Archive for May, 2013

Christopher Lee

May 22, 2013


Drone Attacks On the Decline, But That Won’t Shine Obama’s Legacy

22 May 2013

Is the United States running out of al-Qaeda kill targets? Has the cutting off of the serpents heads been more effective than President Obama thought possible when he sanctioned drone killing as what he was told would be the best way of beating terrorism?  And has this meant nothing to the legacy Obama so keenly seeks in his final term?

In Washington, drone attacks remain a combined military, counter-terrorism and even an ethical issue.  That is why President Obama went Thursday to the American National Defense University with a speech that fundamentally attempted to justify his global counter-terrorism policy.  Given where he was speaking, he was getting to a captive and committed audience.  For others, what he said does not necessarily get high-fives.

Firstly, Obama has struggled to define what the White House calls a “legal architecture” for target lists. The only way to satisfy some, but not all, critics of the drone program is to take it out of the exclusive hands of the CIA.  If, for example, the drone targetting schedule were in two groups – the CIA and the military – there would have to be a certain higher level of transparency in who gets lined up for a hit and what is done to limit the civilian casualties that have become a factor that makes a mockery of the claim that drones are pin point accuracy weapons.  They are not, not can they be.

Secondly, Obama signs off each strike.  That means also that he has lethal powers that sit uneasily in the White House and have done so since Vietnam and carpet bombing.

Thirdly, the US is clearly rethinking its drone target policy, not because it has an ethical revelation, but because major targets have been taken out and identifying new ones harder.

Fourthly, Obama and his advisers have both publicly and privately made a case for drone hits on the basis that they are cheap, they work and they do ot cost American lives. Precision targeting is now questioned and so is the diplomatic cost of continuing with them at the present level.  

Many countries that once turned a blind eye to strikes in their homeland now object. That sets up a local political destabilizing factor and that makes it harder for America’s one time vital allies to continue to publicly do American bidding or at least assist where it once thought reasonable. Internal pressures and local political intriguing mean that US  support in many countries is becoming harder to pin down and this includes the once willing passing of information on radical groups and personalities – candidates for drone attacks. So the “dangerous man is dead” justification no longer remains an uncomplicated issue.

When, for example, attacks started in 2004 in Pakistan, there was just one that year. It took another four years for the attacks to reach double figures – 35 in 2008. Two years on, the strike figure was more than 100 into Pakistan territory. Since then the kill rate has reduced the so-called threat target list to just 13 this year so far.

As a security problem, the dispassionate would argue that it is a good problem to have.  American must be a safe place. But ethically it is not and Obama knows this too well. This White House does not do any better than previous administrations on war ethics.

For example, when he arrived at the White House for his first term, Obama made a big deal about the wrongness of the Guantanamo detention centre on the island of Cuba where America incarcerated often dubiously come-by prisoners for indefinite detention and interrogation.  He said he would close it down.  He hasn’t.

A difficult aspect of Guantanamo for this lawyer President is the heavily classified, 6,000 page analysis of the CIA’s interrogation program and the refusal of requests that it should at the very least be partly released as a freedom of information request. Difficult decisions for a President so vulnerable to an accusation that he’s a good talker but can not get crucial issues through a po-faced Congress.

All this is why the National Defense University speech is so important.  It will be the public definition of Obama’s most controversial military authority for the rest of his term. So far, not so good for a President who still hasn’t hit upon a legacy that he’s want in the book of American presidential history.


Christopher Lee

May 20, 2013


A Letter From The Queen To Her Most Loyal Subject

20 May 2013

Apparently Mr Cameron’s people think that one is a swivel-eyed loon – or that this one is. The Chamberlain, such a trustworthy courtier, says that someone in Downing Street told The Press that members of The Party are forcing MPs to vote against Gay Marriage and the European Union.

One hopes that our very agreeable, although not very bright, Lord Feldman did not call voters swivel-eyed loons. Especially as the Commoners in their little homes may have a sensible instinct about Europe and odd weddings.

At Windsor we are not very taken with the EU and would rather we were not members and that we could then simply be with nice people in one’s Commonwealth.

As for Gay Marriage!  What a silly thing to get excited about. One knows lots of rather smart people who are homosexuals and very happily married.  Dear Lord Punstable is quite the other way (very very soft hands don’t you know?)  and has been since he was a chorister. But everyone knows that he has men friends (so many of them in Whites) and he is perfectly happy with his wife, dearest Veronica (Walkington-Scott-Sharpe that was).  She of course has many friends who are not homosexuals. But for My Government to spend so much time on same sex marriages is rather feeble – or so one thinks.

One is sad to say that Mr Cameron has been a disappointment. He was so full of promise: a good family and went to a very good local school.  Oxford seems to have made him rather fleshy although he married well. What a pity he had to form My Government with that rather wishy-washy Clegg.  Philip says he would not buy a time share from him.  We are not certain what a time share is, but it sounds rather dubious.

And now they are all worried about Mr  Farage and his YouKippers as Philip calls them.  (He is so very very funny at breakfast – Philip, not Mr Farage).  

Mr Farage appears to drink quite a lot of beer.  The Chamberlain thinks it is English beer and not the filthy black Belgian beer. One supposes that is all right then.  But I do wish he did not smoke so. Really no need and quite unnecessary.  

The Chamberlain had to sit next to him and Mr Farage smelled of tobacco. The Chamberlain is very sensitive.  Philip says the Chamberlain’s nanny was quite strict about the prospects of bad habits such as smoking and so made his mother (Cordellia Caste-Roman that was) breastfeed  the poor mite through a straw. Prince Harry thought that exceptionally funny and threw himself about in such laughter and was rather obscure when he said that his set use straws for quite different purposes.  Such fun being in one’s army.

The Chamberlain has it that we are going to make an official visit to Rome. The new Archbishop, Welby who used to be on the pumps at the local service station in his youth (Philip’s story again) is not over-keen on this we are told. Philip thinks the archbishop is concerned that at our age we might be swayed by the new Pope.  

Nonsense of course after all, one is Supreme Governor of one’s own Church of England. We assured the archbishop at an audience only last week that we have never been over-fond of Brazilians since their footballer Maradona cheated us out of the World Cup.  The archbishop said he played for Argentina not Brazil.  Philip says he had no idea that Mr Welby ever played soccer for any one, never mind Argentina.

One suspects one will have to watch the archbishop. Not quite reliable. One noticed that he had to read from a book to give the Blessing at Baroness Thatcher’s funeral.  One would have imagined that by the time he became archbishop, he would have know the words off by heart.

There is something else quite worrying about him. One reads in One’s Paper that he is already writing a new Coronation Service. One is not quite ready to meet One’s Maker.  A little presuming.  But One’s Paper has it that he intends to bring other religious leaders into the service.  How very odd.  One suspects that the Prince of Wales is behind this. Now there is a swivel-eyed loon if ever one saw one.  Jolly good.  Must tell Philip that one.

Christopher Lee

May 8, 2013


Queen Plays A Blinder & The Cameron-Clegg Duo Look Ordinary

8th May 2013

The British used to have loadsa style. Now they just have a time share salesman called Clegg and a shifty looking estate agent called Cameron upfront, until that is, until Wednesday this week when a couple of old souls one of them knocking on 87 and the other well over 90 and dressed for panto showed them how.

It was a show called the opening of Parliament.  It’s the annual thing that the Queen goes to the House of Lords at 1130am dressed in a white evening frock and wearing a top heavy crown and Prince Philip clanks around in sea-boots, sword and enough gold and medals to pay off the national debt.  

They arrive in some considerable jolly style too.  A big gold coach with bewigged guys in gold and red hanging on for dear life and plumed and shiny breast-plated horsemen (aka Household Cavalry) with spotless swords and more cheering crowds than Man U get at a home game.

They get to the Palace of Westminster with fanfares for majesty, salutes, bows and curtsies all round and go in by the Sovereign’s door, into the Royal robing room and then with  a Lord Great Chamberlain walking backwards, Gentlemen Ushers, The Keeper of the Privy Purse (presumably with the parking money), Norroy King of Arms, Clarenceux King of Arms, The Lord Privy Seal, Garter Principal King of Arms and a gaggle of very pretty Gentlemen Ushers and four sweet gold and red coated pages to hold the Queen’s crimson train, they slowly process to two huge thrones.

It’s then that a man with a cane and breeches is told to nip along to the House of Commons and fetch Clegg and Cameron and the other roughs  who are best known by the nation as useless bastards who can’t do anything about the economy for the rest of us but can do their own economies very well indeed by taking big salaries topped up with scammed expenses, some of which occasionally land them in jail, but not often enough.

Anyway, when the MPs, for that’s what these ne’re-do-wells are, have got as many of them into the bottom end of the Lords as they can, the Queen reads out what her government is planning to do for the rest of the year.

Now cynics call this a farce.  The Queen of course may be off-with-his-head regal and the duke may glare savagely as 90-something admirals tend to do, but we are told they have no power.  Yet it was the MPs who came to her when she called them in.

And if you read the opinion polls, which governments do nothing else but read opinion polls, you’ll see that the Queen’s rating is about 80%.  The time share guy and the estate agent can’t get higher than low 50s.  And when it comes to real power, then there’s a golden show biz rule – style is power and style collects votes from the show goers.

Outside, in the streets of Westminster, the Queen’s golden coach trundles back to the palace and the people who have waited in glum weather wave and cheer. The guys who are supposed to have power stroll self-consciously back to the Other Place, the Commons, while a few tourists stare and wonder who this badly dressed and rhubarb chatterers are.  When they get onto the green benches in the Commons they start shouting at each other.

They have plenty to do but no idea how to do it.  The economy is up to them.  The economy gets worse.

Back at the palace, they Queen slips off her shoes and the duke slings his sword into the hat stand with Victoria antler horns on top. She’s been there for 61 years this summer and is one of the most famous people of the 20th century anywhere in the world.  Clegg? Cameron? Who?

Christopher Lee

May 8, 2013


More Women In US Military Being Sexually Assaulted – That’s Just Not A Problem In The Pentagon

6th May 2013

The Pentagon says there’s more sexual assault than ever in the United States military.  Worse, many victims are too frightened to tell. The President says for him, military bullying is a zero tolerance situation. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on the case. He’s stepping up the anti-sex assault “game exponentially”.  So what’s going wrong with the Mission Accomplished military with record of having fought on every continent in the world and still hanging in there as the last of the dinosaurs, aka superpower?

No one is hiding the files on this news. Over the Potomac and out at Arlington there is a sense that something is very wrong in the US military. And to get what’s going on in the higher command mind that senses it has no control of beasting and bullying of the worst kind, you best start by understanding the heartbeat of the military out at that place. Arlington is military country but not the gritty side of the deal. Arlington, Virginia’s a comfortable place.  

Even, the names are comfortable and tell you the deeper thought of Old America that still runs the military.  

Even the noisy main road, the Jefferson Davis Highway has a history that dwells on a traumatic past turned into the victory that only memory keeps going. It was conceived by one of the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a 1913 Chattanooga Confederate Reunion reunion . The coast to coast Lincoln Highway scheme had just been announced and the Daughters of the Confederacy were not going to be left out.  They wanted a transcontinental highway of their own – inevitably north versus south. The result was the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway to honour the “President of the Confederate States. Arlington is that sort of country. There’s the Army & Navy Country Club. The George Washington Memorial Parkway along the river. Fort Myer. And of course, the Arlington National Cemetery where the nation’s heroes are honoured and the Pentagon with its continuing corridors of command and control.

Every so often the sense of being in command and controlling events wobbles.  This week is one of those occasions.

In 2010 19,000 people in the armed services were sexually assaulted.  Last year the figure was 26,000. And here’s a thing: the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention in the US Air Force has just been arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks.  Where?  In an Arlington parking lot.

Considering the events, it was maybe unfortunate phrasing when President Obama announced that the bottom line, yes, the bottom line is that he has no tolerance. He then made it very clear: “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonourably discharged period.”

Good stuff Mr President but let us start with the first bit: “if we find out”.  Part of the problem is that although more than six percent of women and more than one percent of men in the military have said they have suffered sexual abuse, anecdotal evidence suggests these numbers could easily be doubled. The military learn to live with extremes.  Sexual codes are not the sort of thing that shows a woman or a man is one tough hombre ready for duty.  

The increased numbers of women put into fighting situations in, for example, Afghanistan have made this ready for duty profile even more likely to suppress assaults. But the civilian figures for the same periods are telling.  While 6.1 of women in military reported being assaulted, only 0.2 percent in civilian life had the same experience.  But again, it’s all down to the numbers reported, so the President is perhaps unconsciously reflecting this when he says “if we find out”.

But it does not answer the next question: how come this has taken so long to get to? Maybe it’s n different to other military.  It’s a beast of a profession. It is a profession of physical extremes that train and then discard the ultimate moralities.

There’s another serious flaw in the system.  If someone in the military is accused of sexual abuse, then the military deals with the matter.  It does not go to a civilian investigation and then if warranted to a civilian court. It is pretty well known that generals, most notably one in the air force, have reversed guilty verdicts with little or no explanation.

The President may shout, Hagel may be on the case, but the truth is that the US senior military do things their way, just as in the days of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate America. Arlington is a comfortable place that lives comfortably with the way things are and Obama has more chance of fixing the economy than fixing the military.

Christopher Lee

May 4, 2013


Iraq: Infant Mortality Up. Killing Up. Why Do The Victors Over Saddam Hussein Look The Other Way?

4 May 2013

Why  don’t many of the UN Security permanent five want to talk about the latest and damning report from Iraq.  They really should read it carefully as it comes from the  United Nation’s own mission in Baghdad.  

Could be of course that it’s a weekend and they want to get away.  That’s good reason to dump anything with an official stamp on the cover.  But given the casualty rate news from that other US led killing ground, Afghanistan these past few days, maybe word from the already forgotten war, Iraq, makes uncomfortable reading. 

The report says that in just last month 712 people were killed in Iraq.  And 595 of them were civilians.  The report says the deaths were caused by “acts of terrorism and of violence” last month, April.

Let’s be sympathetic towards the highly paid and treated diplomats at UN head office – they don’t want to stir trouble. Read the report and even the most look-the-other-way diplomat has to ask questions. The detail is too obvious. Mark that UN figure: 712 people killed.  That’s not an approximate number is it? It’s precise.  They must know something. But the dips don’t want to upset the Iraqi delegation.  But they should, even must, because the Iraqi government is trying to ignore the UN figures.  They say they are not true. The Iraqis are saying it wasn’t 712 killed, it was only 245 killed in April. Oh so the UN got it wrong did it?  No way.  

The UN team has checked out hospitals, mortuary numbers, families and officials and individual reports. In Baghdad alone, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) say that 211 Iraqis perished and 486 were wounded.  Again, very precise figures.  

During the past two weeks alone more than 200 have been killed and a lot of them have been going down in the provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Anbar.  On one day last week, 29 April, at the very least 18 were in southern Iraq, the Shia dominated provinces.

The social and political tensions are obvious in Iraq itself. The Shia-dominated government of prime minister Nouri Maliki is predictably accused by the Sunnis of cutting them out of any benefits of government reforms – such as they are. The Shias were once kept down by the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein.  The reverse situation now holds. Conflict is and always was inevitable once the Americans pulled out in December 2011.

The British simply ran away – or that’s the way its seen by many in the south.  They handed over responsibility to the militia.  So much for bringing peace and democracy to the Iraqis.  The UN report shows that the consistent rate of killing is greater than it was when Saddam was there.  Another report not talked about at the UN Headquarters says that child mortality is worse than before the US-led intervention in 2003.

Another UN agency says the Millenium Development Goals, the benchmark of post-war benefits, have not been met in key areas, including infant mortality and how many children are being educated.  It makes the obvious point that Iraq is going to need more than ever an educated middle class to run the country.  That is not happening.  Iraq, once the most developed state in the Arab world now has 84 deaths per thousand live births.  Infant mortality is about 32 per cent of those 1000 live births.  Maliki insists that Iraqis are better off than they were under Saddam.  

Maliki’s is a selective judgement that has no relationship to the majority of people working on a simple principle: is my family better cared for and safer.  The answer in too many places is that those families are worse off than they were prior to 2003.

The lesson for the people writing out the notices to quit in Afghanistan are again obvious. Internecine warfare appears with just a year to go before ISAF withdrawal to be inevitable.  The Afghan National Army needs a US led afterguard to  easy them through a transition period of at least five years.  That was not done in Iraq so the Shia-Sunni conflict took off on day one of so-called independent administration.  

Secondly, the US-led coalition failed miserably to provide the template for political stability as well as the military structure to preserve that civilian institution of government and a recognizable operational council of the three principle interests, Shia’s seeking revenge, Sunnis seeking to bring down that which replaced its authority and Kurds with the very real opportunities of quasi-autonomous control of the richest part of the re-emerging economy, the oil business.

No wonder UN delegations know that many of their governments, especially the closest supporters of the legally questionable war of 2003, have marked the documents For Your Attention and sent them home in their diplomatic bags.

The truth is hard to chew on. Almost every government that took part in the Iraq War now wants nothing to do with the consequences and the reality of the aftermath: the Iraqi people lost the war; the allies simply got out.  The same result looks very much on the cards for Afghanistan. So why should permanent representatives in New York want to be reminded that Iraq was a failure and Afghanistan is heading that way?  Mind you, it does explain the never-again factor in President Obama’s assertion that he isn’t about to put boots on the ground in Syria.