Monday, 31 January 2011


With rail use at its highest since the 1920s, it would seem that public support for public services was increasing rather than decreasing.

Yet today, the party of Beveridge will assist in ramming through Parliament the dismantlement of the most valued of them all, the NHS, in England; in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they still get to live in somewhere that it is recognisably Britain, but here we are the guinea pigs in the never-ending crazy experiments of the think tank teenagers.

Whereas the creation of the NHS was in all three manifestos in 1945, this vandalism was in none of them in 2010, since no party with any such manifesto commitment could expect to win even one single, solitary seat. It over-flatters the Conservatives to accuse them of ideology here. This is happening for no reason except to placate the people who funded their General Election campaign, and whom they want to keep the cash flowing.

If anyone is ideological about this, then it is the Orange Book Lib Dems. Oh, and the Blairite rump in the Labour Party. If David Miliband had become Leader, then this would have gone through on the nod, as most things did in the last Parliament, because no one stood up to demand a division on them. But thankfully, the Leader of the Opposition is not an Heir to Blair.

Why Israel Fears A Democratic Egypt

Philip Jacobson writes:

It is often said, only partly in jest, that Israelis examine every event of world significance through the prism of "will this be good or bad for us?" Well, they hardly need the doom-laden headlines in the Israeli press to tell them the continuing crisis on the streets of Cairo is as bad as it gets.

For the past three decades, the Jewish state's Middle East strategy has depended on the stable and, if not overly warm, effective working relationship with Egypt, the most important Arab nation of them all.

As a senior Israeli diplomat observes, ever since the signing of the historic peace treaty in 1979, "for the US, Egypt has been the keystone of its Middle East policy, [but] for us it's the whole arch." Reflecting the importance of this alliance, Israel's right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak more often than any other foreign leader besides Barack Obama.

Apart from key economic factors - Israeli imports almost half of its natural gas from Egypt - this prolonged quiet on the Sinai front has profound military implications.

It is no secret that while the Israeli military periodically stages war games based on what might follow a collapse of the Mubarak regime, that threat has not featured high on the nation's strategic priorities agenda. Yet as documents recently made public by WikiLeaks have made clear, Egypt's sizeable military machine remains geared to an ultimate confrontation with the Israelis.

That helps to explain why Netanyahu, not known for his conciliatory views on Israel's Arab neighbours, now stresses the need to demonstrate "maximum responsibility, restraint and sagacity" in response to the crisis in Egypt.

As for the Obama administration, which inherited the Bush White House's strategy of holding its nose in the face of barbaric human rights abuses under Mubarak, the omens are foreboding.

The US has been pumping $1bn a year into Egypt to shore up the institutionally corrupt regime, yet the street uprising in Egypt's major cities has demonstrated that the most powerful and best organised political force on the scene today is the Muslim Brotherhood - implacably hostile to Israel and a covert supplier of weapons to Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Reports overnight that senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have escaped from jail in Egypt in recent days – with some members of the latter group finding their way back to Gaza through smuggling tunnels – will have caused huge concern for both Netanyahu and Obama.

And while the situation in Egypt remains "fluid" - diplomatic shorthand for no one having a clue what will happen next - no comfort will be taken in Jerusalem or Washington from the words of Eli Shaked, the wise and well-informed former Israeli ambassador to Cairo.

Writing in Israel's best-selling tabloid Yediot Aharonot the other day, he warned that if Mubarak is overthrown, a new militant Islamist regime will come to power, bringing with it a deep and abiding hostility to Israel and the West.

For good measure, he accused the US government, and by more direct implication Secretary of State Hilary Clinton whose vacillations have done nothing to defuse the crisis, of "taking the crucial developments in Egypt in a naïve fashion… expressing opinions that may be right for Western ears."

In short, when Clinton – joined by Obama and David Cameron - calls on Mubarak to allow an "orderly transition" to democracy, it only sets alarm bills ringing in Israel.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

RIP Sargent Shriver

Kennedy brother-in-law, McGovern running mate, Peace Corps and Special Olympics founder, America First Committee stalwart, and pro-life Catholic.

Now, that was a Democrat.

Reality Check

Peter Oborne blogs, and almost all of the many comments are favourable.

Neil Clark is in demand as never before.

And even those neocons who are not imprisoned behind the Murdoch paywall are howled down below the line.

As it should be. Of course.

Now, let's see them spin the "popular uprising" that overthrows a Bush favourite and installs the Muslim Brotherhood, ready, willing and able to send the Sphinx and the Pyramids the way of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Kick Them Both Out

Free our economic, social, cultural and political life from Rupert Murdoch, sent packing along with each and every one of his courtier politicians and his bent coppers.

And free our economic, social, cultural and political life from domination by football, a pursuit which would be of no interest to at least half of men and at least two thirds of women even if it were not now the means whereby the well-heeled patronisingly pretended to admire barely literate, drunken, drug-addled, prostitute-frequenting wife-beaters and gang rapists because they confirmed every prejudice about a certain social class. As do the WAGs, who are now the real point of English football, and the supreme example of how our popular culture has mostly been turned into what homosexual men think that heterosexual women should like. There really is nothing camper than football: the figure usually held up as our greatest living footballer is noted for wearing a skirt in public and for wearing his domineering wife's knickers in private.

This double opportunity will not come again.

School's Out

Katharine Birbalsingh has succeeded in closing down her former employer, a Church of England secondary school.

But of course she has: on last week's Any Questions (what, already? yes, already), she repeated the old Thatcherite hostility to church schools and to Christian collective worship in schools. We have been warned.

However, Their Lordships are in full cry at the moment. It is time to revive the cross-party alliance of Peers that saw off this threat in the Eighties. Perhaps even before it is Baroness Birbalsingh. Yes, by as early as the middle of next week.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Davros In Davos

Auditioning for Andy Coulson's job.


Do get ahold of this week's Catholic Herald. The back page column by Stuart Reid is always very well worth reading, and this week he demolishes 10 O'Clock Live in general and Jimmy Carr's lazy, nest-soiling, and now rather tired and dated Catholic-bashing in particular.

Sue Perkins was also at it on The News Quiz, with some certainly feeble and probably false anecdote about losing her virginity up against a statue of Our Lady. "I went to a mixed Catholic school, and there's a reason why there are not many of those." Sue Perkins was born in 1969.

Still, having watched John Sergeant tear it to pieces on The Review Show, and waiting for the likewise infinitely more intelligent 30 Years of An Audience With to come on, I did manage to catch the repeat of David "What Am I Doing On This Rubbish?" Mitchell's interview with Alastair Campbell. "Under Saddam Hussein, women had no rights whatsoever," the old monster lied astonishingly.

In reality, while our intervention in Afghanistan has merely failed to improve the lot of women, our intervention in Iraq has made that lot almost immeasurably worse. But Mitchell did not pick him up on it. Already an Observer columnist, perhaps he really does want into journalism. In which case, of course, you don't go around asking awkward questions of Alastair Campbell.

Unbound and Unbounded

Peter Hitchens writes:

Well done to the Labour members of the House of Lords who have been doing their jobs over the past two weeks – scrutinising and opposing legislation which the feeble, emasculated Commons nodded through.

Few yet understand the true meaning of the boundary changes David Cameron wants to impose at top speed – precisely because they haven’t been properly debated. When they
take effect, millions will wonder what happened and why they weren’t warned. Well, this is the warning. And the Lords have used what’s left of their independence to provide it.

Once we have an elected Senate, controlled by party machines, then it will be a nice, quiet rubber-stamp chamber. Will that be a good thing?

Oh Uganda, Land of Beauty?

Should we aid a country which executes those who persistently engage in homosexual acts?

Well, we send our boys to die for a regime which has legalised rape within marriage, illegal under those misogynistic Taliban, and which has restored the endemic pederasty to which the Taliban also took strong exception. If Afghanistan can have our blood, then Uganda may as well have our treasure. In what remaining position are we to make any sort of moral stand?

And how would we even go about doing so? The BBC World Service is about to stop short wave broadcasting in Swahili, an official language of three Commonwealth countries and spoken in at least four more, not all of which were ever in the British Empire, but all of which indicate, by their Commonwealth membership, that they desire ties to Britain.

Rights and Wrongs

Jon Holbrook writes:

In 1997, the then UK Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, introduced the Human Rights Bill into parliament. In a lecture given at the time he claimed the bill would be of major significance ‘protecting the individual citizen against erosion of liberties’. Lord Irvine’s words were shared by many who considered themselves to be champions of liberty.

The events of 9/11 were soon to put Lord Irvine’s claim to the test. In 2001, the New Labour government introduced detention without charge but then replaced it, after legal challenges, with control orders in 2005. The Liberal-Conservative coalition government has now announced, after several more legal challenges, that control orders are to be replaced with what many are calling ‘control orders lite’. But contrary to Lord Irvine’s claims, the Human Rights Act has not protected the individual citizen against an erosion of liberties. In fact, it has empowered the courts to become closely involved in shaping the curtailment of liberty.

Detention without charge was promptly challenged by detainees relying on the Human Rights Act. The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 allowed foreign nationals who were ‘suspected international terrorists’ to be detained indefinitely. This provision was a gross breach of civil liberties: detention on an indefinite basis, detention without proof of any crime, detention on the basis of a suspicion, and detention without the detainee having to know either the case or the evidence against him.

So when several of the detainees in Belmarsh prison challenged their indefinite detention, by relying on the Human Rights Act, Lord Irvine’s claim was put to the test. The detainees won the case but not on any basis that struck a blow for civil liberties. The House of Lords, in what became known as ‘the Belmarsh case’, found the detention unlawful on the basis that it was disproportionate to the state’s needs, which was human rights speak for saying that it was not wrong in principle. As the court put it, the measure went further than was ‘strictly required by the exigencies of the situation’.

In so far as any clear principle can be distilled from the 100-page judgment from nine judges, it is that the measure was discriminatory because it could only be applied to foreign nationals. Baroness Hale made the discrimination point by hypothesising about the injustice of legislation that proposed to lock up black, disabled, female or gay suspected international terrorists but not white, able-bodied, male or straight suspected international terrorists. As another judge pointed out, this gave ‘the impression that all that was necessary was to extend the power [to detain] to United Kingdom citizens as well’. The House of Lords came close to holding that an erosion of civil liberties would be tolerated so long as the erosion was non-discriminatory.

The government took its cue from the House of Lords and introduced new provisions, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which did not discriminate on grounds of nationality. Control orders, as they are called, can be made against foreign and British nationals. Unlike detention without charge, control orders do not provide for detention in prison, but the controlee can be subjected to any number of restrictive measures that render him subject to a form of house arrest. Typically, the controlee is required to live at a particular address, is subject to a curfew, and his associations are restricted.

Control orders constituted a further erosion of civil liberties: control on an indefinite basis, control without proof of any crime, control on the basis of a reasonable suspicion, and control without the controlee having to know either the case or the evidence against him.

Control orders have resulted in further legal challenges, but none of them has found the control-order regime to be unlawful. Following three House of Lords rulings in 2007 in which several controlees relied on the Human Rights Act, the then minister of state for security, Tony McNulty MP, was correct to claim that the courts have ‘endorsed the principles of the control-order regime’. The then home secretary, Jacqui Smith, claimed in the wake of the judgment that she was considering strengthening some of the existing restrictions.

Having resolved the issue of principle in favour of control orders, subsequent cases have shown the extent to which the courts have become involved in shaping the nature and extent of the controls. The personal nature of this type of enquiry is readily apparent from the Supreme Court’s most recent consideration of a control-order case. ‘AP’ was a controlee who was subject to a 16-hour curfew and was required to live at a specified London address until the home secretary required him to live in the Midlands, some 150 miles from his family. The Supreme Court grappled with the fact that on being moved to the Midlands ‘his mother has not visited him at all’, which ‘is just as upsetting for his mother as it is for him’. Apparently, the mother could not visit her son ‘because she has never left London alone’.

The judgment noted ‘another significant hardship for AP [in that it] is difficult for him to feel part of the local community [and] no one in the mosque has welcomed him into the community, or asked him how he finds the area or even what his name is’. And although AP, an Ethiopian, ‘has spotted the occasional Ethiopian… he has not tried to befriend them because he does not want to burden them with his problems. He goes to the gym, but people there see his tag and naturally think that he is a criminal’.

The court’s detailed consideration of AP’s welfare needs shows the extent to which issues of principle about civil liberties are not relevant to the court. Under the Human Rights Act, avoiding social isolation is far more important to the courts than upholding civil liberties.

The Lib-Con government’s Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers carries on from where courts have taken the argument. The review notes the ‘extensive litigation’ which has considered the human rights of a right to liberty (Article 5) and a right to a fair trial (Article 6) and notes that ‘a number of [control] orders have been imposed and upheld by the courts’. The point that troubles the government about control orders is the one that troubled the Supreme Court in the AP case – namely the ‘significant impact on an individual’s health and personal life and their ability to go about their normal lives’ and the fact that ‘relocating an individual to a different part of the country raised particularly difficult issues’. So in forthcoming legislation we can expect control orders by another name, which continue to curtail a person’s liberty without proof of any crime, on the basis of a reasonable belief that the person has been involved in terrorism-related activity, and without the person having to know either the case or the evidence against him. Whatever these orders end up being called, it is clear that they will have been shaped by lawyers and judges wielding the Human Rights Act.

It is not surprising that the UK Human Rights Act has been an ineffective tool in safeguarding civil liberties as there is no provision in the Act, or the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Act gives domestic force to, to outlaw control orders or their intended successors. The Act requires the courts to be satisfied that a particular measure is ‘proportionate’. But ‘proportionality’ causes courts to shape the scope of restrictive measures rather than to declare them unlawful.

Civil liberties are important because of what they establish about freedom. They create a framework within which the individual has freedom such as the freedom to speak, associate, live or work as he chooses. These freedoms are so important that their curtailment by the state should require the sanction of a judge and jury, satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, sitting in a criminal court. Control orders foster a culture in which personal freedom and liberty are seen as less important, as something that can be taken away providing the secretary of state and a judge find it proportionate.

Civil liberties and human rights have different qualities. Civil liberties are directed at curtailing the state’s power, whereas human-rights claims invariably seek to invoke more state power. Civil liberties aim to protect individual freedom, whereas human-rights claims invariably aim to regulate human behaviour. Civil liberties are premised on a belief in human rationality, whereas a human-rights culture and the legal regulation that flows from it are invariably premised on the belief that individuals are vulnerable and not resourceful. This can readily be seen in the AP case where AP and his family were treated as so lacking in resourcefulness that the Supreme Court seemed concerned solely by the alleged difficulties that AP had in making friends and going to the gym and that his mother had in getting a train to the Midlands.

‘Control orders lite’ may turn out to be a less intrusive form of control order. But this will be a reform induced by a concern about the welfare, vulnerability and perceived weaknesses of controlees. This reform will not be a shot in the arm for civil liberties.

No doubt further legal challenges involving the Human Rights Act will be brought against ‘control orders lite’. But whatever the outcome of these legal claims, the real fight for civil liberties will not take place in the courtroom and it will not be won by learned counsel with erudite arguments before judges. A human-rights culture may enable AP to make trips to the gym, but it will not protect the individual citizen against an erosion of liberties.

These rulings, like those of the ECJ or the ECHR, should have no effect in the United Kingdom unless or until ratified by resolutions of the House of Commons, itself elected by a more representative system from among candidates selected in a manner involving the whole electorate.

The Nuclear Family

Armenia, the first entire country ever to become Christian, fully supports Iran's development of civil nuclear power.

Well, of course. Compare and contrast the treatment of the Armenians in Iran with that of the Armenians in Turkey or in the Holy Land.

No wonder that the (very left-wing, very church-based) pre-eminent Armenian party in Lebanon is part of the March 8 Alliance.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Iain Macwhirter writes:

The Scotland bill, which passed its second reading this week, will bring the greatest transfer of taxation powers to Scotland since the Act of Union in 1707. It will hand the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh the power to raise nearly half of all income taxes, plus stamp duty and landfill tax. You might think this dramatic extension of Holyrood's powers would be welcomed by the Scottish National party, which has long campaigned for fiscal autonomy. But you would be wrong. The nationalists argue that the tax powers are inadequate, would be deflationary and would reduce the level of public spending in Scotland.

You might also have thought that the Scottish Conservatives, who spent 30 years opposing devolution, would be deeply concerned at this diminution of Westminster's influence on Scotland. But once again you would be wrong. The Conservatives support the Scotland bill's tax powers, having been part of the cross-party Calman Commission whose report in 2009 called for the tax reforms now enshrined in the bill. Well, not every Conservative politician is on side. The former Scottish secretary, Michael Forsyth, now Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, has warned that the Calman reforms will inevitably lead to calls for further fiscal independence and will only help the SNP. He intends to table an amendment to the bill in the Lords calling for a referendum before the new tax powers are implemented.

Yes, it's all very confusing, but Scottish politics is a bit like that. Labour, which actually started the whole Calman process, hardly ever talks about it and seems vaguely embarrassed by the whole process. Some Labour MPs have opposed measures in the bill to hand powers over speed limits and drink-driving to Holyrood. But Labour politicians have historically been cool on devolution, even though it was a Labour government that created the Holyrood parliament in 1999. Many Labour MPs resisted home rule in the 1970s on the ground that giving Scotland a parliament would only benefit the hated nationalists. Some Labour politicians privately fear that the new tax powers will also benefit the SNP, who are in power in Holyrood; that giving some taxation powers will only drive demand for more.

They're probably right on this. The Calman Commission recommendations have been criticised by a number of Scottish economists on the grounds that they don't really make sense. If, as Calman affirmed, it is necessary to make the Scottish parliament accountable by giving it responsibility for raising the tax money it spends, why make it only half responsible? There are likely to be anomalies in the new tax regime which could lead to the reduction in public spending in Scotland – which might force Holyrood to increase income taxes to a higher level than the rest of the UK. This is essentially because more is spent in Scotland, through the Barnett Formula, than is raised in tax revenues (excluding oil revenue) so replacing part of Barnett with 10p on income tax would lead to a fiscal crisis in Holyrood. At the very least, they argue that half and half taxation could be deflationary.

The SNP says Scotland needs the full range of economic "levers", including oil revenues and corporation tax, if the Scottish government is to have any power to influence the trajectory of the Scottish economy. But that would be independence, say the Liberal Democrats, who are the only truly enthusiastic supporters of the Scotland bill. Calman is a halfway house, but a rather comfortable one, which gives Scotland a bit more latitude and a bit more control over its affairs, while still keeping the fiscal lifeline to London. The Lib Dems hope that Calman will be their own electoral lifeline in Scotland, where they risk being wiped out in the Holyrood elections in May because of their Westminster coalition with the hated Tories.

My own view is that, like Scottish devolution itself which was introduced by Labour – and opposed by the SNP in the 1980s – the new tax powers will almost certainly lead to a new constitutional settlement. Once you start disaggregating fiscal powers, there is only one destination: federalism. Some form of fiscal autonomy is the only coherent solution to stabilising relations within multinational states such as Britain. But there will be a lot of argument before we get there.

"10p On Income Tax": no one would read beyond that headline. Ed Miliband is missing a trick here, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to do all the way through this Bill's parliamentary progress. It makes perfect sense for the party that created the present situation to oppose any change to it, especially when it knows that, given the procedural opportunity, the Tory Right will now vote against the Government on pretty much anything, never mind on a genuine point of principle such as this. And Miliband would be cheered on by his own MPs from Scotland, who never much cared for devolution even when it provided somewhere to put their below par office staff or the rentagobs in their Constituency Labour Parties, never mind since it became a platform for Alex Salmond to present himself as some sort of alternative Prime Minister.

"The Anglican Catholic Basilica of the North"

I have known the Reverend Ian Grieves of Saint James's, Darlington for many, many years, and I have the utmost regard for him. I am not remotely surprised that he is joining the Ordinariate and, although I see little or no practical chance of this, wants to bring his citadel, or at least its congregants, with him.

The all-too-frequent theological and pastoral problems with what we are proposing to ingest certainly do not apply there. But where he, it and they are all concerned, I really do have to ask: "What Anglican Patrimony?" Why don't they just come over into the local diocese, plain and simple? They really would not need to change a single, solitary thing.

Whereas whatever happened to the Traditional Anglican Communion, of which many things may be said, but one of them is not that it only ever uses the Modern Roman Rite? The TAC made the initial approach that led to the provision for Ordinariates, it negotiated the terms of that provision, and in fact it contains at least three potential examples of thriving Ordinariates (in India, in South Africa, and in the Torres Strait). Yet the TAC has disappeared from this story, supplanted by a constituency for which that provision is wholly unnecessary. What is going on?

The Road To Damascus

Mohanad Hage Ali writes:

The toppling of the pro-western March 14 alliance in Lebanon by its pro-Syrian adversaries – including Hezbollah – has led to a worldwide media scare. Many western news organisations portrayed it as some sort of Islamist takeover. Even the BBC reported that the "Hezbollah nominee", Najib Mikati, won the most votes to succeed Saad Hariri as prime minister. Rupert Murdoch's Sky News went further in that direction, reporting: "Hezbollah gain control of Lebanese government". The fact is that they are all missing the point. Syria, and not Hezbollah, won control of Lebanon's government. In the past year, many articles have shown Syria recovering its political weight, and the latest developments in Lebanon are testimony to this.

At the heart of the recent change of government in Lebanon are 11 former "March 14" MPs, including Mikati, who until recently was supposedly a Hariri ally. Among this group is Walid Jumblatt, a major power-broker and the leader of the Druze group, which has seven MPs. He said earlier this week that "geopolitics [now a codeword for Syria's influence] dictated that we choose between the sea or going to the Arab depth: Syria". Jumblatt had previously accused Syria of assassinating his father, Kamal, and Rafik Hariri, the late prime minister, among others. Jumblatt was also a leading figure, if not "the one", behind the so-called "cedar revolution" of 2005 – the massive demonstrations that led to Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, and the election of a western-backed anti-Syrian coalition government.

American support for the March 14 movement was overwhelming; Jumblatt and his allies spoke of a new era of American-infused democracy, specifically asking for the toppling of the Syrian regime that had dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the civil war in 1991. At the end of the Bush era, Jumblatt changed course; Syria opened its doors again, and welcomed him back as an ally.

For 14 years, Syria – openly through its direct military presence and local allies – controlled every aspect of Lebanese political life. Its military and security chief in Beirut chose the candidates for the key posts in governments, played local politicians against each other, and utilised Lebanese institutions to crush any opposition. During those years, the European and American governments tolerated Syria's influence, and dealt directly with Damascus on Lebanese issues.

Today, after the dust of the Bush era is brushed away in Lebanon, Syria is back with the aid of its allies, among them the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. And according a European diplomat I interviewed on Monday, "We have lived with Syrian influence for years, we don't welcome it, but there will be no sanctions or a Vietnam". The British foreign secretary, William Hague, visited Syria on Thursday to discuss – among other issues – "the political situation in Lebanon".

The change of government in Lebanon does not mean that Hezbollah will be "ruling from the shadows", as Newsweek overstated. It will be Syria ruling from the shadows – the same regime that kept Hezbollah in check throughout the 1990s and until 2005. Many here in Lebanon believe that the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon would have not have happened under a Syria-backed regime. In fact, and just days before the parliamentary consultations and the nomination of the new prime minister, Lebanese websites reported that there is a Syria-Hezbollah rift regarding the political situation, as the former wanted to give more time to reach a deal with Hariri. Jumblatt only announced his new stance after a quick meeting with the Syrian president, who had also met Mikati, an old friend.

With Syria's full support, this new government led by Mikati, a western-educated Sunni businessman, would probably lead Hezbollah back to its pre-2005 status, avoiding military confrontation and keeping a low profile on the anti-Israel front. Damascus considers this government a trial of what its influence would be like without military presence, so it will not let anyone, including Hezbollah, sabotage it. Syria's primary concern will be confronting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and whose indictment is expected to name Hezbollah members and Syrian officials. Whether it will succeed or not depends on the international community's ability to keep the STL going with the Lebanese government's support.

Regardless of the outcome, Syria's comeback to Lebanese politics could only be secured if Damascus proved itself capable of playing Lebanese politicians against each other again. The Hezbollah-Jumblatt interaction and Damascus's ambiguous position in it were a sign of a return to that era. Will Hariri, now a former prime minister but still a very capable and representative leader, agree to play politics according to Syria's rules, like his father did for years before his assassination? After he lost the prime ministerial nomination this week, his parliamentary bloc severely criticised "Hezbollah's Iranian-backed coup", but when one of his MPs decided to condemn the Syrian president in a live speech, he was interrupted by a Hariri aide after receiving an anonymous call.

Jumblatt understands "geopolitics" and how to engage Syria's influence. Just like Hariri junior, he only joined politics after his father was assassinated, following a rift with the Syrian regime over invading Christian territory in the beginning of Lebanon's civil war. The question now is whether Hariri will follow Jumblatt's footsteps.

Water In The Desert

From Mehdi Hasan:

As the protests escalate across Egypt, I have a simple question: on which side are the US and UK governments? The side of the protesters, fighting for their democratic rights and freedoms, or the side of the ageing, corrupt dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and his secret police? The US and UK governments, aided and abetted by the US and UK media, might like us to believe that it is the former, rather than the latter.

But the reality is that Mubarak is in power in Cairo with the west's blessing, approval, support, sponsorship, funding and arms. Democrat and Republican presidents, Labour and Conservative prime ministers, have all cosied up to Egypt's "secular" tyrant, a self-proclaimed but ineffective bulwark against "Islamic extremism", since he assumed the presidency in 1981.

Mubarak might be a son of a bitch but, as the saying goes, he is very much OUR son of a bitch. Some facts to consider:

* Egypt is the one of the biggest recipients of US economic and development assistance - $28 billion since 1975, according to USAID. Only Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan have received more cash.

* Egypt is the second-biggest recipient (behind Israel) of US military aid - over $1.3 billion a year.

* The US State Department describes Egypt as "a strong military and strategic partner of the United States".

* According to the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project, "the United States sells Egypt a large amount of military equipment and a significant number of small arms; such weaponry is both likely to be used for internal security and difficult to track once sold.

* This is what President Obama said, about the despotic ruler of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in August 2009: "I am grateful to President Mubarak for his visit, for his willingness to work with us on these critical issues, and to help advance the interest of peace and prosperity around the world." Obama described Mubarak as a "leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States".

* This is what President Bush, that great neoconservative crusader for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, said about Mubarak in April 2004: "I'm pleased to welcome my friend, Hosni Mubarak, to my home. Welcome. I always look forward to visiting with him, and I look forward to hearing his wise counsel... Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States and we value President Mubarak's years of effort on behalf of the peace and stability of the Middle East."

* It's not just the dastardly Yanks who have been playing footsie with Mubarak, his torturers and his secret police. According to the UK's Foreign Office, "the British and Egyptian governments have a strong relationship and share mutual objectives."
* The UK is the largest foreign investor in Egypt.

* Tony Blair, that other great neoconservative crusader for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, visited Egypt with his family on holiday on several occasions, had countless meetings with Mubarak, but never chastised him in the manner that he now chastises, say, the Iranians. Shamefully, Blair, while in office as prime minister of the United Kingdom, allowed Mubarak to pay for his family's luxury holiday at the Red Sea resort of Sham-el-Sheikh in December 2001. Was he worried, I wonder, about the freedom and human rights of political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons while he sunned himself in his holiday villa, as a guest of Mubarak's dictatorship?

From Michael Brendan Dougherty:

As I write in snow-covered Westchester, New York fires are breaking out in perhaps a half dozen National Democratic Party headquarters in Egypt. Unfortunately, most of our media and commentators are woefully ignorant of the state of Egypt. But that doesn’t stop them from picking a new leader and rewriting their constitution. Here is Jackson Diehl in today’s Washington Post:

"Mubarak should step down and be replaced by a transitional government, headed by ElBaradei and including representatives of all pro-democracy forces. That government could then spend six months to a year rewriting the constitution, allowing political parties to freely organize and preparing for genuinely democratic elections. Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt’s growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections – not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative."

The whole exercise is galling, considering that Mubarak has been under U.S. sponsorship for decades, and has received strong support even until the last two weeks. Does Diehl think these angry Egyptians want another U.S. crony? But it is worse than that – most of the commentary on Egypt is based on a fantasy that the opposition to Mubarak would naturally be a rights-respecting, pro-market democratic movement.

Four years ago, during some of the headiest days of Bush’s “democracy agenda”, our own State Department officials in Cairo told me that truly liberal parties in Egypt were “interesting to talk to but totally insignificant.” The idea that there is some huge reserve of middle class support for liberal democracy is an untested fantasy. Notice Diehl doesn’t bother to name any of the pro-democracy forces. Does he really believe the New Wafd Party – which has never held more than a few seats - is ready and to lead Egypt? Or does his hope lie with the National Democratic Front which began in 2007? All the elected Egyptian officials over the past two decades who can be fairly described as liberal could fit comfortably in my living room. The reason Diehl wants months for these parties to organize is that the only organized opposition force in Egypt is the Islamists, whom Mubarak has been unsuccessfully trying to appease in the past three years.

Any non-NDP government will include (or be lead by) the anti-American, anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood, who regularly get a strong percentage of the vote in Egypt, though they are a banned party. Diehl may dream of a secular middle class, but the Brotherhood’s support comes mainly from the professional classes – doctors, lawyers, and other trade associations. The image of Muslim extremists as the poor, disenfranchised and easily-led is another self-flattering Western fantasy. This morning, reports are coming in that the Brotherhood is joining the protests and giving them a distinctively “religious” character.

This is no defense of the NDP or Mubarak. They have had an impossible needle to thread. They could choose to cede some political space to the Muslim Brotherhood and-by definition- lose legitimacy. Or they could continue to repress them and the other small opposition groups and… lose legitimacy.

The fact, rarely mentioned this past week, is that the United States sends over $800 million in direct economic aid to Egypt along with $1.3 billion a year in military aid. The guns being used to beat protestors this week were bought with American tax dollars. Foreign aid to poor countries like Egypt creates both the impression and the reality that the government is more solicitous of its Ameircan sponsor than of its own people. Foreign aid also makes governments less anxious for domestic prosperity, and Egypt’s chronically high unemployment is a sure sign of that. We send this aid to ensure a stable non-Muslim Brotherhood controlled Egypt that is friendly to the United States and Israel. If the riots and protests lead to the fall of Mubarak’s government, we’ll have neither. Egypt is more likely to turn into a base of operations for Al-Queda than it is a liberal democracy. We’ve been making payments on such a disaster since 1975.

In the meantime, prepare to hear more pundits rhapsodize about Elbaradei and the coming reign of righteousness, democracy, and prosperity in Egypt. It is the same tune we heard for Chalabi in Iraq, Karzai in Afghanistan, and free elections in Palestine.

And from Peter Hitchens:

My own experience of Egypt is limited to seeing a demonstration broken up by plainclothes police thugs who later overpowered my photographer colleague Phil Ide and stripped him of thousands of pounds’ worth of equipment (not to mention the fruits of a day's hard work) which he did not recover for many months. Luckily they weren't interested in me at all. These people are above the law and will happily rough up foreigners as well as their 'own' people.

The demonstration, just after Friday prayers in a poor and dusty district of Southern Cairo, was - oddly enough - against the Iraq war. The Egyptian government receives enormous subsidies from the USA (I think around £1,500,000,000 a year, much of it in the form of weapons) in return for maintaining its 'Cold Peace' with Israel, and regards attacks on Washington as attacks on itself.

I spoke to quite a few of the protestors, who were friendly, articulate people of both sexes and all ages, until the state musclemen burst into the cafe where I was and started to arrest them (again, they weren't interested in me).

So I think I can say I have no special fondness for the Mubarak regime. Like every Arab regime I know of, it relies ultimately upon brute force. That brute force defends a system which is extremely corrupt and inefficient, in which free speech, free assembly and the liberty to organise opposition are more or less forbidden, though a sort of token opposition is permitted to function, and its leaders seem surprisingly resigned to spending long periods in the country's unlovely prisons.

But I am amazed at the way in which Western journalists and politicians now seem to be encouraging street protests against that regime. What do they think will happen? Who do they think will benefit? What do they expect the long-term result to be?

Egypt does not have a western-type civil society waiting to step into the gap left when the Mubarak state falls. The most potent opposition movement is the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most popular cause is enraged hatred of the neighbouring State of Israel. Since Egypt is heavily armed and right next to Israel (and Gaza) would it necessarily be a good idea to encourage events which might install an Islamist government in Cairo?

Those who support dissent in Islamic countries really ought to have learned by now that the will of the people in these places is not necessarily in our favour. Western opinion was largely sympathetic to the 1979 rising against the Shah of Persia, until it realised far too late what would replace it. They're all sorry now. A couple of years ago a great deal of sentimental tosh was talked about a wave of democracy in the Middle East, supposedly comparable to the peaceful overthrow of Soviet-backed regimes in eastern Europe in 1989. This was supposedly inspired by the 'success' of our imposition of a Shia majority government in Iraq, a story which has not yet reached its end and which will not – I here predict - end happily.

Much gush was penned and spoken about a 'Cedar Tree' Revolution' in Lebanon, which was boldly rejecting the sinister presence of Syria on its territory, etc etc. I sighed when I heard this, as I sigh when I hear the current wave of enthusiasm for events in Tunisia and Egypt. And I was right to sigh, for Lebanon is now under the control of a Hizbollah government, closer than ever to Syria (and to Iran) and silly dreams of a new dawn are all dissipated, as they were bound to be.

Otto von Bismarck is supposed to have said that if you enjoyed either sausages or politics you should make sure you never saw either of them being made. The same is true of diplomacy. If you don't like propping up nasty regimes, don't go in for foreign policy. The only genuine and serious conclusion, for those who truly want to make the world a better place, is to pursue a policy of enlightened imperialism. But is this realistic? Ask yourself a few questions? Are you convinced enough of the superiority of our civilisation to feel you have the moral right to impose it on others by force? Think we can afford it? Fancy serving in the enormous armed forces necessary to impose it, or paying the huge taxes needed to finance those forces, or allowing your relatives to be conscripted into those forces? Are you prepared to stay forever?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no', then please be so kind as to stop pretending to care about the woes of the Third World. You don't mean it. You're trying to make yourself feel good, not to do good.

Meanwhile the best motto for dealing with nasty regimes in the Middle East remains, as it always was, Hilaire Belloc's words: ‘Always keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.’ Literary types will know what happened to poor Jim, who ignored this sensible advice. He was devoured ('slowly eaten, bit by bit, no wonder Jim detested it') by a Lion.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Fool Academies

Poor old Michael Gove. So few people want anything to do with what were supposed to have been his hugely popular "free" schools and Blair Continuity Academies that he is going to have to compel all new schools to be one or the other, whether anyone involved likes it or not.

Remember, setting up these things was the only specific policy on which the Conservative Party fought the last General Election. And it was invented by David Miliband when he was working in Tony Blair's office.

Character Witness

If Blair's phone really has been hacked by News International, then not only "Ha, Ha, Ha" to one of Murdoch's most craven lackies, but will he be applying to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board? If not, why not? Surely not because he knows that he would fail the good character test?

No Brains Removed Through Nostrils Here

Peter Oborne writes:

The United States, Britain and our allies have an atrocious record in the Middle East. We have consistently given our support to a series of despotic, murdering, torturing regimes including Egypt, Tunisia and, for a long time, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. These eruptions in the Middle East present a moral challenge to Western governments. There is no question that we will feel very tempted to try and control events and maintain regimes which, however morally loathsome, are seen as sympathetic to the West.

We must resist that temptation. The future of Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries is not up to us. Over the coming days we are likely to hear from a number of commentators who will claim that we must intervene in order to prevent victory for “international Islam” or some other bogeyman. It is very, very important that we ignore these voices.

Remember the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an Islamic movement secured victory in democratic elections. The West refused to accept the result and, as a consequence, plunged that country into a decade of civil war in which more than 160,000 people were killed.

The lesson is straightforward: that America, Britain, France and other Western countries do not have a legitimate role in determining what kind of government Egypt and other countries around the world choose for themselves.

And Neil Clark writes:

So President Obama calls on the Egyptian government AND anti-government protestors not to use violence.

Do you recall the US or its allies calling on Iranian anti-government demonstrators not to use violence back in 2009? No, neither do I. And do you recall the US President urging anti-government demonstrators not to use violence after the elections in Belarus in December? No, me neither.

Seven people have already been killed in the current protests in Egypt. Will the US and its EU allies be imposing sanctions on Egypt for its brutal clampdown on dissent - as they’ve done on Iran and Belarus?

And will neocon websites be posting pictures of those killed by the police - as they did with Neda Agha-Soltan after the Iranian protests? Will any of those killed this week become a ‘symbol of rebellion’ in the western media and blogosphere?

Don’t hold your breath.

PS The picture above (of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak with his mate, the former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert) will help explain why the neo-con websites/journalists/magazines/newspapers which have spent so much time attacking Iran's clampdown on dissent, won't be spending anywhere near as much time attacking the far more dictatorial Egyptian regime.

Those who have been loudest, not without cause, in denouncing alliances between Stalinists or Trotskyists on the one hand, and Islamists on the other, are now cheering on the former's ushering in of the latter in Tunisia, as well as the takeover of Egypt and possibly of Jordan by the Muslim Brotherhood, and quite possibly that of Yemen by the nearest thing to "al-Qaeda" to have any existence in the real world. But then, they are noisily denouncing the perfectly constitutional and democratic "coup" against the Saudi proxies in Lebanon.

Anyone, anyone at all, except Syria and, especially, Iran, where they are entirely uninterested in the true characters both of the Governments and, as so often historically and today, of the Oppositions. Why, just look at what they are cheering on, and against what, in Tunisia, or Egypt, or Jordan, or Yemen. Or in Syria, or Iran, or Belarus, or Russia, or China, or Cuba. If you do indeed look at what they are backing, then you will be doing a lot more than they have ever bothered to do.

Speaking of Iran, the campaign against Press TV continues apace, with its bank account frozen while Fox "News", owned by the foreigner who has thoroughly corrupted both our Police and more than one Prime Minister, is permitted to carry on without let or hindrance in this country. Press TV should consider a landmark series, with an accompanying book and with as many tie-in newspaper articles as it could place, on The Twelve Tribes of Christian Palestine: Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite, Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite, Anglican, Lutheran, Syrian Catholic, and Armenian Catholic. Who to present it? Peter Oborne? Or Neil Clark?

Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis


As we celebrate the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican Doctor of the Church, it seems appropriate to reflect on his teaching, in which in particular we recognise his sanctity. First of all, we can marvel at the sheer quantity of writings he left: suffice it to say they occupy several shelves in the library here at Blackfriars! The amount of works St Thomas wrote, and the range of them, gives us a sense of his passion for exploring what we can know about God and for passing on his insights and discoveries to others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the many questions he considers is, in effect, what is the point of all this talking about God? Why do we need doctrine? How is knowing things about God useful?

The answer, which could be seen as a theme running through the whole structure of his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae, is that the fulfilment of human beings is to be found in something not just beyond ourselves but beyond what we could work out for ourselves: to discover it, and so to attain it, we need not only the conclusions we could come to on our own, but also the truths which God has revealed. In this already we see the amazing fact at the heart not only of doing theology but of our human life itself: God, the Creator of all that exists, is not some remote object for us to consider from afar, but has drawn close to us, revealed himself to us, and in that shown his love for us. In this we find that the purpose of human life, the fulfilment which we need God’s revelation to understand, is nothing other than seeing and knowing God as he really is, in what we call the beatific vision. Thus, in seeking to know God, not only do we learn what he has revealed about our ultimate fulfilment, but already by his grace we have a foretaste of that fulfilment.

All this is amazing enough in itself: as we read the Bible and explore, with the great theologians such as St Thomas, the many implications of what God has revealed, we discover many wondrous truths about God and his love for mankind; and yet, as St Thomas reminds us in the words he spoke after the mystical vision he had at the end of his life, all that he wrote is ‘as straw’ compared with the splendour of the reality which awaits us in the blessed life to which God calls us all.

Saint Augustine of Hippo is an important forebear of the Dominican tradition in which some of us stand. His Rule remains part of the Constitutions to this day, and his influence suffuses the great theologians and spiritual writers of Dominicanism. Saint Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican. So, far from being the rupture with Augustinianism that is often asserted, his thought is wholly within it, and indeed utterly incomprehensible apart from it. Other attempts to affirm the Augustinian vision of all knowledge as divine illumination are not necessarily in opposition to Thomism; rather, under the Magisterium (its own point of reference and correction), it provides their point of reference and correction.

This applies to the entire rational and empirical systems, since, at least in the context of those who devised these systems in Early Modern Europe, the very belief in the possibility of true knowledge by rational or empirical means - indeed, of true knowledge at all - is Augustinian, and indeed Thomist. John Paul the Great, in Fides et Ratio commended at once Thomism in paragraphs 43 and 44, and the works of Newman, Rosmini, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Russians of various stripes alongside Maritain and Gilson in paragraph 74, not to mention engagement with Indian and other non-Western philosophies in paragraph 73.

Alas that Chesterton defines Aquinas against the Christianised Neoplatonism of the Augustinian illuminist tradition, rather than recognising Thomism’s Christianised Aristotelianism as nevertheless belonging within, and greatly enriching, that tradition. Had Chesterton done this, then he would have been quite astonishingly prescient in this as in so many other areas. However, what Chesterton writes about Thomism as the definitive philosophical articulation of the world-view that he shares is of course entirely correct. In Saint Thomas Aquinas (1933), he sets out that “the primary or fundamental Part” of Thomism “or indeed the Catholic Philosophy” is “the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World.” Precisely so.

Ora pro nobis.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Happy Holocaust Day

If you find the title of this post offensive, then so you should. But what else is one supposed to say? The whole thing is as ridiculous as it is revolting. For one thing, why is it on 27th January, the day Auschwitz exchanged mass-murdering Nazi tyranny for mass-murdering Soviet tyranny? Why not 15th April, the day Belsen really was liberated, and that by the British? In some years, that would even coincide usefully with Easter.

That we are prepared to have it today points to the extent to which the anti-British sectarian Left has taken over our public life, and the extent to which it has made peace with its old adversaries, also massively influential, on the anti-British sectarian Right. That we insist on having it all points to the extent to which it is so much easier, and even to which it is so much more fun, to concentrate on the wrongdoing of others rather than on the wrongdoing of ourselves.

English For The Caribbean

One of the cancelled BBC World Services.

Five British Overseas Territories (six with Bermuda) and, assuming that it is heard in Belize, nine Commonwealth Realms.

Plus, assuming that it is heard in Guyana, another three Commonwealth countries, all with as many other ties to Britain as you could possibly want. Until now.

Nor is the expanding Commonwealth's cause much helped these days by the cancellation of Portuguese for Africa. Never mind that of Hindi.

Even Denis MacShane is not wrong all the time.

The Human Planet

You know. This one.

The Human Planet is a wonderful series, and this evening's included a particularly important fact: plenty of other things eat us opportunistically; but "almost" (is it really "almost"?) uniquely, the polar bear actively seeks out man as a prey.

Perhaps Al Gore could be fed to a polar bear?

Just The Job?

40.2.2: 1: Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State. 2. No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government.

So reads the Constitution of the Irish Republic.

Sadly, Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northwood probably qualifies as a plain, old job rather than as a "title of nobility or of honour". But you never know.

The Black Eagle Rises

Roger Boyes has a very interesting article in the latest Prospect, on the return of a sense of Prussian identity.

Not as a political cause or entity, but as a shared culture and heritage, a common sense of Prussianness across all the areas forming part of that Kingdom during its 1871-1918 heyday would be no bad thing at all, but rather a significant force for peace and stability across Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and Russia.

The best Prussian values were not only noble in themselves, but informed the first Welfare State, both they and it being significant forces for unity between Teutons and Slavs, and between Catholic and Protestant parts of Europe. An insistent and concerted witness to that whole heritage, which notably spawned the attempt to assassinate Hitler, on the part of provinces, municipalities and communities could only be to the benefit of Europe, and of the world, as a whole.

Sooner that than the most unhappy event that Belgium should break up. After all, Germany might not only recognise Flemish independence, but also press a claim to the Eastern Cantons of Wallonia (Wallonia’s independence having been recognised by France), and thus set the precedent of pressing claims to those former parts of the Kingdom of Prussia ceded under the Treaty of Versailles.

What Is The World Coming To?

Neil Clark writes:

MI6 is supposed to protect the British state and spy on and counter Britain’s enemies. But has Hamas ever threatened Britain, or is it ever likely to? Have we really got to the stage where Israel's enemies automatically become ours? If Mossad, or the Palestine Authority‘s secret agents, or the CIA want to engage in anti-Hamas activity, it’s their concern. But not ours.

So what on earth was MI6 doing drawing up 'secret plans for a wideranging clampdown on Hamas', as revealed by the Guardian?
And guess how this all began?

"Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 officer who also worked for the EU in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said the British documents reflected a 2003 decision by Tony Blair to tie UK and EU security policy in the West Bank and Gaza to a US-led "counter-insurgency surge" against Hamas – which backfired when the Islamists won the Palestinian elections in 2006."

In today's paper Seumas Milne writes:

"As we also now know, British intelligence and government officials have been at the heart of the western effort to turn the PA into an Iraqi-style counter-insurgency operation against Hamas and other groups that continue to maintain the option of armed resistance to occupation. Shielded from political accountability at home, how exactly does British covert support for detention without trial of Palestinians by other Palestinians promote the cause of peace and security in the Middle East, or anywhere else?"

Yet another question for Middle East 'Peace Envoy' Mr Tony Blair, who, not content with all the bloodshed he has caused, is now doing all he can to propagandise for a war with Iran.

One expects this sort of thing from the Thatcher and Blair-loving white van men (no offence to white van men) of the other lot. But MI6? What is the world coming to?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Happy Australia Day

God Save The Queen.

Posh and Posher

Watching Andrew Neil's programme of that title this evening, watch out for the fantastical exaggeration of Margaret Thatcher's humble origins, and particularly for the old canard, which she herself never quite uttered, that she went to a State school. In reality, her father was a prominent local businessman and politician who ran most of the committees and charities for miles around, sent her to a fee-paying school, and put her through Oxford without a scholarship.

She told us that "there is no such thing as society", in which case there cannot be any such thing as the society that is the family, or the society that is the nation. She turned Britain into the country that Marxists had always said it was, even though, before her, it never actually had been. Within that, the middle classes were transformed from people like her father into people like her son.

The Wrong Right

It is always good to hear from old friends who are readers of this blog. Several have been in touch today, and I agree with all of them that one would rather not use the term "right-wing" to describe those who fight the morally and socially conservative, staunchly patriotic fight against poverty, idleness, ignorance, illness, squalor and war. But it seems to be unavoidable in practice, although of course I heartily concur that our record more than bears comparison with that of those who instead filled and fill their heads with adolescent drivel about dialectical materialism, the vanguard elite (guess who?), the dictatorship of the proletariat (to which they never, ever belong), the permanent revolution, and all that.

"It starts with far-fetched think tank papers. Those become pickled into a rigid dogma code. You go through the years sticking to that: outmoded (not that it was ever inmoded), misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs. And you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government - a Labour Government - flogging off the schools and hospitals to multinational corporations, relegating local authorities from providers to mere commissioners of services, bowing the knee to Rupert Murdoch, trying to privatise the Royal Mail, allowing pubs to stay open all night, legislating to permit super-casinos, reclassifying cannabis as if it were harmless, banging people up for prolonged periods without even so much as charging them with anything, attempting to impose identity cards and to put everyone on a national DNA database, recording us all on CCTV hundreds of times per day, colluding in secret legislative activity at EU level, dangerously weakening public service provision and trade union bargaining power by setting up toytown parliaments all over the place, importing a new working class which understands no English except commands and can be deported if it steps out of line, and waging wholly aggressive wars in order to effect "regime change" in countries posing no threat whatever to the United Kingdom."

Whereas we are the true radicals, precisely because we are the true conservatives and the true patriots; and vice versa. But 30 years ago, a supposedly "moderate" new party was set up, not by or for us, but specifically against us and our reviled industrial and municipal machines, as if they, with their endless ties to the wider communities that they very largely defined, were somehow the problem. That party duly sank like a lead balloon, having left the Labour Party to be taken over by those who went on, 15 years ago, to create what they also intended to be a new party, once again defined specifically against us. When will it be our turn? When we can be bothered to take it, that's when.

Control Cooper

Labour is still not back yet.

Probably never will be.

Roll on electoral reform.

Sit Down or Stand Down

No one should be paid either salary or expenses as an MP until taking their seat, and if anyone has not done so by a decent period after election, then that seat should be declared vacant, with the non-attending ex-MP disqualified from contesting the consequent by-election. There are only so many by-elections for which any local authority's taxpayers will permit it to pay.

Sky Falling In

It looks increasingly as if the price of permitting Rupert Murdoch to acquire the rest of Sky will be the requirement that Sky divest itself of Sky News, which may even mean that the thing itself is taken off the air, leaving the BBC with an almost complete monopoly.

Murdoch is considered an unfit and improper person to own a national news channel outright. Where does that leave his wholly owned subsidiaries, David Cameron and the Metropolitan Police? That Andy Coulson is not already in prison proves conclusively that the latter has been paid off. That he was ever employed in Downing Street says much the same thing of the former.

Good Advice

I expect the valiant Dr Hans-Christian Raabe to see off the foot-stamping by the usual suspects. But if he did not, or even if he did, then he would be more than welcome our own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. It will be exactly as "politically neutral" as David Nutt's. Or anyone else's. Inevitably.

And Nothing But The Truth

After the malicious prosecution, the gratuitously severe sentence.

Trotskyist campaigners for Scottish independence (work that out - but of that, another time) do not naturally arouse my sympathy. But perjury is a staggeringly common offence, yet you can probably name precisely three people who have ever even been put on trial for it, all of whom happen to have been convicted: Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and Tommy Sheridan.

All out-of-fashion politicians. All convicted for having extracted money from major media interests, whereas nothing at all will happen to you if you perjure yourself in a murder trial. And in Sheridan's case, the man who sacked one of Scotland's two highest-paid advocates in order to beat the other one in court. Well, we can't be having that. Can we?

The Red Benches, Indeed

The Coalition is preparing to replace the House of Lords with a new second chamber elected by means of regional party lists. Nick Clegg and all the other Lib Dem Ministers who are going to lose their Commons seats would be packed off to it, and the thing itself would be set up by the use of the Parliament Act, any deployment of which other than to pass Lloyd George's People's Budget is essentially an abuse. Do we have a bicameral Parliament, or not?

As Their Lordships demonstrate their worth by continuing to obstruct the attempt to reduce accountability by reducing the number of MPs but not of Ministers, remember that Labour, the Crossbenchers and assorted others outnumber the two Coalition parties. Whereas an elected second chamber would have a Conservative-Lib Dem majority on a permanent basis. A Labour skew in the current electoral arrangement is, so to speak, an urban myth (the real problem is that the poor no longer vote, since they no longer have anyone to vote for), and in any case a redrawing now, four years before the next Election, would make absolutely no difference, since the same trend towards deurbanisation will continue in the intervening period.

Thank goodness that there is still some part of our parliamentary system from which it remains possible to speak from outside the nasty but inevitable union between, on the one hand, what has always been the anti-parliamentary New Left and, on the other hand, the sociologically indistinguishable New Right's arrival at hatred of Parliament as the natural conclusion of its hatred of the State. Yes, Daily Telegraph, that does mean your expenses "scandal" and your entrapment of Ministers by pretending to be constituents when you were not. From that union, together with the SDP's misguided Alliance with the Liberals around their practically Bennite constitutional agenda, derives the Political Class's desire to abolish the House of Lords.

For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities, a broader range of ethnic minorities, and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor. More significantly, and despite the very hard efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, both from the party machines and from the way of all flesh.

Perhaps the future composition of the House might be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current Life Peer, at least who attends very or fairly regularly, to name an heir, by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and a wider intellectual soul mate, who would become a Peer upon his or her nominator's death, and who would thus acquire the same right of nomination? I am not necessarily advocating this. But can anyone think of anything better?

Change We Can't Believe In

I do not believe for one moment that Ed Miliband has any part in his brother's Roderick Spode antics.

Time was when Labour used to proscribe and expel parties within the party. Never mind parties bankrolled by the man who bankrolled the SDP, and who was later made a Minister by Blair without the rate for the job. The proposed financial arrangement here is flagrantly illegal. But don't expect anything to be done about it.


What to make of the fact that UKIP is now polling ahead of the Lib Dems?

Add together the Conservative and UKIP votes in London, or Wales, or the West Country, or either of the Midland regions, or any of the Northern regions. You get far too high a figure for the number of natural Tories living there. Where are they the rest of the time? Half of UKIP's vote is Old Labour or, especially in the West Country, Old Liberal rather than Old Tory. Yet UKIP itself is emphatically not a coalition of Old Tories, Old Labourites and Old Liberals who agree, not just about the EU, but also about the threats to our sovereignty from America and Israel, from the Gulf monarchies and global capital, from Pakistan and Bangladesh, from Hindutva and Khalistan, from the SNP and Plaid Cymru, from Sinn Féin and the EDL, so that it opposes the neoconservative wars abroad, and therefore also the neoconservative war against liberty at home. Nor is it a movement as much in favour of grammar schools as in favour of British independence; it may have a policy to that effect, but don't expect to hear anything about it.

Who could legislate for the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, for its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law, for the requirement that in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them, for the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard, for the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights (or of the "Supreme Court") unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, and for the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons?

Only a movement in the tradition of the Attlee Government's refusal to join the European Coal and Steel Community on the grounds that it was "the blueprint for a federal state" which "the Durham miners would never wear". Of Gaitskell's rejection of European federalism as "the end of a thousand years of history" and liable to destroy the Commonwealth. Of the votes of most Labour MPs, and one Liberal, against Heath's Treaty of Rome. Of the Parliamentary Labour Party's unanimous opposition to Thatcher's Single European Act. Of the 66 Labour MPs who voted against Maastricht, including, in Bryan Gould, the only resignation from either front bench in order to do so, while Nick Harvey also voted against and Simon Hughes abstained. And of the votes of every Labour and Liberal Democrat MP, without exception, against the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies annually between 1979 and 1997.

A movement in the tradition of that half of the French Socialist Party which successfully opposed the EU Constitution. Of that half of the UKIP vote for Strasbourg which, based on its geographical distribution, must be Old Labour or Old Liberal rather than Old Tory. And of the No2EU – Yes To Democracy list at the 2009 European Elections, which in London included Peter Shore's erstwhile agent, and which in the North West included the immediate past Leader of the Liberal Party, but which has now turned itself into TUSC, just another ghetto of sectarian Hard Leftism.

And a movement no less in the tradition of Ministerial defence of the grammar schools by "Red Ellen" Wilkinson of the Jarrow Crusade, and by George Tomlinson. Of their academic defence by Sidney Webb and R H Tawney. Of their vigorous practical defence by Labour councillors and activists around the country, not least while Thatcher, as Education Secretary, was closing so many that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled. Of their protection in Kent by a campaign long spearheaded by Eric Hammond. Of their restoration by popular demand, as soon as the Berlin Wall came down, in what is still the very left-wing former East Germany. And of their successful popular defence in the Social Democratic heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Ed Miliband, over to you.

But roll on electoral reform.

The States of the Union

Panama and Colombia.

Bring on the primary challenge. Marcy Kaptur, where art thou?

More Terribly Culpable

Rod Liddle writes:

When Tony Blair talks about the invasion of Iraq he tends to preface his comments with the following sentiment: “Look, we can argue about whether or not it was right to invade, and that’s a respectable argument. But what you cannot do is argue that it was undertaken in bad faith, that there was some kind of chicanery at work.” This has been a clever and, to judge by the extent to which some of you lot swallow it, compelling argument these last seven years. It contains a partial truth, an arrant lie that muddies the waters so that those who were in favour of the invasion feel themselves obliged to exonerate the Prime Minister for every action he took in the lead up to it. And yet it is also terribly wrong, and a deceit.

There are two separate issues. One is whether or not it was right to invade, regardless of the manner in which it came about. I can see there were good arguments in favour of invading and removing Saddam, the chief of these being the nature of Saddam himself and his vile regime. He posed a threat to some of his neighbours (although, according to them, rather less than was alleged by the US and UK), he terrorized his own people and it was believed at the time that he may have had WMD. He was an untrustworthy savage and a source of regional instability. I have tried to understand Blair’s own – and before 2003 private – conviction that the UK must go along with the war because it would be dangerous if the US were left to act alone, but I don’t quite get it.

But still. Matched against the reasons for invading are these counter points: a)that more people would be killed as the consequence of war than Saddam could have managed in a decade, and some of these will be our soldiers and b)that far from being a source of Islamic fundamentalism, Saddam’s ghastly regime was bitterly opposed to it and c)therefore that something much worse might manifest itself in Saddam’s absence and d)that invasion would strengthen the hand of Al Qaeda. On balance, b), c) and d) swing it for me, but it’s a close call. I do not for a moment subscribe to the shrieking hysteria of the “blood on your hands!” lobby; any PM who takes his troops to war will end up with blood on his hands, regardless of whether or not the war is just. Nor do I give much of a monkey’s about the illegality of the war per se, although the distaste shown for it by most of the rest of the world should have been indicative. But in any case, although I thought the war was strategically wrong, a mistake which we would pay for, I can see that there were respectable reasons for it.

It is the other issue, a separate issue, upon which Blair is terribly culpable; more terribly culpable than any PM before or since. We know for sure now and had indications at the time that Blair’s reasons for taking our country to war were not those which he deemed to share with the country or with parliament. They were not shared because he was well aware that neither public nor parliamentary opinion would go along with him. And in attempting to convince the public of Saddam’s ownership of WMD he misled parliament, misled the public and pressurised, perverted or twisted every institution which might have acted as a check upon his messianic determination to wage war. This included the select committees, the civil service, the security services, the government scientists and even in the end the BBC. Cabinet was ignored. As John Denham put it at the time, Blair demanded evidence of WMD regardless or not of whether WMD existed. This is incontestable; it is the subtext of all those Blair year diaries produced by the either supine, or in Alastair Campbell’s case, conniving, former members of the administration. I do not think it is stretching it to suggest that this was the closest Britain has come to totalitarianism. Regardless or not of whether we were right to have invaded Iraq, we were lied to, repeatedly and the processes corrupted.

Blunt Truths About Iran

Jack Ross writes:

The official line now appears to be that “engagement” has failed, for probably the third or fourth time at that. Over at Lobelog they see the glass half full, and they may be right. If we analogize to Nixon and China, it is worth remembering that the first two years of Nixon’s presidency were no less disappointing on this front: As with Obama on Iran, Nixon initially went hat in hand to China begging for all the obvious ways they could help extricate him from the foreign policy disaster of his predecessor, but China, like Iran, saw no reason to give away the store immediately, and so, as with Obama and Iran, both sides, each for reasons of their own, have played a long game of chicken.

Optimistic reading or not, this seems as good a time as any to reiterate some blunt truths that get lost in all the nonsense about Iran:

1. Iran is Israel’s problem and no one else’s, period end of sentence.
2. The Israeli obsession with Iran is simply not rational and cannot be understood in rational terms. Iran is nothing but a scapegoat for all of Israel’s problems – with the Palestinians as well as with the rest of the world.
3. Lest anyone still raise a concern about Iran having a nuclear weapon, Peter Beinart nailed it: “The dilemma you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto.”
4. There is no reason whatsoever that Iran should not be entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, to suggest otherwise is a betrayal of extraordinary bad faith.
5. Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel is not.
6. The line that the Arab states see Iran in terms as ominous if not more so than the U.S. or Israel is a bad joke. They certainly aren’t pleased to see Iran become a more dominant power in the region, but few today can remember the analogous farce when the Israelis insisted that the real worry of the Arab states was the Soviet Union.
7. Lest anyone invoke any kind of principles of justice regarding the last point, Iran is the most democratic and bourgeois society which presently exists in Southwest Asia. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still fall far short of the ideal, but, to take just one example, Iranian restrictions on the rights of minor political parties can often pale in comparison to those that prevail in the United States.

In conclusion, I’ve long felt that the figure in history to whom George W. Bush was most comparable is Napoleon III, the short version being that Afghanistan was Mexico, Iraq was Italy, and, by the grace of God, we have been spared Iran as Prussia. But perhaps the most spot-on part of the analogy is that the most logical course for Napoleon III to take would have been to ally with Austria in order to contain if not thwart the rise of a unified Germany, but to his ultimate downfall he refused, blinded by republican ideology.

So it has been with the United States and Iran since 9/11. That we have installed the best allies of Iran in both Iraq and Afghanistan is but natural when we recall that Napoleon III had to frequently side with the Vatican in Italy and installed a Habsburg prince on the Mexican throne. But now American ideological blindness may lead to some disastrous consequences, such as standing in the way of what could be a powerful Iran-India alliance that could once and for all contain the lingering menaces of Afghanistan and Pakistan and provide a bright Metternichian future for the region. Yet as the inevitable ultimately brought on the downfall of the Second Empire, so shall it too the neocon regency.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Thirty Years On

Today sees the thirtieth anniversary of the Limehouse Declaration, which led rapidly to the creation of the SDP. That creation was premature. Those who had determined upon it ought to have waited until the new Electoral College had given the Deputy Leadership to Tony Benn, casting their own votes in the MPs’ section to that end. Benn as Deputy Leader would have made it unanswerable that the Labour Party they had joined no longer existed. A new party would have taken with it half or more of Labour MPs, most Labour Peers, huge numbers of Councillors, great tracts of the activist base, and a good many unions. At least one, and possibly both, of the former Labour Prime Ministers then alive would have joined it. Victory in 1983 would have been quite plausible, and victory in 1987 would have been practically certain. There would have been no need, if there ever really was, of the Alliance with the Liberals. A rapidly Benn-led Labour rump would not have been “split”; it would simply have been replaced.

But instead, although (for want of a better term) the Labour Right’s internal differences over incomes policy and over devolution were, up to a point, carried over into the SDP, its diversity over Europe hardly was. Almost all Keynesian, pro-Commonwealth defenders of national sovereignty remained in the Labour Party, as did almost all of the right-wing Labour MPs who were not easily young enough to start again, or who had any real roots in local government or the unions, or who could not have been certain of making at least as much money if they had lost their seats as if they had kept them. The new party’s character was thus fixed from the start: a very readily identifiable post-War type that was still relatively young in 1981, had few or no roots in wider civil society, and was on the up economically. The 1980s were to be those people’s decade.

Apparently unable to see that the trade unions were where the need for a broad-based, sane opposition to Thatcherism was greatest, the SDP was hysterically hostile to them, and instead made itself dependent on a single donor, later made a Minister by Tony Blair without the rate for the job. It betrayed Gaitskellism over Europe. It betrayed both Christian Socialism and, contrary to what is usually asserted, Gaitskellism over nuclear weapons. It adopted the decadent social libertinism of Roy Jenkins. It adopted the comprehensive schools mania of Shirley Williams. And it carried over her sense of guilt at not having resigned over past Labour attempts to control immigration. Today, both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat components of the Coalition are replete with its former members, and David Cameron’s court is stuffed full of them as advisors and general hangers-on. But read the Limehouse Declaration, and see if you can spot anything remotely redolent of the Coalition’s programme.

Yet the need has never been greater for a party of those whose priorities include the Welfare State, workers’ rights, trade unionism, the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, consumer protection, strong communities, conservation rather than environmentalism, fair taxation, full employment, public ownership, proper local government, a powerful Parliament, the monarchy, the organic Constitution, national sovereignty, civil liberties, the Union, the Commonwealth, the countryside, traditional structures and methods of education, traditional moral and social values, economic patriotism, balanced migration, a realist foreign policy, an unhysterical approach to climate change, and a base of real property for every household to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State. A party for those social democrats who were alienated from Labour by the rise within it of forces inimical to Bevan’s eschewal of class conflict in favour of “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”. People whose views on certain issues have, if anything, returned to the Gaitskellite tradition during the intervening decades.

Where is that party? Roll on electoral reform.

What You Won't Be Told

About Lebanon: Najib Miqati is a Sunni, and was Prime Minister in the transitional government that led up to the 2005 parliamentary elections. His party, Harakat Majd, is predominantly Sunni, and was not a member of the March 8 Alliance at the time of the 2009 elections. He has been brought to power by the Druze of the Progressive Socialist Party, led by Walid Jumblatt. Those rioting against his "coup" are bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.

About Jordan: Coming right when Fatah is exposed as a bunch of sell-outs who had been prepared to give almost all of Jerusalem, even including the entire Armenian Quarter, to a State which denies citizenship to ethnic Jews baptised in infancy (despite the deaths of such Jews in the Holocaust), this is the moment for the Christian leaders to fill the gap throughout the viable Palestinian State created on both sides of the Jordan in 1948. That gap will otherwise be filled by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the means of filling it was set out here yesterday in this post, which, shall we say, has attracted some attention...

Rahm It Home

Oh, well. It would have been a useful way to make common cause with the regular readers of Philip Giraldi, uniting their vigorous patriotic hostility to Israeli espionage against America with the righteous anger of the victims of the Israel Lobby's sustained campaign against black candidates as such, a campaign which kept Florida from electing the only black United States Senator last year.

But even without that particular reason for Chicago's registered Democrats to decline most forcefully to nominate Rahm Emanuel as their candidate for Mayor, the Reverend James T. Meeks is still there, in the same tradition as those black and Hispanic votes reaffirmed traditional marriage in California and Florida on the same days that those states gave their Electoral College votes to Obama, with the black churches playing a pivotal role. The tradition of the late C. Dolores Tucker and of Father Michael Pfleger on decency in the media.

The tradition that could make common cause with the Congressional Black Caucus, and with anyone who had a black base, in halting and reversing the national emergency of unrestricted and illegal immigration, and in making English the only official language of the United States. Common cause with various other people around the fact that the black male is the victim of a triple genocide in the womb, on the streets, and on the battlefield.

Common cause with the unions on the protection of American jobs. Common cause with the Congressional Progressive Caucus on fair trade agreements, on repealing much or all of the USA Patriot Act, on ending completely the neoconservative war agenda, on strict campaign finance reform, on a crackdown against corporate influence in general and corporate welfare in particular, and on tax cuts for the poor and the middle class.

Common cause based on practical proposals for energy independence, proposals that would or should appeal to unions and others whose fight is primarily for jobs. And common cause based on the importance of government action in bringing about and then conserving pro-life, pro-family and patriotic measures against poverty, in defence of traditional marriage, and in support of agriculture, manufacturing, coal, oil, and nuclear energy.


I have been sent this by the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign:

On Saturday (29th) we're holding a Street Stall in Durham, and we'd love it if you could join us.

The event will begin at 9am in Durham Marketplace. It will be a great opportunity to help grow our campaign by reaching out to local people about Yes, and a brilliant way to meet like-minded people and get involved in the campaign.

We will be getting people to play "Guess the expenses" with the person closest winning items from the expenses scandal. MPs claimed millions - from moat cleaning products to 2nd homes. Sir Peter Viggers even claimed £1,645 for a duck house!

By attending our street stall, you'll help turn that enthusiasm into powerful momentum for the campaign in Durham.

Oh, dear. Not a penny was ever paid out either for the moat or for the duck house. And neither of them had anything to do with politics properly so called. Whereas electoral reform has. Or, at least, it ought to have.

Not Conservatives, But Destructives

Neil Clark writes:

In the classic 1935 Hitchcock film The Thirty-Nine Steps there is a memorable scene when the hero Richard Hannay tells a man who he thinks is an ally that the evil criminal he is after has part of a finger missing. To Hannay's horror the man raises his hand and says: "Are you sure it's not this finger, Mr Hannay?" In the same way that Hannay mistakenly took an enemy to be his ally, so too did the millions of Britons who voted Conservative in last year's national and local elections.

Up and down the country, people trooped off to put an X next to the name of the Conservative candidate in the belief that the party was on their side. Sick of new Labour, many genuinely believed the PR spiel that Dave's Conservatives were no longer the "nasty party" and that they really cared about communities and "hard-working families." They believed that Cameron, far from being a hard-core Thatcherite, was actually a nice, moderate "one-nation" Tory in the Harold Macmillan mould.

Now, though, they are waking up to a brutal truth - that as bad as the Labour government was, the Tories and their Lib Dem coalition allies are actually 10 times worse. Up and down the country, uber-Thatcherite Tories are launching an assault on many of the things that traditional Conservative voters hold dear. Royal Mail, in state hands since 1516, is to be privatised. The NHS faces the biggest upheaval in its history, one which will pave the way for the takeover of hospitals and doctors' surgeries by multinational corporations. Hundreds of public libraries face closure. Our publicly owned forests, including historic ones like Sherwood Forest, are to be sold.

The official name of Cameron's party is the "Conservative Party." But it should really be called the "Destructive Party." The only thing Cameron and his multimillionaire chums want to "conserve" is their wealth and the rule of international finance capital. Everything else can be destroyed. In December Tory MP Nicholas Boles, a close associate of Cameron, let the cat out of the bag when he said he wanted "big society" reforms to unleash "chaotic" effects in local communities.

The Destructive Party wants chaos - in our health service, in our schools and in our local communities - so that their vulture capitalist pals can then swoop and take over. It's the same brand of "disaster capitalism" which Naomi Klein described in her book The Shock Doctrine. Acknowledging the extremist nature of the coalition government ought to help shape the left's response. Writing in the Guardian, Peter Guillam said that the left needs to find common ground with "small-c" conservatives alarmed at the way things they cherish, such as local libraries, post offices and the NHS, are under assault.

Up and down the country people who would not ordinarily consider themselves to be on the left are joining campaigning groups to save local services. Middle England is on the march, and they are marching side by side with trade unionists, health service workers, teachers and students. More and more people are realising that the battle is not between the middle classes and the working class but between a tiny financial elite and everyone else. This provides a great opportunity for the left to forge a powerful anti-neoliberal coalition to challenge - and defeat - the present government.

Hearts and Minds

Kelley B. Vlahos writes:

News that a clear majority of conservatives want to reduce the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, plus reports of an emerging right-left coalition against the war, have served as hopeful signs in the heretofore quixotic pursuit to arrest the giant gears of the American war machine.

Indeed, the uber-establishment Afghanistan Study Group recently released a poll that found no less than 71 percent of conservatives are worried about the price tag of war operations, and 57 percent (including 55 percent of self described Tea Party voters) say reducing troop levels in Afghanistan could be accomplished “without putting America at risk” – a seeming 180-degree turn from most conservatives’ previous point of view on war and defense spending (most readers here recall how difficult it has been to be a conservative-libertarian minded American in the era of George W. Bush).

Meanwhile, just as Justin Raimondo was asserting in his Jan. 12 column, that “the ideological tables are turning, and today it is on the right, not the left, where the action is, where the ferment is, where the challenge to the conventional wisdom dares raise its head,” influential conservative operative Grover Norquist was talking about building a right-left coalition against further war spending, and invoking Ronald Reagan as the picture of restraint.

Nothing in Washington is exactly what it seems of course, and it would be wise to keep in mind that at the very beginning of the Iraq War, when Republicans were declaring “victory,” and “shock and awe” was still being used as a serious tactical term, Norquist was gloating how antiwar Democrats, “were on the wrong side of the Civil War, the Cold War and now the Iraq War – their batting average on these things is right up there with France.” In the spirit of keeping eyes wide open we should be aware of other telling signs that the war machine, i.e., the military industrial complex – including co-opted congressional leaders and hawks among the foreign policy elite – plans to wage a serious fight to maintain its sway not only over Washington’s conservatives, but over the controlling Republican leadership, and the congressional purse strings too.

1. Tea Party vs. the In-Crowd. Perhaps the first shot across the bow was this month’s CODEL (congressional delegation) to Afghanistan, led by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As I have said before, the infamous CODEL is akin to sending members of congress into the Stepford Men’s Association – they never come out the same, invariably regurgitating Pentagon power-point presentations and robotically warning against “precipitous” withdrawals and “timelines.”

The very best example of this was last year, shortly after the President ordered Surge II, an infusion of 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan under Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Believe it or not, there were vocal skeptics among the Democrats, including then-Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). But after two whole days in Afghanistan (and one in Pakistan), Levin was suddenly a convert, saying things like, “We went to places away from Kabul today. We saw real partnering with Afghans … it’s reassuring to see that happening … our counterinsurgency strategy may be taking hold … we are offering [the Afghans] terms of security better than the false security offered by the Taliban.”

Levin’s comments were echoed by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and a score of Republicans who traveled on other CODELs throughout January 2010. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) probably took the award for the dopiest post-CODEL comment: “I came here with a healthy skepticism about sending more troops to Afghanistan,” said Israel. “But after two days here, my comfort level with General McChrystal’s plan has increased immeasurably.”

Right. So when Sen. McConnell brought “a number of Tea Party senators” to Afghanistan last week, the mission was clear: get the budding skeptics before the Svengali-in-fatigues, Gen. David Petraeus, reminding them of their core responsibility to “national security,” far away from the tedious Beltway court antics and into the testosterone-fueled war zone, where they are made to feel very small, but very necessary at the same time.

Leader McConnell needed no such converting of course – this is his fourth CODEL to Afghanistan (though combined, his days “in country” probably don’t add up a fortnight). This time he came back with talking points that defied nearly every single account of reality on the ground in Afghanistan including, ironically, the Pentagon’s own required assessment to Congress in November. He said the Taliban’s “momentum” in Helmand province has been “completely reversed” by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency, and he thinks, “there’s an overwhelming likelihood of success” in Afghanistan.’s Jason Ditz noted that McConnell invited Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (-WI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), “but did not invite two of the more staunchly Tea Party members, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).”

“This is because consummate hawk and status quo Republican McConnell is keen to drive a wedge between Senate Republicans with ties to the Tea Party, particularly as so many of them believed they were elected to change policy and rein in deficit spending,” wrote Ditz.

If indeed this is the plan set into motion, it seems to have had a desired effect. Toomey, who beat back popular Democrat and war policy skeptic Rep. Joe Sestak in the November election, told reporters upon his return, “I do think we can achieve success in Afghanistan, but we’ll have some presence on the ground here for quite some time.”

Last year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), conservatives were gushing that Tea Party favorite Rubio could someday run for president. After the CODEL, he came back speaking fluent Stepford, sounding no different from the aforementioned Democrats, or even President Barack Obama.

“Our goal is to leave a functional state, or to help the Afghan people create for themselves a functional state,” he said in a conference call with reporters from Kabul. He added that he thinks the U.S. forces are moving in the right direction but, “there’s a long ways to go, no way to overestimate how serious the challenge is.” He said people in the region warned against a timeline for withdrawal: “There is a sense that the Taliban and even Al Qaeda is just waiting for us to leave before moving back in.” One wonders how, in a weekend, Rubio got “a sense” of anything outside of the dog and pony show proscribed for him.

Now Rubio might very well be confronted with new conservative hostilities against the war in Afghanistan, but let’s be frank, there is a huge military constituency in Florida – in fact, there are similar constituencies across the Tea Party’s greatest strongholds. Republicans like McConnell have been superb at conflating patriotism and support for the war with support for the military, mostly because they know where their bread is buttered.

Now that support for the war may be cracking within their own ranks, and a presidential campaign looming in which Republicans will have define themselves against Obama as explicitly as possible, expect the heat to be turned up in this way even hotter.

2. Sarah Palin: “Tea Party Hawk.” Ex-Alaska governor, reality TV star and king/queen maker Palin seems to get this. Aside from the fact she has surrounded herself with neoconservative hawks who have no intention of supporting deep cuts in the Pentagon’s budget, much less shying away from the prospect of an indefinite stay in Afghanistan, drone attacks on Pakistan or extending the GWOT to Yemen and elsewhere, Palin’s greatest asset is she knows what her audience instinctively wants, sometimes before they even know they want it. She knows what buttons to push to elicit the right emotional responses, and she knows that the perfected appeal to lizard-brained fear and unmediated patriotism drives the base to the polls every time.

Her speeches, from the National Tea Party Convention last February to the Freedom Fest in June to Glenn Beck’s rally in September, have displayed an unmatched ability to suffuse national pride with waging war. She has said it’s a mother’s duty to send her sons off to war, and that soldiers are better people than the rest of us. More importantly, she has warned that scaling back war spending could “risk all that makes America great.”

In other areas of foreign policy, her prescriptions are maddeningly over-simplified. In 2009, she told interview diva Barbara Walters that Israel should be able to expand Jewish settlements in disputed Palestinian territories “because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

In a rebuke of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates having the gall to suggest in May “new ways of thinking about the portfolio of weapons we buy,” asking, “whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 [billion] to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines and $11 billion carriers,” Palin retorted, “my answer is pretty simple: Yes we can and yes, we do, because we must.”

Of course the neoconservatives love Palin and recognize her as the bulwark against growing war skepticism among conservatives. “She’s really quite a crucial piece in this puzzle,” said Tom Donnelly, defense fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in a July piece entitled “The Tea Party’s Hawk,” by Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy. “She’s got both political and Tea Party/small government bona fides, but she also has a lot of credibility in advocating for military strength.”

Meanwhile, former Commentary editor Norman “World War IV” Podhoretz wrote in her “defense” last year: “Her views are much closer to those of her conservative opponents than they are to the isolationists and protectionists on the ‘paleoconservative’ right or to the unrealistic ‘realism’ of the ‘moderate’ Republicans who inhabit the establishment center.”

Now it could be pointed out that perhaps Palin’s prospects for president might be fading – the Tucson shooting has apparently sent her approval ratings plummeting. But certainly, as of now, Palin is still the most visible, the most-talked about and oft-quoted Republican out there. Whether she is running for higher office or not, her influence on candidates within the Tea Party and among activists from coast-to-coast is undeniable. While Grover & Co. are still working out the semantics for supporting a withdrawal, she will have entire crowds draped in flags and demanding we not “let our soldiers down,” and to stay in Afghanistan until we “get the job done.” And she will have the help of savvy neoconservative pundits and courtiers to do it. She is the one to watch to see how this debate unfolds.

3. Neoconservatives at the Spear Point. Speaking of the pro-war hawks still inhabiting the Republican inner circle in Washington, its been made clear in recent weeks that the military will likely turn to the same surrogates in town to make their case for war. They will have to turn up the heat of course, in the face of building resistance, but considering the McConnell CODEL, it seems their work might not be as difficult as anticipated.

In this vein, neoconservatives Kim and Frederick Kagan are back with a new “defining success” report on Afghanistan. Unlike the Pentagon’s sobering November report, but closer to the White House whitewash in December, this one seems to encapsulate all of the military’s wishful thinking, with emphasis on a pseudo grasp of insider tribal knowledge, and the perfectly deceiving assertion that the Taliban’s influence in Afghanistan has been arrested and reversed. In fact, the two actually accuse the intelligence community, which was right about Iraq and blatantly ignored by people like the Kagans in their rush to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, of being “alarmist” about creeping Taliban control of heretofore non-Taliban areas in the north of the country. “The insurgency is not gaining strength in northern Afghanistan and is extremely unlikely to do so,” the Kagans write. This, despite, steady reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Refugees International, who specialize in neutral aid work on the ground, as well as other reports, including maps by the United Nations, showing clear Taliban control of these areas.

Calling it an “embarrassing mess,” Central Asian expert Joshua Faust attacks the Kagans’ recent “propaganda” project as an “unsourced assertion in support of logical fallacies and wishful thinking, but packaged as serious analysis,” noting that there were “only seven footnotes, all of which link back to the Kagans’ own work.”

Of course one report does not indicate the direction of war policy in the conservative movement. But it does remind us that the Kagans, who despite all common sense to the contrary, are routinely tapped as advisers and hagiographers for Petraeus’ inner circle, and still command a perverted level of influence and respect in the Washington foreign policy network. Their latest report is no mistake, it is a spear point for the looming fight over the hearts and minds of our policy makers and purse string holders on Capitol Hill, and just as important, the Republican presidential candidates waiting in the wings.

So, while attitudes continue to shift among formerly unreachable conservatives on the war, there are signs already that the status quo is going to be harder to budge as the stakes become higher in 2011 and 2012. Better to go into these challenging times with eyes wide open rather than eyes wide shut.