Archive for December, 2006

Bush and Somalia.

December 30, 2006

While a great deal of attention has been given to the Bush administration’s activities in Iraq, the administration itself has been making mischief in the places around the world other than Iraq 

In Somalia, for instance, it has been supporting the transitional government in its efforts to topple the popular Islamic Courts Union which six months ago brought to Somalia the first peace and stability it had experienced in sixteen years. Now, though both Ethiopia and the US are denying it, it appears that the Bush administration has sponsored the recent Ethiopian military invasion of Somalia. 

This is how the successful invasion was portrayed by Los Angeles Times staff writer Edmund Sanders on December the 29th 

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — The headline in an Ethiopian newspaper drew familiar, if unflattering, comparisons to another nation’s faster-than expected victory in a war abroad.

“Mission Accomplished,” blared Addis Ababa‘s Daily Monitor in a story about Ethiopian forces’ triumph over Somalian Islamists this week.

In 2003, the same phrase adorned a banner behind President Bush as he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, though the battles and bloodshed proved far from over.

Just as the Iraq invasion has divided Americans, Ethiopians are split over their government’s decision to get involved in Somalia‘s brewing civil war by sending troops across the border.

After just a week of fighting, Ethiopian troops have enabled Somalia‘s transitional government to gain control of a vast swath of southern Somalia that had been seized by the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union over the last six months. By Thursday morning, Ethiopian and Somalian government troops had reached the outskirts of the capital city, Mogadishu, with Islamic forces there apparently having disappeared into the populace.

Ethiopian leaders are calling the military intervention a smart preemptive strike against the spread of religious extremism in the Horn of Africa. They say the world should thank Ethiopia for defeating a coalition of militant Islamists that U.S. officials have accused of having links to terrorists, including Al Qaeda.   

The Prime Minister, Meles Zenwai, who heads a dictatorial regime in Ethopia, has strongly denied that U.S. soldiers or weapons were being used in any battles, though he noted that Washington and Addis Ababa have a long-standing agreement to share intelligence.

“We are not fighting anybody’s war,” Meles said. “We are fighting to defend ourselves.” Meles said that during a visit this month by U.S. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East had advised against a Somalia invasion. “He shared his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with us, and he indicated that we have, to the maximum extent possible, to avoid direct military intervention in Somalia,” Meles said.

That is certainly not the opinion of Salim Lone, who was UN spokesman in Iraq  in 2003 and is now a columnist of the Daily News Kenya. In his comment is free column in today’s edition of The Guardian, he writes:

Undeterred by the horrors and disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With US backing, Ethiopian troops have invaded Somalia in an illegal war of aggression.

But this brazen US-sponsored bid to topple the popular Islamists who had brought Somalia its first peace and security in 16 years has already begun to backfire. Looting has forced the transitional government to declare a state of emergency. Clan warlords, who had terrorised Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists this year, have begun carving up the city once again. And the African Union, which helped create the transitional government, has called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from the country, as did Kenya, a close US and Ethiopian ally.

//////  

And Lone goes on to scrutinize the real motives behind the
US sponsorship.

As with Iraq in 2003, the US has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism. The real goal of course is to gain a direct foothold in another highly strategic and oil rich region by installing a client regime in Somalia. TheUS had already been violating the UN arms embargo on Somalia by supporting the warlords who drove out the UN peace-keepers in 1993 by killing 18 US soldiers, in order to push out the Islamists. That effort failed and an Ethiopian invasion remained the only way to oust a group with popular support. All independent experts warned against such a war, saying it would destabilise the region.

His conclusion is that the US has once again made a fundamental error of judgment.

The US has every right to be concerned about terror. But the best anti-dote to terrorism in Somalia is stability, which the Union of Islamic Courts provided. The Islamists have strong public support, which has grown in the face of US and Ethiopian interventions. As in other Muslim-western conflicts, the way to secure peace is to engage with the Islamists to ensure that they have no reason to turn to terror.

That’s a lesson Bush never listens to.

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Bush and Saddam’s execution.

December 30, 2006

This is how the San Jose Mercury News, with a little help from Associated Press, has reported George Bush’s reactions to the execution of Saddam Hussein.

President Bush said Friday that Saddam Hussein’s execution marks the “end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops” and cautioned that his death will not halt the violence in Iraq.

Yet, Bush said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas, “it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.”

In a message of assurance to the people of Iraq, Bush said the execution was a reminder of how far the Iraqi people have come since the end of Saddam’s rule.

“The progress they have made would not have been possible without the continued service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

Bush, who has spent weeks crafting a new U.S. policy in Iraq, warned of more challenges for U.S. troops.

“Many difficult choices and further sacrifices lie ahead,” he said. “Yet the safety and security of the American people require that we not relent in ensuring that Iraq‘s young democracy continues to progress.”

Is it my imagination, or does Bush now soundlike a man who is getting increasingly desperate to believe in his own rhetoric? “The American people require that we not relent” What, as they say in prevailing parlance, is that all about? That’s certainly not George Bush speaking.  It’s probably some speechwriter attempt to make him sound as though he is still making some contribution to America’s manifest destiny. And, boy, oh boy, does it sound hollow?

Gerald Ford speaks – too late.

December 29, 2006

According to Bob Woodward’s article in today’s Washington Post, former president of the United States Gerald Ford said that he would not have gone to war in Iraq. In an interview given to Woodward in July 2004, on the strict understanding it would not be published until after his death, the former president said he did not think he would have gone to war, saying that he would have made greater efforts to find alternative ways of dealing with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

“I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.” 

Rumsfeld, and Cheney and the the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”………………………………………………………………………

…………………“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

As all three men criticised played important roles in the Ford own administration, and as they all considered themselves to be close friends of his, it is very unlikely that this criticism will go down well anybody. He says of Cheney:

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell‘s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

It may be that Ford can say, like Othello, that he has “done the state some service”. My own belief is that he has done it a very great disservice by not speaking more openly and frankly when there was a chance that his opinions might have made some difference.

Did they need IPP reports for that?

December 28, 2006

This rather remarkable piece was published in yesterday’s edition of The Guardian.

In two reports, the Institute of Public Policy Research joins union calls for compulsory standard assessment tests (Sats) at the end of key stage two and three to be abolished and replaced largely by a system of continuing teacher assessment. But it also argues for new measures to make schools and teachers accountable. The IPPR says too many schools are “teaching to the test” in an effort to boost their standing in league tables. Such short tests in the key subjects lead to “unreliable results”.

What is really remarkable about this is not that the IPP has come with the recommendation it has, but that this government needs an IPP report to tell it what the educational experts and people with experience of what is actually happening in schools have been saying all along. The fact the practice of   “teaching to the test” was widespread has been very well known for a long time.

Here is the late Ted Wragg writing for The Guardian in 2003.

The Sats industry makes education dreary and mechanical, and their influence on the curriculum is dangerously narrowing, as schools in city areas feel pressed into drilling children to death, too terrified about their low league-table position to innovate. The league tables should also be abolished. They tell virtually nothing about the quality of teaching in a school, and simply perpetuate and extend social polarization.

I suppose that Wragg’s relationship with the government was such that it was always on the cards that said government would ignore as much as it could of what he had to say on any given subject.

Did they need IPP reports for that?

December 28, 2006

This rather remarkable piece was published in yesterday’s edition of The Guardian.

In two reports, the Institute of Public Policy Research joins union calls for compulsory standard assessment tests (Sats) at the end of key stage two and three to be abolished and replaced largely by a system of continuing teacher assessment. But it also argues for new measures to make schools and teachers accountable. The IPPR says too many schools are “teaching to the test” in an effort to boost their standing in league tables. Such short tests in the key subjects lead to “unreliable results”.

What is really remarkable about this is not that the IPP has come with the recommendation it has, but that this government needs an IPP report to tell it what the educational experts and people with experience of what is actually happening in schools have been saying all along. The fact the practice of   “teaching to the test” was widespread has been very well known for a long time.

Here is the late Ted Wragg writing for The Guardian in 2003.

The Sats industry makes education dreary and mechanical, and their influence on the curriculum is dangerously narrowing, as schools in city areas feel pressed into drilling children to death, too terrified about their low league-table position to innovate. The league tables should also be abolished. They tell virtually nothing about the quality of teaching in a school, and simply perpetuate and extend social polarization.

I suppose that Wragg’s relationship with the government was such that it was always on the cards that said government would ignore as much as it could of what he had to say on any given subject.

Helping Hazel.

December 27, 2006

hazel-o-connor_edited-copy.jpg

Yesterday as I was rummaging through some CDs I have in the racks, looking for things that I’d acquired and had not ever listened to, or at least not listened to in a very long time, I came across something that was a bit of a surprise. There, sitting on the shelf, among my collection of Hazel O’Connor (see blogroll right) albums,  was her the 2003 album A Singular Collection: the best of Hazel O’Connor, (Invisible Hands Music), an album which I’d got hold of when it was launched, and the only album, as it turns out, on which the names of Mohamed Al Fayed – he wrote the sleeve note –and Kevin Cryan – as one of the __Photo by Tim Jarvis________ many “good” who, according to Hazel, “have gone beyond the call of duty to help me” – are ever likely to appear together. 

It’s always flattering to find oneself being numbered among the “good”, but I’m not at fully all persuaded that I have ever gone beyond the call of duty to help Hazel, or indeed that I’ve done anything to merit having my name included in her listing. 

I have in the past, I will acknowledge, written a favourable review of one of her shows, Beyond the Breaking Glass, for The Irish Post , but then I did that merely because I thought the show, contrary to my own expectations, was first-rate. I’ll now quite readily come clean and say that before I agreed to submit my piece I’d  come to an agreement with the commissioning editor that if the show warranted an unfavourable review, I’d not be the one submitting it.

This, I’ll grant, might be seen as a somewhat spineless stance, but at the time I felt that if I did not have some form of safeguard, as there was a very strong possibility that I would have to have to write some very unkind things about a friend whose work I generally admired. The very thought of seeing the type of show Hazel was putting on, an autobiographical piece about the ups and downs of life in showbiz, generally fills me with dread, and the fact that a friend is staging it does nothing make me any more tolerant in this regard.

More often than not, such shows, because they are narcissistically self-indulgent, turn out to be dreadful in the extreme and by and large fully deserving of every critical drubbing they get. This risk of my having to give Hazel’s show a critical pasting was, I calculated, too high not to be avoided.

I’m writing as though my name features prominently on this album sleeve, and in fact it doesn’t. The truth is that I myself have had the album for just over three years, and that yesterday, when I was idly looking through the long list for names for someone that I’d recognize, was the very first time it registered with me that it was there. 

All this got me thinking about whether or not I should be doing more to help Hazel along. As I listened again to some of her songs that have given me great pleasure of years – songs such as Will You, Driftwood, Thinkin’ About You and the very haunting Rebecca, it struck me very forcibly that if I had not already gone beyond the call of duty to help her, and I’m still unconvinced that I have, then there are still  some very excellent reasons for my making every effort to do so in the future.   

The wonders of the web.

December 23, 2006

John Naughton (see his blogroll on the right) posted this to his online diary late yesterday:

Guitar virtuosity

I’m slow on the uptake — which is why I’m only the 11,940,745th person to discover this, but it’s terrific. An anonymous kid playing an amazing set of variations on Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major 

I’m even slower on the uptake – 27,858 more people had discovered the site before I got there.  Boy, oh boy, those are pretty mind-blowing figures when you think about them.

Imagine what would happen if the guy were to collect just 1 penny per hit. It would certainly beat busking.  

Why did the BBC apologise to the government in January 2004?

December 22, 2006

Speaking at a freedom of information tribunal, the colourful former director general of the BBC Greg Dyke said that way that the broadcaster had apologized to the government for its reporting on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was “embarrassing and unjustified”  “It was, he said, “a betrayal of what the BBC stood for”   

Dyke, supporting an application by The Guardian newspaper and open government campaigner Heather Brooke to have the minutes of the extraordinary meeting took took place almost immediately after the publication of the Hutton report which had been very critical BBC’s reporting.

The meeting had resulted in the dismissal of Mr. Dyke, a sycophantic and craven apology to the government, and the BBC’s then chairman Gavyn Davies tendering his resignation. 

Mr Dyke said he’d like to know how, after that meeting of governors, which took place on January 28 2004, the BBC’s acting chairman, Lord Ryder, on the very next day felt it necessary to apologise to the government.

“At some stage during that day [January 29] Lord Ryder stood up and made this rather embarrassing, as it turned out to be, apology on behalf of the BBC to the government,” he said.

“At some stage the governors took that decision to make that apology, it would be quite interesting to know when they made that decision.” 

 “Someone at some stage took that decision … they clearly cleared the statement with Downing Street before it was made. I thought at the time it was a betrayal of all the BBC stands for.”

For the past 18 months, the BBC has been refusing to publish the minutes of the 28th of January 2004 meeting on the grounds  that governors would feel uneasy about giving their true opinions at meetings if they believed the what they said, or were minuted as having said, would later be made public.

Mr. Dyke, supporting The Guardian, told the tribunal: “My argument would be that the governors’ minutes as a matter of course should not be public …..” 

“But we are talking about a unique day in the history of the BBC here, where the chairman resigned, where the director general was asked to resign by the board of governors and the board of governors took a decision to make an abject apology to the government the following day, an apology we later learned from the [later] Butler report [Butler report.pdf] was in no way justified.”

The hearing continues. Watch this space. It will be interesting to see whether or not the BBC is as lily-livered now as it was then. ____________________________________________________

P.S.

We have to ask ourselves what people who are afraid to have their opinions made publicare doing on the board of governors of the BBC in the first place. But that is another issue. 

P.P.S

Here’s how the the contentious apology was being reported on the BBC’s own website.

Why did the BBC apologise to the government in January 2004?

December 22, 2006

Speaking at a freedom of information tribunal, the colourful former director general of the BBC Greg Dyke said that way that the broadcaster had apologized to the government for its reporting on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was “embarrassing and unjustified”  “It was, he said, “a betrayal of what the BBC stood for”   

Dyke, supporting an application by The Guardian newspaper and open government campaigner Heather Brooke to have the minutes of the extraordinary meeting took took place almost immediately after the publication of the Hutton report which had been very critical BBC’s reporting.

The meeting had resulted in the dismissal of Mr. Dyke, a sycophantic and craven apology to the government, and the BBC’s then chairman Gavyn Davies tendering his resignation. 

Mr Dyke said he’d like to know how, after that meeting of governors, which took place on January 28 2004, the BBC’s acting chairman, Lord Ryder, on the very next day felt it necessary to apologise to the government.

“At some stage during that day [January 29] Lord Ryder stood up and made this rather embarrassing, as it turned out to be, apology on behalf of the BBC to the government,” he said.

“At some stage the governors took that decision to make that apology, it would be quite interesting to know when they made that decision.” 

 “Someone at some stage took that decision … they clearly cleared the statement with Downing Street before it was made. I thought at the time it was a betrayal of all the BBC stands for.”

For the past 18 months, the BBC has been refusing to publish the minutes of the 28th of January 2004 meeting on the grounds  that governors would feel uneasy about giving their true opinions at meetings if they believed the what they said, or were minuted as having said, would later be made public.

Mr. Dyke, supporting The Guardian, told the tribunal: “My argument would be that the governors’ minutes as a matter of course should not be public …..” 

“But we are talking about a unique day in the history of the BBC here, where the chairman resigned, where the director general was asked to resign by the board of governors and the board of governors took a decision to make an abject apology to the government the following day, an apology we later learned from the [later] Butler report [Butler report.pdf] was in no way justified.”

The hearing continues. Watch this space. It will be interesting to see whether or not the BBC is as lily-livered now as it was then. ____________________________________________________

P.S.

We have to ask ourselves what people who are afraid to have their opinions made publicare doing on the board of governors of the BBC in the first place. But that is another issue. 

P.P.S

Here’s how the the contentious apology was being reported on the BBC’s own website.

Verdicts of US and British foreign policy

December 20, 2006

Here are the opening paragraphs of writer and academic Timothy Garton Ash’s assessment of Bush administration’s Middle East policy which was published in the Comment & Debate columns of The Guardian on Thursday the 14th of December.

What an amazing bloody catastrophe. The Bush administration’s policy towards the Middle East over the five years since 9/11 is culminating in a multiple train crash. Never in the field of human conflict was so little achieved by so great a country at such vast expense. In every vital area of the wider Middle East, American policy over the last five years has taken a bad situation and made it worse.

If the consequences were not so serious, one would have to laugh at a failure of such heroic proportions – rather in the spirit of Zorba the Greek who, contemplating the splintered ruins of his great project, memorably exclaimed: “Did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?” But the reckless incompetence of Zorba the Bush has resulted in the death, maiming, uprooting or impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children – mainly Muslim Arabs but also Christian Lebanese, Israelis and American and British soldiers. By contributing to a broader alienation of Muslims it has also helped to make a world in which, as we walk the streets of London, Madrid, Jerusalem, New York or Sydney, we are all, each and every one of us, less safe. Laugh if you dare…..

Hot on the heels of this unmerciful piece on Bush comes the Chatham House verdict on Blair’s handling of foreign policy. Chatham House, one of the world’s leading organizations for the analysis of international issues, says that although Blair had some qualified successes in his early years – years during which he and Bill Clinton were close – his performance in the years post-9/11 – years in which he has been tied to Bush’s coattails – has not been been impressive at all

As Tony Blair approaches the tenth anniversary of his election victory, and his final year in power, this paper assesses the impact of these, and other, events and concludes that a more nuanced relationship with the United States will be a requirement for Blair’s successor.

  • Although Tony Blair did not express much interest in foreign policy before becoming prime minister, in Labour’s first term it must be judged a qualified success. A key feature was Blair’s ability to demonstrate Britain’s European credentials while forging a close working relationship with President Clinton.
  • The post-9/11 decision to invade Iraq was a terrible mistake and the current débâcle will have policy repercussions for many years to come.
  • The root failure of Tony Blair’s foreign policy has been its inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice – military, political and financial – that the United Kingdom has made. Tony Blair’s successor(s) will not be able to offer unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy and a rebalancing of the UK’s foreign policy between the US and Europe will have to take place.
  •    

    It was John Naughton’s Blog (see Blogroll right) that drew may attention to the Chatham House report. As always, he has a good eye for the interesting. Here’s the full report in PDF form.