26 Sep 2009

Iran Sanctions

I wonder if Gordon Brown has finished stalking Barack Obama yet after he cornered him in the UN kitchens for a face-to-face. For an awkward moment there as they greeted, so keen was Brown to be seen as Obama's best buddy, I thought he might attempt to slobber him with a full on kiss.
Anyway it turns out Iran may have another nuclear facility. The world leaders, prominent among them World Statesman of the Year (I'm still trying to work that one out!) Gordon Brown, are once more full of bluster, feigning exaggerated astonishment and strong, serious sounding words condemning Iran. Condemnation is cheap and easy.
Stronger sanctions will be imposed, we hear, as if they are an effective tool. They are not and hardly ever have been. I've said it before on a number of countries, but sanctions don't work. They make for great headlines and do wonders for swelling the egos of politicians who want to sound tough and be seen to be doing something.
But they can never be comprehensively enforced. Sanctions do more to punish ordinary poor people than they do to their leaders.

Alas, words alone only take you so far. In our soundbite driven, attention seeking media world it is easy to forget that actions are more important than words. there is regularly a gaping chasm between the two. Stoking up fear suits politicians and the media. It is a brilliantly effective way to get support for things, making them easy to view in simplistic black and white terms and grab people's attention.
Ever since I visited Iran (I drove right past the Nuclear facility in Natanz) I've maintained the opinion that really there is nothing anyone can effectively do to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Of course we all agree how dreadful and dangerous this would be for the region and the world. But the reality is that governments will probably have to get used to Iran with a nuclear weapon.
Afterall, it all looks a bit hypocritical when we lecture other countires in patronising tones telling them they cannot have something which we already have. Indeed Israel has nuclear weapons - something most news organisations rarely feel bold enough to talk about - and they have concealed their regime in secret. So, from an Iranian point of view, if it's good enough for Israel, then why not Iran too?
It also looks a bit rich, from an Iranian perspective, for a country like America, where the right to bare arms is practically enshrined in the constitution and whose military merrily imposes itself on people in other countries, to be telling other people around the world that they don't need arms and shouldn't have them.
So why might Iran want a nuclear weapon?
Well, for a start, most of its neighbours (many of them unstable and unpredictable) have nuclear weapons. Iran was a country with a serious and mighty empire. Today it is surrounded by dangerous countries and powers. American troops are entrenched in countries on either side. It is only natural for te Iranian rulers to feel insecure. They regard America as a threat. Until these security concerns are meaningfully addressed or settled the tension remains.

To the uninitiated outside observer - and there are many - the neat and simple solution to stop Iran going nuclear is to let Israel start bombing. It sounds seductive doesn't? A few precision air strikes. No need to invade. I bet the Israeli prime minister is already rubbing his hands with glee. I bet ordinary people living in Iran's cities (who we hear very little of) are not rubbing their hands with glee. Especially bearing in mind Israel's recent track record in Gaza.
I can guarantee you the one thing likely to make Ahmadinejad and his nasty regime stronger is if it comes under attack, especially by Israel, and the bombs start to fall. That neaderthal, one-dimensional approach - even just the warm suggestion of it occurring - plays straight into his hands.
Worse than that will be an escalation across the Middle East and elsewhere. Sooner or later, we will have to eal with the reality, unpleasant and undesirable as it might be, of Iran being a nuclear power. Would anyone seriously argue that Iran is anywhere like as unstable as next door Pakistan, which has had nuclear weapons for years?
And so a vicious cycle is likely to continue. The government represses the people and the world feels better about isolating the government but it isolates the people as well. It is unfortuante that so many people in important positions only see countries through their governments rather than the people inside them.
Instead of bombing bridges why don't our leaders try building some instead?

3 Sep 2009

Libya


"Were the drugs good for you?"
"Yes, like its just the two of us together holding hands in the mountains."
"Thats an impressive block of lego on your chest Colonel."
"Thanks, I bought it with your oil money!"
"Shall we dance and make merry?"
"Yes. Lets!"
Was a deal done between Britain and Libya? Of course it was! Obviously nothing formal was written down on paper. It will never be officially confirmed or admitted to - there's more chance of Colonel Gadaffi appearing on the Just For Men adverts.
But it was so tranparently obvious from the moment I heard about Baron Mandelson peeling his reptilian frame off his Corfu sunbed to have dinner (was guacamole served, you wonder?) with Colonel Gadaffi's son.
What other conclusion could you possibly draw? The agonising drip of details has titillated the news-dry media for weeks, but the essential realpolitik of a tradeoff has been blindingly obvious from the start. Money talks, especially in the current economic climate. Its just that no one in officaldom could ever admit it.
The showy pomposity of the Scottish justice minister like an actor on his first night revelling in the novelty of the drama and attention, was absurd to the point of hilarity. His metaphorical waving of the Scottish flag of 'compassionate values' was laughably over holy and delusionary. The SNP were just being used and when you hear Alex Salmond comparing the release of a terrorist to that of Nelson Mandela you know its time to reach for the smelling salts.
Gordon Brown is quite possibly the only man on earth who can manage to make Tony Blair sound like the really 'pretty straight kinda guy' he so obviously wasn't before he ran off into the lucrative arms of JP Morgan for £2 million. Brown just runs away from things which are awkward, he squirms and wriggles. Politically, he is living proof that all bullies happen to be cowards themselves.
Who knows, maybe Colonel Gadaffi, a man protected by a team of all female bodyguards, could teach Crash Gordon a thing or two about trusting women in positions of real power. Maybe Hazel Blears and her bleating sisters would like to do a work exchange.
Now we know what great pals they are, perhaps Gordon Brown could take a prolonged vacation in Gadaffi's desert tent. Who knows, he might even be able to take his tie off and dress down. It might help to keep him cool if Gadaffi feels the need to let off some unpleasant wind, as he once famously and noisily did in the middle of a TV interview. There seems to be quite a lot of unpleasant wind around at the moment.

Afghanistan: Why?

Drip, drip, drip. Another news headline snippet. Another soldier killed to tally on to the grim statistics of an unwanted, unwinnable and faraway war in a country very few people have any knowledge of and even fewer understand intimately.
The politicians shower us with self-preserving 'we will still prevail' bluster and bombast, talking up the 'positives', smearing critics as unpatriotic and assuring us the war will be won. And you find yourself thinking, what on earth do these silver tongued, smooth talking men in suits actually know about the realities of life inside Afghanistan?
History? What does that matter, they seem to be saying, as they seek to righteously justify imposing our ways of life on people in another country, often by dropping bombs on them. Gordon Brown trots out his draw droppingly (no pun needed, just watch him) perfunctory and synthetic platitudes expressing regret and sorrow with every dead body that comes back.
But can he answer the question: would he himself go out there to sacrifice his life if he had to? Would he send any of his family? Don't put a Scottish six pound note on it!
And why exactly are we fighting in Afghanistan? What for? What is the concrete aim? And why are we trying to do it on the cheap? Is it to do no more than serve alliances of convenience?
Are we really fighting to prop up Hamid Karzai? Hardly a beacon of outstandingly open, accountable, representative and uncorrupt government is he? He barely leaves his own fortified palace and relies on murky deals with warlords to keep him where he is. Corruption is rife. His brother is a major player in the opium trafficking trade. The boast of democracy is a hollow one when it comes with stuffed ballot boxes, bribes and voter intimidation.
Are we really fighting to 'keep our streets safe', as the well-used, cliched and deeply misleading slogan keeps being patronisingly trotted out by government lackeys? I hardly think so. Last time I looked, I don't think the Taliban were about to invade the country any time soon. The threat they pose to our way of life is virtually zero, only slightly more marginal than that posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (still looking for those are we, George in your Hummer with your sniffer dog Tony along for the ride?)
Are we fighting to impose a way of life on another country? Are we that arrogant and superior that we think everyone else should live we do? Sure the Taliban are nasty to women, but then so are lots of other countries, including our own country if you listen to a Harriet Harman lecture, sorry interview.
Do we now have the right to go around the world starting wars in any country where we think people are treated badly? Maybe some (deluded and egotistical) people in power would like to do that from their Whitehall armchairs, but any sensible sane-minded person knows it can't be done. The right decisions can only be made by listening to people.
So there we are, marooned in an inhospitable desert, foreign intruders and invaders expending blood and money just to advance a few more miles of land. Neither fully committed nor fully realistic, it is the worst of all worlds.
Of course the soldiers are brave and professional. It is the politicians who are the problem. It is not unreasonable to suggest that every defence secretary from Geoff Hoon onwards has been nothing short of casually callous and calculatingly disgraceful. Thats John Reid, Des Kelly, John Hutton and now finally...Give Bob-a-Job Ainsworth. There's so many duplicitous non-entities I lose count.
And this roll-in, roll-out turnover is rather revealing for the regard in which this critical position is held. Like so much of New Labour, the grand overeaching ambition and the elaborate shell of rhetoric is there, but inside the shell is just a big hollow echo of hot fetid air.
Perhaps if we were a bit smarter in understanding who the enemy really are in Afghanistan, what fuels, motivates and sustains them, then maybe things would be a little better. Afterall, who would ever go into a battle or a war without properly understanding the enemy? Well OK, quite a lot of people, particularly those with surnames Rumsfeld and Cheney.
Surely it would be one of the very first things you'd seek to do, undertand something about the country before you plunge in all guns blazing and preaching morality. Then again, the arrogance and hubris of political egos should never be understimated. The adrenaline of power has inflated them to make them more fireproof than most of the British military vehicles. Being devious and evasive is how you survive in top level politics.
Perhaps if the politicians were capable of displaying more humility, sincerity and honesty, things might be slightly easier to take. But then, of course, they are politicians, meddling Labour ones, obsessed to the point of paranoia about manipulating the headlines and neglective to the point of calculating ruthlessness about people dying for a transparently unnecessary and pointless cause.
Don't expect any sorry's or mea culplas anytime soon. But do expect more pointless deaths and life-ruining injuries for nother reason other than the career preservation of politicians. Good people dying for rotten people's mistakes, its all too sadly familiar isn't it?
And I wonder what the odds are on Lord Mandelson ending up on the payroll of one of the big oil companies this time next year when he becomes unemployed.