08 January, 2007

Henry Bolingbroke is unwell.

Not, however, unwell in the Jeff Barnard sense. At present, I'm on more drugs than a medal winning Olympic sprinter, so a few days break from blogging is necessary. Back when the atmosphere gets drier and the old bronchitis gets a little less chronically chronic.

Up yours America, says the UK's Dauphin.

Gordon Brown, the UK's Prime Minister elect (so he thinks), has announced the basic principles of his junta's foreign policy. In effect, it is Up Yours America, or as the Daily Telegraph more properly summarises:

Gordon Brown vowed yesterday to take on President George W Bush and the Americans over foreign policy as he spelt out plans to break from Tony Blair's approach to the "war on terror".

The Chancellor, who is on course to succeed Mr Blair as Prime Minister this summer, made clear he wanted to place Britain's national interest above the special relationship with Washington.
The Guardian and the Independent also feature the story.

Obviously, Brown is playing to the anti-American rabble in the Parliamentary Labour Party but there has been no indication that he does not actually mean what he says. Yank-hating is a traditional Labour pastime and, despite Brown's claims to be the inventor of New Labour, he is, in fact, a traditional Labour dinosaur.

Since 1997, one of the major differences between Blair and Brown is that whereas, sometime on or about 9/11, Blair, to the surprise of many of his critics, suddenly grew up politically and started acting like a statesman, Brown did not. In a post yesterday, I noted that "The only contribution the Chancellor has made to Iraq is to kill some British troops by refusing to spend a few thousand pounds on life saving equipment."

How to explain the difference between Blair and Brown? In sporting terms, Blair has the broad vision and communication skills to make a good team manager but Brown is so obsessed with fine detail and so lacking in communication skills that he will never operate as other than a second-rate technical coach.

07 January, 2007

British government descends into chaos.

Today has been Condemn Saddam's Execution Day in the UK: from his free holiday with the Bee Gees, the Prime Minister, says it was "completely wrong"; continuing his leadership election campaign, the Chancellor thinks it "deplorable"; and even the hapless Health secretary weighed in, finding it "shocking". No sign of the Foreign secretary, after her earlier disapproval, but then she does not seem to work weekends.

The only contribution the Chancellor has made to Iraq is to kill some British troops by refusing to spend a few thousand pounds on life saving equipment. The hapless Hewitt, who is presiding over the collapse of the NHS in many areas, is the archetypal member of the Labour slutocracy: an ugly feminist, in office not on ability but to fill a gender quota.

Whatever the merits of the arguments over what is happening in Iraq, it is clearly a foreign policy area. Yet as this government falls apart before our very eyes, other ministers feel able to ride, at will, roughshod over traditional departmental demarcation lines as they jockey for position and influence after Blair's departure sometime between the spring and the autumn. The British government is going to get more chaotic by the week, as ministers increasingly pronounce on any policy area they feel will curry favour with the backbenchers. Since the Labour backbenches have an exotic array of extremists, some of those pronouncements will be way, way to the left.

Anyway, I thought it was a good hanging, very enjoyable. Restrained and tasteful. Congratulations to the Iraqis on a job well done. I can, however, see why the Iraqi Prime Minister is extremely annoyed about the mobile phone film of the hanging - he thought he had the exclusive rights on the Sony HD film version.

Royal Marines in action in Helmand.

Up till this week, the ISAF had a problem with the Taliban, who were were preventing them carrying out repairs to the Kajaki hydro-electric dam in Helmand. Not any more, after about 11o Royal Marines from 42 Commando launched Operation Clay and persuaded the Taliban to leave their training camp in the area. It took four days of intense fighting, but Operation Clay has been a success. Only one British casualty, a marine shot through the hand, against at least 15 dead Taliban, including a senior commander. The BBC and the Guardian have early British press accounts.

The Hindustan Times reports that a further three Taliban departed for Paradise earlier than expected when a mine they were laying blew up. Once there they no doubt met up with 17 of their comrades dispatched from the Kajaki area earlier in the week.

So about 38 Ali Babas get their virgins and the greater part of 2 million Afghans at last get electricity. A fair trade.

al Qaeda and the Taliban: growing in strength and purpose?

The Financial Express carries an article on al Qaeda from Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. Shazhad argues that, since its flight from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, al Qaeda has been transforming itself "...from an ideological movement into a physical entity. This would serve as an umbrella to unify resistance movements in preparation for a decisive battle against the "infidel" West." As part of this process,

al-Qaeda reformed its tunnel vision and concluded that it should concentrate fighters in small pockets to establish tiny "kingdoms of heaven" all over the Islamic world, instead of becoming involved in global fights against US targets.

The strategy finally began to pay off in 2006 in Afghanistan and Iraq, where leading amirs (commanders) are in place, although the losses of foreign forces are fewer than al-Qaeda might have expected. This process, therefore, is still in the phase of implementation.
In effect, Shahzad identifies a two-pronged attack from al Qaeda: terrorist attacks in the west and larger scale action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just before Christmas, Newsweek gave us some indication of how "the battle against the 'infidel' west" might proceed in Europe. In the east, Shahzad observes, in Afghanistan and Iraq, al Qaeda can benefit from the recent strengthening of its ties with the Taliban.

A paper from India Defence argues that the Taliban is now "rejuvenated". As Afghanistan politics continues "Galloping Backwards" into weak government and factionalism,
They [the Taliban] are the 'new winners' of the 'war on terror', whereas the 'old winners', the mujahideen factions of the United Front and the pro-Karzai elements, are being subjected to criticism for the failures of 'war on terror' in Afghanistan. It is no secret that the US has been looking for an ally from within the Taliban.

It would not be wrong to say that Afghan politics has begun moulding the West to its own advantage. Instead of the 'war on terror' shaping the Afghan conflict, it is the Taliban and Pakistan who have begun laying terms and conditions for the 'resolution' of the conflict.

The fact that both Pakistan and the US have, since the rout of the Taliban in 2001, been proposing the inclusion of 'moderate' Taliban in the Afghan government, makes the cooption of 'sections' of the Taliban not so distant a possibility.
I am not sure about the claim that the US is looking to deal with some Taliban elements . Certainly, There is little doubt that some elements of the Taliban are going to play a role in the forthcoming Afghan-Pak jirga, but it is probably the tribal chiefs and elders who will finally decide the extent of the Taliban's influence.