Archive for December, 2012

Christopher Lee

December 30, 2012

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Time to bin the Queen’s medal tray – the system that twice honoured Sir Jimmy Savile OBE

30th December 2012

The twice a year British crap game, The Honours, has been announced.

In craps a first throw of dice showing eleven or seven wins. Odd figures but the Queen’s Honours are about as unlikely and as loaded as the real thing.

Because this New Year’s Honours and then six months on, the Queen’s Birthday Honours, is when the Queen (really the government) hands out grubby bling things like knighthoods, damehoods, varying Orders of an Empire that no longer exists and medals, crosses and Companionships to time servers and pushy public servants and celebrity figures.

This latest list leans heavily on the impressive sporting success of Team GB in the London Olympics. Great people in their fields, but why be in this list? It’s about as nonsensical as the autobiographies that have appeared about athletic heroes and heroines most of whom are barely in their 20s and have hardly a story to tell other than they won, or came close.

And don’t forget, they’ve had the highest medals of all – the Olympic medallions hanging round their collective neck. Back in the summer they were given, and rightly so, exactly what they deserved – golds at the top because they were the tops, bronze at the bottom because they weren’t even close.

With those medals came honour after honour, book deals, personal appearances, more sponsorship and none of them has to run, jump, sail or cycle ever again. Justly rewarded.

But why knighthoods and the rest?

Sir Wiggo? Doesn’t sound right. Brilliant guy. I paid full price for his book (although appallingly ghosted) and think he’s a bit of a hero. But he’s a sporting hero enough and Sir is almost insulting because what he achieved in France as well as London and what he achieved before 2012, is what he does. A tinsel dubbing turns something he worked hard for into a pantomime.

Look at the list and the big names that do not do much more than play on their names and position are unsurprisingly there. Tapped into the system through friends (or debtors) in pretty high places.

There is, or should be, among impartial observers a sense of the sickening. Could for example, anyone do anything but spit in the gutter when it is announced that Cherie Blair is given a CBE for her charity work and wimmin’s issues – whatever they are?

Her name was discredited when she scrubbed and kept house for her husband in Downing Street. Has there ever been in recent times a more unpopular wife of a Prime Minister? In the Inns of Court, her name is rarely mentioned in any flattering manner. She will probably look to be Dame Cherie and when she is, that will simply go further to discredit the whole system.

But we should not stop with Mrs Blair. It would be throat gurglingly simple to cough another goblet into another gutter with the news that a Cherie look-alike bauble and ribbon from the CBE tray has been handed to the seemingly talentless Tracy Emin – the same Tracy who cannot by any standard draw anything than a squiggle but has been created Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy.

And so it goes on. Did Margaret Becket have to be a dame? No of course not. Nice lady, but there are many as nice and many equally worthy of so much – it would simply be her term. What about the very good policeman, Bernard Hogan-Howe? He has received the handout knighthood for being commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; but might he give it back if he has to resign because of the Plod-Gate affair?

What about Dame Ursula Brennan? She was universally called a total waste of time when she was Permanent Secretary at the Defence Ministry – even her fellow MOD colleagues recognised that. It goes on like that.

Some awards have gone to worthies and it’s a little churlish to deny nice people nice things. I’m truly pleased that if there has to be a throw-up system, then the very good and worthy Wendy White has got something for netball in Wales.

And who could deny the knighthood for Quentin Blake the artist who taught so brilliantly at the Royal College as well as his body of work. Good man, good teacher, good and great in the autumn of his life. Maybe that’s it; handouts should come towards the end – for long service even for not being found out like the standard names on the list of diplomats sent from Whitehall to embassies to lie for their country. Michael and George awards came with every diplomatic bag. (Did I see Jeremy Paxman’s brother in that list? I believed I did).

Like most institutions in the United Kingdom, the New Year’s and Birthday Honours are discredited. Moreover, it is not simply a matter of sour grapes from among those overlooked. Some might also remember that this is the same system that honoured Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE – twice.

 

 

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Christopher Lee

December 22, 2012

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A Second Chance For Kerry But Is Obama’s Second Choice Second Rate?

22 December 2012
Senator John Kerry is said to be President Obama’s choice to replace Hilary Rodham Clinton and so become the 68th US Secretary of State.  

Sounds pretty straight forward. A shoo-in for the Senator from Massachusetts.  Could well be but it’s worth remembering that Kerry is Obama’s second choice. He wanted his UN Permanent Representative Susan Rice in the job but Ms Rice was forced to pull out over her handling of the diplomatic aftermath of the death of America’s top man in Libya, Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

What’s more, Kerry was Obama’s second choice four years ago.  Kerry wanted the State Department job and made that pretty clear.  Instead, Obama chose Clinton. Why did Kerry lose out first time round?  He did so because Clinton had only just lost to Obama in the Democrat presidential nomination and for eight years as First Lady she had amassed a good knowledge of foreign affairs and was therefore on first name terms with many foreign figures import to the new President’s foreign policy agenda.  Obama knew next to nothing on foreign affairs, Clinton knew a lot so it was a good team choice – and has so proved to be.  Kerry, although a sound man on the Hill, was not in that league.

Putting all this together, does this mean Kerry as second choice is second rate? Could be except that Kerry has the pedigree for the job.  He comes from a foreign affairs family.  His father was a State Department man. He speaks passable French and knows his way around capitals, especially in Europe..

Also, Kerry’s foreign affairs rating has improved during the past three years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Moreover, he has not been a stay-at-home policy wonk. He was very much Obama’s personal envoy with many trips to Pakistan in a not entirely unsuccessful attempt to overcome animosities in that country’s military and political top brass following the assassination by American Seals of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.  That was no social call.

There is too some evidence that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu trusts Kerry.  Whether or not Kerry trusts Netanyahu is unclear, but he surely knows by now that it is better not to.  Indeed it is hoped that Kerry has learned that leaders outside the United States can be just as smart as anyone mooching the corridors of Washington power.  Like many American envoys and officials he still needs to understand that when dealing with anyone, especially from the Middle East, the first two rules of negotiating should be simple to grasp: in modern times, America doesn’t offer much that can pull off a peace deal or alliance and secondly, the person an American is dealing with often has to be sharper and even more duplicitous than any one sent roaming from the State Department because he (and sometimes she) has more to lose that the American. In spite of the style and good manners, negotiators and go-between in the Middle East usually have a lot to lose.  It’s a warning, even a rule, Kerry would be well advised to understand – it’s an extension of the old journalistic interview safeguard Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

That bronze, if not golden rule of cynicism needs to be cleaned up for Kerry who in times past has spoken of his close relationship with Bashar al-Assad. Outside of the Syrian leader’s family and select Alawites, there is no such thing as a close relationship. It is significant that the Syrian conflict was  regarded as a No Go area by Ms Clinton and a mark of her brilliance at the State Department was the way in which while keep channels open to leaders in so many conflicts she urged caution on Obama when there any notion that America should go out and save yet another chunk of the world.  Ms Ciuton’s view after the removal of Saddam Hussein was that America had to take on board that even when in a position to bring about change, that change could easily do more harm than good.  Waiting for waiting to happen, as the British 19th century diplomatists agreed was often a safer and in the long-term, wiser course.

There is a further irony in the Kerry sage that may have a long term significance. Kerry first met Obama during his own attempt to get the Democrat nomination during the run up to the 2004 election.  Kerry had asked Obama, a virtually unknown politician, to speak for him during the Democratic convention.  Obama did and was something of a wow.  Kerry did not make. Four years later, his political best man did make it.

So the irony? Deep down, Kerry has not given up on the idea of being President. If he did a good four year job at State, especially pulling up a spectacular like Israel-Palestine, then would he not be in a good position to make a second play for that nomination. On present showing he would not get because, again on present showing, Hilary Clinton would. But Kerry will never have another nor a better chance to go for the nomination.

If that happens, Clinton would knock him off any ambition perch.  His one disadvantage is that there’d be few to catch him.  The difference between Clinton and Kerry is that Clinton is a team player – Kerry shows no sign of being so. That is important in the State Department where there are few second chances in diplomacy and no room for second raters.

For the coming three years, Clinton, should she choose to run, will have the biggest and brightest team backing her and it will be a team working with the finest Secretary of State America has produced since the Kennedy and Johnston era, Dean Rusk.  

So no chance for Kerry? Looks that way except for one thing: the presidential race will be on in 2016 and three years is an awful long time in politics.

Christopher Lee

December 18, 2012

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Why Can’t The EU See That It Needs Turkey Before Turkey Realizes It Doesn’t Need The EU?

19th December 2012
A bunch of Euro-political academics this week got talking about Turkey. Sad. The conclusion was hard to avoid: Turkey’s ambition for EU membership is being sidelined. The group, sanely and without party political points to make, also concluded that a grim result would seem to be a Turkey moving slowly but surely towards all the styles and values that would make that membership impossible to consider in Brussels.

Very simply, its European enthusiasms and credentials having been dismissed y Brussels, Turkey will move into a role more defined to the East of the Bosphorus even to the extent of adopting religious and internal security roles associated with Middle Eastern dictatorships.

Given Turkey’s difficult and incompletely travelled road from virtual police state to one with an eased albeit unenviable record on human rights, then the EU shun may be anticipated.  But how does this fall in with the same EU leaders praising Turkey as a loyal member of NATO?  How does it fall in with the unmistakably valuable job Turkey is now doing as the neighboring NATO state during the Syrian conflict? How the EU leadership can continue to avoid Turkey’s application while knowing in their foreign, defense and trade ministries that Turkey is best tacitly treated as a European, is a major puzzle.

The rejection was a Sarkozy-Merkel orchestration; at least that’s how many Turks see it it. Rejected as second class people  some still say.  Little wonder that a sense of nationalism and religious right is clear.

Greek’s case for double and waiting standards may be easier to understand: how could they vote for Turkish membership while it continues what must be an open and shut case of illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus. Equally, the UK has an interest in resolving the split in Cyprus and makes no bones about the wrongs in Turkey’s continuing occupation.

Moreover there have been other applications in which absolutely no sense of loyalty or proven comradeship has ever been claimed. The access of some former Soviet client states have had dubious precedent over Turkey. When rules are bent and the nebulous codex of moral stability are ignored then the reasoning may often be found in trade figures – existing or hoped for. So what happened to Turkish credential in this area?

Turkey does some 36-40% of its overseas trade with the EU.  Sounds good? Not at all. Ten years ago when Tayyip Erdogan became leader, it was closer to 70%. This becomes more alarming in West European board rooms – including major UK companies such as Marks & Spencer – when we see Turkey’s 8% plus growing economy creating markets for EU firms and traders.

When companies as big as Ford move from Southampton to Kocaeli near Istanbul, then British, indeed European business should take not.  Maybe this is why there is a rump officialdom within Brussels that is quietly trying to persuade its political masters to look again at Turkey and to do so very quickly. And Ford’s move was not created on a whim.  Kocaeli is a Turkish free zone that offers good cross-financial deals to incomers as well asa good and relatively cheap labour force.  And such deals work both ways. Last year the area created almost 60,000 new jobs.  Wouldn’t the UK like that sort of report card?

At the base of so-called Euro-concern is the undisputed signs that eight decades of secularism in Turkey is being usurped by more fundamentalist inclinations.  That is not acceptable in EU governments, many of which have feared revolution and war from Islamic fundamentalists during the past decade and have had to explain the body bags that have returned from those war while offering no proof that the fundamentalists can be defeated never mind won over by peaceful means.

Turkey, by any other name, is involved in a continuing bloody war with Kurdish separatists (the PKK) and the reality of a possible cross border confrontation with Syria.  That would hardly be seen as reason not to reassess how far Turkey has reached towards the firm demands the EU has made for Turkey (or any other would-be candidate) to become a member.

What then is the problem? Could it be there is a fear that EU membership would mean a mass influx into member states of a large and underemployed number of Turks looking for jobs? That is certainly the campaign mounted by organizations like the British, Migration Watch. Certainly that is an example of properly researched data being used reasonably in a general picture of mass mvement of peple across the EU.

Or maybe there is a sense that the memory of the Ottoman Empire still conjures images best forgotten.

Sadly, and more likely, it’s just a matter of old animosities – Cyprus for example.  Or, maybe the desperate EU economies – Brussels cannot afford the benefits that go to a new member. Thus it would appear that for the moment the most torturous soft-power diplomacy fails to persuade member states to forget differences and to understand that Turkey in is better than Turkey out.

Christopher Lee

December 12, 2012

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North Korea takes another leap towards the devastation of mankind – and there’s nothing the UN, NATO nor the US can do about it.

This past week, the North Koreans stuck two fingers up to the so-called responsible international bodies – the United Nations and NATO – and successfully launched a ballistic rocket.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the launch and flight constituted “clear violation of the UN Resolution” passed in June 2009. The fact that any country in the world can ignore any UN resoltion and do what they like and that any country in the world can bend the meaning of any UN Resolution to do what the heck they like (the US British 2003 invasion of Iraq is a case in point) only shows Mr Ban’s words were as hollow as the diplomatic laughs it raiused in Pyongyang.

Then, up popped the Secretary General of NATO, the thoroughly likeable and capable Anders Fogh Rasmussen with a standard arrogance Atlantic Alliance arrogance: “This provocative act exacerbates tensions in the region and risks further destabilizing the Korean Peninsula. NATO continues to call on the North Korean authorities to fulfill their obligations under international law, to comply fully with the will of the international community as expressed by the United Nations Security Council and the moratorium on missile launches”.

The North Koreans, damned pleased with themselves said the rocket put a satellite in orbit. That’s standard non too difficult to figure technology that needs about the same computing power  as most people have in a 2G mobile phone and something the Japanese have been doing for more than 40 years since it launch its first satellite Osumi into orbit in 1970.  So, what’s the deal?

The clue is in the reaction here in Washington. People over at State say it is nothing less than a “highly provocative act that threatens regionally security”.  You can almost hear the then US President Dwight D Eisenhower uttering this mantra when he was told back in 1957 that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik I. Eisenhower’s take was hard to forget: if the Soviet Union can launch a satellite into space then they can launch a nuclear warhead.  It was that moment that the fear and reality of intercontinental nuclear warfare was launched.

Is the North Korean launch in that league?  No. It is not because there is no Cold War born of counter-doctrine and massed armies across Europe. It is not because it does not appear, as the intercontinental fears did in 1957, as a contradiction to the then US policy of containment.

But if the comparison sets the tangents to mood, the real fear is three fold: it confirms the movement towards regional instability over which the main players have no good idea about what that will lead to; secondly, here is confirmation that North Korea needs no friends and so does not do conventional bargaining diplomacy and, thirdly it shows the world institutions and their drivers – mainly the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – have no power other than to doodle paper tigers.

Imagine the four local sensitivities. One: China thought it had a place as diplomatic guardian to North Korea.  It has not. Its state-run Xinhua news agency called on all parties to remain “cool headed” and engage in “trust-building measures”. Meaningless words and everyone knows that. Two: Japan has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.  To what end? Answer: none. Three: South Korea goes to the polls for a new president next week and so the rhetoric will be driven from outside the country – never access to stable elections even within a democracy. Four: the US with its publicly proclaimed increase in Pacific security can do nothing and there US standing is diminished.

Out of these four situations, which one is the more excitable?  The position of Japan is the most vulnerable.  

The Japanese still fear confrontation with North Korea.  Tokyo said this week that it thought the situation intolerable  These sound so-what? words but what could they mean?  They mean that the Japanese forces will remain on standby in case the North Koreans attempt to wind up the tense state by interfering with Japanese shipping, especially coastal command vessels or even firing upon Japanese patrols.  Sounds small military beer, but that’s how mini wars begin.  

Also, the Japanese government will at least consider the possibility of trashing its constitution position on nuclear forces and begin developing its own program.   Only imagine the consequences and the scenario of possibilities will be rreal enough.

The North Koreans believe they are safe from every anger shout in the diplomatic skirmish that is the political and international tailwind from this week’s launch.  The rocket does not mean that they have a nuclear delivery vehicle but it does demonstrate that they could make one – as soon as they have an idea of payload once the embryonic North Korean nuclear weapons program is advance – which as yet, it is not.

Those that puzzle over a solution to the nuclear warhead theatre now being created in the region will tell you that there is another area to remember: North Korea has craved international respect and not to be seen as a six lane highway of starvation with basketcase dictatorship directing the way towards further poverty and destitution. North Korea has long watched what happened to Pakistan, a country all but ignored by the United States until it became a nuclear weapon power. It is now feared because it could cause regional devastation and the fallout would cover the world and change the whole pattern of global command.

In other words, nuclear weapons get you respect. They also get you into hell.  The North Koreans may not be in hell, but from where they sit, they can see it.