Archive for November, 2012

Christopher Lee

November 27, 2012

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Loadsa Church Bling And Could One Of  The Adorned Be The Next Pope?

26th November 2012
 I do like bling church.  This past weekend is very, very bling church. Pope Benedict XVI who of course, had bling thrust upon him, appointed six new cardinals.  

My very good friend Per Mario is a mite upset that this time, they do not have Italian accents, but he gossips away to them in Latin so what’s the difference other than the Latin for Fiat does not mean does my cinquecento look big in this but let it be done.  

Per Mario giggles esattamente, gives me a cuddle and rolls his eyes that it’s all very well wanting to make the Church more non-European (he actually means non-Italian) but do we really need another cardinal from the Phillipines, another from the United States (although he, Archbishop James Harvery is a prefect of the papal household), Colombia, Nigeria, Lebanon and India.

That’s what the Holy Father has done this weekend. Six new scarlet hatters and not one says prego.  He wants everyone to understand that the Church of Rome is international.  

Now Mario says who thinks it isn’t?  Maybe Benedict thinks it’s not clear what the Church is.  He told everyone in St Peter’s that the Church belongs to the human race.  I can think of a couple of  Islamists who won’t quite get that.  May even find it insulting.  Some might find it provocative. Well that won’t hurt anyone – although with a bit of planning it might.

But  Benedict has a good point. Fewer than a quarter of Catholics live in Europe and three of the six new cardinals (India, Lebanon and Nigeria) are from countries with very large Muslim populations.

Moreover, Catholics in India and the Middle East are constantly being attacked and so the red vestments of their office is a reminder that the cardinals are expoected to be ready to spill their blood for the Church.  It is not a rare act of faith that they do so even at the highest level and most will remember the assassination in 1980 of the Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero largely because he continued to denounce the authorities for persecuting Catholics who worked for the poor.  

The authorities even sent gunmen to kill mourners at his funeral at the Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador on 30 March 1980.

The Church has strong memories and while the Vatican says the Church is for everyone in the world, the real message at last is more along the lines of the Church will go wherever it is needed.  Catholics declare they believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Pope today reminded people who will listen that by that statement, the Catholic Church reflects that about one seventh of the world are followers of Rome.

The downside of that spectacular statistic is the fact that Catholics can be as lapsed as any other Christian.  

Moreover, they are battered by stories of clerical misdemeanors past and present, opportunistic whistle blowing from supposedly loyal servants in the Pope’s own household and even inconsequential debates about celibacy and falling numbers of ordinands – less than a dozen last year for example in that very Catholic Ireland.

So will the beautifully shod and clad six new boys make a difference or will they simply join the privilege of the Church holy of holies and toe whatever the line is every month?  

There are today 120 cardinals.  Each. should he live so long, has the right to vote for the next Pope. When that time comes, the Church will have to define itself as never before since the 1960s. How that turns out could, or so Per Mario whispers, mean that one of the six has been chosen in Benedict’s mind as his successor.  Could that surely be?

Yes of course. Was not he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the chosen one to succeed to the little Easter balcony?  If only the miserable and all-things-to-all-men Church of England were so far seeing.

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Christopher Lee

November 27, 2012

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Boat People marooned on an old phosphate island while Australia thinks what to do with them – an impossible job for everyone?

 

27th November 2012

The Australian Government has admitted this week that it has a major problem with south east Asia boat people – illegal immigrants.  And the government in Canberra knows that it’s not alone in the increasingly destabilizing phenomenon of mass migration.

Here in Australia, a record number – more than 15,500 – have arrived in Australia so far this year and the government doesn’t know what to do with them.
Worse than that, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says his people are having to get rid of some of the influx to places like Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Given that mass migration is a feature and in many cases a major headache for immigration departments throughout the world, Australia’s boat people should not be such a special case.  But they are because Julia Gillard’s left of centre the government is losing control of the incomers and placing them in conditions that are so verging on the inhumane that some of the refugees have, reportedly, tried suicide rather than live as they’re forced to.

The old phosphate island of Nauru in the Pacific near the equator has been turned into a refugee camp. Reports here in Sydney say that people are living 14 to a tent in some of the most sweltering temperatures in the Pacific and at present predictions are likely to be kept there for anything up to five years.

Transfers from mainland infiltrators to PNG include families with children from Sri Lanka and Iran. The determination to get them out of mainland Australia has forced Prime Minister Julia Gillard to revive the once discredited island human dumping policy ominously called the Pacific Solution created by  the administration of former prime minister John Howard in 2001.  It was so internationally unacceptable that it was scrapped by Labour  five years ago.

But Ms Gillard has agreed to open the procedure in desperation to cope with the boat people, which is how 400 boat people are now forcibly marooned by Australian immigration officers on Nauru.

Nauru was never the best place to be even in the lucrative phosphate winning days.  As Amnesty’s Australian refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom apparently view it “Conditions on Nauru are grim. In the front of their minds is the fact that they’re not being processed, the uncertainty that’s facing them is clearly having an impact on their mental health.”

Ms Gillard’s officials say that island dumping and harsher immigration clearance policies are designed to deter refugees from Asia and the Middle East risking their lives and those of their families. But that is clearly not working.

Already there are mostly unbelievable horror stories about the island pens, including tales that refugees have been known to throw children overboard to force immigration off-shore craft to rescue the whole family from their sieve-like vessels.  The Australian MP for Manus Island, Ronnie Knight, warns about imprisoned boat people going “stir crazy” with all that might mean.

The primary difficulty is that the re-vamped Pacific Solution is not working. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has had to admit that this week and now says that the thousands of boat people arriving every month make it impossible to island-dump until the numbers are thinned out.  It’s a job that will take years.
“So some people… will be processed in Australia and processed in the community, but will remain on bridging visas, even after they are regarded, through the process, as refugees,” he reckons.

And not everyone who makes it to the beach is allowed to stay – even in the processing cage. The conundrum is to differentiate between asylum seekers and those just wanting a new economic life in Australia.  Consequently, people are being packed up and sent back to their original countries, for example, Sri Lanka.

“Our humanitarian programme is for people who are at risk of persecution, not for people seeking to undertake economic migration,” Bowen said.

The importance of the monitoring by Amnesty and Australia’s Immigration Commission is that this is not just an Australian problem that probably cannot be fixed.

Europe is also going through immigration scares. The UK sees it as partly a hangover from colonial days from which many surprisingly still have an historical claim on settlement in the UK.  Membership of the EU with cross-border transfer adds to the British dilemma.

Elsewhere in the EU, the Irish government of Enda Kenny skirts the problem but secretly worries about social unrest immigration is causing.  Dublin for example, has more and more non-white faces, Roma beggars at every other ATM and streets full of people without a word of English and certainly not Erse.

In Italy, boats arrive every day from Saharan Africa at about the same rate as Australia is getting them from Asia. The French government is reviewing its Intelligence and Security programmes as African Islamic groups promise to export their revolution into Europe starting with France.

There is no policy that makes a European nor an Australian version of the Pacific Solution work. What the Australians don’t yet admit, but European governments are having to take on board is that illegal immigrants and the mass movement of displaced peoples is more than a social invasion.  It is yet another very real destabilizing factor in a world barely coping with shifting economies and fiscal failures. Like the boat people, mostly the problem is not going away.

Christopher Lee

November 24, 2012

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The hope of the people is in an independent judiciary – the first thing Morsi stamped on

23rd November 2012

All last night the protesters stayed on the streets of Egypt. They attacked the Muslim Brotherhood offices here and up the canal coast at Port Said.

Others stoned Muslim Brotherhood worshippers as they left Friday prayers in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. They shouted Morsi is Mubarak. Tucked in his sick-bed, former Egyptian president Hosni Murbarak must have wondered if he is to be stand trial again.  There are Muslims who want his head.

Tens upon tens of thousands set the streets to burn and so to light their rage. President Mohammed Morsi also took to the barricades, his own.

From the friendly-faces rally at his palace, the Egyptian leader promised “freedom and democracy” and that he, Morsi, the champion of Gaza peace deals was indeed Egypt’s guardian of democracy.

The protesters in Tahrir Square read Morsi’s presidential decree that said pronounced his decisions unquestionable – even by the lawmakers and more importantly, the judiciary.

As the Morsi decree was posted world wide, it became crystal clear that the Arab Spring was imperfect.

·      All investigations into the killing of protesters or the use of violence against them will be re-conducted; trials of those accused will be re-held

·      All constitutional declarations, laws and decrees made since Mr Morsi assumed power cannot be appealed or cancelled by any individual, or political or governmental body

·      The public prosecutor will be appointed by the president for a fixed term of four years, and must be aged at least 40

·      The constituent assembly’s timeline for drafting the new constitution has been extended by two months

·      No judicial authority can dissolve the constituent assembly or the upper house of parliament (Shura Council)

·      The president is authorized to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution, to preserve national unity or to safeguard national security

For those who feared Islamic domination of the most disagreeable form, the decree laid out their fears.  They never wanted to believe that a Muslim Brotherhood leader would lay down such draconian law as if he were some reincarnation of Gamel Abdul Nasser or a creation of the Supreme Leader of Iran.  The new Pharaoh. Never to be questioned.

To be independently minded or objective is a hard call in today’s Cairo in a country that demanded democracy.  It was silly to believe that the sadness of a middle class youth, educated and out of work, could be given jobs, position and responsibility for their great country’s future. Instead, they must accept that the man elected to lead after Murbarak’s downfall was never going to come quietly.

 The re-holding of trials suggests Morsi’s lot did not like the verdicts and sentences.  No Morsi laws and decrees can be repealed. That is scary on one hand but it is also the dread hand of hard if not strong leadership. A new public prosecutor for four years at a time? An assault on the judiciary but also, a determination that the judiciary does not become over-powerful.  Mursi can do what he likes in the name of his vision of democracy, progress and national unity.

Yet let us all get real and conjure the memory of the early 1950s when the o=colonels took over.  Morsi and Co are the modern religious colonels. It is, after all, pretty standard revolutionary take-over stuff.

What’s surprising is that any one is surprised.

But wait for a moment because the only people really surprised are the European news anchors in the safety of their air-conditioned high-paid studios.  How could this be they ask their correspondents who have been telling them that since June and Morsi’s coming, everyone but everyone here has been waiting for this.

The fooling is in the silly perception of democracy.  You vote someone in so that has to be democracy.  Where does that idea come from? Democracy it is not. If there were jackboots in Egypt, we would have heard them coming.

The next thing to take on board is that this man is now Hilary Clinton’s Newest Best Friend. He’s Number One Regional Gaza Fixer.  They like him in Washington.  They, for the moment, may not like him in Jerusalem but they can do business with him. We all like him for fixing something we’re not even sure was fixed but certainly didn’t want it to go on. Morsi is top man.

So what now? No one outside Egypt will really care a button mushroom to upside down blancmange about the aspirations of the Arab Spring. If the riots get going. We’ll watch from a distance.  If the people of the square get gunned down on the authority of the Morsi Decree we shall then care.

If we want anything to think about while we watch how this plays out, it could be this: the first casualty of revolution is the removal of an independent judiciary. That judiciary is the one hope of a society stripped of everything else.

If the Morsi Decree is as uncompromising as we think it is – and not simply for own Muslim Brotherhood followers – then the judiciary will be stripped of its independence. If that happens, then the Arab Spring will have achieved nothing.

Christopher Lee

November 21, 2012

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Turkey Wants A Bite At The Gaza Truce Deal But It’s Hilary Who Cuts The Mustard

21st November 2012

There was a chance of a cease-fire. It may not be peace, but it was a chance and President Obama’s timing is good. Only go with the chance. So US Secretary of State was dispatched by Obama to talk mediation in Israel and Egypt. That’s how bad the Gaza war has got.  Obama has to support Israel but has also to keep up his doubtful role as peace-maker.  

But it’s not just magic.  Hilary’s come good at this sort of thing and the timing was right because America can still cut the mustard with Israel and Egypt who needed the hi-class go-between act she brought to town.

So, as Ms Clinton arrived the truce talking over Gaza stuttered as everyone knew it would. The Israelis carried on bombing anyone who was in the way of their bombs and Hamas lost at least half its world public sympathy when it executed five alleged Mossad informers and dragged one of their bodies behind a motorbike.

That is the way of warfare on this scale. Many maimed and worse so no winners for more than a few moments.  It once was, but is no longer, the counting of shrouds that decided the ritual of truce. Hilary arrived when both sides had nowhere to go and Israel had killed enough for the time being and Hamas was running out of rockets and firing options. It’s not peace. It’s a truce Now truce is nothing but a breather before returning to the full the tragedy.

While the truce-makers congregated in the usual scrummage of untutored diplomacy, there remained one on-looker to prove that the consequence of the Gaza war has spread into the region without a shot being fired.  The onlooker is Turkey whose leadership during the past half decade has seen itself as an important game-maker in the region but now finds itself sidelined.

Turkey has during this war spoken for what it understandably sensed is Arab opinion.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed at the weekend that his administration does not have “any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel”. He also said that Israel is a terrorist state and, responsible for ethnic cleansing.  Arabs love to hear that especially having the comfort that Turkey has not shaken hands with Israel since the 2008 Israeli invasion Gaza. Then came the Israeli commando raid on a vessel bound from Turkish port to Gaza.  Turks died.

Not surprising then that Erdogan’s rep is secure although it appear he is too anti-Israel to be of much dimplomatic help, which was not what he had intended in spite of the experiences in Turko-Israeli relations during the past four years.

None should doubt his message: we do not talk in the devil’s tongue as the Cambridge Dostoyevskian  scholar Edward Sands said.

Such posture (or is really posturing?) does not do well for a straight back ambition to influence neighbors and stand noticeably in a regional and global stage. Such qualified position as not talking to the Israelis puts Erdogan at a disadvantage if he wants to be respected as power broker.  That’s why his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was on his way to the Arab League meeting on Tuesday hinting that Turkey was back-channeling peace discussions with Israeli officials.  Nothing wrong with that – although nothing has come from those channels, as yet.

Turkey has to accept that in this single area, the Egyptians are the lead players. The Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi maybe on a learning curve, but his voice for the moment is the only one that matters.  Forget the Muslim Brotherood/Hams connection. That’s margin stuff. The reality is that Egypt needs Israel. Israel needs Egypt.  They’re neighbors and no one forgets the Yom Kippur War.

It is true that Egypt is the only nation that can talk to both sides. In the end, talking counts and, more realistically, Turkey has to remember that if you need peace then you have to talk to your enemies, not your friends.

Aware of the no-talk conundrum, last week one of Erdogan’s colleagues in the Justice and Development Party reflected that to regain position as a peace maker, it was perhaps time for talks with Israel. However, Erdogan cannot retrace steps so easily. Furthermore, he has been slow on the Gaza stage. He did go to Cairo, but that was a long-planned economic visit and as much as he tried, Erdogan came home a bit player.

For now, Turkey is no game maker in the region, perhaps even less that it was five years back. For the moment, until the next Gaza war starts, that doesn’t matter because there is another side of the story that goes beyond peace making.

Erdogan appears to think that this agreement will be a truce, not peace. It will last as long as one side wants to it before renewing hostilities. Best then to slightly distance himself from the current process and get on with his immediate difficulty, the war in Syria.

There’s diplomatic patching to be done and positions to assume for Mr Erdogand because he wants to be in the lead team in about eighteen months when the Israel-Gaza thing erupts once more. Why then? Because that’s when the Turkish debate on who should be the next President will be at full throttle.  So what? Simple, Erdogan The Middle East Game Maker wants the job. Such is the way of ambition and opportunity in the region.

Christopher Lee

November 20, 2012

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Who Told Hague To Officially Recognize The Bloodthirsty Gunmen Of Syria?

20th November 2012
So the British announce that they recognize the Syrian rebels.  William Hague, the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons that the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.

That’s what he told the British lawmakers and they believed him. They believed a crock of rubbish.  They believed that the rebels are the “sole representative of the Syrian people”. A fool with a twisted sense of people power and constitutional law would never have said that.  So why did Hague say it?  Possibly because he was told to by the hapless Prime Minister David Cameron and very probably because the French have already said it.

The rebels are no more the legitimate representatives of the people than is Assad. In fact they are even less representative.  There is no peer reviewed evidence that the majority of the people of Syria supports the rebels. It is assumed they do.

There is no evidence to support that assumption.  If that sounds unlikely, then consider why the whole country is not supporting the rebellion.  Consider why the rebel commanders complain that the people don’t come to their side?

This is a rebellion by a scattering of self-interest groups and it will have vicious ambition to gain power and then it will fight to the death among itself to maintain power. It will be no better than the Assads. That is what Hague either ignores or has been told to ignore.

Worse still, he now hints strongly that the UK will send in troops.  Hague said the UK does not rule out action to save lives.  Save lives?  More than 30,000 dead and suddenly Hague sees an urgency to save those not yet slaughtered by Assad’s army and airforce.

Forget the freedom fighters-cum-rebels.  They chose to pick up guns and take on Assad.  If they get killed, tough but that’s today’s gunlaw that they partly invented.  Hague is now out to protect the poor, benighted civilians who simply got in the way of the blood-letting stupidity of both sides.  So, the British army is having to get a contingent for a “stabilization response team” into Syria.  Euphemisms are some times crap euphemisms.  This is one of those times.  Hague is saying Yes to boots on the ground, which the UK has always – and most rightly – said No to.

So what’s Hague’s game plan?  He says he expects the Coalition to present a clear plan for political transition in Syria.  This of course ignores the fact that the different groups have different ambitions and will cut each other to shreds once they’re plundering the Assad palace.

Nor does Hague’s logic consider the large and powerful groups of Islamists and jihadists who will never sign to a Coalition with anything more than tokenism.

But as a cheapo bribe, Hague says the Syrian wild men will be asked to appoint an envoy, maybe even an ambassador who may be gracious enough to wipe his bloodied hands before shaking with the Queen – although she’s used to being ordered by successive governments to press murderous flash. Jomo Kenyatta was the first.

Walid al-Bunni, the shifty voice of the rebellion said Hague’s plan is “very important” and will “encourage more Syrians to join the coalition and trust it and it will also encourage other European states to recognise it”.  Oh dear.  The UK should clearly take the US line.  Recognize that the opposition has a case, but don’t sign it on as a national cause.  No need to.

The UK and some of the smarter – and in the the longer term, the more thoughtful and helpful to the people of Syria – should have been waiting to see if the Coalition can indeed hold the differing groups together and can, at last, stay out of the war crimes spotlight.

The irony, if one were needed, is that the future of the coalition and therefore Syria, depends entireley on how they can execute the war – and it certainly isn’t going all their way.  Added to this is the test of the outside supporters (like the UK, France and Turkey) and the ability and willingness of those countries to continue to honour their political, diplomatic and physical support.

This does not suggest that the unified Coalition is not essential.  Remember that was the demand in the Libyan revolution albeit under differing conditions but with the same ambition: to get rid of by whatever means, a dictator.

In the centre of the spinning conundrum are the people of Syria who will be in an even worse condition shortly with the coming of winter and the inability of the Syrian government and certainly not the rebellion to keep them warm, fed and safe during the coming months. Hence the emergency thinking of emergency groups and foundations including the charity feeders and healers.

The greatest test on the diplomatic front could come in a proposed international What-To-Do-About-Syria conference probably in Morocco.

It is then that the rebels hope that as many as 100 other nations will recognize them as the alternative to Assad.

But maybe Hague and his mates should hold breath for a moment. All the grandstanding as bringers of an alternative government for Syria assumes that Assad will see sense and quit.  Oh yes?  Quit to go where?  To go to his grizzly death as did the Libyan colonel gripped by the blood-lust common to most rebellions?

The only way that is likely to have half a chance is the Coalition establishing not a government in exile, but a government in Syria in, say, the ruins of Aleppo and to gradually take over the running of the country.

An unlikely hypothesis is to make Assad irrelevant in his own country.  If that showed even signs of working, what could then happen?

The rebels could then go to the Chinese and Russians who have very wisely not supported the rebellion. They would tell Beijing and Moscow that they were the consensus authority and needed Chinese and Russian backing – from ground economic support to the more important, UN diplomatic recognition.

But there’s a long way to go. Months away, probably many more than that before the Russians and Chinese are to be convinced that times and people have indeed moved on in Syria.

That leave the bigger question: how have the rebels changed tack enough to get the approval of people like Hague? The answer is simple: they’ve done so because they want more money and more guns.

If the UK understood that one motive, then it would have had the courage to ignore France’s gun jumping. The UK would have, for the moment, stayed out of the Syrian Stupidity.  But that’s what comes from having a foreign policy on the hoof mentality and abandoning wise counsel from those who really know.  It is shabby intellect.  But then under Hague, intellect is not something mentioned aloud in the Foreign Office.

Christopher Lee

November 20, 2012

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Gaza – It’s NOT anti-Semitic to criticize Israel

20th November 2012

This morning, the dead numbered 100 plus. Some 100 in Gaza from Israeli night bombings. Four (we think) in Israel from rocket attacks from Gaza.

The figures are unreliable and do not include the wounded at the start of another week of remote warfare where the attacker does not come face to face with the ‘enemy’ – although how women and children and babies could be called ‘enemy’ is difficult to take in.

The rocket attacks from Gaza are now sporadic. They have been all-but silenced since the Israeli’s Operation Pillar of Defence started on 14 November and in under a week have taken out 1350 targets in Gaza.

Some 546 rockets have been fired from Gaza and more than 300 of them have been intercepted by Israel’s anti-missile defences. True, it could have been worse, but these are the best figures we have and those in Gaza who fire into Israel have been quelled if not defeated – for the moment.

Just in case anyone thinks that’s it then, we might ask why the Israelis have mobilised up to 75,000 reservists.

The answer is two-fold: firstly, Israeli has 75,000 troops to mobilise and secondly let no one doubt that Israel is saying that unless Hamas et al surrenders to undoubted military superiority then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will order his army to switch off its safety catch.

We should not misjudge or number the degrees of human misery of the past week. Just one life lost on whichever side of the line and the wailing is as heart-breakingly traumatic as the hundreds on the other. Moreover, the memory is not stilled by a ceasefire. Each deadly missile creates unforgiving instincts for revenge.

The terrible truth is that both sides and their individuals – from politicians to individual terrorists – are responsible for what we have seen.

So it has been since the war started, not last Wednesday, but in 1948. We should not be surprised. There are other horrendous conflicts on such small scales as this that remain unresolved. The consequences of Britain’s ludicrous decision not to resolve the Kashmiri crisis in 1947 and the subsequent war is an obvious example.

Standing watch over all such conflicts are the sharply suited and laundered politicians and officials of the United Nations, national governments and blocs, such as the Arab League. They are incapable of resolving terrible differences and we should all accept that irony and failure in the authority of the organisations and individuals.

When the Egyptian President, Mohamed Mursi warns of terrible consequences he is rightly forewarning of a wider war. When British Foreign Secretary William Hague says it was basically Hamas’s fault that is also understandable because Hague, while not a fool, behaves like one and his officials should never have allowed him to make such a foolish statement.

When the mostly Western media refer to Hamas, they hang on the title ‘terrorist group” or something very similar. When that same media talks about the Israeli attacks, they use some sort of description meaning specific target acquisition – although how a direct hit on a private house instead of that of Yehiya Rabiah, the head of Hamas’s rocket unit, is not explored.

For here is a phenomenon of Middle East war reporting by the Western media. Since the June War of 1967, the Israelis have been seen as heroic. The Arabs have been seen as villainous.

In 1967 that soubriquet was understandable. The British media, as an example, were the leading moral supporters of Israel and anyway, loved sporting metaphors. Plucky Israel against the combined Arab might was easy to understand.

It was a giant killing moment and even had a charismatic general in a black eye patch to complete the picture story. (The British have never had the intelligence to get further than a fourth paragraph in a newspaper and so the startling picture has always been a vital part of British journalism even if it obscures the bigger picture, the real story).

But behind all this political posturing and very real shrouds, there is another issue: the comfortable and so often believable Western media and, maybe the public perception, there is a sense that writers and reporters and smart dinner party-goers have two unspoken rules: like Hague and his kind, the whole fault lies with the terrorist antics of Hamas.

Understandably, there are so many examples of wretched attacks by Hamas and the other extremists groups within the Gaza Strip that no one argues against that perception.

The second rule is sinister: increasingly, to deliver uncompromising criticism of Israeli actions is not considered to be a political and military judgement or opinion, but something much worse. It is considered to be anti-Semitism.

In smart London, Washington and Parisian circles, opinion formers talk and write of growing anti-Semitism. Little wonder that when those who try to be constructive and even question the increased number of settlements on the West Bank, the security line between Gaza and Israel, the cruel consequences of the land attack on Gaza just four years ago etc. etc. without perhaps trying to resolve the inside mind-set of a nation at war since its modern inception, then anti-Semitism is a charge levied.

We have reached a point where it is impossible to publicly criticise Israel without Israelis believing that we are criticising Judaism.

Anti-Semitism causes cold shudders in Western Europe especially. Memories may fade but terrible legend does not. We can see why Israelis would believe or exploit the belief that to be against what will be the legacy of Sharon and Netanyahu is to be against Jews whereas the real criticism is aimed at actions of the Israeli leadership.

But the media, governments and personalities like Hague are wary of offering up the truth. Hamas has carried out despicable actions, but nothing compared in numbers of deaths as Israel. Yet since World War II politicians have feared the branding: anti-Semitic as well of course, the Jewish vote at general election time.

We should be sympathetic towards peoples living beneath the darkest clouds of warfare for their whole lives with few if any signs of anything changing in their time or even that of their children. When we say peoples, we are speaking of Palestinians as well as Israelis.

‘Are you for us or against us?’, Israeli officials ask. Today, there is no Yes or No answer. But let’s ponder this: when the attack against Iran comes, the question will be even harder to answer.

 

Christopher Lee

November 17, 2012

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Don’t be fooled, the British military chief’s very private remarks this week were for very public consumption

17th November 2012

Here in Whitehall, the heart of Britain’s governing elite, officials and lawmakers are stumbling over remarks from the head of the armed forces this week.  General Sir David Richards told a group of political scientists at Oxford University that British politicians had, in effect, weakened the nation’s military structure through a series of cuts in defence spending during the past two years.

His damning view was that the nation’s military could no longer guarantee to do what the politicians asked.

The rationale is very simple: a couple of years back the government gave the military a budget for resources to carry out tasks.  Today, the resources are the same but there are more tasks. The original task list, including Afghanistan operations was considerable anyway. Today the politicians have added, for examples, advisory forces for Mali, border contingents in Jordan, protection against possible Iranian action against Gulf allies and of course, contingency plans for Syria.

If any of these items were on the Defence Department’s radar at the time of its 2010 spending review, then they were only pencilled in. So same resources but more jobs cannot be done is effectively what the Chief of the Defence Staff is saying.  It gets more complex when major assets and programmes within the Department are not up to standard.  As another example, the Astute-class nuclear powered submarine has major operational problems that have thus far stopped the vessel and future boats in the class coming up to full operational standard.  The MOD says this is normal teething.  The naval experts say this is not so.  It matters not who is correct, the fact is that the vessel does not work as originally advertised and so is not, and is unlikely to be for years, in General Richard’s inventory.

The general’s remarks were said by is private office and those supposedly in the Whitehall know to be privately voiced and not for public.  This seems unlikely.  A man of such seniority and obvious wit as Richards surely knows that whatever he says, especially on such a subject, is going to become public.  There we have to assume that he wanted it to be known that British forces cannot do what the politicians are telling them to – or not for now.

It is already argued in Whitehall, that British forces will be given an accelerated withdrawal programme from Afghanistan and that this will help resolve the differences of resources versus tasks. It is very likely that we’ll hear hints during the coming few weeks that forces could come out earlier. After all, the Liberal defence and foreign affairs spokesman, Lord Ashdown said this week that their should be an early withdrawal because the Afghanistan operation – apart from seeing off al Qaeda – is mo re or less a failure so why should any more soldiers be killed?

Out early from Afghanistan will indeed release resources, especially in terms of logistics and equipment wear and tear.  But the general has a longer view.

Physically, even an accelerated withdrawal would not much advance the existing pullout date and what will happen to plans to stay in the country in a training role and the size of the force protection needed for that. But the greater difficulty the general sees is a coincidence of dates. The official 2014 pull-out date coincides with the run-up to a UK general election and a projected Bank of England further economic decline.

Therefore, the general sees that in an election period the major issues for the voter will be lack of money for educating their children, looking after their parents and the elderly in a spiral down National Health Service plus reduction in infrastructure projects that could otherwise have provided jobs and training.

That same voter, by then having suffered uncertainty and economic decline for a full decade will look at the Defence Ministry budget – the second biggest in the country – and vociferously demand to be told why it should be so huge when the Afghan affair is over.  The cancellation of the aircraft carrier project with its accompanying surface and sub-surface units could pay for the upgrading of every school in every city for a decade to come.

In other words, Richards and his colleagues are about to be hit with even bigger cuts just at a time when the government is handing out more military tasks.  Something will have to give.  Richards knows that and that is why this week’s strictly private remarks were very much for public consumption.

Christopher Lee

November 5, 2012

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Buy My Bombers In The Name Of Peace Says Arms Salesman Cameron And Don’t Mention The $multimillion Kickbacks

5th November 2012
British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in the political unstable, terrorist and war-threratened Persian Gulf on Monday with a suitcase full of pictures of fighters, bombers, small arms, radars, rocket launchers and promised everyone that he was determined to bring about peace in the region.

Meanwhile, if they would just buy a couple of squadrons of Typhoon jets and their associated missiles and bombs then he was sure they would feel more secure.  As a bonus, Cameron is doing side-of-the-mouth promises to the United Arab Emirates about sticking a squadron of British Royal Air Force jets into the region to protect the oill – sorry, we mean, the people – in the event of a rumpus with or over Iran.

When someone questioned the morality of selling lethal weapons to human rights suppressing dictatorships, Cameron appeared baffled by the objection.  Oh, human rights and all that stuff. Don’t worry, he would have a word with the sheiks and all about that.

In fact the sheiks and all wanted a word with him – not directly you understand.  That’s not the way the kings and princes do business here. Their problem is that they don’t really go along with all that Arab Spring stuff. They may have helped with the rebellion that lead to the murder of the Mad Hatter of Libya around this time last year, but they really don’t go along with all this UK idealism that thinks Arab Spring rebels are freedom fighters.  

Cameron needs telling, they so believe, that the so-called human rights rebels are are a bunch of revolutionaries with mobiles and Facebook accounts bent on bringing down the Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms.

They think Cameron should get real and unless he does, there’ll be no fat defense contracts or if there are, the gear will be used to put down any mob that steps out on the main drag with a placard calling for change.

The French President Francois Hollande stopped by at the start of the week.  He had it about right.  He said France will support the status quo in the Gulf kingdoms (ie despotism) with her United Nations Security Council vote and will wind up sanctions against Iran. If the Saudis could see their way to signing a Franco-Saudi deal for warship maintenance, then France will turn a blind eye or two when the human rights thing comes up in the UN.  

They like that real politik in the Gulf.  Hollande will probably get the contract in the post week after next just as soon as the princes get their brown envelopes.

So what about Cameron? He really would like to be known as the man who sold Typhoons to Saudi Arabia and Dubai. He says that selling weapons to the Gulf states who are, after all, jolly good friends, is an OK thing to do and to promote British arms sales  is, what the British PM calls, “completely legitimate.”

He says he wants to raise human rights issues. Well he might especially as the UK which he politically leads is a former imperial power that knows all about keeping the natives under the thumb.

When he arrived in Dubai, Mr Cameron made it sound so simple: ” On human rights there are no no-go areas in this relationship”. It was so simple that no one knew what he meant. His next line got closer to the truth: “We show respect and friendship to a very old ally and partner.”  The shorthand for this is that he wants a £3bn Typhoon deal that’s worth an estimated 3,000 jobs in the UK.

But of course, Mr Cameron, said the visit is not all about trade and investment.  Oh yes it is Mr C. Just as M. Hollande’s visit Sunday was about trade and investment.  The Gulf States are awash with cash.  The UK wants a chunk of it.  The irony of course is that one of Mr Cameron’s Tory predecessors, the then Mrs Thatcher understood this and her arms salesmen (and her son) got their noses in the trough – and not too many people in the UK cared.

Now the jobs are scarce and the British arms industry, especially after the EADS-BAe Systems debacle, is not entirely troughless but needs to get snorting in the arms sales swill.  And that’s another sidebar for Cameron to watch. Dealing with Arab countries usually means someone gets bunged a million or so dollars for awarding these contracts.

The British suffer moral indignation over kick-backs, bribes, commissions, percentages or whatever the euphemism is for handing out money to seal deals.  It is of course, a perfectly legitimate form of business just as a small time traveling salesman gives a box of chocs to a regular customer at Christmas.  But with the percentages on a £3billion contract already sweating-up Arab royal family palms that may be something else Cameron would like to raise with the UK’s very old allies and partners.  We think not. We think not.

Christopher Lee

November 4, 2012

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Can the French President really be such un plonquer? And an apprentice plonquer at that?

4 November 2012

French President Francois Hollande dropped into Beirut Sunday and said France would protect Lebanon from destabilization spilling over from neighboring Syria. How France would do that when no one else has, M. Hollande did not begin to explain. But he’s a nice man and maybe he’ll think of something.

A couple of hours later, he skipped to Jeddah and told Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah that France would help fix the problem of the Syrian civil war, the Iranian nuclear power/weapons program, Palestinian-Israeli relations and about anything else that the king wanted to hear if it helped France get a signature on a Saudi defense contract for France to maintain the king’s warships – French built of course.

M. Hollande then looked at his watch (or his officials did that for him) made his excuses and said he had to go because he was actually on his way to a very important meeting in Laos to discuss the relationship between the euro-zone economic cock-ups and lower growth forecasts in Asia – including China.

The wise Italian cardinals always told Popes during times of crises (maybe yet another priest having foul ways with choir boys) to raise their arms on the St Peters balcony and “looka busy”. There are no priests, choir boys nor balconies involved in M. Hollande’s purposes at the moment, but there is something of a similar popularity crisis namely, the French think he’s un plonquer – politely, not the man they thought they’d voted for six months ago.

Le Figaro magazine reports that only 36 per cent of French have any confidence in him. That makes him the most unpopular French president ever at the end of the 26 week honeymoon.  No wonder he needed to hit the road.  But why is he so unpopular? Basically, the French don’t know what he’s doing and suspect that he doesn’t know either.  

His Socialist administration looks amateurish. His ally, the Left Wing paper Liberation calls him and his hapless Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, The Apprentices.  They’re new on the job so that could be so, after all he’s the first Socialist party president of France in 17 years. A lot to learn, except that the electorate thought that his policy of fairness sounded very simple; losing their jobs, pensions, retirement packages was not supposed to be the style of an old fashioned socialist fixer. He’s not.  They don’t exist any more especially when the nomanklatura is forced to spend time rewriting policies that are European demands to cut the French budget deficit and to do so in a European manner  (but not German European manner) and wrapping and packaging the toughest budget seen in France inside 30 years.

 “To exercise power nowadays is very hard. There is no longer any leniency, any respect. But I knew that.”

 

But he must be good at something and at least his private life is interesting. Well according to Hollande critics here, he’s doing what the cardinals told the popes. He’s trying to “looka busy” and picking up the foreign statesman role. So when he heads for Saudi Arabia he’s got a whole pack of hacks on board. Pens poised they wait for the tit-bits they are trained to respect. When they come, it’s difficult not to sigh.

 

“France plays an active role in the Middle East. We are the most active country on issues concerning Syria, Lebanon, and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.” Doing what exactly M le President? His officials cuff the questioner with a private office glare.  Apparently France works behind the scenes and so Hollande does not reply.

 

Of course, it is safer to say nothing when there’s nothing to say, which is why Hollande had to get out of town to get the heat off his administration.  

His office does gaffs in a big way.  Okay, but let’s take an easy one: what will France do about Iran?  He says, more sanctions. The Saudis like that. Good answer M. Hollande.  Now, how about Syria? Send in troops? France will not do that in public.  Maybe a couple of special forces to locate chemical hoardes – if they have them. But support for Saudi Arabia at the UN. That’s nice.  What about a transitional rebel government for Syria.  That could work.  There you are, how easy was that?  After all it was exactly the idea your predecessor had for Libya.  As Kissinger says, you have to know who to ring in a crisis.

 

Now maybe M Hollande is getting a clue from this first trip to the Middle East where everyting but everything is whispered and behind blinking eyes and false smiles.

Answers are easy in foreign affairs. No one expects you to back them up with tanks nor warships.  Oh yes, warships.  A few more smiles and blinks and bows and easy-peasy answers and the Saudis may just sign the frigate mainenance contract.  Then what happens? Hollande returns home waving a piece of paper saying, not peace in our time, but this solemn document means jobs. And jobs mean? Maybe, maybe a couple of percentage points in that Figaro opinion poll – until the next time.  

Meanwhile Sarkozy smiles and gets Blair-style $multi thousand after-dinner speach contracts. As M. Hollande said, he knew it was not going to be easy.

 

Christopher Lee

November 3, 2012

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Give A Dog A Good Name – Fido Can’t All Be Bad

4th November 2012
In Sly Shulman’s bar across the street from my brownstone, I can see it from the window, there’s a man who always wears a brown and once cream I suppose stripe suit. He takes a beer slowly. He’s an observer of time and its intruders. He always knows something.  Couple of days ago he told me his ex is giving his (now her) dog Prozac.

For the storm, I assumed.  He shook his head.  No, not the storm. Her nerves. His ex fumbles her fingers and shouts at the coffee machine for hissing.  She thinks it’s hissing at her. That’s when the dog barks.

So the dog gets Prozac. He nods.  That’s about it. The dog gets Prozac. What sort of dog gets Prozac?  He takes a sip.  Shrugs.  He’s called Fido.  What sort of breed would you say it is? No breed, he says.  Just called Fido. Thing about Fido, you know it has to be a dog.  Ever heard a cat called Fido? No. Anyway that’s not the end of it.

Next day I’m in LA and picked up a headline in the Los Angeles Times about dogs called Fido. Now I have never actually met a dog by the name of Fido, but Abraham Lincoln’s dog was called Fido and if the stories run true, Lincoln’s Fido used to sit by him in Billy’s barber shop in Springfield.  The dog would never leave Lincoln’s side. Didn’t save him mind you, but there you go. Not all stories have movie endings.  But that’s not why I was thinking of Fido this past week.

As I said, I picked up the paper at the airport and there was this thing about Fido – all of them. Seems the ‘Times thinks all dogs (not just the 16th President’s) are called Fido – well since 1985 anyways. Or at least they are if they get a mention in the LA Times.  Don’t worry about the Prozac for a moment.  It’ll come.

The editors at that fine paper have been checking out what they think is a phenomenon of canine type casting. For the past 27 years dogs have been called Fido in 111 – that’s one hundred and eleven – headlines in the Los Angeles Times.

Baffling. But true. This came up when the paper ran a story that airlines could take dogs. Fido? And they ran a story that Prozac was prescribed for a dog with something of an excitable disposition. The headline said it: Fido’s Little Helper.  Then an anti-smoking campaign. The dog had a photo-op with a cute curly kitten – you could see where they were coming from: secondary smoking. The headline proved it: Do It For Fido and Fluffy.  No one actually said this was so heartbreaking that half LA kicked the habit, but it was implied that a lot did just that – for the day anyway.

The odd thing, is there’s no trace of any Fido registered in Los Angeles County.  No Dog Warden can remember taking in a Fido. No sleepless neighbor heard a midnight widow calling in a wandering Fido. Further research says that in the top 50 doggie names in the English-speaking world, Fido does not show.

A harmless tale to wag you might suppose except for one sad fact. After Lincoln’s death, Fido was taken to Springfield for the funeral and fussed over.  Patting the dog was like patting the President said one eloquent snuffling mourner and Fido responded just as he had for the most famous President ever.  He loved licking patting hands.  Anyway, one night, Fido came across a drunk asleep in the sidewalk’s shadow and started licking the unfortunate’s face.  The drunk woke in terror and saw a great open slavering jaw not an inch from his nose. He drew his knife and lunged. Thus the end of Fido.

Well, I happened to mention this to the guy at the end of the bar in the brown and maybe cream stripe outfit. He thought about it. Then hope died. He shook his head. A dog on Prozac was unlikely to savage even his ex. We both shrugged and took a sip. And then he paused, the bottle neck not three inches from his lower lip. He eyed me in the bar mirror. Maybe, just maybe he mused you can teach old dogs knew tricks.

It would make a good headline in the LA Times.