Tuesday, February 21, 2006

BLOG WATCH Episode 3 Harry's Place


Less of a blog and more of a Leviathan for the Modern Liberal Consensus is Harry’s Place. This website is administered by a handful of contacts and carries frequent rolling missives. The site also allows for a combative, much visited comments section.

HP's particular need is to shore up left wing support for US / UK foreign Policy. Superficially draping itself in liberal socialist rhetoric, the site pairs poor quality analysis with damning invective. Harry's bloggers follow the trends of educated liberals like Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm, producing arguments which hinge on a series of easily dismissable false dichotomies.

HP's frame of historical reference appears to date back to the mid 90's (after the rise of doyen Tony Blair). This is an imagined year zero purged of old Tory and Labour reactionaries, where the lessons of the past have no bearing. Falling for the seductive patter which promoted a market friendly Third Way, this liberal generation decided that the chief enemies of global democracy were in fact a loose collection of powerless leftists, whilst turning a blind eye to the disastrous impact of previous Western machinations.

HP paints a picture of the idealistic Blair, fresh from the perceived humanitarian triumph of his tour of duty in the Balkans, seeking a new crusade. Emerging from the desert our hero encounters a totalitarian and genocidal Middle East. Vicious state systems have developed out of the blue, taking root from the Mediterranean, across the anarchic badlands of Terror all the way to the Arabian Sea. For HP the dichotomy is simple, the virgin power of the West should be deployed to cleanse the region of tyranny, to oppose this enterprise is reactionary at best and traitorous at worst.

In truth, of course they call for more Western intervention in an area long ravaged, corrupted and subverted by Western intervention. Blair is merely following older footprints in the desert sand going back to the Edwardian era. To suggest that the administrations of the US / UK have had a Damascus style rebirth defies belief and evidence. Besides, regardless of supposed lofty motives, the unpredictable ongoing trauma of war traditionally debases any noble posturings that such ventures espouse. Events have a way of spiralling out of control, and they did during the first British adventure in the region. Whilst the advocates of war enter an ever-degrading cycle, justifying more and more heinous crimes.

It is clear from anyone who claims to support human rights from the so-called Left, Libertarian or Socialist that one would have had no option but denounce that Iraqi policy. Genuine sympathisers with the Iraqi cause would have campaigned to nurture the legitimate grassroots, unified revolution outlined by Jalal Talabani before the invasion. Pointedly, Talabani and others accused US intervention of being an obstacle to an overthrow. Talabani repeatedly called for US policy to support an uprising "politically, financially and morally" and pleaded with the superpower not to oppose them. Talabani realised that "outside conspiracies cannot liberate Iraq, we believe that active oppositions should emanate from the homeland and should be ready for democratic changes in the Iraqi nation and not be a tool of outside conspiracies whether it is American or others."

The vast financial expense of the present occupation throws Talabani's 1999 outline into stark relief, exposing how single minded the Bush administration were in guaranteeing a stake in future Iraqi proceedings. It would have cost a fraction of the price to support an autonomous and considerably less destructive overthrow of Hussein by unified Iraqi groups including the military (a viable option that Talabani visualised). Paul Wolfowitz outwardly opined such a strategy in 1998 but it was critically undermined by a resolve for the United States to be "ready to defend the Iraqi opposition with overwhelming force".Wolfowitz revealed his true motives stating of France and Russia that "instead of lucrative oil production contracts with the Saddam Hussein regime, they would now have to calculate the economic and commercial opportunities that would come from ingratiating themselves with the future government of Iraq." In other words we were to witness yet another episode in the Great Game and yet more dangerous meddling.

Surely those at Harry's Place understand that US planners simply would not allow genuine autonomous decision making in Iraq because it was in direct conflict with their stated strategic objectives. Hence the decision to reject requests for merely "moral and political" support, and instead embark on an aggressive unilateral strategy. US policy makers were prepared to tolerate huge casualties on all sides to retain the controlling hand in Iraq's affairs. Pre-war risk assessors using the corporate model concluded that regardless of the traumatic consequences, the economic and strategic benefits would far outweigh these costs.

Meanwhile, having been elevated to President of Iraq by these circumstances, Talabani now desperately stresses Iraqi unity and "principled compromise" whilst making hopeful predictions of US /UK troop withdrawal. As Iraqi life collapses ever further into an abyss of violence, caught between numerous warring factions and the world's largest superpower, Talabani is essentially making the best of an impossible job in a situation that he didn't ask for.

HP's self styled left wing instincts must be significantly hampered not to recognise the enterprise in these terms. And it takes effort for such proflic writers on the Iraqi occupation to ignore Iraqi voices such as these, these, these and these.

It seems Harry's team have forgotten the famous paradigm of US Army Major General Smedley Butler when he concluded in 1935 after thirty-three years in active service that he spent most of his time "being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." If the bloggers from HP believe that Butler's lament is no longer relevant, and that his age-old narrative has inexplicably ceased, then they may need to prepare for a long future of contrition.

Harry's Place also rails against what they describe as middle-eastern "islamofacism" in all its protean forms. Again the analysis is poor often confusing Islamist movements with its middle eastern rival, Arab Nationalism. Whilst Jihadist movements have no place in any democratic future HP fails to understand the factors which fed such politics.

For many inhabitants of what amounted to a subservient feudal world the post-war World Order was constructed to subdue their interests. By the time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 almost all Muslim-majority regions were either violently consumed or repressed by proxy at the hands of larger foreign powers. Various Arabic movements attempting to redress this balance have come and gone to little avail. As the secular Pan-Arabism of Nasser failed to deliver emancipation that movement deteriorated, throwing up an array of increasingly repressive regimes steering a line back towards Foreign interests.

Such failures were the breeding ground for the oppositional Islamist movement. A lurch towards appealing reactionary ideologies is a typical consequence of marginalised populations reduced to economic squalor with no legitimate political route. No one would doubt, for instance that the bizarre Nation of Islam (unrelated) ideology which developed amongst some African-Americans in the last century was in large part a reaction to years of social and economic oppression. Yet those at Harry's Place would have us treat middle eastern Islamism as a spontaneous and inexplicable explosion of hate, with no reference to what Muslim Brotherhood figurehead Sayyid Qutb described as "the guilt he felt when he realised that there were people in his immediate environment who were very poor, living dreadful lives". It is as though Khomeini's Iran or the Afghani Taliban sprung from the earth like menacing monoliths freezing over what were once peaceful havens, rather than being the grotesque backlashes to years of foreign mismanagement that they truely were.

Many mainstream middle-eastern muslims are now democratically opting for Islamic solutions, Clerical rule has returned to Iran, Hamas triumph in Palestine whilst Grand Ayatolla Al Sistani is to rule by proxy in Iraq. Only fools would deny that this increasing Islamism is in response to present US policy. Islam is now being viewed as the only road towards freedom from foreign intervention, not just by a handful of Egyptian fanatics but by large sections of the global community. Throughout history such policies have pushed populations into cycles of behaviour we find find increasingly abhorrent. And throughout history the focus is predictably on the abhorrence and never on the policies.

It may already be too late to counter an increasingly irate Muslim minority with reasoned reconciliatory gestures, that ultra-violent genie seems out of the bottle now. But the fault for this tragedy lies with successive Foreign policies, not leftist show-ponies like George Galloway. As with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the only policy from the West that can bring genuine liberty is one which altruistically supports emancipation "morally and politically" from afar and does not repeatedly obstruct that process with unilateral interventionism. Rather than braying at the likes of John Pilger or Robert Fisk shouldn't HP be mobilising their readers to demand this from our policy makers?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

BLOG WATCH Episode 2 Steven Pollard

Second in the series of Dobber's Blog Watch picks up on the site of former young Conservative turned influential Labour advisor turned journalist and blogger Steven Pollard (left). Here is his blog.

Pollard is paid by the Times Newspaper, The Daily Telegraph and other journals to present intellectual arguments promoting various corporate interests in society. He is also paid by Exxon Mobil amongst others via a role at the think tank Centre for the New Europe to promote pro-market options to government. Like Mark Leonard, Pollard is paid via think tanks to represent Corporations. He has two roles (1) to persuade Government to act in favour of minority corporations over majority public interest (2) to persuade public opinion to tolerate this imbalance.

Pollard's particular brief is to focus on the privatisation of Public Healthcare systems for the benefit of private corporate shareholders. He is paid in this capacity by drugs companies such as Big Pharma (see page 2 of document). Pollard writes in mainstream newspapers, attempting to manipulate intellectual opinion on this issue. Here are samples from 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Pollard has been described by the BBC as 'Britain's most prolific columnist'

Steven's blog however is a different animal. He takes on a vast swathe of subjects, occasionally blogging throughout the day. Unlike the concealed agenda of other online New Labour propagandists, Pollard's blog is refreshingly forthright, although professing to "come from the left" his views span the Neo-Liberal Consensus from Blairite to American Right. In this piece Pollard discusses with peers "over wine and canapés" their noble mission to "rid the world of tyranny and to give all people the liberty as we enjoy in the West. " A fervent supporter of the Iraq occupation, Pollard takes repeated issue with it's opponents. Although on this matter Pollard typically rails against the intellectual "Left" of the West, rather than challenge genuine opposition from the people of Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the critical voices of Iraqi spokesmen, even that of President Talabani are conspicuously ignored in these discussions, largely rendering Pollard's points flawed and disingenuous.

As a paid benefactor of Rupert Murdoch's News International Pollard uses a vast amount of space criticising and attacking the public-funded institution, the BBC. Pollard describes the corporation as a "a grotesque waste of public money" and repeatedly attempts to identify the corporation's "endemic Bias" in it's coverage of the Middle East. (Although serious studies present an entirely contradictory conclusion). Veteran Independent journalist Robert Fisk is another regular recipient of Pollards ire. Pollard claims Fisk indulges in "anti-American hyperbole", and at various points describes the journalist as an "odious lunatic" as "gruesome" with "repellent logic" who is "condoning murder". Pollard is unable to counter Fisks large body of journalistic work with genuine analysis and restricts himself to brief epithets.

There's a sense that Pollard is trying to ape the concerns and agenda of the hugely active American Right, his blog carries typical diligent support of the State of Israel. Pollard declares himself a British Zionist Crusader and has printed T-Shirts baring that slogan to give away to fellow travellers (One can presume that Pollard's understanding of the term Zionism excludes the Marxist foundations of the movement). Pollard peppers his articles with jargon he's learnt from the American Blogsphere, criticisms such as "Moonbat" and "Useful Idiot" (catchall terms to describe those who deviate from a Bush / Blair agenda) come direct from partisan sites like Little Green Footballs and Front page Magazine.

One can only conclude that Pollard is a man who doesn't take his own ideas seriously. His chief role is to represent his corporate clients by proxy and this is providing him with enough money to see "pretty much everything produced by the royal opera". Pollard jovially ticks all the right boxes and tub-thumps with gusto, but he often comes across as someone trying to prove his credentials to his masters, singing the slogans without really understanding what they mean or what real impact they have. The problematic realities of Iraqi life or a local UK communities relationship with it's public services are unlikely to be serious concerns to a man who boasts of missions to discover the finest restaurant in the world (concluding his search in California devouring "Ballotine of Mackerel").

SEE, WHAT HAPPENS IS THIS ...

If you’re a private Institution or Corporation and you want to influence UK foreign policy for the benefit of your shareholders, you need to pay the right people. These people can then get to work on a two pronged offensive. Firstly they must ensure that elected politicians are on board with your interests. Then they must set about manipulating public opinion to your way of thinking.

See, what happens is this…

Imagine you are say Nestle, BP International or Honda Motor Europe and you need UK foreign policy to serve your interests. The steps are as follows:

1) Contact the "Foreign Policy Centre" (FPC) and request to become a member. This membership scheme is open to senior members of Non-Governmental Organisations as well as the business and foreign policy community. Admittedly, the first class service provided is expensive and members of the FPC will pay large annual fees.


2) Having paid for membership to the FPC you are then able to participate in the "dialogue between policy makers and key stakeholders". The Centre runs a rich and varied events programme with representatives from think tanks, companies and government. You can interact with speakers who include Prime ministers, global corporate leaders, media executives and cultural entrepreneurs from around the world. Access to the FPC will give you access to such lumiaries as Tony Blair (patron) Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett.


3) Once you have mingled with the various appropriate Governmental officials, made various contacts and hopefully secured their loyalty, the FPC can begin to manipulate the wider community on your behalf. The institute can draw on a number of in-house or freelance orators to spread your word.
You could, for instance be represented by founder of the FPC, Mark Leonard (see pic). Leonard will provides his services by broadly promoting your corporate interests in relevant journals and newspapers. His work is essentially intellectual PR. Leonard writes regularly for the Guardian, Prospect magazine and many more journals and newspapers. He will justify the need for corporate control of public services, and question why "public debate focuses on vilifying corporations rather than exploring how their resources can be harnessed". Leonard will act as a sympathetic mouthpiece for your corporation and summarise your grievances. This is all to your advantage.


4) If the wider world still seems resistant to your interests the FPC will help co-ordinate new media channels. For instance, if your interests are reliant on UK foreign policy in the Arabic world then you can simply have your own news and media provided for you. This outlet is designed to look like conventional news, but is in fact propaganda on your behalf. These stories are designed to be packaged pieces that can be slotted directly into mainstream daily news programmes . However it is important that the background of Governmental and corporate sponsorship behind this "news" remains hidden and your stories are not uncovered as propaganda. As Mark Leonard wrote in 2002 "If a message will engender distrust simply because it is coming from a foreign government then the government should hide that fact as much as possible.".

Saturday, February 11, 2006

BLOG WATCH Episode 1 Mark Humphreys

The first in another occasional series, this time drawn from Dobber's rambling excursions into the outside blogosphere. Here Dobber will highlight various opinion blogs that have caught his eye.

Number One in this series comes from an Irishman named Mark Humphreys, whose wonderings "Writings on Politics and Religion" were apparently named "Best Overall Blog, Freedom Institute Irish Blog Awards 2005". Mark describes his blog as an "informal collection of links, information and opinion on religious, philosophical, political and other controversial topics". This should be wholeheartedly encouraged and digested. However Mark has enthusiastically created a bizarre skewered universe of clearly baseless irrational ideas despite spending considerable data-transfer usage castigating the rest of the world for just that.

Mark's world is "full of folly and brutality" where the "fundamental points remain that the west is the best part of planet earth - everywhere else is worse". We are guided through a labyrinth of links. He proves that America is the oldest democracy in the world and proudly states that although he is Irish he does not identify primarily with Ireland, or with Europe. He regards himself as a member of The Free World, and the U.S. military is his army. Mark rails against the traditional right wing bugbears of the media and Hollywood bemoaning that "The bad guys are never Islamists". Last year Mark bravely announced the French Intifada following the Paris riots and carefully compares notes with the non existence of riots by whites, Jews or Asians (non-Muslim) in the West over the last 40 years.

The site is a cornucopia of fantastically absurd and yet slightly disturbing logic. To openly challenge any of Mark's points with reason or rationale would seem churlish and fruitless, the site works best as a reverse catalyst for our internal development. By being confronted with such detailed wrong headedness it helps solidify genuine rational arguments and concepts. Tuck in.

Friday, February 10, 2006

WAR AND THE QUEST FOR OIL PT 2 Japan and United States 1941-5

The Battle for Indonesian Oil

Crude Oil was first extracted from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1885. The industry was subsequently developed by the Royal Dutch / Shell Group growing uninterrupted until the Second World War. With The Netherlands under German occupation, the US and Japan had rivalling intentions of exploiting the resource to serve their individual expanding ambitions. Whilst Japan had already implemented large-scale plans to control East China, the US had already exerted influence in the region having secured Guam and The Philippines at the turn of the century.

As tensions deepened in South East Asia between the two nations the US introduced a crippling oil and scrap iron embargo on Japan. They refused Japan further US oil exports and closed the Panama Canal to Atlantic trade. In a provocative gesture to enforce the embargo the US also moved it’s large Pacific Naval fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. With Japan’s burgeoning Empire heavily dependent on their dwindling oil reserves the government viewed these steps as a threat to the nation's survival. Japan's leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich Dutch territories of Indonesia to avert economic disaster.

Six months after the embargo was implemented the Japanese struck a devastating blow to the US naval fleet in Hawaii. Having temporarily neutralised the US threat Japan proceeded to occupy Indonesia and the oil resources until defeat and submission at the end of the war. The death toll in Japan was of course devastating. Following Japanese withdrawal Indonesia immediately declared independence, sparking further armed conflict when the Dutch attempted to regain control of the region. The United States pressured the Netherlands to surrender and by 1962 had sealed its influence over Indonesian exports under negotiated terms known as the "New York Agreement".

WAR AND THE QUEST FOR OIL PT 1 Nigerian Civil War 1967-70

Dobber unfurls the first in an occasional series! – brief thumbnail readings of combat scenarios through the lens of resource control. In particular incidents of combat that have involved a quest for oil. Dobber aims to look at a number of conflicts from around the globe since the 1940's to highlight the grim and violent historical consistency associated with exploitation of Oil.

Whilst almost all conflicts are historically rooted in a need to appropriate or consolidate resources it is pertinent in todays unstable climate of dwindling Oil reserves to reflect on the role the energy resource has played in previous violent disputes. If the past is read in this sense the future looks increasing dangerous. Alternative options must be sought to avoid an escalation of the horrors that have cost the lives of many millions.

The present day conflict in Iraq is in part a further extension of this "Great Game". The position here is consistent with the predictions of former US President Coolidge in 1924 that "It is even probable that the supremacy of nations may be determined by the possession of available petroleum and its products."

Another factor which is also consistent is the cloaking of the resource issue. As Dobber's series intends to suggest, the need for Oil as a catylist for combat has traditionally been concealed beneath more dramatic explanations. It is the one justification for war which remains unannounced. It is the Elephant in the room that everyone notices but no one brings themselves to mention.

Part One Nigerian Civil War 1967-70

Ethnic, religious and political differences were accelerated by the discovery of oil in the Biafran region of Nigeria in 1956. On May 27 1967 The military governor of the largely Christian Igbo population of Biafra, Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu declared the region a sovereign and independent republic. Soon, fighting broke out between federal Nigerian and Biafran forces with officers and politicians from the mainly Muslim North attempting to bring the delta oil fields back under greater Nigerian control.

Although being openly aided by Portugal and covertly assisted by France, Rhodesia and South Africa, Biafra was ravaged by the war. Despite attempts by the Organisation of African Unity to end the civil war hostilities continued until 1970. The new Biafran Republic lasted only three years. Amid the economic and military collapse, Ojukwu fled the country and the rest of the republic's territory was re-incorporated back into Nigeria. At least a million people are thought to have died in the conflict, mostly through starvation and illness. As current President Olusegun Obasanjo recently stated, "the Biafran war was caused by resource control".

Friday, January 13, 2006

CUBAN SOLIDARITY

Some interesting arguments have come Dobber's way concerning the human rights situation in Cuba. Following Dobber's focus on Castro's deteriorating human rights record. The old warhorse The General has responded with the below comments.

It may be worth considering the following factors:

1) Cuba has been subjected to an economic embargo by the USA since 1962 (after the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs).

2) Since it is normal in S America to be invaded (Panama, Nicaragua etc) or ousted by coups (Chile, Guatemala etc) when a government does not cooperate with US interests. If Castro wants to progress he needs to protect progress (future and established). If Castro had not been firm then he would join the list of Allende and others...(e.g. convenient failures much lamented in the West)

3) Is Castro the only repressive dictator in the region? If he is not then why hasn't the USA decided to put sanctions on other dictatorships?

4) Repression or destruction? Could it be possible that the USA should shoulder some of the blame? If the economic embargo did not exist and the USA was not fanatically opposed to governments who are socially progressive...then Castro would not need to be so repressive. In 2003 a precedent was set...Iraq was invaded...Cuba was mentioned as being a similar rogue state...Castro starts to act decisively...bingo he picks on dissidents...liberals in the West throw up their arms in horror!

5) Castro the dictator. I find this fact unpalatable. How can he allow total democracy when under siege. Be honest with yourself. What would happen? The well funded/US backed dissident movement in Miami would have a field day. Cuba would return to the normalcy the region. And I mean Haiti...(Worn torn, factionalised, impoverished, at the mercy of world markets....) Is this what you want for Cuba?

6) The solution. End the Embargo! Then end repression. The two are mutually exclusive.