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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

It is Plastic Hour in the Arab World



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There are moments in history when things could turn out in more ways than one, and the decisions of a very few people, perhaps just a king or a president or a revolutionary, settle the fate of millions for years to come. Karl Marx came up with the phrase “a plastic hour” for this uncomfortable moment when history hangs in the balance. We have a plastic hour right now in the Middle East.

Crowds all over the Arab world are protesting against the authority under which they live. Like the French before 1789 or Russians before 1917, they want to be rid of their rulers, knowing them to be brutal and corrupt, as indeed they are. Pretty well every Middle East expert and pundit, and certainly the man with the microphone in Tahrir Square in Cairo, supports the protesters without the least reservation. These Westerners all take it for granted that the protesters share their understanding of freedom and democracy, and once they are rid of the brutal and corrupt rulers all will be fine, and Arab societies will be just like ours.

This is evidently President Obama’s assumption. Famous as an anti-colonialist and openly contemptuous of the British for the way they used to order people about, he nonetheless sends an envoy to instruct President Mubarak peremptorily to leave office and start a process of “orderly transition.” He is taking it upon himself to arrange the government of another country. Never mind the hypocrisy, this is as imperious as anything the British ever did.

Mubarak has been a faithful ally of the United States these 30 years, and for all his faults has kept the peace.  His abrupt and unceremonious dumping signifies that no head of state anywhere can in future trust the United States. Here is a great power that has no qualms about punishing its friends when it is expedient to do so. “Orderly transition” is mere verbiage in the circumstances, displaying ignorance as well as imperialism. No mechanism exists to pass power from Mubarak to anyone else. The plastic hour fills with ambitious contenders: Omar Suleiman, Muhammad El-Baradei, the Muslim Brotherhood, and some likely generals who can command the army. It will be just good luck if the winner of this free-for-all is not brutal and corrupt, and now untrustworthy into the bargain. And in the event that this winner turns out bad, Obama has made sure that the United States gets the blame.

But are concepts of freedom and democracy understood in the same way in different cultures? Pew surveys last year showed Egyptians to be overwhelmingly Islamist. The journalists with the microphones are time and again recording young men saying they want freedom, because freedom means making war on Israel. “Orderly transition” is an invitation to the Muslim Brothers or the army, or most probably some combination, to arrange the next order of things, for instance the balance of power and issues of war and peace.  It is quite possible that when the plastic hour comes to an end and new men are installed in Arab presidential palaces everywhere, the United States will have neither friends nor influence in the region, maybe not even in a disappointed and embattled Israel.

‘The Egyptian Government Is Stable’?



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The spirit of revolution is shaking the whole Arab order. Egypt is the country to watch; it presents the Tunisian symptoms of distress writ large. Hosni Mubarak has been the president for over thirty years, longer even that Zine Ben Ali in Tunisia, who managed only 27 years as dictator. Presidential elections are due in Egypt in the summer. Eighty-two now and known to be in poor health, Mubarak may decide to fix proceedings as before and stay ruling by emergency decree. In which case, natural death or revolution are the only ways for Egyptians to be rid of him. Tunisians made the same calculus with the 74-year-old Ben Ali.

Egyptians are easy-going as a rule; they take life as it comes. Every so often, the injustices inflicted by their rulers are just too great to bear, and they demonstrate furiously in the streets. Mubarak came to office only because Islamists had shot and killed Anwar Sadat, his predecessor. Not a coward, he is a thug. He’s eliminated through death sentences and imprisonment a large number of Islamist opponents, and it is a safe bet that he’ll do the same now if demonstrators really threaten his position. So far, tear gas and water cannons are keeping crowd control, but if the situation deteriorates, the Egyptian army and police, in contrast to the Tunisians, are likely to obey orders to open fire on unarmed people. The outcome of such a test of strength is uncertain but probably an army officer would emerge, Nasser-like, to take power. There isn’t a viable democratic alternative, and the Islamists are probably good only for starting a civil war.

Mrs. Clinton tells us that the Obama administration’s assessment is that “the Egyptian government is stable.” There has been no pronouncement quite so fanciful as that since Jimmy Carter praised the Shah of Iran as a pillar of stability in the Middle East six short weeks before the Shah was run out of Iran. Along with the Arab order, American policy in the Middle East is also shaking.

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Every Eight Hours



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Fifty-seven people have been executed already this year in Iran. That means the ayatollahs are hanging someone every eight hours. Last year they executed at least 180 people, a total they will surpass in a matter of weeks at the present rate. Most of the victims are hanged in public and there are sickening photographs of bodies on the gallows with a watchful crowd standing back a bit. The idea of course is to intimidate those bystanders, and it must work up to the point when they can take no more of it, and revolt. But what is this need to intimidate? That ghastly statistic of 57 hanged can only mean that the ayatollahs are terrified of a Tunisian-style uprising, an equivalent surge of popular rage which ends in regime change. The Tunisian dictator Zine Ben Ali is a Sunni and therefore welcome in Sunni Saudi Arabia, but the ayatollahs are Shia and there is no other Shia country to which they can flee. Repression is their last resort.

Tunisia, Put in Perspective



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The Tunisian revolution has raised expectations throughout the Arab and Muslim world. It takes courage to come out in those police states and welcome the demonstrations that have overthrown the Tunisian ex-president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Commentators in the media are expressing hopes that other Arab and Muslim countries will follow this example, and democracy will be the happy outcome. A sense of déjà vu, however, is in order.

To start with a historical footnote: As far back as 1860, a remarkable man, Khayr Ed-Din, tried to make Tunisia the first Arab country with constitutional rule. Perceived as transplanting alien and unwanted European ideas into a Muslim society, he was removed from power and went into exile. His experimental modernizing left no trace and might as well not have happened.

Dictatorship imposes narrow patterns of behavior. Ben Ali had no inclination for European ideas. Tunisia was there for him and his family to control and plunder. Prisons were full. Hundreds of thousands of the best educated Tunisians were in exile. When protesters finally could endure no more and took to the streets, he had a simple choice: either to order his security forces to start a massacre as Saddam Hussein had done with the Shia after the first Gulf War; or go into exile like the Shah of Iran. Had he been younger than 74, Ben Ali might well have decided to shoot it out, but he had got what he wanted out of life and in any case sweetened exile by stealing a ton and a half of gold. Saddam had stolen on a similarly extravagant scale, and trucks filled with dollars were intercepted on Iraqi roads.

After the downfall of the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini remade the state of Iran to suit himself, and in the traditional fashion he and his successors have shown themselves willing and indeed eager to kill all who might be in their way. After the downfall of Saddam, a whole lot of ambitious men jostled for power in Iraq, and only the presence of large American forces ensured that some sort of orderly political process with vaguely Western political features was introduced rather than another Arab-style dictatorship. Now in Tunisia another whole lot of ambitious men are jostling for power. Mostly they are old, and compromised by years of toadying to Ben Ali. What they are calling a government of national unity is really only an elitist clique whose members are competing to replace each other. The purging of Ben Ali’s single party is the local version of de-Baathification in Iraq. And this time there are no American forces supervising the introduction of a political process for which there is no precedent. Instead a nephew of Ben Ali’s has been murdered, and there is looting of the villas and shops of the rich, incineration of cars, vigilantes, and random firing from unidentified snipers.

One of the ambitious men is Rashid Ghannouci, the head of An-Nahda, the Tunisian Islamist party. He is returning to Tunis after years in exile in London. Elie Kedourie once showed me an essay Ghannouci had written about the British in the Middle East, a compendium of errors, mistaken names, and conspiracy theory. It is a short step from ignorance like that to willingness to kill opponents in the style of the ayatollahs.

Perhaps civil society will manage to come together out of these disparate and selfish elements. Perhaps the security forces, the old Ben Ali party men, the Islamists, and the angry rioters will evolve due processes to mediate their interests and differences. But in the century and a half from Khayr Ed-Din to Ben Ali, the traditional Arab and Muslim order has been repeating and renewing itself with an energy that keeps Western ideas about democracy at bay.

The Fundamentals of One-Man Rule



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What’s happening in Tunisia is a copybook example of the structural fault of dictatorships, namely that change is impossible without violence. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has ruled that country since 1987, and was set to go on ruling it indefinitely. He had of course made sure to have no successor; that is standard procedure. After all, Ben Ali came to power through just such a coup against his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, who had declared himself President-for-Life. It is also standard procedure that Ben Ali had an aircraft standing by so he and his family could fly out — with probably as much of the treasury as could safely be loaded in the hold.

Hundreds of dissidents — some of them democrats, but others Muslim extremists — have been jailed or are in exile. The secret police and the army kept Ben Ali safe from assassination, so there was nothing for it except a popular uprising like this. We do not know the true number of those shot and killed on the streets, and probably never will. Riots and corpses are to states like these what elections are to democracy.

Someone will emerge to take power — he will declare that he expresses the will of the people, pay whatever price is necessary to obtain the loyalty of the secret police and the army, and set about eliminating opposition — and the whole nightmare cycle of dictatorship will begin once more.

In neighboring Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has been in power for over thirty years, and nobody can predict how or when he will go or who will succeed him. Once again, dissidents and Muslim extremists are in prison or in exile. Same in Libya, where Mu’ammer Gaddhafi has been in power for forty years. Same in Saudi Arabia where the king and the crown prince are both over eighty and succession is uncertain; some are predicting violence there. Same in Syria, where the elder Assad pushed his son into power. In Iraq it took a military campaign and 150,000 American soldiers to break one-man rule, but even that show of superior strength may not be enough to do the trick. The system of one-man rule has a horrible self-perpetuating vitality, and whoever can devise a peaceful way to be rid of it deserves the Nobel Prize.

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Sudan: A Promising Past, an Uncertain Future



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Sudan is one of the most retrograde countries in the world. Civil war has lasted since 1959 and cost 2 million lives. The president, General Omar al-Bashir, is the usual kind of Third World thug. He has introduced sharia law, fanaticizing the Muslims of the northern part of Sudan against the Christians and animists of the southern part. Complicating matters, there are some 500 tribes in what has long been an ethnologist’s paradise. You need to be pretty expert to have a clear idea of the Dinka and the Nuer and the Fur and the Messariya and the rest, as well as their geographic locations.

In old days, the British ran Sudan with 200 civil servants. There was little or no military presence. One civil servant, Humphrey Bowman, left a wonderful account of cleaning sewage carts and polishing buckets, of all unlikely things. Colonel Hugh Boustead, another dedicated official, obliged tribal chiefs to educate their sons by telling them they would be donkeys otherwise. The great explorer Wilfred Thesiger joined the Sudan Political Service in 1935, and he was one of only two Englishmen travelling by camel in a district of more than 50,000 square miles with a varied population of 180,000. He would describe how he sat under a palm tree in some oasis dispensing justice with never an objection from those in his open-air court. In the light of the past, nobody can possibly say that the Sudanese are naturally and irremediably violent. Yet not so long ago, an English woman volunteering to teach was in danger of being killed by large mobs just because she suggested that her class might give a teddy bear the name Muhammad. That is the pitiful result of decades of bad governance.

Early in his presidency, George W. Bush spoke about how everyone everywhere recognizes freedom and independence and wants this for themselves. The southern Sudanese are proving the truth of this proposition. As a result of a compromise in 2005, the South is voting on whether to secede or not. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are lines of smiling people whose fingers are stained to show they have voted. A politician from the South put it clearly on television: Either the country stays united and war goes on forever, or it divides and there is peace. Bashir has said he will allow the South to go its way if it so decides, but nobody can be sure he will for once honor his word. One disputed province has large oil reserves and fighting may revive to claim the royalties. Otherwise Sudan could become the kind of country that Bowman, Boustead, Thesiger, and the 200 British officials hoped that it would be.

Of Gods and Men: A Powerful Film



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Of Gods and Men won some prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, and this was enough for me to be sure that it must be the usual hyped-up stuff of no interest. How wrong I was. It is a moving examination of the Christian faith, and how to respond to enemies of that faith.

In 1996, seven French monks in Algeria were abducted from their monastery by members of the extremist Jama’a Islamiyya, and later their bodies were found with the heads cut off. The outrage has never been cleared up. About 200,000 people were killed in the years when the Algerian army and the Jama’a Islamiyya fought it out, and it has been suggested that the army may have killed the seven monks in an operation that went wrong. The army was certainly capable of any crime, but decapitation of the monks was superfluous and more likely to be an Islamist hallmark.

The Christian lives of the monks involves work, study, productivity, prayer and love of others whoever they are and whatever their faith. The Islamists’ lives involve intimidation and murder until everyone is compelled to adopt their faith. This is a dramatization of what is happening in today’s Europe. Nobody has any idea what is to be done about the scale of Muslim immigration all over the continent, the increasing hold that Islamism is acquiring on these new Muslim communities, and the terrorism that is an apparently inescapable consequence. The monks engage in a lengthy debate about their predicament: To stay in the monastery means they will become martyrs, but to leave is to accept that they have failed in their vocation, and there is no place for their faith. Death, they finally agree, is preferable to running away.

I could not have imagined that a French film would so unmistakably combine the Christian faith and the defense of civilization. There was not one empty seat in the movie house, the silence of the audience was total, and the people coming out afterwards looked extremely thoughtful and subdued.

Some Estonian New Year



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People celebrate the New Year in strange ways, and Estonia is an example of that. On January 1, Estonia dumped its currency, the kroon, and joined the eurozone. What a thing to do right now.

I happened to catch an interview with Andrus Ansip, the prime minister of Estonia since 2007. He’s led the campaign to join the euro, and already is word-perfect in Brussels-speak. Membership in the EU, he solemnly droned, will create jobs, raise pensions, and enhance economic growth. Like the rest of the Eurocrats, Ansip no doubt believes what he is saying and will be horrified one day to discover how he has deceived his fellow citizens. All over the country, posters in Estonian and English warned the electorate to be realistic: “Welcome to the Titanic!

Estonia is a small speck of a country on the Baltic, with a beautiful and historic capital in Tallinn, as well as cities like Tartu and Narva. Driving in the countryside one day I came on the house built by Count Pahlen in the 18th century, and it was to architecture what Mozart is to music. But it is the spirit of the Estonians that is most admirable. They have seen off the German and the Soviet occupations, which between them killed many hundreds of thousands, or about half the population. When they were getting rid of Communism, I was fortunate to be shown a documentary about a village from which the Soviets had deported everyone but overlooked one single old man. Speaking to camera, he said he would carry on in his house alone till they came for him or he died. He was indomitable in his defiance, and in the Gorbachev days it turned out that the whole nation was as proud and courageous as him. The dying Soviets got quite close to opening fire on the anti-Communist Popular Front demonstrators in Tallinn, whereupon so huge a crowd assembled that violence wasn’t possible.

Whatever drives Prime Minister Ansip to tamper with his nation’s independence and sovereignty at this moment? Ireland, Greece, and the other financial wrecks are going to raise pensions and create jobs, are they really? Presumably he and those who voted to join the EU think that membership will replace German occupation with German protection, and that will keep the Russians out. Well, Estonia was once said to be a bone in the Soviet throat, and now it can pass on its national characteristics and become a bone in the Brussels throat.

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The Civilianization of Communism



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As the year comes towards a close, the perpetuation of dictatorship is an increasing danger to world order. It is a miserable comment on human nature that so many repulsive characters in the whole range of countries and cultures are willing and eager to commit whatever crimes are necessary to grab and retain power. Alas, nothing but self-serving thuggery and lying is to be expected from the likes of Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Mugabe, or Bashar al-Assad. Hosni Mubarak and Kim Jong-Il risk disorder, perhaps revolution or war, to have their sons succeed them. Ahead of elections, Turkish prime minister Erdogan is busy inventing conspiracies and putting possible opponents on trial. The Palestinian leaders of the rival PLO and Hamas have both decided that legitimacy and electoral consent is irrelevant to them. In Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko has just fixed reelection, further arresting seven of the nine opposition candidates and beating some of them in public so badly that they had to be taken to hospital.

Vladimir Putin outdoes this ghastly crew. Wikileaks reports American diplomats describing Russia as “a mafia state.” More ominously than that, Putin has devised what can only be called the civilianizing of Communism, that is to say projecting the power of Russia without the benefit of the Party and its ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Stalin and later general secretaries knew they were criminals but believed their crimes had political and philosophical justification. Putin continues their actual practices, rigging his position in the Kremlin, promulgating a bogus constitution and holding elections whose results have long been predetermined and have nothing to do with genuine representation. He too orders the elimination, by murder if need be, of whoever stands in his way. But it is novel, and in its horrible way inventive, that he fosters crime without the pretence of ideology, but rather as though it were a normal function of society, and merely the obvious trappings of holding power.

The Communists used to pursue and kill those of their number who defected abroad, like Walter Krivitsky. Putin seems to have inspired the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, and certainly protected the agents actually accused of the deed. It turns out that there are as many Russian spies in Britain as there were during the Cold War, and they are being deported now as then. Under Putin’s regime, something like thirty journalists have been murdered, and many more left crippled by attackers in the street. Nobody has been brought to trial for any of this. Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and adviser to American investors, accused some prominent people of  large-scale swindling, only to be arrested himself on false charges, and tortured to death in prison. Those responsible have been rewarded and promoted.

The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is every bit as sinister. An oligarch among oligarchs, he built the oil company Yukos and became the richest man in Russia. His mistake was to ignore Putin’s warning to stay out of politics. When Khodorkovsky backed various democratic initiatives, Putin confiscated Yukos and got him a long prison sentence in Siberia. Now that Putin is busy arranging to stay in power until 2020, he has arranged to extend for years the prison sentence Khodorkovsky is already serving and so make sure he cannot have any political influence. A handful of brave spirits demonstrated outside the court room against Putin and this commission of injustice.

The difference from the Stalinist show trials lies in the accusation that Khodorkovsky is guilty not of treason but of tax evasion. “Thieves should be behind bars,” Putin told a press conference with a straight face. This is rich. Property laws in Russia depend on what he wants. Like any Communist Party general secretary, he decides who is to be allowed to own what, and he himself, rising from modest origins through the ranks of the secret police, is generally supposed to have a personal fortune of $40 billion dollars. The civilianization of Communism is in every sense a paying proposition, and dictators everywhere will no doubt be studying the technique.

Assange Is Free



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Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks joker, has been released on bail. He exchanges Wandsworth prison for the large eighteenth-century mansion of a friend in the country. The judge, a Mr. Justice Ousely, released him on the grounds that Assange is “not a person who is seeking to evade justice.” Well, nobody now expects a British judge to have any sense of the real world. Bail was set at £275,000.

The really interesting feature of the case is the roster of those who have rushed forward to rally behind Assange and even to stump up the money. Some, like Michael Moore and the Communist filmmaker Ken Loach and the veteran Australian journalist John Pilger, do so out of simple anti-Americanism. Others join in out of infantile Leftism, for instance the Guardian newspaper, and a one-time publisher Matthew Evans. Pure self-righteousness is motivating a good few, for instance a lawyer called Geoffrey Robertson who sees human rights in anything that moves; the archetypal poor little rich girl Jemima, daughter of billionaire James Goldsmith; and Felix Dennis, a man who supposedly has made hundreds of millions out of publishing and has boasted to journalists about his sexual feats, his cocaine habit, and even of murder (though he took back that confession).

Rushing into the limelight, this little squad has no more sense of the real world than Mr. Justice Ouseley, and the fact that Assange has been able to mobilize them is immensely revealing about the man, his whole case, and the extent that British society has succeeded in freeing itself from values. All are too ego-driven to have any perspective on themselves, and all of them believe that ideology or financial success affords them the privilege to dispense with morality and, what’s more, to be applauded for it.

Heroically Normal



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Heda Kovály and Jan Wiener were born in September 1919 and May 1920 respectively, and have just died within a few days of one another. Both had their lives determined by the fact that they were Czech and Jewish.

Heda Kovály was deported to the Lodz ghetto and then Auschwitz. In the closing days of the war, she escaped from a forced march of women prisoners to Bergen-Belsen. When she returned to what had been her home in the Czech countryside, the farmer said, “So you’ve come back? Oh no. That’s all we’ve needed,” and shut the door in her face. Her husband, Rudolf Margolious, was a victim of Stalin’s final campaign against Jews. One of the dozen Jews accused of being enemies of the people in the so-called Slansky show trial in 1952, Margolious was hanged. Only when the Red Army invaded Prague in 1968 was Heda Kovály able to escape. She had just $20 with her.

Jan Wiener found the classroom in his school in Prague divided into benches marked for Jews and Gentiles. He and his father escaped into Yugoslavia. As the Germans invaded that country, his father decided to commit suicide, and invited him to do so too, adding that he would feel no resentment if he refused. After this harrowing moment, Jan Wiener managed to escape to Britain, where he flew as a pilot in the Czech squadron of Bomber Command. He returned to Prague wearing his Royal Air Force uniform. In due course the Communists sentenced him to five years of hard labor.

These two human beings have several features in common. What they suffered was unbearable yet not at all exceptional. Both wrote books to bear witness to what they had gone through. Both show how greatness consists in remaining yourself when the majority of those around you have become animals. Their heroism lay in being normal. Finally, both ended up living in Massachusetts, which may well be all you need to know today about Europe and the United States.

WikiLeaks Reveals Details of Megrahi Release Deal



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WikiLeaks confirms our worst fears about the handling of Abdul Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan agent condemned to prison for the Lockerbie bombing. He was released and sent home to Libya in August last year ostensibly for humanitarian reasons. Apparently his prostate cancer was so advanced that he had at most three months of life. There was always something suspect about this outcome. New evidence was about to be produced in a court of appeal that supposedly would show that Megrahi had been wrongfully convicted. The British government was evidently afraid of what might then come out, for instance that the conviction was unsound. Behind closed doors, a deal was struck: Megrahi had to withdraw his appeal and then he could go home. It could hardly be more fishy that sixteen months after this release the man is doing fine.

Until now, what pressures the Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddhafi had been exerting remained unknown. Common sense, and — alas — experience of the Blair and Brown governments made it likely that Gaddhafi had been issuing threats and promises for the sake of getting his way. The British government denied anything such thing, throwing up its hands in horror at the very idea. WikiLeaks makes it clear that Blair and Brown and the politicians have been lying.

Richard LeBaron of the American embassy in London cabled the State Department on good authority that Gaddhafi was making explicit and “thuggish” threats to take what he called “dire reprisals,” such as halting all trade with Britain and harassing embassy staff if Megrahi remained in prison. (In living memory, someone in the Libyan embassy in London fired out of a window at a policewoman and killed her.) The British ambassador in Libya, one Vincent Fean, was relieved when Megrahi was released. The Libyans, he wrote, “could have cut us off at the knees.” Blair, Brown, and their officials, including this cringing Fean, caved in to the despicable tin-pot Gaddhafi with his bragging and his blackmail. Such an unmitigated moral disaster is worse than being cut off at the knees.

The Silver Lining of WikiLeaks



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WikiLeaks has generated much simple enjoyment. Well done that American diplomat who reported that Nicolas Sarkozy is an emperor with no clothes. Another reports that Silvio Berlusconi is always too exhausted from partying to do his job, and someone else has spotted that the preposterous Muammar Gaddhafi has a voluptuous Ukrainian blonde as a permanent escort. It is good to know that a responsible official like the Governor of the Bank of England judges the two leading Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne, to be lightweights.

Best of all, we now have a standard by which to measure Arab hypocrisy. There they are in public, the Arab rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, all in the tribal finery they affect for official occasions, holding hands with the Iranian president swearing Muslim solidarity, while all the time behind his back imploring the United States to attack Iran and cut off the head of the snake, as the Saudi monarch expressed it so pictorially. So far, cables from Turkey are more numerous than those from anywhere else, and they show Prime Minister Erdogan playing the same sort of double game, pushing his country into radical Islamism and hatred of Israel under pretense that he and his party align their politics and morals on the Western model.

But really everything here is only confirming what anyone with an interest in the wider world will already know. American diplomats are telling it like it is. As so often seems the case in the United States, providers of information are doing a first-rate job and those who take decisions based on this information are second-rate, biased, ignorant, in the last resort unintelligent. WikiLeaks may very well end in victory for realism in foreign affairs, strengthening the hand of the United States and its friends.

Fraud of War



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In a war faint-hearts pop up to plead that things look so bad that the right course of action is to open talks with the enemy and see what negotiations will bring. This was true even when we were dealing with enemies as implacable as the Nazis and the Soviet Communists. Remember the code words of collaboration and détente. Once such suggestions are broached, of course, the enemy spots the loss of confidence, and rightly concludes that attack will bring greater rewards than any compromise or peace deal.

That’s where we are with the Taliban. British politicians and generals regularly wring their hands and moan that the war against the Taliban cannot be won, and there must be a firm date for withdrawal. Defeatism of the sort accepts implicitly that victory will go to the Taliban. One Afghan has just spotted the opening this gave him. Impersonating Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, he approached MI6, the British Secret Service, and offered to hold talks on very favorable terms. The real Mullah Mansour has the rank to make such an offer. The British so badly want to believe what this man was saying that they gladly deceived themselves and flew him to Kabul, introduced him to President Karzai and paid him up to half a million dollars. The humiliation could hardly be more complete.

I happen to have been reading and reviewing the history of MI6, a wonderfully informative new book by Professor Keith Jeffery, an historian in Northern Ireland. He has had access to files that have been closed. Throughout the existence of MI6 fraudsters have been coming in with tales of information to sell, and the trick has been to sort what the intelligence operatives called rogues and scallywags from genuine informers. Not easy. For example, someone who once claimed to have reports from the Persian embassy in Moscow was actually providing a Turkish translation of parts of the Koran.  On the other hand, a German Communist by the name of Heinrich de Graff walked into the MI6 station in Berlin and had lots of valuable information to give about the Soviets.

This Afghan took everyone for a ride, and this includes President Karzai and his Afghan advisors who have even less excuse than MI6 for failing to detect a fake Mullah Mansour.  One has to admire this man’s craftiness, nerve, and ability to act the part. In reality he was a shopkeeper. He’s vanished but probably only to prepare a next step of obtaining asylum in Britain on the grounds that his human rights are being infringed in his own country, and using his MI6 dollars to amass a fortune.

American Weakness and North Korean Aggression



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The aggression by North Korea is further evidence that the United States is steadily losing power and influence in the world. Iran has led the way, developing its nuclear weapons under pretence of not doing so, while being met with repeated pleas from America and Europe to negotiate and the imposition of sanctions that at best are half-hearted. Following the shift in the regional balance of power, Turkey is Islamising, and Lebanon looks like doing so as well. Chinese leaders publicly oppose the United States. The Russians gobble parts of Georgia, oblige the United States to cancel proposed missile defences in Europe, and succeed in cutting the American stockpile of nuclear weapons even though the United States has responsibilities on a scale far greater than Russia. Let’s not even speak of Venezuela and the Latin Americans.

It is possible that domestic considerations motivated the dictator Kim Jong-Il: He may have thought artillery barrages on South Korea would encourage the military to back his son Eun, selected to be the next dictator. But obviously he took it for granted that the United States response would be limited and purely verbal. The heart sank when President Obama duly obliged by bloviating about North Korea as “an ongoing threat that needs to be dealt with,” while offering no measures that might do so. Worse still, he called on China to tell its little North Korean friend to “abide by the rules.”  The whole point of totalitarian countries is that they do not abide by the rules, and therefore democracies have to devise policies to find a way round that. If they are not to be hamstrung, democracies have to defend themselves with imagination and force.

South Korea and Japan have both been toying with the idea of going nuclear, and American weakness may now push them to it. The same thing is occurring in the Middle East, where several Arab countries are developing nuclear programs to defend themselves against Iran since the United States can’t be trusted any more to do so. Obama has declared a wish to have a nuclear-free world but the net result of his approach looks like being unprecedented nuclear proliferation.

The Privileges of Sellouts



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“After the strong man with a dagger follows the weak man with a sponge” is one of the memorable aphorisms of Lord Acton. It seems to be part of human nature that assorted ideologues and fanatics and Osama bin Ladens are deranged enough to kill their way to power. The use of the dagger, so to speak, appears to be habitual, ingrained. But essential to their success are the toadies who sponge away the crimes of the strong men by depicting them as national heroes, or, in plain language, telling self-serving lies.

A particularly egregious example is the Romanian Adrian Paunescu. Quite probably, he had talent as a poet. The Communists imprisoned his father, and he seems to have decided that he would escape such a fate by licking their boots. This was also the way to riches and privileges, of which he could not have enough. So he turned himself into an apologist for the megalomaniac Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu. He poured out pitiful tripe glorifying Ceausescu and his dreadful wife and children. I recall him being driven about in a huge black car in Bucharest, and how ordinary people were enraged by this prostitution of himself and his gifts. Ceaucescu was shot when Communism collapsed in 1989, and Paunescu was lucky not to have been put up against the wall too. Now he has died in a hospital bed.

Another man in the public eye who sold out quite as sickeningly is Tariq Aziz. More than anyone else, he tried to sponge away the brutal crimes of Saddam Hussein, thus making himself an accomplice to mass murder. He spoke reasonable English, and he liked to be seen before the cameras dressed in military fatigues and puffing a cigar, the picture of calm insolence. A court in Baghdad has just sentenced him to death by hanging. But Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, says that he will not ratify the sentence. He has his reasons: Christians are now being summarily massacred in Iraq by al-Qaeda; Tariq Aziz is a Christian; his execution would seem to the terrorists a license to go on killing yet more Christians.

So, like Paunescu, Tariq Aziz looks likely to escape his just deserts. What ought to be done to these sponge-wielding apologists for tyranny is really a difficult question, with arguments and counter-arguments that are equally valid. But they exploited their positions and their capabilities to support tyrants responsible for persecuting and killing people, a good number of whom were thrown into unmarked graves. Maybe they acted so vilely only because they were weak, but to be allowed to die tranquilly in bed seems like one more privilege that they really don’t deserve.

Two Toadies



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“The strong man with the dagger is followed by the weak man with the sponge” is one of the memorable aphorisms of Lord Acton, the great 19th-century historian. It seems to be part of human nature that assorted ideologues and fanatics and Osama bin Ladens are deranged enough to kill their way to power. The use of the dagger, so to speak, appears to be habitual, ingrained. But essential to their success are the toadies who sponge away the crimes of the strong men by depicting them as national heroes, in plain language telling self-serving lies.

A particularly egregious example is the Romanian Adrian Paunescu. Quite probably, he had talent as a poet. The Communists imprisoned his father, and he seems to have decided that he would escape such a fate by licking their boots. This was also the way to riches and privileges, of which he could not have enough. So he turned himself into an apologist for the megalomaniac Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. He poured out pitiful tripe glorifying Ceausescu and his dreadful wife and children. I recall him being driven about in a huge black car in Bucharest, and how ordinary people were enraged by this prostitution of himself and his gifts. Ceausescu was shot when Communism collapsed in 1989, and Paunescu was lucky not to have been put up against the wall too. Now he has died  in a hospital bed.

Another man in the public eye who sold out quite as sickeningly is Tariq Aziz.  More than anyone else, he tried to sponge away the brutal crimes of Saddam Hussein, thus making himself an accomplice to mass murder. He spoke reasonable English, and he liked to be seen before the cameras dressed in military fatigues and puffing a cigar, the picture of calm insolence. A court in Baghdad has just sentenced him to death by hanging. But Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, says that he will not ratify the sentence. He has his reasons, moreover:  Christians are now being summarily massacred in Iraq by al-Qaeda, Tariq Aziz is a Christian, and his execution would seem to the terrorists a license to go killing yet more Christians. 

So, like Paunescu, Tariq Aziz looks likely to escape his just deserts. What ought to be done to these sponge-wielding apologists for tyranny is really a difficult question, with arguments and counter-arguments that are equally valid. But they exploited their positions and their capabilities to support tyrants responsible for persecuting and killing people, a good number of whom were thrown into unmarked graves. Maybe they acted so vilely only because they were weak, but to be allowed to die tranquilly in bed seems like one more privilege that they really don’t deserve.

Lies, Censorship, and Power



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Muslims who for one reason or another fall foul of the law in a Western society almost invariably claim to have been tortured. It’s standard procedure. I first came across it in Israeli military courts, where healthy PLO prisoners with broad smiles tried to explain why there wasn’t a mark on them when they’d just been hung by the wrists for twenty-four hours, or something equally physical.

The British government has fallen for it. It is paying out a million or more pounds to each of a dozen Islamists who say they were tortured in Guantanamo. As far as can be seen, there is no corroboration and not even checking of their stories. We, the public, are supposed to take it on trust. None of these men are in any real sense British, with among them an Iraqi, a Libyan, a Jordanian, and a Moroccan.  Several were in the country illegally. On the face of it, all were Islamist terrorists, usually with direct connection to al-Qaeda.

No British person could expect to receive a tax-free cheque for a million pounds for honest work. A soldier who has lost a limb in Afghanistan will receive annual compensation of £8,780, not enough to live off. Insane pursuit of human rights has thus reversed the roles of the criminal and the victim.  Nobody in public life seems prepared to address this monstrosity, and so the resentment it arouses is suppressed. One commentator, the spirited Douglas Murray, inescapably draws the conclusion that a society that behaves like this does not want to survive.

At the same time, the thirteen-year-old Darius Gill wrote on Facebook a Remembrance Day tribute to fallen British soldiers. He was a pupil in a school in Coventry where two-thirds of students are Muslim. A gang of Muslim boys his own age at once threatened to kill him, promising to “slit your throat so when you scream, only blood comes out.” They celebrate British deaths in Afghanistan. No prizes for guessing the consequences: The Muslim terror-juveniles have been suspended pending inquiries, but Darius has been removed from the school to keep him safe.

Also at the same time, the BBC announces that it no longer intends to show a three-part series, Murder in Beirut, about the death of the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri when a bomb blew up the car he was traveling in. Either Syria or the Iranian proxy Hizbollah was responsible. A United Nations tribunal is about to report its findings, and Hizbollah is making it plain that it will go to any lengths to reject blame, if necessary overthrowing the Lebanese government of Saad Hariri, unhappily standing in for his father Rafiq. When a Hizbollah newspaper took the obvious propaganda step of attacking the BBC series before it was shown, the BBC instantly collapsed. So we have reached a stage when Islamist terrorists control what we may and may not see, in effect exercising the kind of lock on public opinion that they enjoy in their own Muslim society and which perpetuates violence.

Douglas Murray’s pessimistic conclusion can be taken further. The growing body of evidence shows that Britain won’t survive in the long run because it doesn’t deserve to.

The Decline of the Anglican Church



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The split in the Anglican Church has been a long time in the coming, but it has now become irrevocable. The turning point was a decision this July to support the ordination of women bishops. The issue, like the acceptance of gay priests, has been too much for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to handle. Instinctively a fence-sitter, he always manages to upset everyone and get the worst of all things. Earlier in the year, his astonishing support of sharia law destroyed what little authority he had left. Five bishops are now leaving the Anglican Church to become Roman Catholics. They are taking with them an unknown number of congregants, probably so far only in the hundreds. But whole parishes are likely to convert, bringing into question ownership of property, including church buildings and vicarages. Pope Benedict XVI has set up a mechanism known as an Ordinariate to receive them, which for instance allows married men to be Catholic priests.

Enthusiasts are claiming that the Protestant Reformation is reversing, and Catholicism will undo the work of Henry VIII and reclaim its status as the church in England. Not at all, according to an angry roar from the professor of Church History at Oxford, the departure of the bishops and their followers is good riddance to bad rubbish. Besides, the Catholic Church is in feeble shape. One of the few Anglican priests with intelligence and character is Nicolas Stacey, and he has pointed out that in the predominantly Catholic city of Liverpool last year, there was just one ordination to the priesthood and currently there are only nine seminarians.

The old institutions exist in name but no longer function. Last week the British Navy and the Royal Air Force were left unable to defend the country, and this week the national church hollows out. The country is dispensing with its beliefs and its purposes — fast.

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