Archive for January, 2006

Sources

Sources are great, aren’t they? Especially when they’re “police sources”. Police sources said Jean-Charles de Menezes may have been found with cocaine. Well, I may have been found with cocaine, but not by a policeman, and not by anyone else – indeed, I may not have been found with it all. Enough semantics. Police sources said Colin Stagg was really guilty after all. Police sources said they knew of a plot to kidnap Leo Blair, but the official police spokesman said there had been no arrests, there would be no further action, and he couldn’t comment on it, quite unlike those police sources who had done in extensive and well-timed detail.

Sources are to be protected. One does not disclose one’s sources. Even if they are busy propagating insulting nonsense about a man the force shot for no reason anyone can think of, or disposing of an annoying pressure group..you don’t name your sources. Fair enough. This traditional journalistic doctrine is based on the idea that if someone – a source – wants to get information in the public domain that would otherwise be concealed, they may want to remain anonymous. This implies that they would face punishment or revenge otherwise.

Nobody can really disagree with this except on purely self-serving grounds. But one feature of modern journalism (played out in the Judith Miller affair) is the prevalence of the non-source, if you will, a person who speaks to the press in confidence in order to diminish the total amount of information in the world, and who usually seeks anonymity in order to avoid responsibility. It’s a fair assumption that the copper behind the Menezes/coke smear wasn’t at risk of demotion from Sir Ian Blair for doing so, although I suppose you could argue that had their name been published, the ensuing scandal would have ruined their career..which isn’t quite the same thing as fearing assassination by the mafia for publishing information they would rather keep secret. Miller, far from conspiring to sneak out secret and accurate information that government would rather have suppressed, snuck out secret and accurate information the government would much rather have published, but could not do so without breaking the law, in order to reduce the effective information available to the public (as well as a ton of semi-secret but inaccurate information the government wanted publishing, but then, every bugger in town did that). How Lewis Libby and that “other,” still unidentified official earned absolute confidentiality is hard to explain.

So – should we look at source protection differently? It seems clear, logically and ethically, that the right of a confidential source to confidentiality is based on their motive in leaking the information. It’s intolerable that a government PR man can say absolutely any nonsense that comes into their head, so long as it serves their interest and is sufficiently sensational to activate the Reynolds defence of public interest, and then vanish behind a cloud of stink like a skunk.

However, before leaping, it’s a good idea to know what your alternative policy is. If you hop to a policy of conditional source protection, it puts you under a very heavy responsibility in making judgements. Certainly, there is a ton of anonymous briefing under source protection that comes from the powers-that-be and is entirely self-interested. Ideally, it should either be ignored or attributed to the speaker. If Civil Servant X, Executive Y or Chief Inspector Z is always popping up with this stuff, you can draw your own conclusions as to its reality content. More likely, were they responsible for their remarks, they would keep their traps shut. Which would at least improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

But what if, on this occasion, Inspector Z really does have a genuine story? Either he will keep his trap shut, in which case we are all the poorer, or he will publish and be damned, which is terrible and will probably succeed in silencing others. One of those times where following a specific principle, whichever it is, will lead to a bad outcome.

On TYR, I occasionally refer to “sources,” usually people who get in touch. Whether I use whatever they say is entirely decided on its usefulness. But it is by definition unlinkable, so the key form of corroboration in the blogosphere is useless.

Sources

Sources are great, aren’t they? Especially when they’re “police sources”. Police sources said Jean-Charles de Menezes may have been found with cocaine. Well, I may have been found with cocaine, but not by a policeman, and not by anyone else – indeed, I may not have been found with it all. Enough semantics. Police sources said Colin Stagg was really guilty after all. Police sources said they knew of a plot to kidnap Leo Blair, but the official police spokesman said there had been no arrests, there would be no further action, and he couldn’t comment on it, quite unlike those police sources who had done in extensive and well-timed detail.

Sources are to be protected. One does not disclose one’s sources. Even if they are busy propagating insulting nonsense about a man the force shot for no reason anyone can think of, or disposing of an annoying pressure group..you don’t name your sources. Fair enough. This traditional journalistic doctrine is based on the idea that if someone – a source – wants to get information in the public domain that would otherwise be concealed, they may want to remain anonymous. This implies that they would face punishment or revenge otherwise.

Nobody can really disagree with this except on purely self-serving grounds. But one feature of modern journalism (played out in the Judith Miller affair) is the prevalence of the non-source, if you will, a person who speaks to the press in confidence in order to diminish the total amount of information in the world, and who usually seeks anonymity in order to avoid responsibility. It’s a fair assumption that the copper behind the Menezes/coke smear wasn’t at risk of demotion from Sir Ian Blair for doing so, although I suppose you could argue that had their name been published, the ensuing scandal would have ruined their career..which isn’t quite the same thing as fearing assassination by the mafia for publishing information they would rather keep secret. Miller, far from conspiring to sneak out secret and accurate information that government would rather have suppressed, snuck out secret and accurate information the government would much rather have published, but could not do so without breaking the law, in order to reduce the effective information available to the public (as well as a ton of semi-secret but inaccurate information the government wanted publishing, but then, every bugger in town did that). How Lewis Libby and that “other,” still unidentified official earned absolute confidentiality is hard to explain.

So – should we look at source protection differently? It seems clear, logically and ethically, that the right of a confidential source to confidentiality is based on their motive in leaking the information. It’s intolerable that a government PR man can say absolutely any nonsense that comes into their head, so long as it serves their interest and is sufficiently sensational to activate the Reynolds defence of public interest, and then vanish behind a cloud of stink like a skunk.

However, before leaping, it’s a good idea to know what your alternative policy is. If you hop to a policy of conditional source protection, it puts you under a very heavy responsibility in making judgements. Certainly, there is a ton of anonymous briefing under source protection that comes from the powers-that-be and is entirely self-interested. Ideally, it should either be ignored or attributed to the speaker. If Civil Servant X, Executive Y or Chief Inspector Z is always popping up with this stuff, you can draw your own conclusions as to its reality content. More likely, were they responsible for their remarks, they would keep their traps shut. Which would at least improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

But what if, on this occasion, Inspector Z really does have a genuine story? Either he will keep his trap shut, in which case we are all the poorer, or he will publish and be damned, which is terrible and will probably succeed in silencing others. One of those times where following a specific principle, whichever it is, will lead to a bad outcome.

On TYR, I occasionally refer to “sources,” usually people who get in touch. Whether I use whatever they say is entirely decided on its usefulness. But it is by definition unlinkable, so the key form of corroboration in the blogosphere is useless.

Moo!

Hear that weird whistling and crackling radio noise? That’s the technicians trying to get Simon Heffer’s Gaydar lined up.

What does it tell you about the Lib Dems that the only one of the potential leadership candidates who had anything like interesting and attractive policies has had to drop out because his colleagues refused to support him? Quite. Since Mark Oaten is some way to the Right of David Cameron, he might consider joining the Tory party, where he could join the queue to take over from Dave when the party becomes conservative again. Meanwhile, Lib Dem members face a choice between a 93-year-old retired sprinter, a sandal-wearing Leftist whose main public pronouncement so far is that he is not homosexual but is still awaiting the arrival of Miss Right, and a man of whom few in his own party have even heard. Nominations don’t close until Wednesday, so all might not be lost. In the interests of sanity, won’t somebody who might appeal to sensible voters come forward? David Laws, for example? Nick Clegg? If not, we’ll soon be looking back wistfully to the golden age of cheerful Charlie.

Right, so we should vote for Mark “Rent Boy” Oaten because Simon Hughes is an agent of the Gay in our midst? After all, Hep (Replacement) Hef reckons dressing up in women’s clothes ought to be illegal..

Oh, how we long for the time when the police would have arrested Mr Burns not for cruelty to gorillas, but just because he was a transvestite…

Was it ever actually illegal, or is he just advocating extrajudicial police harassment of people who he doesn’t like? You wait, though, until he suggests something really weird and forgets how to speak English..

They now realise that it has effectively split up the United Kingdom, and called into question the legitimacy of the participation of Scottish MPs in the government of Britain. Mr Brown is terrified that if he becomes Prime Minister the English will resent him, coming as he does from this minority, separatist culture. I have news for him: they resent him already, and not particularly because of his intensely foreign Scottishness – picking their pockets for nine years to fund his welfarist, client state has much more to do with it. I do, however, agree with one thing he said. Everyone in England should buy a flagpole and put it up in their garden. And then they should buy a flag of St George to fly proudly from it.

A welfarist client state? A client state of where? He can’t surely mean the United States, so I am going to guess he meant “clientelist”. Which is a useful word, after all, but it doesn’t mean “client state”, which is a useful notion in its own right and ought to be defended. Tim Worstall would probably ask “Don’t these people have editors?” at this moment, but Simon Heffer actually is an editor of the Torygraph, so..

And did we just hear Simon Heffer arguing that we should reject the Union Flag?

Further point. You can be arrested for telling a policeman his horse “is gay”. Will the Bill bother Hef over his call for the extrajudicial punishment of transsexuals? Will he bollocks. Heffer omitted to be cheeky to a copper..

Robert “Paradise and Power” Kagan, the global expert hyperpundit famous for determining that someone like Jacques Chirac is unwilling to take action to defend his interests, being more interested in maintaining an illusory island of Kantian peace in his backyard, thinks the capital of Australia is Sydney.

Apparently, according to leading US scholars, the essential difference between Arab men and the rest of humanity is that they associate women with erotic pleasure. (Except the gay ones, presumably.) Think of that. Women! When normal people like you, I, or Dick Cheney prefer otters, HSDPA-enabled, standards-based radio network controllers, or AGM-109A missiles – no wonder we can’t just get along. Snark aside, go read. Bernard Lewis believes this stuff and he has the ear of the President. If I may breach Godwin’s Law, people will study The Arab Mind in future years in the same way as I studied the writings of people like Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Co.

More seriously, this cheers me. We will be able to say, when it’s all over, that for several years the mad people were in charge, and that was the problem. Now, the mad people have been got rid of and sanity is back. That is of course a myth. Mad people don’t get to be in charge unless some of the sane people go along. A Hitler needs a Speer and a von Manstein. But it’s observable that some nations, whom we won’t name, have done rather well in recovering from being ruled by mad people by espousing exactly that myth.

Hmm, more evidence for the stupidity thesis.

Training for war, I spent an afternoon in an army classroom listening to presentations on improvised explosive devices and the insurgents who plant them. Droning through one of the inevitable PowerPoint presentations, a sergeant first class read directly from the slide in front of us: The insurgency, he read, will probably die down after we capture Saddam Hussein. Except that the class was taught this October, a couple of years after that former dictator had been dragged out of his spider hole. The sergeant stopped for the briefest moment, mumbled that the slides were a little out of date, and went right on reading.

Shaul Mofaz has been at it again, threatening that Iran’s president, novelty fascist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would spread misfortune and suffering over the Iranian people if he attempted to build nuclear weapons. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he. Even though Iran wouldn’t have a bomb for at least three years from now, long before which it would be beyond doubt they were trying, the war drums are a-beating, useful idiots like Simon Heffer are being completely fucking stupid on a daily basis, and Denis MacShane isn’t the only one, it seems, to feel a sort of Guns of August 1914 “I hear the train a-coming, it’s rolling down the track” doom in the air. Can we at least have the exciting fin -de-siécle creative decadence first, please?

So, will it happen? And will the Israelis really bomb Iran? This question is in the end one about deterrent credibility. I personally suspect the Israelis have it, what the 200 nukes, full delivery triad, UAV and satellite recce capability. It’s a superpower in a box – all the trappings of high Cold War nuclearity. One argument against this, though, is that Iran is undermining this by improving its air defences, specifically by acquiring SA-10 (Tor) surface-to-air missiles from Russia.

Now, my first instinct is to say – meh. The Americans spent hyperzillions trying to undermine Soviet nuclear capability by building air defences and did it work? Bollocks did it. The Russians, for their part, worked away like hell doing the same thing. And we didn’t think our missiles wouldn’t get through, nor yet our aircraft. Iran is meant to have an ABM defence system? Bwaahaahaahhaaha. Yes, SA-10 is a pretty impressive capability, but I’d be astonished if it shot down more than a couple of Israeli IRBMs – Patriot, after all, never actually hit any Scuds the only times it was destroyed. In fact, wasn’t that RAF Tornado the only real live target it’s ever hit?

It’s not just the IRBMs, either. There are the Tomahawks to consider. A degree of debate is currently going on as to whether the SA10 gives Iran a credible ability to shoot them down, too. Well, no doubt they have more of a capability than Iraq in 1991 or (certainly) 2003, or Afghanistan in 2001. Essentially all countries ever targeted with Tomahawk in real life had as good as no air defences – the exception, of which more later, was Yugoslavia in 1999, which did indeed shoot down a few. But a capability that would let them blink at the prospect of nuclear attack? Neither Russia, China nor the US have that. TLAMs could be launched from Israel, but also from any of the seas involved, from submarines. GlobalSecurity.org reckons the missiles are deployed in a point defence mode, i.e. around targets.

Some people, usually the ones who are arguing for attack, think they are concentrated on the western border in a sort of neo-Kammhuber Line. “Concentrated on the western border,” by the way, is a very unclear term in this case – it’s a long old border, and if they are there, then it can’t be a very dense defence. And if they are concentrated on the front nearest to Israel, there must be a lot of border without serious air defence. Read Arms and Influence’s post on the risks of forward defence and the Maginot Line. Tomahawk would be capable of being launched from submarines, perhaps in the Persian Gulf or even the Black Sea, or routed south over Iraq and in through the back door. So could aircraft, which brings us to our next point.

The third leg of the triad is of course good old-fashioned bombers. F-15s and F-16s. The Israeli air force is superior to the Iranian as…well…hounds to foxes? They would probably be the most concerned by greater SAM capability, but also have the greatest ability to do anything about it. Since the 1982 war, when the Israeli air force used extensive electronic warfare, airborne command and control, UAVs and anti-radar missiles to wreck the Syrian air defences with ease, they have been pretty good at the so-called “first night of the war”. And if they were to go nuclear – they would, of course, be free to go tactical nuclear for suppression of enemy air defences

Now, did anyone spot the logical flaw in the argument? That’s right. Those SA10s are meant to kill ballistic missiles – arriving on a ballistic trajectory from space – and extreme low level cruise missiles and aircraft? The technical requirements for the two roles are completely different. This can’t possibly be right. And another thing – the Israeli air defences. What of them? How is this Iranian bomb to be delivered? By cruise missile? Whoops. By aircraft? The Kurds would be finding bits down rabbit holes and up trees for months. By ballistic missile? Now you’re talking. But surely, if the Iranian SAMs are a credible ABM capability, wouldn’t the Israeli Arrow system be as good? And the Iranians are only likely to have a couple of warhead s to begin with in the bolt-from-the-blue scenario this is all based on.

There is nothing, then, to make a deterrent balance impossible.

Another question. Everyone seems to think that there are an awful lot of targets in Iran for a conventional strike. So folk like John Robb have been talking about attacking the electricity grid. A “de-modernisation EBO” he calls it. Whoopee doo. In reality this is nothing but a warmed-over version of the same old airpower school bollocks. “De-house” enough people in the Ruhr and the German working class will lynch Hitler. Turn off the Iranian street’s electricity and they will rebel. It doesn’t work. It never has done.

One of the reasons for the failure of the Suez operation was that a chunk of the timetable was taken up with the “aero-psychological phase” the Air Staff insisted on writing into the plan. The Navy, Marine and Para types wanted an attack on air defences, then intensive tactical air cover to deal with tanks moving up through the desert. The Air Staff demanded their chance to prove that this time it was going to be different, that the bombing of Cairo and Alexandria would cause the mob to rise up and destroy their rulers. Robb gives Kosovo as an example of such an operation as a success (so do all latterday Trenchards) – but as far as I know, they never actually did shut down the power for any length of time. Anyway, it was a very different air threat that induced Milosevic to give up: although the JNA’s heavy kit could be concealed from NATO tactical airpower in Kosovo effectively, it could only be concealed as long as it wasn’t needed.

The arrival of 60,000 mostly British and German troops next door changed this: if Option B-Plus had been put into effect, the choice would have been to abandon the strategic goal, or fight. And, once the T72s were rolled out to face the invasion, the USAF’s tank-killing capability would have come into play. Add to that the battering of a full army battalion in Kosovo, a couple of days before the end, by B52s called in by “someone” on the ground, and you have your finish.

Even if we were to bomb the electricity grid, presumably we would have to keep bombing in order to keep it shut down (remembering that presumably, continuing nuclear activity would be an overriding national priority). And, with God knows what happening to the army in Iraq and the world economy – would we? could we? If not, then presumably enrichment would start up again as soon as the power was on. Bombs again, broke again, stop again, restart again, bombs again, rinse and repeat…until, presumably, the thing’s finished. Recrimination all round. Defeat.

In related news, this is interesting if true.

The Craven Heffer

I don’t, as a rule, indulge in fisking – I think it’s a slightly dubious piece of blogospheric tradition, perhaps the online equivalent of fox-hunting – but this Simon Heffer screed in the Telegraph is hard to miss. The appliance, Nurse, and 50 ccs of snark!

Doing nothing in Iran is not an option
By Simon Heffer
(Filed: 18/01/2006)

As we survey, with appropriate unease and foreboding, the events now unfolding in Iran, we might like to reflect on one of Enoch Powell’s less well-known, but most universal, obiter dicta. “The supreme function of statesmanship,” he once wrote, “is to provide against preventable evils.”

We seem to have fallen somewhat short of this ideal both for ourselves and in terms of something called “the international community”. True, we could hardly have prevented the Iranians electing what, by most objective standards, is a raving madman to run their country.

Well, shall we take a moment to enjoy the pomposity? “As we survey, with appropriate unease and foreboding..” Christ. Rather than being published online with minor inconvenience to several zillion electrons, this ought to be carved in stone or engraved on an elegant pendant with a light gold chain, like Valery Giscard d’Estaing had for the French Air Force’s nuclear release codes. More seriously, the Enoch Powell quote is of course both obvious and trivial. After all, whatever your view of “statemanship”, it’s fairly certain that its function isn’t not to provide against evils, and nobody provides against goods, and you can’t provide against unpreventable evils by definition. The real function of this quote is to say – Look at me! I quote Enoch Powell! I’m absurdly rightwing and proud of it! It contains no lexical meaning whatsoever.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes in the coming of the Mahdi and something approximating to what Christians term the apocalypse. He also sincerely believes that Israel should be wiped off the map and that the Nazis did not murder six million Jews. I think we can agree that such a man ought not to have a nuclear weapon and, if we can’t, then those who dissent should urgently seek psychiatric help.

Well, he’s clearly barking mad. How sincerely he believes these things is a matter for serious debate, though, and I would query whether the hammer of communism, Heffer, should really advocate political psychiatry if he wants to be either humane or consistent. In fact, there are perfectly sensible arguments for letting Iran have The Bomb. I don’t agree with them, but they exist. Ironically, they are the same arguments Mr. Heffer would likely deploy to defend British nuclear weapons – it’s a dangerous world, many other powers, some of them not terribly stable, have them too, and we need a credible deterrent capability. Iran has nuclear Pakistan to its east, nuclear Russia to its north, nuclear Israel to its south-west, nuclear NATO to its north-west, and even Saudi Arabia has been talking about nukes.

The awesome stature of this problem can be gauged from the fact that the United Nations Security Council’s major powers and Germany all agreed on Monday that Iran should suspend any nuclear development activities that could result in it making a bomb. Two significant difficulties remain, however.

The first is that these great nations cannot now agree on the tactics by which Iran should be brought to heel. The second is that Mr Ahmadinejad holds the considerable trump card of having a psychology completely immune to temporal pressure and, what is more, knows continuing events in Iraq do not allow America the luxury of moving in on Iran – not that that necessarily would have been a good idea even had Iraq never, as it were, happened.

The European powers – Britain, France and Germany – are calling for an emergency session of the International Atomic Energy Agency on February 2 and 3, with the aim of its reporting Iran to the Security Council. This could lead to sanctions on Iran. However, China, which has just done a multi-billion-dollar trade deal with Teheran, is unwilling to do this.

So. “Continuing events” do not allow America to attack Iran – not that that (ouch! bad style!) would have been a good idea even had Iraq never happened. To disentangle his tortured syntax, he seems to say that attacking Iran would not necessarily be a good idea, even if it wasn’t for the Iraq fiasco. But, you will remember, anyone who doesn’t agree that something should be done should seek psychiatric treatment. A cry for help, perhaps?

Even among the Western powers, there is a fear that sanctions could push up the price of oil, with the usual malign effects on economic growth, pressure on the money supplies of the nations affected, and public and political unrest. Russia, another with strong trading links to Iran, had initially signified that it was prepared to make sacrifices in the interests of preventing the manufacture of the “Islamic bomb”; now, though, it is in retreat on that idea. As was seen during the crisis leading up to the second Gulf war in 2003, getting the eventual agreement of the Security Council to take firm action against transgressors, or indeed implementing any resolutions that might be passed, is a wild and wacky process.

Indeed. Do I detect a degree of weakening on the Heffer part? I’m not at all sure what he means by Russia making “sacrifices”. The Russians have offered to do the uranium enrichment themselves; a profitable undertaking and one that would further their political power. Sacrifice? And in what way is getting UNSC action a “wild and wacky process”? Conservatives, such as Heffer, believe that national states should pursue their exclusive interests. So, if France or China don’t want to get involved in some bizarre adventure in the Middle East, they are quite right to veto it. And I thought we had established, earlier in the piece, that Iraq was a mistake and best avoided with hindsight?

This brings us back to statesmanship. Following Iraq, America’s international credit on questions such as these is not especially high, which is a problem when one recalls that the US remains, even after overstretch and near-humiliation, the world’s only superpower. The three European powers have read Iran wrongly for years. Their policy of diplomatic negotiation has achieved precisely nothing.

It looked pretty hopeless in the era before Mr Ahmadinejad, when our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, went to ingratiate himself with people who were merely extremists rather than psychotics. Now there can be no meeting of minds; there is considerably more chance of the Rev Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams each conceding that the other has a point.

An attempt by European foreign ministers to persuade Iran to forego its “right” to make a nuclear weapon is, in the present circumstances, likely to become 21st-century diplomacy’s equivalent of the Bodyline series: there might be two sides out there, but only one will be playing cricket.

So then Iraq was a mistake, but saying so at the time is a wild and wacky process? Whatever may be said about the Europeans’ “policy of diplomatic negotiation”, it may have delayed the process of nuclear proliferation, and at worst it has at least done no harm, unlike – say – invading Iraq. It is quite antic to describe Mohammed Khatami of glorious memory as an extremist, and has Heffer missed the fact Paisley and Adams have agreed in principle to serve in government together?

Perhaps the Security Council can be made to agree to speak sternly to Iran. China could, perhaps, be propitiated by being persuaded to join the G8 (after all, it is far more qualified to be in that grouping than Russia). If Russia won’t play, then a reminder to the capricious President Vladimir Putin about a nuclear-armed Iran’s potential to ally itself with the Islamic states of the former Soviet Union that are strung along his country’s southern border might be used to stiffen his resolve. But what is Iran’s response to a Security Council warning likely to be? “Get lost.” And so what do we do then?

There have been various mock-terrifying suggestions about forcing Iran to withdraw from soccer’s World Cup (for which it has qualified for the first time), or of preventing high Iranian potentates from going abroad on jollies. That this grave matter can be treated in such a fashion suggests that its gravity continues to escape some of the world’s senior politicians and their officials. Of course, it is painful for the diplomatic community to have to admit that sanctions will not work, any more than they did in Iraq. But some other, tougher means will now have to be considered.

Other, tougher means than sanctions? More serious action than the abject pipsqueak Ancram’s football diplomacy? What might that be? Oh, the Security Council might agree to speak sternly to Iran. Now, now, that won’t do at all! Wag goes the Hefferite finger.But what is Iran’s response to a Security Council warning likely to be? “Get lost.” You’re damn tootin’! What does he think Vladimir Putin’s answer to such an absurd scare story will be – after all, he is busy flogging Iran SA10 missiles?

The Americans talk of trying to encourage revolution in Iran. Sadly, the only revolution likely to succeed there is one that ushers in someone who makes Mr Ahmadinejad look reasonable. In a police state as oppressive as Iran, the scope for the people to rise up and remove the tyrants who lead them is, to say the least, limited. To rely on such a method to remove the threat is, like sanctions of all descriptions, the equivalent of doing nothing.

Doing nothing, however, is not an option. Aside from the obvious outcome of allowing Iran under Mr Ahmadinejad to have a nuclear weapon, it would also have a demoralising and highly dangerous effect on the whole world order. It would provide the final proof that the United Nations is largely pointless (interim proof came in the run-up to the 2003 Gulf war, when it resolutely refused to enforce its many resolutions against Iraq). It would also put the ball into Israel’s court. Before his coma, Ariel Sharon said Israel simply would not allow a nuclear Iran. Given Mr Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy aim of obliterating Israel, it is far from likely that whoever succeeds Mr Sharon after the March elections will feel it is politically wise to take a different view.

One can foresee all too easily a situation in which the rest of the world, unable to agree how to proceed against this menace, leaves Israel, as the stated target, feeling vulnerable. And anyone who thinks that Israel is going to allow another avowedly hostile state to build a nuclear arsenal to use against it has not been paying attention these past few decades.

So sanctions and diplomacy are useless, political warfare worse than useless…and doing nothing is not an option. But (as discussed above) war is also inadvisable. I think yer man is torn between the will to wound and the fear to strike. I think, to borrow a Tory worship-phrase, he is “frit”. And in what way did the UN “resolutely refuse to enforce its many resolutions”? When the UNMOVIC inspectors were withdrawn, they had to break off from crushing Al-Samoud II rockets under a bulldozer!

So, war is foolish and everything else useless. But doing nothing is not an option. Why? Ah, Israel, of course. We ought to bomb the Iranians because otherwise the Israelis will do! Well, I’m glad that’s been cleared up. There is of course no mention of the fact that the Israelis possess some 200 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them by air, cruise missile, artillery, and ballistic missiles, from both land and submarine bases. Even if Mr. Ahmadinejad really is entirely happy to be vapourised several times over, does that apply to the powerbrokers behind him? Rafsanjani? The politicians who forced him to ditch his candidates for the Ministry of Oil because they were ignorant religious nuts? Perhaps he isn’t immune to temporal pressure after all?

Any military action against Iran, whatever it is and whoever takes it, is likely to be provocative to the wider Islamic community – but none is likely to be quite so internationally combustible as a unilateral decision by Israel to bomb – by conventional or possibly other means – Iran. This seems to leave only one feasible option, which is for a United Nations-endorsed series of air strikes on suspected nuclear installations in Iran, made after due and reasonable warning and only as a last resort. All that must be made clear – but it must also be made clear, by the united powers of the United Nations, that any insistence by Mr Ahmadinejad on pursuing his present policy will be met with such a response.

You betcha, Sime. Provocative? You know, and I know, that in the event of military action against Iran by anyone, the logistical tail of the US Army in Iraq will vanish. The British Army will have to fight like hell to get anything up the road and will suffer major casualties. The oil price will go over $100, and perhaps worse if the Straits are mined or Ras Tanura hit. So, Heff ups the ante. We’ve got to attack Iran to save the Iranians from “other means”, which I take to mean those 200 Israeli nukes. And we’ll need UN authorisation , despite the UN being pointless, wild, and wacky.

Whether this happy diplomatic state can be achieved looks, for the moment, unlikely. Our own Foreign Secretary has a distinct record of failure in this specific matter. With Tony Blair imminently preparing a reshuffle, he should ask whether Mr Straw is up to the intensely difficult job that now awaits him. The scope for British leadership on this question, given America’s perceived problems in the Middle East, ought to be considerable. However, for the moment we are punching below our weight.

Indeed, the present impasse with Iran is in no small part the consequence of misguided policy by the Foreign Office, in concert with other European powers, over the past four or five years. Britain is, to all intents and purposes, at the mercy of world events, but it can still choose whether to be a spectator, or a player.

And who is to mount this laudable humanitarian campaign? Why, Britain, of course. It’s our fault we didn’t bomb Iran four years ago, in order to save them from the Israelis, so we’d better get bombing now! Load up the GR4s and let’s roll! Gentlemen, your target for tonight is…Suez!

So..the day after the Lords rained on Tony’s ID parade, the Sun gets an exclusive superspook leako that the Metroplod is investigating a plot to kidnap Leo Blair. Naturally, there is no danger. Nuh. No arrests, and the lad was never apparently at risk. Anyone else spot a connection between these two facts?

The Sunday Times this weekend carried a really frightening story regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station. Now, we know that the Met has a procedure of some kind for the case of finding a suicide-bomber roaming the streets under which they intend to shoot them dead on the spot. None of its detail is in the public domain, but we know it’s called Operation KRATOS.

Now, let us consider what KRATOS is meant to change. In the past, the cops were permitted to shoot first in the case of an immediate threat to the lives of members of the public or police officers, having issued a warning. This is essentially a fail-safe control system, at least as far as such a thing is possible in the conditions. Authorisation to use firearms must be sought, but even then, without specific dangerous conditions being satisfied they will not be use. (This, of course, doesn’t always work – see Harry Stanley)

With KRATOS, which from all available evidence seems to mean that when a suspected suicide bomber is identified, the firearms squad can be authorised by a tactical commander to shoot them, the guns are more likely to be used than not once that authorisation is given. This is a fail-deadly system, rather like some used for nuclear deterrence during the cold war. Back then, command-and-control systems had two functions – to assure deterrent credibility by making it impossible for an enemy to be confident that a pre-emptive strike at command centres would prevent the weapons being launched, and to reserve the ability to launch the weapons to designated authorities so as to prevent accidental or malicious use. These are obviously two halves of a trade-off!

Clearly, fail-deadly is completely fucking psychotically inappropriate for police purposes. It ought to be obvious that suicide bombers will not be deterred by greater certainty that the cops will shoot them if detected – the clue is in the name, no? But anyway. Once the activation order for Operation KRATOS is given, the firearms team who receive it may be considered to be armed like a grenade with the pin out. They have been ordered to shoot somebody at their own discretion. In nuclear terms, the weapon has been released to local control. When the UK’s deterrent was carried on RAF bombers, this stage was actually left until after the aircraft took off, when it reached its startline over the Baltic. Under what was known as Positive Control, the V-Force would scramble and proceed to the start line, where they would contact various commands in the UK by radio for the final authorisation code which permitted them to arm the bomb, dive to low level, and head for their targets.

The crucial point, though, was what happened if the code did not arrive. If the final order was not received, the bomber crews’ orders were to circle and get in touch with a succession of other authorities for instructions. If the word had still not arrived when the fuel state passed the minimum to complete the mission, they were simply to return to base in Lincolnshire (if it was still there..). The system would fail-safe, sacrificing a degree of deterrent certainty for greater safety. Consider KRATOS. Once they get the word, and lose communications by running into a tube station, they go ahead and shoot someone. The system fails-deadly, sacrificing a considerable degree of safety for greater certainty. In fact, it’s far more suited to assuring nuclear deterrence than dealing with a suspected suicide bomber.

You would think, then, that releasing the KRATOS team to fire at will would be difficult, that there would be a very specific procedure to ensure there could be no possible confusion. A codeword, perhaps. The Times:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has also discovered that the surveillance team that followed de Menezes from his flat had sent a misleading message to the armed officers waiting at Stockwell.

When the firearms officers were told “this is the man”, sources say they took it to mean “this is the suicide bomber” rather than “this is the man we have been following”.

Well, someone was hanged for saying “Let him have it!”, but he wasn’t a copper. Sir Ian Blair is incompetent and must go.

Note: The title of this post is rumoured to be what passed between the pilots of the British Midland plane that crashed onto the M1 at Kegworth. After an engine fire, they miscommunicated and shut down the wrong engine. A fault in the instrumentation didn’t help, but still. Words matter..

It’s good to see that something good can still come from the clarted-up pipes of what passes for the constitution. Tony Blair may get a whole edition of Newsnight to blabber about how the scale and organisation of 21st-century crimes make things like due process, evidence, separate executive and judiciary powers obsolete in the War Against Celebrity Neighbours from Hell, the citizens of Shoreditch are invited to monitor each other on CCTV cameras while, no doubt, the police monitor which cameras which house is looking at, but occasionally..

..the Lords give him a genuine pub carpark shoeing. They voted to put in an amendment to the ID Cards Bill that blocks its further progress until the Government coughs up its estimates of the Giant Scheme to Monitor Absolutely Everybody Whatever The Hell They Do’s final cost. Once provided, the Bill has to go back to the Commons. And who knows what might happen there? We are, by the way, going to win.

One development that has been held out as good news in Iraq is the transfer of the Provincial Reconstruction Team concept from Afghanistan, associated with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. David Barno, not to mention Bob Bran of Blogistan. PRTs were essentially invented as a response to the obvious need to expand security out of Kabul, though the US Army in southern Afghanistan was uninterested in anything that might tie its hands in rearranging the ridgelines in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the NATO member states unkeen on contributing further troops. The idea was, essentially, to set up mixed civil-military groups to run reconstruction and administrative/military reform projects in centres of population, that would also act as a deterrent to further warlord fighting and expand the authority of the Kabul government, without establishing a massive military presence.

So far, so sensible. Initial results were shaky, and suffered from problems including many NGOs not liking the idea of cooperating with the military (although one suspects the proposition that this was a far better idea than AC-130 strikes on wedding parties had considerable persuasive force. Manipulation is a two-way process..). But with time and commitment, they seem to have achieved something – or at least, more than the neo-Air Cav chopper blitzkrieg advocates can claim either in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The US Army War College’s journal Parameters has a fascinating report on the project, well worth reading in conjunction with Brigadier Aylwin-Foster’s now heavily blogged critique of the main force US Army in Iraq. As is often the case, although the PRT remit began very fluid, this seems to have been a long-term advantage, as the aim was clearer (compare Iraq, where the Coalition armies’ remit is as clear as day, their strategic aim barely defined). From a British point of view, there’s room for some gloating, too – it seems to be a great pity that now the US military establishment, having banged its head raw on the Iraqi wall, is more receptive to the famous “influence” that the special relationship is meant to offer, we are also suffering from the collision with the brickwork.

The civilian and military members of the UK-led PRT in Mazar-e Sharif, by comparison, trained and deployed together and understood that their mission was to support both military and civilian objectives. One example of the results of these different approaches was that while the Mazar PRT made it a priority to support civilian-led missions like police training, disarmament, and judicial reform efforts, the PRT [US-run] in Gardez initially resisted State Department requests for police training assistance. Civil-military coordination on the US-led PRTs has certainly improved over time, but limited pre-deployment preparation, strained resources, and confusion over priorities continue.

Despite these challenges, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have been one of the few efforts in Afghanistan to approach civil and military S&R tasks in a coordinated fashion at the tactical level. Military patrols, demining, school repairs (with either military or civilian oversight), UN assessments, police training, and other tasks all take place within a single province. The diversity of nations, organizations, and personalities struggling to implement their particular programs impedes even the most concerted efforts to pull things together. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan uses regional offices to share information, but real coordination is more than information sharing, it is integrated action. Integration among national, functional, and civil-military stovepipes generally occurs only in the host-nation’s capital, at best. PRTs, however, have achieved at least some unity of effort in the field by serving as a hub for both military and civilian activities and by closely aligning their efforts with the Afghan central government.

As with coordination, the UK-led PRT in Mazar-e Sharif was particularly effective in building relationships. The PRT commander in September 2003 had extensive diagrams detailing frequently-changing factional loyalties and interactions. PRT members traveled extensively through their area of operations. When tensions rose, PRT members stepped into the middle of the action, sometimes physically placing themselves between armed groups. Their efforts prevented factional fighting from breaking out or escalating on a number of occasions. In contrast, the German-led PRT in Konduz could travel only within a 30-kilometer radius and was accused by UN and NGO staff of avoiding areas where factional tensions were high. PRT members took a delegation (including the author) to visit the Konduz governor in February 2004, and described their close relationship with him. They did not seem aware, however, that the governor would be replaced the next day by the central government..

Well, someone ought to be in line for a medal if that is at all representative of the UKPRT’s performance. This is interesting, too:

The UK military relied on its government’s Department for International Development for funding assistance projects. While this limited the military’s freedom of action, it may well have been a blessing in disguise. UK military personnel coordinated closely with their civilian agency counterparts in order to access their funding. They also tended to focus more on building relationships based on security-related cooperation with local authorities.

PRTs could, in extremis, call on the ultimate stick—bombs from above—but military airstrikes lack subtlety, and even the threat of them was generally not helpful for day-to-day interactions. PRT members relied primarily on trying to reward good behavior, but there was one stick President Karzai used that the PRTs could reinforce, as appropriate, in the murky world of provincial diplomacy: job insecurity. Karzai was not shy about firing ineffective or corrupt governors and police chiefs. PRTs were in some cases instrumental in supporting leadership changes, and in other cases their interactions with local officials seemed only remotely tied to the central government.

For example, the PRT in Gardez helped the governor, a trusted appointee of President Karzai, to transfer the corrupt provincial police chief to Kabul. When the new police chief arrived with a well-trained police unit to assist in the transfer process, the presence of PRT soldiers demonstrated US support for the central government and helped prevent a firefight between the newcomers and the departing police chief’s private militia.13 PRTs were most effective in relationship-building when they could both reward cooperative local partners and hold uncooperative partners accountable. The appointment of an Afghan Ministry of Interior official to each PRT in 2004 was particularly helpful in improving the ability of the PRTs to build relationships and strengthen the reach of the central government.

Now, this is all very fantastic, but can it last? Answering a question of mine, Bob Bran, who served on a PRT and General Barno’s staff, remarked that the State Department and the Army considered them “nondoctrinal”, or to put it in English, bureaucratically wrong. And the transfer to Iraq doesn’t seem to be working out for reasons that the battling Brigadier has covered in some detail: Washington Post link.

But with the Pentagon eager to draw down forces in Iraq, defense officials are reluctant to take on new or expanded assignments, particularly those seen by some as having more to do with reconstruction than combating terrorism.

“We’re very much in the watch-and-wait mode right now,” said a senior military officer at the Pentagon. “Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld has spoken of the importance of not stepping too far forward in the area of reconstruction just yet.”

Well, that’s the sound of a point being missed by a mile. Before the recent financial cutoff, even the White House seemed to have (temporarily and for PR purposes) got a grip on the idea that you cannot win this kind of war just by killing all the bad guys. Remember that National Strategy for Victory in Iraq? Clear, Hold, and Build? Bah. Brig Aylwin-Foster:

The most striking feature of the US Army’s approach during this period of OIF Phase 4 is that universally those consulted for this paper who were not from the US considered that the Army was too “kinetic”. This is shorthand for saying US Army personnel were too inclined to consider offensive operations and destruction of the insurgent as the key to a given situation, and conversely failed to understand its downside.

A good question regarding the roll-out of the PRTs to Iraq, which hasn’t really been answered, is whether sufficient tactical-level consent exists for them to operate – after all, a low-profile strategy might have worked in the spring of 2003, but the degree of insurgent dominance of roads and urban centres is now a very difficult problem for a type of unit that is specifically meant to make contact with the people. Certainly some parts of Iraq might well be possible, but then, those are the bits (Kurdistan) where there is really no problem.

More broadly, is it time to put a permanent PRT or three on the Army’s order of battle? It would seem to be an excellent use of the Territorial Army – many of the TA infantry have been used as individual reinforcements and gate guards, whilst a lot of their officers have been knocked back from going to Iraq completely, and a few specialist trades run into the ground.





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