Monthly Archives: January 2014


Syria and Diplomacy

The problem with the Geneva Communique from the first Geneva round on Syria is that the government of Syria never subscribed to it.  It was jointly chaired by the League of Arab States for Syria, whatever that may mean.  Another problem is that it is, as so many diplomatic documents are, highly ambiguous.  It plainly advocates a power sharing executive formed by some of the current government plus the opposition to oversee a transition to democracy.  But it does not state which elements of the current government, and it does not mention which elements of the opposition, nor does it make plain if President Assad himself is eligible to be part of, or to head, the power-sharing executive, and whether he is eligible to be a candidate in future democratic elections.

Doubtless the British, for example, would argue that the term transition implies that he will go.  The Russians will argue there is no such implication and the text does not exclude anybody from the process.  Doubtless also diplomats on all sides were fully aware of these differing interpretations and the ambiguity is quite deliberate to enable an agreed text. I would say that the text tends much more to the “western” side, and that this reflects the apparently weak military position of the Assad regime at that time and the then extant threat of western military intervention.  There has been a radical shift in those factors against the western side in the interim. Expect Russian interpretations now to get more hardline.

Given the extreme ambiguity of the text, Iran has, as it frequently does, shot itself in the foot diplomatically by refusing to accept the communique as the basis of talks and thus getting excluded from Geneva.  Iran should have accepted the communique, and then at Geneva issued its own interpretation of it.

But that is a minor point.  The farcical thing about the Geneva conference is that it is attempting to promote into power-sharing in Syria “opposition” members who have no democratic credentials and represent a scarcely significant portion of those actually fighting the Assad regime in Syria.  What the West are trying to achieve is what the CIA and Mossad have now achieved in Egypt; replacing the head of the Mubarak regime while keeping all its power structures in place. The West don’t really want democracy in Syria, they just want a less pro-Russian leader of the power structures.

The inability of the British left to understand the Middle East is pathetic.  I recall arguing with commenters on this blog who supported the overthrow of the elected President of Egypt Morsi on the grounds that his overthrow was supporting secularism, judicial independence (missing the entirely obvious fact the Egyptian judiciary are almost all puppets of the military) and would lead to a left wing revolutionary outcome.  Similarly the demonstrations against Erdogan in Istanbul, orchestrated by very similar pro-military forces to those now in charge in Egypt, were also hailed by commenters here.  The word “secularist” seems to obviate all sins when it comes to the Middle East.

Qatar will be present at Geneva, and Qatar has just launched a pre-emptive media offensive by launching a dossier on torture and murder of detainees by the Assad regime, which is being given first headline treatment by the BBC all morning

There would be a good dossier to be issued on torture in detention in Qatar, and the lives of slave workers there, but that is another question.

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime.  It is a very unpleasant regime indeed.  The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure.  What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace.  The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it.  Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech.  What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case.  It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor.  He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting.  He is acting as a barrister in private practice.  Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers.  He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting.  That is his job.  He probably regards that as not reprehensible.  What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights.  I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it.  He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”.  He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report?  How much did it pay the other experts?  Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview?  In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

That is what any decent journalist would ask.  Which is why you will never hear those questions on the BBC.

 

 

 

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Those Romanians and Bulgarians

One achievement of which I am very proud was my part in ensuring that the UK did not place restrictions on the right to free movement of the first EU Eastern European accession wave.  The arrival of so many Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians etc in the UK has been a brilliant social and cultural development and provided some support for an economy wrecked by the reckless greed of bankers.

There can be no more stark illustration of the tiny political space occupied by the major political parties and portrayed by the mainstream media as the only “serious” political opinion, than New Labour’s shrill contention that the bankers of RBS/Natwest should only be allowed 100% of salary as a bonus and not 200%.  Why not about 5% like other civil servants, which is what they are.

To return to the subject, free movement of peoples is a great thing.  I do not want governments to tell people where they can and cannot go.  It is wonderful that I can wake up tomorrow and decide to settle in Trieste or Gorzow Wielkopolski, without permission from anybody.  Don’t take it for granted, think about it – isn’t it wonderful?

My role?  I was First Secretary Political and Economic in the British Embassy in Warsaw when the question of our attitude to free movement on accession was decided, and I produced a paper on the subject.  I researched it quite assiduously, including a meeting with the five Romany Kings of Poland in the castle at Oswiecim – Auschwitz.  My conclusion was that there would be no mass migration, but many young Polish people might typically come for a few years to work and earn money to start a home back in Poland.  My paper was influential and I was much congratulated.  Incidentally, I very much underestimated how many Polish people would come, but I am unrepentant – in fact extremely happy about it.

When I first achieved serious political consciousness, in my teen years, I should have been horrified if you had told me that in my lifetime the government would defend the receipt of intelligence from torture and indefinite detention without trial, and much educated opinion would agree.  I would not have believed the government would pay for poster vans going round with signs telling immigrants to go home.  And I would not have believed that some poor Romanian chap arriving in the UK would have been hounded by reporters- to general approbation – because of his ethnicity.

The fundamental worries about Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants do have one rational basis.  More than any other EU states, Romania and Bulgaria were admitted despite the fact that they blatantly did not meet the acquis communitaire across the full range of economic and governance measures.  The decision to pretend they did was fundamentally dishonest, and that will always have future ill-effects.  Romania and Bulgaria are less developed, worse governed and therefore more prone to mass economic emigration.

While I deprecate the dishonesty of pretending they met the acquis, however I did and do support their membership of the EU.  It was the right strategic move.  An approach that said, “you do not meet the acquis, but we will admit you to membership, now let’s work out the consequences” would have had better success.  The EU’s great mistake at present is not offering a fast track to very early membership to Ukraine on a similar basis.

In a couple of decades Bulgaria and Romania will have caught up.  I expect that, because of the difficulties of the societies from which they come in terms of crime and governance, it is not unlikely that there will be a larger proportion of social problems from these new immigrants than from other recent Eastern European immigration, and doubtless we will see these trumpeted in the racist press.  But in the long run, it is another great addition to our country and increase to our own freedoms.  I must go look at the countryside of Eastern Romania.

 

 

 

 

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Signifying Nothing

empire

 

The image was the thing.  Those serried American flags beneath their burnished and distinctly imperial eagles.  Obama’s speech on the NSA was devoid of meaningful content.  The threats against Snowden and the references to America’s right to spy on its potential enemies – which seemed to mean everybody – were obviously heartfelt.  The “restrictions” on the NSA were devoid of intent, mumbled and hedged around.  Actually you don’t have to analyse what he said.  The picture says it all.

Reading the acres of media comment devoted to this exercise in changing nothing, it does seem that the task I face in explaining things is easier than I expected.  Nobody seems actually to be fooled.  You have the fascistic tendency – a majority – arguing that Obama is right, and the lesson of 9/11 is that safety can only lie in massive government intrusion into all human interaction all of the time.  Then you have the libertarian tendency, like me, who believe that nobody should be targeted until they have actually done something wrong, and the idea of continual surveillance of entirely innocent people just in case someone somewhere is contemplating doing something they shouldn’t, is terrifying.  What we don’t have much of is people pretending that Obama is actually doing something to curtail the surveillance state.

When Obama failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act against torture and extraordinary rendition, and sanctioned the killing of thousands through drone strikes, for a long time I kept meeting Americans who claimed he was not a neo-con really, but rather playing a subtle game for liberalism to win in the long term.  I don’t know anybody who believes that now, and nobody seems to be arguing it today. Obama is now an open vicious neo-con.  The picture says it all.

Some of it was almost amusing.  Obama plainly said that America would not spy on allied leaders, but reserved the right to spy on every other person in any foreign country.  I found the idea that every German may be spied on except Angela Merkel distinctly amusing.  Less amusing is the idea that the secret courts which are supposed to be a check on the NSA – with their entirely pro-government judges – would be “improved” by the appointment of a secret advocate to argue the case for privacy, without the subjects of the cases having any contact with their advocate or even being aware the case is going on.

Secret Courts are an increasing feature of life in the dog days of western world power.  In the UK we have already for many years had the situation where people may face criminal trials without being allowed to see the intelligence based “evidence” against them – often gained from torture of third parties abroad – and are “represented” by government appointed cleared – i.e. pro-security service – lawyers who are not allowed to tell their clients what the evidence is against them.  We recently have the institution of entirely secret criminal courts in which the entire proceedings are closed.  As Julian Assange pointed out on CNN, even the carefully selected secret court in the USA has found against the NSA on a number of occasions.  Obama’s extraordinary claim that their had been no abuse by the NSA was a straightforward example of the “Big lie” technique.  Again, that picture explains it all.

The suggestion that data be held not by the NSA but by a third party which will be another government institution is risible.  If they insist it is held, I vote Glenn Greenwald holds it.  After a crime has been committed, I have no difficulty with the authorities approaching the communications providers for targeted information which helps the investigation.  The deliberate conflation of that idea with permanent mass surveillance is dishonest – and the constant references to 9/11 to justify any intrusion are chilling.

Actually, what worried me most about the speech was the thought that the 9/11 excuse must be wearing thin, and that we are only seven years away from starting to have voters who weren’t even born at the time.  All those who make an extremely fat living from the security state, or who benefit in other ways economically from the docility of a population quiescent through the manipulation of fear, will start shortly to have need of a new and more urgent bogeyman.  That really will start to make the world a more dangerous place – and the danger comes from those claiming to protect us.

Look at the picture.

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