Daily archives: May 8, 2009

Ten Thousand New Recruits for the Taliban

There has been no respite in the last five years in US bombongs killing civilians in Southern Afghanistan. The country’s legendary fierce nationalist resistance of all invaders is sufficient in itself to explain the continual heavy fighting. But the rejection of Western values is made certain, when the most obvious display of those values is the continued indiscriminate mass killing of civilians.

The 120 civilians killed by US bombs in one Afghan village this week, is what happens day in and day out. It is a slightly larger death toll that ordinary, but the most unusual feature is that it got at least a tiny, tiny bit of media coverage in the West.


Meantime a humanitarian disaster is unfolding as the Pakistani army and air force boms and shells its way into the Swat Valley. This has no military value – the Taliban have left a rearguard to inflict maximum casualties, but have mostly already drifted up into the mountains. But it has displaced a million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today. How many have been killed by bombs and shells, we do not have any idea at present.

All of which has cemented the notion that the Pakistani government is a murderous US puppet in the minds of the inhabitants of the North of the country. The cause of the rash Pakistani Army action is US goading.


We can see the massive exodus of wretched people. We cannot be sure of the civilian casualty figures; but we can be sure that this week has recruited 10,000 more fighters to the Taliban cause. That is a disaster.

Both the US bombing and the Pakistani army assault are equally products of Obama’s policy of trying to crush the discontents of Central Asia by brute force. Obama’s meeting with Zirdari and Karzai this week – two of the most corrupt men in the world – was meant to highlight his grip on the region. I fear Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the defining disaster of the Obama Presidency.


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Swatting A Fly

Charles Crawford’s continued efforts to get someone to pay attention to his dull blog continue to centre on me. He wishes to challenge me to a public debate on diplomacy and ethics.


If you search YouTube you can find some 40 videos of me speaking at various places. Not one of the videos of me was posted by me. I have more invitations to speak than I can accept, and have regularly sold out some big venues like the Edinburgh Book Festival. I can’t see any videos of Charles on YouTube.

Charles’ repeated challenge is a bit like Sheringham FC challenging Manchester United to a match, and then complaining they won’t take them on.

Anyway, I suppose I had better humour the poor old chap. One should always respect one’s elders. We had better do it soon before he drops off the perch. But it is less simple than it sounds. “Diplomacy and Ethics” is, as he suggests, a fascinating theme, but any debate needs a defined subject which crystallises the area of disagreement so as to allow for clear choices, and reduce the chances of a dull dance around definitions. A debate between just two people also offers difficulties of format to make sure they really interact.

You also need a venue and an organisation. We have one kind offer, but the venue is somewhat small.

Maybe we should go for the room at the RGS where the Burton/Speke debate was arranged. Or – and this might be fun – the Locarno room at the FCO!

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What Links Expenses and Torture: New Labour’s Total Immorality.

It is good that details of MPs expenses have got out. I am sad if they were sold rather than leaked in the public interest, but they should have been available, unredacted, anyway.

Having said that, the Telegraph has made a massive pig’s ear of its big scoop. It majors on Gordon Brown paying his cleaner through his brother. That sounds to me unwise of Brown, but really not a huge front page story. I am not convinced Gordon Brown fiddled anything.

On the other hand, Hazel Blears changing her official second home designation three times in a year, in order to get the taxpayer to pay for furnishing all her homes, is simply crooked. As are Hoon’s multiple home arrangements. Jack Straw only paid back his “accidental” excessive claims for mortgage and council tax after the Freedom of Information Act ruling that expenses would be published. The Telegraph throws away the really crooked transactions in the odd phrase.

Straw’s expenses are particularly interesting. He has lived in a series of London government mansions ever since 1997. The taxpayer pays for his Blackburn flat, but his real home is his £1million plus Cotswolds property. Just where Straw gets all his money is an interesting question. Some real investigative journalism into Straw’s relationship with his bagman, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, and the peddling of influence for the defence industry, would be more interesting than anything the Telegraph reports today.




But I am struck by the continued government mantra of “It was all within the rules”, which Harriet Harman is being trotted round the television studios to spout this morning. Harriet has the job because she hasn’t made dodgy claims. She is old money. Her family don’t even notice the odd £100,000.

But this idea that it is OK to stretch the rules to the limit – with no worry whether it is right or wrong – is not a minor point. It is done for advantage, so it is immoral, not amoral.

It is an issue which has been heavily on my mind since I gave evidence on ministerial complicity in torture to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights last week. Nobody except me and possibly Cranley Onslow showed any horror at torture. There was instead a discussion on the finest details of whether there was any possible way this may be declared legal, “within the rules”.


Even on an issue like torture, right and wrong seems to have disappeared completely from our national political discourse. Is it any wonder they are fiddling their expenses?

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