Archive for the ‘empire’ Category

The Libyan rebels are making progress, as well as robots. Some of them are reported to be within 40 miles of Tripoli, those being the ones who the French have been secretly arming, including with a number of light tanks. Now that’s what I call protecting civilians.

They are also about to take over the GSM network in western Libya like they did in the east. How do I know? I’m subscribed to the Telecom Tigers group on LinkedIn and so I get job adverts like these two.

ZTE BSC Job: URGENT send cv at [e-mail] for the job position or fw to your friends : Expert Telecom Engineer ZTE BSC.Location:Lybia,Western Area,1300USD/day,start immediate

URGENT send cv at [e-mail] for the job position or fw to your friends : ERICSSON MGW/BSS/BSC 2G/RAN Implementation Senior Expert Engineer.Location:Lybia,Gherian,Western Mountains,1300-1500 USD/day

In fact, one of the ads explicitly says that the job is in the rebel zone and the other is clear enough. What the rebels are planning to do is clear from the job descriptions:

must be able to install a ZTE latest generation BSC – platform to be integrated with 3rd party switching platform,solid knowledge of ZTE BSC build out and commissioning to connect up to 200 existing 2G/3G sites

To put it another way, they want to unhook the existing BTSs – the base stations – from Libyana and link them to a core system of their own, and in order to do this they need to install some Chinese-made Base Station Controllers (BSCs – the intermediary between the radio base stations and the central SS7 switch in GSM).

Here’s the blurb for the Ericsson post:

Responsible for commissioning and integrating an Ericsson 2G BSS network (2048-TRX Ericsson BSC plus Ericsson BTSs) in a multi-vendor environment. Will be responsible for taking the lead and ownership of all BSS commissioning and integration, leading the local team of BSS engineers, and managing the team through to completion of integration.

Experience of Ericsson MGW implementation, and integration of MGW with BSS, is highly desirable. Experience of optical transmission over A-interface.

Compilation, creation and coordination of BSC Datafill. This will include creating, generating, seeking and gathering of all Datafill components (Transport, RF Frequencies, neighbor relations, handovers, Switch parameters, ABIS mapping, etc.) based on experience and from examination of existing network configuration and data. Loading of Datafill into the BSC to facilitate BTS integration.

Working with the MSC specialists to integrate the BSC with the MSC. Providing integration support to BTS field teams; providing configuration and commissioning support to the BSC field team.

So they’ve got some Ericsson BSCs, the base stations are Ericsson too, and an MSC (Mobile Switching Centre, the core voice switch) has been found from somewhere – interesting that they don’t say who made it. That’ll be the “3rd party switching platform” referred to in the first job. They’re doing VoIP at some point, though, because they need a media gateway (MGW) to translate between traditional SS7 and SIP. They need engineers to integrate it all and to work out what the various configurations should be by studying what Gadhafi’s guys left. (It’s actually fairly typical that a mobile network consists of four or so different manufacturers’ kit, which keeps a lot of people in pies dealing with the inevitable implementation quirks.)

The successful candidate will also have some soft skills, too:

Willing to work flexible hours, excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work under pressure in a challenging, diverse and dynamic environment with a variety of people and cultures.

You can say that again. Apparently, security is provided for anyone who’s up for the rate, which doesn’t include full board and expenses, also promised.

They already have at least one candidate.


Adam Elkus has a piece out entitled The Hezbollah Myth and Asymmetric Warfare, in which he criticises what he sees as a tendency to over-rate the power of guerrillas in the light of the 2006 war. Having read it, I think the real question here is about expectations and goals. Hezbollah didn’t defeat the Israelis and hold a victory parade in Tel Aviv, but then nobody least of all them expected or aimed for that. The outcome of 2006 can only be understood in the light of a realistic assessment of the conflict parties’ capabilities, interests, and priorities. A score draw is a much better result for Stoke City against Manchester United than it is for Manchester United against Barcelona.

For Hezbollah, the first and overriding goal was surely survival – as it is for everyone, it’s even the title of the IISS Journal – followed closely by survival as a force in Lebanese politics, survival of their capability to maintain their self-declared insecurity zone in northern Israel, and finally, inflicting casualties and costs on the Israelis in order to create a deterrent effect. In that light, the result of 2006 was surely just as good from their point of view as they made out – they came away still in the field, still firing rockets, and with their status in Lebanese politics enhanced.

For Israel, well, perhaps one day they’ll work out what their strategic aims were.

Elkus argues that the tactical situation at the point when the UN ceasefire went into effect was favourable for Israel, and that had the war gone on they might have done better. This is possible. However, it’s also very common for wars to end like this. The Israelis’ campaign in 1967 was designed, once they got the upper hand, to get to the Canal and onto the Golan before the UN blew the whistle – one of Ariel Sharon’s frequent blind-eye manoeuvres in 1973 was also intended to complete the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army before the UN ceasefire went into effect. The Indian plan for the 1971 war was explicitly intended to take Dhaka before a ceasefire was imposed. More recently, the Russian operation in Georgia was subject to a similar deadline. International intervention is part of the environment, and only fools wouldn’t take it into account as a planning assumption.

An interesting sidelight on this, also from Elkus, came up in a parallel blog debate about “network-centric warfare” – he pointed to this gung-ho but good piece about the action in northern Iraq in which John Simpson was blown up. What struck me about it, however, was more that it was an example of this kind of thing – which should certainly make you think about 2006, especially in the light of this.

Tangentially, Sean Lawson’s essay on the history of “network centric warfare” is well worth reading, especially for the way so many US officials in 2001-2006 seem to have been competing to see who could validate all the most extreme stereotypes of themselves the fastest, and more broadly on the way a basically sensible idea can become a sort of gateway drug to really insane strategic fantasies.

Cebrowski talked of a “booming export market for…security” and warned those who would resist, “If you are fighting globalization, if you reject the rules, if you reject connectivity, you are probably going to be of interest to the United States Department of Defense” (Cebrowski, 2003c).

Measured against the sort of capabilities the NCW thinkers knew they had, and the kind of goals they dreamed on the basis of them, what possible results wouldn’t look like failure? Compared with the enormous arrogance of this vision – they really did want everyone who thinks the CIA wants them dead, dead – what resistance wouldn’t look like success?

This story from Rajiv Chandrasekharan about two rival approaches to sorting out Kandahar’s electricity supply is informative, but not just about its apparent topic. Basically, the US Army wants to go for a quick fix, installing a lot of mobile generators and trucking in the diesel fuel, in order to get the lights on as soon as possible. The US civilians in Afghanistan disagree, on the grounds that it’s a temporary hack that will be far too expensive for the Afghans to support in the longer run.

Incredibly, it turns out, the US/NATO base at Kandahar air field produces and consumes about 100 megawatts of electricity; the estimate for the gap between current levels and requirements is 42 megawatts. Obviously, the military has a point in that if it’s possible to produce that much electricity in the field, it may be foolish to keep playing around with grandiose projects when a call to Aggreko could cut it.

On the other hand, as in Iraq, electricity is deeply political. We speak of generating power for a reason.

Deploying 42MW of mobile diesel gensets to Kandahar is one kind of solution; it defines the issue as a discrete project, which can be solved by standard logistics methods, drawing on a private contracting firm that specialises in delivering surprisingly large electricity projects in containerised form. It also commits whoever rules in Kandahar to import large quantities of diesel through the shaky logistics pipeline from Pakistan, which means that somebody has to find the foreign exchange to back the most expensive way possible of generating power, and keep the roads reasonably open, which has its own military and political consequences.

You could argue that it’s not actually a solution – in fact, it’s a substitute for a solution, a temporary, containerised fix delivered as part of a standard tool-kit for counterinsurgency. A lot of people would argue that there is no such thing. Certainly, though, this option implies that donors continue to pay the bills, somebody continues to patrol the roads, and someone continues to pay off the Taliban between there and Quetta. I can’t help thinking, looking at a lot of the growing technology of instant urbanism (suitcase GSM base stations, palletised VSATs, Aggreko gensets, Sun Microsystems containerised data centres…) that a lot of this stuff might actually be a sort of negative toolkit of local optimisations. I’m trying to be optimistic, though; a less depressing example is here, in which South Sudan gets its own brewery. (I never realised producing beer was so bulk-increasing that it was worth importing all the inputs except for labour.)

On the other hand, the US civilians’ alternative is to press on with the Kajaki Dam project; the British Army brought off an incredibly complex tour de force in finally getting its new turbines delivered, involving a major operational-level deception plan, the building of a new road, and 4,000 men, but it’s still not making much progress. Adam Curtis would probably have something interesting to say about the fact that it’s been the major development plan for southern Afghanistan since the 1950s. The reason is, of course, that it embodied a particular political vision.

In terms of what might be called conflict urbanism (see this post) the Kajaki dam would seem to be a really bad idea; the plan is to generate power out in Taliban territory and have Kandahar depend on that. We know how well long-distance transmission lines survive in an environment of insurgency and counterinsurgency from Iraq; not at all. Of course, given that something like 40% of the power goes missing in transit, this is itself a sort of suboptimal political solution on the part of the people who live near the wires.

By comparison, generating power in town and having it radiate out to the villages is obviously a very different kind of politics – the conceptual fit with the counterinsurgents’ intellectual legacy is quite clear. However, I can’t help but doubt that anyone’s going to be importing all this diesel into Kandahar in two years’ time, nor that Aggreko or whoever’s expat staff will be entirely cool with a stint there. Of course, the problem is deeper than that; the contractors’ war-risk insurance policies come to mind.

The bill is apparently a cool $200 million; at $4/watt, a 42MW concentrating solar power plant would come in at $168m and produce power independently.

But I suspect this is as likely to happen as the other way of getting enough foreign exchange for Kandahar to buy its own fuel is to be accepted. Another notable fact is that the US Army is looking at getting the GCC countries to pay for the diesel bill – entrenching, in other words, southern Afghanistan in the Saudi sphere of influence.

You thought the Hummer being put on the block was symbolism? This is symbolism: the bloated, militaristic, fuel-guzzling cultural trope itself is being sold to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery. Yes; an unheralded outfit from the deep west, not even Shenzhen or Shanghai. Seeing as its core business is making construction gear, tankers, and off-road vehicles, it may even return to being something roughly designed for a purpose.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the Humvee, in its post-2004 up-armoured version, and its later, baroque replacements, get singled out in David Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla. Specifically:

As Steve pointed out, this is truly an urban submarine – we drive around in an armoured box with three-inch thick windows, peering out through our portholes at the little Iraqi fish swimming by. They can’t see us, and we don’t seem human to them. We are aliens, imperial stormtroopers with our Darth Vader sunglasses and grotesque and cowardly body armour. The insurgents have done to us what we said they would do to them – isolated us from the population…

An artefact is an ideology made manifest; the caricature America we’ve known since the 1980s could hardly be better illustrated, whether outwards in its violent and paradoxically vulnerable military sense or inwards in its lumbering, debt-bloated, hyper-capitalist civilianised sense. Both of which relied upon the engine technology of the 1950s.

Resistance – The Essence of the Islamist Revolution is Alistair Crooke’s survey of modern Islamist thought. It would be clearer to say it is a couple of books occupying the same space; one would be a history of Islamist thought since the origins of the Iranian Revolution, with a polemic for greater understanding of such thought, and another would be a slightly eccentric, neo-Platonist rant with overtones of Ian Buruma’s notion of Occidentalism.

Well, that sounds fun, doesn’t it? Then you have to add in Crooke’s career; the book glosses him as an advisor to the European Commission on the Middle East, but makes absolutely no mention of his term as SIS station chief in Tel Aviv, in which role he negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which lasted until an unfortunate air raid resulted in the deaths of a round dozen civilians and not the Hamas man the Israelis were after. (The story is here.)

The war resumed, and Crooke was recalled; officially this was for “security reasons”, but if anything imperilled his security it was probably that after the event, the Israeli tabloids discovered his job title, identity, and photograph with un-mysterious suddenness. He eventually fetched up in Beirut, running a thinktank called the Conflicts Forum, devoted to contact between Western powers and Islamists. (Time was, it would have been a nightclub, but we live in fallen times.)

So, what upshot? Crooke makes a strong case for modern Islamism as a classical reaction to colonialism and modernisation, or rather an interwar vision of modernity. He relies on an impressive battery of reading ranging into cultural Marxism at one end and into hardcore conservatism at the other. More controversially, he tries to place Islamism since the 1950s in a context of rebellion against free-market economics drawn from Naomi Klein; but the Ba’athist and similar regimes hardly qualify as Friedmanites, with their nationalised oil companies, state military industries, and extensive Soviet influence in administration, secret policing, and military doctrine and structure.

He draws on a battery of confidential interviews, which are some of the most interesting things in the book, to illuminate current ideas and practice, specifically among Hezbollah thinkers. Notably, they argue, the Caliphate should now be seen as a world-wide network of loosely interconnected “communities of resistance”, rather than a state or any other kind of hierarchical organisation. The aim of these is to uphold the practice of an ideal, self-organising community of believers against a total onslaught by the forces of liberalism, which wishes us all to be atomised individuals.

In practice, this demands a sort of liberation theology/community-organising/vaguely anarchist drive to create base groups everywhere, drawn together by the practice of mutual aid and the study of critical texts, and if necessary to form the underground shadow-administration common to all good guerrilla armies.

Crooke is interesting on the military implications of this, but I think what he describes is less original than he suggests. Flat, highly networked command structures, with a high degree of autonomy down to the squad and the individual, are not characteristic of Islamic or Islamist warfare; what he is describing here sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik. Also, he describes the requirements of a Hezbollah leader as integrity, authenticity, reliability, personal charisma, and ability to mobilise others; would anyone at all disagree?

There is an interesting side-trip into Islamist economic ideas. He criticises Westeners who assume that the main aim of these is to find technical workarounds to make the normal course of business sharia-compliant; apparently the real thing is considerably better. However, a lot of it (as described here) consists of accepting a market economy but not letting money be the be-all and end-all of everything, etc, etc; in practice, this seems to mean a welfare state. No surprise, then, that one of the thinkers he quotes had to write an entire book to rebut the charge that his ideas were indistinguishable from European social democracy.

According to Crooke, the main distinction is in the field of monetary economics; but, in so far as his writing is a true misrepresentation of it, it seems to be distinct in a way which isn’t particularly original. Apparently, Islamist economists are very exercised about M3 broad money growth, on the grounds that this represents the growth of credit in a fractional-reserve banking system and that this is the root of the evils of capitalism. Instead, they are keen on…the gold standard, that most free-trade imperialist of economic institutions!

At this point you might want to halt briefly; Islamist Auftragstaktik applied to community organising? The Caliphate in terms suited to Clay Shirky? Dear God, Islamist monetarist gold bugs? Phew! And you could, perhaps, take comfort from the thought that however strange Iranian political thought may be, their economic thought is no stranger than Fraser Nelson’s or Jude Wanniski’s. Placing an upper bound on the strangeness, after all, is probably an important step towards international understanding.

Then we get into the second book. Crooke is always quoting Plato, specifically the apposition between the port and the city; he attacks Karl Popper, and uses a great deal of Horkheimer and John Gray. It is fair to say he accepts entirely the complex of critiques that argue that life is meaningless without a higher purpose usually decided by higher people, that the freedom offered by liberalism is no such thing, that trade (or commerce, or industry) is “mere”; it is harder to say whether he accepts this for the sake of argument, as much of the Islamist thinking he is discussing bases itself on these ideas.

And there is a valid argument that a lot of it claims to represent the up-side of such critiques – the need for a self-empowered, cohesive community, the problems of the free market – but might just as well be the downside. The economy should be directed, at a national level, towards certain “great concepts”; this could be post-war French indicative planning, and might well be, having been written in the 1950s – or it could be a Straussian exercise in National Greatness Conservatism. We should work and care for society; or is it, as one of Crooke’s interviewees says, that “life is not worth living without something worth dying for”?

None of this stuff about “false reconciliation” and “self-pacifying”, materialism, etc, etc, answers E. P. Thompson’s classic attack on “theories that assume that ordinary people are bloody silly“, either. Strangely enough, towards the end of the book, we have a sudden swerve back towards liberalism; freedom is not so bad after all, it turns out, compared with a neoconservatism informed by Leo Strauss.

Curiously, I left the book with a feeling that it had set out to make right-wing Americans feel closer to political Shi’ism.

Laura Rozen reports that the US government is talking about Pakistan’s “existential crisis”. (They do not mean, apparently, brooding about lobsters and smoking too much.) It’s currently being manifested by the Pakistani army fighting its way back into the Malakand Division; basic details here. Fans of Winston Churchill’s My Early Life will of course remember that he took part in a similar operation in exactly the same place as a young man. Some words of his are probably appropriate here:

The Political Officers who accompanied the force, with white tabs on their collars, parleyed all the time with the chiefs, the priests and other local notables. These political officers were very unpopular with the army officers. They were regarded as marplots. It was alleged that they always patched things up and put many a slur upon the prestige of the Empire without ever letting anyone know about it. They were accused of the grievous crime of “Shilly
shallying,” which being interpreted means doing everything you possibly can before you shoot.

We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was much disliked because he always stopped military operations. Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, this Major Deane – and why was he a Major anyhow? so we said, being in truth nothing better than an ordinary politician – would come along and put a stop to it all. Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between the fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal, just as they talked to our General as robber to robber.

We knew nothing about the police vs. the crook gangs in Chicago, but this must have been in the same order of ideas. Undoubtedly they all understood each other very well and greatly despised things like democracy, commercialism, money-getting, business, honesty and vulgar people of all kinds. We on the other hand wanted to let off our guns. We
had not come all this way and endured all these heats and discomforts which really were trying – you could lift the heat with your hands, it sat on your shoulders like a knapsack, it rested on your head like a nightmare – in order to participate in an interminable interchange of confidences upon unmentionable matters between the political officers and these sulky and murderous tribesmen.

And on the other side we had the very strong spirit of the ‘die-hards’ and the ‘young bloods’ of the enemy. They wanted to shoot at us and we wanted to shoot at them. But we were both baffled by what they called the elders, or as one might now put it ‘the old gang,’ and by what we could see quite plainly, the white tabs or white feathers on the lapels of the political officers.

As it turned out, the traditional authorities who Major Deane knew so well couldn’t hold back the young bloods on this occasion, or it didn’t suit their aims to do so, and Lieutenant Churchill and friends got the fight they were looking for.

However, nobody ever seriously imagined they would sweep out of the mountains into the Punjab. The only people who did imagine that were in distant London and almost as distant Delhi, where they insisted on imagining Russians everywhere. Otherwise, the question was always one of compromise. Today, we insist on projecting visions of the armies of Al-Qa’ida sweeping into the Punjab; as is well pointed out here, this is just as unlikely as it was in the days of Sir Bindon Blood as it is in the era of David Kilcullen.

As Arif Rafiq warns, the theatre of violence and the bureaucratic glamour of Richard Holbrooke is having much the same effect on the US government and the thinktank industry as the announcement of Bindon Blood mobilising for the Frontier had on the British Indian army of young Winston’s day. Every ambitious young fool is suddenly a Pakistan expert, much as Churchill called in all his political contacts and travelled two thousand miles overland whilst theoretically on leave in order to get shot at in Malakand. You have to show willing, after all.

Hysteria has been a constant in Western thought about Pakistan ever since it was created. However, as I’ve said before, somehow the worst-case scenarios have a way of not happening. Either we’re all incredibly lucky, or else the forces in Pakistani society that make for stability are stronger than outsiders imagine. It is worth repeating to yourself that 85 per cent of the population lives in Punjab or Sindh and that of the remaining 15 per cent, only 15 per cent of the fraction that lives in the NWFP votes Islamist.

Of course, hysteria has its uses; hence Robert Kaplan musing on just getting rid of Pakistan.

Especially in the west, the only border that lives up to the name is the Hindu Kush, making me think that in our own lifetimes the whole semblance of order in Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan could unravel, and return, in effect, to vague elements of greater India

Can anyone imagine how this sounds to, say, a Pakistani Army officer? It’s the business-class version of hoo-yah fuckwit Ralph Peters’ irresponsible furblings. An exercise; substitute “Rio Grande” for Hindu Kush, Mexico for Pakistan, Texas for Afghanistan, and Spain for India, and you’ve got a classic American Apocalypse/Immigrant Panic rant. Although, Tom Ricks does Kaplan a disservice by confusing the Indus and the Tigris. It isn’t quite that insane, but I think the slip is telling.

But the important point is that permanent crisis fuels the crisis industry. It helps to legitimate your ideas and staff your organisation. At the other end of the pipe, the permanent crisis helps the Pakistani government’s Pakistan desk manipulate the US government’s Pakistan desk. And their top priority is, of course, India; Robert Kaplan’s geopolitics quoted above is all about looking north from the sea, towards Afghanistan, over Pakistan’s shoulder as it were.

Want a policy prescription? Well, if everyone else is an expert, at least I serve only my own interests, and I have run this by the only Musharraf supporter I’ve ever met. I recommend a combination of this:

so if the people feel they don’t have a say in their own fate, “Washington” should come up with a new plan they don’t have any say in? I don’t get it. The one thing we haven’t tried doing yet is persuading the Pakistani people we’re on their side, rather than telling them we are and dumping millions of unaccountable dollars into their country.

and this:

But cliche seems to drive policy here. Pakistan doesn’t need gap shrinkers, assault ships, setting up the precinct or any other Thomas Barnett bollocks. What it needs is respect, and specifically respect for civilian government.

Just stop pressing those buttons.

This is wrong;

Gitmo will be closed. Binyam Mohammed will be returned to Britain, or put on trial in the USA. Either way the details of his treatment, and that of all the other inmates, will become public. What are Foggy Bottom and the CIA playing at? Get it over with

Consider this BBC story. The interesting thing here is that Miliband’s position requires him to argue two mutually impossible things at once; first, he can’t possibly let evidence of Mohammed’s torture appear in court, for fear of terrible retaliation from the United States, second, that the United States has not threatened such a thing.

The two are mutually dependent, because if the first one was allowed to stand on its own, who would imagine that good relations with the United States were anything worth having? Therefore, it’s necessary for the protection of the self-regard of the political classes that the US threat be both unambiguous and invisible. It is like the chapter in The Art of Coarse Rugby about fields with bulls in them; eventually they conclude that the ideal scenario is a field next to the rugby ground with a large sign in it, reading BEWARE OF THE BULL, but no bull.

That way, if you need to play for time, you can hoof the ball into the field and count on your opponents’ fear of the bull to waste time – but should you find yourself a couple of points down as time runs out, you can always declare that the bull was taken away years ago and just get on with it. Similarly, no evidence was ever provided of Saudi threats back when this legal dodge – the BAE gambit as I call it – was invented.

Providing evidence of the threats would spoil it. If the government had to admit it was being bullied into covering up for appalling torture or spectacular financial corruption, this would alter certain political facts. But that is not all. The beauty of the BAE gambit is that it’s so flexible; because the evidence of the risk is itself secret, it can be invoked whenever required. I said this at the time, and now they’re doing it. If they had to demonstrate the threat, this would spoil its effectiveness.

I see no reason to think that the Government is lying now about the Americans’ position. In fact, it’s very likely that the Obama administration has not contacted them; for example, here’s the new CIA director explicitly stating that he considers torture and refoulement to states that practice it illegal. Here are his own words:

On January 22, 2009, the President issued an executive order directing all U.S. agencies to use Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as the baseline for the treatment and interrogation of persons detained in any armed conflict. The executive order also states that agencies must notify the International Committee of the Red Cross of such detainees and provide the Red Cross with access to them. The intelligence community must follow the executive order.

With respect to renditions, the intelligence community must comply with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, including Article 3 prohibiting the rendition of a person to a country where it is more likely than not he will be subjected to torture.

Here’s the relevant paragraph in the executive order:

Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal “stalking” statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. Nothing in this order shall be construed to diminish any rights that any individual may have under these or other laws and treaties.”

No torture; no handover to states that torture. So it would be surprising if they were to do so. And, indeed, Miliband explicitly says that no approach to the new administration has been made.

However, the Government has chosen to regard not being explicitly told to stop as equivalent to a reiteration of the threats (whose existence it denies, lest we forget) issued by the Bush administration in 2007. It has done this because it suits the Government’s interests. For once, William Hague is right – they should simply ask the Americans to state whether or not the non-threat is still not-in force.

Of course they will not, because it suits them to be able to kick the ball over the BEWARE OF THE BULL sign whenever they think fit. As Scott Horton points out, there are a lot of people about who desperately want a new US administration to be guilty, because it detracts from their own guilt.

It is come to this. Here is our Secretary of State for Culture:

The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, says in an interview today that the government is considering the need for “child safe” websites – registered with cinema-style age warnings – to curb access to offensive or damaging online material.

He plans to approach US president-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration with proposals for tight international rules on English language websites, which may include forcing internet service providers, such as BT, Tiscali, Sky and AOL, to ­provide packages restricting access to websites without an age rating.

Oh shitty fuck. I thought it was bad enough when a colleague of mine mentioned that Burnham wanted to make YouTube put warnings next to everything it carried that included rude words. But no, it’s worse. This is dire in so many ways; for a start, this is our Secretary of Culture yelling for censorship. Not the Home Secretary, or the Minister for Promoting Virtue and Punishing Vice, or the Lord Chamberlain.

Shouldn’t he be the voice for culture in the Cabinet, like the Chancellor is for finance, or the secretary of defence is for the military? The Home Office will always demand more surveillance and more control, but shouldn’t the Department of Culture demand culture?

Further, there’s the crappy idea of special “packages” of the Internet with bits missing. There is a clear reason why this is crappy: if it is so desirable, why isn’t anyone selling it? Isn’t there a gap in the market? Of course, one of the problems is that it would be expensive – who will go through all the websites censoring them? But then, they say you can’t buck the market, and if you can’t do that to build a national fibre network or keep Amersham’s DNA sequencer business in the UK, you can’t do that for censorship.

It’s also crappy because it does nothing about peer-to-peer networks, instant messaging, VoIP, USENET, e-mail (remember that?), but it’s worse than that – it’s based on a set of fundamentally stupid and discriminatory assumptions.

First of all, there’s the idea that sin can leap out and grab you, to quote Holden Caulfield. Paedophiles can make vapours rise up from the keyboard. But secondly, there’s the idea that this only applies to some very specific and rather puny kinds of sin. There is surely plenty of stuff in an average edition of several national newspapers that, if we looked at it clearly, we would all agree is highly unsuitable for children; and it has little or nothing to do with the usual tropes of rude words and naked flesh.

Third, there’s a weird discrimination of means. Not only is a punch in the mouth worse on this scale of values (violence!) than the delivery of a 1,000 pound bomb (this is called “action”), pretty much anything is OK if it is delivered in print or in the theatre. Nobody seems to want to censor the printing press or reintroduce theatrical censorship. The explanation is in part that the National Theatre’s seating capacity is less than the peak daily traffic of this weblog and heavily London-focused. But that’s not enough.

If the buggers are reading books, this is in a sense enough – they look more middle-class, dammit, and who cares about the content. And if you’ve got them into a theatre for something of their choice, it’s unlikely they are the ones you’re worrying about.

But I am even more furious about the reference to the “English-language Internet”. For a start, this betrays deep ignorance. There is no such thing; the Internet has no notion of English language, and it’s damn right. It’s because of this that it can work in every language. And Burnham seems to think he owns the English language, that he can impose his will on anyone who chooses to write in it. What if an Indian does so, on a website hosted in Holland, operated by a Chinese company? Who is this Burnham?

It’s worse than that, though; he is trying to push his quack nonsense on the Americans, which means he doesn’t think he can get it through Parliament and he also doesn’t think he can get it through the European Parliament, so he wants a nice little unpublished understanding with the Americans that the prime minister can sign and instantly ratify under the prerogative power, and then place in the Commons library, or perhaps not. Rather like the whole wealth of other understandings that have to do with electronic surveillance of one form or another.

The good news, however, is that his proposals might contravene the US constitution (we can’t expect too much from our own). If they can have secret transatlantic understandings, then I intend to have one of my own.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s top five cities get fibre to the home.

The Rude Pundit has a very good point.

You can’t even picture Obama pardoning a fucking turkey. Sure, he’ll probably do it. But unlike Bush, who approached such obligations with dunce-like glee, for Obama it’ll be like a kick in the groin.

As usual with Rude, there’s a serious point here, sneaking past the guards while all the noise and snark and chainsaw dust draw their attention. Pardoning a turkey is, let’s face it, exactly the kind of stupid crap most British people look at as just the kind of stupid crap Americans get up to. Can you imagine a British prime minister trying this? He or she would be laughed out of the country; probably they’d end up doing a John Profumo and choosing a life of deliberate monkish obscurity.

But it’s not just ridiculous; it’s morally repellent and politically more than dubious. After all, what is the turkey’s crime? Being a turkey? Pardon implies that you committed a crime, and also that you were punished by some legitimate authority, which has now offered you mercy out of the goodness of its heart. It’s a sort of reversed sacrifice – rather than killing a goat to expiate your sins, it’s not killing a turkey so as to go off and eat millions of ’em with a clean conscience.

Pardon is also interesting because it can’t be separated from executive power. To pardon someone means that the head of state decided, whatever the law happened to be, whatever the judiciary thought of the case, whatever the jury thought of the evidence, just to intervene and make an exception. It’s only possible, after all, because the executive has the power to execute. It also means that the executive agreed to all the other executions; what, after all, would happen if the president pardoned everyone? That would be about as likely as pardoning all the turkeys. Executive clemency is the flip side of executive cruelty. (Note, of course, that a British prime minister isn’t the head of state.)

It’s therefore a profoundly anti-rational, authoritarian custom; no wonder it’s a holdover from absolute monarchy. And this, I think, is what worries me about this ceremony – it’s the sacralisation of the executive branch. Like the King’s touch for scrofula. (He can even un-turkey a turkey!) No wonder, as Rude so wisely points out, Bush loves it.

Before we go on, here’s a video from Talking Points Memo in which you can see both Bush doing the turkey thing and also Sarah Palin’s now-notorious performance in which she pardoned a turkey while a worker slaughtered turkeys in the background. It will help your comparative turkeyology to watch closely.

Now, what about the well-known cockup in Alaska? A couple of points come to mind. For a start, as befits an anti-rationalist movement, neoconservatism has no culture of competence. They never run anything; their natural habitat is the thinktank, the university campus, the elite circle. Hence the Schlamperei that follows them around, like a drugfuddled burglar in a darkened room full of gym equipment. Of course they’d fuck it up – even in Washington, Bush managed to grant the bird a “full unconditional unconditional pardon”.

The second is that perhaps they aren’t trying. Looking back, when did they lie convincingly? The case for war was based not on lies, but on the unwillingness to confront the lies. Later, on things like torture and mass surveillance, they moved beyond this and simply admitted the facts while denying the form. Yes, we waterboarded the guy and pulled your call-detail records – are you with the terrorists? Of course, we do not support torture or illegal surveillance. In a very real sense, they were pardoning turkeys in front of the slaughter live on TV all the time.


Conrad Black: it has come to this. It’s been an intermittent amusement to see his rants issued from jail, what with their deluded certainty that the courts would eventually understand him. Now, however, he’s given up on vindication to beg for mercy. In a signature move, he’s also tried to bill his old newspaper for legal costs incurred in begging Bush for a pardon.

I think this points up the horror of the times in two ways. For a start, the very idea of pardoning Black is sordid. But on the other hand, I suspect Bush won’t do it, and that is even worse; he doesn’t, I think, have enough gut decency to bail out his friend. You can understand a man who does the E.M. Forster and betrays his country rather than his friends, you can grudgingly respect someone who sticks to the law; someone who does neither is a common enemy.

Anyway, it’s scrambling time; the handover modalities are set, and apparently the Iraqi government is asserting a right to look at the US Army’s mail. And the staff college students are studying the problems of withdrawal. Even if this guy’s still being asked for five pick-up trucks, a VSAT, coffee, and 10 tons of gravel, it’s over.

I wonder if Conrad Black, however, might be the first out having been the first in. Not only did he turn his newspapers into an all-singing, all-dancing neocon wankapalooza, he did it early; arguably, the turn came not long after Max Hastings was outed from the Telegraph, and perhaps the whole affair of William Hague’s assurances about his peerage should have told us more than it did at the time. And the Jerusalem Post was barely coherent in 2001, let alone later. Black was the first of the movement to be disgraced; he’s ahead of the curve. It’s probably worth watching him as a leading indicator.