June 30, 2004

Saddam's Trial Must Be Fair

There is no doubt about Saddam's guilt. He did control Iraqi forces that committed genocide and murder, and is reported to have personally killed scores of people. Saddam's death squads summarily executed thousands of people including many Kurds who were gassed in Hallabja. He deserves to be punished and the victims deserve to see justice.

The responsibility for his trial and subsequent punishment has now passed to the Iraqi provisional government. Presumably the Americans are very keen for 'Iraqi' justice to be seen to be done. This justice will no doubt end in Saddam being executed - even though the Iraqis had initially requested the death penalty be abolished as it was "Saddam's way".

Having said all that, the last thing that is needed is a show trial with limited witnesses called and guilty verdict assumed before it even begins. If justice (i.e. execution) is to be handed out by the Iraqi provisional government, it must be fair and cover the full period of Saddam's regime. Of course, this would imply delving into the American's murky past - when they were Saddam's best friend and provided him with money, weapons and intelligence.

It is hard to see how the Iraqis can be both the victim and the judge, jury and probable executioner. The fairest trial would be one in the International Court in the Hague - exactly what the Americans don't want because they cannot control the proceedings and outcome. In ensuring that 'Iraqi' justice prevails they can control the what witnesses are called, what questions are asked and the eventual penalty dished out. Don't expect to see Rumsfeld - Saddam's best friend in the 1980s - in court, even though he has a number of major questions to answer and probably be a key part of Saddam's defence.

The outcome - guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity - would almost certainly be the same no matter the venue but the legitimacy of the proceedings would be far greater, and the depth of the investigation far deeper, if the trial were held internationally.

June 29, 2004

Sovereignty, What Sovereignty?

George Bush's Oil WarSo the glorious moment has arrived - the dictator is gone, Iraq is free and sovereignty has been established for the Iraqi people. Whereas last week the country was under the control of the occupying forces, Monday it is now an Iraqi sovereign state. Really? Of course not.

Yesterday's ceremony was a nice, if mercifully understated, PR exercise aimed at a US television audience. It has nothing to do with economic, political and military freedoms for the Iraqis. It has altered the security situation not one jot. It hasn't added a single more hospital bed, increased power output by even one watt or provided a single family with more drinking water. This is not democracy in action, this is empire.

The allies have tried this before of course. In the 1920s British rule of Iraq was 'legalised' by a League of Nations mandate. This conveniently allowed British occupation of the country. However, short of funds and facing an increasingly hostile Iraqi public and opposition by "extremists", they replaced the occupying government with a provisional Iraqi administration. Yet the British, as the Americans are now, retained control over the military and, of course, oil. Popular uprisings continued over the next two decades until the 1958 coup. Does any of this sound familiar at all?

A provisional, or lets be honest here, American appointed government, is not the answer to long term stability. Nor is continued occupation of the country by US-led troops. I simply cannot understand in what way there is Iraqi sovereignty if their country is occupied by 200,000 foreign troops and their oil (which pays for up to 97% of Iraqi government costs at the moment) controlled by Haliburton.

The Bush administration cannot have it both ways. They want stability and the appearance of Iraqi government but they do not want to hand over control to the Iraqis themselves. They want international funds and clearing of Iraqi debts, but they want all the oil contracts themselves. Of course, most of all they want to get themselves out of this nightmare and not totally screw up their chances of winning a November presidential election.

What's the answer? I'll say it again, and again, and again. Elections elections elections. I know its a scary word for Bush - especially if you've never actually won one - but its the only way forward. The sooner the better. Moreover, an international force - led by the Arab League and not the Americans - will bring a measure of security to the country. The irony is that the extremists that were never present in Iraq before the war, are virtually dictating the agenda now. No country can move forward, especially a bombed-out one, in the security nightmare that is Iraq.

June 23, 2004

It's Not Healthy

Let me begin by thanking those who have asked about the lack of posts in recent weeks. I'm blaming the job and 18hr days that have left little or no time for life, let alone blogging.

Working that much certainly isn't good for the health - which brings me neatly to my topic of the day. The Tories and Labour have been going 'head-to-head' over the health service today. Both major parties have made keynote presentations on the subject. I can understand why Labour might want to divert attention away from Iraq, but the Tories? It hardly seems credible that anyone will vote for them on a public sector spending platform when they've been campaigning for seven years on an anti-asylum, anti-European, anti-Tax, anti-just-about-everything manifesto.

It's amazing how similar the plans are. Not just to each other mind you, but to almost any NHS policy under the Thatcher government.

  • 'Choice' for patients
  • Private sector involvement in NHS services
  • More independence for the 'best' hospitals
  • An increase in spending
  • Reduced 'red-tape'
Virtually all the rhetoric is the same - 'choice', 'foundation hospitals', 'private health'. So much so that those who are in power, or want to be, seem to have lost sight of what people really want from a health service. They want it to be free at the point of need, they don't want to wait, they want it to be local. If we really believe in the NHS shouldn't we be striving to increase the standards of all hospitals so that these goals are met?

That's the truth though - both the major parties have lost faith in the ideal of the NHS. They are happy, ideologically, to privatise the NHS by using public money to increase the profits of private health firms. The Tories would go as far as to pay for 50% of all operations done privately - whether the patient was private already or not. Talk about a blatant middle class subsidy. The NHS will be lost to us within a generation if this trend continues - and it surely will - unless we, the people, actually tell the politicians that we do believe, really believe, in the service.

June 11, 2004

Labour Get Thumped

Tony Blair Is A Big Fat LiarIt was predicted that there would be a swing away from Labour to the Tories and Lib Dems, as well as minor parties in the local elections. The scale of the thumping is quite staggering though. Labour scored just 26% of the vote, which even for a mid-term is unbelievably low for a party in power.

This is clearly a protest vote against the Labour government and Tony Blair should take note. We didn't want the Iraq war, we don't want privatisation of hospitals, we do want good public transport and we do want decent schools. However, it has been a long time since Tony Blair listened to anyone but George W Bush or the tabloid newspapers.

The European elections probably won't provide any respite for the government when the results are announced over the weekend. The only ray of sunshine for Tony Blair might be that the UKIP take votes off the Tories - although that is hardly going to help his case for the Euro next year.

Mid-terms don't provide any real indication of General Election voting intentions. However, the Labour party needs to learn and pretty quickly or we'll get the only thing that's worse - a Tory government. Getting rid of Tony Blair is the first step, getting in touch with the people is the next. Will it happen? I very much doubt it.

June 08, 2004

Independence Must Mean Independence

George Loves OilThe UN votes tonight on the draft US/UK resolution on Iraq, that will form the basis of international recognition of Iraqi independence. The feeling is that both France and Germany will support the resolution with Russia and China fairly ambivalent so far. However, this sovereignty must really be that. Independence without control over defence, security and finance, including oil, is no kind of independence at all. A UN resolution, even if unanimous, is worthless if real control still lies with the coalition troops.

There are some real questions that need to be answered:

  • Will the Iraqi government have full sovereignty?
  • Can they order out the troops whenever they want?
  • Who controls Iraqi oil?
  • Do the Iraqis have veto over US/UK troop movements?
  • Will foreign troops face prosecution under Iraqi law for any crimes they commit?
  • When will full elections be held?
  • What happens to Iraqi prisoners of war?
  • Who is in charge of reconstruction projects?
  • What happens to Iraqi multilateral debt to the IMF/World Bank?

Unless these questions can be answered the suspicion is that the Iraqi interim government is nothing more than a talking shop and PR front for the Bush administration. The cynic might conclude that the real power will still lie with the Americans until they finally leave the country - which could be as early as 2006 but equally could be much, much later than that. That time frame and a UN resolution will allow the Americans enough time to fix all the relevant long term oil contracts in place and ensure a suitably Americanophile government is 'elected' by the Iraqis when they final get the chance.

France, Germany, Russia and China have an important role to play in keeping the coalition in check. They must stay strong or the wrongs that were committed by launching the war can never be righted in peace. A free democratic Iraq is the only way stability will be achieved and the Iraqi people are not stupid enough to accept anything less than total sovereignty.

June 07, 2004

Chatshow Tony

It's a sign of desperation when Tony Blair is forced to go on GMTV to make his case for the continuing occupation of Iraq. There used to be a time when a Prime Minister would appear on PMQs, Dimbleby and the Today Programme and that was that. Now Chatshow Tony is prepared to do anything to garner a few extra votes. What next - Parky, Richard & Judy, Gerry? Actually, I'd pay to see that one - Dubbya, Tony and Saddam all sat on stage and out comes the bastard love-child fathered with Anne Widdicombe but which one is the real father? I digress!

His case is already lost if he has to get grilled (I used the term very loosely) by Eamonn Holmes at 8 in the morning. He'd probably win more votes, and cheapen himself less, if he booked a place on Big Brother. Two things will probably happen this week - a record low turnout and the minor parties such as the Liberal Democrats and Greens will take votes from Labour while the various racist/fascist/Euro-skeptic parties will takes votes from the Tories. It will be interesting to see who claims victory after the carnage begins and the body-count is totted up.

It's not beyond the realms of possibility that a disastrous showing in European, local and mayoral elections this week could spell the beginning of the end for Chatshow Tony. With more than half that parliamentary Labour party having voted against him on one bill or another in the last two years, his popularity is nowhere near the level it once was.

June 04, 2004

Welcome to the Muppet Show

Staring, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar as The Swedish Chef, Hoshyar Zebari as Fozzie Bear, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz as Statler & Waldorf and George W Bush as Miss Piggy. Moi, Moi, Moi!

Seriously, does anyone actually believe the spin surrounding the appointment of the 'new Iraqi government'? The key word being 'appointment'. Not a single Iraqi has voted for this government - its just a talking shop front set up by the Bush administration to create the appearance of progress. The government has no power over security or oil revenue. Surprise, surprise.

Proper, real, democratic, inclusive elections need to be held now. This is the only way true stability can be created in Iraq. You cannot impose government without it being a dictatorship. An unelected leader, a military regime, beatings and murder in prisons, cilvilian deaths ... yep that's the new free Iraq!

What of Tony Blair's role in all of this - as far as I can tell he has none whatsoever. The UK has got less power and influence than any of the puppet ministers - something almost impossible to achieve.

What did our involvement in this war achieve exactly? Stability? No. Security? No. Cheaper oil? No. More influence? No. A massive bill and lots of blood on our hands. Most certainly yes!

What of the future. The timetable suggests elections by late 2005 and a new, fully elected government installed by January 2006. Will it ever be autonomous? The real question is - will the Americans ever relinquish power over 30% of the world's oil supply. Do I really need to answer that question?

Tenet is the Fall Guy

Tenet Is The PatsySo CIA director George Tenet has resigned "due to personal reasons". I suppose he could have said he wanted to spend more time with his family, or in the garden. If he'd said he wanted to holiday in Iraq, it would have been more believable. The truth is he's been pushed out - he's taking the flack for 9/11 and the failure the find WMDs. It's a convenient side show for the Bush regime ahead of the November election.

The question is - how vocal will Tenet be now he's gone? I think we'd all love to hear the inside truth on 9/11 and the evidence about WMDs in Iraq. How much did the CIA know, how much did the Pentagon know, how much evidence was fabricated by either or both, how much pressure was put on the CIA by the executive?

The administration needed a fall-guy and Bush certainly wasn't going to make Rumsfeld it - so the obvious man was Tenet. It's an irony since he was the man put under so much pressure to 'make the case for war'.

It will be interesting to see who is appointed to the post next. Presumably the Bush administration would want a hard-liner and a hawk who would put the blame for 9/11 and lack of WMD squarely at the CIAs door and promise to do better in the future.

Let's hope this is only the start of the resignations - Rumsfeld, Cheyney, Wolfovitz should all go too. Unfortunately, the chances of that seem slim. Ultimately the man who really needs to go is Bush - and the American people can do the world a favour in November.

June 01, 2004

Postal Ballots Not The Answer

Why do politicians always look for reasons for low turnout that don't focus on the real problem - the politicians themselves?

Voters are apathetic with politics and the way politicians conduct themselves. Years of perceived sleaze, lies and disappointment has lead many people to not bother voting at all. There's another problem - there appears to be little of fundamental difference between the parties. The Labour party, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are not ideologically miles apart.

The one-size-fits-all solution that the government has settled on is the postal vote. If they can make it easier for the voter, then maybe the turnout will be higher. This is not the answer. Apart from the democratic mess that will result from Royal Mail losing or delaying some votes - an inevitability - it doesn't address the core issues.

If we want to make it easy to vote - there's one answer. "I'm a Politician ... Get Me in There". We can all vote via phone, text, interactive. Nice an easy. Ridiculous? Of course it is.

The real solution is for politicians to start addressing the real needs of the people. If they stop lying, stop using the post for for their own goals and truly start to represent us - we will vote! In the meantime people like Paul face the choice of voting for a party that doesn't represent them or not voting at all. A no-vote is a vote for apathy, a vote to allow anyone (including the extremist parties) to represent them. It's no solution at all.

It's the Oil, Stupid

George Loves His OilPop quiz hot-shot: what connects the war in Iraq, bombings in Saudi Arabia and a flagging Western Economy? "It's the oil, stupid" - to paraphrase a former President!

More accurately, its the battle for control of the geo-strategically important Middle East and the need of the West for cheap and plentiful oil. The West needs to influence the political and economic climate in the Middle East if it is to secure that supply at a price that is palatable for western consumers. At $42 a barrel today - that price is fast reaching the point where it will have a seriously adverse affect on inflation, growth and unemployment.

Here's the irony though. The more the US tries to exert influence over the region in an aggressive manner, the more likely it is that prices will rise. Prices are rising because of political instability, just as much as high demand. You cannot separate war in the world's third largest oil producing country, and the resulting instability, from oil price rises. Similarly, the West's demands on Saudi Arabia mean that it has become a target of paramilitary action - as seen last week.

This situation will continue in the medium term. Most petrol retailers are predicting a 'normal' per barrel price of $35-40 over the next two years. The solution has to be a more progressive and inclusive policy in the Middle East. This must be a policy that recognises the needs of those countries, rather than trying to impose our values and economic requirements on them.