David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

The English Schindler


On May 19, Sir Nicholas Winton will be celebrating his hundredth birthday. My colleague Jay Nordlinger, always quick to praise those who deserve it, reminded me of this man. He did something memorable in the last months of peace in 1939, when the Nazis were dismembering Czechoslovakia and it was clear that soon they’d begin persecutions. Winton was then aged 29, and a stock-broker’s clerk, not someone special but a person as ordinary as any other. He went to Prague, set up an office there, and organised eight trains that brought Jewish children to London. These children needed sponsors, papers, and funding, all of which Winton arranged. The ninth train was due to leave on September 3, the day war was declared, and therefore it was cancelled. The 250 children who would have been on that train were soon murdered.

Winton saved 667 children in all, though sometimes this figure is given as 669. There’s been some recognition. Books have been written about him, and films made, and he’s been called the English Schindler. The Queen knighted him, Vaclav Havel decorated him, and the Czechs proposed him for the Nobel Peace Prize. It so happens that a few years ago I caught him on a television programme, being interviewed by David Frost, he of the Nixon tapes. Frost brought in Alfred Dubs, one of the children saved, and who has made a success of his life in England, becoming a member of the House of Lords. Winton kept his composure even during this emotional encounter. His modesty is as exemplary as his conduct. He says of himself, “I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help.” The reward of the virtuous, according to the psalmist, is a long life, and that’s the case here. Happy Birthday!

The Two-State Solution Is No Solution


In a few days Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will be meeting President Obama in the White House. There is something imperial, almost Roman, about these occasions. The satrap of some distant province is coming to bend the knee in obeisance to the emperor wearing a laurel crown. Last time Netanyahu visited as prime minister, Bill Clinton was in the emperor’s role, and he let it be known that he greatly resented the visitor’s independence of mind. Wasn’t this arrogant fellow really just a petitioner, and didn’t the emperor have only to snap his fingers to have his way?

Nobody knows what is going on in the head under Obama’s laurel crown, but the vice-president and the national security advisor are among well-placed personalities to declare that the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock is about to be broken. They are going to put pressure on Israel to accept the famous two-state solution; peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians will follow once they live in states side by side. In the background, voices are prophesying that Israel will have similar negotiations with Syria, and that the United States and Iran are going to lie down together the way lions and lambs do, according to the psalmist in a rare liberal mode.

You hardly need to be a Middle East expert to realise that none of this is probable. Recent concessions by Israel — evacuating southern Lebanon or Gaza, for example — have merely opened new areas for terrorism against it. Like other Arab societies, the Palestinians are so irrevocably divided between secular nationalists and Islamists that they are in a state of latent civil war. Besides, both Palestinian parties are so richly subsidised by outsiders that neither truly wants a state and the demands of government that this would involve — better, easier, more continuously rewarding, to make nuisances of themselves and be paid for it. Syria makes the return of the Golan Heights a pre-condition of any talks. Iran has arrested, tried, and sentenced Roxana Saberi, only to release her, a cat-and-mouse game that allows the mullahs to conclude they can do whatever they like to anyone, and Obama is an imaginary emperor whose feet are clay.

The two-state solution is, anyhow, an anachronism. The failure of the Oslo accords and the character of Yasser Arafat killed the whole idea. The one conceivable move at present is to return to pre-1967 conditions, and for Egypt to have the Gaza Strip and Jordan the West Bank. The snags involved might be surmountable. But right on cue, here comes King Abdullah of Jordan to say at the top of his voice that Israel and the Palestinians must make peace immediately, and failure to do so means a war with a year or 18 months. No responsible leader should hold out such a threat — but let that pass, the king doesn’t really mean it. Palestinians already comprise three-quarters of his population, and he is fearful of acquiring the West Bank and a couple of million more. The threat of imminent war is a way of issuing a caution, “If the Israelis won’t have the Palestinians, I’m not having them either; get them off my back.” In other words, he’s anticipating that whatever Obama ordains won’t work out, and he’s not the only one to be doing so.


‘Only Connect’


“Only connect,” was the advice that the novelist E. M. Forster gave to anyone who wishes to understand the world. He wasn’t a very forceful personality, but the advice remains sound. And recent events have provided a rather startling illustration.

In September 1933, Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, arrived in Geneva to address the League of Nations. He stayed in a smart hotel and gave a press conference to admiring journalists. His purpose was to claim that Nazi persecution of Jews was justified. Jews had too much power and influence, and, besides, they weren’t German and had no right to be in the country. (I owe this information to Flight from the Reich. Refugee Jews, 1933-1946, a thoughtful study just published by the historians Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt.)

In April 2009, Mahmud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president, arrived in Geneva to address the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. He too stayed in a smart hotel and gave a press conference to admiring journalists. His purpose was to claim that Muslim aggression against Jews was justified. Jews have too much power and influence, and besides they have no right to be in a country of their own.

Only connect, eh?

Emperor Jones


When the decline of Britain comes to be properly recorded by some future Edward Gibbon, the name of Jack Jones will feature prominently. He has just died at the age of 96, In his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s he was General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union with its 2 million members, and a representative, almost a caricature, of intransigence, selfishness and militancy in the name of the workers. How he loved class warfare! And how he laid down the law to Prime Ministers Wilson and Heath, both of them apparently defenseless to deal with so rigid, so Stalinist, a figure. He obliged them to agree to a social contract in spite of the contradiction in it, namely that money was evil but it still had to be taken from everyone else and given to workers. He was one of the master-minds of the British economic disaster of those decades. Paul Johnson nicknamed him “Emperor Jones.”

A man in this mold, it always seemed to me, had to be a Communist, and more than that, a Soviet agent. Always drably dressed, sporting a proletarian cloth cap, he spoke in a voice loaded with both monotony and menace. This presentational style of being a Puritan revolutionary was surely imitated from those he admired in the Kremlin. Other trade-union leaders accused him of being a Soviet agent, but this he always liked to deny. Truth-telling has never been in the playbook of such types.

One clue was that he had volunteered for the Spanish civil war, and risen out there to be a commissar in the British Battalion, responsible for “political and moral education and vigilance.” That word “vigilance” conceals the fact that as commissar he had the power to send men to the firing squad. You didn’t get a job like that unless you were a loyal Muscovite Communist.

The obituaries, of course, fawn over him. To the Guardian, Jones had “unflinching integrity” — that’s a perfect specimen of the kind of euphemism Leftists come up with for a hard-line Communist. The BBC, now guaranteed to be off-beam, rather comically suggested he enjoyed “vigorous contests” with management. The Times spoke of his “left-wing affiliations” — another polished euphemism — but conceded that he was “a good hater.” Even the Daily Telegraph found him “dedicated to the Socialist ideal of Each for All and All for Each.”

At which point Oleg Gordievsky has lost patience. Famously, he was the KGB colonel and resident in London who defected. Since then, he’s been reminding the country how dangerous the Soviets and their agents were. Now he has written a letter to the Daily Telegraph to state that he had been the case officer for Jones and his wife, also a Comintern agent since the 1930s, and he had given Jones “a small amount of cash.” (So much for the Puritan revolutionary.) Gordievsky also read the volumes of his files, now in the KGB archive. We have to be grateful that Jones did not have the chance to practice in Britain the role of commissar he’d learnt in Spain.

A Salute to the Boys from Italy


I happen to have just passed through Pisa airport, hardly one of Italy’s largest, and observed a unit mustering there. The men were wearing green shoulder flashes with the initials ISAF and underneath them some Arabic script. I asked several what the initials stood for, but nobody quite knew — I for International, AF for Armed Forces, but S? And in English too? It was obvious where they had been posted but they did not really like to say so. Kabul, Afghanistan. I did not like to ask what exactly their mission was. The Italian armed forces tend to receive a bad press, but these men were in great spirits, very soldierly, well turned out, calm and collected as they enjoyed a farewell pizza and espresso. They were also busy with mobile telephones, a new bit of kit since my army days and one that must change conditions in the field by keeping them in touch with home. Men over military age are a bit suspect when they say they wish they were younger and could go campaigning too, but that is just what I thought, with a surge of solidarity for these men and the task ahead of them. 


Send Iran a Message: Don’t Mess with the U.S.


The sentence of eight years in prison just passed on Roxana Saberi in an Iranian court is a travesty. She is the 31-year-old with dual Iranian and American citizenship, accused of somehow obtaining classified information and passing it to American intelligence. What position was she in to obtain such information? And how could any facts be established when her trial lasted just one day?

President Obama so far has restricted himself to denying that she engaged in espionage. Mrs. Clinton avers herself “deeply disappointed.” Such politeness, such self-control — and how misplaced! Words, mere words. They appear to have no insight at all into the political culture confronting them. For months, they have been preparing the ground for some sort of negotiation in order to establish a friendly relationship with Iran, and at pains to stress how anxious they are for this. To the mullahs, that means the Americans want something, and the question therefore is how much can they be made to pay for it. This phony arrest has been staged for the sake of the information it will reveal about the thinking in Washington, or in plain language, how complete is the collapse of American morale and will.

Obama and Clinton should demand Roxana’s release, summon all the international help available, impose whatever sanctions will harm Iran, and maybe dispatch a fleet if only as a show of strength. Maybe even arrest a few more of the Iranians in Iraq posing as diplomats but who really are engaged in espionage. Never mind what the surrender-monkey Europeans do or say. Otherwise the mullahs will conclude that they can mess with the United States as much as they like, and there are no costs in doing so. They’ll push Hezbollah and Hamas to fight — they have just been caught promoting a Hezbollah coup designed to destabilise Egypt. After that, they’ll suddenly boast that they’ve been lying all along, and do have the nuclear weapon. What’s happening to Roxana shows that soon Americans and everybody else might not be safe in that part of the world.

This Is a Test


The case of Roxana Saberi is extremely troubling. She has dual American-Iranian nationality, and in the eyes of the Iranian authorities that fits her up perfectly for a political experiment. According to press reports, she was freelancing for the American broadcaster National Public Radio until 2006 when she had her credentials revoked. Since then, she has been in Tehran preparing for a master’s degree and doing research for a book. Earlier in the year she was arrested, charged with buying a bottle of wine and, of course, being a spy. At a one-day trial she was found guilty, and is now in the dreaded Evin prison awaiting her sentence.

This is an issue with precedents in other totalitarian settings. In 1935, for instance, a British nurse on secondment to a hospital in Frankfurt was walking home after duty. Uniformed Nazi storm-troopers waylaid her in the street and beat her up. Informing the British government, the British consul, Dr. Max Auwe, spelled out how serious this episode was. The fact that the storm-troopers were in uniform showed that they wished to be identified as acting for the Nazi regime. The Nazis wanted to find out whether the British would react strongly to such a provocation or cave in. When Dr. Auwe insisted on a policy of strength, he was fired from his post. Months later, the British government signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty that gave Hitler his fleet and became the stepping-stone for the disastrous policy of appeasement. The failure to defend a British nurse who had been deliberately attacked, the Nazis rightly judged, signified that the British were in no frame of mind to defend the national interest, but could be pushed to make huge and devastating concessions.

So it is exactly with Roxana Saberi. The Iranians are testing the frame of mind in Washington. They have heard President Obama lamenting over past American policy, and offering change, indeed pleading for friendship. Negotiations are in the air. It is even being suggested that in the event of agreeing to negotiations the Iranians need not suspend their nuclear development, hitherto a condition for proposed talks. The mullahs are in the process of discovering whether Washington might be willing to make further concessions. Hillary Clinton has expressed “deep concern” over Roxana Saberi, and if weasel words of the kind are the sum total of Washington’s response then the conclusion will be that the United States can be pushed into abandoning its national interest and instead pursuing a policy of appeasement of the mullahs, in spite of their warmongering quite as evidently as the Nazis.



The name of Damian McBride was virtually unknown in Britain, except to a small circle of political insiders, and some of them already called him McPoison. That nickname will now stick for the rest of his life, a reminder of disgrace and shame. For some time this man has been in charge of communications for Gordon Brown, the prime minister, with an office in Downing Street and a six-figure salary courtesy of the taxpayer. Brown likes to parade a fine set of morals on every conceivable occasion, stressing that he is the son of an upright Scottish clergyman, boasting that he himself is whiter than white, and that sleaze in his administration would not be tolerated because he has values (a favorite word of his, spoken with a strange little twist of his mouth). All this release of morality, it turns out, is for external consumption; for internally he has been directing McBride to release rats from the sewer.

The Conservatives had apparently been winning the battle for public opinion in the blogosphere. Therefore McBride decided to launch a website, to be titled Red Rag, on which he would put lies and innuendoes to denigrate these political opponents. To a colleague and like-minded spin-doctor, also a Labour insider and advisor, by the name of Derek Draper, he sent samples, involving disgusting sexual fictions about Conservative leaders, including David Cameron and George Osborne. They also fabricated stories about Mrs. Osborne’s state of mind. Absolutely totally brilliant, Draper chortled to McBride. The pair were evidently certain that this filth would stick and win them the election to be held next June. It is inconceivable that they did this without at least the knowledge of Brown, and quite likely his approval, whether open or tacit. Brown used to consult McBride daily, and Draper was invited to Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.

A Conservative blogger somehow learnt about all this, and exposed it. The scandal is rocking Britain. At first Brown and the others tried to cover up, pretending that this was all juvenile, and never intended for publication. That could not wash. McBride has been duly fired. Brown tries to plead ignorance. The Conservatives are pressing for an apology, but moral Mr. Brown will do no more than express regret.

In the centuries of British parliamentary and political life, hard things have often been said and cruel deeds done, but the cut and thrust did not involve deliberate and considered destruction of rivals through deception and lying and sexual scurrilities concocted behind the scene like this. Previous socialists would not have sunk so low, but such complete disregard for principle in the pursuit of power is nonetheless the outcome, the necessary culmination, of socialism.

Obama and the King


President Obama’s tour round the world has been absolutely surreal, as he could not stop making promises he is in no position to fulfill, or apologizing for perceived American misdemeanors he is in no position to prove, never mind redress. Surely the unforgettable highpoint of this festival of illusion was in London, when Obama encountered King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It’s an accepted courtesy to royalty to make a little nod with the head, but film and photographs show Obama bending from the waist in a gesture of humble obeisance, as it were, acknowledging his inferior status. And there were the rest of us foolishly thinking that the whole purpose of the republic set up by the founding fathers was that its representatives would be on equal footing with monarchs. Obama further has gone out of his way to praise a so-called “peace” initiative proposed some years ago by King Abdullah. This calls for Israel to give the Palestinians everything they demand, including the return of all refugees. According to Obama, Israel would be “crazy” not to do what King Abdullah specifies, although this means that it must dissolve itself.

At the Arab summit just held in Qatar, King Abdullah had quite the opposite experience. Where Obama fawned, Muammar Gaddafi, the dictator of Libya these many years, showed open disrespect for the king, telling him to his face in front of assembled Arab power-holders, “It has been proven that it is you who have lies behind you and the grave ahead, and it is you who were created by the British and protected by America.” And he went on, “I am an internationalist leader and the dean of Arab rulers and the King of African Kings, and the Imam of Muslims, and my international stature does not permit me to descend to any other level. Thanks.” Gaddafi then walked out and visited the local (and superlative) museum of Islamic art. All right, Obama needn’t talk in that comically high-flown idiom, but it would be nice if he stated firmly and unmistakably that he’s the leader of the free world, and therefore that he’s the true internationalist, and as such has no call to bow and scrape to absolute rulers and despots.

Today’s news is that three Pakistanis have just been publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia, bringing to twenty the number of those executed in that country so far this year. And an American president bows to the man ultimately responsible for that?

A World Candy Committee?


President Obama and Dmitri Medvedev have met and put out a joint statement. Quite like old times, eh? The USA and the USSR divvying up the globe. But times have changed, and, in any case, Medvedev is a cipher, conjured into the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin who is today’s Strong Man of Russia.

Diplomats naturally employ a language of boiler-plate, and this statement is a fine specimen of it. “We agreed . . . ” the paragraphs begin, and then “We will strive . . . ” the subsequent paragraphs continue. What a lot of alternate agreeing and striving! The two of them are to “demonstrate leadership in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world.” Next please: “We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world while recognising that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures.” New emphasis, really? In boring fact, the Russians are completing the process of making Iran a nuclear power, and protecting North Korea’s nuclear armaments as well as rebuilding their former empire by subterfuge and force. What leadership? What reduction?

Apparently lost in mutual admiration, Obama and Medvedev are also going immediately to sort out the world’s economic crisis, to bring al Qaeda and the Taliban to heel, to stop terrorism, to end the narcotic trade, in short, to ensure sweetness and light in a dozen other festering issues — as the statement lengthened I was expecting to learn that the World Candy Committee had been set up for the benefit of everyone under 18. Incidentally, all the agreeing and striving has to be over and done with by this July. Of course.

Could it be that Obama only put his name to this preposterous statement in the hopes of building up a possible rival to Putin? But I fear he meant it sincerely and it’s sending shivers down my spine.

The Saudi Version of Events


Saudi Arabia is as impenetrable a country as the old Soviet Union. The ruling family occupy much the same place as the former Soviet Politburo. The King and his close relations decide everything in closed sessions, and no outsider can really know who among them argues for what, or on what basis. This murky personalization of the political process means that favours have to be done, people have to be bribed, honor has to be saved, and so moral and financial corruption comes to be institutionalized.

Saudi Arabia spreads this corruption far and wide, simply because it has oil that outsiders need and for which they prepared to abase themselves. Death of a Princess was a British film some 20 years ago about the judicial murder of a member of the Saudi royal family, and the Saudi man she had eloped with. The Saudis did everything they could to have the film banned, so much so that the British Foreign Secretary said he regretted being powerless to oblige, and could only apologize. A major British company, BAE, seemingly bribed the relevant Saudis to obtain lucrative contracts. If the matter were investigated, the Saudis threatened, there would be no more contracts. This blackmail worked. The then Prime Minister Blair squashed police procedures on the specious grounds of national security.

These disgraceful episodes are preludes to understanding what has happened to Mrs. Jane Rodway. She and her husband Christopher, an engineer, were once living and working in Riyadh. One day in November 2000 they drove to a garden centre. A bomb had been set under their car, and its explosion killed Mr. Rodway and concussed Mrs. Rodway. It is unmistakably clear that Saudi jihadis were responsible, just as later they were responsible for shooting the BBC’s defense correspondent, and killing the photographer he was working with. But that casts shame on the Saudis, so the authorities concocted a fable that the Rodways’ bomb had been set by expatriates engaged in illicit brewing and selling of alcohol. Fourteen expatriates were arrested, beaten, and tortured. None of them knew how to handle explosives and there was no evidence against them. But Sandy Mitchell, an anaesthetist, was made to confess on television and was then sentenced to be beheaded. William Sampson, a Canadian, also was made to confess. After three years of this travesty, when the Saudis could feel their honor was safe, all were released.

Mrs. Rodway is now a school secretary back in England. I read in the Times that she has written time and again to the Saudi royal family and their London embassy to ask for an explanation of her husband’s murder, but has never received so much as a reply. I also read that the British Foreign Office offers “sympathy” to Mrs. Rodway but denies her request to receive compensation from a fund designed to relieve British victims of terrorism abroad. As Mrs. Rodway says, the Foreign Office has accepted the Saudi version of events.

Submitting to injustice like this, the Foreign Office is ensuring that Britain becomes a vassal state, adopting the Saudi ways of doing things secretly and corruptly. The scandal is enormous, and the consequences dire. 

Understanding Iran


Whoever drafted President Obama’s public appeal to Iran has little or no idea about the way minds work out there. This gust of hot air spouting from the president of the United States was disconnected from reality, and so more than enough to make the heart sink. Obama invited Iran to “take its rightful place in the community of nations.” This, he went on, “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.”

Oh yes it can. The ayatollahs are certain that terror and arms will advance the greatness of Iran better than anything else. History, culture, daily experience, assures them that this is a fact of life, and that peaceful action is only for the weak. Centuries of fighting, much of it unsuccessful, have formed their identity, and now they believe that they are on a winning streak, with a victorious Islam for inspiration. What need have they of the ruins of Persepolis or the poetry of Saadi and Rumi when they are developing nuclear bombs and missile-delivery systems? Appeals like Obama’s merely sound patronizing. Who the devil is he to be burbling at them about their rightful place and true greatness?

The patronization is not the worst of the damage, however. Here is the president of the United States, occupying the position hitherto openly acknowledged as speaking for the West, turning himself of his own free will into a petitioner. The ayatollahs are bound to treat this approach as a humiliation for Obama, and broad evidence that victory is in their grasp. Over and above that, Obama has shown that he is willing to pay a price to come to terms with Iran, and naturally they will want to find out how much more he might be forced to pay. They will therefore scorn any element of good will, and continually raise the stakes to test out how far to go in cashing in on their perception of American weakness and humiliation. And sure enough, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lost no time at all brushing aside Obama’s appeal as a mere slogan, while a crowd of tens of thousands were out in the streets chanting their well-practised refrain of “Death to America.”  Many epithets are applicable to the ayatollahs ruling Tehran, but naïve and sentimental are not among them.

The End of Israel?


“CIA report: Israel will fall in 20 years.” That is the title of an email that I received 48 hours ago. Pretty sensational too. My first reaction, I admit, was: So that’s what Chas Freeman and like-minded friends of his must be cooking up in American intelligence circles. Apparently a study had been carried out and “made available only to a certain number of individuals.” And who was leaking it? Someone by the name of Franklin Lamb, described here as an international lawyer, in an interview with Press TV.

That same evening I happened to be giving a talk and I mentioned this email. Shocks all round. On proper inspection, however, the quoted language was certainly suspect. What projects the demise of Israel in this report is “the looming spectre of colonial Apartheid” — a phrase lifted straight from the loony Left lexicon.  The rapid disintegration of South Africa and the Soviet Union offers precedents for what would occur in Israel — a notion also current on the loony Left. Israelis are said to be applying for visas and fleeing abroad, with California or even Russia as their destination. Having supported Israel for so many years, the American public “may not take it any more.” That, of course, is the deepest wish-fulfilment of every anti-Zionist and Muslim hater of Israel. Anything is possible these days, but could the CIA really have put its hand to anything of the kind?

Well, no, it didn’t. Press TV exists to promote Iran. Franklin Lamb may or may not be real. The internet carries the information that someone of that name is associated with the American University of Beirut, and also wrote a rather childish primer in praise of Hizbollah, which is a strange thing for a real, live American to be doing. What we’re dealing with here is disinformation pure and simple. The usual smearing of Israel is made that much more believable by being put into the purported mouth of the CIA. In Tehran and Beirut they must be congratulating themselves on this wheeze and hoping that it will become an established fable manipulating public opinion in their favour.

Freedom of Movement under Attack


Revolution takes freedom away in one big bang, whereas democratic governments erode it one step at a time. And usually the step is stealthy, so that most people are lulled into a sense there is nothing much to be done about it except shrug. This is the case in Britain, where freedom of speech and freedom of association have already been drastically curtailed under the present New Labour regime. Freedom of movement is now also under assault. Anyone who leaves the country by land, sea, or air is to have the trip recorded, which involves tracking 250 million journeys annually. At least 24 hours ahead of the journey, travelers will have to supply addresses, credit card details, and exact itineraries (quite often impossible, of course). This information will be stored for ten years. Preposterously, the purpose is said to be catching terrorists as they leave for home in après-bomb mood. What will actually happen is bureaucratic oppression and loss of liberty on a yet more unprecedented scale for everyone law-abiding.

Needless to say, there has been no consultation or parliamentary debate. This is the kind of measure that police states undertake. In Soviet Russia, the passport system meant that the authorities could control the movements of the entire population. The Pass Laws of apartheid South Africa were similar instruments of total surveillance. Britain must evidently expect its own version of Pass Laws. As was the case in Communist countries and South Africa, what actually happens is that government abuses soon become unbearable, and infuriated subjects become ever more ingenious at cheating and lying and forgery until the whole system of checking essential freedoms collapses under the weight of its contradictions and bullying. The British are at this point with New Labour.

Talk or Bomb?


The issue of Iran going nuclear is shrouded in secrecy. Most of us just don’t have the information to form a worthwhile opinion about it. Someone who does is Emanuele Ottolenghi, who has been an Oxford academic and is now with a think tank in Brussels. Under a Mushroom Cloud is the title of his book on the subject. I went to a talk he gave in the appropriate setting of the House of Commons under the auspices of the Henry Jackson Society.

To the question, why does Iran want the nuclear weapon, he gave the straightforward answer that the bomb is an instrument for the projection of power. In his opinion, the Islamic regime is not so much apocalyptic as out to change the balance of power in the region — not that their rationality can be depended upon. A combination of Persian nationalism, Shia identity, and Marxism is at work, altogether mixing the divine with the subversive. Once Iran has the bomb, others in the region will want it too, as self-protection. Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt or even Turkey fear that the United States, nominally their protector, may not wish to embroil itself when push comes to shove. A nuclear Iran also means that the difficulties of Lebanon and Israel will be impossible to resolve. The dire alternatives appear to be bombing Iran or accepting its nuclear weapon, and Ottolenghi could not decide which was the worst-case scenario.

What to do? Options are limited. The United States can either talk or bomb. Israel can only bomb. Europe can only talk, but it could talk tough. European exports to Iran account for almost half the national total and an embargo on them would thwart and complicate Iranian ambitions. Given the current economic recession, I doubt whether anyone in the audience believed that the European countries would ever commit themselves publicly to a policy of trade embargo, or stick to it privately if they did commit to it. As things stand, the offer of the United States to engage in talks with Iran is bound to increase the influence of Iran, and Ottolenghi raised the grim prospect of a Middle East Yalta.

As I left, I made my way down the corridors of the House of Commons past the marble statues and busts of Gladstone, Disraeli, Palmerston, Canning, and could not help contrasting present doubt with past conviction. The free world is at a crossroads. There’s not much time left for President Obama to clarify the decisions he has to take on what surely will be the defining issue of his presidency.

Sir Teddy


The news that Sen. Edward Kennedy is to be awarded an honorary knighthood adds to the battering that Britain is currently enduring. People no doubt feel sorry that the man has a brain tumor, but at the same time few Americans have ever been so disliked and resented by British public opinion. The honour of a knighthood to foreigners is itself quite rare. Kennedy is supposedly singled out for services to Britain. When President Obama was running for office, Kennedy’s endorsement of him seemed to matter, and plainly Prime Minister Gordon Brown calculated that on his recent visit he could please the White House by laying before it this piece of personal tribute. This is misconceived and humiliating.

The fate of Mary Jo Kopechne has not been forgotten. As for Kennedy’s services to Britain, they involved playing the Irish nationalist card and promoting the IRA throughout his career. Most probably he did not really believe in this cause but was grandstanding for the sake of the Irish vote in Massachusetts. The effect was to generate violence, cynicism, and falsehoods. The British, he said in 1971, were in Ulster the way the Americans were in Vietnam. Anticipating ethnic cleansing, he proposed that the Protestant majority there “should be given a decent opportunity to go back to Britain.” He made a particular point of welcoming Gerry Adams to the United States, lobbying to have him invited to the White House, fundraising and posing for photo-ops with that deceitful agent of nationalist violence. Nobody has a comparable record of trying to make Gerry Adams and the IRA seem respectable. That too has not been forgotten.
Compared to the major ills afflicting Britain, this knighthood is a minor issue, but nevertheless illustrates Brown’s special flair for rewarding those who don’t deserve it, and it is another step towards the terminal fate of him and his government.

The Rentier Population


$4.5 billion: That’s what a conference of donors has just decided to give to Gaza, and that’s in addition to the hundreds of millions already paid out by United Nations agencies. True, about half the new money is due to come from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, and they rarely deliver what they promise. According to Mrs. Clinton, the United States is in for almost a billion, and she seems to think this is fine. A rentier is someone who lives off the labour of others by simply cashing dividends, and this cascade of dollars makes the Gazans a unique example of an entire rentier population. No other people in the history of the world have ever lived at the expense of others on this scale.

And what did they do to deserve their rentier dividends? Easy. They elected Hamas to govern them, in the certain knowledge that Hamas as good Islamists are bound to declare jihad with the purpose of wiping out Israel. Sure enough. Hamas duly fired daily barrages of rockets and mortars into Israel. Polls show that large percentages of the Gazans approved. A day came earlier this year when Israel had had enough, and went to war.

By and large, the Gazans are not in a position to weigh whether or not Hamas’s policies are realistic and beneficial. Of course it is right and proper to feel pity that they are poorly equipped to make sound judgements about the balance of forces in the region, the certain consequences of resorting to force, and the morality of doing so. Nevertheless they freely elected Hamas and it has been acting in their name, attacking Israel on their behalf.

To reward Gazans now with $4.5 billion shows that Hamas needs make no amends for the disaster its jihad brought down on everyone. On the contrary, the decision to attack Israel has proved a wonderfully paying proposition. Stick to Hamas, the Gazans can tell each other, and your status as a rentier is assured. Hamas has already resumed firing rockets in the certainty that it is cost-free and richly rewarding to do so. The donors have laid the foundation for the next round of warfare. This is hallucinating; this is madness.

Who Ensures the Peace?


A bomb exploded this week in the Khan al-Khalili in Cairo, and killed a seventeen-year-old French girl, severely wounding a score of other visitors, some of them naturally Egyptians or other Arabs. The Khan al-Khalili is one of the great picturesque souks for which the Arab world is famous. What a place, and what a crowd! All human life seems to be there. When last I was in the Khan, I saw a man selling assorted second-hand plastic spoons, which seemed to tell me something all too real about Egypt and poverty today.

When I think of the Khan, I recall Lord Cromer, who in the days of the British governed Egypt more or less like a viceroy for over twenty years. Before obtaining his peerage, he was Evelyn Baring, and so quickly known in Egypt as Over-Baring. Modern Egypt is the lengthy memoir that he published in 1906, and well worth reading today. In it, he describes how he used to enjoy a regular walk by himself through the Khan al-Khalili. Anyone could have shot him. One day, he records, he met an Italian lady of his acquaintance, and while they were chatting a young British officer, beautifully turned out, and on a magnificent horse, came clattering past. Everyone, including Lord Cromer and the lady, had to get out of the way in a hurry. “Che bella razzia,” the lady exclaimed, meaning how fine and commanding the English looked. Lord Cromer then reflects upon the redcoats up in the citadel who are actually ensuring the peace.

No Egyptian ruler since Cromer could have dared to stroll freely like that in the Khan — not King Farouk, not Nasser, not Sadat, not Mubarak. Thanks to the invaluable service of Memri, I have lately been catching up on some Egyptian clerics. One, Amin Al-Ansari, showed scenes of wartime genocide on an Islamic television channel and preached, “This is what we hope will happen, but, Allah willing, at the hand of Muslims.” Another, Zaghloul Al-Naggar, thinks the West wants to avenge its defeat in the Crusades, and also that the Arab world is ruled by the scum of the earth because none of its leaders have declared jihad.

When ignorance and hatred come together like that, some poor fellow is left sitting on a pavement selling second-hand plastic spoons, an unfortunate French girl is blown to bits simply for passing by at that moment, and innocent bystanders have to be maimed. That Italian lady may have been a bit gushing, but the Islamists of Egypt (not to mention those of Iran, Hamas, or the Taliban) prove that Lord Cromer was surely right to maintain that if there isn’t any enforcement in these circumstances, there won’t be any peace either.

Revolutionary Road


Revolutionary Road is the movie of the moment, and a well-made and well-acted movie it is, too. But the view of the world that it conveys is a very familiar one indeed, namely that suburban life in America stifles individuality and creativity, and, in fact, is a form of living death. Inescapable frustration drives the film’s heroine to measures that kill her. Hopes and dreams in such a setting are impossible, just delusion.

Richard Yates, author of the novel on which this movie is rather faithfully based, was a colleague of mine in the mid-1960s when we were both teaching creative writing in the University of Iowa. Dick, as he was known, presented himself as an East Coast gentleman, wearing a three-piece suit for his classes, superior in manner to everyone, not to say snobbish. One day, he urged me to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s diaries, and quoted how Fitzgerald on a visit to Princeton had observed (I haven’t checked my memory of the exact wording), “the faded banners on the chapel wall.” Dick was on the look-out for memorials. A glance at his pale and pudgy face was enough to reveal that here was a deeply unhappy man, so unhappy that he could not tolerate anything like happiness in others. By the end of the evening, he would be in his shirtsleeves, drunken and perspiring and vituperating about a failed marriage, and savagely resenting that he was not a household name.  The identification with F. Scott Fitzgerald meant that he too had escaped the suburbs and was aspiring to a higher tragic fate. This cast of mind surely typifies the loathing of so many intellectuals in America and Europe for themselves and their own society.

His closest — perhaps only — friend in the English department was the writer R.V. Cassill, a native Iowan. At the time, Cassill was publishing obsessive articles to the effect that President Kennedy had been the victim of a giant conspiracy, and the Warren Report was a cover-up. Cassill also believed that the Jews of New York controlled national publishing, and made sure that he did not have the reputation he thought he deserved. One professor had a young wife from Czechoslovakia whose parents had been murdered in the war by the Nazis, and Cassill said to her, “Next time we’ll be sure to get you too.” After that, and the row that then exploded, Dick Yates was almost alone in sticking with Cassill, perhaps more out of bravado than shared prejudice. The pair of them would stalk together through the campus, as though the surrounding unhappiness they had created was final proof of their innate superiority.  

Like Fitzgerald, Dick Yates died too young, with the pathos of unfulfilment clinging to him. As I sat through the movie, I couldn’t help wondering whether he would have changed now that his name and his work are suddenly in the headlines. Might his unhappiness have dissolved, and could he have found a wife and settled with her in the kind of pretty house with a lawn and trees that he had held in such contempt? As the film’s heroine takes the fatal steps leading to bloodshed and death, a man in a nearby seat suddenly fell to the floor, and cries and calls for an ambulance broke out in the cinema. But he had only fainted. The sight of blood had been too much for him. That fitted in very well with Dick’s view of the world.

Postscript Concerning Abu Qatada


Abu Qatada is indeed appealing to the European court in Strasbourg, and the appeal carries with it a claim to compensation for wrongful imprisonment and infringement of his human rights. There is no limit to the sum that the court decrees, which the British taxpayer must pay. How delighted Abu Qatada and jihadis everywhere must be with the turn of events. What an encouragement to violence! These barbarians come to kill us, and we reward them for their efforts. Only a society that has lost the basic instinct of self-preservation could get itself into such a mess.


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