Monday, June 22, 2009



Eyes wide with sharp black pupils
saying „how about that?“ as they struggle
to locate the moment around the compass needle
of consciousness.

No point sharp enough for that,
no argument or plea counteracts the chilling fact
of the overriding bloody cataract
that streams across her face.

The eyes sink back, retreat,
convicted that there's a place to wait
while the force of death surmounts
them and the known is overwhelmed.

And still yet from this prone position
stunned pupils launch a question
of accutest sense and accusation,
why me, why her, why this?

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unionism Decayed

The author of Unionism Decayed begins „If there is one thing in life worse than being a unionist, it is being a unionist that has consistently opposed the provisions of the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement“. The cards are firmly on the table, and remain there throughout a many-sided account of life largely outside but dipping into the mainstream of Northern Irish Unionist politics. I'm not sure if there isn't even a touch of black humour in this opening- from the author's perspective his unionist unionism has been firmly „beyond the pale“ of civilised opinion in the British Isles for many years now. The black humour is inescapable later on in his account, however.

Unionism Decayed is a book about politics, a serious-minded book that explores how politics sets the context for life, and how life interacts with politics. A lot of it deals with the detail of various agreements, but not in a history book way- rather to highlight how a power struggle has really been taking place and how these details act rather like the holds of a wrestling match forcing an opponent into submission.

This drama is not easy to capture, but the author does it with great concentration and occasionally
great grace:
„the fields of Drumcree now more closely resembled the fields of the Somme. Mud was everywhere and the scene was cast in the glow of a blood red setting sun. British soldiers stood there ready to do battle with those Orangemen who wished to parade in remembrance of British soldiers who perished at the Somme. IRA/Sinn Fein strategy was working out perfectly“. Shortly afterwards he quotes Gerry Adams himself talking of Drumcree saying „they are the type of scene changes that we have to focus in on, and develop, and exploit“

While not at all coming across as a conspiracist, David Vance keeps his ear to the ground- yet he has the discipline to point out that the above-mentioned quote came from a transcript obtained by Ireland's RTE state broadcaster.

Thus it goes with Unionism Decayed- a thematic account of events and political interventions highlighted and ruminated upon, which balances forthright comment with carefully supported instances.

Vance's perspective is that of an energised commoner- a reluctant politician with deep personal experience arising out of the so-called troubles. A man whose energies, experiences and intelligence propelled him just far enough to glimpse the webs of government in Westminster, and to také the pulse of his local political sphere. Like his political mentor, Robert Mcartney of the UK Unionists, whom Vance approvingly quotes calling Dr Paisley a „fifth rate Calvin“, Vance is prepared to have a dig at anyone whom he considers insincere or out of their depth. His view is more or less that politics is too serious to be left to the politicians- a view which, Vance recognises, the IRA/Sinn Fein have been great exponents of.

This in fact is the great strength of Unionism Decayed- its bypartisan critical spirit. Vance is an equal opportunities critic. It is a fierce and clever book which never shows off, but instead reserves its energies to condemn the contemptible. It is as unsparing in its description of the barbarity of so-called loyalist terrorism as it is of the nationalist type, and it makes some vital points- the most devastating, coming from such lively mind and active spirit, being that Unionists have lost.

I have but one nit to pick in Unionism Decayed- I had to look up a quote from Pope „Violence is a monster so frightful mien“ because the author had omitted the word „of“. Not all of us are as focussed on reality as David Vance, and a number of such rough edges did make me doubt slightly the author's grasp. In the end though I held no such doubts. Unionism Decayed is a valuable, timely book, that needed to be written and has been carried off powerfully well.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Poetry vs Reality on Iraq

Poetry vs Reality

Hillary Clinton gave me one of the high points of my week.

In a strange kind of way.

It was when she accused General Petraeus (yes, he of "the surge") of requiring from the Senate and the American people the "suspension of disbelief". video here.

To give her her full due, what she may have meant by using that term is that Petraeus was spinning a kind of poetry- the poetry of noble aims and worthy sacrifice.

The term comes from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, perhaps the least known of the main Romantic poets. To enjoy the war poetry you have to stop being critical, basically, according to Sam and Hill's theory.

It was, I thought, typical of the Senator for New York- this kind of pretentiousness combined with a plausible kind of false reasoning. It must have sounded good to her- educated and suggestive without saying someone is lying. After all, is poetry a lie? Is patriotism? Dulce et decorum est... etc.

Yet the pitch is exactly indicative of the falseness of the debate. It's the tendency to reduce all criticism to epic poetry- in this case playing to the stereotype of a poetry of patriotism.

It was a truly low intellectual blow.

A positive debate was impossible politically for the Democrats, but what would it have looked like? For a start, it wouldn't have used the poetry of loss and mourning- suggesting that the pain in Iraq is cyclical and doomed to repeat. This Democrat "poetry" has long meant that the antidote is seen to be sunny optimism. Everyone has cried out for Reagan, an optimist who never dealt with long lists of casualties except for the Beirut bombing- which he took as cue for an isolationist policy regarding the Middle East.

No a positive debate begins by saying America is good. US power is good and the aim of the policy should be to extend and preserve it through choosing the right course in Iraq. If that's sounds too positive, it's actually only the attitude of a healthy, happy individual to themselves. Self-mistrust is perhaps an essential ingredient for healthy people, but it is not helpful when making important decisions of destiny.

So my argument for Petraeus, for consideration by the US Senate, would be as follows.

We have faced many enemies in Iraq. Enemies hurt you. But that is a good reason not to be beaten, because a helpless, defeated person may be beaten mercilessly by a vicious opponent. What that means in this case is that, not the US directly, but the US' interests in the Middle East would be tortured by its opponents- we're talking about oil, Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, to name a few. In addition, terrorists would be harboured, and have the luxury of many ports of call and numerous sugar daddies.

Additionally, backing out of Iraq would lead to an intensified conflict in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border lands. It would offer succour to the Sudanese regime. It might re-embolden Gadaffi in Libya.

Well, I've started negatively so that I can turn to the positives. What recent histoy has taught us in Iraq is that we can call the shots when we want. We are the hyperpower, we have the manpower to change the facts on the ground.

This is despite out enemies. Yet it is crucial to realise that we are faced with strong opponents with toxic political aims and zero moral restraint. Look at Al Qaeda in their bombing of Najaf. Look at Al Sadr in the behaviour of his forces, in the death squads of Baghdad.

The encouragement here is to be found in the fact that we have opponents with rationales. They want to achieve things for their own ends. Our goal should be to neutralise them. In fact, they want to get us out of Iraq, and probably create a division of Iraq between Syria and Iran.

The idle hands of the Islamic world can simply not get enough of conflict. They will happily play the game of Sunni/Shia until the time comes that they have a more satisfying target, like the West. While some would like to leave them to it, that tactic has been tried and history has moved on. After festering for generations, the Islamic world is healing the divides with a Frankensteinian tenderness as it scents alien blood, rather as a Tiger shark and a White shark might forget each other were a bleeding elephant to be dumped floundering in their aquarium.

Yes, US forces are a target in Iraq, but they are also capable, here and now, of inflicting massive and memorable defeats on those who would otherwise be left in a post-Saddam sectarian madhouse to ferment their fantasies against the West. To them, you see, it doesn't seem like a madhouse- they lived through their "splatter-movie" years under Saddam, after all.

It's important to recognise what's happened in Iraq- we've faced down the Baathists, faced down al Qaeda, drawn in the Sunni minority. Meanwhile we've antagonised the Shia and their sectarian ambitions are so far a little behind schedule. We now need to continue to antagonise the Shia, proving to the Sunnis that we will ensure order in Iraq where both groups can live peacefully. This means outmaneuvering the worst radicals within the Dawa-led Iraqi Govt itself. There are signs that, for instance, the security forces are welcoming an influx of Sunnis. This must continue, and make the Shia in Govt. know that they face an integrationist movement that will aggressively act to unite the factions. By next elections, the Sunni need to be fully engaged, and allied to the Kurds in the North. The radical Shia must be discredited, the Iranians sent many an unambiguous message.

This political strategy should have been happening in the first two years in Iraq. Instead the Shia were too elevated (an obvious and understandable danger which should have topped the list of political concerns among the post-invasion Coalition hierarchy), and now we are dealing with Sunnis with blood on their hands who should have been killed straightaway before they infected their brethren. Still the wheels have turned. The point of momentum is not far away. It may seem like poetry, but one last push should would could might do it. Or should we call that a "surge"?


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Going to the dogs: Blair, Brown, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the BBC

When you read an article from the BBC, the only way to be informed and not disappointed or mystified is to understand that there is a BBC "position" on the matter at hand that you have to know.

When reading an article about the military, you have to understand: the BBC is against both the British and US armies. The US is the worst. The BBC think that warfare is really unjustifiable for post-colonial western countries; it's ok for post colonial colonial countries- they have to let off steam and should not be interrupted unless the force involved wears blue helmets or unless it looks likely that the savagery involved in the conflict will ruin the cosy western liberal's peace of mind and ability to trust the UN to solve everything.

So that's the first tranche of assumptions out of the way. We could add a few more, such as that EU members infelicitous forays abroad will be mainly ignored- they mean well, and surely they will (suitably modestly) support the longed-for EU army that would put a spoke in the wheel of the Yankee dominance.

The BBC were against the Iraq war- post-Hutton and following revision of most people's view of the Iraq war, the BBC are unlikely to claim that it was otherwise.

Just browsing through the BBC's coverage of Basra, one is overwhelmed by the negativity. Yet the British losses in Basra have been fewer than 170. In an era when our army is so small, that is a number that may be felt, but it is pretty low over four years of deployment. We never got those reports of the engagement with the people of Basra. To be fair probably the army didn't imagine they would need to engage- they hold to the line that the media (BBC) have spun that the politicians promised that the Iraqis would be doing everything for themselves in no time.

It hasn't proved that way. Yet when you have a national broadcaster pulling so against the national interest (whatever your view of the war, to see our soldiers safe and our prestige enhanced would, I think, fall into the definition of the national interest), it is hardly surprising if negativity has tended to dominate our approach- whatever sterling guys are out there doing hard work.

Actually I don't trust the BBC's search archive- I feel sure there were some articles from generals saying we were "winning" in Basra, that basically things were going ok. There is no rhyme or reason to their archive- I wonder if they have guys organising it to show off the Beeb in the best possible light- ie. the best angle to protect and advance the Beeb's interests; they seemed to be able to spare time to edit wikipedia.

But I've known for a long time that the BBC's goal was a downbeat and bedraggled retreat from Basra. This is very important to the corporation, because its views concerning such interventionism are very deep-rooted indeed.

The major reason they turned against Tony Blair and started supporting Gordon Brown was that Blair had betrayed their trans-nationalist, UN-brokered, apologetic diplomacy. Blair did it for good reasons- he understood that the Right in the UK could only be beaten permanently by being outflanked on such issues as Iraq. It was a generational opportunity to put the Conservatives in a spin; and moreover, Blair knows that Conservatives can be right from time to time, even from his perspective, and that it's essential to understand when they are and to neutralise their effectiveness.

But I digress. Can I expect the BBC to be more positive about Afghanistan? I am not holding my breath- that too was interventionism, and highly dubious from a BBC point of view. When they are it is certainly only a provisional and impermanent state. The BBC have always been able to afford being doctrinaire, and never need interrupt this luxury for too long.

Brown, moreover, is a man far more after their own heart. In addition to toeing the party line when the party was extremely Leftist, Brown had his own ideas along similar lines. In contrast, Blair was more of a weather-vane (I'm going back to their roots in the 70's and 80's now).

So I think that in addition to getting us out of Iraq, Brown will want to get us out of Afghanistan.

Now then is a good time to declare that we are winning that war- build up the pubic belief and then quietly nip off. We'll see how that works in Iraq, and then... we'll see about Afghanistan. Part of the reason for demonising Tony Blair over Iraq was so that we could nip of asap claiming it was the Yanks' responsibility.

It will be the same in Afghanistan. "Stretched but winning" will morph into "we've done enough, given enough" etc. One can see that that's the strategy because we are not spending enough money to equip our forces; they are under-equipped.

Money is a basic factor here: when the Democrats were deciding how to go about pulling down the US involvement in Iraq, their thoughts turned to withholding money. That's been the British Leftist Government's strategy all the long. Tony Blair went into Iraq because he knew it was right for Britain- but also to beat the Tories. Even the Left could see that part of the argument- they just can't see why we have to fear islamofascism. Therefore you don't raise the proportion of national income spent on the military- it's a natural starvation policy. Even better, when you draw down from action like Iraq and Afghanistan, you can claim a peace dividend and cut back even further.

Best of all, now that the Tories' possible advantage is neutralised, now that an assertive strategy is suitably discredited, they can proceed with appeasement safe in the knowledge that the assertiveness of the Right has been drained.

It is indeed a bitter Sunday evening conspiracy post. I may add some extra links or make some edits later.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Watching Borat in Prague

One of the interesting things about films is the way that our response can be affected by the circumstances in which we watch them. I don't mean whether there are noisy distractions or the tv is small or the cinema screen grand, but rather the awareness we have of the place of the film within our daily lives.

I watched Borat in a new cinema in a dormitory-like suburb of Prague. There were perhaps twenty-five or thirty people in the auditorium, who, like myself, had paid the knock-down price the cinema is offering to get its audience numbers up.

The new shopping centre in which the cinema is located is itself struggling- the dormitory dwellers don't know what to make of the idea of leisuring in their locale after decades of getting on the bus for all but basic needs.

It was into this tepid water that Borat rather embarrassingly plunged. It had me in full "what will my family think" mode- by which I mean that whenever a film seems starkly out of place it conjures those moments long-gone when family viewing as having a guest in the corner of the living room was replaced by the sensation of having an invader jabbering from a box in our personal space who would soon need ejecting by full force of button pressure.

Yet paradoxically Borat isn't the kind of film that would have got the automatic switch off in the house I grew up in. We didn't switch off clever programmes, only banal ones.

It's been funny seeing all the critics try to put their finger on what Borat's real targets are. Some take offense at the outrageous sexism, gay-bashing and Jew-hating nature of the language. Others hyperventilate over the people who are the butts of Cohen's pranks, characterising it as an assault on the American heartland by a Cambridge educated British Jew.

In places Borat is quite funny, yet the humour is much more obscure than it looks.

A semitic looking gangly rube heads into a stiff upper class dinner party and remarks favourably on the appearance of a guest's wife, while slighting his host's, and then after more and more outrageous behaviour orders a fat black prostitute using the host's phone. The reactions of the dinner party aren't stupid at any time. If Borat had cracked an out of character smile the penny would have dropped. Yet without this epiphany the action moves on to the inevitable arrival of the police car.

It's the clockwork-like nature of the drama (and Borat always creates drama), and the way the players in the drama are so smoothly and predictably wound up.

I laughed quite a bit at Borat. I even laughed when I was offended- for example when Borat, early on in the film, stands outside a highstreet window making obviously faked masturbatory motions to the dummys in the dressed window.

Somehow, amidst all this mahem of social etiquette eschewed, I was satisfied that an intelligent mind was behind it all.

What was the lesson? That question has been buzzing around me ever since I saw Borat. I wanted to dismiss the question as naive, but couldn't. It seems to me, upon consideration, just at this moment while writing, that Borat walked a line between satiricising savage youth and savaging undercooked maturity. Social norms are no certain guides to judgement and maturity, but savagery is not at all quaint.

A good message, if difficult.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

V for Vendetta

Bit of a film review. V for Vendetta.

Obviously behind the curve so to speak, as films don't open in far-flung parts of Prague until they're almost played out elsewhere. I make a point though of going to see films with a bit of bite about them. I don't like films generally all that much so at least with one you disagree with there's something to think about, and you keep up with the village idiots who make them.

I think the first thing one has to do with a film like V for Vendetta is to realise that it couldn't be more post modern than it is. Thus it is crude and stupidly ahistorical. Right from the off where we get a very short sequence flashing us back to the gunpowder plot we should realise that this is a film of gimmicks only: gimmick upon gimmick like modern shopping centres straining to convince you that there's some substantial world around you when in fact you're basically inside a glorified warehouse.

So, one is led to say, in this non-dramatic film of effects only- where dramatic effects are reduced to the same stature as the special effects- the message must be philosophical, and I think it is, and since the philosophy is tortured, you could call it a political film. There are subliminal messages galore, but I think we get a sense of the kind of world the Wachowski brothers would like to live in (draw up your top five liberal wishlist policies and you'll be close).

Its coherence can best be summed up by that beginning I mentioned: the sequence showing Guy Fawkes, which takes us from his failed plot to his hanging (even this I found a bit silly- I am sure he was hung, drawn and quartered, a bit more involved a spectacle and more interesting than what was depicted; they missed a trick, unless the dramatic aim was to manipulate rather than move the audience).

Anyway, the bottom line is that Guy Fawkes died in the service of an ideology, in opposition to the will of his countrymen, attempting to restore a religion that had excelled in corruption and despotism. The absolute monarchs of Europe could rely on the Pope to lend them support, the divine rights of kings were strengthened by this relationship. Guy Fawkes was an absolute enemy of freedom, as is usual for people whose aims involve directly killing large numbers of people.

Basically the film stands or falls on your acceptance that Guy Fawkes was a good man. I just don't, but if you do then all the nazi hints (and there are many), and the implausible way a historically democratic society becomes a genocidal dictatorship in a one or two bounds, becomes a lot more plausible. What irritated me, I think, about this link between Guy Fawkes and V was the implication that the 400 years of more or less representative Government which has followed the original 5th was essentially a footnote and irrelevant, despite the fact that modern democracy the world over owes something to the inspiration of Westminster.

The film works a lot in flashbacks, as is usual for a film without a proper plot, where revenge is being visited on all manner of people in a regime for the deceit and bloodshed by which they gained power, in so doing maiming V. We are introduced to V through an absurd dialogue he has with Keira Knightly where most of the words begin with the letter V. It's a ramped up Sesame Street approach which seems somehow appropriate.

It's the kind of film where you leave feeling the need to applaud the film makers not for achievement but for effort. What did they achieve though? Not much more than a kind of demagoguery consistent with support for terrorism.

It's a measure of modern film making that all the hurrahs are gained just by being able to say, there, we did it, 2 + 2 = 5, terrorism can have it's justifications, democracy can have its terrorism, blah blah, and we did it all in a Hollywood film! So nearragh neaarrgh. Pathetic.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Anti-war Fallacy

The anti-war fallacy

Time to attempt something more comprehensive as a follow up to my post on the latest revelations concerning the Iraq war, terrorism, and the London bombings.

I'd start by saying that I've become immune to the drip feed of titillating 'revelation' concerning intelligence reports about Iraq- whether about warnings that intelligence concerning WMD was patchy, or leaks revealing that the decision to go to war was predetermined, or that the war would increase the risk of terrorism to the UK.

Why? Am I just unable to entertain that I can be wrong about something? In denial?

Well, I'm not going to introspect just yet.

I think I've just stated the major themes that people imagine delegitimise the war in Iraq.

So let me deal with the potentially seismic issues, and in doing so I'll deal with the latest revelations which have drip-fed from the British press, and refer in general to those who seem to find them so worthwhile.

I'll start with the last first: that the war in Iraq increased the risk of terrorist attack to the UK.

Well, one thing I know: the war in Iraq vastly increased our expectation of an attack.

However it did not introduce the threat of terrorism to the UK. The sources of Islamic terrorist threat are obviously myriad at the present time: this article by Anthony Browne in the Times points out a timeline of terrorist attacks which stretches back decades and includes much of Europe in its reach.

What's interesting is that in each case there seems to be some 'justification' offered in terms of historic grievances. As he says about France, object of bomb attacks in the 90's, 'The first to confront its Islamic terrorist threat was France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, which faced a series of bomb attacks in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of France’s five million Muslims are Arabs from its former colonies in North Africa, particularly Algeria. The attacks on Paris were seen as revenge both for the past colonisation of Algeria and for supporting the present military regime.'

The moral is that there can always be a justification, no matter what, when the tide of world affairs is with you. If the mood is fashionable post-colonialism, then the fashionable ideas of postcolonialism will be motivational.

As a matter of fact the attackers on July the 6th were Pakistani in origin. What had they personally to do with Iraq? Nothing. So they obviously had an attitude which latched violently onto things that were not personally connected to them. That attitude, concerning international solidarity, it is difficult not to associate with movements like communism and Islam. Wouldn't it be more realistic to assume that resentment over the British-led partition of India and the open sore of Kashmir could have become their cause du jour in the spirit of the times we live in, were Iraq not so much more prominent in the public mind and readily usable to lend moral weight to acts of evil? These Pakistani guys would know that the great majority would scarcely have heard of Kashmir (and resented the fact), so what would have been the point of pamphlets and meetings on that subject in such conditions?

To read the Iraq war as their motive is to ignore the basic motive of solidarity, which would latch onto any cause available, and realism, which would ignore the backwater issues in favour of the latest popular one: Iraq instead of Kashmir, that is.

I further believe that the level of awareness in the UK about the terrorist threat may have had two interesting consequences relevant to this issue. One may have been that instead of being the victim of a more ambitious attack a la Sept 11, Britain was the object of a carefully planned attack on a weak spot at a time of heightened awareness. Those directly affected may not accept it, but it could have been much worse. What exactly has prevented us from receiving a Sept 11th style attack? The mercy of Osama? I think not. More likely it was a tempering of ambition brought about by heightened public awareness and state measures.

But the level of awareness has certainly had the consequence of an natural connection being assumed between the bombings and Iraq. I am not disputing here that the July bombers knew a lot about and were fascinated by Iraq as a moral and religious issue. So am I. However I think that to say the threat would have been less grave without the Iraq war is a mistake.

It is possible that the sense of confrontation would have been lower. It is possible that these particular individuals would not have carried out the attack they did. It's also possible that the same individuals would have committed the same attack but with a different grievances to the fore. It's more likely, in my view, that another set of individuals motivated by relatively obscure (to us, as we see things now) cause would have developed a plot more barbarous and blatant, away from scrutiny, and carried that out successfully simply because it was not expected.

That's what happened on 9/11, after all.

I just want to dwell on that a moment. We often drift past it as a done-to-death issue. On Sept 11th terrorists tried to kill thousands in the WTC, and succeeded, and to kill as many as they could at the Pentagon, and were heading (in their fourth plane) towards Washington DC and the seat of US power when their only major failure occurred and the passengers on flight 93 helped crash the plane outside the terrorist's schedule. That was a decapitation strategy, of a sort- on an ideological rather than a practical level, though a practical demonstration was fundamental to it.

That's the scale of Al Qaeda's ambition, and the ambitions of all Islamists are attached to it really like a hydra.

Anyway, back to our seismic issues.

The allegation that the war was predetermined, that Blair/Bush adopted the threat of Saddam as an argument for war merely to satisfy a desire to remove Saddam is a curious one. The desire to get rid of Saddam was one that all leaders in the UK/US had shared since the early 90's. Clinton was keen, but wanted to go the covert route.

I think I'd simply refer to the immense nature of the events on Sept 11th. Some would say there's no link between Sept 11th and Iraq. I always said there needn't be; what you have to keep in mind is that Sept 11th was a statement of the world address from the Islamic world to the US.

Jut now I'm going to very blatantly segue from talking about the Islamic world to talking about the Arab one. That's mainly because all the Sept 11th terrorists were Arab, and because Arabs founded the Islamic religion. If you don't think that religion and nationalism mix, then you'll have to explain such ancient English war cries as 'for God and St George', plus the whole notion of patron saints, religio-nationalistic movements like the Hussites, Polish nationalism and, well, a host of others.

9/11 was the culmination of historical processes in which Saddam had been a key factor. Perhaps that seems vague, but that's what the big picture sometimes looks like. Try to see Saddam from an Arab nationalist perspective for a moment: he was the standard bearer of anti-Americanism among them, and a bulwark of resistance to American involvement in their affairs. Don't forget to exclude Iran for a moment too: it's Persian. Entertain the idea that Arab nationalism has always had a quasi-religious quality. Factor in the geographical positioning of Iraq and its oil in considering the influence of Saddam. Bear in mind that the US dealt with the most direct nestbed of Islamofascism, in Afghanistan, almost immediately, proving that practical matters were prioritised at least to that extent.

It's not so unreasonable to have attacked Saddam in the light of these things.

Let me introduce here a tiny reference to Saddam's anti-US rhetoric. Look how Saddam celebrated his birthday in 2002. A play whose starting point was the rape of an Iraqi woman by US troops at the start of the 1990 Gulf War. As an aside to an aside, I'd point out the similarity between this motif and the one chosen by British MP George Galloway to rouse his Middle Eastern hosts on a trip recently:

'The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. The daughters are crying for help, and the Arab world is silent. And some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two beautiful Arab daughters.'

Naturally, trying to analyse religion and race is a difficult and complex thing, but it must be true that in Al Qaeda and all its many associates we were dealing with a transnational movement for whom Saddam was a kind of cover, a father figure, a useful distraction, a sugar daddy, even a hero of sorts. Just because he was only partially any of these things doesn't mean that the sum of his parts was not extremely toxic. A similar profile might have identified Al Capone as linchpin in the bootlegging movement during US prohibition.

By now we know that there were proven contacts between Saddam and Al Qaeda. There are undisputed documents which show that meetings took place.

Google will not help too much in finding out the veracity of this; the press is not much help. Hubris knows no urgency and no need for clarity. Additionally, no one owes it to you to make it clear. The way I explain it though is to see Saddam as an Arab Mr Big. Nothing much happens on Saddam's patch unless Saddam knows about it. On the other hand, criminals know one when they see one, so they gravitate to him, and he encourages it because it enhances his prestige (think of Ansar al Islam and others). Not being the managerial type they aren't exactly under his thumb and he isn't in charge of them, but the relationship works for both on an informal basis.

That's the basic way to look at Saddam, and that's why he had to go in the post 9/11 context.

Thirdly and finally, the thin evidence about WMD.

I think increasingly this is being seen as an irrelevance by those who are looking forward rather than back. Over the last few years we've had revelations about the role of Pakistan in proliferating nuclear technology. On the other hand, Col. Gaddaffi has realised that possessing weapon technology is no longer a unique advantage for a country like his. It's better for him and his progeny, he reasons, to exist under a western umbrella with some western imports, than to rely on an increasingly tenuous WMD advantage over other nations, which is a diminishing source of prestige within his own country.

What I am trying to say is that the threat of WMD did not depend on Iraq efforts, just as the threat of a grounded battleship doesn't depend on its weaponisation but on the rising tide of the water around it. It may sound like a get out, but I'll come to that shortly. The fact is we live amid a world more and more awash with weaponry, and the key issue is the intentions and the goodwill, or lack of it, of its possessors.

It may sound silly, but ask yourself how Saddam felt about us, about how Saddam said he felt about us, about what Saddam represented in terms of intentions in relation to us.

Now to explain why this would be a get out argument if Tony Blair used it, but not if I do.

Put simply, I think that the politicians knew about the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and by rogue states- separately and in tandem- throughout the nineties if not before. Partly out of lazines, partly from hubris, but mainly from an inability to think of the ambitious scale of antipathy among the world's westernising Islamic denizens, they failed to make the issue one of public concern.

They pursued Iraq through the limited aegis of the UN, allowed part of the UN's Security Council to form close relationships with Saddam, reassured the public Iraq could be dealt with through the usual channels, and effected no real change to the dynamics of Saddam's regime.

During that period, the twin tides of Islamism and weaponisation were rising around them.

Tony Blair, in his leadership, had underestimated the climate so badly that he was forced to rely on a technical argument to justify that apparent volte face.

Finally I come to the subject of ongoing revelations of the governmental contortions Tony Blair's approach to politics nationally and internationally have led to- I mean the Government reports that have to cater to the confused and angry people who bought Blairism as a serious phenomenon, as well as the leaks which newspapers hunger for to bolster their flagging readership with fashionable anti-Blair, anti-war rhetoric.

These have to be seen in their context I believe. It's not rational to say on the one hand that the Government misled us into war with Iraq but can be trusted to tell the truth about its errors. They are not naughty boys who see the errors of their ways, but adults covering their immediate political futures. It's easier for them to accept narrow technical misjudgements than to admit their whole approach was flawed. It would make the difference between having a scapegoat or two (eg. Blair himself)and cleaning out the augean stables.

There are also scores to be settled within the intelligence community, but I think that the priority among them must be to secure their future and the standing they have in the political establishment.

I think that people who dwell on the 'officialness' of pronouncements, or the 'high level' of the leaks, are just really emphasising that they never thought deeply enough about the political activities behind the war with Iraq in the first place, and are continuing in that tendency now.