Archive for June, 2004

Last night’s TV. What a great subject for a blog post.

Newsnight last night was taken up by the BBC’s favourite post-Hutton pastime – broadcasting earnest discussions of its own failings. On the panel was Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, who had a number of curious things to say about Andrew Gilligan, reporting and her own product. Having retrospectively castigated him at length for mixing fact and opinion, she was taken to task by the presenter over statements in her own work regarding the European constitution. These, it was argued, were matters of opinion presented as fact or, at least, as equivalent to fact. She replied that this was all right because she “was entirely confident” of them.

Well, Mr. Gilligan was entirely confident of his report, too. And, after all, where are the weapons? But this, of course, was treacherous mendacity only permitted to be broadcast by the bias she stated was inherent in all facets of the BBC’s output, especially the choice of interviewees (Eh?). Now, I remember that in my first year at university a really nasty put-down went the rounds that had obviously been adapted from some well-meaning effort to kibosh prejudice against the disabled. After someone had recounted someone else’s brain fart, you put on a pink voice and replied “I’m not different, I’m special!” Quite clearly, the criteria that apply to Gilligan don’t apply to Phillips. She’s not different – you get the rest…

As heavily reported, the Iranians have seized three speed boats belonging to the Royal Naval party in southern Iraq after they allegedly crossed the border between Iran and Iraq. The people involved are engaged in setting up an Iraqi river police for the area (chalk up another bunch of gunmen to us! I hope I’m being too cynical), as well as attempting to catch smugglers in the Shatt al-Arab and the delta. It’s the sort of thing that follows a pattern – hyperventilation all round and impressed announcements that those involved had “maps!” and “weapons!” as if that was surprising. And they are always “commandos”. It was much the same when the Spanish police briefly arrested a group of supposed SAS personnel travelling by road to Gibraltar. They didn’t have any weapons, it turned out – just maps and warry-looking rucksacks, but it didn’t stop them from being identified on TV.

Numerous blogs are speculating that there is some link with the continuing diplomacy over Iranian nuclear ambitions, but I doubt there is any connection. This is a kind of diplomatic event that is even more ritualised than most, and if a NATO and EU partner state behaves in exactly the same way when they find someone carrying a MoD Form 90 identity card, it’s only to be expected that Iran would. Iranian state TV says they will be “prosecuted” but this is likely for domestic consumption only. I predict that this will be resolved and largely forgotten within the Ali Campbell nine days’ deadline.

More broadly, I don’t really buy in to the idea that Iran is terrified by the occupation of Iraq. I’m sure they are intelligent enough to judge by capabilities, not by flags stuck in a map, and the US army camped in Iraq is not in a position to invade anywhere when all its efforts are absorbed in local security. The US would need enough troops to win in Iran plus an occupation force capable of covering the rear in Iraq, and at a time of serious overstretch it just doesn’t happen. Add to that the fact that Iran can press the Shia button and set the south-central sector on fire at any time and I suspect they sleep well.

Last night’s TV. What a great subject for a blog post.

Newsnight last night was taken up by the BBC’s favourite post-Hutton pastime – broadcasting earnest discussions of its own failings. On the panel was Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, who had a number of curious things to say about Andrew Gilligan, reporting and her own product. Having retrospectively castigated him at length for mixing fact and opinion, she was taken to task by the presenter over statements in her own work regarding the European constitution. These, it was argued, were matters of opinion presented as fact or, at least, as equivalent to fact. She replied that this was all right because she “was entirely confident” of them.

Well, Mr. Gilligan was entirely confident of his report, too. And, after all, where are the weapons? But this, of course, was treacherous mendacity only permitted to be broadcast by the bias she stated was inherent in all facets of the BBC’s output, especially the choice of interviewees (Eh?). Now, I remember that in my first year at university a really nasty put-down went the rounds that had obviously been adapted from some well-meaning effort to kibosh prejudice against the disabled. After someone had recounted someone else’s brain fart, you put on a pink voice and replied “I’m not different, I’m special!” Quite clearly, the criteria that apply to Gilligan don’t apply to Phillips. She’s not different – you get the rest…

As heavily reported, the Iranians have seized three speed boats belonging to the Royal Naval party in southern Iraq after they allegedly crossed the border between Iran and Iraq. The people involved are engaged in setting up an Iraqi river police for the area (chalk up another bunch of gunmen to us! I hope I’m being too cynical), as well as attempting to catch smugglers in the Shatt al-Arab and the delta. It’s the sort of thing that follows a pattern – hyperventilation all round and impressed announcements that those involved had “maps!” and “weapons!” as if that was surprising. And they are always “commandos”. It was much the same when the Spanish police briefly arrested a group of supposed SAS personnel travelling by road to Gibraltar. They didn’t have any weapons, it turned out – just maps and warry-looking rucksacks, but it didn’t stop them from being identified on TV.

Numerous blogs are speculating that there is some link with the continuing diplomacy over Iranian nuclear ambitions, but I doubt there is any connection. This is a kind of diplomatic event that is even more ritualised than most, and if a NATO and EU partner state behaves in exactly the same way when they find someone carrying a MoD Form 90 identity card, it’s only to be expected that Iran would. Iranian state TV says they will be “prosecuted” but this is likely for domestic consumption only. I predict that this will be resolved and largely forgotten within the Ali Campbell nine days’ deadline.

More broadly, I don’t really buy in to the idea that Iran is terrified by the occupation of Iraq. I’m sure they are intelligent enough to judge by capabilities, not by flags stuck in a map, and the US army camped in Iraq is not in a position to invade anywhere when all its efforts are absorbed in local security. The US would need enough troops to win in Iran plus an occupation force capable of covering the rear in Iraq, and at a time of serious overstretch it just doesn’t happen. Add to that the fact that Iran can press the Shia button and set the south-central sector on fire at any time and I suspect they sleep well.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Private craft makes space history

They did it! Burt Rutan’s outfit went to space!

Best news all year!

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Private craft makes space history

They did it! Burt Rutan’s outfit went to space!

Best news all year!

So – having besieged Fallujah for weeks without success, you hand it over to a new and rather vague “Fallujah Brigade” in the hope that they will be less provocative (with the subtext that it’s a Kosovo Protection Corps-style way of incorporating the gunmen into something quasi-legitimate). Then, without apparently considering any further, you call in an airstrike on a house in the middle of the city, killing 22.

What kind of sense is this supposed to make? How are the Fallujah Brigade meant to even survive if their ally tries to make arrests with a 500lb bomb in their patch? The retaliation will come and it will come right to them, if not from within their own ranks. And what then? The risk in giving up the siege once it started was always that it would validate the insurgents’ control of the area, giving them or a front for them effective power there. If the Brigade dissolves, will the Marines be called back in? And what is the point of doing what is in effect an arrest operation with an F-16? Surely this could have been achieved quietly, simply and without unnecessary destruction by sending a truckload of squaddies around to the address to arrest the people concerned and search the place? That way, of course, there would also be the benefit of whatever information might be obtained by searching the building. It all reminds me of Operation Iron Hammer and the mad firing of an ATACMS missile at a house 120 miles away.

The mighty Talking Points Memo has an interview with Anonymous, the spook author of Imperial Hubris, the book in which he bashes Bush’s counterterrorist policy comprehensively. TPM and Anon discuss Saudi Arabia (or next month’s outrage, as I’ve decided to call it) and establish that al-Qa’ida apparently operates on the principles laid down in Withnail and I in the scene where Withnail is reading the newspaper. Let us recap:

WITHNAIL: This vast head like a cannonball…is now considered sane. Jeff Wode is feeling better! And is now ready to step back into society and start tossing his orb about!….(pensively)Imagine the size of his balls….(suddenly)Imagine getting into a fight with the fucker!

MARWOOD(weakly): Please. I don’t feel well.

WITHNAIL: That’s what you’d say. But that wouldn’t wash with Jeff. He’d probably like a bit of pleading. Adds spice to it! In fact, he’d probably tell you what he was gonna do to you….before he did it! Hmmm…(mimicing Wode)I’m going to pull your head off. (pleading)Please. Please, don’t pull my head off. (Wode again)I’m going to pull your head off – because I don’t like your head!

Compare:

“Which perhaps is the most important trademark for al-Qaeda: they tell you what they’re going to do and then they do it.”

Yes, I know it’s bad taste, but the chance to think of al-Qa’ida as the Jeff Wodes of today is too good to miss.

Just not for our side.

The chart shows numbers of “significant activities” by insurgents. Blue line is the daily total, red is the moving average. From Global Security

In the week that Kabul’s first gastropub opened for business, Phil Carter’s Intel Dump has a great post on the bar scene that has developed inside the walls of the Baghdad Green Zone. Apparently, the Zone’s hottest ticket is the CIA disco. Complete with mirrorball and (sprung I hope) dance floor.

“The plushest tavern is the CIA’s rattan furnished watering hole, known as the ”OGA bar.” OGA stands for ”Other Government Agency,” the CIA’s low-key moniker. The OGA bar has a dance floor with a revolving mirrored disco ball and a game room. It is open to outsiders by invitation only. Disgruntled CPA employees who haven’t wangled invites complain that the CIA favors women guests.”

I suppose the company from The Company must be amusing as well. “So, how do you get into the interrogation contracting business then?” Those mysterious prisoners who were kept off the Abu Ghraibh roll call were officially the responsibility of “OGAs”. It reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers’ song “Tsunami”. (“Disco dancing with the rapists/Your only crime was silence..”) Of course, the character in the song was in a high-security psychiatric hospital. Only pure coincidence can possibly have led me to associate six thousand deluded and potentially violent individuals isolated from the outside world by massive security barriers with an asylum. Or did I mean the other way round?