Monday, May 29, 2006

Why the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq is despised

Why indeed? Well for a start, it was clear from the outset that the war was considered unjustified by a majority of the human race. See here, and here, There has hardly been an event in history so universally condemnded before being perpetrated.

Nontheless, consider for a moment, that annual American casualties in Iraq War 2.0 barely drift above annual accidental deaths for the 90's. Thats right, almost as many service people (volume wise) were being killed by accidents in the US military each year, as are currently being killed by enemy action.

That is a sobering thought, and a tribute to the professional lethality (and improved internal safety) of the US armed forces. They certainly get the job done, and while doing it they ensure that all the casualties are on the other side.

In a conventional war this of course makes good sense. We want to kill the enemy while ensuring our guys don't get killed. However, in the "we've come to save you from yourselves" scenario that Iraq and Iran are alleged to represent, it is patently less palatable. It is especially less palatable in the context of slogans such as "fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here."

This is in effect, an exhortation to sanction the sacrifice of Iraqi lives to save American lives. I find that idea pretty abhorrent in isolation, but the cowardly, brutal, calculation of it pales into insignificance when coupled with the fact that the basic premise was and continues to be, simply wrong. As can be seen every day as the next lot of 20, or 30 step into the grinder.

That in a nutshell is why the war is despised, both at home and abroad. We told you not to do it, we said it would be bad, any fool could see that. Now, the lives of foreigners are poured out like water, ostensibly to increase American security and economic power. It isn't the first time either, but it is the first time it has provoked such a sustained and rapid international backlash.

It hardly has to be said that some will read this and be non-plussed, because this equation makes sense to them. American lives are more valuable. That a sizeable minority of Americans are genuinely unmoved by the killing of thousands of innocent people a half a world away in their name is pretty sickening, but it's not hyperbole, read the blogs.

One wonders, do they consider none of these faceless "others" innocent? Do Americans consider their own personal safety so important to them, that to eliminate any possible risk, any price in foreign blood is acceptable? How much is offsetting the risk of an American death worth in the currency of the lives of unknown foreigners? Ten, a hundred, a million? Even if one accepts the basic flawed premise, the ratio is already grimly disproportional.

During the 2nd World War, it was common for German troops to kill local villagers in reprisal for resistance attacks. This has been rightly condemned as a war crime. Tell me, how is the GWOT, “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” any different in terms of outcomes, for the villagers?

Then, there is this :

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tony Blair, the UN and Global Governance

I found myself in a funny position today. Listening to none other than Tony Blair, and agreeing with every single thing he said. I was a genuine fan when he first arrived on the scene. He was pro EU, relativley young, and he didn't look like someone had forgotten to plug him in. Such an improvement on Thatcher, Major and the Tories generally that it quite took your breath away.

Then along came Iraq war 2.0 and his slavish, even bizarre willingness to support Bush, even when he didn't need too. It was creepy and disturbing, what could have been more peculiar than Bush and Blair? The failed Texan Oil Man and the wunderkind of the British Left.

Good times, eh "boys"?

Now, we hear this, just to rattle our cage a little further : Http://

Mind you, it is good to hear isn't it? In the words of the Great Colbert, Blair "gets it". The current structures that pass for Global Governance have been groaning and creaking in an alarming manner for quite some time, something had to give, and it looks like it finally has.

The pivotal question now of course, is will Bush "get it"? Or will he continue on his way with the next Cola-ition of the borderline deranged, and basically bewildered.

On practically every front, Bush is out of step with not just US opinion, but global opinion. Time to flip flop Meester Jorge Bush.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I'm not the bad guy!

It is fascinating to see how much power and coherence americans and sometimes even European commentators attribute to the wave of anti-americanisim that, in fairness, does appear to be sweeping the world.

For example, the idea that a coherent and organised EU elite is consistently on message beating up the US is laughable. Maybe in France. Co-ordination is the very thing the EU is worst at, largely because the bulk of sovereignty still sits with the individual states of the union. The US does a far better job of tarring the poor ol’ surrender monkeys.

The caricature painted of EU sentiments as regards the US is often over the top. Often bolted onto a scaffolding of truth as regards US crime and social injustice for example, but then exaggerated it out of all recognition. Very few people believe these extreme pictures of the US, yet time and again this is held up as the genuine view of Europeans.

Nonetheless, decades of statistics bear out the basic principles. The US does have higher violent crime, it does have greater disparity of wealth, it does have more of it’s citizens living in poverty. These realities are indisputable, but no one believes that the US is some kind of urban wasteland ala mad max.

In my modest lifetime, I have never experienced and most especially, never shared, the scale, depth and intensity of Anti American feeling that we see today.

Five years ago, I was largely pro US, had recently spent a lovely weekend in New York, visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington and had explained on my return, how when my daughter was old enough we had to take her to see the place, it was fantastic.

I have always been pro the EU and a few years earlier had been very excited by my discovery of the federalist papers, and US constitutional documents online, and realised what a brilliant blue print they were for the direction the EU should take. I still think that.

I remember explaining to my Dad in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, that I finally got why capitalism worked better than command economies. How the process of millions of people making hundreds of daily, selfish personal decisions was vastly more efficient than some bureaucrat tucked away in an office sucking it out of this thumb. I still believe that too.

Now? Why now, I have to constantly keep reflecting on how anti American I’ve become. I regularly interrupt TV shows to note to my daughter how these (fictional characters!) are good Americans, and to note the positive values they espouse, that they are not bad people. This in order to counteract the stream of anger and frustration she hears when myself and my wife (or indeed anyone these days) talk about the most recent US outrage.

However there is no "conspiracy" no co-ordinated effort to demonise the US. I’m not the bad guy in this scenario and the EU doesn’t have the coherence to be the bad guy. Grow up America and put the bad where it belongs, GWB, and I’m willing to expand that now to include the entire Republican party, who despite some of the best checks and balances in the world, have been criminally asleep at the wheel for at least the last 3 years. Blame them and kick them out of office when next you get the chance.

Global Governance ... DUH!

Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation. This penalty, whatever it may be, can only be inflicted in two ways: by the agency of the courts and ministers of justice, or by military force; by the COERCION of the magistracy, or by the COERCION of arms. The first kind can evidently apply only to men; the last kind must of necessity, be employed against bodies politic, or communities, or States.

It is evident that there is no process of a court by which the observance of the laws can, in the last resort, be enforced. Sentences may be denounced against them for violations of their duty; but these sentences can only be carried into execution by the sword. In an association where the general authority is confined to the collective bodies of the communities, that compose it, every breach of the laws must involve a state of war; and military execution must become the only instrument of civil obedience. Such a state of things can certainly not deserve the name of government, nor would any prudent man choose to commit his happiness to it.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

Yet that is the state of Global Governance today. The point that Hamilton is making is that laws must impinge directly on the individual, if they do not, then whatever sanctions are to be brought to bear, must be brought to bear on entire polities, or states. In the case of Iraq, because of the actions of one man, an entire nation continues to endure horrific daily punishment. Life, without parole.

Hamilton knocks it out of the park with this summary. Of course, he was talking about the United States in the period shortly after the revolution, not the world today, the point though is just as relevant.

In my fractious discussions with Americans, I frequently refer to the Federalist Papers, because that good old-fashioned Yankee common sense sometimes does get through. Hamilton was right of course, as evidenced by the relentless procession of minor wars we have endured despite the creation of the UN in 1946. The UN has failure in it's genes, because it punishes the state and not the individual.

Americans will frequently argue, that the world is too disparate culturally to endure a system of overarching law, and this is a compelling point. In a world with liberal democracies and sharia law living side by side, it is clear that significant conflicts could develop. So what to do?

Luckily we have some examples to draw on, specifically the EU. Subsidiarity is a term you hear used a lot in Brussels, it basically means that local matters should be handled ... well ... locally. This is clearly the way that this needs to be dealt with. In fact, we have made a start already. The International Criminal Court at The Hague deals with serious war crimes and genocide, the really bad stuff.

In these cases individuals can be accused and tried for these very serious crimes. However, that should just be the beginning. War clearly represents the most radical sundering of the fabric of society that can be imagined, as such, it's undertaking has to be considered very seriously, and those that choose this route, must be held accountable by an independent authority. Basically in my book, every act of war should be answered for in court.

The perceived, and frequently misguided national interest of a fraction of the global population can no longer be allowed to trump the survival of the entire human species. For that is what is at stake. For example, an attack on Iran by the US, even if sanctioned by the UN security council, could go wrong so horribly, and in so many dreadful ways, that the hawkish UK foreign minister Jack Straw considered the idea .... "nuts". A pithy, information packed sound bite, even for a politician.

It is clear from history, that there are a few scattered examples of "just" or unavoidable wars. The 2nd World War is perhaps the most deadly example. Therefore, and perhaps as a stepping-stone to an eventual peaceful world, the option for war must be left on the table. Those who take that route however, must come without their armies, and stand trial when summoned by the court.

So forget the idea of a monolithic global government reaching into the lives of ordinary citizens and tinkering with the machinery of their day-to-day existence. That too is "nuts". This is not what is needed, and it is likely that such an edifice would cause more violence than it prevented. What are required are clear-cut laws and penalties with regard to war, which impinge directly on the individuals engaged in declaring, conducting and leading the war effort, not the nation state, or the general citizenry.

So for example, Saddam Hussein and George Bush should both be tried for the Iraq War. Clinton should be tried for the war in Serbia, and practically everyone with any significant position of leadership in Dafur should be tried for what is currently transpiring there.

The question of course arises, who will bell this cat? Who will sign up to such a restrictive arrangement? How will it be policed? I'm guessing the small countries will be lining up to sign it. Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium ... the list is large. Small countries are at much greater risk in a lawless world than large countries, and a critical mass could emerge that way.

How will it be policed? Peacefully of course. If a country has signed up to the treaty/law/global codex, if their leadership then engages in war, a summons will be issued to the relevant individuals, and they are bound to appear at the court. If they do not, a global arrest warrant will be issued, and all the police forces of all the signatory nations will be obliged to detain the parties referenced in the warrants. These are all very familiar law enforcement methodologies, and we have already seen some minor examples play out. Pinochet's near miss in the UK is perhaps the most obvious one. Also the various Balkans ICC defendants who have been in hiding for years, and can no longer safely move beyond the borders of their home states for fear of arrest.

As countries sign up, and as those around them sign up, military budgets may fall. If you live in a good neighbourhood with excellent policing and low crime, why would you spend good money on bars, gates, bodyguards and complex alarm systems that will never be required? The money would be much better spent on building that extension, or replacing those single glazed windows, or installing that expensive, but energy efficient heat exchange system for the hot water tank.

Humanity collectively spends $1 Trillion (this figure, incredibly excludes the cost of the invasion of Iraq) a year on weapons. This represents not just an initial theft from the global purse, but these same weapons when used, frequently destroy capital items that are valuable, expensive and time consuming to rebuild. Power stations, dams, water treatment plants, schools and hospitals. The initial cost of weapons production is merely the tip of the iceberg, the military globally represents the most dramatic example of the "multiple whammy", more bang for your buck indeed. The human cost is of course incalculable.

War will be hard to stop, certainly in the short term. However we must continue to make the effort. At the end of each cataclysmic conflict, we seem to take a few more steps forward, the survivors crying "never again". Yet eventually the lesson is unlearned, that generation dies, and the willingness to resort to war begins to build. That could be the conveyor we are currently on, and we may once again be reaching the peak of the cycle. So what now?

The choice is simple. We can either wait for the impetus to be a war that slaughters millions, hope we survive, and pick up the pieces. Or we can take action now. Agree the laws now. Enforce the laws now. The choice is ours, lets hope there will be a future humanity to judge our actions.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder's moral perceptions are known and conceded, the world over; and a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name. This has a harsh sound, and yet should not be offensive to any -- even to the noble himself -- unless the fact itself be an offense: for the statement simply formulates a fact. The repulsive feature of slavery is the THING, not its name. One needs but to hear an aristocrat speak of the classes that are below him to recognize -- and in but indifferently modified measure -- the very air and tone of the actual slaveholder; and behind these are the slaveholder's spirit, the slaveholder's blunted feeling. They are the result of the same cause in both cases: the possessor's old and inbred custom of regarding himself as a superior being.

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

I am currently listening to the book quoted above, courtesy of librivox (, and I was struck by the truth in Mark Twain’s words.

Americans are at once both the cause and the solution to the world’s ills. Like a knot holding fast the gates to paradise, once unpicked, they no longer impede the pilgrims eager to get in.

The nub of the problem is that Americans genuinely believe they are better people. A better country, the best in fact. The relentless wall-to-wall American media feed and reinforce this delusion from every side.

Yet it is unquestionably a delusion. American healthcare is among the worst in the minority world; average life spans are lower, infant deaths on par with some majority world countries and one of the largest and fastest growing wealth gaps on the planet.

Of course there are a minority of Americans that are happy with that status quo, but the vast majority are simply ignorant of their situation. They are quite literally living the life of the "coppertop" of matrix fame. They supply the system with power, and although they are largely unaware of its existence, the have at least the vague smug sense that they are better than "the rest" whomever that might be.

I have been trying to grasp and articulate for years what that indefinable sense is, and I think I have it. It is the attitude of the slaveholder. Kill Iraqis for ephemeral minority world interests? Sure. Threaten Iran because they make us nervous? No brainer. Drop a nuke on those uppity sons of bitches if they get out of hand? You betcha. Need evidence? To lynch some nigger? Not likely.

There it is in a nutshell, and it's ugly. The good news is that it's not a majority opinion, not even in the US. Most Americans and Europeans are decent, and genuinely good people, as were many slaveholders. Once they understand how awful the system is, how it works to oppress the weakest in society, they will work alongside the rest of us it to tear it down.

And the system is awful. Roughly 6.6 Billion people live on Earth. Of those about 1.5 billion, mostly Americans and Europeans, live lives of relative ease and comfort. The other 5 billion or so live stunted, truncated lives in varying levels of discomfort, desperation and poverty.

Yet, Collectively the nations of the world spend over $1 trillion a year on the military, weapons systems, tanks, guns and all the assorted paraphernalia of war.

The notable difference between the Irish Famine of the 19th century and other humanitarian crises, was that it occurred within the imperial homeland, at a time well into the modern prosperity of the Victorian and Industrial age. In our connected world, were every happening is instantly visible, the details known and the horror exposed, where food to feed and armies to protect exist in vast numbers, every new outrage is an Irish Famine.

Visible, preventable and genocide by stealth. The world needs to change, and it has to start with the slaveholders first. Start untying that knot ….

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We the People ....

Talking to Americans about Iran often leads to the basic claim "But we are the good guys! We are on the side of Justice!" etc. etc. It is often very difficult to break through this mind set so that Americans, a mere 3% of the global population, see themselves in a global context and can get beyond this fear bolstered, messianic mindset.

By this logic, any group of 3%, in any polity could take whatever action they like to achieve whatever aims they think are "right". That is in fact a partial definition of terrorism itself. A small minority that has a beef with the rest of (or a particular) segment of society, that cannot make a convincing case, will often resort to violence.

Claiming "we are right" does nothing to advance the discussion. The problem remains. Billions of others, and even millions within the US, do not agree that the small risk posed by a minority of Muslims in Iran justifies the risk of a pre-emptive attack, which will kill hundreds and has the potential to kill millions.

Because the US government presses on regardless, shouting at the top it's voice "WE ARE RIGHT, you don't get it, we will SAVE YOU!" does not make it right. It makes them the muttering guy at the bus stop with the hand painted sign claiming the end of the world.

At it's most basic, actual people are being killed to prevent potential deaths, but many, certainly a majority, of the rest of us think that calculation is horribly flawed. What if no one was at risk? Actual innocent people would be killed for nothing.

For example, what if the leadership of China decided something was "right"? Reintegration of Taiwan for example? Most Mainland Chinese think this is an excellent idea, and many support force to achieve it. On balance, it seems more justifiable to use force to reintegrate Taiwan, historically part of China for thousands of years, and detached for only a few decades, than for the US to use force in Vietnam, Iran or Iraq.

Of course to condone, accept or encourage that would be lunacy, and I'm guessing most Americans would agree with me on that. However it exposes the root issue of legitimacy, and hopefully puts it in a context where Americans suddenly find themselves on my side of the fence.

The issues of legitimacy, are addressed in the UN Security Council. At the end of WWII, global society came up with the Security Council on the UN to prevent war, and that is at least a partial "success" in that we have avoided a major war on the scale of WWI or WWII since it's creation.
However, the Security Council is a flawed instrument because it allows the 5 victors of WWII vetoes to strike down any decision made by the council, and it also only includes a very narrow group in decision-making.

It's what we have, for the moment, but it is demonstrably a deeply undemocratic institution.

War is the most serious and deadly undertaking that humans engage in. In fact, any given war now has the potential to spiral out of control to the point where the destruction of the entire planet is a possibility. I would therefore be as adamant in insisting that the Chinese listen to the rest of the world as I am in insisting that the Americans do.

Decisions like this should not be left in the hands of an institution with 15 people at the table, and structural paralysis practically guaranteed. War, if it is to undertaken at all, needs to be sanctioned by a global majority in a much broader and vastly more democratic forum. No vetoes, no "but we are the good guys!!", no "but they might be planning something!".

Just we the people, insisting that our voice be heard.

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