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Communist Party of Egypt Resumes Public Existence March 17, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in Communism, Middle East.
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I came across this article by the Egyptian Marxist economist Samir Amin the other day, in which he suggests that Egyptian communists – or the radical left from the communist tradition as he puts it – have played an important role in the revolution there. And then the following press release from the CP of Egypt popped into my inbox just now. A welcome sign of how the agitations and revolutions for democracy in the Arab world offer renewed hope for the growth of progressive politics.

The Egyptian Communist Party held a comprehensive meeting that included all its different entities and subcategories. The meeting resulted in a unanimous decision to officially announce the party’s existence and activities, considering the new and healthy political and social environment that has resulted from the January 25 revolution, and after years of being forced to work in utter secrecy and under much repression.

The party has agreed to continue the communist journey that began in the 1920s, despite the fact that the communist concept has been reproached and widely misused by corrupt anti-proletariat regimes over the past decades.

The Egyptian Communist Party was re-inaugurated in 1975 and is legitimated by the masses – and this is authentic legitimacy. This goes back to its long struggle and strong connection with the working class in Egypt, as well as the social and political aspirations of hardworking Egyptians. It is these same people who – today – aspire for a society built on freedom, justice and honor, alongside freedom from dependency, tyranny and oppression.

Even though the Egyptian Communist Party was forced to work in complete secrecy for many years, its partaking in democratic and frontal achievements since 1975 are simply undeniable. Members and calibers of the party come from all walks of life and have made positive and powerful contributions to the events of our revolution. For more than 9 decades, Egyptian communists have made unprecedented and strong contributions in many fields of culture and community, including literature, politics and unionism. The communist ideology has survived campaign after campaign of aggression by regimes backed up by right-wing extremists across the Arab world supported by imperialist forces, only by working in utter secrecy, with much persistence and through the ample support of the masses.

The Egyptian Communist Party confirmed that it will be holding its 4th genral conference in the near future to determine the ideal plan of action and organizational chart that will guarantee the demands and aims of our revolution during the coming period.

Iran still stoning women to death January 15, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Crime, Iran, Judiciary, Middle East.
47 comments

Stunned to hear people being interviewed on Matt Cooper’s Last Word this evening about the practice of stoning, which it turns out is still alive and well in Iran. Amnesty International has just published a report highlighting the cases of nine women and two men who are under sentence of death by stoning at the moment and as grotesque as the notion is to my mind, it’s the little things about the process that are the most horrifying.

Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code specifies the kind of stones that should be used. They should, “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” In other words, we need stones big enough to really hurt someone, but not big enough that they die or lose conciousness. And we’re going to write that into the law. As Amnesty put it, “In Iran stoning is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.”

Under Article 102 of the Iranian Penal Code, the process begins by digging a pit for the victim. The pit is then filled in to waist height for a man, and to chest height for a woman. I wasn’t sure of the reason for the difference, but perhaps it is to be found in one of the defences used by the Iranians to explain stoning.

In September 2007, the Secretary General of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters and Deputy Head of the Judiciary defended the use of stoning by arguing, among other points, that in stoning, “the defendant has the chance to survive.” So a man is buried to his waist and a woman to her breasts and if, under a hail of stones, either one of them manages to climb out (Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unlikely this is) they’re free to go. Hence, perhaps, why the woman is buried to her chest.

According to Amnesty one of the most recent stonings was in 2006:

 

“Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were said to have been executed in Beheshteh Reza cemetery, part of which was cordoned off before more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces carried out the stoning. Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were reportedly washed and dressed in shrouds, as if they were already dead, and then put in holes that had been dug in the ground. Following a reading from the Qur’an, those present began to stone Abbas H and Mahboubeh M, who reportedly took over 20 minutes to die. They were said to have been convicted of murdering Mahboubeh M’s husband, and of adultery.”

Speaking of convictions, the sentences for some of those awaiting this punishment are an interesting insight into Iranian judicial priorities. One woman, whose name is Iran, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband, and to death by stoning for adultery. Another, Kobra N, sentenced to eight years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband and for sleeping with someone outside of her marriage, death at the hands of stones ‘not large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes.’ So for being involved in killing your husband, you face less of a sentence than having slept with a man other than your husband.

 

There’s some more information in the report about Iran’s less than perfect judicial process and the work of women activists and journalists within Iran to end this atrocity, which can only be applauded considering that country’s approach to political activism.

US casualties in Iraq January 14, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Middle East, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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In December 2007 15 US troops lost their lives as a result of hostile action in Iraq according to CNN’s tracking of Coalition casualties in Iraq and Afganistan. Another eight died from non-hostile action, amounting to 23 in total. In order to find similarly low figures, it’s necessary to go back to February 2004 when 12 US troops were killed as a result of hostile action and another nine from non-hostile action amounting to total fatalities of 23. Last week six US soldiers were killed in a booby-trap bomb north of Baghdad. It was the first incident involing multiple deaths of of US soldiers since September and the bloodiest attack since May.

Suggesting the decrease US casualties is not a blip, US fatalities have been steadily declining since May 2007, with month on month decreases. Newspaper reports have indicated a growing number of military successes for US forces since the ‘surge’ began almost a year ago. While everything coming from official sources in Iraq needs to be treated with a large dose of salt there have been numerous reports of Sunni tribes who have switched sides having been alienated by Al Qaeda tactics. Last week the US launched the largest air offensive in Iraq since 2006 dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives on almost 50 targets following which US forces claimed they were able to move into previously insurgent held areas.  Bush indicated on his visit to Kuwait in a piece in the LA Times yesterday that the proposed reduction in US troop levels of 30,000 in July remains on track.

This throws up a couple of interesting questions. Are the US actually beating the insurgents or have Iraqi militants calaculated that the better option is to hunker down, hit more vulnerable Iraqi civilian and security targets and wait for the surge to die away knowing the US doesn’t have the ability to sustain it? Is the Bush administration, and the US Republican party, trying to create an image of success in Iraq ahead of the Presidential election that will allow them to bring home 20-30,000 US combat troops weakening the ability of the Democrats to use the war as an issue to attack whomever is the Republican nominee? Or is it possible that the new strategy and new troops are having as sizeable an impact as official sources claim and the insurgency has been delivered multiple hard blows in a short space of time? Could the US military strategy in Iraq be starting to work?

Occupation takes over Liberty Hall November 7, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Film, media, Media and Journalism, Middle East, Palestine.
2 comments

We don’t report on too many events here but last night saw the European premiere of the 2006 documentary Occupation 101: Voices of the Silent Majority by Sufyan Omeish and Abdallah Omeish in Liberty Hall. Hosted by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign it was one of the best events I’ve been to in some time.

The main theatre at SIPTU HQ was packed to capacity with over 500 people including members of the Diplomatic Corps, the Mayor of Dublin and the filmmakers themselves attending. The film itself is outstanding, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in some time and arguably one of the best ever made on Palestine, and for me its strength lies in two main characteristics.

Firstly, it manages in a 10-15 minute segment to introduce viewers to the evolution of the problem in Palestine beginning with an overview of what the country was like before large-scale Jewish immigration began in the late 19th century, accelerating due to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 30s and 40s. It’s probably the simplest and most concise explanation I’ve seen in a film of the population and demographic shifts, the actions of the British and the UN, and the immediate aftermath of the declaration of an Israeli state. On a number of occasions when the issue of Palestine has come up with non-political, or even political, friends someone has at one point said something along the lines of, “Okay, okay, but when you get right down to it, whose land is it exactly?”

Secondly, the filmmakers made a conscious decision that if this film was to make an impact on American audiences, the chief target, they would dispense with Palestinian or Arab ‘talking heads’. Numerous Palestinians are interviewed, but as victims of illegal Israeli land seizures, violence or various forms of military oppression. The experts and NGOs are almost universally American, Israeli or Jewish because the filmmakers, both Palestinian-Americans, believe that the instinctive reaction of many Americans, and particularly Jewish-Americans, to Arabs or Palestinians on television is to instinctively disbelieve or portray them as anti-semites. Hard to do when two of the people interviewed are Rabbis and many are Jewish.

Some other interesting points. The film stressed the financial cost to the United States of continuing to support an illegal occupation and heavily stressed the fact that the small Christian community that remains in the country is almost entirely Palestinian and interviews a number of American Christian leaders on that point. I was also surprised to see that the opening shots of the film were of British soldiers charging up a street in Derry. It’s followed by images from Algeria, the American Civil Rights Movement, South Africa and elsewhere as they try to stress the international nature of occupation and to put the struggle against the occupation in Palestine in the same context.

Judging by the crowds around the IPSC stall afterwards a roaring trade was being done in the DVD, available for 20 Euros a pop, and details of showings of the film across the country over the next few days:

Limerick
Weds 7th Nov 2007
Time: 7:30 PM
Venue: Castletroy Park Hotel, Wednesday 7th November

Donegal
(First event of new IPSC Donegal branch!)
Thurs 8th Nov 2007
Time: 8:00 PM
Venue: Abbey Theatre, Ballyshannon Thursday 8th November

Belfast
Friday 9th November
Time: 7:00pm sharp
Venue: An Culturlann Theatre, 216 Falls Road, Belfast. 
The showing will cost £5 waged and £3 unwaged.

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Buy it or go see it and, as I did last night, bring a friend who doesn’t know much about it. They’ll thank you afterwards.

Failure of US surge poses questions for Irish left June 5, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Fianna Fáil, Greens, Iraq, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Middle East, The War On Terror, United States, US Politics.
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It was a bad weekend for US forces in Iraq. It was, as always, a worse weekend for the people of Iraq. Yet the deaths of 14 US soldiers in a couple of days in multiple attacks in different parts of the country is further proof that the ‘surge’ in US combat troops announced by Bush at the start if the year is failing.

According to figures from CNN last year, there were 814 fatalities among US troops serving in Iraq, averaging out at just almost 68 a month. In the first five months of 2007, there were 331 fatalities, 128 of them in May alone, an average of almost 92 a month.

According to a US military assessment of the situation in Baghdad, where the surge in US troops was to be initially focussed with the objective of taking control of the city before moving into other parts of the country, they control fewer than one third of the city’s neighbourhoods. In 311 of the 457 neighbourhoods, troops have either not begun operations or continue to meet ‘resistance’.

While there is yet another US combat brigade to deploy to Iraq, the surge has, as it’s opponents at the time pointed out, merely provided more and more targets for an increasingly militarily adept insurgency which does not seem to be dependent on individual leaders for it’s survival. High-profile insurgent leaders arrested or killed have seen little reduction in attacks.

So, what does this mean from our perspective? Firstly, increasing US casualties make a serious offensive against Iran more and more unlikely. As I pointed out here before, the US administration is finding it increasingly difficult to replace lost personnel and lost resources in Iraq, let alone open up a new front. This is not to eliminate the possibility of some sort of military action by the US against Iran through air-strikes or expanded raids, but the US does not have the capability to take on Iran at this point in time.

Secondly, the failure of the US surge brings into question Ireland’s complicity in it. Some of the hundreds of US troops killed in Iraq, and no doubt the thousands injured and maimed, must be among the 41,173 US troops that went through Shannon in the first four months of this year. While figures had been dropping throughout 2006, there was an increase of 5,000 troops in April (Sub-required) over the preceding month.

Shannon was, despite efforts by some, especially Roger Cole of PANA, to make the issue of Ireland’s involvement in the Iraqi occupation, not a feature of the recent election campaign though PANA did push a poll conducted for them by Lansdowne, which found 58% opposed the use of Shannon by the US military with only 19% in support.

Ahern, in his most recent statement  (Sub-required) on the subject, ruled out categorically any change in the use of Shannon following the issue being raised by Independent TD Finian McGrath in terms of the post-election negotiations for government. While the Greens negotiate with Fianna Fáil, it is worth noting that none of the Green party TDs signed a letter organised by PANA during the election campaign giving a firm commitment not to participate in any government that allows Shannon to be used by US forces. Independents McGrath and Gregory signed it, as did four of the five Sinn Féin TDs, three of Labour’s and a number of unsuccessful Green candidates.

So, where are we now? The situation in Iraq is worsening. Casualties, among both Iraqis and US forces, are increasing steadily. Iraq Body Count said in March that on every available indicator the year March ’06 to March ’07 was the worst to date and indications are the fifth year of the war will give that claim a strong run for it’s money.

Irish complicity continues and, by facilitating the surge, arguably has increased. The election has made no impact on the ruling party’s determination to continue to support US forces in Iraq and the broad anti-war movement in Ireland is, as one might expect, split with the SWP’s Irish Anti War Movement on one side, Anti-War Ireland with more of an Anarchist flavouring on the other, and groups like PANA and the NGO Peace Alliance trying to keep in with everyone. Anti-war candidates and parties in the election either lost seats or made no gains.

So, what’s the next step?

We’d prefer if you didn’t leave by the door on the Right: Or a little bit more on Nick Cohen and that war… March 19, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Iraq, Media and Journalism, Middle East, The Left.
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David Clark, Robin Cooks special advisor from 1997 to 2001 at the Foreign Office writes an excellent piece in this month’s Prospect. He is writing about Nick Cohen and ‘What’s Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way’ which has already been dealt with here by smiffy.

As he notes:

The conclusions Cohen arrives at are unsparingly critical and deeply pessimistic. Robbed of its historic purpose by the defeats of the 1980s, much of the “liberal-left” (Cohen’s cover-all term for every shade of left opinion) has experienced a “dark liberation” from responsible politics and opted for a self-indulgent oppositionism which at best betrays its most noble aspirations and at worst has turned it into an active accomplice of the authoritarian right, both secular and clerical. In short, the liberal-left is morally and politically bankrupt.

Cohen is right that the doctrine that my enemy’s enemy is my friend has led sections of the left to some truly grotesque conclusions. One was that the great crime committed in the Balkans in the 1990s was not the ethnic slaughter inflicted by Serb paramilitaries but the efforts of western governments to stop it. Another was the transformation of Saddam Hussein from a blood-soaked tyrant into a noble victim of American…

But Clark has a much more nuanced critique of Cohen. He agrees with Cohen that ‘certain leftists are prepared to tolerate or even support totalitarian movements and ideas in the service of anti-imperialism’, but he argues ‘it is his assertion that this is symptomatic of a new and deep rooted malaise on the liberal-left that is wrong’.

He notes that the left embraces a broad spectrum of beliefs (indeed I find Cohen’s use of the word Liberals in the title of his book somewhat puzzling and wonder is that a pitch for US sales). But he clearly indicates that although ‘beyond the utlra-leftists who openly despise liberal democracy, there has always been a fringe of fellow travellers willing to provide soft support…Cohen deplores the failure of protestors on the March 2003 anti-war march to change anti-Saddam slogans, but at least none of them were chanting for him’. And that is different. Clark who belongs on the traditional left of the British Labour party indicates the difference between 2003 and 1968 when the marchers were chanting the praises of Ho Chi Minh and Castro and Ché, but the point is well made. Bar a tiny tiny group there was no visceral support for Saddam either explicitly or implicitly.

Sure, the rhetoric of some on the anti-war side does appear to short-circuit thinking. The continual elision of many different arguments in a sort of boilerplate ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ answer to any issue pertaining to the war is tiresome as ten minutes on the Guardian’s Comment is Free will demonstrate. Blair and Bush war criminals? Well, could well be, but probably not in this world – or if they are we’re going to have to hold an awful lot of others to such a high standard. War for oil? Maybe, who knows. People should make their own history? I entirely agree, but again in a world where everyone is willing to supply arms it’s hard to see how that’s entirely feasible And so on… But that’s to miss the point that even if the given reasons for opposing the war can appear reductionist that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a certain power to them when taken collectively.

And yes, there was a massive contradiction in one respect in so far as had the protests been successful they would have led to the continuation of Saddams reign, and that is no small thing and something progressives should consider long and hard particularly how the left can give more than genuflectory and rhetorical support to societies that are suffering under appalling oppression. But, the dangers – the very real dangers of US intervention – with the unknowable potential for grim ramifications was a genuine and appropriate reason for calling a halt to the process as structured by London and Washington and were intuitively recognised by those who Cohen would be profoundly critical of. I made the wrong call at that time. Given the same, or similar, set of circumstances I wouldn’t although I’m not antagonistic to limited interventions per se.

One might also argue that there were many intermediate positions well short of armed conflict which the US and the UK could have adopted that would have been both more activist and more appropriate than invasion – yet they chose not to do so. Even were one to accept entirely their bona fides on the war (something I do not) the issue as to why these interim measures were not taken speaks for a moral culpability and irresponsibility on their part even before the invasion started.

However Clark has further points to make:

There is something additionally peculiar about the focus of Cohen’s argument. Although the totalitarian left has always been with us, it is probably less significant today as a political force than at any time in the past 100 years. Leninist and Stalinist groups that used to attract tens of thousands of supporters, infiltrating the Labour party…are today a borken force. The largest of them the SWP is a mere 3,000 strong and the Communist Party of Britain has only around 900 members. They do not merit the attention lavished on them by Cohen and others on the pro-war left.

This is crucial. I spend some time entertaining and to some degree educating, myself by following the travails of the further left in the UK and here. But these are tiny formations of often articulate and eloquent people who are very marginalised both from the rest of the left and the society within which they live.

Sure, they achieved a certain prominence during 2003. But can anyone really believe that Respect are the coming thing in the UK, or that Richard Boyd-Barrett is on the brink of achieving state power in the upcoming General Election?

The further left is small (obviously) because it lacks mass support. Inside our bourgeois democracies, however flawed, it is unlikely that they will ever gain mass support, and the democracies by dint of being bourgeois retain sufficient legitimacy to satisfy the broad mass of their populations as evidenced by either passive or active support at elections. We can huff, we can puff, but we aren’t going to blow that particular house down by full frontal assaults or covert chicanery. And as an example of this it’s worth looking at the Workers’ Party (originally Official Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin – The Workers’ Party) record, surely the closest this country and arguably the UK (seeing as it – ahem – organised in the six counties) ever came to an organisation with both a coherent political ideology and – ahem (cubed) – other muscle capable of at least partially impinging on the state (Obviously another offshoot of Sinn Féin presented a threat to the state, but of a different sort). That failed ignominiously, in part because even at the height of the 1980s and the most severe economic crisis this state ever experienced there was no traction for such an approach. The WP had at it’s height at most 3000 members across the island (although having been a member during that period I’d wonder about the accuracy of that figure) in a society of 2.5 million plus in the South, a vastly more favourable ratio than say the SWP or similar groups in relation to the population of the UK. It had experience in terms of it’s antecedents in covert organisation and such like. And yet it was unable to deliver a truly revolutionary programme. Odd one thinks, if only because it saw itself as a direct heir to the sort of ‘vanguardist’ programmes that actually worked in Russia and elsewhere.

Yet however disciplined the WP it’s doubtful that had it come to the crunch more than a minority within it would have gladly signed up to a coup against the Irish state as constituted at that point in time. Now argument will rage as to the nature of the WP and it’s capacity for bringing about change, but few will disagree that in terms of seriousness and potential capability it’s project was vastly more so than say the SWP.

Now if I know this, and I’m no genius, it’s fairly certain both the longer term members of the SWP, SP and whoever know this (which tells us much about the comforts of struggle for pretty much it’s own sake) and so does Nick Cohen.

So what’s it all about then? Clark suggests that it is in some sense an inability to conceive of Islamists and Islamism as ‘political phenomena rather than as simple manifestations of evil’. Clark considers that ‘this difference is crucial…if terrorists…are influenced by politics, then it is possible to deal with them by a process of engagement- if not with the terrorists and extremists themselves, then certainly by those who might be susceptible to their propaganda… [but if not] then any attempt to accord them a rational explanation is akin to appeasement’.

But he eventually pins the tail on the donkey and sees this as a shift of Cohen and others away from the left entirely. Cohen is according to Clark apparently now unconvinced about comprehensive education and exercised by welfare dependency. If accurate this is terrible news since Cohen has been one of the most significant and persuasive voices on the left for a considerable length of time.

So there is another lesson to learn. And that’s this. That sometimes the Left, or some aspects of it, are on one issue or another going to be wrong from the individual point of view. Appallingly, obviously or just plain stupidly wrong. Just as those on the right accept – because the right is a broad church too – that some aspects of it are less agreeable than others they naturally don’t run to the hills at the first, or even the fifteenth, sign of trouble. They stay and they fight their corner. They argue, the discuss and sometimes, if they’re lucky they may well win their ground. The great betrayal is not as Cohen and others would have it that the left has lost it’s bearings.

Instead, to my mind it is that Cohen and others have themselves become intoxicated by events that when put in perspective appear much less earth shaking than at first sight. The Iraq war was not the defining moral and political event of our time. The Iraq war protests were not the harbinger of the SWP and all it’s works. The internet isn’t representative of all shades of left, even if they happen to be there. The war itself was whatever the intentions of some of those who initiated it a squalid affair which left no ones reputation entirely intact but reflects perhaps worst upon those who refuse to recognise objective reality.

And if that betrayal is to be compounded by a further betrayal, a sort of Flight of the Earls of Intellect from the left because they find it easier to continue to justify the unjustifiable, or in a curious mirror image of the further left and it’s dubious theoretical use of the concept of ‘imperialism’ to continue to play with their own theoretical castles in the sky that evade the central truth that the US could not be an honest broker in this dispute of all, then that too is a tragedy of sorts.

But that also means that the opposite is often true. Take Cohen as an example. His books, and in particular “Pretty Straight Guys”, are an excoriating analysis of New Labour from a perspective not a million miles away from political positions here. That he got it wrong on the Iraq war – a single issue – should no more mean that he is somehow placed beyond the pale (whatever the way in which segments of the self-defined ‘decent’ left have attempted to do that themselves) for socialists and progressives.

There’s a balance to be struck and people should be careful not to depart or be pushed out the wrong door.

Authority: Personal and Political, or just where is the tipping point with George Bush and Tony Blair? February 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, Irish Politics, Israel, Israeli - Lebanon Conflict, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestine, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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Listening to To The Point on KCRW about Condoleezza Rice’s latest foray into the Middle East, and in particular her attempt to act as an honest broker between the Palestinians and Israeli’s, I was struck by how fragile authority can be.

Here we have the Secretary of State of the United States, still the global hegemon, clearly unable to bend the regional powers to her will. Indeed it’s telling how Saudi Arabia has moved strongly into the frame on this issue, no doubt eager not to allow the Syrians or Iranians further increase their influence after what they no doubt regard as the largely successful Israel/Hezbollah conflict of last Summer. The US hasn’t changed. It’s highly unlikely that US policy in the Middle East will change radically whoever finally arrives in the Oval Office. Yet somehow Rice is simply unable to project the necessary power and authority into the public space.

That piece was followed by another considering the Presidents Day public holiday in the US. Presidents Day is held on the third Monday in February and was originally brought in in the late 19th century to celebrate the birthday of George Washington. Since then it has expanded somewhat in scope with some states linking it explicitly to another President born in February, Abraham Lincoln. Yet, according to KCRW the holiday has now become something of a festival of shopping Here too we see the authority of the ‘myth’ (in the broad Barthesian sense of it being a cultural narrative or concept) being drained away from what was once a reasonably significant memorial.

And I was thinking that in some respects that over the past decade we’ve seen how Presidential authority in the US and elsewhere is draining away before our eyes and in two very specific ways. Indeed this can be drawn more widely to incorporate most political authority wherever it may be, but the US Presidency offers a more focused example.

Consider how the authority of Bill Clinton seemed to recede as the wash of scandal broke across him in his second term in office. This loosely could be considered personal authority, and in a way relates more to character, or perceived character. By contrast in the case of George Bush, also a two term President, we’ve seen how his authority has vanished in the wake of the Iraq debacle (if ever two words were made for each other surely it’s those two at this point in time). This is of course more clearly rooted in political and ideological authority.

And, as ever, Tony Blair, riding in the wake of Bush (his own personal and political tragedy to my mind) can be judged to be an interesting combination of both forms of authority deficit, with political and personal authority diminished both by Iraq without and scandal (albeit fairly low-level stuff, whatever the papers may say) within.

Now none of these thoughts are particularly original, political and personal authority has always leeched away in the wake of what Harold Macmillan referred to as ‘Events, dear boy’. Nixon in the 1970s can be seen as being the victim of his own personal and political misdeeds and his authority flat-lined rapidly. But what really interests me is not so much that this happens as to the point at which it happens. If I were to take a guess at it I’d suggest that Bush’s authority diminished in the lead up to the Mid-Term Elections late last year, not after those elections (his relatively unguarded response to them as a ‘thumping defeat’ was accurate, more worrying was his admission ‘I didn’t see them coming’ which whether in jest or not tells me rather more than I need to know about his political acumen).

And I’d make the case for that authority receding then because sometime between early last year and the Mid-Term vote the voting population shifted against Bush and the Republicans. The vote was the symptom, not the cause as it were, and it’s entertaining to see how the supertankers of the US media fought to turn from their courses and deal with a political landscape that had changed without their registering it. Some, needless to say, still have to make that turn.

Can we expect a similar process here? If one is charitable one could propose that Bertie Ahern (whose alleged misdeeds are venial in the scale of the events already noted here) has had a remarkable capacity to retain authority even in the most trying of circumstances. And that’s irritated some people no end. But whether there is a tipping point ahead, a rake hidden in the long political grass that has in some sense already been trodden on but hasn’t come into view yet, remains to be seen. I doubt it to be honest. I think that the political situation here is too confused for such clear cut outcomes. But, I’m prepared to be proven wrong.

And as for Blair. Well, despite his own authority slipping away somehow in some part he still retains sufficient to be able to continue in power. He’s been an exceptionally fortunate politician over the years both in his friends and his enemies. Winning the last British General Election, even with a much diminished majority gave him the political traction to continue in a way that Bush, prey to the minor key disruption of the mid-terms simply couldn’t emulate. Yet Blair has been damaged, damaged to the point where he had to concede that this year would be his last in office. Perhaps there were no mid-terms in the UK, but in some respect he too has passed the tipping point both with the British public and his own party.

They must wonder too if they loved (well, okay, tolerated) too well a man whose protracted demise has led them to a new low in the opinion polls according to the Guardian yesterday. And perhaps gaze nervously at the chosen successor and contemplate just what degree of authority he will have.

And lucky us, we too can look at Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte, consider their authority and contemplate our own possible future.

Welcome to 2007… meet the new year…Iraq, the Election, Saddam, the North… same as the old year… January 1, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Iraq, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Middle East, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin.
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Okay, the dust settles, the winds abate, the rain stops pouring and the hangovers recede.

What’s to report? Not that much really. Or to put it another way, altogether too much.

Again this is a brief one raising some thoughts about the last couple of days.

Firstly welcome to Bulgaria and Romania. The EU has finally opened it’s doors to these two countries. We sweep eastwards, slowly, incrementally, but inexorably. And the circle of gold stars widens to encompass more of the Eurasian landmass. Charles Stuart Parnell once said, “No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further”. This is interesting when applied to the European project and particularly the case of Turkey. The EU is not a state, and the federalist dream appears to have withered on the vine. But it remains a potent force globally and it appears to have it’s own expansionist dynamic. I tend to sit on the side of the fence which sees it largely as a good thing and I think that Turkish accession would also be a good thing. But both these viewpoints will no doubt be tested to near destruction over the future year.

On the subject of the march of the nation there is the tangled issue of policing in the North. There are those around these parts who have a better idea than I about such things, but, if a deal can be struck which see’s policing devolved to the Assembly i.e. to Irish people on this island then I find it difficult to see how further progress can (or should) be prevented on that issue. But the devil is in the detail. And the detail appears to shift in and out of focus depending upon what one reads and who one believes. Most depressing are the noises off from the DUP intransigients (they know who they are) who remind me of cartoon characters on a runaway train desperately throwing down track ahead of the engine, each piece of track being a new excuse to delay the moment of truth when the Executive lurches like an even more dissipated Frankenstein to eventual (half) life.

And talking of life, or more precisely the execution of Saddam. Well… standing in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport on Saturday morning watching the executioners noose being tied around his neck was certainly an odd experience. I can’t say that I think it’s the best way to move on in Iraq (although the Iranian reaction of barely unconfined glee was very telling if one wishes to see it in a Shia/Sunni sort of a way). Nothing has been solved in the Middle East. The ISG report looks like it’s been shelved for the moment as we see the ‘surge’ concept of increased US soldiers thrown around as a viable proposition. And who knows? Maybe it might work, but I doubt it.

Things that don’t work? Well how about our beloved “official” opposition, still mired in depression after a 2006 which saw them reach for the smoking gun that might finally do in our astoundingly beloved government ( that element of popularity incidentally being a feat of political physics akin to anti-gravity ), and turn it on themselves. I’ve held no particular candle for the opposition (although lighting a few mightn’t be the worse way to deal with the problem, or at least couldn’t hurt) but even if only to see the situation sharpen up it might be nice to see a greater effort. Although perhaps I’m being unfair. I met a bunch of dyed in the wool FG voters and members today who pretty much accepted that Bertie would be our once and future leader. It’s when I hear that sort of thing I begin to wonder, perhaps it ain’t so.

So all told interesting times. Let the games commence…

The worst kept secret in the world… or Olmert and the Israeli Nuclear bomb. December 16, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Middle East.
9 comments

Amazing news this week in the Guardian and assorted media outlets. Ehud Olmert, embattled Prime Minister of Israel (TM), announced during an interview with German news station N24 that “Without accepting your suggestion [ that Israel has nuclear weapons] . . . Iran threatens openly and explicitly to erase Israel from the map. Can you tell me that their wish for atomic weapons is the same thing as with America, France, Israel and Russia?” (this taken from the Irish Times report). It’s not exactly the clearest statement of facts, but implicitly the second part of the statement appears to indicate at least some hint of commonality between America, France, etc, etc…

But wait, was this the same event as reported in the Guardian, or even the same sentence construction, where it is reported that: He told Germany’s Sat.1 channel on Monday evening: “Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly, threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia?”

The Jerusalem Post uses the second configuration, so perhaps it’s fair enough to accept it as is. Either way, it seems a clumsy and off hand phrase – exactly how it would be if it had slipped out in an interview. But hold on, this is the Prime Minister of Israel. Of all people on the planet he’s the last to allow strategic Israeli national security information to slip out in an interview – isn’t he?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, and in the absence of a definitive wording that the reports are essentially correct. As the Irish Times put’s it, it’s unclear whether Olmert’s ‘admission’ was a slip of the tongue or a calculated ploy. The political and historical ramifications of the context are remarkable really when one stops to think about it. Here is the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, more or less admitting in Germany (Germany!) that Israel is in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Hmmm…

Naturally the Israeli opposition are blowing up a storm accusing Olmert of erasing a corner stone of Israeli national security. To be honest it’s hard to feel too exercised about it one way or another. My assumption, and I’m presuming it’s the assumption of regional governments, is that Israel has got such weapons, and has had them for some time (1968 to be precise if we are to believe CIA analyses), 200 weapons, if truth be told, which is an enormous cache. If there is a regional arms race it’s been a long time coming, and it hasn’t exactly been rapid. And realistically (and how I hate that term), there’s little that can be done about this. Still, putting national security aside there is one very practical reason why Israeli’s might feel less than delighted at Olmert’s (non) frankness. As the Guardian notes Israel evades “a US ban on funding countries that proliferate weapons of mass destruction. It can thus enjoy more than $2bn (£1.02bn) a year in military and other aid from Washington”.

Incidentally, one of the particularly silly ideas of the further left is that there is a monolithic front of the US, the UK and Israel. This is a perfect example of how that isn’t true, that state sovereignty (or let’s use the old fashioned term nationalism) still trumps capital at the end of the day. The Israeli nuclear weapons program appears to be very much a home-grown operation, and clearly plays a similar role in the Israeli psyche as it does in that of Pakistan – one which engenders nationalistic pride, with of course the added bonus of security. Or more importantly it provides an even firmer guarantee of Israeli security than US support, and perhaps even provides Israel with a negotiating tool with the US, again in exactly the same way that Pakistan has now leverage due to it’s weapons with the White House (indeed is it too fanciful to see these weapons being used as a means of vetoing US intentions in the area where they conflict with Israeli national interests?). And on that topic for a moment or two… the Guardian also reported on how the Saudi’s have threatened to arm Sunni groups in Iraq unless the US stays in place. And why wouldn’t they? The catastrophe on their northern border promises nothing but pain for them, even if their own brand of Wahhabi extremism is in part responsible for some of the more appalling aspects of the violence. Still it places Bush in a remarkable quandry. World opinion, and that of his own bien-pensants, is at one in the belief that a US withdrawal is necessary. Yet regional actors take the opposite line. I may be wrong, but I’d predict that Iran also could be none-too-pleased at an early US withdrawal (and incidentally this mirrors to some degree the thinking of Irish Eagle on this topic where he argues that the growing regional aspect of the problem works to US interests since it inevitably concentrates the mind of these regional players – okay, granted, that’s a counsel of despair…). And can I recommend Timothy Garton-Ash and his latest piece in the Guardian on Iraq which essentially excoriates Bush. It’s also worth noting that despite his centre left/liberal position he was consistently opposed to the war from the beginning.

Still, to return to the central point, perhaps Mordechai Vanunu, who might reflect wryly and reasonably on the fact that Olmert does not appear to be heading towads 18 years of incarceration for his statements, has the most level headed approach to this, actually welcoming Olmert’s partial admission when he says: “Obviously, I don’t welcome the atomic bomb but this openness could lead at last to some realpolitik – and maybe to some real peace”.

Ideology and the US… or what the latest election tells us about the developing political landscape of the United States. November 10, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Middle East, United States, US Politics.
6 comments

The recent election has clearly redefined US politics. But in ways which are more complex and nuanced than is often thought. Currently there is talk that the new Congress will be filled with so-called ‘New Democrats’, socially conservative, fiscally conservative. Implicit in this is a continuation of the argument that the US is somehow uniquely conservative or right wing. Well, yes, it’s certainly further to the right than Europe. But in reality the same spectrum of left centre and right exists, even if the underlying assumptions are different to those we are familiar with. Indeed what’s interesting is how exactly the same structural issues are discussed, pensions, welfare, health care and so on , and how the proposed solutions are similar even if the context is markedly different in some instances.
But because this is an event occurring in a pluralistic democracy let’s first consider what’s happened to the Republicans – which in some respects is the real story here. Karl Rove did great work over recent years to cement a solid Republican Congressional majority. However, in doing so he tended to promote the more right wing candidates over more centrist candidates or RINO’s (Republican in Name Only) such as Lincoln Chafee – although it’s worth noting the effort poured in by the Republican Party to prop him (Chafee) up over the past months. A sensible tactic if you want to be certain of the loyalty of your foot soldiers but a fairly lousy tactic if the public should shift to a more centrist position, and that is what happened over the past number of months and even years. The US electorate did not pitch left, but rather centre. Even as it stands the national divide remains largely intact, a country fairly evenly balanced between left and right. Or more accurately, leftish, centre and rightish.

So it’s also unsurprising that Rahm Emanuel (chairman of the Democratic campaign to win back the House of Representatives) often selected moderate, centrist candidates in seats which had moderate centrist Republicans. Iraq as an issue then gave the Democrats an edge in a contest where their candidates could legitimately portray themselves as the true centrists. The greatest coup of the campaign to my mind? Selecting Jim Webb, a former Republican Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration as the Democratic challenger in Virginia to take on George Allen for his Senate seat. While his success was never assured he was the right candidate at the right time to take the opportunity to best Allen. Which he did. That he is still a conservative, although of the moderate variety – an advocate of gun control amongst other things – is largely irrelevant. Already within the Democratic caucus there are the New Democrats as noted above, and the “Blue Dogs”, Southern Democrats who take up centrist or even centre right positions.

Yet even to talk about them in such categorical terms is difficult. As noted in today’s Irish Times [sub required] by Denis Staunton, John Tester, the new Senator for Montana is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage, but economically is left of centre and is antagonistic to the Patriot Act, the War in Iraq and so on. Is that a right wing or a left wing political credo? In a sense it’s neither, but again an expression of a centrist approach. Candidates with anti-abortion views are now mainstream within the Democratic Party, although the party remains firmly pro-choice.

To my mind this isn’t inconsistency, but is indicative both of how broad the tent is in US politics on both sides of the political spectrum and also of a fairly laudable political pluralism. US society is difficult to map onto our largely social democratic societies. It’s different, well…because it’s different through history, development and circumstance. Therefore it’s hardly sensible to expect everything to conform to our expectations. That a somewhat progressive party, such as the Democrats can encompass such seemingly contradictory candidates (as has the Republican party in better times) can only stand to it in a political system which is a continent wide and half a continent deep.

Would I want the same system here? I certainly would not – our system has served us reasonably well in the context of a small rather limited polity, although it’s worth pointing out that our largest political formations accommodate similar internal ranges of opinion quite comfortably (and the same is true on certain social issues with our smaller parties).

A truth that is useful to take away from this? That people, humans will disagree quite naturally and entirely honourably. That broadly speaking such disagreement should not be seen as a reason to shut the door on those with different opinions. This isn’t yet another plea for ‘a little understanding’, but instead one for a more reasoned approach to political conflict. One of the most dispiriting aspects of Republican rule over the past six years in Washington has been how the public discourse has been limited to simplistic formulations of ‘us and them’ leading to a vainglorious triumphalism and ‘winner takes all’ mentality. Of all people I recognise the reality of difference in policy belief and so forth, but I see no reason to pretend that someone with a different viewpoint is unworthy of engagement or that their beliefs are also unworthy of consideration, indeed it is intellectually suspect and self-defeating not to continually question one’s own beliefs in light of others. The Republicans by shifting too hard to the right, appearing unamenable to discussion or rationality and rather foolishly buying into their own rhetoric of a ‘conservative country’ lost the centre ground, as we saw British Labour lose it in the 1980s and the British Conservatives lose it in the 1990s.

I suspect in the US Presidential Election in 2008 we’ll see an effort to reclaim that ground by the Republicans, if not sooner…

A final thought, is it the enormous scale of US politics, played out across continental backdrops which leads to both the disproportionate role of finance, and the significant blurring of ideology in both representative and Presidential Elections, or is it the very nature of an executive Presidency and enormous constituencies? Is this something we in Europe should be thinking long and hard about as we too struggle with the forms of representation which are best suited for our own transcontinental endeavour?

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