same thing several weeks later here.

The Sunday Times News Review contains a dreadful story on British military failure in Afghanistan here.

A collègue bloggeur of this parish offers a war souvenir here.

From Iraq Slogger, excellent reporting from Basra here.

Image: Baden-Powell defends Mafeking by Henri Dupray

Killing with impunity

Posted in Britain, de Menezes, Legal, London, Media, police, tantrums, Terror, Terrorism by Deputy city editor on August 3, 2007

Sanitised image of Menezes after being killed by the British police. British TV pictures are routinely heavily edited/censored.

How is it possible that an entirely blameless and innocent man should be killed by shots to the head in a public place, with scores of witnesses, and that nobody seems to be responsible? Multiple intelligence failures, command failures, communication failures, obstruction of investigators and the specific dishonesty and incompetence of senior officers have characterised the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station in July 2005. But nobody is to blame or will be punished. A trivial and insulting charge has been laid that Menezes’s killing was a “health and safety” violation.

The failure of the British legal and political system to hold anyone to account for the killing of Mr de Menezes means the police in Britain are entitled to recklessly shoot dead whosever they want and nobody is responsible.

De Menezes was killed by the police force run by Tony Blair’s favourite cop, Sir Ian Blair, who remains in his job for reasons that nobody can explain.

He is either the thickest cop in England, the most incompetent, or the best ass-coverer in a long tradition.

How do you believe a police complaints commission report that finds that it took Blair 24 hours to find out what everyone else knew in the first two minutes – that Menezes was not a terrorist and that his armed police (aided by soliders) had killed the wrong man? Even if this is true, it is ridiculous.

The police complaints commission report which you can read about here doesn’t even try to point the figure at those responsible for organising this killing, but only looks narrowly at one aspect of the aftermath. The whitewash commission had earlier failed to hold anyone responsible for the killing itself. Indeed Cressida Dick, the aptly surnamed police”gold” commander in charge of the control room that presided over the killing of deMenezes, has subsequently been promoted.

The police complaints commission, an organisation as intentionally useless as any in existence, has produced a conclusion so ridiculous that it would be laughable, were not the subject matter so deadly important. Evidence that the police had hidden evidence and changed logs in the case was swept under the carpet earlier.

Harriet Wistrich, my former neighbour, who represents the family of the killed man, is right to be incredulous.

The police complaints commission criticises the head of the anti-terrorist branch, Andy Hayman, not for the killing of de Menezes but for failing to tell his boss, even though everyone else in London (including crime reporters) knew this a day earlier. Hayman had even briefed the Scotland Yard crime reporters’ association (a press club for whom membership is contingent on never straying too far from the Scotland Yard press office) that they’d killed the wrong guy. The idea that Blair was too busy to ask is simply and literally incredible.

Apparently, implied criticism of other officers was removed from the report because they threatened legal action, which is a favourite tactic of police officers when they are cornered and further evidence that the PCC is a toothless watchdog.

Everyone comes out of this stinking. Ministers for creating a dysfunctional monster in the Metropolitan police, and putting in charge the worst policeman in London, a knighted rozzer who should never have been trusted with anything more sensitive than points duty. The police, who are not merely incompetent but dangerous. The police complaints commission, which is a joke from which any members who still have a sense of honour should have resigned long ago.

When they are not busy arresting people for reading out the names of Iraq war dead at the Cenotaph, the Metropolitan Police is primarily concerned with itself. Senior officers are in thrall to a “system reality” constructed by consultants and information systems, driven by targets and the self-aggrandisement that comes to those who preside over them. The police force, not just in London, is divorced from the reality on the ground: that Islamic terrorism is simply not the existential threat it has been presented as. Individual officers are powerless to make much or any difference.

This has not been the first time that British police have killed completely innocent people, as this excellent page notes, and there has been no responsibility assigned or accountability demonstrated. A state in which the police can murder innocent men with impunity is a police state. With the publication of this latest whitewashed report, this fact now stares us in the face, and it is only British hypocrisy that prevents us from seeing it.

Delusional journalism (Matthew Parris edition)

“I can talk up a storm on the folly of George W. Bush or the evil that is Osama bin Laden” boasts Matthew Parris in his Saturday, July 7 column in The Times.

But Parris is volunteering for more hazardous columnising today. He is arguing that “the tide is turning against” Islamic terrorism. His evidence for this is “observation, hearsay and personal hunch.”

Parris declares: “We’re winning the battle – dare I utter the appalling cliché – of hearts and minds.”

Is it fair to describe this as delusional journalism? Are there metrics to substantiate this thesis? What sort of analysis are we dealing with here? A gnostic one contrasting the foolishness of George Bush with the evil of bin Laden. In which case, which “we” is winning? I propose the winner, insofar as Matthew is concerned, is foolishness.

Or I may misjudge him. Perhaps this is this one of these columns in which the gentle reader, guided by the observations and hunches of our fearless and cheekily revisionist columnist, finally sees through the falsity of received dogma. As the scoop of interpretation is revealed, the reader may rejoice that we are winning the war on terrorism after all. This perhaps is actually a redemptive column. The sort of thing to expect from an ernest vicar.

Yet Parris’s opinion is founded on nothing substantial at all. It exists detached completely from reality. Indeed it appears to have coincided with the most lethal car bombing so far, a siege to the death in Islamabad, the Glasgow doctors’ plot and no end whatsoever to the quotidian global horrors, albeit they have so far spared the Groucho club.

Compare Parris, purveyor of hunch, with some other journalism on offer. Because relative to the competition, Parris is writing tosh. Read the New Yorker on the poppy eradication program in Afghanistan, or Iraq Slogger, and in particular look at Le Monde Diplomatique, if you want a paradigm-shifting story about the changing nature of this thing called terror.

Reading Syed Saleem Shahzad in Le Monde Diplomatique, who has met many so-called terrorists, you are not likely to confuse his authority with that of Matthew Parris. It is in fact a contrast between two utterly different schools of journalism. One is revelatory, insightful, based on solid reporting. Parris is based on a hunch, a deadline and a fat check.

Syed’s article begins to describe the geography of a story rather than attempt to be the last word. But it is that rare thing in terrorism studies: an article with some intellectual coherence. Instead of triggering a bullshit detector, it has the smell of verissimilitude, as we say in the copy-tasting room, where we spit most of the stories out into a pot in the floor, and swallow only a few.

Syed writes of the struggles within islam itself and his story not only provides the outline of a sensible way of considering this problem, but additionally contains the uncomfortable reminder that this is not just about the comfort of Parris and his metropolitan friends. Almost all the victims of this war – or more properly, a series of armed conficts between state and non-state actors – are themselves muslims. I think this is much more interesting than Matthew’s wishful theories on hearts and minds. Compared to Parris’s theory that “we” are winning, Syed offers a different dimension of journalism, in which a complicated problem can be seen for what it is.

The on-line summary at Le Monde Diplo hardly does justice to Syed’s reporting.

Deux stratégies islamistes qui s’opposent – two opposing Islamist strategies

Al-Qaida contre les talibans – something genuinely fascinating – the old firm has broken up.

De la Somalie à l’Afghanistan, de l’Irak au Liban, en passant par la Palestine (lire « Comment le monde a enterré la Palestine »), se dessine un arc du chaos caractérisé par l’affaiblissement des Etats et le rôle croissant de groupes armés disposant d’un armement efficace (notamment roquettes et fusées) et échappant à tout contrôle centralisé. Pour les Etats-Unis, ces zones sont devenues le terrain principal de la « troisième guerre mondiale », de la « guerre contre le terrorisme ». Cette vision nourrit la stratégie de l’organisation Al-Qaida, engagée dans une lutte à mort contre « les croisés et les juifs ». Pourtant, sur le terrain, ces discours simplistes ne recouvrent pas une réalité bien plus contradictoire. En Irak, on assiste à une mobilisation d’une partie de la résistance sunnite contre les dérives d’Al-Qaida qui s’est lancée dans un sanglant combat contre les chiites, n’hésitant pas à s’en prendre à leurs lieux de culte. En Afghanistan, de violents incidents ont opposé les talibans aux combattants étrangers d’Al-Qaida, les premiers privilégiant une stratégie nationale (et la recherche d’un modus vivendi avec le pouvoir pakistanais) et les seconds appelant au renversement des régimes musulmans en place, dénoncés comme « impies ».

An arc of chaos is described by the map of Somalia to Afhagnistan, Iraq to the Lebanon, passing through Palestine. This is characterised by the weaknening of states and the growing role of armed groups outside of all effective centralised control and armed with effective weapons, notably rockets and explosives. For the United States these zones have become the principle battleground of the third world war or of the war against terrorism. This vision has in fact nourished, fed into the startegy of al-Qaida which is engaged in its own struggle to the death against christians and jews. Meanwhile on the ground, these simplistic discourses do not capture the reality which is much more conflicted. In Iraq one part of the sunni resistance is mobilising against Al-Qaida who have launched themselves in bloody fighting with the shiia… In Afghanistan there have been violent clashes between the taliban and the foreign fighters of al-Qaida, the Taliban primarily nationalists seeking a strategy including a modus vivendi with the Pakistani power next door; al-Qaida calling for the overthrow of Islamic regimes already in power which they denouce as impious.

 

Compared to this, Parris is not even starting to understand what he is writing about. One must mention in passing that more than 150 people were killed in one Iraqi city in terrorist attacks on the very day that Parris’s column appeared, although none of them will have been known to Parris.

In the campaign to purge delusion from the media on the subject of terrorism, one cannot help notice today’s Sunday Telegraph with its splash warning of a 15-year fight against terror. This is an intriguing new benchmark – one previously undisclosed, I believe. We have been warned that this is generational. But 15 years sound rather specific. A target!

Admiral Sir Alan West, a former first sea lord, now a war counsellor to Grodon Brown, choses a Tory paper to predict that the war on terror will take a decade and a half to win, and went on to make similar points on Sky News. So this was entirely manufactured news.

Interestingly, though, with the scoop that this is no more than three five-year plans. Fifteen years is in fact a dramatic improvement since the forecast of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, our man in Kabul, last month that it would take 30 years to win the instant struggle. (Apparently, the largest British embassy in the world is being built in Kabul so Cowper-Coles may just have been making the case for a longer mortgage. His embassy should be a long way out of town, in a defensible position, is my advice.)

So more happy news on the war on terror. Within a fortnight of the Brown administration taking over, the time to win has been reduced by decades, from those now obsolete estimates of Cowper-Coles, to the really rather encouraging estimate of Admiral West.

Oh, but we mustn’t call it a “war on terror”. West says of the phrase: “I hate that expression. When I first heard it – I think it came over from the states – I thought it was totally the wrong thing.”

He continues, oddly, that,”it’s not like a war in that sense at all. It demeans the value of a war and it demeans the value of a lot of things.” Demeans the nobility of war, perhaps? What does he mean? That terrorists fight dirty?

Reading Parris, West and Syed Saleem Shahzad I am not sure how we will know when we have won the war on terror – perhaps there will be no more terrorists. West is right, however, that a new approach is badly needed to tackle it. But what is this to be? Be nicer to muslims? More bombs? Poppy eradication? Information war?

The fundamental problem is one that nobody dares acknowledge. The versions of democracy and justice on offer on our side are actually pretty unconvincing. Our example is frankly not so persuasive in the battle for hearts and minds. Maybe if there were no secret prisons, no torturers, elections were decided by voters and not lawyers, seats were not for sale in parliament, corrupt arms dealers were not operating in collusion with governments, for example, the “west” could offer some rentable values to the world.

Until then, it does sound as if the answers to the problem of terror are less likely to be found in the west than within islam itself.

We are all capable of writing real nonsense from time to time. It is odd how the war on terrorism brings out the worst in many journalists as well as most politicians.

*****

A useful Wikipedia discussion of the expression “war on terror” can be found here.

I have previously written of delusional media here, questioning Channel 4 News’s theories on muslim alienation.

 

War on terror – how to win

Posted in Bush, Terror, Terrorism, War by Deputy city editor on July 2, 2007

Cars can drink it

Why not just buy all the poppy in Afghanistan? Apprently the drug companies need the stuff because of a shortage of clinical morphine. So we (taxpayers of the west) should buy it. All of it. This has to be cheaper than the alternative. In a pinch, we could send it to the EU for custody. With its experience of butter mountains and wine lakes, Brussels would be ideal guardian of the poppy silos. Or perhaps the opium could be turned into biofuel. Think how mellow our highways could be in the miasma of opiates.

Instead of spending a fortune sending soliders to Afghanistan we should be sending teams of failed contestants from the Apprentice to set up a poppy monopsony in Helmand province.

A Tesco could follow. And we could win those fabled hearts and minds. But nobody listens to me.

Bush & Blair of course understood nothing. Today, Afghanistan looks like another unwinnable project. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are at war with each other as well as us. (The wars within Islam are complicated. A handy guide (in French) is in the July issue of Le Monde diplomatique.) The world is flooded in heroin. The Americans bomb women and children and we are told by the British ambassador in Kabul that this is a struggle that will take 30 years to win!

It is of course much worse in Iraq, which Bush invaded for no good reason that can now be remembered. Here, breathtaking tactical incompetence has put the country in the grip of not one but many simultaneous civil wars, in which the coalition is increasingly embroiled. There are various military fantasies at play but the verdict of the British in the south that they are making things worse not better is at least as good a hypothesis as the theory that we must remain or there will be chaos. And what is there now?

Thanks to Bush and Blair, Iraq is an acute humanitarian disaster. The absolute number of persons engaged in terrorism has increased. Thousands of people are being killed every month, tens of thousands hurt, hundreds of thousands displaced. Does Brown have a project to address this? Does Cameron?

Iraq is not the only place where America and its allies are losing the war on terror. Forget fighting on the beaches. How does one “win” a war in terror in Britain?

With many innocent people already killed (in horrifying cicumstances) and more, one shudders to predict, almost certain to die or be maimed, all of our lives have become far more unpleasant, living as we do in a war zone. Civil liberties are being taken and demolished. We are told to be afraid and there is good reason.

As the butcher’s bill grows in the field, and politicians profess their ritual weekly regret, there are growing hundreds of families in Britain who have lost someone close, in this combat, and tens of thousands more who wince every time the TV or radio speaks of another British soldier being killed. Meanwhile, on the home front, the war is without end. You cannot hear a siren without wondering. Of course we are terrorised; by ministers if nobody else. We are told another attack is imminent. We have now had the first attempts at car bombing; how long will it be before the first roadside bomb is exploded in Britain?

As it has turned out, this hopeless war has brought us to a position far worse than even the most pessimistic critics could have imagined. Fuel has been thrown on the fire. Amerian moral authority has evaporated. No single war aim has been achieved. Neither dead or alive, Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind assigned responsibility for 9-11, has not been caught, or killed, as far as can be known. Although there is something frankly very odd about this particular side of the story.

The global theatre of the war on terror today encompasses Pakistan through Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Gaza and Glasgow and everywhere else. The US is weakened and even crippled. Who benefits? Cheney’s former employer has done well and the oil companies have had some good quarters, but the neocon project is really a failure in its own terms.

Setting out on a war on terror created a priori an impossible to achieve objective. The war has condemned its architects to failure. The legacy of Bush and Cheney will turn out the exact opposite of the intention. Muscular christian democracy has brought Bush and America to their knees.

The problem with Bush is that he loves being a “war president” but he picks the wrong wars. There are dozens of better things to declare war against. The war on poverty was declared by Lyndon Johnson and is still awaiting a conclusion. I also remember wars on cancer and wars on drugs. None of these seem to be won and now we have a war on terror that is equally likely to be unwon.

So even without dwelling on the complexities of this story – including the civil wars ranging with Islam itself, or that by far the majority of the victims of this war are in fact Muslim – we come to: so what the hell do we do now? Perhaps by becoming a beacon of justice the United States (with some help from the poodle British) could have more influence in the world – but of course this is a ridiculous thought.

An excellent article appears in the New Yorker – The Taliban’s Opium War – confirming the utter futility, corruption, and unintended consequences of the effort to destroy poppy in Afghanistan.  Needless to say private military contractors are deeply implicated in this. This is a chilling story of the delusional nature of American and allied security operations in Helmand province.  

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