Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gordon Brown: I will go on and on.

Gordon Brown is simply deluding himself if he thinks that he would get away with this:

GORDON BROWN is making secret plans to stay on as Labour leader after the general election even if his party is defeated.

The prime minister has told close colleagues that he will refuse to quit unless the Conservatives win a significant majority.

“Gordon has said he believes his enemies in the party are too divided among themselves to force him out,” said a senior Labour source.

“He thinks that if the May election is indecisive and if there is any prospect of a second election, Labour should not be plunged immediately into a messy leadership contest.

There is obviously no hard and fast rule which states that the leader of the Labour party has to stand down if his party loses the next election, but, when the subject of one's leadership has been as rigorously debated as Brown's has been, then he is being delusional if he thinks it would be possible to continue.

A hung parliament or a narrow victory for the Tories could result in Cameron calling a second general election within a short period to secure a better result.

Brown has told colleagues he believes it makes little sense for the Labour party to have a change of leadership if the political landscape is so uncertain.

The prime minister’s strategy is revealed amid mounting speculation about a hung parliament, with two polls this weekend showing a sharp narrowing of the Conservative lead.

I can see the logic of his argument, but there's simply no way that he wouldn't be overwhelmed with calls for him to stand down simply so another Labour leader might have time to prepare for such an outcome and enable Labour to face the Tories with a new person in charge.

And I say that as someone who thinks Brown is undeserving of much of the bad press that he receives.

Click here for full article.

The Evidence of Witness 69: Blair has shown himself more a fool than a liar.

Patrick Cockburn, in an article in today's Independent, touches on a similar point which I thought of the other day:

Iran, with its 900-mile border with Iraq, was bound to be a serious player post-Saddam because it was traditionally the Shia community's main foreign supporter. Moreover, Mr Blair, by going to war as an ally of President Bush, does not seem to have noticed that senior members of the Bush administration were openly demanding that victory in Iraq be followed by regime change in Tehran and Damascus. Not surprisingly, the Syrians and Iranians were determined to give the US and Britain enough trouble in Iraq to make sure they did not move on to the next stage.
It seems startling to me that Blair could actually state in public that he was surprised that Iran would not wish to assist, or at least to be more amenable towards the invaders. It was not in Iran's interests to do so, and it says something about the blindness of Blair's belief system and how, having convinced himself that he was engaged in a noble cause, that it simply never occurred to him that the Iranians wouldn't see things that way.

They were next in line for invasion - having been named part of the Axis of Evil - and for most of Bush's presidency Cheney and others were making noises about Iran being next. Yet Blair, because Iran and Iraq had fought a bitter war, simply assumed that the Iranians would be on the side of the coalition.

That's a simply astonishing naivety. But, Cockburn thinks that we are wrong to concentrate on Blair mendacity:
In trying to prove him mendacious, critics of Mr Blair underplay his incompetence.
He then lists the number of facts which Blair got wrong in front of the Chilcot Inquiry:

It was striking in Mr Blair's testimony that so many of his references to Iraq are inaccurate. In trying to prove some connection between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam's regime, he mentioned Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later head of the Iraqi branch of al-Qa'ida, as being in Iraq before Saddam was overthrown. He failed to mention that he was in a camp in Kurdistan in a part of the country not controlled by Saddam Hussein. He said Iran intervened in Iraq because it feared a Shia democracy on its doorstep. In fact, Iran supported the Shia government in Baghdad after it was elected in 2005, but opposed the presence of American and British forces.

This limited knowledge of Iraq on display last Friday is significant because it reflects the fantasy picture of the war Mr Blair increasingly produced after 2003. By 2006, he was denying that Iraq was convulsed by a sectarian civil war which finally led to 3,000 dead a month and the flight of two million refugees.

It is here that Cockburn and I split. I don't think it is a simple matter of Blair telling lies, as I don't think the truth matters to Blair very much at all. He acts and thinks like a lawyer; facts to Blair are malleable things to be used as ways to make an argument, as he tellingly revealed to Fern Britton:

"If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?" Blair was asked. He replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]".

Significantly, Blair added: "I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat."
I have long argued that Tony Blair's greatest gift was his ability to convince himself that he "sincerely believed" whatever was most politically expedient to him at any given moment in time. One can see this clearly in how he formulates his arguments.

For instance, Blair has long stated that the French were responsible for the Iraq invasion because they threatened to veto the second resolution. Now, the rest of the planet knows that the second resolution was the tool to start the war, but Blair argues that only with that resolution would Saddam have known that they were serious about invading and backed off, making the war avoidable. Hence, the blame lies with the French.

It is simply fantastical that Blair can have the brass neck to make such an argument in public, but Blair has managed to convince himself that this is true.

He can still make an argument that the war in Iraq was a good thing - as he said the other day, imagine Iraq in 2010 with a nuclear weapon and Saddam in charge - just as his Attorney General could make an argument that the war in Iraq was legal, but what Blair fails to grasp is that they are just that: arguments.

No-one seriously believed Goldsmith's case would actually stand up to the scrutiny of a court of law, not even Goldsmith himself believed that; but Blair seems to think that the argument itself is enough.

It's why he peppers his evidence with phrases like, "I know there are others who disagree, but I sincerely believe...."

Blair wants to inhabit a world where there are no facts, only opinions. Because facts are incontrovertible, and Blair prefers to live in a much more malleable environment. One in which the "sincerity" of one's beliefs justifies any action one takes based upon those beliefs. And as long as one can make an argument in favour of one's actions, even if others vehemently disagree, then one can justify any action.

It was what made him, at times, quite brilliant, but it was also what made him so terribly dangerous.


There also were times when Blair actually was mendacious, although, as I set out above, that was not what I regarded as his most troublesome attribute.

It's picked up here by The Sunday Observer, a newspaper I stopped buying at the time of the Iraq war because of it's support for that conflict, which I note today it describes as "a war that, with hindsight, it (The Observer) should have opposed."

In a most disingenuous passage of testimony, Mr Blair said he ought to have corrected some exaggerated media claims about the WMD threat, but paid them little heed at the time. Nonsense. Downing Street had powerful machinery for influencing public opinion. It was set full throttle to win support for war.

Therein lies a source of anger that Mr Blair cannot grasp. The offence was not believing faulty intelligence, it was the tendentious presentation of information to secure a political objective, as if the act of sending soldiers to invade another country could be managed like some public sector initiative.

Blair, just as Campbell did when he appeared in front of the inquiry, would have us believe that the "45 minute" claim was an unimportant detail which they paid scant attention to.

This is nonsense. One of the things which was most transparent in the build up to the war was that our government had began to engage in the task of selling that war to us. To that end, they removed caveats from the intelligence and told us only things which they knew might scare us into agreeing to the war. The 45 minute claim was, for those purposes, gold.

Blair and Campbell now wish us to believe that these two masters of spin were completely unaware of the PR value of their most precious commodity: the claim that Saddam could launch weapons at British targets within 45 minutes.

That's simply unbelievable.

Click here for Cockburn's article.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Republicans dismayed by Obama’s strong performance, say it was a ‘mistake’ to let cameras roll.

The Republicans were so confident that they could embarrass Obama when he visited them that they insisted that cameras should be allowed to film the entire question and answer session.

They now admit that they made a grave mistake.

RUSSERT: Tom Cole — former head of the NRCC, congressman from Oklahoma — said, “He scored many points. He did really well.” Barack Obama, for an hour and a half, was able to refute every single Republican talking point used against him on the major issues of the day. In essence, it was almost like a debate where he was front and center for the majority of it. … One Republican said to me, off the record, behind closed doors: “It was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that. We should not have done that.”
Obama, it turns out, was simply too clever not to demolish their tired talking points.
“Debating a law professor is kind of foolish — the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president.”
What's interesting is that they recognise that he destroyed their central thesis whilst they still privately believe that they are right.

Here's an example of how Obama took them to pieces:

Beck on Obama's SOTU.

This is hysterical. Beck rants about Obama's SOTU address.

Beck says Obama "made an enemies list last night," suggests Obama's "TV pundits" comment was about him. After referencing Obama's criticism of "TV pundits" for "reduc[ing] serious debates to silly arguments," Beck suggested that Obama was talking about him, saying "Barack Obama, just mention us by name from here on out." He then concluded that Obama "made an enemies list last night." He later added that "Keith, our phone screener, came in this morning and he said, 'Man, I pray for you every night.' He said, 'Did you see that, what the president did?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'The only thing he didn't say is, "Glenn Beck is an instigator." ' And it's -- and I looked at him and said, 'Oh, its coming. It's coming.' "
Obama has no doubt made a serious mistake. After all, Beck has been so fair and balanced until this point. Maybe Fox News will now start to be critical of the Obama administration. I mean, that would just be awful wouldn't it?

Beck justifies his outrage by claiming that he is simply an individual, rather than a terribly well paid spokesman for an extremely powerful right wing organisation.

Poor Glenn... They are picking on him again...

Be Careful What You Wish For...

In this video James O'Keefe tells Glenn Beck - that other tireless searcher for the truth - that he is willing to go to jail for his activities. Which is just as well, for might be about to get his wish realised:

According to an affidavit from the FBI, O'Keefe and three others were arrested on Monday in connection with an alleged plot to "interfer[e]" with the phone system in Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office. O'Keefe is perhaps best known for the heavily edited and misleading undercover videos he and Hannah Giles shot of low-level ACORN employees while the right-wing duo were dressed as a pimp and prostitute, an escapade that itself may have violated state criminal statutes.

The New York Times reports that "the four men, two of whom were dressed as telephone repairmen, were charged with entering a federal property on false pretenses with the purpose of committing a felony. The crime charged is itself a felony that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison."
I expect the noise machine of the right is already gearing up to defend this young man who already appears to be behaving as if he is a member of the Nixon plumbers.

Blair at Chilcot: The Reactions.

It's fascinating to read how newspapers are reporting Tony Blair's appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry.

Sketchwriter Ann Treneman says he was intense early on but soon began to glow with "something close to righteousness".

Writing in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins says Mr Blair "slowly established dominance" over the inquiry panel.

"Within an hour they were listening mute to a seminar on neoconservatism for slow learners," he notes.

The Independent concludes that Mr Blair's final words appear to confirm that the removal of Saddam Hussein was always his plan.

In its editorial, the paper says Mr Blair defended himself robustly, but laments the lack of tough questions.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the protests outside the inquiry under the headline "Hanging crowd bays for blood as Blair faces his inquisitors".

Inside, the panel raised their game but Mr Blair remained "unfazed", it notes.

The Telegraph's editorial says Mr Blair was at his "most characteristically persuasive" when he talked about the potential "menace" had the war not taken place.

The Sun too touches on his contention that Iraq would have built up a nuclear arsenal had Saddam not been toppled.

Such disappointment is to be expected, as they were expecting the Chilcot Inquiry to behave as if it was a trial, which is actually the very last thing which it is.

There's something terribly English about the way in which this Inquiry is working. Everyone is invited along and given their opportunity to put their case. They are not harangued or cross examined, in any sense which one would expect in a court setting, they are simply asked to put their version of events on to the public record.

However, from the questions which were put to Blair, it was not hard to come to the conclusion that the Inquiry doesn't buy the argument put forward by Blair and Goldsmith regarding the wars legality.

The Inquiry have already revealed that there was not a single lawyer in the Foreign Office who thought the war was legal and Goldsmith is on record stating that he, himself, thought it was illegal until the Americans talked him round. It's going to be hard for them, when summing this whole thing up, not to put some emphasis on the fact that there's almost no-one in the entire British legal system who accepts the argument which Blair and Goldsmith are pushing.

And one got hints of that from the way they questioned Blair.

So those looking for blood on the floor are looking for something which this inquiry was never going to give them.

As I say, it's a terribly British affair, and the only way one will know just how well or badly Blair and Goldsmith fared will be when the Inquiry publishes it's results.

I expect at that point that we will learn, not exactly whether or not the war was illegal, but certainly that the opinion of Blair and Goldsmith was not one which was shared by the wider international legal community.

This Inquiry will not spill any blood until it issues it's summation, and even then it will slide the knife in with perfect politeness.


I thought Blair's performance in front of Chilcot was best summed up by this Guardian editorial.
There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgments turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same. On this strange planet, the invasion of Iraq was not a disaster, but a necessary and even heroic act. Other witnesses to Chilcot have admitted error. Mr Blair simply said he would invade Iraq all over again.

The key is not that he knows one truth and tells another, but that he sees things differently to others, in the broadest and most contrasting of ways. This allows no room for subtlety, or detail, or even facts. What matters to him more than anything is decisiveness and self-belief. This was always both the brilliance and danger of his leadership.
I used to say that I thought Blair's greatest quality was his ability to convince himself that he "sincerely believed" whatever was most politically expedient for him at any given moment in time. And that is what was on display yesterday. Of course, he "sincerely believes" that what he did was right. The alternative is simply unthinkable to him.


On reflection, the other thing which I find rather startling is Blair's inability to see that, if Iran is as dangerous as he now claims that it is, his invasion of Iraq has made doing anything about it well nigh impossible.

Even if one takes him at his word, the invasion of Iraq has been disastrous, because there is simply no way any British politician could convince the public to invade Iran to deal with the threat of WMD.

Blair fails to see that this is his real legacy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The "non-partisan" praiser of neo-conservatism.

I was watching Question Time on TV on Demand tonight and came across Douglas Murray for the first time.

His comments were enough to make me Google him. I found this. (I presume it's his own website.)

On his CV I found these two utterly contradictory statements:


Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a non-partisan think-tank in Westminster, London.
and this:

In 2005 he published the critically acclaimed Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.
I'm sorry, but I can't make those two things fit. How can one be non-partisan and write a book in praise of neo-conservatism?

I simply don't get that...

And I've had a look at the Centre for Social Cohesion's website, it doesn't strike me as if they are looking for social cohesion at all, and they are certainly not coming across as "non-partisan".

From Unite Against Racism:
"One look at the Centre for Social Cohesion website and its real agenda becomes very clear - this outfit is not interested in cohesion, but in vilifying Muslims by whipping up hostility and fear. It promotes conflict not cohesion."
I've not done much research into this guy, but he certainly didn't strike me as non-partisan during the most recent edition of Question Time.

Here we go...

This is what I said Blair would do the other day:

This was the same reason that Blair was extremely careful, when talking of Saddam's supposed weaponry, to always insert the words "I believe" into his sentences on the subject. He was very careful never to assert that what he was stating was factual, he always made sure that he had covered himself by insisting - all be it terribly subtly - that he was actually stating his personal opinion.
And ten minutes ago, he did just that.
The former PM says it is justifiable to say intelligence on Iraq was "beyond doubt" because he prefaces the phrase in the foreword of the September dossier with the word "I believe" and he says he genuinely believed it… that was, in effect his reading of the intelligence and he "couldn't understand how anyone could come to a different view".
He now claims that he "couldn't understand how anyone could come to a different view". This is the kind of deceit that I expected him to engage in. He inserted "I believe" into the sentence to give himself exactly this kind of cover.

Here's what he actually said:
"What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme."
Most people heard that the evidence had established Iraq's WMD capacity "beyond doubt". His insertion of "I believe" did not make many people think that this was simply his own personal opinion. I said the other day that I thought he inserted this cover "terribly subtly", but Blair is now making out that it was so obvious that he "couldn't understand how anyone could come to a different view".

He has also started relying on the defence that it is easy for us to make the case we are making because of hindsight.

But nearly two million people took to the streets of London to protest the Iraq war. When we marched we did not have the benefit of hindsight which Blair thinks everyone criticising him is now relying on.


Blair has just said that he expected Iran, because they had been at war with Iraq, to have been more amenable to the invasion.

That's simply staggering. Bush had named Iran as part of the Axis of Evil. Surely it had occurred to Blair that, as the Iranians had practically been warned that they were next for invasion, it was in their interests for Iraq to be in chaos?

How can he have seriously expected the Iranians to wish to help make their own invasion more likely?


He was asked if he had any regrets and, with the families of the dead sitting around him silently, he stated that, although he was "sorry" it had been "divisive", he believed it had been right to remove Saddam.


Glenn Greenwald reminds us that, here in Britain, we have at least had an inquiry. In America, Obama insists that the US must look forward and not backwards.
Still, one could hardly imagine George Bush and Dick Cheney being hauled before an investigative body and forced, under oath, to testify about what they did as a means of examining the illegality of that war. Doing that would fundamentally conflict with two leading principles in American political life: (1) our highest political leaders must never be accountable for actions they take while in power; and (2) whether something they do is "illegal" -- especially the starting of wars -- is utterly irrelevant.
Indeed, in the US the former Vice President routinely insists that the war crime of torture "worked" and chides the Obama regime for refusing to continue practising his crimes.
When Mr Blair left he was booed by some members of the public and two women shouted at him "you are a liar" and "you are a murderer".
Bush and Cheney aren't even asked to go through that level of discomfort.

Justice Alito's conduct and the Court's credibility.

It seems that every time Barack Obama gives a SOTU address that someone behaves quite badly.

Last year we had Joe Wilson screaming, "You lie!" as Obama spoke, and the other night we had Justice Alito making his displeasure visible.

Conservative commentators are falling over themselves to defend Alito, pretending that Obama was somehow venturing into new ground by criticising judges. My memory begs to differ. I remember George W Bush constantly harping on about "activist" judges making law from the bench.

And, what Obama was referring to was the most blatant case of judicial activism in the last 100 years. How does Obama pointing this out differ from Bush making the exact same charge?

And is it appropriate that Alito made his displeasure so visible?

There's a reason that Supreme Court Justices -- along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- never applaud or otherwise express any reaction at a State of the Union address. It's vital -- both as a matter of perception and reality -- that those institutions remain apolitical, separate and detached from partisan wars. The Court's pronouncements on (and resolutions of) the most inflammatory and passionate political disputes retain legitimacy only if they possess a credible claim to being objectively grounded in law and the Constitution, not political considerations. The Court's credibility in this regard has -- justifiably -- declined substantially over the past decade, beginning with Bush v. Gore (where 5 conservative Justices issued a ruling ensuring the election of a Republican President), followed by countless 5-4 decisions in which conservative Justices rule in a way that promotes GOP political beliefs, while the more "liberal" Justices do to the reverse (Citizens United is but the latest example). Beyond that, the endless, deceitful sloganeering by right-wing lawyers about "judicial restraint" and "activism" -- all while the judges they most revere cavalierly violate those "principles" over and over -- exacerbates that problem further (the unnecessarily broad scope of Citizens United is the latest example of that, too, and John "balls and strikes" Roberts may be the greatest hypocrite ever to sit on the Supreme Court). All of that is destroying the ability of the judicial branch to be perceived -- and to act -- as one of the few truly apolitical and objective institutions.
The American courts are becoming ever more partisan, with the Bush v. Gore decision split (5-4) along partisan lines and, more recently, with the Citizens United case.

The judges are more often than not voting according to their political beliefs.

And we now have a judge publicly making it clear that he disagrees with what the president is saying.
On a night when both tradition and the Court's role dictate that he sit silent and inexpressive, he instead turned himself into a partisan sideshow -- a conservative Republican judge departing from protocol to openly criticize a Democratic President -- with Republicans predictably defending him and Democrats doing the opposite. Alito is now a political (rather than judicial) hero to Republicans and a political enemy of Democrats, which is exactly the role a Supreme Court Justice should not occupy.
In my country we can only guess at the political beliefs of our judges, in the US their political beliefs are starting to define them. That can't be a good thing.

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Blair set to mount spirited defence at Iraq inquiry.

I honestly don't know if I can stomach this. Today, Blair will finally be called before the Chilcot Inquiry and I shudder when I imagine his performance, a performance that I can only predict will be an awful combination of fake charm of forced steeliness.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the ex-PM was expected to say Saddam Hussein had the "capacity and intent" to build weapons of mass destruction.

He added: I'm told that Tony Blair will claim that the fall of Saddam has improved and saved the lives of many Iraqis.

"He'll argue that despite the terrible bloodshed since, it has been worth it for Iraq and the world as a whole.

To listen to this man telling us that the Iraq war was actually a good thing will drive me nuts, but I know that's what he is going to do. What choice does he have? His entire reputation is tied to this war and he has convinced himself that this war was a good and noble venture, so we can expect nothing else.

Mr Blair's biographer, Anthony Seldon, said: "It's a pivotal day for him, for the British public and for Britain's moral authority in the world."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who will shortly face a grilling by the inquiry himself, said he was not concerned about Mr Blair's appearance before it.

He told Sky News: "Tony Blair is able to set out the case, to show the decisions he made, and to do so in the most professional and eloquent way, and I believe that he will be able to answer all the questions that the inquiry puts to him."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who opposed the war, writing in an article for Friday's Daily Telegraph, said Mr Blair's appearance would be "a pivotal moment in answering a question millions of British people are still asking themselves: Why did we participate in an illegal invasion of another country?"

He said the invasion of Iraq was an example of "subservience by default to the White House" which raised wider questions about the "special relationship" between Britain and America.

It still staggers me that anyone can be so devoid from reality that they can stand up in public and defend this war, especially now that we know it was launched with most of the Foreign Office telling them it was illegal under international law.

But Blair's greatest quality whilst in office was his ability to convince himself that he sincerely believed whatever pap he was at any given moment espousing.

Today he is going to give us that in spades.

I can only imagine that it will be will be vomit inducing.

Click here for full article.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

McCain: "Blame it on Bush"

McCain may call this "Blame it on Bush", as he clearly does here, but this was the bit of Obama's SOTU that I enjoyed the most.

He is simply stating facts and reminding us of the awful situation he inherited. The Republicans should hang their heads in shame at the state President Bush left the United States in, but they appear, to me, keener to place the blame at Obama's door than they are about seriously trying to help find a way out of this hole.

Obama is right to blame it on Bush, for he inherited the mess which Bush (and people like John McCain) left behind. And it appears to me, a mere year after Obama was elected, that too many Americans are forgetting that fact.

I am sure the Republicans hate the fact that Obama keeps reminding them of the manifest failures of the last administration, but for the party that continually talks of personal responsibility, it's long overdue that they actually took some.

40 days that made illegal attack into legal war on Iraq.

In truth, he did better than I expected. He was obviously well prepared for this encounter, even if it all boiled down to "the Americans convinced me that they were right".

Lord Goldsmith, attorney general at the time of the Iraq war, acknowledged today that he changed his advice on the legality of the invasion twice in the five weeks leading up the start of the conflict.

He told the inquiry that he continued to believe that military action would be unlawful without a second UN resolution until as late as February 2003, but changed his position after talks with the Bush administration's lawyers in Washington.

His answers, as he took us through why previous resolutions were still effective, were designed to bore you into submission, but he managed to make a cohesive defence, even if I found his insistence that resolutions relating to the first Gulf war still applied in 2003 ultimately unsatisfying.

He relied an awful lot on the American belief that the French had conceded defeat in negotiations on 1441 by not insisting that any future UN deliberation would not be a decision making process but merely a consultative one, whilst failing to acknowledge that, by being unable to include the phrase "all necessary means" in the resolution, the Americans could also be said to have conceded defeat in these negotiations. But his final point was that the Americans didn't even feel they needed to consult the UN at all, so getting them to agree to anything at all was a form of victory.

It struck me as strange that the Attorney General would place such import on what the Americans believed was required to satisfy international law, rather than what international law actually stated, but I suppose that's partly why we got ourselves into the pickle which we did. Blair and Co. were very eager to keep in with the neo-cons, which is why we found ourselves accepting the crumbs they were willing to offer us.

And he agreed that the wording of 1441 was ambiguous, whilst insisting that it meant some kind of negotiating victory for the US and the UK, and some awful defeat for the French, when the truth is that both sides could insist it meant what they said it meant.

It was also notable, as Wilmshurt pointed out in her testimony, that Goldsmith never actually asked the French what they thought 1441 meant and, instead, relied totally on the Bush administration's reading of what had transpired during the lengthy UN negotiating process.

Goldsmith told the inquiry that the US had put down "red lines", insisting that they would not allow the UN to veto military action. There was therefore no chance of a new UN resolution. He claimed that the French, who opposed the war, privately conceded that they had lost the argument. However, his assertion was later strongly denied by a senior French official close to Jacques Chirac, the French president.

But, his reasoning as to how he came to the conclusion that the war was legal was the least satisfying of all.

Goldsmith said the official legal advice he presented to Blair on 7 March 2003 was a "green light for military action", although he warned that it carried some risk that Britain would face action in an international court.

He then heard that Lord Boyce, chief of the defence staff, and Lord Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, demanded a "clear view, a yes or no answer", the inquiry was told.

"Both were saying we are potentially at risk personally if we participate in the war if it turns out to be unlawful", Goldsmith told the inquiry. "Our troops deserved more than my saying there was a reasonable case so my responsibility was to come down on one side or another."

Asked why the case for war had suddenly become a stronger, Goldsmith replied: "It is the judgment you make of it. I was being overcautious. It wasn't good enough to say there was a reasonable case. I reached the view on balance the better view was that it [an invasion] was lawful."

It was hardly an stunning argument, it really boiled down to "the troops deserved to hear that it was legal, so I said that it was".

It was clear that the pressure placed on this man was tremendous, or as Wilmshurst put it "lamentable"; he was asked to give his decision - having for many months argued that the war would be illegal - as the troops were being flown into position ready to invade.

Bearing those circumstances in mind, one can have a modicum of sympathy for him. He kept giving them an answer which they didn't want to hear. So, they placed the troops in danger of facing criminal charges and then insisted that he decide whether any action they took would, under British law, be criminal or not. He decided not. I can disagree with that decision whilst fully understanding why he felt the need to come to it. They had him in a box by that point.
"Greenstock was making some good points, but there were some I wasn't persuaded by," he said. "He hadn't got me there yet".
The feeling that he was under pressure to give the advice that they wanted to hear, rather than simply offer what he thought was legal or illegal was unmistakable. They were coming at him from all angles, determined that he would tell them it was legal. In the end, for the sake of the troops, it appears that he wilted.

But it is simply impossible for Blair to now maintain his defence that he was simply following legal advice. Goldsmith, whether he wanted to or not, gave the impression that much pressure was placed upon him to give the government the answer they wanted to hear.

It was impossible listening to him to conclude that he was simply being asked for his legal opinion.


Phillipe Sands:

By the 13 March 2003, when the military said it would not go to war on the basis of the only full legal advice that Lord Goldsmith wrote, the attorney general had his finger on the trigger. If he had declined to provide a further view, Britain would not have gone to war. What emerged from the hearing was that Tony Blair treated the attorney general as an afterthought, a box to be ticked at the end of the process. For the most part, Lord Goldsmith was kept out of the loop, and only called on to give legal advice very late in the game, once the troops were already deployed.

The fact that Britain's decision to go to war was based on a series of private conversations and anecdotes that gave only one side of the story is deeply disturbing. The fact that little, if any, of this material would be admissible or reliable as evidence in a court of law seems to have been completely ignored by Lord Goldsmith. Moreover, the growing public record now contains a number of inconsistent and contradictory statements from the former attorney general.

He was polished, he was assured. Was he accurate? No. Was he persuasive on the reasons for his late change. Absolutely not.

The doubts persist, and more.

So, relying on what a court would define as hearsay, the Attorney General gave the green light. With the troops already deployed, he possibly felt that he had no other choice.

Click here for full article.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Invade and be damned: Foreign Office lawyers say advice on legality of war was ignored.

Both Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Sir Michael Wood (Video and transcript by clicking on the link) have appeared in front of the Chilcot Inquiry and stated that they believed the Iraq war was illegal and that their legal advice was ignored, with Sir Michael stating that this was the "first and only occasion" in his 30 years at the Foreign Office that his legal advice had not been accepted.

"I considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law," Sir Michael told the inquiry. "In my opinion, that use of force had not been authorised by the [United Nations] Security Council, and had no other basis in international law."

Ms Wilmshurst, who was given a standing ovation after her evidence yesterday, said lawyers within the Foreign Office were "entirely of one view" that the invasion would need to be authorised by the UN to be lawful, while the prospect of committing troops without the UN's explicit approval was treated as a "nightmare scenario". She said Mr Blair's team had treated legal clearance for launching the invasion as "simply an impediment that had to be got over before the policy could be implemented".

So, finally, we hear what we all suspected: Blair was determined to invade Iraq and viewed international law as, "an impediment that had to be got over before the policy could be implemented".

And it is also striking to find that Jack Straw refused to accept the unanimous legal advice which he was being given, stating that he did not believe the advice he was being given was correct.

In a letter to Mr Straw on 24 January 2003, two months before the war, Sir Michael warned him: "I hope that there's no doubt in anyone's mind that without a further decision of the council... the United Kingdom cannot lawfully use force against Iraq." He told the inquiry that he had written the note because Mr Straw's views were "so completely wrong from a legal point of view". He added that lawyers within the Foreign Office believed it was "pretty straightforward" that there was no legal basis for an invasion. However, Mr Straw fired a memo back, saying he did not accept Sir Michael's legal judgment, adding that international law was an "uncertain field".

This would appear, to me, to be the end of the argument. Many of us have long argued that, without a second UN resolution, the Iraq war was clearly illegal. It was not a war based on self defence, as Iraq had not attacked either of the country's invading it, and there was no clear UN resolution using the phrase "any necessary means" which is the universal term for war.

It now transpires that lawyers within the Foreign Office were "entirely of one view" and, in fact, considered this matter under international law to be "pretty straightforward".

And it will be much harder now for Blair and his team to argue that they were only following legal advice, when it is now abundantly clear that they were seeking very specific legal advice and ignoring all advice which did not accord with their own views.

Which brings us to the most striking U-turn in the whole build up to the war; that of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith:

Secret documents, published for the first time yesterday, also revealed that Lord Goldsmith told No 10 that he had continuing doubts over the war's legality without explicit permission from the UN. Resolution 1441, agreed in November 2002 and designed to put further pressure on Iraq, was used by Mr Blair and the Bush administration as the legal basis for the invasion. But declassified documents showed that Lord Goldsmith told Mr Blair's team he was "pessimistic" that resolution 1441 could legally justify Saddam's removal.

Lord Goldsmith made the comments in a telephone call with Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff. He said that he had heard "Chinese whispers" that No 10 was planning to use a breach of the resolution as the legal basis for military action. During the call, Mr Powell admitted that Mr Blair was "under no illusion as to the attorney's views on the issue". However, just days before the invasion took place, Lord Goldsmith concluded that resolution 1441 did give legal cover for the invasion after being asked by Mr Blair to make a final ruling.

Wilmshurst did appear to have a modicum of sympathy for the "lamentable" position which Blair had placed the Attorney General in by seeking legal advice so late in the process.

"We were talking about the massive invasion of another country, the change in the government and the occupation of the country, and in those circumstances it did seem to me that we should follow the safest route," she said. "It was clear that the Attorney General was not going to stand in the way of the Government."

Goldsmith will argue today that he was not unduly influenced by Tony Blair and that he stands by the legal opinion which he gave at the time.

It will make for interesting viewing. For his U-turn is simply undeniable and was clearly at odds with every single other legal opinion emanating from the Foreign Office, including his own previous conclusions.

The picture emerging is as bad as we ever suspected. The government did not actually care about the legality of what they were doing and ignored all advice which warned them that what they were proposing was illegal.
Lord Goldsmith initially told Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, that he was "pessimistic" that the legal basis existed for military action. But Mr Straw argued for a legal interpretation "which coincides with our policy intention".
Straw argued that international law was an "uncertain field". Jack Straw, however, as Wilmshurst pointed out to much laughter from the Inquiry, is not an international lawyer. Not that he let that small matter stand in his way.


The Independent focus today on just how important Goldsmith's advice was in the end:

If nothing else came out of the Iraq inquiry yesterday, the importance of the legal advice given by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, in the run-up to war was made abundantly clear. There were hints of how central this was at the time, in all the rumours and delays around what sometimes appeared an unseemly scrabbling around for any legal justification. There were indications afterwards in the adamant refusal of the then Prime Minister and Downing Street to release the full text of the Attorney General's ruling. And there were subsequent claims, in the run-up to this inquiry, that the Attorney General was "bullied" into the ruling he was eventually to give.

What yesterday's testimony added was precisely why it was so essential that he rule as he did. Quite simply, the legality of the whole enterprise hung on it, because the advice provided until that point had gone unambiguously the other way. The two senior lawyers at the Foreign Office had concluded that going to war without UN authorisation would be illegal. Both Sir Michael Wood and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, had advised, in fact, that invading Iraq without a specific UN resolution would be nothing less than "the crime of aggression".

With senior military commanders concerned that they could put themselves on the wrong side of the law if they sent troops to Iraq in such circumstances, and with the legality of the war a key weapon in the armoury of the growing number of protesters, lack of legal authorisation – if exposed – had the capacity to halt the whole enterprise in its tracks.

Suddenly, the whole legal shenanigans which took place before the war - and Blair's reticence to ever publish Goldsmith's legal advice after the war - begins to make perfect sense.

Goldsmith was, literally, all they had to go on.


Here is how this is being reported over here.

Rifkind's point is the strongest. It is not unheard of for ministers to override advice, but it is unheard of for ministers to override legal advice, especially when that advice tells you that you are on the verge of engaging in a crime.

Click here for full article.

Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest.

It was always said that, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, but that pattern hasn't really changed that much under New Labour, which brings us to the sobering statistic today where the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10%.

Gordon Brown described the paper, published today, as "sobering", saying: "The report illustrates starkly that despite a levelling-off of inequality in the last decade we still have much further to go."

The report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, scrutinises the degree to which the country has become more unequal over the past 30 years. Much of it will make uncomfortable reading for the Labour government, although the paper indicates that considerable responsibility lies with the Tories, who presided over the dramatic divisions of the 1980s and early 1990s.

It goes without saying that this is an embarrassment for New Labour, but the paper does lay the bulk of the blame with the Conservative policies of Margaret Thatcher, the woman who dismantled Britain's manufacturing infrastructure - putting millions on to the dole - whilst cutting taxes for the rich and encouraging the shareholder society.

When the highest-paid workers, such as bankers and chief executives, are put into the equation, the division in wealth is even more stark, with individuals in the top 1% of the population each possessing total household wealth of £2.6m or more.

The report finds that the Labour government has managed to stabilise the gap between the rich and poor but has done very little to reverse it.
"Over the most recent decade, earnings inequality has narrowed a little and income inequality has stabilised on some measures, but the large inequality growth of the 1980s has not been reversed," it states.
Harriet Harman has stated that the gap between rich and poor is based much more on class than on gender or race.

She said: "Equality must, of course, mean the absence of discrimination on grounds of race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, disability and age.

"But we also know that overarching and interwoven with these strands is the persistent inequality of social class - your family background and where you were born."

She said voters at the next general election faced a choice between a Conservative government which, she said, would "turn the tide on making Britain fairer" and Labour which "recognises the challenge of inequality" and has "the policies to tackle it".

I happen to agree with Harman - I have fairly well off relatives who tell me that they would, during job interviews, pay as much attention to someones watch and shoes as they would to their qualifications, and that the most important factor they would consider would be the person's schooling - but I don't think this will play well with the electorate, who have been taught that anything to do with class, especially when one is pointing out the advantage that class brings, is a form of jealousy.

But, the evidence the report has found is undeniable:

A central theme of the report is the profound, lifelong negative impact that being born poor, and into a disadvantaged social class, has on a child. These inequalities accumulate over the life cycle, the report concludes. Social class has a big impact on children's school readiness at the age of three, but continues to drag children back through school and beyond.

"The evidence we have looked at shows the long arm of people's origins in shaping their life chances, stretching through life stages, literally from cradle to grave. Differences in wealth in particular are associated with opportunities such as the ability to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools or to afford private education, with advantages for children that continue through and beyond education. At the other end of life, wealth levels are associated with stark differences in life expectancy after 50," the report states.

It echoes other recent research suggesting that social mobility has stagnated, and concludes that "people's occupational and economic destinations in early adulthood depend to an important degree on their origins". Achieving the "equality of opportunity" that all political parties aspire to is very hard when there are such wide differences between the resources that people have to help them fulfil their diverse potentials, the panel notes.

Of course, there will always be the exception that one can point to, the person who rose from the schemes to make an awful lot of money, but the overall pattern is undeniable.

If you come from a poor background there are simply many more obstacles in front of you than if you are born into a well off family.

The Tories are, ridiculously, claiming that the report is important because it shows that Labour have not reversed the effect of their policies.

But for the Conservatives, Theresa May said Ms Harman's speech was a recognition that "inequality has got worse under Labour".

"All she can do is reach for the old-fashioned response of class war," she said.

May is relying on the old defence of jealousy, attempting to accuse Harman of "class war" for daring to point out facts.

Under Margaret Thatcher - the woman who reportedly said if you still use public transport by the age of thirty then you are a failure - the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Today's Conservative party have very few policies which anyone can name, but they do want to cut inheritance tax whilst slashing public services. I wonder who would benefit most from such policies; the rich or the poor?

Indeed, when a party is running on such policies, it is very hard not to conclude that the end result which this report has found is not accidental. It could be argued that this is actually Conservative Party policy.

Because their policies, the very few which they have articulated, would undeniably make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Click here for full article.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lieberman: I could run as "a good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican."

There are few American politicians who I loathe more than this guy. Here, he discusses the possibility of running as a Republican.

HOST: Could you see yourself being a Republican or is that…

LIEBERMAN: It’s possible.


LIEBERMAN: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s possible. A good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican.
He used to claim that the Iraq war was the only area where he disagreed with the Democrats, but that was before he threatened to veto the healthcare bill if it included a public option and actually campaigned during the last election for the Republican candidate John McCain.

And he doesn't think that his Democratic bridges have been burned? He actually campaigned during the last election for the other side, just what does this ass hat think one has to do in order to burn a bridge?

It should be surprising to no-one that a man who threatened to veto the healthcare bill if it contained a public option now finds himself sinking like a stone in the polls:
Want to know how far Joe Lieberman has fallen in the wake of the health care vote last month? Barack Obama's approval rating with Connecticut Republicans is higher than Lieberman's with the state's Democrats.

81% of Democrats now disapprove of Lieberman's job performance with only 14% approving, and he's not real popular with Republicans who disapprove of him by a 48/39 margin or with independents who do so by a 61/32 spread either. It all adds up to a 25% approval rating with 67% of his constituents giving him bad marks.

Lieberman managed to antagonize both sides with his actions during the health care debate. Among voters who support the health care bill 87% disapprove of how Lieberman handled it with only 10% supporting it. But by voting for the final product after getting it watered down he also managed to earn the unhappiness of constituents opposed to the bill, 52% of whom say they disapprove of what Lieberman did to 33% in support.

Overall just 19% of voters in the state say they like what Lieberman did on the issue with 68% opposed.
And yet he has the nerve to sit there and debate which party will be lucky enough to have him run on their ticket?

The man is electoral poison, who the Hell would want him anyway?

Why Does The US Media Do This?

Digby has picked up on a theme which has always puzzled me in American politics:

In case you were wondering, the consensus on all the Sunday gasbag shows is that Obama is an abject failure because of his radical leftist ideology and that his only hope of even maintaining the presidency, much less winning a second term is to take a sharp turn to the right and enact the Republican agenda. Several commentators, including such luminaries as political cross dresser Matthew Dowd on ABC, insisted that the first thing the president has to do is pick a huge fight with the Democrats to show the country that he isn't one of them. Cokie said he should have asked John McCain from the beginning what he was allowed to do.

The historians and expert political observers on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show all agreed that Obama is no Reagan, a president who never governed ideologically and always worked across party lines. Oh, and he needs to be a president or a prime minister, but nobody could agree on exactly what that means except that he should try to be more like Scott Brown, the white Barack Obama, except without all the liberalism.
Thankfully, I am exposed to very little American television, but from even the little I have seen, I am always struck by the fact that Obama must prove his credentials by kicking his base in the teeth to show that he can stand up to the left, whilst Republican presidents are excused all kinds of behaviour on the grounds that they must always appease their base.

It's a bias which the US media appear to be unaware that they are even indulging in.

Why must Bush appease his base and Obama ignore his?

And why do I hear so much about the "extreme left" and the "far left" and never hear the US media speak of the right wing equivalent?

There does seem to be an ideological bias in US political reporting which automatically assumes that right wing politics are the political centre.

Click here for Digby's post.

Israel calls UN Gaza report 'anti-Semitic'.

This is simply tiresome:

A UN report on Israel's 22-day offensive against Hamas-controlled Gaza is anti-Semitic, an Israeli government minister said, as the Jewish state prepares to formally respond to its allegations of war crimes.

"The Goldstone Report ... and similar reports, are simply a type of anti-Semitism," Diaspora and Information Minister Yuli Edelstein told the YNet news agency ahead of a trip to New York, where he will present Israel's rebuttal on Thursday.

Israel can have many reasons for disagreeing with the report, but to claim that this is anti-Semitism is simply the laziest defence that the Israelis could possibly muster.

Perhaps the Israelis are forgetting that we all witnessed the conflict in Gaza and many of us thought that we were witnessing war crimes. We all saw the wanton destruction, we all saw the use of white phosphorous, we could all see the appalling amount of civilian casualties.

Indeed, I note that as we today cheer the rescuing of persons found under the rubble in Haiti, that the Israeli government continue to impose a cruel embargo upon the citizens of Gaza, an embargo which many of us would describe as an act of collective punishment.

One does not have to be anti-Semitic to think that Israel's behaviour in Gaza was - and continues to be - criminal.

So why do the Israelis feel that they can get away with this? Why do they feel that they can ignore the United Nations and even go so far as calling it - and anyone who supports Goldstone's report - anti-Semitic?

Gideon Levy, an Israeli columnist, has a theory:
As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America's automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world's policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways.

Illegal acts like the occupation and settlement expansion, and offensives that may have involved war crimes, as in Gaza, deserve a different approach. If America and the world had issued condemnations after Operation Summer Rains in 2006 - which left 400 Palestinians dead and severe infrastructure damage in the first major operation in Gaza since the disengagement - then Operation Cast Lead never would have been launched.

It is true that unlike all the world's other troublemakers, Israel is viewed as a Western democracy, but Israel of 2009 is a country whose language is force. . . . When Clinton returns to Washington, she should advocate a sharp policy change toward Israel. Israeli hearts can no longer be won with hope, promises of a better future or sweet talk, for this is no longer Israel's language. For something to change, Israel must understand that perpetuating the status quo will exact a painful price.

Israel of 2009 is a spoiled country, arrogant and condescending, convinced that it deserves everything and that it has the power to make a fool of America and the world.
The United States has engendered this situation, which endangers the entire Mideast and Israel itself. That is why there needs to be a turning point in the coming year - Washington needs to finally say no to Israel and the occupation. An unambiguous, presidential no.
It is simply impossible to imagine any Western journalist speaking on this subject with such force, but Levy is correct. Israel can behave in this way only because she is sure that the United States will back her, no matter how outrageous her behaviour.

Even as Netanyahu treats Obama and his plans for peace in the Middle East with barely disguised contempt, he knows that Obama, when push comes to shove, will always back him.

It is that guarantee which gives Israel the nerve to accuse anyone who backs the Goldstone report of being anti-Semitic.

The United States has for so long backed every Israeli policy, no matter it's legality, as to be considered complicit in Israel's crimes.

I had hoped that the election of Barack Obama would change that dynamic, but, so far, that hope has been tragically misplaced.

Having started out very well, calling for the Israelis to stop the illegal building of settlements on Palestinian lands, Obama has quickly backed down and backed off.

Indeed, the Obama administration were amongst the very first to question the validity of Goldstone's report. The United States continues to be an enabler here.

Those of us who expected this situation to change under Barack Obama have, so far, been bitterly disappointed.

As Levy points out, the current US position - of backing every and any Israeli action - is not only bad for the US, it is bad for Israel herself. We are still waiting for what Levy calls, "An unambiguous, presidential no."

Click here for full article.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Netanyahu Declares Portions of the West Bank ‘Eternally’ Part of Israel.

How can we seriously believe that Netanyahu has any intention of seriously pursuing peace when he makes incendiary statements like this?

Attending a tree-planting ceremony in one of the settlements, Netanyahu proclaimed that “we are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here, this place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity.” He added that the settlements were part of “sovereign Jerusalem.”

The settlements are built on land occupied by the Israeli military in 1967 and are not recognized as part of the nation. They lie near East Jerusalem, which was also occupied and is not generally recognized as part of Israel either, though Netanyahu insists that this too will remain part of the Israeli state.
International law clearly states that these settlements are illegal and yet Netanyahu, at a time when he has stated that he desires a two state solution is implying that the settlements are as much a part of Israel as Jerusalem, half of which is supposed to be the eventual Palestinian capital.

And didn't Netanyahu recently accuse the Palestinians of making demands ahead of the peace talks, by insisting that settlement building stop before talks can begin? Isn't it hypocritical for him to make that complaint - which was that he comply with international law - while he now makes the even more outrageous demand that international law be ignored simply because his nation has been flouting it for decades?

I've said it before but Obama is getting nowhere with Netanyahu; indeed, Netanyahu is treating Obama with contempt, making statements like this one which he knows makes it ever harder for peace talks to begin.

And that's before we get to the other completely ridiculous demands which Netanyahu is making prior to taking part in any peace talks.
In a move that seems certain to torpedo what little hope remains of a peace deal in the near term, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that Israel be allowed to maintain a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley.

This means in practice that even if Israel agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, it would insist on maintaining military control over the border between that state and Jordan, and would continue to have troops inside the “demilitarized” future nation.
When will Obama realise that he's never going to get anywhere here until he starts exerting real pressure on to Netanyahu? Netanyahu is making these demands for the precise reason that he knows the Palestinians will never agree to them. In this way he seeks to make peace impossible and, hopefully, be able to blame the Palestinians for the lack of progress for failing to understand Israel's security needs.

It would appear that even Obama has woken up to the fact that Netanyahu is not interested in peace:
“This is just really hard,” Obama admitted, “even for a guy like George Mitchell.” The president had suggested when he took office that the time was right for a two-state solution and that it would be a relatively simple matter to get the move started.
It was never going to be easy and Obama has been naive in the extreme if he ever pretended to himself that it was. Especially once the Israelis elected Netanyahu. Now Obama has to deal with what is in front of him. That means he needs to be willing to apply pressure - serious pressure - on Netanyahu.

Obama used to make it very clear that peace between these two nations is important for America's security. That is still the case. This is too important to let Natanyahu play these stupid bloody games.

Click here for full article.