Sunday, August 30, 2009

The integer problem

Dick Cheney's interview on Fox News Sunday was fascinating. For one thing, confirming that we already knew -- that there was a crazy guy with huge influence on the President for eight years. And speaking of "eight years" --

CHENEY: ... I guess the other thing that offends the hell out of me, frankly, Chris, is we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaeda. The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, how did you do it? What were the keys to keeping this country safe over that period of time? ...

WALLACE: If the prosecutor asks to speak to you, will you speak to him?

CHENEY: It will depend on the circumstances and what I think their activities are really involved in. I've been very outspoken in my views on this matter. I've been very forthright publicly in talking about my involvement in these policies.

I'm very proud of what we did in terms of defending the nation for the last eight years successfully

Here's the thing. It's still not 8 years since 9/11. And it definitely wasn't 8 years since 9/11 when the Bush-Cheney presidency ended in January 2009. We've seen this problem before. The Bush-Cheney loyalists, and now clearly Cheney himself, assume that their term began on September 11, 2001. Because the nearly 8 months that they had prior to 9/11 would be the source of too much guilt if they ever actually thought about it. Or maybe they have, and the guilt has manifested itself as suppport for torture.

Speaking of which --

CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States, and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the Al Qaeda members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.

It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.

WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it?


In other words, the law was completely absent in those interrogations. It's not clear that anything that could have happened would have been illegal, under Cheney's view of the "law".

Finally, we got an insight into Cheney's paranoia --

WALLACE: What do you miss?

CHENEY: Oh, I'm a junky, I guess, all those years. I spent more than 40 years in Washington, and enjoyed, obviously, the people I worked with, wrestling with some of the problems we had to wrestle with. I enjoyed having the CIA show up on my doorstep every morning, six days a week, with the latest intelligence.

He was a suit picking up the intelligence reports the way an ordinary person picks up the morning newspaper. It made him feel powerful. And, since these reports would by nature be filled with hints of plots, it made him crazy.

He also invented the question mark

There's a strange victory dance complete with the blogging equivalent of Gatorade waterboarding dunks taking place among reactionaries this weekend. See Andy McCarthy. Its source is the claimed proof, via the Washington Post, that torture works. Specifically in the way that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became so talkative post-waterboarding. Now what comes out from the Washington Post article is that KSM and his interrogators became a co-dependent group. KSM fed them narcissistic stories of his exploits and the interrogators got vindication for having tortured him. In this regard, it's worth looking at his full confession at his enemy combatant status hearing. It's long but it's needed to bring out the point --

I hereby admit and affirm without duress to the following:

1. I swore Bay'aat (ie allegiance) to Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to conduct jihad of self and money, and also Hijrah (ie expatriation to any location in the world where Jihad is required).

2. I was a member of the al-Qa'ida Council.

3. I was the media operations director for al-Sahab, or "The Clouds", under Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Sahab is the media outlet that provided al-Qa'ida-sponsored information to al Jazeera.

4. I was the operational director for sheikh Osama Bin Laden for the organising, planning, follow-up, and execution of the 9/11 operation under the military commander, Sheikh Abu Hafs al-Masri Subhi Abu Sittah.

5. I was the military operational commander for all foreign operations around the world under the direction of sheikh Osama Bin Laden and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri.

6. I was directly in charge, after the death of sheik Abu Hafs al-Masri Subhi Abu Sittah, of managing and following up on the cell for the production of biological weapons, such as anthrax and others, and following up on dirty bomb operations on american soil.

7. I was emir (ie commander) of Beit Al Shuhada (ie the Martyrs' House) in the state of Kandahar, Afghanistan, which housed the 9/11 hijackers. There I was responsible for their training and readiness for the execution of the 9/11 Operation. Also, I hereby admit and affirm without duress that I was a responsible participant, principal planner, trainer, financier (via the military council treasury), executor and/or a personal participant in the following:

1. I was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center Operation.

2. I was responsible for the 9/11, from A to Z.

3. I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.

4. I was responsible for the Shoe Bomber Operation to down two American airplanes.

5. I was responsible for the Filka Island Operation in Kuwait that killed two American soldiers.

6. I was responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia which was frequented by British and Australian nationals.

7. I was responsible for planning, training, surveying and financing the New (or Second) Wave attacks against the following skyscrapers after 9/11:
a. Library Tower, California.
b. Sears Tower, Chicago.
c. Plaza Bank, Washington state.
d. The Empire State Building, New York City.

8. I was responsible for planning, financing and follow-up of Operations to destroy American military vessels and oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Port of Singapore.

9. I was responsible for planning, training, surveying and financing for the Operation to bomb and destroy the Panama Canal.

10. I was responsible for surveying and financing for the assassination of several former American presidents, including President (Jimmy) Carter.

11. I was responsible for surveying, planning and financing for the bombing of suspension bridges in New York.

12. I was responsible for planning to destroy the Sears Tower by burning a few fuel or oil tanker trucks beneath it or around it.

13. I was responsible for planning, surveying and financing for the operation to destroy Heathrow Airport, the Canary Wharf Building and Big Ben on British soil.

14. I was responsible for planning, surveying and financing for the destruction of many night clubs frequented by American and British citizens on Thailand soil.

15. I was responsible for surveying and financing for the destruction of the New York Stock Exchange and other financial targets after 9/11.

16. I was responsible for planning, financing and surveying for the destruction of buildings in the Israeli city of Eilat by using airplanes leaving from Saudi Arabia.

17. I was responsible for planning, surveying and financing for the destruction of American embassies in Indonesia, Australia and Japan.

18. I was responsible for surveying and financing for the destruction of the Israeli embassy in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Australia.

19. I was responsible for surveying and financing for the destruction of an Israeli El-Al Airlines flight on Thailand soil departing from Bangkok Airport.

20. I was responsible for sending several Mujahadeen into Israel to conduct surveillance to hit several strategic targets deep in Israel.

21. I was responsible for the bombing of the hotel in Mombasa that is frequented by Jewish travellers via El-Al airlines.

22. I was responsible for launching a Russian-made SA-7 surface-to-air missile on El-Al or other Jewish airliner departing from Mombasa.

23. I was responsible for planning and surveying to hit American targets in South Korea, such as American military bases and a few night clubs frequented by American soldiers.

24. I was responsible for financial, excuse me, I was responsible for providing financial support to hit American, Jewish and British targets in Turkey.

25. I was responsible for surveillance needed to hit nuclear power plants that generate electricity in several US states.

26. I was responsible for planning, surveying and financing to hit NATO Headquarters in Europe.

27. I was responsible for the planning and surveying needed to execute the Bojinka Operation which was designed to down 12 American airplanes full of passengers. I personally monitored a round-trip Manila-to-Seoul Pan Am flight.

28. I was responsible for the assassination attempt against US President (Bill) Clinton during his visit to the Philippines in 1994 and 1995.

29. I shared responsibility for the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul the second while he was visiting the Philippines.

30. I was responsible for the training and financing for the assassination of Pakistan's President (Pervez) Musharaf.

31. I was responsible for the attempt to destroy an American oil company owned by the Jewish former Secretary of State, Henry Kissiner, on the Island of Sumatra.

A SuperWar needs SuperVillians. KSM played along. Since he confessed to about 30 plots, if you assume (as McCarthy always does), about 10,000 fatalities per plot, then torture saved 300,000 people! If you think the real world doesn't have so many Dr Evil types, the calculus doesn't look as good.

UPDATE: National Review's Mike Potemra --

[John McCain] quotes an al-Qaeda leader as saying to him that U.S. torture was an effective recruitment tool for al-Qaeda. Is it not at least possible that the al-Qaeda operative was lying to him? There would be plenty of incentive for the terrorist to spin McCain; for the senator to recount this without any apparent skepticism makes him look naïve, and thus undermines his overall point.

Say again who is recounting the possible spin of al-Qaeda operatives without any apparent skepticism?

Yesterday's Men

Brian Cowen and George Bush at the Kennedy funeral in Boston.
Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Friday, August 28, 2009

On the front line

Saudi King Abdullah visits Prince Mohammed bin Naif, assistant Minister of the Interior. Prince Mohammed survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber who had requested to turn himself in personally to the Prince. It makes for an interesting contrast with the prevalent tone of much American commentary that the War on Terror can be fought from keyboards or with finely crafted memoranda detailing what can or cannot happen in the safety of a Gitmo interrogation room.

UPDATE: This incident is getting another look since the technique used in the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack seems very similar.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One scissors to rule them all

Writing in the Irish Times, John Gibbons highlights a dispute between UNICEF and Tesco Ireland over the slogan "Change for Good", the well known loose change collection envelopes which are available on many international flights. But it's now also a Tesco Ireland ad campaign slogan. Gibbons, like others in Ireland, focuses on the fact that the Change for Good slogan is well known through the participation of Aer Lingus.

Which highlights a strange omission from the list of people who could do something to resolve to dispute. Flying into Ireland on the overnight flights from the USA, Aer Lingus chooses to wake everyone up with an extended film on Change for Good, fronted by the well-remunerated RTE personality Gerry Ryan. Who also is a pitchman for Tesco on Ireland's public broadcaster, RTE. So can't he get everyone in a room and sort it out?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kenny MacAskill and Eamon De Valera

It's an interesting comparison. Here's the concluding section of the Scottish Justice Secretary's statement justifying the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi --

In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.

Mr Al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.

But, that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.

Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.

These sentences constitute a major rhetorical blunder and one that could yet cost him his job. What the earlier portions of the statement had pitched as a narrow application of standard procedures all of a sudden became an essential embodiment of the national character, rendering his moral values superior to those who would want al-Megrahi to die in jail. It's the kind of thinking that De Valera would have respected: the decisions of a single person automatically being the decisions that reflect the true values of the nation.

Which brings us to a more specific incident. De Valera infamously called on the German ambassador to Ireland in 1945 to express condolences upon the death of Hitler. Dev justified his decision in terms of scrupulous adherence to protocol, just as MacAskill (in the hasty backtracking following the uproar) portrays himself as simply an implementer of standard procedures in Scotland. Of course any comparison of Hitler with al-Megrahi is preposterous, but the two incidents share a principal oblivious to the broader context of their decisions, and indeed convinced that their own insights to the national character and playing by narrowly defined rules is all that needed to be done.

Strangely enough, Dev might have benefitted domestically from the outrage generated by his condolence call, whereas MacAskill and his fellow ministers could soon be out of their jobs. Dev was a better politician. The SNP still have the provisional licence.

Photo: Another person whose plight would touch MacAskill's heart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The revolution is unwell

One of the strangest things about the neocon Iraq project was how much it seemed to be run for the benefit of Iran. Or perhaps, given the history of the Republican party and Iran (the actions as opposed to rhetoric), not so strange.

Anyway, one symptom of the cognitive dissonance was how, with a straight face, the Bush administration repeatedly courted an organisation called the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one which made no attempt to hide its allegiance to the Iranian model. At one point there was a name change to make the link a little less glaring, but the name change seems to have been for western media consumption only.

In the photo we see Dick Cheney meeting with the head of SCIRI Sayyed Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim about a year and a half ago. One of several meetings that his Eminence (as Bush called him) was able to get at the very top.

We bring this up because the jostling for position in Iraqi politics has never stopped, and it's still an open question as to whether an Iran-lite model could emerge under SCIRI guidance -- one of the risks that was pointed out from the start with the Iraq intervention. But media reports are now emerging that Hakim is seriously ill in -- where else? -- Tehran. His incapacitation wll further put the cat among the pigeons in Iraq. The Iraq which, strangely, seems to be viewed as a solved problem.

UPDATE: Hakim is dead. The White House sends condolences.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Maltese Maverick

John McCain will, yet again, be on ABC's This Week on Sunday. Here's a question. The photo shows Sen. McCain leaving a restaurant in St Julians in Malta in December 2008. The Malta stop looked strange at the time, in a visit (along with his fellow musketeers Graham & Lieberman) which had visited South Asian hotspots.

So Senator McCain -- did you visit Libya or hold a meeting with the Libyan government during your December trip, using the Malta stop as a cover? It matters because the who knew what and when about the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi release is an ever more interesting question.

UPDATE: The questions to John McCain and Joe Lieberman -- who were both in Libya last week and both on the mysterious Malta trip -- mainly dealt with the appropriateness of al-Megrahi's welcome in Libya and only peripherally with the background dealing that might have gone on.

Picture: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Times of Malta

Friday, August 21, 2009

Separation of powers and stuff

Hawkish pundit Michael Rubin seems to have comprehension problems with constitutional structures in Britain and Ireland. A few weeks ago we saw him analyze Mary Robinson's role in setting the EU aid budget. Now --

Lockerbie Bomber's Release Linked to Trade Deals?

So says Qadhafi's son, according to an Agence France Presse story linked on Drudge. If true, what does that say about the independence of Scottish courts?

Nothing, since al-Megrahi's release was not sanctioned by any court. It was a political decision made by the Scottish Minister for Justice.

UPDATE: At least now we know why Barack Obama hasn't responded to his Robbie Burns invitation.

The indictments keep coming

Horace Cooper is among other things --

a Senior Fellow in Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

Incidentally, P O'Neill is a Senior Fellow at the Dublin Institute for Culture and Knowledge. And therefore alarmed that such a title for a blogger is no bar to a federal indictment --

The indictment alleges that from approximately December 2001 to May 2005, while he worked at VOA and then at the Department of Labor, Cooper conspired with Jack A. Abramoff, a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, and others, to defraud the United States of his honest services and of its right to have federal executive branch business conducted without improper influence. The indictment also alleges that Cooper, Abramoff and others conspired to give and receive things of value to influence or reward Cooper for official acts as a federal executive branch employee.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that during this time, Cooper solicited and received from Abramoff and his colleagues thousands of dollars worth of tickets to sporting events and concerts; that Cooper and his companions allegedly received free or discounted meals and drinks on dozens of occasions at a restaurant controlled by Abramoff; and that Cooper, at Abramoff’s invitation and expense, allegedly hosted a Super Bowl party for his friends at another restaurant Abramoff controlled. The indictment also alleges that Cooper, rewarded and influenced by the tickets and meals solicited and received from Abramoff and his associates, agreed to use his official positions at VOA and the Department of Labor to advance Abramoff’s interests and those of his clients. In addition, the indictment alleges that from approximately 1998 to 2000, Cooper received from Abramoff and his colleagues thousands of dollars worth of tickets to concerts and sporting events while Cooper was serving as a Congressional staffer.

There are also a bunch of obstruction of justice charges, but as we learned during the Valerie Plame saga, obstruction of justice is not a crime if there was no underlying crime so he might be OK on that one.

Note: Cooper held key mid-level positions under George Bush, including at Voice of America, and he was Dick Armey's staff lawyer when Armey was one of the senior Republicans in the House of Representatives. Armey's current outfit, FreedomWorks, is orchestrating the angry white guy rallies at the Congressional healthcare meetings. It's a small world.

He's toying with them

Barack Obama has issued a video message for the start of Ramadan, which begins tomorrow. His greeting is Ramadan Kareem (generous) rather than Ramadan Mubarak (blessed). Perhaps he didn't want to use the Egyptian president's name. Then, perhaps just to drive the crazies even crazier, there's this --

"Fasting is a concept shared by many faiths, including my own Christian faith ..."

Because by the crazy mentality, the fact that he has to mention his Christian faith must prove that he's secretly a Muslim!

UPDATE: Its gets better. The President has also issued a proclamation for the 50th anniversary of statehood for Hawaii. It includes --

Growing up in Hawaii, I learned from its diversity how different cultures blend together into one population

Why doesn't he say that was born in Hawaii?

FINAL UPDATE: Dreams of my Father has been translated into Arabic.

Not very assuring

One interesting angle in the decision of the Scottish executive to give compassionate release to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi is the part of the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statement where he comes close to accusing the UK Home Office of lying --

The United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, was in fact deputy Attorney General to Janet Reno at the time of the pre-trial negotiations. He was adamant that assurances had been given to the United States Government that any person convicted would serve his sentence in Scotland. Many of the American families spoke of the comfort that they placed upon these assurances over the past ten years. That clear understanding was reiterated to me, by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

I sought the views of the United Kingdom Government. I offered them the right to make representations or provide information. They declined to do so. They simply informed me that they saw no legal barrier to transfer and that they gave no assurances to the US Government at the time. They have declined to offer a full explanation as to what was discussed during this time, or to provide any information to substantiate their view. I find that highly regrettable.

I therefore do not know what the exact nature of those discussions was, nor what may have been agreed between Governments. However, I am certain of the clear understanding of the American families and the American Government.

Therefore it appears to me that the American families and Government either had an expectation, or were led to believe, that there would be no prisoner transfer and the sentence would be served in Scotland.

Note that a Home/Justice "assurance" has been a standard procedure in the controversial UK-US extradition cases, where they typically concern something that can't in fact be guaranteed or is already an option under existing law. Isn't there now enough evidence that any such assurances should be put in writing?

UPDATE: Just for the record, one curious angle is emerging on the release -- the possible role of Qatar in the process.

FINAL UPDATE: Just to collect a few more links. In this bewildering interview (which does serve as a reminder of how good John Humphrys is), UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband says that there were other issues with the use of the prisoner transfer agreement (as opposed to question of implicit assurances) but also that there was no role of the London government in the decision. But well-credentialed correspondent Kristofer Harrison tells Powerline's "Trunk" that the machinations were directed from the Foreign Office.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

That's quite an endorsement deal

Presumably Nike can't be too happy with the prominent swoosh on Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi as he boarded the plane in Glasgow. Then again, the VIP lounge people got a nice endorsement too.

AP Photo/Danny Lawson/Pool

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Outrage of the day

VH1 (UK) Sunday afternoon programming is Def Leppard counting down their 50 favourite songs.

Number 32 is Stairway to Heaven.

They interrupted it half-way through to move on to a Kiss video.

The damned spot of Lehman

Alistair Darling in an interview with the Sunday Times (UK) --

As the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers approaches, Darling has been reflecting on its impact. He believes that if the US government had stepped in to save the investment bank, as it did for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the American mortgage giants, the economic crisis that followed might not have been so dramatic.

“What I don’t think they realised was that when Lehman went down, people looked round the world and thought: well if Lehman can go down, and it’s one of the world’s biggest investment banks, then what else can go down? And that precipitated the crisis which finally manifested itself in October,” he says.

How much difference would it have made? “Well, if the Americans had stepped in, it would still have been necessary to recapitalise the banks. But the act of Lehman going down provoked a sense of crisis, which brought matters to a head much more quickly and severely than would otherwise have been the case. But then, hindsight’s a wonderful thing . . .”

Actual sequence of events as described by senior New York Fed official --

Barclays agreed to acquire Lehman after a syndicate of banks consented to backstop a new entity that would take over $55 billion to $60 billion of Lehman’s troubled assets, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The deal fell apart when the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority refused to sign off on the Barclays purchase that day and U.S. officials refused to take further steps to save the deal.

The New York Fed meeting then turned to discuss plan B [bankruptcy], Baxter said.

It's one of the continuing mysteries of the financial crisis post-mortems that critical non-decisions made by the UK government don't receive much attention.

UPDATE 29 JANUARY 2010: Hank Paulson has now confirmed that Darling blocked the Barclays takeover of Lehman.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shadow boxing

There's something a tad strange about the Daniel Hannan Sean Hannity interview controversy. Consistent with much of the healthcare "debate" in the USA, the only alternative that the pundits seem able to comprehend for the US system is the NHS. But of course Barack Obama is not proposing any more government provision of healthcare than takes place already. Nor has Hannan said anything much different than he has said before. But anyway. Both the BBC and Sky editors seem to have decided to that the most outrageous quote from Hannan (since it's the one they keep playing) is --

How amazing to me that a free people, you know, citizens of a country founded on the principle of independence, independence for the citizen as well as independence for the state, should be contemplating, in peacetime, burdening themselves with a system like this, which puts the power of life and death in a state bureaucracy.

But he also said --

The idea that you'd want me to know go down this road to Cuban what North Korean system, is just extraordinary.

NHS = North Korea? Now that's loony. David Cameron should be able to come with something more than this oblique response. But in the big picture, the row is typical of the luck of those opposed to healthcare reform. They find a hackneyed but not entirely useless rhetorical tactic and carry it too far -- in this case turning it into an embarrassment for an overseas political party that should be their natural ally, the Tories. With enemies like these, maybe Barack Obama doesn't need friends.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Sometimes American politics can seem very strange. Consider these snippets from National Review's Andy McCarthy regarding Barack Obama's healthcare plan in the context of the goon squads showing up at public meetings --

This is not a nice, ivory tower, Oxford debate. This is gut-check time about whether we are going to maintain the bedrock American relationship between the citizen and the state. We are in the battle against ruthless, radical ideologues who have the media and the daunting numbers on their side ... We're not talking trivia here. We're talking about what kind of country we're going to be from here on out. That's something worth getting whipped up about ... It's unfortunate that some people will go overboard — as happens in any human endeavor — but that's no reason to treat this as if it were an academic exercise. If that's the approach, the game — like the country as we know it — is lost.

At first sight this is the kind of language one would use about a revolutionary government, not policymakers that handily won an election just 10 months ago. But then again, it wouldn't be hard to go back a year or two and find a quote from, say, Paul Krugman, that would sound a similar tone about the ideological intensity of the Bush administration.

It's not easy to think of European examples where people get as worked out about the "true" agendas of their elected governments. The parties run on fairly predictable platforms and they either get some laws passed through their parliaments or they don't. The notion that a party runs with a cloaked radical agenda which somehow the voters didn't see at election time? The Americans seem to specialize in that one. Which does make their faith in elections as an instrument of democratisation even harder to understand but there you go.

Anyway, we have no conclusion. Huge time and money spent on elections but then a noticable group of people acting is if the election didn't produce any outcome they could identify with. If that's the dynamic, things could be noisy for quite a while.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fishy Fish

The main ingredient in "Donegal Catch" fish fingers, as found in one's typical local Irish supermarket, is Alaskan pollock. Perhaps the Icelanders have good reason to worry about the EU lust for new sources of fish.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mary Robinson: I smoked but I didn't inhale

Yes the War on Mary's Presidential Medal of Freedom seems like another manufactured "outrage" situation. But she doesn't do herself any favours in Thursday's Irish Times --

Aipac said in a statement that Mrs Robinson, who was UN high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002, had mismanaged the Durban conference, prompting the US and Israel to walk out in protest against anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist statements. “I wish that I could have done more but I did everything in my power,” Mrs Robinson said of the conference yesterday.

The conference was run by the member states, particularly by South Africa as the chair. So all key meetings and all decisions at the official level were made by governments and I wasn’t present when they were arguing about whether anti-Semitic language which was in brackets should be included. I just wasn’t there. But I did finally, after the United States and Israel had withdrawn, persuade South Africa to take this language out immediately and to continue with the conference. And that is what happened. So the formal Durban declaration is without any anti-Semitic language of any kind and it was welcomed by Shimon Peres when it was made known on 8th September 2001.”

She's correct in her final point. Israel did not complain about the final declaration and Shimon Peres welcomed it. But she was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when the UN was holding a human rights conference. Blaming the South Africans and claiming to be out of the loop when the bad stuff was happening is lame. If she just stuck to the line that elements of Durban I (especially the non-official NGO conference) were a circus, but the final declaration was fine, she'd be on solid ground, and she could accuse her US critics of being more hardline than Israel about Israel.

Instead there's an implicit swipe at Thabo Mbeki and excuses. Speaking of Thabo Mbeki, there's a South African joke -- you can't spell Thabo without Botha. But that's for another day.

UPDATE: Michael Rubin chimes in. He had been the source for the preposterous charge that Mary Robinson was responsible for the European Union's aid budget when she was President of Ireland. More generally, he thought there was a case that she was a war criminal. He now says that was "tongue-in-cheek" but levels a new charge --

The biggest issue for me, however, hanging over Robinson’s selection is her stewardship of the UN Human Rights Commission in 2002. At the April 2002 session, the commission voted (and passed) a resolution endorsing “all available means, including armed struggle” to establish a Palestinian state. Put aside whatever one thinks about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. International law bases itself on precedent, and the UN Human Rights Commission chose specifically not to exempt suicide bombing—a plague of which had erupted in 2001–2002—from “all available means.” While the question on Robinson’s agenda may have involved Israel and Palestine, the answer was just as relevant to Sri Lanka, Great Britain, Pakistan, and Lebanon. This is why Canada, Britain, and Germany voted against the measure. Basically, under Robinson’s stewardship, the commission decided to recognize the murder of non-combatant men, women, and children on buses and in cafes as legal.

This is basic misunderstanding of the relationship between the UN as an institution and the various commissions that its work has spawned. Mary Robinson's office was the secretariat to the commission i.e. it provided the functional support so that the commission could do its work. But the actual resolutions were the work of the member countries. And this was in the period when the commission was essentially putting itself out of business as its dubious membership and political stunts became ever clearer. As a result of which, the commission doesn't exist any more.

FINAL UPDATE: Charles Lane in the Washington Post online with a more measured case against Robinson's model, essentially focused on her lack of qualifications for the fairly bland requirements of the medal. Note this focus on her attempt to blame Durban I on the South Africans.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Quixote of the world

Quiz -- who said the following?

The American assault on Ireland under the name of Fenianism may be now held to have failed, but the snake is only scotched and not killed. It is far from impossible that the American conspirators may try and obtain in our North American provinces compensation for their defeat in Ireland.

Answer: Lord Palmerston, as Prime Minister, in 1865.

We bring this up because Palmerston has popped up (as he once did for Andrew Sullivan) as an icon of aggressive foreign intervention, this time for Max Boot at the blog of Commentary --

In 1847, David Pacifico, a Jew who had been born in British-held Gibraltar and was therefore a British subject, had his house burned down in Athens by an anti-Semitic mob. The Greek government refused to protect him or provide any restitution. Lord Palmerston, Britain’s foreign secretary, sent the Royal Navy to blockade Greece until it paid Pacifico’s demands.

Critics charged that Palmerston was overreacting. The House of Lords even voted to censure him. But in the House of Commons, Palmerston carried the day with a magnificent five-hour oration in which he declared: “As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen], so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong.”

Boot uses this as a basis to criticise the supposedly weak US response to the detention of its citizens wandering across the borders of Axis of Evil countries in North Korea and Iran (notwithstanding today's surprise visit by Bill Clinton to get the two women in North Korea released).

But is Palmerstonian intervention such a great model? Taking up the cause of British subjects or British vessels (as we will see in the moment) was not a policy that can be taken in isolation. Sometimes it had its liberal-sounding motivations (such as in the anti-Semitism directed against Don Pacifico).

But Palmerston was playing Great Power politics even as he offered high minded rhetoric. In the Don Pacifico case, he was manoeuvering to prevent the Greeks getting too uppity (as he saw it) against the Turks, who he needed to keep the Russians in check. Here's another case --

In October 1856 the Chinese seized the pirate ship Arrow. It had been registered as a British ship two years previously but was owned by a notorious Chinese pirate. The titular captain was British, and the crew was Chinese. It was intercepted in Chinese territorial waters by Chinese coastguards and the Union Flag (sic) was pulled down. The Chinese crew was arrested and the British captain was released. The British Consul at Canton, Harry Parkes, protested against this insult to the flag and demanded an apology. The Chinese Commissioner Ye Mingchen refused and it was discovered that the Arrow's registration as a British vessel expired three weeks before it was seized and therefore had no right to fly the flag or to be exempt from interception under international law. However, in disregard of international conventions, Parkes refused to back down in order to save face and protested that the Chinese did not know it was not a British ship at the time they accosted it. Parkes sent the Royal Navy to bombard Ye's palace and it was duly destroyed, along with a large part of the city and a large loss of life.

This became the flashpoint of the Second Opium War in which the British demands included unfettered access to China's rivers, legalized opium, and privileges in the shipment of indentured workers ("coolies") to the USA. Subjugation, drugs, and exploitation. "Liberal interventionism" indeed. If Somali pirates sprung the Stars and Stripes on a ship and another country's navy pulled it down, would that be a cause for war?

But back, as so many British Prime Ministerships do, to the Irish Question. Palmerston had complex views on Ireland (not least because of family links) but part of his outlook saw the northeastern USA (and by extension, the US government) as under heavy Irish nationalist influence. This was one reason for his flirtation with supporting the Confederacy and the rant above about the risks to Canada from the American branch of hardline Irish nationalism.

So what's our point? Palmerston was a product of his time. To go quote-plucking as Boot does is not very helpful. If America is to pursue gunboat diplomacy on behalf of any citizen, anywhere, it's important to know the precedents for such behaviour.

Monday, August 03, 2009

War on Mary -- latest

See our recent post on the conservative "outrage" over Mary Robinson's Presidential Medal of Freedom. Context for Gil Troy (brother of Tevi) --

At a time when Barack Obama should be honoring Winston Churchills in the fight against anti-Semitism, he has chosen a Neville Chamberlain, someone who appeased the haters at Durban and in the UN again and again, until it was too late.

Via National Review's The Corner.

Although it's standard procedure in these "outrage" situations for the target to be compared to Neville Chamberlain, poor old Neville wasn't so bad from a narrow Irish perspective, as he did give back the Treaty Ports.

UPDATE: The Troy brothers team up for a New York Post broadside: Honoring an America-hater. Tevi Troy lamely disassociates himself from the headline. Closing sentence --

Worse, it seems Obama doesn't mind celebrating a symbol of Western weakness and appeasement of anti-Semitism at a time when the world's dictators and terrorists are deciding what to think of him.

FINAL UPDATE: The War on Mary has gone mainstream. AIPAC has issued a statement of concern and the "outrage" is getting a lot of media coverage. For some reason, one of the two preferred talking points of the Mary-haters is that her nomination "wasn't vetted" -- this originated with Tevi Troy last Friday. The other talking point concerns her role in the Durban human rights conference, which was problematic. But is that disqualifying? It's weird how much power the UN is assumed to have. However the mention of Durban is a reminder that some of the people who have Mary issues might have other South African issues that they are more reluctant to talk about.

But he still sings the rebel songs

Further revelations about the endless junketing of Ireland's then Minister for Tourism John O'Donoghue in 2006. Last week had seen the entire expense report express only one bit of reservation about cost -- the tips given to bag carriers in India. Now comes the details on how he ran up 33,000 euro in travel costs in a week due to trying to combine "official" engagements as Minister with parish pump politics in his home base of Kerry --

Between May 18th and May 24th, 2006, Mr O’Donoghue, who is now Ceann Comhairle (Speaker), used the jet to travel for six journeys between Dublin, Cannes, Kerry, Cardiff, Cannes (for a second time), Northolt (London) and Dublin, the Sunday Tribune reported yesterday.

It's a bit odd for the Irish media to be referring to that final stop as "Northolt" because it is in fact RAF Northolt (crest above), conveniently located near west London. When the ex-Minister is shouting and roaring with the best of them about the glories of Ireland's independence struggle, does he mention his stops at the Saxon airforce base? Note also that one leg of the Cannes trip was to see Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Thus like his then boss Bertie Ahern, this film seems to have functioned as a man of the people credential for Ireland's ruling class. Loach needs to do an update.

UPDATE: Our loyal republican was a serial user of RAF bases.

Crest RAF via Wikipedia subject to Crown Copyright

It's like the Sports Illustrated cover curse

New York Times headline on Saturday, 1 August

No Apologies From the Boss of a No-Frills Airline

Irish Times, Monday 3 August, referring to events which took place on Saturday --

PASSENGERS TRAVELLING with Ryanair faced long delays at Dublin and London Stansted airports on Saturday due to lengthy queues at the airline’s check-in desks.

Ryanair apologised yesterday for delays that disrupted the travel plans of hundreds of passengers departing from Stansted. It blamed the problems on staff shortages at its ground handling contractor, Swissport, which meant “an inadequate number of bag drop desks were operating”.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Another Saddam lie exposed

US Navy Captain Scott Speicher's plane was shot down on the first day of Operation Desert Storm, the US-led campaign to free Kuwait, in 1991. Since Capt Speicher's remains were never found, he was classified as missing in action. The Pentagon has now confirmed that his plane crashed in western Iraq, he was dead on impact (or soon thereafter), and was buried by local tribesmen. This was always the most likely scenario.

Here are some of the posts from National Review's The Corner about his likely fate --

Thursday, April 24, 2003

This Man's Poor Family [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Possible evidence that Scott Speicher was in an Iraqi jail.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Scott Speicher [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

A special unit has been formed by the Defense department and intel to go into Iraq and search for MIA/possible POW Capt. Michael Scott Speicher. Earlier this month, there were unconfirmed intelligence reports that he was alive and moved into Baghdad.

Other Pow News [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Sen. Bill Nelson was talking about Scott Speicher (POW from Gulf War) on Monday, citing classified reports saying he is alive. We've heard this in the last month and I don't know that it is anything new.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Wow [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

CNN is reporting that six POWs have been found alive, now in Marine custody.

Unfortunately, there are seven missing (and then Scott Speicher).

Monday, December 15, 2003

Scott Speicher: Grain-of-Salt Update [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Saddam claims he never knew what happened to Capt. Speicher, who was shot down in the Gulf War and never found, says he was not an Iraqi prisoner.

No Credible New Reasons For Hope [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Rowan Scarborough reports that the fate of downed Gulf War (I) Navy pilot Scott Speicher looks grim. A classfied report—previously suggested to include some new evidence that he may be alive—calls the source for previous optimism a "born liar."

Like the WMD evidence which formed the basis of the Iraq war, the admitting of a dead end came after the war started. The purpose had been served by that point.


With conservatives in perpetual looking-to-be-provoked mode, they must have been devastated at Michelle Obama's entirely standard approach to the playing of the US national anthem in Norfolk, Virginia. They'll have to look somewhere else for a row.

U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Desiree Green


We've had little to say about the case of Gary McKinnon, the hacker facing extradition from the UK to the USA, because the legal machinery seems to be in relentless motion as it was with the NatWest 3. So just one thing --

The government has promised it will ensure the hacker facing extradition to the US would serve any prison sentence in the UK amid a deepening row over whether it has legal power to stop the transfer.

This is shite. The NatWest 3 got to finish out their sentences in the UK (and in a strange twist, may have lessened their debts by getting convicted in the US and serving sentence in the UK), because there already is a provision for sentences to be served in the home jurisdiction as long as the US court approves. So there is no new concession to Gary McKinnon. The government is "promising" something that is already there. If they're 100 percent committed to the Extradition Act they should just say so and stop using weasel formulations so make it sound like something different.