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Citta Violenta.

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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Friday, February 27, 2004  
Clearing Matters Up Before I Go Away

The bottom line is this: all I really want to do is scan and relay chaos and calamity and point and go "look! look what's happening there! And there! And here!" My only real conclusion, ever, is "but that's insane!" That's why I don't read papers: I don't want to analyse somebody else's analysis of an event witnessed second- or third-hand, via the mystification of CNN and Sky or Reuters chits sprinkled like bloody confetti. What I mean, of course, is that I don't want to read our papers, unless they've actually bothered to dispatch someone to this or that warzone, and even then I don't. I like the BBC World Service/Worldwide because I get the impression that it's propped up by chinless wonders running around deserts and getting an unconscious kick out of the agony they inflict on their home-shackled little wives. Bravo, chaps! Also, on the radio, it sounds like transmissions from the third rung of hell, or cities emptied by smallpox and plutonium. Al-jazeera employs tough, thick-blooded old boys who aren't afraid of anything, and always on the roof of some hotel dodging missiles (in their mind, those missiles are knickers). Boom! Thud! There's a lot of scrappy, specific sites to help hunt down, embellish or invent stories (so find your own). I sugest Asia Times Online to start; it enjoys a special place in my heart because it covers all my favorite places (i.e. anywhere I haven't been and wouldn't go without a weapon and a hip-flask full of cognac).

I think I've realised, though, that there are some basic things that people enjoy and desire and deserve (within reason) to experience, consume or own. Something decent to drink would be a ready requirement. Access to French wine and brandy, Russian vodka, or a bottle of Scotch malt whiskey, for example, is an inalienable and global human right. An important corollary to this, of course, is somewhere decent to drink it. There are some basic requirements here, too. 1. Atmosphere, and the right noise level to allow intelligent conversation to fully bloom and reach a desired pitch of sarcasm, scorn and contempt. 2. Atmosphere refers to decor, vintage, and people involved. Everyone should be able to go to a bar and meet a femme fatal, a war hero, a cyncical and drunk professor, or, at the very least, a stock-broker with a sense of humour. There should be the potential for human variety and interaction. 3. Access to a bar with a late license and somewhere not so busy that oxygen is an issue, but not so empty that the sound of you putting your glass back on the table echoes. However, it should be noted that, in this respect, central London is as desolate as Baghdad. (The essence of good foreign affairs journalism, I gleam from afar, is finding the best bar in the worst city, and sending a message back to your employees that says "you're paying for this, right?")

Other important things. Food and good shoes. A wide choice of restaurants with menus you can't even read. Somewhere attractive to go and argue and spit quail and venison at each other, or romance someone irresistible. Plus, exquisite or simply well-cooked food, made with ingredients that aren't delivered in industrial vats or pumped with toxins or subject to some sinister biotech fix-up. Restaurants that let you smoke. Smoking! While we're on the subject, this also comes under my personal rubric of basic human rights (right next to "the vote" in case you're interested) and is, nevertheless, severely infringed upon only by the most advanced democracies. Taxing pleasure is one thing, but when it comes to the outright suppression of minor appetites by some nebulous external force - the soft power of moral censure enshrined in law, for fuck's sake! - that provokes one's capacity for resistance, to put it politely. (And when allied to false statistics, i.e. the "facts" of passive smoking, the imposture is compounded.) It's degrading to have to deal with this erosion of autonomy.

Meanwhile, can a society be evaluated by its diet? Of course! Damn straight! If I was forced to live on potato scones and vodka, say, or spam and rye, then I'd know something, at core, was wrong. As it is, I even reserve the option of eating in a Polish restaurant should I get the mad urge (and have done before now). The central thesis put forward is water-tight in so many ways, applying, as it does, to the unfettered assimilations and twists of Japanese cuisine as to the shrink-wrapped fast-death of Sainsbury's packaged meals that say so much about post-Thatcher Britain, mm hmm. Meanwhile, my own kitchen, I wager, is a little Garden of Eden, a mini-Avalon of dinner time in Bow, a triumph of invention over underwhelming circumstances. It's like Madhur Jaffrey crossed with Elizabeth David crossed with Oliver Craner. The British diet is very bad, but very good if you know how to exploit its obscure delights, just like Britain itself.

To emphasise the point, I defiantly retain my options. Venturing into Victoria Park, for instance, with a crossbow, on the hunt for tasty tufted ducks to kill, sling over my shoulder, and take home to cook. I don't recommend mallards, in case you're tempted. Which is a shame because it sometimes seems as if, in British parks, this was the only duck ever. Rat's-tail soup turned out to be a bad idea, but apparently it's possible to import shark fins in tins (well, that's what I heard). And don't ever ever try to eat a seagull because I suspect they have an unlimited capacity for revenge. Same with badgers: they're lethal. They'd drag you to the ground and gnaw your face off without even thinking about it. Don't go near them.

As for good shoes, that's not simply a right, it's a duty. The problem with Western democracy is that finding a good pair of shoes involves a kind of quest, and a mortgage. It's the sort of detail that Thomas Paine did not forseee. All shoes should be good! All commodities should be good quality, because that's their only justification (dialectical materialism, by the way). This is not a question of taste: it's a question of craft and personal dignity. It's not that I'm opposed to sandals, flip-flops and espadrilles (except when worn off the beach); it's just that I am opposed to, say, leather loafers that start to lose their colour after a month. Leather's not supposed to lose it's colour. Hair is, but not leather.

I have a modern outlook; I suppose you could say I'm against the forces of reaction (strict Marxist critique, obviously). I don't necessarily concur with Norman Mailer's utter distaste for plastic, for example. Ambivalence is sacrosanct, nevertheless there's something elemental about plastic. It's the only man-made substance that has the longevity of rock, and maybe exceeds that. Its capacity for immortality demands a certain basic respect. Another example: litter infuriates me, but I'm also impressed by its persistence. In an empty world light years into the future there will still be Top Shop bags and empty cans of Vanilla Coke scraping the ruined pavements of Oxford Street. It will be the final triumph of trash. Another thing: helium balloons that escape the hands of upset children. For some reason, millennia from now, I imagine empty skies full of drifting balloons. Then I feel humbled, as if God had just pushed me off a chair.

Air travel is the great joy of now. If you ever see me on a plane you won't, because my face will be stuck to a window. I'll be dribbling with joy. "Clouds! The sea! A flock of geese!" Really, it's pathetic. But I'm not ashamed. Should a plane I was on be hijacked, I wouldn't notice until the very last moment. On a plane, I have no concept of death. A surge of immortality colonises my soul. I'm like Leonardo da Vinci on a night flight. It's my only genuine moment of vision. Flying to New York last March, I watched the sun set, and felt truly omnipotent. "I'm Icarus, but you won't melt my wings!"

I like driving too, whenever I get the chance. Cars, generally, help me vent anger, which is good, while I have a clean license. As a London pedestrian or bus-rider they serve as a channel for vague flurries of scorn. My general attitude is "Legs before wheels! That's what History says!" As a driver, meanwhile, I roar without thought or mercy towards a pixellated Out Run sunset seared onto my third eye. A car is a means to an end. In other words, getting back to the beach. Therefore, it's the only true valet of freedom. If that seems depressing, then consider this: I can get the best of both worlds.

"Liberty", said John Stuart Mill, "something something something" (I haven't read him yet). I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about cars, planes, shoes, food or alcohol, but he should have been, so I agree with him. When I think about these things, and the photos I rescued from my Olympus Trip 35 after a year, and Vorticists completely out of place in Islington, and not having to read Tolstoy or North Korean school textbooks, I get a surge of what the French foppishly call joie de vivre. Where does it come from - the pine forests or palm-lined roads, or the back of my fuzzy/fiddly head, or the pit of my ritually abused stomach (bit of a cheer here for the Alpa brand of non-vintage, unfairly maligned as it is, except in our house, where we happen to be connoisseurs)? I can't, I can't answer that. But it feels as good as gorgeous guilt, like fancying your girlfriend's best friend. We have some people who have helped us quantify and articulate this, like Omar Khayyam, Louise Brooks, and Ben Jonson. The only way I can describe it is by saying that it's like sitting down to an argument with a full bottle of red and a fresh pack of cigs and getting stuck in for the evening and then falling into bed with Claire Luce before leaving in the morning for the Amalfi. Or, it's like this: once when I left for the Arctic, I came back with a beautiful block of ice in a tin for a lovely Soho stripper, and she smiled when I gave it to her. And I'd expected a kick in the chops, or a sneer of derision. Look, what kind of definition do you want exactly? I know you know what I mean, anyway. Don't make me drag this blather out any longer.

This spiel is dedicated to the woman in my life, Monica Bellucci.

11:34 PM

Naughty Naughty

It turns out that we're like this small but well-stocked hardware stall and our leaders are like so many discreet and slightly crooked market traders. Here's the deal: you can't just sell certain large-scale weapons systems due to all kinds of international bans, treaties, trade agreements and other unsporting export controls. So what we do is, we build them in small parts, and shift them that way. No laws against seperate "who me?" components. That, class, is what we call a "loophole".

How do you like this list of clients: Israel*, Indonesia, Uganda, Colombia, the Philippines and...Zimbabwe! It is further suggested that deadly bits sold to Uganda, Nambia and Angola could end up being shuttled to the Congo, a place so desperate for weapons that 6 national armies proved insufficient.

*Components exported for F-16s used to smash Palestinian settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, by the way.

7:40 PM

Thursday, February 26, 2004  

There are 6 separate wars being fought in Colombia at the moment. This is, I think you'd agree, far too many for such a small country. Marxist guerrillas FARC are fighting over slim territory with rival left wing insurgents the ELA. FARC and the ELA are both fighting the Colombian State, still unable to vanquish their fierce challenge. The State has recently acquired a new enemy in a right wing paramilitary group called the AUC, a one-time ally and auxiliary of the army. The whole reason for the existence of the AUC, meanwhile, is to wipe out FARC and the ELA, so they're all at war with each other as well.

FARC and the ELA are long-established and run a semi-operational social system inspired by Marx-Mao-Leninism, similar to Peru's Shining Path in the 70s and 80s. Outside locale, the ELA are relevant because they fight FARC. FARC, meanwhile, are the most famous of Colombia's terrorist factions. They get the most press and the most hassle. This has something to do with their success and their audacity. They are larger and better equipped than the ELA, and pull outrageous stunts that provoke exciting headlines. They make money from coca production and extortion but extract political capital from kidnapping senior politicians from cities and government buildings, or hijacking their planes. Generally, when people think of Colombia, they think of drug cartels. If they know anything more, they think of FARC.

The AUC, however, would lag in their memory. This is strange because, of the average toll of civilian deaths per year in Colombia (3500), FARC and the ELA are collectively responsible for 15% of them, while the AUC can claim 75%.

The AUC has its origin in semi-official counter-insurgency militias that were organised to fight the methods and effects of the guerrillas. The core of the AUC formed around two men, both prominent figures in Colombia's drug cartels: Jose Rodriguez Gacha and Fidel Castano. These two drug lords were typical of the type in that they used their vast and illicit wealth to become important landowners. Cartel members are known to have brought up to 3.5 million hectacres of Colombian farmland. This put them in direct conflict with FARC and the ELA, who both controlled drug production in their peasant enclaves, as well as dealing with local landowners by means of extortion, kidnap, and murder. In fact, Castano's father had been killed by FARC guerrillas, and the Castano clan had sworn revenge from that moment on.

These were the roots of the AUC, formally inaugurated in 1997, with the blessing (and money) of the army, the government, business leaders, landowners, drug barons, and the US. The AUC were, originally, considered a formal subdivision of the Colombian military machine, a de facto special force. Their money came from vast donations from the landowners and narco-traffickers they protected; from participation in the drug trade itself; and from the redirection of US aid from the Colombian military. Their aim was to completely eliminate the existence and influence of FARC and the ELA in their rural strongholds.

Loretta Napoleoni describes an incident which illustrates their methods:

On 25 October 1997, members of the AUC and the 4th Brigade of the Colombian army, attacked the village of El Aro, in an area reputed to be sympathetic to FARC, the left-wing guerrillas. The army encircled the village, preventing anyone from escaping, and the AUC proceeded to exterminate the population. A shopkeeper was tied to a tree and brutally tortured before being castrated: his eyes were gouged out and his tounge severed with a knife. Eleven people, among them three children, were beheaded; all the public buildings were set on fire, houses were looted and the water supply destroyed. The AUC and the 4th Brigade left with 30 people, who are now some of the thousands of missing Colombians. The butchery in El Aro had a specific aim: to terrorise FARC sympathisers in an area targeted by the AUC and the army.

The AUC is now "outlawed" (it was added to the US list of terrorist organisations which expanded exponentially after 9/11) and currently fighting the Colombian army, despite strong links that remain between the two. AUC squads continue to massacre peasants, trade unionists, left wing politicians, left wing anyone, humanitarian/aid workers, local leaders, and land reform activists. They boast 10,000 paramilitaries, a number growing rapidly. In a recent bid for good publicity they announced that, from now on, they would not execute more than 3 people during every attack. This is, apparently, "something, at least."

11:07 PM

Passion of Christ opens in the US.

In Texas, thousands of Christians rose before dawn to view the movie, with 6,000 filmgoers filling all 20 auditoriums at a multiplex in Plano, Dallas, for screenings from 6.30am onwards. Arch Bonnema, the Christian businessman who reserved the theatre, had spent $42,000 on tickets, having told his wife: "Honey, we've got to get as many people as possible to see this film because it's changed my life."

Its subtle blend of sado-masochism, anti-semitism, "Jesus porn" and sectarian fury has moved a country to collective tears of redemption and rage. "Better than Operation Iraqi Freedom" read a notice.

However, this reassured me: Italian reality TV has a certain slasher style

Scalpel - Nobody's Perfect, a programme in which viewers volunteer for cosmetic shown on Italia 1, owned by Mr Berlusconi, who himself underwent a facelift recently.

It's because we Europeans have culture, and history. That's what sets us apart.

3:00 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  
The Tiny Revolt

You may not of heard about a spasm of Islamist-instigated violence in Nigeria last December, but it happened.

About a year ago, a group of pro-Taliban radicals called Al-Sunna Wal Jamma (Followers of the Prophet) moved into Yobe, a Northeastern state that borders Niger. The group mostly comprised Nigerians (including the sons of many prominent Nigerian families) but also boasted recruits from Lagos and Niger. They set up camps outside the town of Kanamma and travelled into town to preach hardline doctrine to the Muslim population. Locals were outraged, however, when members of the outfit began to farm private land and fish on the banks of the Yobe river that were owned by eminent local families. When confronted over these incursions, they would answer: "Everything belongs to Allah."

Finally, in December, the governor of Yobe, Abba Ibrahim, decided to intervene. He implemented a plan to peacefully disperse the Al-Sunna Wal Jamma camps. In reply, the Islamists went beserk. To kick off, they attacked and raided a police station, killed two police officers, and torched the premises. Then they retreated en mass to a primary school, hoisted the flag of Afghanistan, and demanded a fight. The Nigerian army was sent in. After two weeks of violence, 18 people had been killed (mostly Islamists) and 200 Al-Sunna Wal Jamma members had been locked up.

This doomed uprising highlights religious tensions in Nigeria, a country split between its Christian South, Muslim North, and animist centre. 12 Northern States have so far adopted Shariah law. Ominously, Nigeria was pin-pointed by bin Laden (in a tape shown on al-Jazeera in 2002) as a future frontline for Jihad, alongside Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Nigeria is also Africa's largest oil producer and is being assiduously courted by Western oil companies. This strategic importance makes it increasingly vulnerable to Islamist attack.

In the meantime

10:47 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2004  
It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself.
Thomas Paine

6:10 PM

Go here and here for news links about the imminent capture of Osama bin Laden (plus a lot of other stuff about events in Afghanistan).

2:01 PM

Monday, February 23, 2004  
Eternal return


9:50 AM

Sunday, February 22, 2004  
Springtime for Khost and the Taliban

As spring approaches, the Afghan resistance, singularly unaffected by joint US and Pakistan offensives earlier this year, prepares for its own battle to retake the cities and expel the Western occupiers.

Khost, on the Eastern Afghan-Pakistan border, is the first target marked by the two resistance leaders Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani (an iconic ex-colonel) and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (HIA head and the Pakistan president originally ousted by the Taliban). The resistance coalition (comprising Taliban fighters, foreign jihadists and the HIA) has been liaising with local warlords and tribal chiefs who control the areas around Khost and have agreed to either support the offensive or remain neutral.

NATO forces are concentrated along the Afghan border, facing the North Waziristan Agency of Pakistan, where earlier US-Pakistan attacks failed to find much to fight. NATO plans to cluster around Khost in an attempt to repel the resistance in advance.

Through the mediation of Pakistan, the US has attempted diplomacy in the form of political bribery: promising a share of power to Haqqani and HIA participation in upcoming elections in exchange for ending the resistance. Haqqani has refused, for now. Hekmatyar has yet to respond.

The Spring Offensive is timed to take advantage of the good weather. But did you know that the Taliban, in 1996, banned weather forecasting? "They were allergic to the word 'prediction'," explains Abdul Qadeer, head of Afghanistan's meteorological office, in this article. "They said God only knows prediction, only God knows these things. We tried to explain that meteorology is not prediction, that it is forecast based on science. It didn't work."

Meanwhile, hundreds of Taliban fighters are apparently regrouping in the Zabul province in Southern Afghanistan (60 miles from Khandahar), with the intention of exploiting US focus on the Eastern border to undermine local stability in the run-up to the June election. The US military, however, has denied this: "If there were hundreds of fighters there, we would kill them," said a Colonel, bluntly.

10:02 PM

New Lord's Resistance Army atrocities in Northern Uganda.

12:04 PM

Thursday, February 19, 2004  
case 412a: judgement of comrade Craner, O

Oh shit. Now I'm in trouble.

Dear Mr Craner

It is my sad duty to inform you that your blog spot has been read and analysed by the Party committee and has been found to have the following serious doctrinal errors:

1) Extreme Right Deviation for supporting American Imperialism.

2) Extreme Left Deviation concerning belief in possibilities for grass roots democratic reform under said pigs authority.

3) Insubordination for being nasty about the lovely Des Tutu (The man's one rung under Mandela in the sainthood stakes Man! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!)

4) Other things that we've forgotten.

As undersecretary I must inform you that you are to stop writing from this point on and must draft a fulsome and abject self criticism to be submitted as soon as possible or we're sending some people round.

As your friend I know that pride and mistaken conviction will cause you to refuse to recant. Thus our comradeship, like Hitchens and Amis, shall now degrade to silence save for the occasional sniping in print.

Yours (you neo-con turncoat)

G Watkins

10:30 PM

Wednesday, February 18, 2004  
This is what I'm talking about.

12:53 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  
Here's a gem culled straight from a book that came out last year called Modern Jihad - Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks by Loretta Napoleoni. A book, by the way, that received unequivocal endorsments from, among others, Henry Porter and Professor Paul Gilbert and Greg Palast and Noam Chomsky.

On the recruitment of young suicide bombers in the occupied Palestinian territories:

Overall, the most important cost is the compensation to the family for the loss of a loved one. How to quantify the life of a child? Impossible. In the occupied territories, families recieve about $ 30, 000 for each son or daughter's death from outside sponsors such as charitable organisations, groups of sympathisers or foreign regimes such as Saudi Arabia and until recently* that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Since compensation for families comes from money raised abroad, the organisers of the suicide missions do not have to fund it entirely by themselves.

*i.e. pre-war.

10:26 PM

And yes, I do think that a "septic State mafia" in power is worse than a potentially functioning US-backed Shi'ite-instigated but pluralist democratic State (including Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, secularists etc.) - and I say that fully aware of US history, US duplicity, US interests, all the difficulties and probabilties, and the potential betrayals and the festering anger, and the ruin of the lingering, miserable fucking resistance, AND corruption and OIL COMPANIES and EVERYTHING, alright, I KNOW ALL ABOUT THAT. I've even written about it, but I won't be quoting any more of me here because this is a different argument. Yes it is. Yes it is. Yes it IS. There are some basics to manage and No. 1 is bulding a non-despotic, non-theocratic State. No 1 is avoiding one-party, one-leader rule. No 1. is keeping an eye on US oil companies, corporate concessions - more important to the success of Iraq's future than how many US troops are killed in the process. That's their job: to fight to ensure the security of Iraqi citizens. If that's a stated intention then take them at their word: it's harder for them to escape it then. And that EXTENDS: if the US openly states its intention to liberate Iraq and build democracy then make sure you HOLD them to their word. There is more at stake, really, than partisan shots and rhetorical victories.

If you feel like it's fine to give up fighting and hoping for people then that's fine too - just don't claim moral authority and don't even dare degrade those who don't give up.

The reason US occupation will be allowed to fuck up is because of people condeming it in absolute terms rather than staying sharp and alert and making sure the US does not corrupt or dilute 1. the process and 2. the outcome. Those who base their opposition on anything that happens in Iraq no matter who does what start from a position of fatalism and that's not something I subsribe to any longer.

Making it difficult for the US to fudge and dissemble is the way to make it easy for democracy in Iraq. That is constructive application rather than blanket opposition.

Why not try and say something useful for once.

8:21 PM

An immoral war was thus waged and the world is a great deal less safe place than before

This sentence from Archbishop Desmond Tutu made me angry. I'm sick of statements like this - more disingenuous and self-serving and ill-informed than anything currently fed to the White House press corps, by the way - being hailed as "courageous" and "a voice of reason."

To claim that bombing and occupying Iraq to the end of removing Saddam Hussein is "immoral" effectively legitimises the alternative: leaving Iraq under the control of a septic State mafia that oppresses its people and robs them of their resources and wealth to satisfy personal greed and further destabilise the Middle East. And that's the moral alternative?

No, I'm sorry, that is the immoral alternative. Deposition of tyranny should be a requirement, a duty, a moral and civil imperative, whatever the motives, wherever the region, whatever the tyranny.

Saying that the world is less safe now is true in one sense: an open war between two ideological forces has been declared. But it is also untrue. How is the world less safe when, for example:

- the international nuclear weapons black market has been exposed, and continues to unravel.

- Islamist terrorism no longer has 1. a state or protectorate or 2. substantial funding or support from any other state.

- The main terrorist cells have been dispersed or destroyed

- Western security continues to "jump at shadows."

- Pakistani Islamist parties are, for the moment, in check.

- India and Pakistan are engaged in Peace Talks for the first time since, like, whenever.

- Liberal and Democratic Reform movements in theocratic or despotic States like Iran and Saudi Arabia are now supported by and given a voice in the West.

etc. etc.

If Tutu sincerely means what he's saying - which, not being a total cynic, I assume he does - then he's getting his moral categories confused in a way that is both simple and sinister.

7:25 PM

Monday, February 16, 2004  
Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Associated Press
February 13, 2004

Indonesian Warship Sinks Hijacked Boat In Malacca Straits

An Indonesian warship sank a boat that had been taken over by gunmen in the Malacca straits near the maritime border with Malaysia, a navy spokesman said Friday.The landing ship Teluk Sibolga sank the tugboat Champion Thursday near Berhala Island after receiving reports that the ship had been hijacked, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Asep Sapari.

"The rebels ignored our warning to stop," Sapari said.

The Champion's 11-member crew reported that their vessel had been taken over the previous day by three gunmen who robbed the sailors and forced them to sail toward Malaysia. It was impossible to independently verify the report because Indonesian authorities have imposed a media blackout in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island. Sumatra's coastline is notorious for pirates who prey on passingships in the Malacca Straits.

6:22 PM

Sunday, February 15, 2004  
The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.

3:39 PM

Then you witness yourself or watch people pretend to know everything in a debate: it's a funny front, but also necessary, a mass hallucination of total knowledge or total ignorance that, somehow, prevents the argument from collapsing into silence or chaos and forgoes the death of debate. Democracy thrives, even, on an ability to circumvent the limits or shortcomings of what is known, collectively and individually. (How glib.) Just to keep things moving: obviously is both negative and positive. The contemporary travesty of "opinion" is a high-profile victim of this tendency as consuming malaise. Nevertheless, an argument is the most necessary form of human interaction after laughter and sex.

2:55 PM

The Jakarta Post
Friday, February 13, 2004

RI, U.S. May Improve Military Ties

JAKARTA: The Indonesian and United States militaries have agreed to improve cooperation, despite the ongoing weapons embargo imposed in 1999 by the U.S. Congress against the Indonesian Military (TNI) In a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri Thursday, visiting U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Thomas Fargo promised to seek new measures to enhance military operations between the two countries. 'Despite the Timika (Papua) issue, we agreed to find new measures to improve military cooperation,' TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said, referring to an unsolved ambush in Timika that left two Americans dead. He, however, stressed that they were yet to agree on the new measures. The U.S. imposed a military embargo on the TNI following widespread allegations of rights abuses in East Timor in 1999. The killing of the teachers in Timika, Papua in August 2002 exacerbated the problem."

Re: Aceh, too.

11:54 AM

Friday, February 13, 2004  
Tim Sebastian, BBC World HARDtalk: You are trying to give the Indonesians a better image?
It would be hard to give Indonesia a better image

Bob Dole: No it's easy. Indonesia is in a transition to
democracy and President Megawatti is doing a great

TS: They can't get control of their army and
stop it massacring people in Aceh province. That would
help their image.

BD: You've got that journalist's limited view of the
country. Here this the 4th largest country in the
world. The greatest population of Muslims; 90% Muslim.
17,000 islands; 7000 inhabited. And we pick out one
little place where they are making progress. They're
in a transition to democracy. We ought to be standing
up and applauding Indonesia.

TS: They are massacring people. You know that
as well as I do, in Aceh province.

BD: When?

TS: Over the last year, the last two years.

BD: No, I don't think so.

TS: Look at the figures.

BD: It is being investigated. There are a lot of ...
Again, Let's look at the big picture. I think there
are things going on in every country that we don't
like. There are things going on in America that we
don't like.

TS: So we should chat about it

BD: We ought to let people know about it and maybe
we can change it. But don't sink the whole country
because of a problem in one little place. If they
don't deal with it, if they don't try to deal with it
then you go after the people. But when they are trying
to deal with it. It's a very complex country.

TS: Human beings should be treated as human
beings whether it is a little place or a big place.

BD: That has been my view ever since I was born and
raised and grew up living in a basement. I've been in
the bottom so really know where the people are who
really need the help.

Sweden has been, until recently, the most popular destination for exiled GAM leaders, but after former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas visited Stockholm in June last year their status has become less secure. Now they all want to move to Norway. In fact, over 200 political refugees from Aceh have already moved there in the last 3 years, but 50 top GAM operatives currently remain in Sweden.

Aceh's brutal little war continues. The UK has gone lax on its restrictions regarding Indonesian use of Hawks and Scorpions, which we sold to them on condition that they would not be used for internal suppression, which is exactly what they are being used for.

6:36 PM

Thursday, February 12, 2004  
Pepe Escobar picks holes in the al-Qaeda memo "discovered" by the US:

This latest US intelligence, though, makes little sense. For starters, al-Qaeda pigeons are highly unlikely to move around with computer discs in their briefcases: since early 2002 a disabled al-Qaeda has used women couriers to deliver strictly verbal messages. The memo says that the resistance against the occupation is 'struggling to recruit Iraqis'. This is not borne out by the situation on the ground - the resistance continues, even rising, despite the capture of Saddam. The purported memo also says that the 'new anti-American campaign' must start before 'zero hour', when power is scheduled to be transferred to an Iraqi administration in June. Again, this is not true. The resistance knows all too well that only the responsibility for security will be transferred in June, not power. The Americans will remain behind their heavily fortified military bases, but will remain as occupiers.

Which is fair enough, but I would like, in fact, to see his evidence that Iraqi resistance is "on the rise," because there is plenty to suggest that it remains a desperate coalition of geurillas and inflitrators hitting deliberately soft targets precisely because of its essential inability to fulfill its aim: retake Iraqi cities, and eject American troops.

Furthermore, and this may seem a terrible predicament to some, but it is nevertheless inescapeable: the best chance Iraq has of being rebuilt is with a strong US military presence for the time being as occupiers, peacekeepers, army etc.

If you think the situation is as bad as it can possibly be then you must surely agree with me: we should not talk about the future, we should talk about now.

7:42 PM

Tuesday, February 10, 2004  
Iraq, Year Zero

This astonishing passage comes from Said K. Aburish's virulent book The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of The House of Saud, published in 1994. It details an account of a meeting between the US and the Saudis on the eve of America's declaration of war on Iraq in 1990. According to Aburish, this story is recounted and verified by four separate and reliable sources. If true, it sheds light on America's reasons for starting both Gulf Wars. DO NOT SKIP THIS:

Dick Cheney went to Saudi Arabia accompanied by General Norman Schwarzkopf, two intelligence personnel and one middle east expert, and the Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar, the son of the Saudi Minister of Defence and a favorite of his uncle, Fahd. The American ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman joined the American group. The King (Fahd) met Cheney and his group accompanied by Crown Prince Abdullah, Defence Minister Sultan (the father of Bandar) and several members of the royal family.

There was no discussion of any initiative to solve the problem short of war, nor were the Americans, or Fahd, interested in the results of the efforts of Arab intermediaries. Using satellite maps, Dick Cheney showed King Fahd that 200, 000 Iraqi troops were poised to attack Saudi Arabia. Cheney said nothing about the extremely important facts of the small withdrawal of Iraqi troops and the pull-back of other Iraqi units from the Saudi border. Cheney asked Fahd to invite US troops to Saudi Arabia, 'to protect our friends', and the king nodded agreement, but the Crown Prince Abdullah wanted to hear more about the disposition of Iraqi troops, the intended use of American troops after they arrived and the conditions under which they would leave the country.

Cheney's answer to the points raised by Prince Abdullah was vague. Instead of answering them directly, he is reported to have addressed himself to Fahd and told him that there was a strong possibility that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was part of an Iraqi-Yemeni-PLO plot to destabilize the Arabian Peninsula and divide it among themselves. He added that, at that moment, there was nothing to stop the Iraqi army from marching to Riyadh. Cheney added that it was difficult to determine whether King Hussein (of Jordan) was part of this sinister partition plan.

This unbelievable story was told to me by two former American ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, a former member of the National Security Council and a disaffected member of the House of Saud. At this point, there are no documents to confirm it and it is impossible to establish whether the official US record of the meeting alludes to it, but there is little doubt that Cheney's total presentation reflected America's intentions to destroy Saddam [...T]he American attitude amounted to capitalizing on a situation they had created and forces the question of whether or not Saddam had been set up and the whole war was nothing more than a plan to eliminate the only Middle East power capable of challenging America's hegemony over the Arab world.

This may make more sense if you remember that, in the run-up to Saddam's invasion, Kuwait was not exactly the innocent bystander and victim as is often portrayed (the impression you would get, for example, by reading David Halberstam's War In a Time of Peace). On the contrary, Kuwaiti intransigence did not simply provoke Iraq - it forced Hussein to implement the one viable option left to him. In fact, Kuwaiti actions made confrontation with Iraq inevitable. After the Iran-Iraq war Kuwait started to pump oil from Rumailla, an oilfield barred from production because of a territorial dispute with Iraq. Consequently, the price of oil tumbled, which adversely affected the Iraqi economy, dependent on oil profits to rebuild its war-shattered infrastructure. Kuwait's actions reduced Iraq's gross income by $4 billion a year. On top of this, Kuwait demanded the immediate repayment of $8 billion lent to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, a lump sum Iraq could not afford, and Kuwait did not even need (with reserves of over $90 billion, and a profitable OPEC-endorsed oil economy). When Iraq admitted that it could not pay, Kuwait contacted Lloyds with the intention of selling Iraqi debt notes at a large discount: a potentially ruinous move for the Iraq economy. In a series of meetings running up to Saddam's order to invade, Kuwait refused to concede anything, despite Iraq's abject position in the negotiations.

Why did Kuwait behave like this? More importantly, why were they allowed to?

This is Aburish's account of the final, fateful meeting between Kuwait and Iraq, adjudicated with disastrous results by the idle Saudi King, Fahd:

The Iraqis demanded billions of dollars worth of compensation for the oil from the Rumailla field proceeds and a permanent border adjustment. The Kuwaitis would not give on either point and Fahd, behaving oddly, spent half an hour with the delegations and left his brother, the gentle but incompetent Prince Abdallah, to mediate. When news reached Fahd that the Kuwaiti and Iraqi positions appeared irreconcilable, all he did to settle the issue was to make a gesture the Iraqis were sure to refuse: he offered Iraq $1 billion in aid. The Iraqis, now angrier with Kuwait and smarting over Fahd's unattentiveness and the deliberately insulting offer, left without accepting it. War was 36 hours away.


Early last year, I went through all the options, tried to work out what was pushing the US war plan to its logical conclusion. I came up with a strange answer, after discarding many arguments proffered by the Anti-War mob as, if not actually irrelevant, then only part of a wider story. Or should I say instinct rather than "story"; a drive that was an energy, an objective with a self-propelling velocity, an objectile. Whatever it was, I decided it was more obtusely psychological than it was do with geopolitical ambition or national security. And then there's what I said here: do not "underestimate the strange dynamic that pulses between the White House and the Pentagon right now, the mysterious schisms and alliances and almost occult ferment of ideals and agendas at the heart of the administration, like an allegiance of evangelism and freemasonry." And there's what I said here: "this almost somnolent, stupid obsession with one regime at a time that’s a bit like a calm psychopathology that finally, inevitably, leads into barbaric violence" and "you have more respect for the worst Pentagon strategists (Rumsfeld, Wolfowtiz, the military chiefs) than the best Whitehouse diplomats and appeasers (Powell, Rice) because you can trust these blunt, dead-eyed bastards more than the oily politico sharks whose concern it is to disguise and obscure the naked and distinct workings of power for the further advantage of this very power (and its tentacles, reaching into the everyday, the psychological, the fiscal, the cultural…all forms of capital, all types of investment, financial and libidinal…)." (No, this isn't Oliver Craner: The Greatest Hits or The Final Chapter: How I Became a Hawk BUT...)

I still concur with most of that too, but it's easier to clarify now. Let's pretend, for a moment, that I don't know what's going on, that I don't have my own direct line to the White House and No. 10, that I don't have special dispensation in Riyadh, that I didn't spend the whole of last summer trekking mountains on the Afghan/Pakistan border with a mountain goat and the mujahedin. I mean, suspend belief just for a second...then how might I attempt to explicate motive...

<<< December, say, 2001.

You have Afghanistan, and between your position and the frontline of power in Pakistan (at least to the extent that you can control it) you have al-Qaeda, Taliban and mujahideen fighters jammed in the Islamist heartlands. You have the Saudis in your paw, but, on the other hand, they look increasingly vulnerable to internal dissidence, Islamist opposition, and anti-House of Saud terrorism; they are, therefore, unpredictable. Their obscene power, exerted through the exploitation of cheap oil prices, is increasingly untenable and resented. Because of links and schisms with Wahhabism and Islamist terrorism, Saudi Arabia is a prinicipality about to be torn apart by its own contradictions. Furthermore, the royal family is as stupid, ignorant, corrupt and lazy as ever. Certainly, no longer a stable Middle East base for US interests. Iran, also, looks vulnerable to internal disruption, a call for democracy and greater freedom the mullahs are increasingly unable to contain. What happens if that edifice topples? Meanwhile, Iraq remains stuck in the middle - oil-rich, crippled by sanctions, reverting to gangsterism: from Ba'ath despotism to Hussein mafia rule. On the horizon looms the rule of Uday and Quasay: two psychopaths for the price of one. Needless waste of desperately needed fuel reserves. More internal suppression and oppression. More hawking for weapons on the black market (North Korea), more covert supplies (Syria) and more shady sanctions-busting trade arrangements (France, Russia). On the other hand, the state and its army remains ineffectual, still paralysed after the first Gulf War (the same reason why saudi Arabia is debt-ridden and continues to default like crazy). And, more to the point, while Saddam remains in power - toying with international weapons inspectors, thumbing his nose at the West and, in partcular, the Bush Dynasty - it's a humiliation and exposes an essential position of impotence, the trap of bloodless, disproportionate checks and balances. And above even that, exists as an incitement, an example, erroneously, to Islamist jihadists, who may not admire the man and his secular state politics of yore, but recognise a fellow anti-American warrior, enough to dispel difference for the time being (remember bin Laden on a tape smuggled to Al-jazeera sometime in 2001; no fan of Hussein before, but managing to include Iraq on his jihad list).

And so, there you go, a rational case for war in Iraq - easily slotted into the working frame of the War on Terror (because, in fact, in the end, it fed it).

This, of course, seems a particularly urgent argument today, with that bomb blast in Iskandariya as well as the discovery of this supposed al-Qaeda-related plot to incite Shia-Sunni conflict. The latter, if true, is an appalling plan and illustrates the utterly debased tactics the Islamist cells are prepared to deploy in their misguided and pernicious jihad. Planning to ignite civil and religious conflict and deliberately targeting civilians is, I say, in a rather different league to launching smart bombs and laser-guided missiles (at State targets) which, in design at least, aim at 100% accuracy and limited collateral. Islamist jihad tactics have more in common with the covert tactics of Nixon and Reagan's outlaw foreign policies: that is, the creation of maximum chaos and conflict at the expense of the civilian population, who inevitably suffer the worst of it (e.g. Cambodia, Chile, Nicaragua, etc etc.) Whatever you think about the current American occupation of Iraq - and there are plenty of objections, for example: the already corrupt distribution of business contracts, the elections fudge, incidents of military brutality, etc. - the fact is, it is absolutely in American as well as Iraqi interest to regain civil order, a working economy, and implement some kind of semi-self-sufficient democratic process as soon as possible. And there's nothing more stupid than, at this time, rejecting the whole process because of supposed US manipulation, e.g. "it'll just be an American puppet regime because they would never allow real democracy" - well fine, of course, but isn't democracy easier to reform once it actually exists, in whatever form? What are you objecting to - a future potentiality that may not come to pass anyway? Because these arguments, weirdly, underestimate the extreme dangers that Iraq (and, by extension, the Middle East) faces as the country emerges from decades of Ba'ath rule. The "al-Qaeda" document seized admits that "the resistance against US occupation is struggling to recruit Iraqis," and the plan to radicalize Sunnis - by attacking Shia targets and provoking a Shia backlash against Sunnis (note that Iskandariya is a Shia town) - smacks of desperation. Which is excellent news, and reveals the very opposite of what today's bomb suggests: rather than consolidating forces and picking up momentum, the Iraqi resistance is, in fact, on its last legs, a dwindling coalition desperate to retain its presence by importing any willing jihadi fighters. They may not have done their worst as yet, but they cannot hope to gain any more than they already have (a couple of scalps and a lot of dead Iraqis).

2:20 PM

Friday, February 06, 2004  
Dr. Doom & Doom Jr.

This is a sovereign country. No document will be given. No independent investigation will take place. There is a written mercy appeal from Khan's side and there is a written pardon from my side. No rollback of Pakistan's nuclear programme will ever happen.

The "outing" of Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear deals and the exposure of a procurement network of nuclear weapons technology (see below) is causing (at last) vast global repercussions. Mohammed El Baradei, head of the IAEI, sounds terrified! (And still reeling from the fact that Libya has more than anybody guessed.) He says: "Mr Khan is the tip of the iceberg. His confession raises more questions than it answers. A lot of other people are involved. Items were made in one county, assembled in others and shipped on false certificates."

Meanwhile: more revelations and accusations.

The CIA (who credit themselves and MI6 with having unveiled this illicit international network, not without justification, although remember how much they choose to conceal or reveal at a given moment) have also murmured their "suspicions" that Syria and Saudi Arabia were prominent Khan clients.

Iran is accused of hiding the full extent of its nuclear programme. A senior US official has claimed that Tehran still has a lot of equipment that the IAEA does not know about.

The list of countries whose companies have supplied parts to middlemen has extended to include Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and two more - so far unnamed - European countries.

The case of Malaysia is a juicy one as it seems to tie up all the loose ends in one tightly-bound radioactive bundle. To explain:

A Malaysian company is being investigated on the charge of supplying parts to Libya. The company (Scomi Precision Engineering, aka Scope) is owned by Kamaluddin Abdullah, son of the Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi. On October the 4th last year "suspicious parts" were seized from a ship bound for Malaysia - uranium centrifuges contained in wooden boxes emblazoned with the Scope company badge. The ship was German-owned, and seized in Italy. It was revealed that Mr. BSA Tabir - a Sri Lankan businessman based in Dubai - had, in 2001, negotiated a contract with Scope to manufacture the components destined for Libya. It further transpired that Tabir was a middleman employed by one Abdul Qadeer Khan. The parts seized by the Italian police exactly resembled the designs Khan stole and refined in his own laboratories in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the US and the UK seem unlikely to push too hard on Musharraf's refusal to sanction any investigations into Khan, his labs, and the role of the Pakistani military in this proliferation outrage. Some claim that Musharraf's reluctance is due to "how much Pakistan has to hide" - but it's as much, if not more, to do with checking the ire of the Islamist forces currently ranged against him.

10:48 PM

Wednesday, February 04, 2004  
Anyway, the reason that the US/Pakistan offensives in South Waziristan have been so unsuccessful - uneventful, even - is because the Afghanistan resistance is based, it turns out, somewhere else entirely. The Americans had believed the Waziristan Agency to be a crucial centre for Taliban and Mujahideen fighters, granting ample protection because of its rough, mountainous terrain and the hardline Islamist sympathies of the local population.

Now Pakistani Intelligence has located the resistance base in a remote area called the Khyber Agency in the North West Frontier Province, already known to be an al-Qaeda heartland, with almost blanket support from the local population. Years ago bin Laden cultivated the Tero and Moro mountains - located directly along the Afghan-Pakistan border, near Jalamabad and Tora Bora, site of the original US and Taliban/al-Qaeda showdowns in 2001-2 - as a subterranean base for his network. He built undergound tunnels and bunkers to use as hideouts and storage space for weapons, ammunition, and supplies. The resistance is now using this system as a supply line into Afghanistan. Under the new leadership of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - head of Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) and until (very) recently recipient of Pakistani aid - the Afghan resistance is using the Khyber as an Islamist enclave where they can regroup in safety. The formidable terrain and the hostile population prevent the Pakistani military from planning any major offensive in the area, particularly as direct US military involvement in Pakistan (i.e. air cover or missile strikes) is a political impossibility.

12:12 PM

Sunday, February 01, 2004  
The Nukes of Hazard

A subplot in the rapidly unfolding story of Pakistan: its central role in a global black market that deals in nuclear equipment and expertise, leading to the arrest of the architect and daddy of the first Islamic nuke, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan has been in custody for a month. His case is particularly sensitive because, in pre-9/11 Pakistan, Khan was feted as a national hero. In a country consumed, primarily, by its furious rivalry with India, Khan gave Pakistan (in Musharraf's words) "honour" and "the pride of [...] nuclear capability." Despite Musharraf's tribute (which dates back to Khan's first forced "debriefing" in 2001), Khan and other members of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) are being forced to talk about the part they played in the proliferation of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Khan's career highlights the knife-edge Pakistan lives on, and the fact that, had Musharraf not been such a weak character and therefore pliable to US muscle and money after 9/11, then the world would be facing the prospect of an Islamist bomb and it is surely certain that, by now, that bomb would have been used. Still the possibility cannot be discounted, or the danger underestimated: if Musharraf is killed then we are in that exact position. Meanwhile, the military, the ISI and Pakistan's Islamist parties all look to remove their renegade puppet and, evidently, actively pursue the event. Again, a man of insignificant character and mediocre ability assumes a position of preeminent strategic importance - a common refrain in the politics of global warfare.

Khan is a hardline Pakistani Nationalist and Islamist, who once said that "all Western countries are not only the enemies of Pakistan but in fact of Islam". As the India-Pakistan confrontation over Kashmir switched from nationalism to jihad, Khan was perfectly placed to elevate tensions through his clandestine nuclear programme, begun for that very reason. Khan had stolen the blueprints for the enrichment of uranium when he worked in Holland for an Anglo-Dutch-German nuclear engineering consortium called Urenco. He returned to Pakistan with this stolen intelligence and, with the backing of the ISI, set up his research and development laboratories. During the Cold War America poured money into ISI coffers and this was diverted, in increasing amounts, to Khan's project. Pretty soon Pakistan could produce its own nuclear warheads and just lacked a delivery system (i.e. ballistic missiles). The CIA informed the White House almost immediately, but both the US and Pakistan denied the existence of Khan's bomb so that the US could continue funding the ISI in a still tense Cold War theatre. This silence ended in 1998 when, aided by Chinese ballistic hardware, Pakistan conducted its first open nuclear test. Street celebrations in Islamabad were shown on TV across the globe, gleeful citizens dancing around massive model missiles, jeering anti-Indian invective. The US put pressure on China to cease assistance to the Pakistan nuclear programme, which it did. Pakistan once again lacked the money and means to build its own ballistic missiles. One pugnacious little Cold War survivor, however, specialised in that very field.

North Korea is the largest exporter of long-range missiles to the Muslim world. In the last 15 years it has shifted over 400 missiles to rogue states unable to obtain them from the West, including Pakistan and Iran (a covert supply of aid is not exactly the same as direct arms trading, it seems). Kim Jong-Il dominates the ballistics black market. (The CIA also claims that Jong-Il supplied SCUD technology to Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.) Pakistan's ties with North Korea date back to the mid-seventies, but really bore fruit in the mid-nineties. In 1995, Islamabad signed a deal with Pyongyang for the purchase of long-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and, potentially, striking US, NATO and allied deployed forces. Initially Pakistan intended to pay back North Korea with money, but as the country slid further into debt and domestic decay this became less and less tenable (missiles are, after all, expensive items). However, in the late '90s, when they were forced to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, North Korea sent their nuke programme underground. Pakistan now had a valuable asset: the uranium enrichment techniques stolen and developed by Khan and his research lab. By obtaining enrichment technology from Pakistan, the North Koreans could continue developing nuclear weapons in secret. The eventual deal saw Pakistan swapping uranium enrichment equipment for ballistic missiles. This exchange has only been completed in recent months.

The KhanRL nuclear trail also leads to Libya and Iran, two countries that have just opened their weapons programmes to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Enrichment facilities bearing the Urenco/Khan blueprint have been discovered in both cases. Furthermore, Iran has blurted out details of a vast procurement network that connects rogue scientists in Pakistan (i.e. Khan and his kru) with German and Sri Lankan middlemen based in Dubai who could obtain parts from European, Asian and American companies. This, plus North Korea's missiles. Oh, and the (very) covert or indirect supply of technology and expertise from China and Russia (so the CIA claims).

Khan, a flamboyant egomaniac and icon of Pakistani nationalism and Islamic jihad, is far less dispensable than Musharraf (a puppet dictator who has turned his back on those who, effectively, put him in power, i.e the ISI and military Islamists). The Bush administration has so far suppressed its own intelligence about the extent of Pakistan's nuclear proliferation (recent leaks have been viewed as warning shots aimed at Islamabad). They understand how delicate everything is in every way. An alienated Musharraf is the same as a dead Musharraf: it leaves you with a nuclear-armed Islamist state itching for holy thermonuclear war on the subcontinent. The best way to keep Musharraf safe is to buy off Pakistan wholesale. The one thing the Islamists cannot fight, in the end, is debt relief and aid. Since Musharraf rallied to the Bush cause in 2001, all of Pakistan's debts have been cancelled, most recently with a $395 million lump sum. This is the only populist call that Musharraf has to fight the call of faith (one of the reasons that Musharraf is so threatened by US intelligence leaks linking Pakistan to North Korea's nuclear programme is because Japan is Pakistan's second largest aid donor after the US: evidence that Pakistan is arming an adversary could, potentially, prompt Japan to reconsider aid conditions).

7:15 PM

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