Archive for February, 2011

British Arms Sales Hypocricy

February 18, 2011

So, the British government is reviewing its arms sales policy to Bahrain and the other Gulf States. The only long term review ever carried out has been to devise ways of selling more, not less, military equipment to the Gulf States.

This time, 24 individual licences and 20 open licences for Bahrain have been revoked and eight individual licences for Libya. The Foreign Office says of course, there’s no evidence UK equipment had been used in the military crackdown on protesters.  Of course not. The fact that British arms and military riot control systems were ever sold to the Middle East states, all of which until recently, were very good at putting down protests is, apparently neither here nor there. But then arms sales money talks and Britain chatters back eagerly.

The Gulf has been the centre-piece of British global arms sales for a quarter of a century – certainly since the opening negotiations for the $billions that the Saudi royal family poured into the al-Yamamah with the UK. If it were not for that single, complex weapons programme, much of the British arms sales production companies, including the all-powerful BAe Systems (in spite of being linked to bribery accusations) would have long ago been in deep trouble.  Moreover, we are not talking a few hundred tear gas canisters.  Just one example puts it all in perspective: an agreement for the UK government to sell 72 Typhoon fighters to Saudi Arabia with accompanying missiles.

Furthermore, this is government to government stuff, not just a few arms salesmen trying to put together a deal.

Arms sales to the region are pushed by the UK government arms sales department, the Defence & Security Organization.  Furthermore, Britain has a phalanx of British sales advisory teams supported by  the British military and once sales are in place, the training and support teams include ex-Service personnel.

Ludicrously, the secretive and arrogant British Ministry of Defence says it does not have any up to date information on the advisory and training role of the British military.  That is either an out and out fib, or utter incompetence.  Either accusation fits the record and today style of the Defence Ministry in Whitehall.

It does not stop at the Gulf.  The British also supply Libya.  The Libyan state security apparatus does not look for the maker’s name on any weaponry, including cannisters and ammunition, before deploying and using it.

Maybe all this could be discussed this weekend at the annual IDEX arms sales exhibition in the UAE. The British are proud that ten percent of the exhibitors at IDEX will be from UK organizations supported by Whitehall teams.  Of course, there are strict rules about arms sales export licences. They must not be used in an inhuman way – there’s a Philosophy MA dissertation somewhere there.  But the arms salesmen need have no worries about licences.  During 2010, no licence applications – including those to Egypt, Libya and Algeria – were turned down.

When the government says it has to review arms sales, that too is obfuscation: it knows perfectly well what has been delivered into the area.  To say that equipment from UK arms sales teams must not include anything to suppress the people, then what does the UK government think that the Bahrainis, for example, would otherwise do with CS canisters and rubber bullets – hardly paint-balling gear.

There’s no point in demanding that Britain pulls out of the global arms trade. Moreover, in some cases, sales to overseas buyers mean that British forces can get some of the equipment it needs. What would be OK, is that the British Foreign Secretary and his office, would spare us the hand-ringing. The surprised look does not work. The real world is that British arms salesmen will sell to anyone. The only check is when the weapons include American technology – then it’s the US that stops the UK from on-selling anything that can be fired. Sometimes of course, the firing ricochets back.

Go back just thirty years: the British government sold British-built and armed Type 42 destroyers to a third country and showed that country’s Navy how best to use them. That lucrative sale was made to Argentina. The year 1982.


Bring The Square People to Britain

February 12, 2011

I notice that the much respected Hazhir Teimourian gives a gentle warning  that the UK should not be an automatic haven for Egyptians who do not want to live in the infant new society of their countrymen.

Mr Teimourian has an enviable journalistic and academic reputation, but on this occasion he is wrong.  I do not want the people of The Square of Cairo to abandon that place and return to their day jobs – those who have them.  I want each and every one of them to come here to the United Kingdom. Stay with me. I’ll explain.

As the lions of Egypt roared, I kept an eye on some apparently smaller events in my own islands.  Parliament was forced to go into debating session because the European Union insists that the UK ignore its own laws and traditions and allows convicted prisoners to vote in general elections, although that may not include rapists and murderers. Public opinion suggests that the British do not want prisoners to have the right to vote and certainly do not want ‘Europe’ to tell Parliament to change the law so that they might do so.

Of course, there may yet come from ‘Europe’ an instruction to follow the Egyptian example and let all the prisoners out. Once they are not prisoners, presumably some mechanism may found for them to vote.  Given the level of intellectual and constitutional corruption in the ‘European’ directive, the ex-cons would be allowed to adopt the Third World example and vote early and vote often.

That is all rather serious.  Yet a couple of other examples popped into the News columns this week, with hardly any surprise so little or no comment. The good people of the Surrey hill-top village of Tatsfield (once the home of an English traitor who spied for the Soviet Union) have been told by the police not to put wire mesh over their shed windows to prevent burglars stealing their garden tools. It is not that the police feel that thieves might be reformed if they could have regular jobs as gardeners and that because of government cuts in social services, it’s all right for people to steal what they want.  Oh, No.  It is because the police say that if a burglar was forcing her or his way (one has to be gender fair) into the shed and scratched or pricked her or himself then the said burglar would have every right to sue the shed owner for considerable sums.  Is this possible? Of course.  Under European Court rulings, the buglar has every right to burgle in safety.  There’s more.

A train driver this past week, refused to drive his commuter train because the seat was damp. Why was it damp?  Because the window was open. So, shut the window, take a towel to the seat and drive the train.  Oh, No, again.  Under Health and Safety rules in line with European Directives, the driver was in his rights to refuse to drive the train. (He could have stood like many of the commuters had to every day).

You see where we are heading?  I want all the good people from The Square to ignore my brother, Hazhir, and to come here to the British Isles.  I want them to fill Trafalgar Square (lots of lavatories and snack bars close by) and Whitehall (one long rest room and snack bar) and then Parliament Square (where politicians can legally cream off ludicrously high ‘expenses’ that would be an adventure playground for any Egyptian government swindler) and refuse to leave until the European leaders who now govern our laws while making themselves, by most people’s standards, exceedingly rich buzz off to the Euro equivalent of Sharm El-Sheikh or wherever.

Unfortunately, it is raining heavily in London.  Crowds, not even revolutionary ones, care for rain-sodden squares. (The French Revolution would not have happened if it had rained all the time.) And anyway, when the British did march in hundreds and hundreds of thousands in protest (in 2003), the government took absolutely no notice at all. They simply took us all to a blatantly illegal war in Iraq. Maybe the British marchers should have stuck it out.

Or maybe, unlike the wonderful people in The Square, we really do not care that much. We’ve got it easy.  Which is why we accept criminals have more rights than the innocent and, it’s why a true British train driver who has never known anything but freedom, didn’t have to drive his train with a damp seat. It’s also why we don’t really care if crooks vote for what we all think are another bunch of crooks anyway.

It is not a huge intellectual exercise, but this of all weeks is a time to pause and contemplate what we would march for, and stay marching, for eighteen days.

Cairo Burning

February 11, 2011

Tonight Mubarak said, No, Not Yet.  The people in the square waved their shoes. What next? The shoes off in Tehran next Monday? Anyone guesses now.  The guessing’s free and cheap.  That’s what happens when the political cup runs dry and the leaves are tapped out for all to read.

In this February, few know what to make of the signs yet, in the region, every leader’s foe and every leader’s ally is checking the doors. Punditry is often the one-eyed man’s opportunity to be king for five minutes. But there are signs worth following. The kingdoms and states with most to fear fit a simple matrix. Each has been ruled by the same guard for two decades or more. None has tolerated serious opposition (just as those fighting for freedom now will be intolerant of opposition should they have power). Each nervous state has a large population of under thirty-somethings with unfulfilled ambitions and sense of being held back.  It is this sense of unsatisfied talent that is the strongest threat to regimes. It is a common sight throughout the region.

And, are we to believe that the Cairo cinders will be used to light revolutions in Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Mauritania, the other Gulf States – even Oman? It’s a frighteningly vulnerable list. It’s also largely concentrated in a region with oil. So called Western powers who believe they have client states in, say, the Gulf have failed to read the strategic tea leaves sufficiently well to make the gathering in the square unnecessary.  Instead, America, in spite of many warnings from its own people in the State Department, simply propped up its own self-interest.  It continues to do so, especially in the oil-rich gulf.

But we are all going to remember the date 2011 for a long time and, beware, this is only February. If the shoes and sandals come off in, say, Saudi Arabia, do we think the Americans and even their sometimes reluctant allies will be content with diplomatic calls to falling capitals in the desperate scramble to get on first-name terms with whomsoever takes over.

In Florida, where it rains, the US Central Command, has pinned up a fresh tactical, theatre and strategic plan. It may, just may, have to divert some of its forces and resources from Iraq to protect client states. But what happens if the sandals are loosened in Iraq?

2011 is barely started; yet to come are many uprisings in the name of democracy and equally scary, many roads to wars in the name of protection of interests. Until eighteen days ago, America at least would have said that Egypt was one of the hubs of that CenCom strategic plan.  The signs tonight: one of the wheels just fell off.

Egypt – Opposites do not attract

February 8, 2011

The problem of telling everyone you’re going for democracy is that there’s too often one element missing: Opposition. Listening to the voices left in the square, we hear the anxieties of peoples who demand uncompromising change. These are the people whose miserable times past hardly mattered to big powers (America and Britain included) as long as the regional status quo ante agreed with foreign policy in Washington, London and of course, Israel. So now, every one (almost every one) calls for democracy. But who will define Egyptian democracy for, say, the coming decade? A free judiciary and universal suffrage is a splendid start. However, once in power, then what? Those in the square are calling for revolution. The history of modern revolution – from France onwards – suggests traumatic times ahead. Realistically, Western-style democracy (the only one ever championed) has not existed in Egypt. The consequence of all revolution that changes regime is the single phenomenon that brings about its downfall. The people of the square are in Opposition.

When, in 1649, the Puritans beheaded their monarch, any political Opposition was outlawed. The French Revolutionaries overturned the system and rejoiced in regicide and of course, rid themselves of any Opposition. In more recent times, the Iranians sent their shah scurrying to exile and, of course, banned any effective Opposition.  Robert Gabriel Mugabe was democratically elected and for fifteen years lived comfortably in that style; as soon as he was threatened, he crushed Opposition.

The lessons, and warnings, are obvious. If any of the great Western leaders believe that democracy in Egypt will tolerate Opposition then they are blind to their histories and over-indulgent of their platitudes.  Revolution and Opposition part company once the palace gates are breached.

Egypt needs independent judiciary

February 7, 2011

In Cairo they talk of the future more earnestly than the past.  We know about the past. There is even a sense from those in armchairs far away from the square of protest that the message has little to offer those trying to help. Yet, there is now an opportunity to give those who protest and those who do not (and remember, not all Egypt protests) the gift of a free and independent judiciary. Without such a bench of justice, nothing else has value. If there are to be verifiable elections, then there must be a judiciary.

But what about the demands for food; for an end to corruption; jobs; the dismantling of the secret security agencies? All of this will take much longer than anyone can believe, and reasonably so. What will not disappear, is the secret police.  No matter who rules Egypt in the future, there will be a secret security system to spy on the potentially dissatisfied. Students of the French Revolution will explain. There is much to learn about democracy, including the harsh lesson that it does not always work among revolutionary conditions. Indeed, most people who would succeed the Mabarak regime, have yet to demonstrate an ability to lead.  There is of course one group who may become impatient with all the indecision: the colonels.  Revolutions are adventure playgrounds for middle ranking officers. We might keep a weather eye on the barracks.  Certainly the Americans will do just that.  But then what has happened during the past couple of weeks has at least shown one certainty: the United States stumbled.  It is no longer a superpower. Maybe that is the strongest message from the square of protest.


Iraq? What Inquiry?

February 2, 2011

So the Chilcot Inquiry into why the UK joined the US in the 2003 Iraq War finished today. It was of course, the trial of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.  He told the Inquiry he would have gone to war in Iraq even if WMD really had not existed – which they did not. Iraqi WMD has all along stood for Weapons of Mass Disappearance. Blair knew that. Has always known it.

He says he went to war to get Saddam Hussein. He did not say that publicly at the time – although some of us close to the briefing process knew that was what he meant. He was doing it for George and George felt that way. Thus Blair came close, even crossed, the line between honesty and trust: dishonesty with the rule of law we sign up for and, the trust of the people.

The arrogance of Blair verges as a despicable act mainly because so many had enormous hopes of him when he came to power in the UK in 1997. The Tories had fallen into the slough of disrepute and in a couple of incidents, of ill-repute. We were to discover, that PM John Major, so squeaky clean and cultivating the image as one who wanted to lead a nation back to more modest and honourable times (cricket teas on the village green and spinsters cycling to Evensong) was in fact giving another MP a right seeing to across the desk and couch of the PM’s rooms at Westminster.  Along came Blair and for many voters, including those who had previously voted Conservative, here was hope. Here was a man with a sparkling eye and sense of leadership to vote for.

Blair reformed the idea of the Labour Party. He got the Party die-hards to dump its Clause 4 Constiutional article that said the aim of any Labour Government was to take much into Common Ownership – that is nationalize it. It was such a tenet of the Party that it was written on the back of the membership card of every Labour supporter.  It went into the dustbin of outdated ideas. Public ownership was never again to be be part of the Labour Agenda. To prove it, the Party was rebranded New Labour. A new lamp for an old political light. No more public money to go that way. Within a few years, public money went back into the railway system. Just this year, public funds were poured into the banks – partly to pay £million bonuses to the directors who had buggered the banks anyway – not Blair’s doing of course, but the decision of a government from which he jumped ship just in time, or so he would believe.

Since November 2009, the Iraq Inquiry has heard from witnesses, including heads of the Intelligence community, the bureaucracy and military in the UK, who have collectively distanced themselves from the Tony Blair decision to go to a war; that war is seen as increasingly illegal and more pertinently, one which the people who voted for him, did not wish to go. We know why he did it. The political theatre in the UK was increasingly too small for Blair. He went to America after 9/11 and was received as a prince who, if he had been born in the US, could have at that stage run successfully for the White House . Instead, he went to the White House and fingered the gold lame of American presidential privilege and was enchanted by the Bush Camelot where the Merlins rigged votes to get their boy elected.

Twice Blair appeared before Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry. Twice he said that others may not agree with what he did, but what do they know and he said, just in case anyone doubts he’s an honorary Texan, we should all go out and bomb Iran.
The portrait painter Fiona Graham-Mackay, she of the famous Lord Carrington portrait (now there’s a man who could give a master-class in political honor) says she has studied Blair right from the 1997 General Election campaign. It’s in the eyes, she says. These are the eyes of a man who in the shaving mirror sees only his created image – not the truth. Maybe that’s too deep for most of us, but trust her judgement. Good portrait painters understand vanity and there we have the portrait of Tony Blair. Most of us have a vanity somewhere. Most of us are never in the position to mislead a nation into going to a wretched war in order to satisfy a vanity that is so rich that eight years on, he can say in all his own innocence, forget what I told you in 2003, just accept that I was right. It’s a bit like Clause 4. It had to be got rid of because it did not fit Blair’s image of himself. Curiously, I voted for him first time round.  Like a lot who did, I feel let down.  He could have been a great Prime Minister.  Instead, he turned out to be a Could Have Been.