Not Saussure

April 14, 2007

More on Des Browne and the Navy media fiasco

Filed under: Iran, Iraq, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 12:22 am

There’s a petition on the Number 10 Website,

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to name and sack the person responsible for declaring that members of the armed services can sell their stories to the media

In the further details section, its creator, Mike Critchley of Warship World magazine, writes

We the undersigned consider the statement to allow members of Her Majesty’s forces to sell their stories to the media to be a major government failure -and PR disaster for the Royal Navy – and “heads should roll” at the highest level.

It’s only been up a couple of days and already has over 3,700 signatures. St Tone has already replied to it (I don’t know if this is normal practice or not); the site tells us

The Prime Minister has already made it clear that he recognises that the Navy were trying to deal with a wholly exceptional situation. He has no intention of engaging in a witchhunt against people who acted honourably and in good faith in very difficult circumstances.

Nevertheless, it’s up there to sign, should you wish so to do. The Telegraph suggests that it’s a sign Downing Street is leaving the incompetent Mr Browne out to dry since it’s apparently unusual for it to accept petitions calling for people to be sacked (wholly exceptional circumstances, one might say). (more…)


April 11, 2007

No substitute for foresight

Filed under: Iran, Iraq, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 9:46 pm

Tony Blair has said “in hindsight” the navy’s decision to allow sailors held captive in Iran to sell their stories to the media was not a “good idea”.The prime minister said he was not involved in the decision, which he said was taken in “good faith”

Hindsight… decision taken in good faith… Oh, yes, I remember. That’s why they were there in the first place, of course. Though, of course, he still hasn’t acknowledged that the invasion perhaps wasn’t a particularly good idea in the first place, despite the humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Iraq, on which the ICRC today reported. It’s not, it seems to me, a question of whose fault it is any more; the fact of the matter is that we and the US are, along with the Iraqi government, presiding over an horrendous situation without any clear plans for resolving it. (more…)

March 30, 2007

Give him a map

Filed under: Iran, UK, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 12:36 pm

Simon Heffer is fulminating in The Telegraph about the British sailors and marines detained by the Iranians. He ringingly declares

There is no doubt the 15 were in international waters when captured,

On the contrary; the one thing on which everyone’s agreed is that they weren’t in international waters, for the simple reason there aren’t any around there. Either, as the Iranians claim, they were 0.5 km inside Iranian waters or, as everyone else seems to think, they were 1.7 nautical miles in Iraqi waters.

No where else they could have been, unless, which I very much doubt, he means that Craig Murray is correct in arguing that it doesn’t really matter what their physical position was since the legal status of those waters is disputed between the two countries, no maritime border being agreed.

Mr Murray quotes,

that well known far left source Stars and Stripes magazine, October 24 2006.’Bumping into the Iranians can’t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred, officials said.

“No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries,” Lockwood said.’

That is Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Lockwood. He is the Commander of the Combined Task Force in the Northern Persian Gulf.

I might even know something about it myself, having been Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, and having been personally responsible in the Embargo Surveillance Centre for getting individual real time clearance for the Royal Navy to board specific vessels in these waters.

He goes on to say that

It is essential now for both sides to back down. No solution is possible if either side continues to insist that the other is completely in the wrong and they are completely in the right. And the first step towards finding a peaceful way out, is to acknowledge the self-evident truth that maritime boundaries are disputed and problematic in this area.Both sides can therefore accept that the other acted in good faith with regard to their view of where the boundary was. They can also accept that boats move about and all the coordinates given by either party were also in good faith. The captives should be immediately released and, to international acclamation, Iran and Iraq, which now are good neighbours, should appoint a joint panel of judges to arbitrate a maritime boundary and settle this boundary dispute.

That is the way out. For the British to insist on their little red border line, or the Iranians on their GPS coordinates, plainly indicates a greater desire to score propaganda points in the run up to a war in which a lot of people will die, than to resolve the dispute and free the captives. The international community needs to put heavy pressure on both Britain and Iran to stop this mad confrontation.

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March 14, 2007

The Persian Version

Filed under: Books, Iran, usa — notsaussure @ 4:21 pm

I see from The Guardian that

Hollywood is already firmly established as a source of cultural decadence in Iran’s pantheon of hated western symbols.But now the country’s Islamic leadership has accused it of “psychological warfare” over its depiction of the battle between the Greeks and Persians at Thermopylae in 480BC, regarded as a key event in the birth of western democracy by some historians.

Well, of course. I’ve read my Robert Graves, and know

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer’s expedition
Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece – they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.

Yes, I know that Thermopylae was 10 years after Marathon, but it’s still a good poem, and I’m not waiting till someone makes Marathon as a sequel prequel to 300. They should be grateful no one’s made a movie of Aeschylus’ The Persians (Πέρσαι), is all I can say (and they should be even more grateful they didn’t have to translate it at school, along with sodding Horriditus).

November 13, 2006

War on Terror Games

Filed under: Iran, Iraq, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 8:01 pm

Now I know what I want for Christmas! I’m indebted to Rachel, not only for mentioning me in her blog but also for drawing my attention, in a comment to another post here, to what looks like my sort of game;

Everyone starts with the best intentions. Then things start to get cramped. Then you notice your neighbour has more oil than you. Before long, war is waged, nukes are dropped, revolutions are fought and terrorists are doing your dirty work, before turning on you…

War on Terror, the boardgame: A quality boardgame for 2 – 6 players, lovingly illustrated and politically correct (in a very literal sense). Playing it will bring out the nastiest, greediest, darkest, most paranoid aspects of your character. It’s all great family fun.

It appears to be on the same lines as Risk, only sort of … erm.. asymmetrical and satirical, and comes with a black balaclava for the person playing the Evil Empire to wear (selected, apparently, by using the Axis of Evil spinner). (more…)

October 1, 2006

Marjane Satrapi: ‘The prat is international. The prat is everywhere.’

Filed under: Books, Iran — notsaussure @ 3:53 pm

Interesting interview in The Independent with Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian graphic novelist who’s apparently very big in France but of whom I wasn’t hitherto aware. There’s a selection of pages from her autobiographical novel, Persepolis, on the Random House website.

Quite apart from her novels, she seems eminently commendable;

“I hate that man more than any other human being on Earth. If there is one creature on the planet that I detest, it’s that asshole. He is despicable. I loathe him. Because he’s nothing but a shit, a fucking asshole.”

Marjane Satrapi’s thoughts have turned to our Prime Minister.

“A Labour politician?” she goes on. “My arse. George Bush is a buffoon, manipulated by people much smarter than he is. I can forgive Bush because he is a bloody idiot. But Blair isn’t stupid. And with the intelligence he clearly has, to have legitimised this warmongering is unforgivable.”

Discussing stereotypes of Iranian women,

not every woman in Iran, she adds, is “a hysterical crow. My mother had an aunt who never married, who just had affairs. Her attitude was basically: I will do what the hell I like, when I like, and if you don’t like it, then fuck you.”

“I know that you encountered some harassment when you went back home in 1988…”

“In Iran, if a man touches you, you have to hit him. If someone touches me up, I punch him in the mouth. It’s that simple. It happened to me in the Métro, when I first came to France in 1994. So I hit the guy. The whole carriage was gawping at me as though I was crazy. He started it. I’m not saying I’m a feminist. If a woman touched me, I’d hit her too.

Her pithy analysis of Iranian society as a whole — all societies — seems eminently sensible;

“There’s this misconception in the West that every Iranian is scum, that all men force women into marriages, then beat them, and that everybody is a fanatic. It’s like arguing that Western society is typified by the Inquisition.”

“I remember you saying that, in any nation, 8 per cent of the population are prats. From an English perspective, that sounds rather a conservative…”

“I believe I said 15 per cent,” says Satrapi, not cracking a smile. “In France, 15 per cent vote for Le Pen. You have roughly 15 per cent in Iran who believe in extreme violence. The prat is international. The prat is everywhere.”

Iran’s problem is that, as the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky wrote of Russia in Talkin’ Moscow Blues, revolutions provide an environment in which the most violent and most ruthless will naturally succeed and rise to the top.
And I really approve of her attitude to militant Californian anti-smokers, doubtless learned from dealing with the Iranian police:

Recently, on a street in Los Angeles, she saw a woman glaring at her cigarette. “There were traffic fumes everywhere. I saw her staring, so I muttered: ‘Fuck you.’ She came over and said, ‘Did you say something?’ I said, ‘Yes – fuck you.’ She replied: ‘But I am so sensitive to cigarette smoke.’ I told her, ‘OK – be sensitive – and die. Or give me a break.'”

Marjane Satrapi

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September 22, 2006

Back us or we’ll bomb you (II): the madman theory

Filed under: Iran, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 6:32 pm

Garry, at A Big Stick and a Small Carrot, wonders why Musharraf has gone public about American threats to ‘bomb Pakistan into the stone age’ if he didn’t support the invasion of Afghanistan; as Garry writes,

There is some suggestion that the General is pitching this at domestic opinion in Pakistan but I can’t see how that holds together. Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan is shaky and he does have problems with Islamists but how would this statement help him? I don’t know a great deal about Pakistani domestic political situation but I’m fairly sure that this won’t. He’s effectively saying “yes, I agreed to help the US government but only because they threatened to bomb us”.

I wonder whether he may not have said this at the behest of the US, with an eye to the effect on Tehran. There’s a precedent for this in US diplomacy, the so-called madman theory apparently employed by Richard Nixon, who supposedly told Robert Haldeman

“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ — and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

On this reading, the US is concerned to convince Tehran that, despite the widely-held view that an attack on Iran makes no sense whatseover — alluded to in another of Garry’s posts — Bush is crazy enough not to let a little thing like that stop him.

September 17, 2006

Krauthammer vs Chatham House

Filed under: Chatham House, Iran, Neo-conservatives, Politics, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 2:47 pm

The Tehran Calculus — not, as I initially thought, a thriller by Robert Loodlum, on the lines of such works as The Moscow Vector, The Maltarese Circle and The Bourne Trajectory, but a Washington Post article by a gent — rather an influential gent in the US, it seems — by the name of Charles Krauthammer has been causing some comment in the American neo-conservative blogosphere (quite why they call themselves ‘Conservatives’, I do not know, since they have even less to do with what I understand by Conservatism than does David Cameron… splutter… where was I?)

I apologise for the length of this piece, though there is an entertaining movie buried inside it.


September 13, 2006

Making the world a better and safer place

Filed under: Blair, Blogroll, hubris, Iran, Iraq, nemesis, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 7:30 pm

From: A Big Stick and a Small Carrot:

That’s Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki shaking hands with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad yesterday. If you genuinely believe the self-serving, spurious rhetoric spouted by Bush and Blair in relation to their “war” on terror, it’s a photo of our strong new ally in that “war” shaking hands with the new Hitler.

and Garry goes on to explain the links between Mr Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party and Tehran.

It goes further than that, though; as the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) explains in a recent report,

it is Iran, not the US, and certainly not the UK, that is the most influential “external” power in Iraq today, with an unparalleled ability to affect stability and security across most of the country‘. (p 21)
This is because of Iran’s political ties with, and financial backing for, all the Shia political parties and militias in Iraq; as the report explains,

It is very easy for Iran to undertake a policy of determining the political colouring of the south of Iraq by influencing the political parties. Virtually every Iraqi Shi’a party now has strong links with Tehran. SCIRI’s orientation towards Tehran is well documented – indeed, SCIRI was formed in Tehran in 1982 and its Badr Army was itself a product of Iranian Revolutionary Guard training and even staffing. Even Muqtada al-Sadr – a figure deemed by many pundits to be an ‘Iraqi’ nationalist and not an Iranian stooge – is, in fact, also part of the Iranian patronage network in Iraq. Muqtada’s Jaish al-Mahdi may now be several hundred thousand strong and is itching for the opportunity to be unleashed upon both the Arab Sunni insurgents and the Multinational Force. It is the Jaish al-Mahdi that would probably be the recipient of the numerous Iranians who have apparently already signed up for martyrdom attacks against US forces, should the time come.

Furthermore, it is not only in the south that Iran can make its presence felt in Iraq. The Iranian presence is keenly felt in Iraq’s Kurdish cities, including Suleimaniyah and Erbil. Currently relatively peaceful, the Kurdistan region remains vulnerable to Iranian and Turkish interventions and it is not inconceivable that this one relative success story of the regime change could be turned into a dangerous and volatile region, like the rest of Iraq. Also, Iran is perfectly capable of supplying and supporting insurgent groups of an Arab Sunni hue – even those associated with Al-Qaeda – and these groups would be more than happy to accept any assistance to take the fight to the US. (p 19)

The report concludes

Iraqis … recognize that they are caught between the geopolitical wishes of two powers, both of which have to be satisfied. The US maintains a dominant presence on their territory, and retains a formative influence over Iraq’s development and integration into the international community. The wishes of the US, therefore, cannot be ignored. But the problem is that the same argument can be applied to the Iran–Iraq relationship. In terms of pure influence, Tehran now has more than Washington and, more importantly, its ability to affect Iraq exists at the level of the street in addition to the more confined spaces of the Green Zone. Furthermore, the ability of Iran to influence Iraqi decision-makers is very well developed, not only among the Shi’a leadership, but also with the Kurds, and to a lesser extent, the Sunnis. Caught between such immovable forces, the Iraqi government may find itself having to say one thing to the US, but in effect, taking pragmatic actions that are more satisfying for Iran. (p 20).

Tony Blair told the Labour Party Conference in 2004 that

But at the heart of this [controversy about the invasion and WMD], is a belief that the basic judgment I have made since September 11th, including on Iraq, is wrong, that by our actions we have made matters worse not better.

Yesterday’s Telegraph reported

America’s most senior marine intelligence officer in Iraq has concluded that the province at the heart of the insurgency is under al-Qa’eda’s control and that the United States military can do little to change the situation.

The secret report was written by Col Pete Devlin, who oversees intelligence operations for the 22,000 American marines in Iraq.

According to yesterday’s Washington Post, his assessment has sparked an intense debate among American officers because of its main finding that the counter-insurgency campaign in Anbar province has failed despite three years of fighting.

The BBC reported on Friday that

The Iraqi ministry of health says more than 1,500 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad last month. The figure is far higher than previously thought, and only slightly lower than July’s figure. US military and Iraqi officials had previously said a major new security operation in Baghdad had dramatically reduced the number of killings

On Monday, the Telegraph reported how ‘Women in the south are now being forced to wear veils or risk being killed. Much of the middle class — the people whose skills are needed to rebuild the country — have fled abroad.’

For one Iraqi woman’s first-hand account of this, see Riverbend last month:

Residents of Baghdad are systematically being pushed out of the city. Some families are waking up to find a Klashnikov bullet and a letter in an envelope with the words “Leave your area or else.” The culprits behind these attacks and threats are Sadr’s followers- Mahdi Army. It’s general knowledge, although no one dares say it out loud. In the last month we’ve had two different families staying with us in our house, after having to leave their neighborhoods due to death threats and attacks. It’s not just Sunnis- it’s Shia, Arabs, Kurds- most of the middle-class areas are being targeted by militias…

For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen. I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.

The Telegraph report concluded

Some in the Iraqi government are still optimistic that the spike in tit-for-tat killings can be curtailed. Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, even said during Mrs Beckett’s visit that he hoped all British troops could be able to leave by the end of the next year.

But perhaps a better sign of the authority’s expectations can be seen in its actions. This week the Ministry of Health announced it planned to build two new morgues in Baghdad that once completed would enable the city to cope with 250 corpses a day.

So, how have we made things better and not worse there?   Saddam’s now in prison where he belongs, certainly, but I can’t help wondering whether — either for us or the Iraqis — ‘the world is a better place with Saddam in prison and not in power’, as Blair told us, in his 2004 Conference speech, it is.   For Tehran, certainly it is, but for the rest of us?

Somehow I have visions of Blair standing by the smoking ruins of a house, explaining to anyone who’ll listen, that ‘I can’t, sincerely at least, apologise for getting the cat down from the roof‘.

September 8, 2006

‘You know, there are important things going on in the world…’

Filed under: Afghanistan, Blair, Boris, hubris, Iran, Legacy, nemesis, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 12:16 am

From that statement

“…You know, there are important things going on in the world.

“And I think I speak for all my cabinet colleagues when I say that we would prefer to get on with those things because those are the things that really matter and really matter to the country.”

Such as, perhaps

Six bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 17 people and wounded more than 50 today, hours before a highly anticipated ceremony in which the US-led coalition was to hand over control of the country’s armed forces command to Iraqi authorities.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Violence rocks Baghdad on day of power transfer

and in Afghanistan

The alliance’s top commander, Gen James Jones, said Nato had been taken aback by the scale of violence in the region [Southern Afghanistan].

But he predicted that the coming weeks would be decisive in the fight against the insurgents.

Commanders on the ground had asked for several hundred additional troops and more helicopters and airlift, he said.

The greatest English Conservative is not impressed:

Here we are, with British soldiers being killed almost daily in Iraq and Afghanistan on missions that are growing in scale and horror. We have rises in gun crime, rises in unemployment, rises in interest rates — and these flaming lunatics in Downing Street seriously expect the nation to line the streets with bunting and shower Tony with confetti as he goes on a six-month lap of honour, a “farewell tour” in which he accepts the praises of a smiling people..

On which subject, The First Post has been playing with PhotoShopto make some suggestions for ‘the most striking buildings of his 10-year-rule’ that The People’s Tone might visit on his fairwell tour; The Millennium Dome (‘Symbol of New Labour’s vaulting ambition. The development was £7.1bn over budget and has been empty since 2000’ — though not much longer when Mr Prescott’s confident friends get their way, of course) is an obvious one, but the others are equally fun, too. (Hat tip Guido Fawkes esq)

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