Archive for January, 2013

Christopher Lee

January 22, 2013

Image

Harry’s Game.  I’m a Royal. Media Keep Out

22 January 2013

What is Harry’s Game? Harry being the lovable royal rascal of every girl’s dreams – as the royal PR sells it.

So the very gallant prince has finished his tour of Afghanistan as second pilot and gunner in his amazingly hi-tech Apache helo and with everyone’s consent (MOD, Army, Palace, his colonel and the prince himself)  allowed a BBC TV crew to interview him in theatre.  His main message?  The media is shit.

Well, that we knew and know. The media deals in shit because there’s a lot of it about.

It does things like uncovering the Jimmy Savile scandal. It does Wikileaks. It headlines the adultery of Harry’s father and mother – the Prince of Wales and the Princess of Wales. It says No More about the ghastliness of Vietnam.  It splashes the cocaine muddle antics of pop stars who drink and dope themselves to death. It pilories politicians who rip off the system and help themselves to big bucks in the public purse. It discovers plumbers in the Watergate Building and brings down a crooked President of the United States.  There’s a bigger list. That’s enough.

It also does the kiss-my-ass show biz and sports celeb circuit which is the stuff most people want to read.  Harry comes into the last bit. He is a celeb and he exploits it. He’s like a lot of princes in every royal family in British history.  

The Hanoverian princes screwed and spewed their way round London society in much the way Harry does. He comes from an immediate family of party goers and goers of more excitable nature.  

His grandfather, Prince Philip was a hell raiser and woman chaser in his younger day.  His great aunt, the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret had her toes licked and smoked up big in the Caribbean.

His father openly had a mistress and once said he’d like to be one of her Tampax pads.  If there had been a national sex team, his mother would have been a shoo-in, so much so that smutty hacks speculate that one of his his mother’s lovers is his biological father.

His uncle, Prince Andrew was a famous swordsman (and at the same time, a very fine Royal Navy helicopter pilot).

So here we have Harry, wearing a richly earned hero’s image in Afghanistan dismissing his 3am clubbing exits when he looks like any other sweaty jeaned lout on the London all-night circuit with a strip-me-quick blonde at his side.  

In the BBC interview, Captain Wales does the gun on hip and Stand By for take off with only the Wagnerian sound-track missing image thing as good as anyone.  If he’s got half a brain (and he’s got double that) he and the Palace know that his street cred got a 1000 point rise at the end of the interview.  This was made easier  because the interviewer (described elsewhere as a BBC defence correspondent sic) in a lousy operational environment, managed to ask the prince the crassest of questions – is there anyone waiting for you at home?

It may not be a blonde, but there are thousands, maybe millions waiting for Harry at home.  He is far away the most popular royal after his grandmother, certainly more so than his fairy-tale brother with his girlie waves. But Harry curses the media because they won’t let him alone. He comes from the most privileged background with every advantage imagined and paid for by someone else.

In return, the fee paying public who fork out £millions every year for the Royal Family in something that used to be the Civil List simply want to gawp. Gawping is what spectators do.  All but a very close circle of Harry’s friends never get closer than gawping and as much as the media may be shit, it’s the only way in.

An act of fate got him born into the most famous family in the whole world. Most people have to play with crueller decks than that.  Maybe Harry should just get on with being who he is and stop moaning about it.  That’s what the rest of have to do.

Advertisements

Christopher Lee

January 20, 2013

Image

Mali is the new Afghanistan and the US drones are coming – they say you can’t duck

21 January 2013

Following what went down in Algeria and how the Intelligence stuff says the terrorists involved were Mali based, Mali is now, almost officially in Washington, the new Afghanistan.

 

During the past 72 hours, US drone schedules are now including Sahara and Sub-Sahara Target Lists. The US is going after Islamists in that region and telling the Maghreb and neighborhood Islamists to just look around that part of the world.

 

The few remains of other al Qaeda-linked Islamists including leaders such Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman in Yemen, have been smeared across the burned wrecks of too many supposedly safe houses and vehicles for them not to get the message: the US is coming after them.  Nobody the US wants today runs for long.

 

As the new breed of drone operators chalk on the anti-al Qaeda and Taliban briefing sheets: God May Be Great – Predators Spitting Hellfire missiles are Greater.

 

Equally this is not where President Obama wanted to be, especially during inaugural week. It certainly turns the iconic Don’t Ask What America CanDo For You into Just Think What America Can Do To You.  Obama’s next four years won’t all be economy fixing. But with John Brennan as his drone hitman set to head the CIA, Obma will be signing off more drone attacks than health care Bills.

Although drone technology has been around since World War II, the priority technology programmes developed especially by the US and Israel – and often in collaboration – turned what was second line weaponry into the most talked about system. The big kick in the program came in the 1990s when the Department of Defense (DoD) signed a three way contract with Israel’s Maziat and America’s AAI Corporation of Maryland to produce a new generation of unmanned airborne vehicles.

One of the systems that came out of that deal was the still-in-use AAI Pioneer. The came General Atomics MQ-1, known as Predator and living up to its name. Putting  an air-to-ground Hellfire missile aboard changed the effectiveness of this form of theatre attack warfare.

Take all this on board because America is not stopping there.  There is almost no weapon system apart from heavy cruise that cannot be carried by the latest systems and there is hardly any target that can hide once data transfer from human to satellite information is patched in.Most importantly, Obama’s people are saying here that there is no sovereignty issue that will stop them attacking a suspect target.  That’s important because until recently, say the past five to seven years, the idea of attacking a target in another country unless you were at war in that place, was very delicate diplomacy and didn’t pick up too much support even from allies.

All that’s changed in Afghanistan when Taliban targets were droned in Pakistan. A ball park one thousand people have been killed by US drones – Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk – in Pakistan during the past five or six years. A few, maybe 20 were al Qaeda/Taliban leaders. But not all the victims of the drones were on any wanted lists.  The best estimate suggests that innocent people – including children – were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 

So when the US says they’re going for the al Qaeda leadership it means that bystanding is unwise. And back in Main Street USA, you won’t see too many Human Rights Watch activists getting too many petitions going to stop the drone. Americans had heard of Osama Bin Laden, but that’s about it.

 

Names abroad mean nothing and what happens to them and those caught in the target radius is of little interest. If the President says he’s a Bad Guy, then the answer is blow the black Stetson to pieces. In a society that has more privately held weapons than voters, America won’t blink on this one especially as ground troop commitments are zero.  The bonus is the evidence of the past 72 hours that there are many Bad Guys on the run.

 

And the President knows that mostly, American allies have the same view. No one, not even the French, wants to sign up for the new Afghanistan.  Maybe they say, just maybe Predator will do the truly dirty work for them.

 

Could be they’re right, but when the place is clean it has to be assumed that they new Bad Guys will be back.  Then the reality is that boots have to be on the ground – and they won’t all be African.

Christopher Lee

January 18, 2013

Image

Did UK Intelligence Fail To Anticipate Algeria Hit? If Not, Why Did No one Tell Hague?

18th January 2013
Henry Forth writes from London: Has anyone seen William Hague? Who? Nice man. Average height.  Not much hair, in fact less hair than not much. Broad northern vowels. Okay?  You mean…Yup. William Hague described on the Cabinet List as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.  OMG!  That William Hague!

I only ask because as I sat in the House of Commons gallery today watching the Prime Minister’s first class performance on his hostage in Algeria statement I kept thinking why is the Chancellor, George Osborne sitting on his left? Deputy Prime Minister Clegg on his right.  Good.  Osborne on the other side?  Something…then I got it!  The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, should have been there. He wasn’t.  Where then?

Well the hapless but nicest man in the whole foreign policy world, Mr Hague was sort of in Australia.  But the story, this week’s crisis is Algeria and Mali.  Surely, Algeria-Mali is not very near Australia.  Contrary to images, quite a lot’s near Australia, but the Maghreb is not one of them.

This, of course, is not a fair observation by implication as the always surprisingly late Cambridge cynic Edward Sands would say (usually when wondering why more people did not think Macmillan a Great Man). Mr Hague was in Australia with the other missing minister Defence Secretary Philip Hammond for the undoubtedly important annual Australia-United Kingdom ministerial summit where a new UK-Australia defence pact was signed. Hague left early for London.  Crisis you know. Excellent stuff.

Also excellent stuff was the performance of Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt on holding the fort – the one in Whitehall here, not the one in Algeria.  The big guy on the block was, of course, Cameron himself .  Cameron showed himself in charge, cancelled “an important” speech on Europe, chaired the security crisis committee in the Cabinet Office and told MPs a lot of what he knows. Strike Success for PM – so much so the questions sounded more like birthday greetings than stuff like: why has there been an Intelligence failure? Really? Really, Yes.

With all the Elint (electronic intelligence) and oil industry Intelligence plus the SIS (MI6) men on the ground eye spotting, did nothing tell the emergency committee and certainly not the PM’s office that a hostage hit from Mukhtar Belmokhtar”s well trained and well armed Islamists was a likely runner?

If it were not an Intelligence failure, what were Hague especially and, to a lesser extent at this stage Hammond,  doing at a meeting that could easily have been postponed?

The gold pen affair on closer co-operation and, cyber security, personnel exchange and equipment could have been initialed and then signed later.  Everyone, including the sharp minded Australian defence minister Stephen Smith, would have seen the need  for Hague and his team to be back in Whitehall minding the store.

But if Cameron played a blinder, then does it matter that Hague and we suppose, Hammond, were absent from the front bench?  Too right it does.  British lives going down, other embassies and facilities now on the target list by Islamists add up to an overture for the UK to get deeply involved, whatever the Prime Minister may purr or FCO statements suggest.

At that point, when the PM gets up, his two Cabinet Ministers on this particular Crisis Block, should be side-by-side him. Look tough. Look confident.  Ease anxieties. (Another of Sands’s asides).

People on the ground in both Mali and Algeria having been saying since the French went in that Belmokhtar who broke from the mainstream Islamists in December needed a biggy to prove he was the one who did spectaculars.  

Everyone in Mali and Algiers – including Algerian PM Abdelmalek Sellal – new the chances of that spectacular were probable rather than possible, as the Intelligence jargon still has it.  It would seem that everyone had a good idea but Hague, Hammond, MI6 and therefore Number 10.

It was not on the cards, so Hapless Hague and Credible Hammond were absent with leave so to be.

That does not tell us that we should be confident about the system that looks after our security on the wider scale.  

There’s another part to this: Hague gets all the MI6 briefing.  He gets the stuff from the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (slightly beyond this brief, but with a contribution) and as the man responsible for British embassies, he has a daily security update on each one.

Hague either failed to ask the right questions of all these Intelligence pointy heads, or did not know what to ask, or they did not tell him what was possible.

Or worse still, somebody did say the gas installation thing was very likely, but Whitehall ignored the warning.  No? The why were Hague and Hammond not on parade?

Christopher Lee

January 16, 2013

Image

Give Pakistan a chance – it needs it

16th Januaryt 2013

 

This week the Pakistan army has accused Indian troops firing on Pakistani soldiers in the disputed border area in Kashmir. One Pakistani was killed.  The Indian army says its men did not open fire and even did not return fire when Pakistani troops mortared their positions in the Poonch area.

Last week, Indian soldiers were killed in exchanges.  According to Indian PM Manmohan Singh, one of them was beheaded.

The Indians says that in such circumstances, any peace hopes between Pakistan and India can be forgotten.  The Pakistanis say the same. There have been two wars between the countries over Kashmir and two major and continuing shooting incidents.

Does any of this really matter?  Yes it does because this week has seen the worst tension between the two nuclear powers since the Mumbai massacre in 2008. They are not about to go to war again but the region needs the two nations to be on at least co-operative footings because the future of Afghanistan depends on them.

Yet neither is in a good enough political state to take the lead or more subtly, let the other do so.  Pakistan is in something approaching political turmoil and India has the head of its army, General Bikram Singh accusing Pakistan of pre-meditated offensive and told his men to be “aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire” from Pakistan.

Such public utterances from the military make it hard for PM Singh to be quietly diplomatically about it all.
It was only last year that there were justifiable fears of a military coup in Pakistan. The army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani says the military no longer gets into politics as once it did.  Others say that given the state of the political leadership the firm hand of military government with promised elections in two months is exactly what the country needs.

The important aspect of that situation is that in spite of his powers, Kayani may have others on his chiefs of staff corridor who really do long for the old military times.

You can see why people would say that when, for example, just this week the supreme court’s Chief Justice Chaudhry ordered the arrest of Prime Minister  Raja Pervez Ashraf on corruptions charges based on the PM’s earlier times as a minister.  

If this isn’t destabilizing enough, outsiders would do well to learn the name of Muhammad Tahir-u Qadri a Canadian born cleric who a lot of people say will either be assassinated or bring down the government or both.

The preacher man sits in a bullet proof box opposite the presidential building denouncing the President Zadari and demanding his resignation.  It would not mean much if it weren’t for tens of thousands of followers Qadri, who only recently arrived in the country, has.  He calls Parliament a band of looters and lawbreakers and the crowd believe him.  

But he could probably say that about most senior Pakistani politicians in times past and get the same round of applause.  But watch this man.  He has a movement going and Pakistan is getting ready for elections – never a peaceful event in this place.

Could it be that Qadri and Chaudhry are becoming a double act?  They both say No.  Not everyone believes them – including Kayani who knows everything that’s going on.
The hope is that the government can see it through to the elections in March.  It will be the first time that a civilian government in this country has ever got through a five year term.

Zardari has devolved powers to the provinces and supposedly devised a see-though electoral system. Beneath the street politics and border tensions, there are signs that Pakistan at the top is trying to hold the country together with something other than kick-backs.

All of this, especially the importance of Pakistan in the future of Afghanistan, makes the dangerous exchange over Kashmir even more disheartening. So watch Qadri, he knows how to manipulate crowds, uncertain government and maybe even the so-called independent judiciary. It’s a bad news week in Islamabad.

Christopher Lee

January 16, 2013

Image

Children Raped In Syrian War – Terrible, But What Did Anyone Expect?

As the French in Mali would say: C’est la guerre

16 January 2013

This week, aid agencies report that women, girls and boys are being raped often in front of their families in the Syrian civil war. Just what do they expect? Have they not heard of nasty wars?  This is a nasty war.

In this sort of war, women and girls get raped.  Children get killed.  Please, will someone explain why should the Syrian conflict be any different?

More than 600,000 Syrians have got out of Syria.  According to the US-based International Rescue Committee refugees claim that for many, rape was the reason they escaped.  At least they escaped.  More than 60,000 did not.  They were, according to UN figures, killed.

In the meantime the UK Foreign Ministry under its hapless William Hague is urging other countries to get more involved. Clearly Mr Hague is being told what to say buy some fool who either knows nothing or is afraid to buck the Morocco conference decision by 100 other countries to take the side of the rebels.

They all talked about transition from Bashar al-Assad to the really nice rebels. No one at the meeting , nor since has had the guts to announce publicly that this war is fought on one side by a mixed bag of single minded killers and on the other side the legitimate government of Syria.

The international community may not like Assad and his henchmen – although there are numerous pictures of foreign diplomats and visitors fawning over the fragrant Mrs Assad – but let one of them explain what their government would do if armed rebels started shooting their way to a take-over.

They would defend their positions, just as the British defended their position in Northern Ireland in the 1970s when the IRA tried to bomb them out.

So, while the world sheds tears for rape victims, and starving and freezing children in sub-zero tents and of those left behind, maybe those same governments and common people who say it is an atrocity that must be resolved, should agree that instead of giving the rebels even more guns, they should have been starved of weapons.

Wimpish western democracies that talked of negotiation being the only way to change, could have better stuck to their beliefs. They could have said the rebels are a mixed, blood-thirsty bag who kill each other as well as Assad forces and if they get to power in Damascus they will do so on an even greater scale.

Again, when Human Rights Watch complain that Assad’s army is using cluster bombs, well, why shouldn’t he?  Who sold him the cluster bombs? If they’re so bad, why doesn’t the US government – that great liberal democracy – sign the international treaty banning them?

And here’s a further irony: Syria’s deputy foreign minister told the BBC that President Bashar al-Assad intended to play a role in any potential transition government and would stand for re-election in 2014.

“The president, and many other candidates who may run, will go to the people, put [forward] their programmes, and be elected by the people. The ballot box will be where the future of the leadership of Syria will be decided,” Faisal Mekdad added.

Maybe that’s just a con.  Most likely it is.  But does a single rebel leader talk of any form of voting? No way. In the meanwhile, the raping goes on. That’s just what happens in war and so-called thoughtful and helpful western democracies are keeping it going.

Christopher Lee

January 12, 2013

Image

Heseltine Roars – Cameron Would Do Well To Hear The Last Of the Big Beasts

12th January 2013
Michael Heseltine has publicly told Prime Minister David Cameron that he would be wrong to go for what would effectively be an In-Or-Out? referendum on Europe.  

Heseltine has done so for two reasons: firstly he believes it to be a foolish political decision by the leader of the party of which he remains a passionate member and secondly, because he can say it and will be listened to.  The last point is the most important because Heseltine is a Big Tory Beast.  A veritable lion of Toryism.

And here’s the rub.  The Tory Party has few proper beasts.  It has few who command to be heard when they roar.  For the Party is dull, just as the LibDems are dull and so too Labour. This was never the case.  Now the Cages of Political Beast are left unlocked because that rare species has gone. Yet there are huge issues that demand Big Beasts to say things, be heard, to be sent to sort Great Troubles.  This is also what the public thinks.  A few examples:

A major city of the United Kingdom is in flames.  For 40 days and 40 nights, Belfast has burned.  Shots have been fired. The sham of the Blair Settlement is as charred as the building blocks of what should have been his greatest achievement (his biggest was to XXXX-Up the UK).  And yet where is the Big Statement from David Cameron, the man who passes himself off as Prime Minister?  Where is the high profile Cameron visit to Belfast to demand these are terrible events up with he will no longer put? Nowhere, that’s where they are.

And where are the forehead smacking and feet shuddering statements and initiatives from Theresa Villiers.  Who?

There are perhaps a handful outside Westminster who have heard of Villiers.  Yet this woman – a refugee from that other Something-Up of Blairite proportions, the Department of Transport – is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Villiers is the person appointed to fix Northern Ireland; she is the person we should be watching, hanging on her every word as kids under ten throw rocks and petrol bombs at UK policemen. We get? Nothing! (We would of course if this were happening in her Tory constituency of Chipping Barnet.)

Crisis? You would hardly know it from Ms Villiers. Hardly a soul knows her name. An, admittedly small, telephone straw poll last night from this writer’s office among reasonably informed adults and voter-age teenagers found no one who had heard of her and certainly no one who knew what she looked like.  A part of the UK burns and the profile and the words of the person in charge are unknown and unheard. There is no beast to roar good sense into the debacle that is Northern Ireland. Where else?

Abroad the really nice William Hague travels willingly to lie for his country.  On big issues he sounds insignificant.  Yet once, even as a teenager, he electrified the Tory Conference with his conscience rattling speech that the nation (and the Party) needed big ideas expounded by big ideas.  

Today Hague has said nothing outside Cabinet that is memorable.  Yet this man is there to manage in every country, in every institution from the UN to NATO to the EU the image of the British Isles.  Remember anything he has said?  Of course not.  We are reduced to remembering that he is bald – that is such a bad moment for us all.

So the Heseltine image of Beasts and Statesmen is all but gone.  But there must be some in the grim and corrupt lair that is Parliament?  Ken Clarke? He was once a great Chancellor  Hardly heard and rarely noticed.  He is now silent and obscure with no visible passion other than cask ale and jazz trombones.  The others?

Thatcher sits unknowingly in her SW1 drawing room. Carrington, wisely has gone to his estate (as Macmillan said he would) to keep his own counsel his and despair of the great upper chamber with its dropped aitches, flat vowels and time servers and none with original thinking. Howe’s voice grows weak with age and his memory becomes uncertain – yet this is the man whose valedictory Commons speech tolled the bell on Thatcher’s premiership.

And on the other side of the House? There is no one whose intervention can have the Press Gallery scratching at their pads and frissons of holding some front page somewhere. No ghosts even. No Callaghan. Certainly no Anthony Crosland. No Roy Jenkins. No Michael Foots.

Ironically, the only beast to prowl the corridors of common sense and devastating intervention must bide his time until electorate disaster strikes (in 2015?).  Boris Johnson is the only beast of Heseltinean mane. Well south of the mythical Watford Junction line – that is the start of southern England – people wait for Boris. If they could, southerners bin Cameron and would cheer Boris into his place.  They long for the rabble rousing roars that would give the southern English the warm feeling that Beasts once more ruled the UK.. North of that line, north of Watford, Boris is detested because he stands for everything that the Midlands and much of the North detest: upper class right to rule and roar at lessers and for fags to grill their toast and anchovy paste.

There of course we have it. The United Kingdom has become a spiteful nation with no care but self-care. It is a nation split as a consequence of the the Blair divisions of 1999 Devolution of powers from Westminster to Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. The UK is no longer a united kingdom. Thus Westminster has become a village in which there is no place for big ideas. Beasts Not Wanted on whatever voyage the British expense craving politicians think they’re taken the nations.  

Social reform, health and education may be billed as new thinking but this is nonsense.  Nothing is stretched. Nothing is grabbed and molded anew. No truly big ideas, no truly big men.  No Barbara Castles. No Harold Macmillans. No Joe Grimmonds. No Enoch Powells. No Thatchers. No Mad Monks to stir the Commons Tea Room cups of political curiosity and set normally sedate men and women trotting to their green benches to hear what was to be said.

Thus Heseltine is an endangered species and Boris’s time has not yet come and may never do so.  Best then Mr Cameron – who displays little sign of what he stands for other than power – should listen to the last of a generation that was not always admired but was, with very good reason, always heard.

Christopher Lee

January 9, 2013

Image

Why It Could Be Wizard If Keynes & Friedman Get The Edge On Harry Potter in Oz

9th January 2013

It had to happen, Australia knows how to prevent future financial and economic crises. Simply really, just ask the six year-olds.

The cunning plan is in an idea from Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth Peter Garrett.  He wants primary school children to be taught economics and business studies. These kids should, according Mr Garrett, be financially literate (probably means numerate, but there you go) and have a basic understanding of how the economy works.

As the economy in Australia does work reasonably well and mostly hasn’t taking the big hits experienced elsewhere in the world, everyone should either listen very carefully at what he has to say or simply follow the Australian model.

Now Mr Garrett is instinctively a campaigner with ideas that most people think matter but most people do stuff all about. He was a member of that great Australian band, Midnight Oil.  It was the Oils who through their music hit sensitive spots including homeless youths, green issues and the Exxon protest from a truck in New York.  thirteen successful albums and clever lyrics suggest Mr Garrett sings more than music.

But kiddies into economics?

Could be good for working percentage increase in pocket money demands. They would certainly be sharper at picking up on-line Nerf gun bargains.  But that’s taking the wind too far.  Mr Garrett’s reasoning is not for cheap headlines.
“For young Australians not to be aware of the basics of economics and business [is] for young Australians not to be aware of the potential in terms of their employment, the subject choices that they might make in high school, and young Australians not to be able to manage their personal finances, which even at that age can be an important issue in someone’s life,” he says.

So this is take-away childhood time. That’s clear.  What’s this about being aware of their terms of employment? Under tens already dealing holiday times, pension rights and sickies in one year? And when older, what’s this about Young Australians not being able to manage their personal finances. Where does he get that from?

Young Australians can work out their finances OK. They seem to get by when it comes to the pub or best flight buys when heading overseas.

There has to be another opportunity here. If you want a bigger allowance then the best way is not to simply whine into one.  You have to work out the financial state of the old man, show him how to better balance and then get a percentage of what he saves. He’d probably call it being a personal financial adviser. Teeny Australians would call it squeezing more out of the pint pop.

says the curriculum is already quite full and he worries that by adding to it, other subjects might have to be dropped.
Sounds good but you’d have guessed right if you’d expected the Australian Primary Principals Association to clap both hands and feet at the prospect of numerate kids. Their President Norm Hart says the curriculum is quite full.  Good.  Teach the youngsters the finances and numbers game and they’ll soon adjust it for you. I mean, I mean Norm mate, you reckon you can beat any of them on a DS?

“If we are to have it as an add-on to an already extremely busy working week for primary school students, then I think we need to ask some questions around what goes instead.”  That’s good old positive Norm.  Sounds to me the teachers just want a quiet life, don’t want any minister telling them what to do and maybe, could be maybe, they don’t know much about economics anyway.

Best of all, I like the Garrett idea because you never know, we could be teaching in primary schools and there in the back-row we discover a nine year old genius for this stuff. Imagine our worthy PM Julia Gillard getting to hear about this wizard of bought ledgers and then at the next Cabinet meeting she takes secret glances at the record of her Treasurer Wayne Swan. Treasuer Swan hasn’t quite got the 2+2 thing together has he?

He said he was going to get the economy right by 2013.  It isn’t right is it.  Spotty youth at the back says “No it isn’t Miss and as Mr Swan in May 2010, just the year I started school  promised a surplus in three years and hasn’t made it because the tax revenues are too low, well miss, you could as they say at Goldman Sachs let him go.”

Then what?  Spotty youth at the back, picks up his books (no Harry Potter. Just Milton Friedman, Keynes, Berner, Carney) and works over to Ms Gillard, takes her by the hand and whispers “When do I start?”  Swan clears his desk. Spotty moves in but on the understanding there’s twelve weeks holiday a year especially when surf’s up.

It could, it just could work.  Nine out of ten Mr Garrett.

Christopher Lee

January 8, 2013

Image

Obama Wants Chuck Hagel On His Second Term Team – But Does Congress?  That’s The Big Test For The Would-be Defense Secretary And Obama Credibility

7th January 2013

President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, a one time soldier and then Republican senator from Nebraska to be secretary of defense.

 

Hagel comes from the no-prisoners school of politics and has a tough Vietnam rep’s history as his starting point.  Famously, Hagel, then Sergeant Hagel, single handedly rescued  his brother in bad shape after hitting a landmine.

 

As President Obama put it Monday, “More than most, Chuck understands that war is not just an abstraction.”

Hagel’s nomination completes the trio of would-be appointments of a nation at war.  He joins Obama’s special security adviser John O Brennan in line as Director CIA and Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat proposed to replace Hilary Clinton at the State Department.

The three suggest a formidable security team with practical experience in the field, in the Executive and on the Hill.  Trying times are ahead as the United States begins its Afghanistan partial withdrawal, sensitive decisions over Syria and maybe Iran plus assaults from the Department of the Treasury.

Brennan and Kerry are safe choices.  Hagel is a tougher second guess. He is the one Congress will take apart during Confirmation hearings.

Republican senators in particular are wary of his views on Iran, Islamic militants and Israel – all subjects that can split Congressional views anyway.

In Washington even apparently innocent at the time long ago remarks are pulled out of the record to confront those going for the big jobs. Moreover, remarks or definitions that would not necessarily excite Georgetown diners are used as ammunition to shoot down public ambitions.

For example, Jewish support organizations suggest that he is vulnerable because he once called pro-Israel groups “the Jewish lobby.”

More politically vulnerable say the same people is Hagel’s past doubts about American sanctions on Iran. There are two issues here: what to do about Iran’s nuclear program and secondly, does a vote against sanctions reflect a lack of support for the Israelis.

Hagel appears unconcerned about Israeli sensitivities. He has also suggested the possible peace advantages of opening even backstairs talks with Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Obama team is totally aware that some in Congress stack against the Hagel nomination.  Yet it is not clear how powerful the anti-Hagel lobby has to be to stop him.  Instead he may run through a barbed wire of questioning in the hope that his present mood and view will ease concerns if not totally satisfy their holders.

The Iranian sanction issue – designed to punish Iran for going ahead with its suspected nuclear weapons programme – remains the most vulnerable area for Chuck Hagel.  It does so because he voted against them when they were debated in the Senate.

The word is that this issue in particular has been dealt with in the White House. Hagel as Secretary of Defense has no vote anywhere, but Obama would not expect him to sound off, even in private, on any subject that could embarrass the White House.  In theory, but only in theory Hagel would not frighten the Oval Office horses.

The Congressional hearings will therefore seek to “clarify” Hagel’s views on about everything. If there’s to be a quiet route to his nomination, Hagel has to clean up his act. Hagel is not by nature, an act cleaner. So Obama is taking a risk with these three men because he trusts them. In his second term with big issues such as Afghanistan, Syria and the Arab Spring plus relations with China and Russia on the table, that trust has to be well placed..

Can Obama trust Hagel.  He should know the answer to that. Hagel was one of the men who escorted Obama to Afghanistan back in 2008 in attempt to put street cred on Obama’s foreign policy ticket. It worked. It’s now up Congress to allow the double-act to get back on stage.

Christopher Lee

January 1, 2013

Image

It’s hard to feel easy when Karzai claims his army is on stream to control national security – so careful how you bet the ranc

 

1st January 2013

Hamid Kazai has announced that his forces are about to take responsibility for close on 90 per cent of the nation’s security.

Do we believe him? The short answer is: best lay off any bets with another diplomatic and military hedge funder. As the shaggy eye-browed General Pete Carter used to say about this place, “You can sure bet the ranch that yesterday was a good day but only because we’re still here.”  In other words, we made it through the past 24 hours but the jury’s out on the next 24. So careful how you bet on this place for 2013, never mind 2014.

The President is claiming that the Afghan security forces will, by the middle months of 2013 be taking the lead for security for 87 percent of the Afghan population and 23 of the 34 Afghan provinces.
This is effectively the transition of the fourth group of provinces and districts that include significant towns and cities into an Afghan run security program.

Alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is telling anyone who will listen (and they do because more than 40 states have at one time or another deployed troops into Afghanistan) that Afghanistan can do it as advertised. He says (and here I more or less quote),

“This is a significant step towards our shared goal of seeing Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014. It is the result of the progress we have made together, and thanks to the courage and resolve of the Afghan people, the Afghan forces and our ISAF troops and trainers.”

Here, Rasmussen means that the Afghan army (the ANA) and police are steadily growing in capacity and confidence. They already lead the vast majority of operations, are responsible for most of the training, and are highly trusted by the Afghan people.

It’s OK to set this out as a success, not because it is a success, but because it is not a failure.  If that sounds uncharitable a judgment and even perverse than maybe it is right.  

Neither Karzai nor Rasmussen go into the distinction between the Afghan Army takeover and the police.  The ANA is clearly working on its game.  The police remain suspect and in too many cases downright corrupt and untrustworthy.  There’s the rub. Future security throughout the 34 Afghan provinces, especially in the towns and cities cannot be delivered without the police who are essentially local forces in home territories unlike the army that can adopt the arguably easier patrolling and rapid reaction role.

So, like any other form of constabulary, the Afghan police are local and identifiable and are therefore, vulnerable to local pressures including threats and bribes from militants.

The British former Royal Marine commander, Major General Julian Thompson, long ago pointed out that the police are vulnerable to persuasion and corruption because many of them go home at night.  Therefore living in the community is a weakness rather than the advantage it should be.

Furthermore, there is no indication whatsoever that the present talks with Taliban will do anything to enhance security. Absolute control by Taliban does not mean the form of security that NATO and ISAF and indeed Kaizai had envisaged.

There is an added problem that Rasumussen and Karzai cannot possible judge, nor speak to: Taliban and militants in Pakistan are threatening, maiming and killing at will.  The importance of this is that the security of Afghanistan depends entirely on the stability of Pakistan.

Understanding that simple reality allows the regional complexity to focus the conditions that will bring about the stability that Karzai suggests is possible soon with the ambition of Rasmussen that all will go to plan by the time in 2014 when the coalition withdraws from combat operations in Afghanistan – although for now the US plan is that drone attacks will continue.

Afghanistan’s future is a regional subject.  Pakistan, India, to great extend Iran as well as the Central Asian Republics all have a part to play in stability. All this is why the NATO Secretary General’s remarks are nothing more than yesterday was a good day stuff. As for Karzai? Just remember the golden rule of any big insurance gamble: always lay off bets.  Then for all of us, yesterday was good.