Thursday, July 14, 2005


I'm off to America for a couple of weeks. As a result, it is unlikely I will be able to post today (lots to take care of before I leave), but I hope to be able to post sporadically while I am there, so please keep checking in, and in any event I should be back to a regular posting schedule by August 1.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

BBC admits to lies

After dragging its feet on coming clean, the BBC has finally admitted to deceiving its readers in its coverage of Washington politics.

OK, that isn’t really true at all. I just figured I’d have a go at the BBC method of headline and lead writing.

Today we got this headline and lead paragraph from the BBC:

Pentagon hawk admits Iraq doubts

The outgoing Pentagon number three has admitted holding doubts over key areas of US military policy in Iraq.

Compelling, no? Well, not quite. In fact, not even close. It turns out that Douglas Feith gave an interview to The Washington Post, and said things like:

- There were “trade offs” and “pros and cons” in the decision to use a relatively small invasion force

- He can’t assert that he “knows what the answer is” with regard to the proper troop strength, because “it's an extremely complex judgment to know whether the course that we chose with its pros and cons was more sensible”

- The administration undertook frequent “course corrections” when it found it had made a mistake

- One of those mistakes was the failure to train enough Iraqi exiles to assist in an early handover of power from the coalition - "That didn't happen in the numbers we had hoped."

- He had personally favored “transferring responsibility to the Iraqis earlier.”

Now you tell me…does that resemble in any way whatsoever an “admission of doubts” about US Iraq policy?

If so, then my header and intro is fully justified as well. After all, when I complained to the BBC over its repeated and unqualified assertion that a crime had been committed in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle, I got this as a reply:

Our apologies for being so slow to reply to your message. We take your point that it has yet to be established whether the leak was indeed a federal offence. In recent stories, we have been more careful with our wording. We have, for instance, said: "The wilful disclosure of a covert CIA agent's name can be a federal offence."

See? They admitted to dragging their feet, and admitted to deceiving their readers. Right?

Semantic whitewash

From The Guardian’s editorial today:
Even before yesterday's news, Muslim communities across Britain were suffering from mindless and irrational attacks. The police, once again, were in the forefront of reminding the public that the bombings were not committed by Islamist terrorists but by extremist criminals.
Not Islamic terrorists, but “extremist criminals”? So, what, are we now being asked to believe that suicide bombers are just taking ordinary tube crime to a new, extreme level? Bored with jumping the turnstiles, they’re now turning to blowing up trains? What a load of rubbish.

Their “extremism” is defined by their religious/political views, and more specifically their views of Islam. And if strapping on a bomb and blowing up a train, killing tens and injuring hundreds of people, is not an act of terrorism, then the term has lost any and all meaning. Declaring the bombers to be “extremist criminals” but not Islamist terrorists is a semantic whitewash.

This problem will not be solved if we refuse to recognize it for what it is, and engage in silly word games when talking about it.

And by the way, why is it that, when a mindless and irrational Muslim blows up innocent infidels on a train, the press and the authorities repeatedly seek to remind the public not to blame the wider Muslim community, but when mindless and irrational non-Muslims attack innocent Muslims, the press and the authorities act as though “the public” is somehow to blame? Where are the incessant reminders not to blame the Islamaphobic acts of a few on the whole of the country?

Saddam and Al Qaeda

For those who still insist that we "know" there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and they appear to be legion, Stephen Hayes in this week's Weekly Standard should be required reading.
Indeed, more than two years after the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was
ousted, there is much we do not know about the relationship between Iraq and al
Qaeda. We do know, however, that there was one. We know about this relationship
not from Bush administration assertions but from internal Iraqi Intelligence
Service (IIS) documents recovered in Iraq after the war--documents that have
been authenticated by a U.S. intelligence community long hostile to the very
idea that any such relationship exists.

We know from these IIS documents that beginning in 1992 the former Iraqi
regime regarded bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence asset. We know from IIS
documents that the former Iraqi regime provided safe haven and financial support
to an Iraqi who has admitted to mixing the chemicals for the 1993 attack on the
World Trade Center. We know from IIS documents that Saddam Hussein agreed to
Osama bin Laden's request to broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda on Iraqi state-run
television. We know from IIS documents that a "trusted confidante" of bin Laden
stayed for more than two weeks at a posh Baghdad hotel as the guest of the Iraqi
Intelligence Service.

It's a long article, but worth the effort.

Time Warp

Today on my way home I was listening to the BBC’s Radio Five Live, and as I listened, I began to wonder what it might have sounded like if today’s BBC was around 60 years ago. Imagine the scene, on September 9, 1944.

Presenter: I’m Julian Warwickshire, and I’m here in Chiswick where, yesterday, a horrible new bomb, the so-called V2 rocket, landed on Stavely Road after being launched from somewhere on the mainland of Europe, killing 3 and seriously injuring 17. With me is Iain Handwringer, a scholar from Oxford specializing in Germanic studies.

Mr. Handwringer, now we don’t want to jump to conclusions here, as the authorities are still piecing together what happened, but it is widely suspected that this new rocket-propelled weapon is the work of the German military. And of course we should note that, even if that turns out to be the case, we are only talking about a tiny percentage of Germans. Most of the German people, of course, are law-abiding and are not a part of the military machine at all. They are productive members of the European community. We at the BBC want to make that perfectly clear. But if this does turn out to be the work of German militarists, what can be done to protect ourselves?

Handwringer: Well, really what we have to start doing is looking at the root causes of militarism. And, again, we must stress that we are talking here about only a small criminal element, fanatics of a sect called Nazism. We don’t want to paint all Germans with the same broad brush…that cannot be overstated. To date we really have done very little to understand the source of alienation that drives disaffected German youth into the arms of extremists like the Nazis. We need to come up with ways of making these alienated Germans feel welcomed in, and an integral part of the wider European community. The philosophy of racial purity and German superiority can seem very empowering and hence attractive to people who are estranged from the wider community, so we must come up with ways of embracing these people and encouraging them to become a part of, rather than conquering, Europe. I think we really need to look to how we’ve failed the German population such that some of them – and really, it is only a small percentage of them - feel their only choice is to embrace the extremism professed by Hitler.

Presenter: I understand that, in the wake of the attacks yesterday, hostility towards Germany and Germans has grown. What do you say to those expressing such hostility?

Handwringer: Really, such feelings are not only unjustified, but counterproductive as well. Hostility towards Germans only increases the sense of isolation which fuels the attraction of Nazism. We must remember that the misguided perpetrators of this crime do not represent the wider Aryan mindset. They are acting on a perversion of, not a true understanding of, the German Volk. Rather than hostility, we need education. We need to both educate the British public about German thinking, and educate potential extremist Nazis that the concept of Volk is compatible with, not an alienation from, European life.

Presenter: A few months ago Britain joined the Americans in invading France, ostensibly to “liberate” the country from the Nazis. We were told that a Nazi-controlled France posed a threat to the UK. Doesn’t yesterday’s attack demonstrate that the invasion has made us even less safe?

Handwringer: Well, I don’t think you can establish a direct causal link. We have always ranked high on the list of Nazi enemies, ever since our opposition to the invasion of Poland. However, it is certainly true that, having declared war against the Nazis when they invaded Poland, our leaders can hardly complain that the Germans are acting as though they are in a war.

Presenter: Again, we should be clear that when you say Germans, you mean a small, radical sect of Germans, the Nazis, and not wider Germany.

Handwringer: Of course. I misspoke there. We definitely do not want to stigmatize all Germans with the acts of a few.

Presenter: Mr. Handwringer, thank you. And now, back to you Jane Garvey, for an interview with Heinrich Schwarzenegger, who condemns today’s attacks, worrying about the impact on the British-German community.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

As expected....

US Air Force travel restrictions ended. Much ado about nothing.

Details, details

The BBC sloppily picks up on Karl Rove’s apparent involvement in the Valerie Plame controversy:

US Democrats have urged the White House to give a full account of senior aide Karl Rove's alleged role in disclosing the name of an undercover CIA officer.

The calls came after revelations that Mr Rove contacted journalist Matthew Cooper about the agent days before her identity was revealed in the press.

Except that Rove didn’t contact the journalist, about Plame or any other matter. The journalist contacted Rove. The Washington Post has the details that the BBC leaves out.

Instead, Luskin said, Rove discussed the matter -- under the cloak of secrecy -- with Cooper at the tail end of a conversation about a different issue. Cooper had called Rove to discuss other matters on a Friday before deadline, and the topic of Wilson came up briefly. Luskin said Cooper raised the question.

"Rove did not mention her name to Cooper," Luskin said. "This was not an effort to encourage Time to disclose her identity. What he was doing was discouraging Time from perpetuating some statements that had been made publicly and weren't true."

A small detail, to be sure, but an important one. The controversy revolves around allegations that someone in the White House deliberately revealed Plame’s role as a CIA agent as payback for her husband’s criticisms of Bush. The suggestion that Rove went out of his way to contact a reporter specifically about Plame lends much more credence to the allegation than if the reporter contacted Rove about a separate matter, and the Plame issue came up as an aside.

Once again, we find the BBC, whether deliberately or just by natural inclination, carrying water for Bush administration critics.

Silly me

You’d think I would have learned by now to be ever so suspicious of the BBC.

It turns out, as The Independent reports, that the order to US airmen to stay out of London was issued last Thursday, on the very day that the bombs had been exploded.
On Thursday, the US servicemen and women were told not to go within the M25 until further notice, except on official business.
The statement of the military spokesman, which was quoted by the BBC, was given on Friday, the day after the bombs. The spokesman also said that he did not know how long the order would be in place, but that “"I can't see it being a permanent thing."

None of this was reported by the BBC, and of course it makes all the difference. With bombs going off in London and confusion over exactly what’s going on, it would have made perfect sense to issue an order to steer clear of the area. It also puts the military’s desire to allow the authorities to “do their job” into a more sensible perspective. By ignoring all of this and reporting on it for the first time 4 days after the actual order, the BBC leaves its readers with the impression that the order came as late as yesterday, and as a considered policy in the wake of the attacks, rather than as an immediate and momentary response.

The order, which was reportedly taken at a local level, is currently being “urgently reviewed”, and I suspect it will be removed by the end of the day. That probably should have happened sooner, and should not have come as the result of adverse publicity. But that does not excuse the BBC for presenting the story in such a misleading way. It is indicative of how bad things are at the BBC when the likes of The Independent are offering up a more accurate look at a story which reflects negatively on the US.

The BBC, by the way, has totally changed its article (without pointing out the edits), now incorporating the fact that the order is being reviewed. It still does not tell us that the order came last Thursday on the day of the attacks, although it does include speculation from a conservative spokesman who “suspects” that is the case.

UPDATE: Contrary to what I say above, the Beeb's original story did have one indication of the timing of the order, referring to "The order, enforced on Friday, ..."

The British Expatriate

The Guardian has an interesting take on Tony Blair today, from Martin Kettle. I'm not sure I buy it all, but it is worth a look.

Closer to TAE's heart, however, is this article from Lionel Shriver, a British expat living in New York, who comments on the attitude of New Yorkers towards having lost their bid to get the Olympics.

I was in New York when the city lost the Olympics. I hate to break it to you, but the people I've talked to are relieved. New York to London: "You can have 'em."

I've always been disconcerted as to why cities fall all over themselves trying to win the burden of the Olympics. Given the dodgy economic prospects, the bother and inconvenience of it all, surely the Olympics should be passed frantically around like the Old Maid.

My thoughts exactly. Most people I know here in London were relatively ambivalent about the Olympic bid until it turned into a contest between London and Paris, at which point beating the Frogs turned into an occassion for euphoria. No one I know listens to me when I tell them they lost. Maybe it's the New Yorker in me.

He also makes this salient point about last week's bombings.
Now, personally, I think the invasion of Iraq is the most calamitous US foreign policy mistake of my lifetime. Yet to discourage tube bombers in future, surely Britons are better off broadcasting, "Actually, we were thinking of leaving Iraq lock, stock, and barrel next week, but now that we realise that would make you wankers happy, we've decided to dig into Baghdad for the next 50 years."
Now that's a response.

US military scores own goal

The BBC reports today that members of the US Air Force in Britain have been ordered to stay out of London, and indeed to stay outside the M25 motorway that encircles the city, in response to last week’s attacks on the tube and public buses.

I don’t know the source of this order (probably a local commander?), but whoever it came from, this strikes me as a very stupid decision that will turn into a PR disaster. Surely a simple, cautious reminder for airmen visiting the city to take extra care and be extra vigilant would have sufficed. At a time when Londoners are showing calm and resolve, going about their daily business despite the attacks, an outright ban on travel to London can only be met with contempt and disdain by the locals.

That, certainly, will be the case if the BBC has anything to do with it. The order was made the top story on the radio this morning (BBC Five Live), where listeners were being encouraged to call in their reactions to it. The BBC’s website has made the story second only to the naming of bombing victims, and does its best to portray the order as at least an act of hypocrisy, if not betrayal.

Details of the travel ban, enforced on Friday, emerged as US President George W Bush said the US would "not retreat in the face of terrorists" .

He said: "In this difficult hour, the people of Great Britain can know the American people stand with you."

The US military is hardly doing itself any favors by handing this kind of story on a silver platter to an already contemptuous British press.

Monday, July 11, 2005

John Simpson's security plans

The BBC’s World Affairs editor John Simpson echoes Simon Jenkins’ belief that last week’s attacks should be treated as nothing more than a criminal matter. Simpson, studiously avoiding use of the “T” word that the Beeb has declared non grata, characterizes the perpetrators who blew up 3 trains and a bus, killing at least 60 people and injuring over 700 in the space of a few minutes, as simply “misguided criminals”. Islamic fanatics, apparently, just need a little "guidance". That's the ticket.

Oddly, in justifying their position, Jenkins uses the British experience with the IRA as a cautionary tale of what not to do, while Simpson cites it as a positive example of something that “worked”. How they then settle on the same strategy is anyone’s guess.

Naturally, a Simpson piece would not be complete without the obligatory swipe at America in one way or another. Not content to simply praise London’s eminently praiseworthy stiff-upper-lip attitude towards the attacks, while also putting the security threat into perspective by noting that the Queen was able to lead a parade of veterans yesterday in an open top car, Simpson simply can’t resist the urge to contrast this with the “security over-kill” of President Bush’s last trip to London.
When President Bush visited London last year, his security people insisted that the threat was so great he would have to drive in an armoured limousine from his apartments at the back of Buckingham Palace to a formal meeting with the Queen at the front of the building.
What’s wrong with a little stroll around the outside of the palace? Afterall, it's not that easy to shoot between the bars of the perimeter fence. The Queen wouldn't take such measures. Those paranoid Yanks.

But then again, it wasn’t the Queen whom London Mayor Ken Livingstone declared to be “the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably seen” while inciting protestors. Nor was the Queen the subject of a question posed by a prominent and reasonably respected London daily in its online musings over the merits of assassination. So perhaps a little extra caution on the part of those charged with protecting the president's life can be forgiven.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Role Reversal

Today it is The Guardian with sensible commentary, and The Times with nonsense.

Nick Cohen hits the target with this article.

But it's a parochial line of reasoning to suppose that all bad, or all good, comes from the West - and a racist one to boot. The unavoidable consequence is that you must refuse to support democrats, liberals, feminists and socialists in the Arab world and Iran who are the victims of Islamism in its Sunni and Shia guises because you are too compromised to condemn their persecutors. Islamism stops being an ideology intent on building an empire from Andalusia to Indonesia, destroying democracy and subjugating women and becomes, by the magic of parochial reasoning, a protest movement on a par with Make Poverty History or the TUC.

Again, I understand the appeal. Whether you are brown or white, Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist, it is uncomfortable to face the fact that there is a messianic cult of death which, like European fascism and communism before it, will send you to your grave whatever you do. But I'm afraid that's what the record shows.

Yes it is. One can only hope that Cohen's fellow Guardian writers start looking at the same record.

The Times, on the other hand, has this from Simon Jenkins. He starts with the same, tired critique of American and British policy, drawing moral equivalence between terrorism and the response to it, and fallaciously conflating incorrect intelligence assessments with "mendacity". (Or, less charitably, perhaps mendaciously conflating the two.)

He does make some reasonable observations and suggestions about the importance of local, on-the-ground preventative measures with regard to terrorism.
Most bombings since 9/11 have been the work of local, dysfunctional gangs with at best tenuous links to a fundamentalist Mr Big. Combating these gangs demands assiduous neighbourhood intelligence.
This is true, although the significance of the lack of any central organization since 9/11 is apparently lost on Jenkins, who elsewhere in his article makes the dubious (and ultimately unknowable) claim that the removal of the Taliban and OBL's training camps in Afghanistan "failed to...supress terrorism". While the work and plans of local, dysfunctional gangs is certainly more difficult to track, they are also far less able to mount big attacks such as that on 9/11.

But ultimately the focus of his argument is that we should treat terrorists as common criminals and terrorism as an "avoidable accident". This, he says, is the "sane" response. He thinks that, by treating terrorists as a force against which we must wage a war, we "award them a spurious legitimacy".
Like a number of MPs in the Commons on Thursday, he implies that Britain fighting to bring democracy to the Arabs is a noble war, but their fighting to bring Islam to London is mere terror. I know there is a difference, but it was Blair who gave terrorism the status of a war. He can hardly complain when his enemy treats it as such.
Amazingly, Jenkins has gotten it exactly backward, and demonstrates quite well the parochial line of reasoning the Cohen spoke about in The Guardian. It is not Blair or Bush who have compelled the terrorists to act as though they are in a war. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have been treating this like a war since well before 9/11. In a May 1998 interview with ABC reporter John Miller, Bin Laden spoke of the "call to wage war against America" as well as against those "Western regimes" that support the US. Yet the US and the West ignored him, repeatedly treating the terrorist acts being committed in the name of OBL's war as criminal acts rather than acts of war; the WTC bomb in '93, the bombing of the Cole, the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to name a few.

In other words, we've already taken Jenkins' advice, and what did it get us? 9/11, that's what. And when that happened, finally the west in general and the US in particular decided to take Bin Laden at his word, and treat this as a war by taking control of OBL's real estate in Afghanistan and getting rid of the government that sponsored and protected him. Jenkins may find that unjust and characterize it as "kicking hell out of a poor country", but, as Jenkins himself might say, when a terrorist and his government sponsor declares war against the west, they can hardly complain when their enemy treats it as such.

Will they finally get it?

How utterly foolish must Robin Cook feel? On Friday, he was pontificating in The Guardian with with this:
The breeding grounds of terrorism are to be found in the poverty of back streets, where fundamentalism offers a false, easy sense of pride and identity to young men who feel denied of any hope or any economic opportunity for themselves. A war on world poverty may well do more for the security of the west than a war on terror.
Today, from the lead story in The Sunday Times, we learn:

AL-QAEDA is secretly recruiting affluent, middle-class Muslims in British universities and colleges to carry out terrorist attacks in this country, leaked Whitehall documents reveal.

A network of “extremist recruiters” is circulating on campuses targeting people with “technical and professional qualifications”, particularly engineering and IT degrees.

The breeding grounds of terrorism are to be found in the mosques which preach radical Islam, the attraction of which is not economic in nature. The sooner we accept that, the better off we will be.