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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Dirty Academic Work Goes Online



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“Dirty work at the cross-roads”, used to be what schoolboys in England said about the tricks they played on one another. Well, there’s been some dirty work among English historians, comic in its way but also a glimpse into the special nastiness of the academy. A wonderful extra dimension is that those involved in the dirty work are Soviet-era specialists.

Amazon carries anonymous book reviews. Dr Rachel Polonsky is the author of Molotov’s Magic Lantern, an imaginative character sketch of the frightful Molotov – Stone Arse, in Stalin’s jovial nickname for him – from the books in his library. Under the signature “Historian” someone savaged it: “This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published…Polonsky is not an academic…her writing is so dense and pretentious…”  Etc etc, and with a swipe at her chauffeur-driven car as well.

It turns out that Dr Polonsky some years back reviewed Natasha’s Dance, a book about Russian culture by Professor Orlando Figes of Birkbeck College, a younger historian whose books have been usually, and rightly, praised. I have reviewed one or two of them myself.  Polonsky’s review had evidently got under Figes’ skin and in the guise of “Historian” he was taking revenge. Polonsky worked out what Figes had done. More than that, she spotted that Figes/Historian had several times rubbished the books of Professor Robert Service, a very eminent writer on Soviet matters, author of biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky, winning a prize for the latter. She also worked out that Figes/Historian had praised one of his own books,” a rich and deeply moving history…which leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted…” Etc etc.

Polonsky informed Professor Service about her detective success, and he promptly sent informative emails to 31 leading historians. Figes brought in his lawyer, to say that all this was deliberate misinformation, and anyone who said otherwise would be sued.  A Mexican stand-off. But then a short time later this lawyer suddenly states that the anonymous reviews were written by Figes’ wife, but without his knowledge. Mrs Figes is a high-powered lawyer but not qualified to write about Soviet matters as far as is known.

Is it not all highly enjoyable? The last time I recall anyone reviewing himself favourably was when Anthony Burgess, that wayward genius, used a pseudonym to puff one of his own novels. The moral of the Historian saga is also clear: nothing very much is at stake in academic rows, which is precisely why the dirty work at the cross-roads is so unscrupulous and self-promoting.

Presidential Mistakes



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President Obama is reported as saying that American policy towards Israel is “costing us significantly in blood and treasure.” First mistake. It’s the other way round, Israel is holding the front line against Iran whose power is spreading through the region via Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas. If Israel was not holding the line, then the United States would face a most uncomfortable choice: either to tackle Iran head-on or concede that Pax Americana didn’t work and it is time to withdraw from the Middle East with as little ignominy as possible.

From his way of thinking, Obama goes on to conclude that Israeli-Palestinian peace holds the key to Middle East stability. Second mistake. If there was genuine peace tomorrow and a state of Palestine, it would make no difference to the Sunni-Shia divide, to the ambitions of Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the civil war in Yemen, to the sectarian conflict in Lebanon, to the hard-wired despots in Egypt and Syria, and so on and on.

Obama also thinks that this projected state of Palestine is a practical proposition. Third mistake. The Palestinians are irremediably divided between Fatah and Hamas, and a state would trigger civil war to determine which faction would own it.

And from all this bog of misconception and ignorance, Obama finally is weighing using his presidency to impose some solution on Israel. Fourth mistake. No such solution exists. Any attempt at imposition would oblige Israel to see its existence now an urgent issue of self-defence and survival. The consequences boggle the imagination.

In the White House, it seems, someone likes playing with fire.

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The Polish Tragedy



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The death in a plane crash of Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president, and a large number of politicians and senior military officers with him, would be tragic at any time, but as well as that there’s something almost symbolic about it because they were on their way to a memorial ceremony at Katyn. In the woods there, in 1940, the Soviets murdered 22,000 selected members of the Polish elite, and tried to cover it up and pretend that the Nazis were responsible. Communist ideology and Russian anti-Polish sentiment motivated this vile cold-blooded crime. I happened one day to catch a program on Russian television in which the commander of the Soviet execution squad at Katyn, Dimitri Tokaryev — now an old man with a brutal face and the rank of Lieutenant General — boasted about his part in killing these Poles with a bullet in the back of the head. At the end of the day, he said, he had a swollen trigger finger and really deserved his sausage and vodka. But you sound proud about what you did, the scandalised interviewer said. Of course, this assassin answered, the Poles were class enemies, landowners, clerics, professors and so on. This occured in Boris Yeltsin’s time, and it was a major mistake of that strangely ambivalent man not to arrest this brute and put him through the Russian equivalent of the Nuremburg trials.

Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw came to prominence through the famous Round Table agreement of 1989 when the Communist Party surrendered its monopoly of power. The twins were perhaps the most anti-Communist of all those who were then participating in public life, and that is to say quite something since resentment of what the Communists had done to Poland ran, and still runs, high. 

Moreover a plane crash affecting the national life of Poland has occured once before. General Wladyslaw Sikorski was Prime Minister of Poland in 1943. It was a critical moment, as the Red Army was about to drive the Germans back and take their place in Poland as occupiers.  If any Pole could have stood up to Stalin it was Sikorski, a strong personality and representative of the national spirit of independence. That spring, the Germans had discovered the genocidal massacre of Katyn, and they naturally tried to exploit it to drive a wedge between the Western Allies and Stalin. When Sikorski’s plane then crashed taking off from Gibraltar, conspiracy theories at once bloomed. It suited the propaganda of both Goebbels and Stalin to accuse Churchill and the British of sabotaging the plane. Inquiry showed that the controls had jammed, and the pilot in fact survived to testify that it was a genuine accident. Nobody stands to gain from these latest deaths but conspiracy theories are already in the air again. What is clear is that Poland’s sad past still carries into the present.

Less ‘Rotten,’ but How Much Better?



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The British general election is to be held on May 6. This date has been an open secret for weeks, and now it is official. Gordon Brown would no doubt have loved to postpone it, but the parliamentary term of five years expires in June, and so his options closed. A British prime minister has the prerogative of calling a general election at the time of his choosing. Gordon Brown followed Tony Blair into the office by appointment of his party, not election. Almost certainly he would have won had he put this appointment to the test in a general election. He seemed about to take the plunge, then changed his mind and held back. This was a mistake. His three years as prime minister illustrate a general law of politics: The longer you stay in office, the more the electorate comes to distrust you.

Brown is a very odd case. He’s obviously professional, hard-working to a fault, and I used to think of him as someone of weight. But he has shown himself humanly defective, so incapable of reaching out to others that he is beyond normal communication, humorless, narrow-minded, full of petty jealousy and spite. It’s no exaggeration to say that he is resented, even loathed, with an intensity not felt for any previous holders of this office. To top things off, he’s presided over an economic wreck whose consequences will be felt for a generation.

And yet unbelievably, amazingly, inconceivably, he may still win, or stay in office if the vote is close enough to bring a hung parliament, and no one party has a majority. Special factors are at work. Disenchantment with politics has never been higher, and the electorate may well choose to stay away as though on strike. Virtually all the outgoing members of parliament have been exposed claiming expenses and benefits of a kind and on a scale shocking to ordinary people and taxpayers. Journalists already refer to it as the Rotten Parliament, and that is surely how it will enter the history books.

The election, you might therefore suppose, is there for the Conservatives to romp away with. But they have been out of power for thirteen years, and the party is in the hands of David Cameron and the young and inexperienced clique he has around him. Attempting to modernize, they have jettisoned core Conservative values to become a slightly paler version of the Labour Party. They do not dare talk of the European Union, immigration, or the state’s frightening grab of powers to control the citizens and limit their true-born liberty. On all sides I hear people saying that they long to vote Conservative — but, but, but, and still but. The United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, has a single-plank platform of getting out of the EU. Incomprehensibly, Cameron bad-mouthed them, and maybe a fifth or a sixth of the potential Conservative vote went out of the window. The final uncertainty is the Liberal Democratic Party, aiming as usual to be all things to all men and especially all women, which this time may attract those disgusted with the bigger parties. Its slightly smarmy leaders are praying for a hung parliament, and then they will see what the two main parties will offer for their support.

A few days ago, I found myself talking to a senior Conservative Member of Parliament who told me how bitterly his constituents liked to complain about their party’s failure to resist its creeping socialism. He would finish these encounters by asking, Can you face another five years of Brown? Good heavens no! was the general response. A Conservative victory of 20 to 25 seats, he predicted. As the Duke of Wellington said about Waterloo, “It’s the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Terror in Moscow



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The attack on the Moscow subway shows how vulnerable systems of transport are to terrorism, following in the wake of similar attacks in London and Madrid. Thirty-nine are dead, and the number of the wounded has not yet been revealed definitively. Muscovites have proved themselves resilient, and seem to be commuting much as before. To old-timers, of course, survivors from the war and Stalin, an incident like this belongs to a lifetime of violence.

When al-Qaeda hit targets in America, the intention was obviously to destroy symbols of the nation’s strength and values. It is the same now in Moscow. One attack was at the Lubyanka station, with above it the huge, frowning, and sinister yellow-stone headquarters of the secret police who made its routines and underground prison a by-word of horror; and the other attack was at Culture Park, a name flattering to the Russian self-image. This reinforces the first suspicion that Chechens are responsible. For almost two centuries, Russia has made them the victims of brutal police methods and sought to impose its own culture on them. The tragedy is that they deserve autonomy and even independence, and might well have achieved such a goal through a peaceful national movement. Violence deprives them of all justification, and worse still, calls down retribution. This seems to be a cycle of mistakes that minorities cannot help making. Think Tamils. Think Palestinians. Think Basques. Think I.R.A. Take care, Tibetans.

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R.I.P. George Lane



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George Lane is not a household name, but he was a war hero whose death now at the age of 95 is an occasion to tell his story. I knew George, and a handsome debonair man he was, too. Lane was an anglicized version of his name, for he was Hungarian-Jewish by birth, a refugee since early in his life. Sometime in the Thirties he came to England, where his talents took him quickly into high society. When the war came, he joined up, but as a foreigner was absurdly served with a deportation order. Influential friends came to the rescue, and he wangled his way into the Commandos, and was commissioned, in the end with the rank of colonel.

Several of his missions were behind the German lines, and the most astonishing of them occurred shortly before D-Day. Explosions were taking place just off the French coast, and George and another Commando were detailed to find out what these were, as they represented a possible danger to landing craft. The Germans had put in place underwater mines. George reported this, and was then sent back to do further investigation. This time, the Germans detected them, there was a fire-fight, and George was captured. Blind-folded, he was taken for a long drive, escorted into a house up a staircase, and when the blindfold was removed he found himself facing Field-Marshal Rommel and other German generals in their headquarters at La Roche Guyon. Rommel then interrogated him about his mission, saying that he suspected the Allies were about to invade. George of course spoke German but stuck to English, to be on the safe side. The more George hedged, the more Rommel played the good-cop role. But then one of the other generals butted in. If George was the British officer he claimed to be, why did he speak English with a foreign accent. “Because I am a Hungarian Jew,” was not the right answer in the circumstances. George said, “Because I am Welsh.” Oh, of course, the generals all nodded. George was given a cup of tea, and then sent to prison in Paris, and deported — not to a concentration camp as might have been the case, but to an officers’ prison. As for Rommel, a few days later he and his car were shot up by the RAF, so he played no part in D-Day, and then he was accused by Hitler of being part of the July bomb plot, and forced to commit suicide. George was surely the last non-German to see him alive.

The Daily Telegraph has his obituary but omits the brilliant improvisation that he spoke with a foreign accent because he was Welsh. A pity. The obituary also forgot to mention that he was Jewish. Now what was the reason for that?

America’s Infantile Foreign Policy



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Call me a cynic, but the latest agreement between the United States and Russia to cut their stocks of nuclear weapons seems nothing over which to expend any enthusiasm. Quite the contrary. It’s a hangover from the dead and distant days of the Cold War. Disarmament mattered when Ronald  Reagan faced Mikhail Gorbachev, because it expressed the understanding that mutually assured destruction was not a real policy. Russia today is a very different proposition to its forebear, the Soviet Union. To be sure, its leaders, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are keen warmongers, and paranoid, so gestures to reassure them are in order. Even as they sign this treaty, they’re commissioning new assault vessels to be built in France. Mutually assured destruction, however, is over and done with. Still, granted the background and outlook of the present Russians in the Kremlin, any treaty with them is in the nature of all-in wrestling. They’ll cheat if they can, and obstruct or avoid verification.

Barack Obama evidently has a belief that the whole world ought to be free from nuclear weapons, and the United States has to show them the way. Such a belief is as commendable as it is infantile, a sort of pacifist delusion about the nature of power  politics. How are India and Pakistan to be persuaded? What about China, already flexing its muscles as a super-power? A smaller arsenal in the United States will only help convince North Korea and Iran to build a bigger one, to equalise if possible.  What the latest treaty does is to confirm John Bolton’s nightmare that Obama is the first post-American president, and under him the United States is deliberately dismantling its status in the world, so that Pax Americana goes out of the window. It’s some consolation that the stock of nuclear weapons is still high, and the next round of disarmament talks is seven years away, by which time the man in the White House must be other than Obama.

The Inept Handling of Israel



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Britain has just expelled the station chief in London of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. This is a fall-out from the recent assassination in Dubai of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the man responsible for procuring arms for Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization. He was also responsible for the murder of two Israeli soldiers, which certainly made him more of a target in circumstances where — alas — the only law that exists is an eye for an eye. Several members of the squad that killed Mabhouh entered Dubai on falsified British passports evidently cloned from genuine passports in the possession of British subjects resident in Israel.

Now David Miliband is a young man who has suddenly risen from decent obscurity to become British Foreign Secretary. The issue of the passports therefore fell to him. Expulsion assumes that in the British view Mossad really did the hit, which is likely but not certain. Much of the evidence remains ambiguous. Miliband condemned the faking of the passports as “intolerable,” an infringement of British sovereignty, endangering British subjects, and the fact that Israel is a friend of Britain “adds insult to injury.”

The high-handed and petulant language of Miliband’s response is as absurd as the act of expulsion itself, and — again, alas — only underlining the insignificance of the Foreign Secretary and his ministry. What Miliband does or says doesn’t really matter, except that it coincides with President Obama’s determination to push Israel into a corner. Obama’s inept handling of Israel, his many-faceted fantasies about how to achieve peace in the Middle East, are dangerous, because he is forcing the Israelis to think in terms of existential survival.

Why are politicians so prone to stupidities where Israel is concerned? The answer, I think, lies in the refusal to understand that Islamism and terror are strengthening their hold throughout the Muslim world, and it is going to take a long time and much clear thinking and willpower to deal with this. The faking of passports, like the location of settlements in Jerusalem, is incidental in a much larger process with fateful implications, and to magnify such things out of all proportion only invites yet more Islamism and terror. 

Nazi Propoganda, Today



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Jeffrey Herf is a professor of history at the University of Maryland. I’ve just finished reading his latest book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. There have been excellent studies of Nazi policy towards the Middle East, one of the earliest being by Lukasz Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, published as long ago as 1966. Hirszowicz was Polish, a one-time Communist, and he had access to material behind the Iron Curtain. When he defected to the West, I got to know him, and realized that he was one of those people whose knowledge was really encyclopedic. The only other person I have known like that was Leo Labedz, the editor of Survey, in its day the most authoritative anti-Communist magazine. Leo was also originally from Poland. That country was in the eye of the storm in Europe, which is presumably why it produced such brilliant witnesses — survivors might be a better word.

Professor Herf has got hold of new material, thousands of pages of transcripts of Arabic-language radio broadcasts by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War. American or British diplomats and agents were recording these broadcasts which have then been deposited in the State Department archives. Several German ministries were involved, and so were a number of pro-Nazi Arab exiles, the best known of them being Haj Amin, the mufti of Jerusalem. He got to meet Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler, and others. The message was simple and repetitive: Kill the Jews. None of these broadcasts saw fit to mention that the Nazis were in the process of killing Jews by the million, but they kept on exhorting the Arabs and all Muslims to start what might be called freelance extermination.

What emerges is that two streams of prejudice fed these broadcasts. One consisted of the incitement to hate Jews found in some verses of the Koran, and the other consisted of unremitting Nazi ideology. These two sources fed and reinforced one another. Of course it is depressing to read this rubbish, especially because it was thought out, worked up into the big lie that Jews were masters of the world at the very moment when knowledge of Auschwitz and genocide must have been present in the mind of everyone connected with the broadcasts.

What strikes hard today is that the equivalent of these broadcasts of hate is put out ceaselessly by Tehran, by Hamas and Hizbollah, and an assortment of preachers like Yusuf Qaradawi and Saudi sheikhs. Nazism is dead and buried in most of the world, in other words, but alive and thriving in the Arab and Muslim countries. Islamofascist is a very real and applicable term.

How is this possible? Why are there no scholars like Hirszowicz and Labedz and Herf to document the facts and educate the Muslim world? Herf has a credible answer. He applies the word “narcissistic” to the Muslims, meaning that they interpret events solely in the light of their own limited preoccupations and prejudices. And no less tellingly, he calls these propagandists “provincial,” meaning that they can’t break through their own limitations. These two adjectives, I think, will help us understand why men like Ahmedinejad still spout anti-Jewish and anti-Western conspiratorial nonsense in a pure Hitlerian style.

Turkey and the 100,000 Armenians



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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has been in London, with a photo-op next to Gordon Brown, his British opposite number, on the steps of Downing Street. The ceremony, the courtesy, goes with the job. In return, Erdogan did something extraordinary. He threatened to expel 100,000 Armenians from Turkey. “They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country.” My citizens? My country? Mass expulsion? This is the mind-set and the language of a dictator.

One of the mysteries of official Turkey is the point-blank refusal to discuss the deaths of probably 1.5 million Armenians as a result of the First World War. These unfortunates were faced with massacre or flight, which usually amounted to the same thing. Genocide is a valid description. Hitler, you remember, used the precedent of the Armenians to apply to the Jews.

In contrast, Turkish intellectuals, including historians and the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, do not flinch from examining what happened, even though they may be penalized by the state for it. What is this about? All the First War regimes involved are long since vanished. This should be a matter of the historical record. Yet official Turkey evidently feels that any admission of deliberate mass-murder would be the source of permanent shame.

A Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee has just passed a resolution that the fate of the Armenians was indeed genocide. The Swedish parliament has passed a similar motion. Turkey has recalled its ambassadors to the capitals concerned. Erdogan doesn’t seem to realize it, but the threat now to expel 100,000 Armenians is an open admission of a guilty conscience.

This is another stage in Turkey’s changing political stance, whereby it is dropping out of the West and moving over to Islamism. The Erdogan government has trumped up charges of conspiracy against the secular military, and is purging the judiciary and academia. In London now, Erdogan has said that to suspect Iran of developing a nuclear weapon is to fall for a fiction. A commentator in the Times points out that Turkey is a member of the U.N. Security Council and can do its bit for Iran in that forum.

In the context, the threat of expelling 100,000 people is less a hang-over from the past than evidence of the kind of world already taking shape.

Poor Old Joe & the Palestinian Status Quo



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Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Israel, and the very next moment some Israeli minister announces that they’ll be building 1,600 more homes in East Jerusalem. Poor old Joe! Settlements! More of those darned things! And just when he was going to play the conjurer, say abracadabra, and shake peace out of his sleeves. So upset is the VP that he turned up ninety minutes late for dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Was he telephoning the geniuses in Washington who think these settlements are the key to the Middle East, or sobbing in the men’s room?

Indirect negotiations, proximity talks, the Road Map, the Quartet, shelf agreements, the freelancing of Senator Mitchell and Tony Blair, and the drills of General Dayton have exhausted the lexicon of diplomacy and the ingenuity of lawyers. The reason for this should be crystal clear. The Palestinians are happy with the way things are; they see no reason for change; the present situation is playing profitably into their hands. If they’d really wanted a state, they could have had one any time since the 1992 Oslo Accords. Israel, the United States, the European Union, and even Saudi Arabia implore them to have a state. But why should they? All these well-wishers are pumping money to them, and a state would force them to spend it on administration rather than themselves. They also have the pleasure of observing everyone — and specially Washington — putting pressure on Israel and making it unpopular. Sixteen-hundred more settlements gives them grounds for 1,600 more complaints, and then sitting down and rubbing their hands in expectation of commiseration and rewards. A state would oblige them to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire.

Interrupting his sobs, Biden says that the announcement of new settlements “is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” And what trust might he have in mind? Trust between Fatah and Hamas, perhaps, when either of those terrorist groups is as likely as Mossad to have taken out the arms dealer Mahmud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Or perhaps trust between us and Damascus and Tehran, where the terror-masters operate, and can be heard laughing at the policy initiatives of the United States. That deeper counterpoint noise in the background is the dull thud of heads beating against the wall in Washington. They don’t seem to understand that as long as the deadlocked status quo serves the interest of top Palestinians there is not the slightest chance of a peace process. It’s inconceivable, of course, but the announcement that the United States was backing and even financing settlements would do more to make the Palestinians appreciate that their true interest is to reach a speedy compromise, rather than seeing that Joe Biden spoils his dinner.

Michael Foot, R.I.P.



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Michael Foot, the veteran Socialist trounced in a general election by Mrs. Thatcher, has died at the venerable age of 96. Perhaps it is only right and proper that the obituaries contain nothing but compliments to his oratory, his energy, his wide reading, his idealism, and all the rest of it. About his truculent assumption of moral and intellectual superiority there is no hint. To me, he represented the very worst features of the 1930s in which period his character was formed and became stuck. He was happy to work for Lord Beaverbrook, an egomaniac press magnate who bought the souls of journalists, paying them to write what he wanted. A pacifist really, Foot made his reputation by attacking the Conservatives for not being prepared for the world war. Indeed they weren’t, but it was hypocrisy to exclude himself from the blame.

Few campaigned as assiduously as Foot for nuclear disarmament. That was his specialty. Every Easter, the Campaign organized a mass march to Aldermaston, the center of the British nuclear-weapons program. Foot made sure to be in the front line, preferably holding on to a baby in a push-chair for the benefit of photographers. For him, it was much better to be Red than Dead. I always used to imagine what role he would have played in the event of a Soviet invasion and take-over. Probably he would have refined the argument that we should all cooperate with the Soviets in order to mitigate what they would do if we opposed them. And perhaps they would have shot him because he’d given evidence of being ready for treason.

And then along came Oleg Gordievsky, the most senior KGB officer ever to defect. Among other startling evidence, he informed us that Foot had taken money from the Soviets to subsidize Tribune, the hard Left socialist publication. Confronted with this, Foot said he couldn’t remember. Beaverbrook and the KGB! The obituaries that I have seen are silent about this, but that was when dread of what the man stood for turned into contempt for him. Couldn’t remember a commitment like that?

Here’s a footnote (sorry about that). I met him at a dinner given by neighbors in Wales. He asked for a bottle of whisky, and by the time the meal was over he had drunk it. Although he was almost incapable, he insisted on driving to his home. He couldn’t steer through the gate but hit the heavy gate-post and tried to get past by revving, the tires screeching as he did so. Poor Mrs. Foot was wailing. That whole scene remains with me as a perfect metaphor for the man, and the dead-end into which his irresponsibility nearly landed us all.

Turkey: Destined for Islamism?



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Turkey is the country to watch right now. The government of the ruling party, the AKP, has set about arresting dozens of senior officers in all the services, some of them retired and others still serving. They are accused of conspiracy, and wild stuff it is too, staging incidents that would lead to national crises including war and of course the overthrow of the AKP government.

The AKP is evidently Islamist in its core. I have been caught in demonstrations of theirs in Istanbul, and it has been obvious that religion, for this party, is the better part of politics. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, is an overt Islamist, but one who keeps his cards so close to his chest that the degree of his commitment has been hard to discern. The turn in the Turkish attitude seems to date from the moment when they denied the use of Turkish space to American forces in the run-up to Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. They then seemed less perturbed than previously that the European Union is evidently not about to admit Turkey any time soon. Erdogan and others have become highly critical of Israel, attacking it in bloodthirsty Islamist style. And all the while there have been talks, exchange visits, and a strengthening relationship with Iran. This accords well with the Khomeinist view that Islam is one and indivisible.

I have been talking with someone who does a lot of business with Turkey and knows the country really well. He is no sort of supporter of autocracy, generally a pacifist and even on the Left, and tends to look positively on Islam as well. To my astonishment, he said that he hoped for a military coup, for otherwise Turkey was destined for Islamism, and the balance of forces will take another turn against the West. If the armed services take these arrests and accusations lying down, then it is goodbye to the outstanding model of democracy and modernization in the Muslim world.

CARTOON OF THE DAYBY HENRY PAYNE   01/28
‘Charge It’

Surrendering to Barbarism



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Readers of National Review need no introduction to Theodore Dalrymple. Under that byline, or his real name of Anthony Daniels, he is a frequent contributor. There’s no one quite like him. He’s been a doctor and worked in prisons, really coming to grips with the lower depths. Although he reports terrible things, and sometimes has a little gleam of I-told-you-so when reporting something even more terrible than what’s gone before, he refuses to abandon his humane instincts and a belief that it’s worth fighting for civilization even if the cause looks lost.

His very latest book, just published by Encounter Books, has the title The New Vichy Syndrome, and the even more challenging subtitle, Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism. In the wartime years of Vichy, intellectuals simply surrendered because that was the comfortable thing to do. Now they’re at it again. Europe is in a bad way, with falling birth rates everywhere, and native populations being replaced by immigrants who are mainly Muslim and often unable or unwilling to integrate. Nobody has the courage to take a position about this, or indeed anything else. Morality is thought to be relative, so people must do as they like and feel free in this respect. In the absence of any such things as right and wrong, of course barbarism must gain the upper hand. Wonderful lengthy footnotes are evidence of Dalrymple’s intellectual energy. Here’s one: The present Archbishop of Canterbury recommends sharia law for Britain, and by so doing he “mistakes cowardice for bravery, surrender for victory, and platitudes for insight . . . far more of a danger to British society than Islamic fundamentalism on its own could ever be.”

By coincidence, a fine example of intellectual nonsense comes right now from Paris. Bernard-Henry Lévy is perhaps the foremost public intellectual in that city, with an opinion about everything and eager to sound off all day long. He’s not really a bad fellow the way Sartre or other French intellectuals were, just totally and unforgettably pleased with himself. In a recent television show with discussion of the Enlightenment philosopher Kant, he thought to win the argument by quoting one Botul, who had a theory known as Botulism — you’d have thought that word might have given pause for thought, since botulism is a specially nasty form of food poisoning. Anyhow it turned out that some clever journalist had written articles inventing Botul simply as a spoof, and Lévy had fallen for it. Aren’t the fatuous credulity and the bogus authority bang up to date? It’s not a surrender to barbarism, of course, but it does tend to prove Dalrymple’s point that European intellectuals are worse than useless.

Was the Assassination of al-Mabhouh a Frame-Up?



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The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai poses a whole lot of riddles, as these things usually do. Al-Mabhouh was basically an arms’ dealer, that is to say, in an unlovely profession. He was a senior Hamas member, that is to say, a terrorist in unlovely company. He seems to have been in Dubai on his way to conclude a deal with Iran for arms destined to be smuggled into Gaza on behalf of Hamas. That certainly gave Israel an inducement to take him out. In addition, he is accused of being responsible for the murder of two Israelis, and those who commit terrorist acts of that kind are themselves killed by Israeli agents if this is feasible. So a finger points at Mossad, the Israeli secret service to which the rest of the world attributes legendary powers. Israeli media are indeed guessing that this is a Mossad operation, and, if so, Mossad got their man.

But there are counter-indications. The undercover squad was reported to have been eleven strong, and later seventeen. Such numbers are quite unnecessary and could only have maximized the danger of being caught. They traveled on foreign passports that had been tampered with, therefore bound to lead to high-level diplomatic ructions. They are further reported as wearing wigs and false beards, the equipment of 19th-century spies and easily detectable. Closed-circuit television cameras in the hotel where the assassination took place captured images of them all. Could Mossad really have risked such a mission in the certainty of its operatives being filmed? You would also expect them to be reasonably young and athletic, but the pictures show some portly gentlemen, rather absurd in shorts and carrying tennis rackets — more 19th-century disguise.

Fatah has almost as great an interest as Israel in seeing that Hamas does not acquire yet more Iranian arms that might well be used to oust Fatah from the West Bank. Jordan has arrested two Palestinians and extradited them to Dubai. Are they Fatah agents? Surely Israel could never have relied on Palestinians not to betray them in an affair as dangerous as this? Also, the Syrian branch of Hamas might have a score to settle with the Gaza branch, and that’s what these two Palestinians were employed for.

If all this proves to be speculation in the heat of the moment, and that huge squad with false beards and wigs and tennis rackets showing themselves openly on camera really were Israeli agents, then Mossad was immeasurably lucky to get away with it, and badly needs to sharpen its act. A thriller-writer, however, might raise the possibility that Mossad did it in this extraordinary way in order to frame Fatah. That would make it a class act, after all.

Oren You Worried, Too?



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Something that bodes ill for the future has just occured on the University of California’s campus at Irvine. A group of Muslim students, several dozen in number, disrupted a talk by Michael Oren, the historian who is also the present Israeli ambassador in Washington. They had prepared and coordinated tactics for the occasion. The hall was quite large, and they had packed it. Interrupting Ambassador Oren, one of them would rise to shout an insult, whereupon the guards would lead him out of the hall, and another would stand up to shout – and so on and on until sustained discourse was impossible. Appeals from the university authorities and Ambassador Oren had no effect at all. After a number of individual ejections, those who were still in their seats got up to leave together. The shrill shrieks of the female students injected a note of hysteria into the commotion.

Such contempt for free speech in a university is intolerable. The university has to defend its principles, and discipline those who have no respect for them. If they had their way, these Muslim students would reduce intellectual standards to those of campuses in Tehran or Riyadh. But there is a yet more ominous omen. These students are privileged, members of families able either to pay the fees to attend or who know the procedures for obtaining scholarships and grants. But they are here not to learn but to find confirmation of what they have already been taught about non-Muslims. The more education they obtain, the greater their bigotry. The more they experience freedom in the West, the more determined they are to abuse it. What that event at Irvine exposes is the growth of Islamism down the generations.  

The Russian Shadow over Ukraine



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Viktor Yanukovich has won the presidential election in the Ukraine, and the news will greatly please the Kremlin, whose invisible hand has been hard at work. Ukraine is a huge and devastated country, mercilessly bullied by its Russian kith and kin down the centuries. In recent years, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoschenko, leaders of the so-called Orange Revolution, made a bid for real independence, which in practice meant joining the European Union and NATO. The Kremlin made sure that nothing like that happened.

The Orange Revolution took shape in the previous presidential elections in 2004. Yanukovich was supposed to be rail-roaded into office by the out-going president, Leonid Kuchma, the way that Boris Yeltsin had simply put Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin. The attempt at rigging was so blatant that millions took to the streets (memo to Ahmadinejad in Tehran: that’s not how to do it unless you want trouble). Yanukovich was defeated and even left the country. But he’s the kind of hard man that emerged from Communism. In his youth, he took part in gang warfare, and has a couple of convictions for robbery and assault.

What opened the way to his comeback was the stupidity and selfishness of Yushchenko and Tymoschenko. Supposed to be allies, they were busy sabotaging one another. Ukraine sank into debt, with inflation and unemployment adding to the general helplessness. For this election, Yanukovich was crafty enough to acquire the air of being a democrat. He called on the services of an American political consultant, Paul J. Manafort, who had once advised Sen. Robert Dole. Did Mr. Manafort really have to do his bit to make sure that the Orange Revolution has run its course?

In the White House, they may have installed that much-touted reset button to deal with Russia, but someone must have forgotten to wire the wretched thing up properly.     

The Eurozone’s Greek Tragedy



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The crisis question right now is: What’s going to happen about the euro? This is the common currency that sixteen European countries adopted after scrapping their national currencies a decade ago. People warned at the time that one interest rate didn’t fit different economies, and worse still, there was no state to back the currency up as a lender of last resort. But a handful of politicians were determined to push ahead at all costs, evidently in the belief that the common currency was bound to lead to a single European state.

Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are among the countries that treated the euro as an excuse to spend money they didn’t have. Presumably the expectation was that the other eurozone countries would act as the rich uncle and bail them out. Greece is the supreme basket-case. Its debt is so high that conventional borrowing through the issue of government bonds cannot pay it off. The logic of its position is to default. Then it should leave the eurozone, issue its former currency of the drachma, devalue, and so stimulate employment and trade.

The handful of politico-fanatics who monopolise the European Union can’t possibly allow anything of the kind to happen, because that would put paid to their dreams of a European super-power. So they are laying down the law for the Greeks, cutting the country’s expenditure and raising its taxes. Greeks are being told that they are too profligate and incompetent to run themselves. Commentators are saying that Greece is being turned from a sovereign state into an economic protectorate. What humiliation, what an authoritarian exercise! It’s never going to work. The Greeks are prone to dangerous fire-raising rioting, and in the face of austerity and mass unemployment imposed by foreigners there will be mounting resentment culminating in strikes and violence.

The only alternative is for Germany, the one eurozone country that really works, to pick up the bill for the Greeks. In other words, fulfilling the role of lender of last resort. Why ever should Germans pay for others to give themselves a good time at their expense? Besides, if they pay for the Greeks, the Spaniards, Portuguese, Irish, and all the rest will come asking for a similar favor. Treated as suckers, the Germans will also take to the streets, with every excuse for turning violent.

Thoughtful people have long predicted that the eurozone was an unfounded and rash experiment pretty well certain to break up in just this way. The politico-fanatics are unable to admit that they have pursued policies harmful to Europe, and will fight to the bitter end for the privilege of being wrong. The lesson is going to be more painful than it need have been. The Greeks will be the first to go through the fire, but the others will soon be following.

The Complicated Prime Minister Blair



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The inquiry currently chaired by one Sir John Chilcot into how Britain came to participate in the 2003 Iraqi war is producing high-class political theatre. Friday was a climax. It was Tony Blair’s turn to give evidence, and much of the country was hoping that the occasion would be a preliminary trial that would establish him as a war criminal, therefore due to face a real trial.  A hostile crowd gathered outside the building where the inquiry is being held. They had banners expressing a view that is now passing into general perception (note the agitprop spelling of the name): “Blair Lied Thousands Died.” While it was still dark, Blair slipped in via some back entrance.

Blair told the inquiry that 9/11 had changed things, making regime change in Iraq virtually inevitable. It would have been an unpardonable risk, he said, to leave a man like Saddam Hussein in a position to develop weapons of mass destruction that could be passed on to terror groups.  It was brave of him to add that today he feels a similar but even stronger fear of Iran. A trained lawyer, he dealt pretty easily with objections, for instance that Saddam was found to have no weapons of mass destruction, that the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law, and that lack of planning for post-war Iraq caused the confusion and fighting that has given liberation a bad name.

Blair was a disastrous prime minister of Britain, leaving a trail of damage that it will be difficult to repair. A strange mixture of arrogance and naivety, he has evidently convinced himself that whatever he thinks must be right just because he’s thinking it. But he did understand that the West cannot live in peace while the Arab world is in the hands of dictators and tyrants. If we do not manage to meet on equal terms, the Arab world will pull everyone else down. The removal of Saddam opens the Arab world to a future that allows for a meeting on equal terms. If that happens, Blair and Britain will be able to claim a share of the credit. But when Blair said he was indeed responsible for the decision to attack Iraq, that he had no regrets and would do it all over again, he was met with boos and shouts.

Prime ministers have often been condemned, of course, but Blair’s predicament is unique: He gets away with wrong and harmful decisions about the United Kingdom, devolution, the abolition of the House of Lord, Europe and much else while being written off in the popular mind for the only thing he got right. He cannot recover, he will be some sort of pariah, jet-setting because unable to show his face at home. The next act of the political drama will be the appearance before the Chilcot inquiry of Blair’s successor Gordon Brown. The curtain will then fall when the general election takes place, in May or June at the latest.

Booing Blair Off the Stage of Political Theater



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Political theater of the most dramatic kind is now playing in London. A retired civil servant by the name of Sir John Chilcot is chairing an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq War, with the purpose of discovering that familiar will-o-the-wisp, what lessons are to be learnt. The inquiry is public, in a building near Parliament, but so many people want to attend that there has to be admission by balloting. And what began as inquiry has turned into an unofficial trial of Tony Blair. It has long been evident that most British people believe that he lied deliberately about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, it was illegal to go to war against an Iraq that did not directly threaten Britain. Blair is held to have lied and prevaricated about that too. All because he was somehow in thrall to President Bush.

A succession of Blair’s advisers, cronies, and cabinet ministers has appeared before the inquiry. So have several diplomats and high-ranking members of the Foreign Office. Yesterday, Lord Goldsmith was questioned. As attorney general, he was responsible for advising about the legality of the war. In the run-up to the war, he appeared to state that military action would be illegal, but then a visit to Washington and consultations there led him to change his mind. The suspicion that he was put under disgraceful pressure  has considerably raised the temperature.

Those who run the country, the politicians and the mandarins, are being exposed to view on television as never before. They accepted the honor and glory of their jobs, the titles and decorations, the government expenses and salaries and index-linked pensions. Now they squirm, they excuse themselves, they pretend to have a conscience and all the while they are fighting to preserve their offices and privileges. Most nauseating are the confidential and secret letters some of these high-ups wrote to express reservations at the very time they were preparing the campaign. Evidently such letters were insurance policies, due to be produced if and when things went wrong and a public inquiry followed, as now. Actually there was one legal adviser who did resign, and she is now presented as a heroine.

What is revealed unmistakably is the poor quality of those running Britain. The government, indeed the whole administration, is in a process of deliquiscence, melting before our eyes into a blur of incompetence and self-serving opportunism. The overthrow of Saddam is accepted as a crime to be ashamed of, not as an action that destroyed a dangerous tyranny. The national interest is hurt.

Tomorrow Blair himself is due to face the Chilcot inquiry. He is said to have been closeted with advisers preparing and practising his answers. A bad omen. There are also rumours that a huge demonstration will be held. Blair is adept at talking his way out of a mess, but in this act of the drama he looks like being booed off the stage.

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