Friday, September 29, 2006

UNaccountable? UN elections

posted September 29, 2006 in the Nation

Looking East for a New UN Leader
Ian Williams
Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea's foreign minister, emerged as frontrunner Thursday in an anonymous straw poll to choose the next UN Secretary General. But was it a "discourage" vote, a tactical offer to negotiate, a "No way, Jose" or a flat-out veto?
Such are the cryptic signals sent by diplomats on the Security Council and other UN members that the rest of the world is now trying to decipher.
The South Korean ended up leading the pack with fewer votes than he earned in the last straw vote. One delegate who once supported Ban has now lost interest and effectively abstained, while another voted to "discourage" his candidacy. But none of the other candidates could muster enough support to match his thirteen "encouragements."
But was that discouragement a veto or was it a ploy, as member states exacted promises from Ban about positions their nationals would fill? Or were delegates playing for time in the hope that Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, battered by a coup at home and a poor straw vote showing, would pull out? Would that clear the way for another candidate from ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations), where Singapore, always productive of potential candidates, has two or three in hand?
And when it comes to a public vote, would the delegate who slipped a dagger in the dark into the back of a candidate be prepared to do the same in public?
If this sounds like a papal election with a Medici candidate, it's really not. In fact, this election campaign is possibly the most transparent in the UN's history. But while the campaign itself is transparent, the election itself is as murkily duplicitous as ever.
Every five or ten years, the world is amazed at the opacity of the process for choosing the UN Secretary General. According to the Charter, the Security Council, currently fifteen members strong, recommends a candidate to the General Assembly, which could technically reject the recommendation.
To complicate matters, after the anonymous straw polls, when the Security Council publicly votes and comes to a formal adoption, a candidate could win with only nine votes--or lose with fourteen--if the one holdout is a permanent member and votes against the frontrunner--as happened in 1996, when US Ambassador Madeleine Albright vetoed Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
In the heady aftermath of the cold war, impending Secretary General elections have concentrated minds, bringing regular calls for making the process more transparent and democratic. Each election has effectively ignored those calls, and the world has immediately forgotten the fuss, heaving a sigh of relief once the drawn-out process ends.
This time, with plenty of notice, there were calls for the Security Council to nominate two or more candidates so the General Assembly could decide. Confident that the Assembly would not be able to get its act together and reject a Security Council candidate, the Council members tacitly ignored the idea.
So there is no provision in the Charter for the Secretary Generalship to rotate around the regions of the world (indeed, the first two both came from Scandinavia). But there is now a consensus that geographic proportionality is important. The United States and Britain both repudiate that principle but bow to its application, not least since China has made it plain this time around that it would veto any non-Asian candidate.
The second runner-up hitherto has been Shashi Tharoor, the Indian candidate and currently heading the UN's Department of Public Information--and incidentally a prime mover behind Kofi Annan's original candidacy. He is clever and articulate--which in this race may well work against him--and, most damning to some, a UN insider.
But just as the sub-Saharans never really regarded Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian, as a genuine African, the concept of a Secretary General from Asia was sorely tested by the candidacy of Prince Zeid of Jordan. He did surprisingly badly in the straw poll, perhaps because of fears of what the apocalyptic Christian right would make of a descendent of the Prophet sitting in the world's most prominent seat. But his poor showing had more to do with the fact that East Asians and South Asians don't really regard Arabs as Asians, especially one who has shown a most un-Confucian concern for human rights.
In previous years the Security Council would solemnly consider even self-nominations to the post. This time the Council decided that countries had to nominate candidates. In some ways, this is antithetical to a core principle of the UN, since the Secretary General is an international civil servant, above country.
Beginning under Boutros-Ghali and accentuated under Annan, nongovernmental organizations have increased their importance and visibility inside the UN system. This time, candidates have been approached with checklists for their views, in particular on human rights issues. They have been speaking about their candidacies at venues ranging from the Asia Society to the International Peace Academy, while touring the world talking to governments in support of their case. The Center for UN Reform Education has actually interviewed most of the candidates and put their results in the public domain.
It would be difficult for governments to support someone who was dismissive of these tests, for fear of public reaction. On the other hand, candidates have to behave like American presidential primary contenders, signaling one way for the masses while steering the other for the conservatives--or vice versa. Interestingly, Ban Ki-moon, who allegedly has support from both China and the United States, expresses strong support for the International Criminal Court and for the Responsibility to Protect--the doctrine of humanitarian intervention adopted in principle at least year's Summit.
Neither China nor the United States is ecstatic about either concept, but both are perceptive enough to realize the slimness of the chances of any candidate who opposes bedrock UN decisions. But with the process clearly trending toward blandness and compromise, it is surprising that most of the successful candidates have been as good as they have been. For example, Trygve Lie, the first Secretary General, complained that Dag Hammarskjold, his Swedish successor, was a disastrously boring civil servant. Hammarskjold grew to become the very model of a modern Secretary General. There is something about the post, being the focus of so much concentrated world attention and expectation, that does that to a man, and would perhaps even to a woman if the Council had been bold enough to appoint one.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Siege Perilous

Back to my roots
In the days of yore Liverpool University had Lord Salisbury (after whose dad Harare was then named) as its Chancellor, and most of its investments in South Africa. It also had me as a student. In 1970, I was on the committee that led an occupation of the Senate House in protest about the investments. After three weeks of occupation, we marched out, and a little later the University gave us the bum's rush. So it was rejuvenescent pleasure to be invited to write for the South African Mail and Guardian, and the first small fruits are here.
The Siege Perilous was a specially reserved seat at the Round Table for the knight who was destined to search for and return with the Holy Grail. It was so strictly reserved that it was fatal to anyone else who sat in it. A bit like a temporary seat on the Security Council for countries with principles.

Ian Williams says: SA's arms in for a twisting

23 September 2006

Mail and Guardian, South Africa

South Africa's temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council is likely to be a mixed blessing.

Since the end of the Cold War, members have had to weigh the cost of their principles as the United States has twisted elbows to get its way.

An American diplomat famously told Yemen during the first Gulf War that its council vote against Desert Storm was the most expensive it had ever cast. The US followed up by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, while Saudi Arabia deported hundreds of thousands of Yemenis.

But a recent study showed that developing countries on the council benefit from the resulting attention and prominence and that they receive more aid during their tenure.

And while much of the focus is on the permanent five -- the US, Britain, France, China and Russia -- temporary members have a strong record of making themselves heard. In recent years, while Paris and Moscow grandstanded about their opposition to the Iraq invasion, much of the real resistance came from principled smaller powers such as Ireland, Jamaica and Chile, who highlighted the importance of international law and the UN Charter.

Executive director of the Security Council Report, Colin Keating, ambassador for New Zealand during the Bosnian wars and the Iraqi sanctions, when his country played a similar role, remains up-beat about South African membership.

"It's a really important opportunity, not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk, with contributions to diplomacy and peacekeeping efforts in Africa."

However, Keating cautioned against parochialism. "It also involves being interested and actively involved in issues outside the region. The value of the Security Council is that it brings a global perspective; it's not just about neighbourly and regional issues."

He believes a country of South Africa's size need not worry too much about being in the front line of opposition to the US. "There are bigger pitfalls in terms of relations with small and medium powers in Africa. If you put too much energy and thought into dealing with the big guys, you may neglect the smaller ones.

"Larger countries like Nigeria and South Africa are respected, but also feared by their friends and neighbours, so it would help to talk to them, listen to them, rather than talking down."

Among the issues on the Security Council's immediate agenda are Darfur, Iran and perennial Middle Eastern questions. South Africa will undoubtedly diverge from the West on these issues, but will escape some of the heat because it will almost certainly be joined by Venezuela on the council -- despite the Bush administration's success in persuading Guatemala to contend for the seat and deny President Hugo Chávez a pulpit from which to preach his anti-imperialist sermon.

Venezuela is tipped to win, not only because it has so much declared support but also because the secret ballot gives delegates a risk-free opportunity to give a discreet middle finger to Washington, whose bullying tactics are widely resented.

In a much-applauded speech on Tuesday, Chávez played to the UN General Assembly gallery, repeatedly referring to George Bush as the devil and mocking the speech he had given the day before. The US delegation was pointedly absent, leaving, according to US Ambassador John Bolton, "a junior note-taker" in the US seat.

The US will not have this luxury in the 15-member Security Council, where it has to listen to the other members. This is one of its attractions for smaller countries, as compared with being one voice among 190 in the Assembly.

However, South Africa's temporary berth is not likely to advance its ambitions for a permanent seat on an enlarged council. The Americans oppose expansion and the project has been hopelessly stalled by divisions in the developing world over the shape of reform, and who should get permanent seats.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Swift-Boats on the Slipways for McCain

David Cameron, the new Conservative Party leader in Britain, has invited John McCain to his party conference to show that his is chummy with a moderate Republican successor, unlike Blair's partnership with the diabolically right wing Bush.
Here in this week's Tribune, I try to explain the pitfalls for all concerned.

Swift Boat to Washington

Although his choice of partner shows much more taste and principle than Tony Blair has shown with his transatlantic buddies, if David Cameron is hoping that his invitation to Senator John McCain for the Conservative Party Conference will be the beginning of a beautiful Bush/Blair style power couple, he is likely to be disappointed, even if McCain sees him as the heir of Blair--whom he admires.

John McCain is a person of principles, but essentially he will have to lose some of them to win the Republican nomination in the presidential primaries. Cameron would have done better to invite Hillary Clinton over if he wanted a soulmate. Her only principle is winning elections, so she will not have to eat too many words.

British politicians either do not understand American politics--which is worrying since both parties spend so much time anally osculating Washington--or even more frighteningly, they do, and they are trying to retrogress British politics to before the Great Reform Act.

In the eighteenth century the Whigs and Tories were essentially two juntas whose ambition was take over the Treasury and loot it for their supporters. American politics never really changed from that era. We can make allowances for Cameron with his recent elevation, but one cannot help suspecting that Tony Blair understands American politics only too well, and has made the reversion of political parties to cabals of self-appointed grandees the unspoken essence of New Labour.

American legislators work tirelessly and shamelessly to bring home the bacon for those who donated to their election campaign--and even occasionally to their constituents, but mostly their donors who provide the money to con the voters. One cannot help suspecting that any resemblance between that and New Labour's recent donor-driven politics is not just a coincidence, but was helped by Tony Blair's close examination of Bill Clinton's engagingly amoral fundraising. Both assumed that they could take for granted their core voters, the poor, the underprivileged and the principled since they had nowhere else to go.
The seventies saw the great flip, when the former Southern Democrats, who were on most issues far to the right of many Republicans, defected to them. Since then they have consolidated the race issue with a heavy dose of fundamentalist Protestantism allied with a Catholicism that ignores the Pope on the death penalty, but regards abortion as a killer issue for elections. With these seriously ugly and intolerant ideological, indeed theological, influences, mere conservative Republicans of the old school, like McCain, have been looking like endangered species.
In general, the Republicans have far fewer registered voters than the Democrats, so extremists can have a disproportionate effect on the choice of candidate and in effect make the party unelectable with the majority of less rabid voters. (Conversely, it makes it easier to buy a Republican nomination, since they have even less of an organized structure than the Democrats, which is why lifelong Democrat Bloomberg decided, in effect, to buy the Republican nomination as New York's mayor rather than get into the rough and tumble of Democratic precinct politics.)
Occasionally, there is a happy concatenation of principle and pragmatism, like last week when Senator Lincoln D Chafee of Rhode Island trounced a conservative challenger for the Republican candidacy in the primary. Chafee has opposed the right wing tax cuts, the war in Iraq and the nomination of conservative ideologues to the Supreme Court. He has even caviled at confirming John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN. But Republican national leaders know that Chaffee was what his voters in Rhode Island want, and as long as he sticks with the party, and helps them control the Senate and thus the purse strings they can tolerate a lot of eccentricity.
But that was a local election. So where does this play into the Presidential election in two years? Essentially, to win his primary elections George W. Bush (apart from fixing Florida and the Supreme Court) had to talk moderately enough not to frighten off the Chafee-style Republicans, but had to assure the increasingly influential evangelical and loony-right of the party that he was really on their side, so they would support him in the primaries.
Bush, Rove and Cheney successfully convinced the evangelicals and the loony right that he was on their side, but had to sail under false colours to win, and one must admit, was far better at keeping his promises to them than most politicians are. Since then however, the manifest failure of the war, the shameful incompetence over Operation Katrina, and the series of legal scandals afflicting the Republican Party, have led to the belated beginnings of a palace revolt
McCain, one of the few national figures in the Republican Party known for integrity rather than scandal, is no peacenik and no liberal. But he does have principles Interestingly, this week he co-authored an op-ed with former Senator Dole, calling for stronger action on Darfur.
McCain, along with fellow-Republicans Senator John Warner and Colin Powell, has denounced Bush's plans for unilaterally rewriting the Geneva Conventions. All of them have military records, which puts them on a different planet from the callow "chicken-hawks" around the White House, epitomized by Bush, who drank his way through the South in the National Guard while McCain was a POW in South Vietnam.
Either McCain or Powell could have run on a Democratic vice-presidential ticket – and were certainly no more belligerent or conservative than Senator Joe Lieberman, who was the candidate with Kerry.
McCain had a good excuse. In addition to their contempt for armchair torturers and inquisitors, McCain has a deep personal grudge against Bush. When he ran against Bush in the primaries, anonymous "pollsters" called voters across the South asking them if they would vote for him if they heard that he had fathered an illegitimate black child. He had not – he had adopted a Bangladeshi orphan, but the double whammy of miscegenation and sexual misconduct pulled levers with Southern Republicans – and fingers pointed to Karl Rove for this "swiftboating."
For a precursor of the fate of McCain's candidacy, one should look at Senator Bob Dole's abortive bid for the presidency, where his lurch to the right to win the primary lost him liberal support in the actual election, while the right simply did not believe his conversion – and many supported Ross Perot. Bush and his gang may have promised him an easy ride in return for not defecting in the last election. But one cannot help thinking that somewhere along the Mississippi, the swift-boats are on the slipway, waiting to launch against him as they did against Kerry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reality Checked at the UN door

Selective Reality
Ian Williams
(The Nation 19 September)

Just before he spoke today to the United Nations General Assembly, George W. Bush sent a discreet message to both the United Nations and the US Congress by quietly withholding payments, for the fifth consecutive year, to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. The health of hundreds of thousands of women and children will be impaired--and many lives lost--as a result of his pandering to the most prejudiced elements of his conservative constituency.

Missing from this year's speech was some of the snide innuendo and challenge of Bush's previous comments on the United Nations, perhaps reflecting some injection of reality into his unilateral worldview. This time around, the President also refrained from making ultimatums to the assembled delegations threatening action if they did not go along with his Administration's ideas of what was good for them.

Bush's message was mainly addressed to the ostensible silent majority of moderates in the Middle East. But his words were as cushioned from the cruelty of the real world as one would expect from an Administration that is making Panglossianism a state religion.

Up to a point, the President was in harmony with Secretary General Kofi Annan's address to the General Assembly, in that both dwelt on the Middle East. But while Annan identified the core of many of the problems in the Middle East, Bush's simplistic assessment of "the bright future in the broader Middle East" was such a caricature as to leave some listeners chuckling. Neither the elections in Egypt, nor the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia that he trumpeted, offer any conclusive evidence of the march of democracy.

"Some have argued that the democratic changes we're seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with," he said. In fact, his argument is against himself: Most of his critics will adduce that the actual and threatened military intervention of the United States and Israel are not infusions of democracy but destabilizing forces in and of themselves.

But Annan had a firmer grip on the truth in his address to the Assembly that preceded the President's. "As long as the Security Council is unable to end this [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, and the now nearly forty-year-old occupation, by bringing both sides to accept and implement its resolutions, so long will our impartiality be questioned," he said. "So long will our best efforts to resolve other conflicts be resisted, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Bush's invocation of the envoys of Iraq and Afghanistan seated in the General Assembly as representing elected governments, compared to when he spoke five years ago, may be accurate. But he was silent on the powerlessness of those governments to actually govern. The Lebanese in particular are unlikely to recognize his depiction of their "homes and communities...caught in the crossfire"--in light of the Bush-supported blitz that was actually mounted against their country. "We see your suffering," the President said, but he failed to explain why he did nothing to stop it for a long month of bombing and shelling from Israel.

His remarks on Iran were also remarkable for a selective view of reality. "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis," Bush noted, without explaining why the UN's nuclear watchdog last week reprimanded the Administration for gross exaggeration of the very slender evidence of an actual weapons program. (After the speech, Bush was spared close confrontation with reality in the form of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because the latter skipped the heads of state lunch, since wine was being served there. Reformed imbiber Bush suffered in silence.)

The one redeeming aspect of Bush's cartoonish tour of the Middle East was that he lowered the "terrorist" word count and more often replaced it by his latest buzzword, "extremism." But if this speech was addressed to the people of the region, it is certainly one of the most inept ever.

His invocation of a Palestinian state that has "territorial integrity" raises many questions, not least concerning his previous green light for Israeli annexation of settlement blocs and acquiescence in building the wall. Although some UN observers looked hopefully for signs of a realization that economic sanctions against the democratically elected Palestinian Authority has been counterproductive, they were not, in fact, very visible.

Hanan Ashrawi, mentioned as possible foreign minister of a new coalition Palestinian Authority, criticized Bush's "very simplified view of the Middle East." Ashrawi summed up the American President's speech, describing it as "more of the same. It contained no concrete proposals to deal with crucial issues, the boundaries, the settlement.... Right now Kofi is speaking out on the issues. I wish he had done it earlier."

"A broken record," was the similar description from one UN official. In fact, Annan, in yet another oblique, nuanced and hence unrecognized critique of the Bush Administration, identified another very tangible reason why the President's invocations of democracy may generate so much skepticism at the UN.

"Even the necessary and legitimate struggle around the world against terrorism is used as a pretext to abridge or abrogate fundamental human rights, thereby ceding moral ground to the terrorists and helping them find new recruits," Annan said.

Bush was on firmer ground on Darfur, announcing the appointment of former USAID administrator Andrew Natsios as presidential special envoy to Sudan, "to lead America's efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to your land." But he pinned the strategy on the UN peacekeeping troops going in, warning, "If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act."

It will be interesting to see what size of stick Natsios is issued for his negotiations, or what form of diplomacy the White House can use to persuade China to go along with a more robust UN involvement. And if one were cynical, one would wonder whether the interest in Darfur would outlast Bush's need to mobilize conservative Christians, for whom Darfur is a defining issue, to vote for Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Taiwan -Out of This World?

Ira Stoll of the New York Sun, the neocon vanity press house journal, asked the Taiwanese president at the press conference I mention below, "The scandals and corruption and failures of the UN are so vast that increasing numbers of the Americans think the United States should leave the UN-perhaps to be more like Taiwan, a free, democratic, economically successful country that's not a member of the UN. Why are you so determined for Taiwan to join an organization that's so flawed and troubled?" It provoked an immediate thought "because Taiwan is on this planet - and the Sun isn't."

Taiwan -Out of This World?

Taiwan's fourteenth attempt to get into the UN predictably failed on Tuesday when the General Assembly's General Committee refused to allow the issue even to get onto the agenda.

As in previous years the very modest resolution merely asked the Assembly to study the question of Taiwanese association with the world body, and this year Taiwan and its allies added a new resolution suggesting that the issue be examined in the light of peace and security in the region, since that is, after all, what the UN is supposed to be about. The delegates just refused to discuss the issue, which says Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau, is totally contrary to the UN's own rules of procedure, which say that any delegation can inscribe any issue it wants on the agenda.

It is also true that Beijing has bullied the UN Secretariat and many of the delegations into accepting that uniquely among all General Assembly decisions, resolution 2758 which seated the PRC on the Security Council can not be questioned or raised ever again. One only has to think of the overturning of the "Zionism is Racism" resolution, a product of the same era, to see that no UN decision is ever set in stone.

Exasperated with the attitude of the PRC, in a video-conference on Wednesday morning with diplomats and academics and the media in New York, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian speaking from Taipei ratcheted up the stakes a notch more. Describing Taiwan's previous approaches as "reasonable and moderate," and Beijing's response as "barbaric oppression against Taiwan," he announced that in future the bid would not be in the name of Republic of China, but of Taiwan.

He also detailed the ways that the Taiwanese government had been prepared to bend to accommodate Beijing's obsessions-trying to join the WHO as a "health entity," joining the WTO as a "customs territory," and the Olympics as "Chinese Taipei."

When I questioned him about whether Beijing might not see this as provocatively close to declaring independence, he says that "China will react very strongly, and perhaps crudely," and went a step further and said "Maybe we should consider a referendum on this issue."

He cited recent polls showing 79% support for this, but allowed that it would be considerably less popular among the leadership in Beijing. But when asked if Taiwan would consider following others down the attention-seeking path with the nuclear option, he declared "We are not North Korea," and "we will never resort to nuclear weapons to be a 'squeaky wheel.'"

Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC predictably declared that Taiwan's latest application for UN membership is a "new and dangerous" step taken by Chen along the secessionist path. "It further exposes his sinister motive to speed up secessionist activities."

One could of course argue that wanting a democratic referendum on Taiwan is somewhat less sinister than pointing 800 missiles at the "Taiwanese compatriots," for having secessionist thoughts.
Chen's moves will certainly lend some point to the abortive pro-Taiwanese resolution invoking the UN's mandate to promote peace and security, especially in the Straits.

There is something inherently irrational about the situation, and the acquiescence of most of GA delegates has a lot more to do with pandering to the Chinese gorilla than any niceties of international law.

The bedrock principles for many of the non-aligned are the inviolability of colonial boundaries, and the right of self determination of the territories. For example, thirty years after, few countries, and certainly not the UN, recognize Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara, on exactly those grounds. Taiwan certainly has strong claims on both those grounds, but the Chinese attitude is out of step with modern history: Montenegro, for example, would not have been allowed to secede on the whim of the electorate, and the members of the Scottish Nationalist Party would find themselves in prison, or worse, as "secessionists," which several Chinese envoys have tried to equate outright with terrorism.

Certainly it should be puzzling to other delegates, if they sat to think it through, that Beijing actually prefers a government in Taipei that claims to be a government-in-exile for the whole of China, to one that claims only to represent Taiwan. Chen, inheriting such residual claims from the former KMT regime is happy to renounce claims to represent China but Beijing, bizarrely, has declared that to be an occasion for war.

The UN is a very flexible organization. There are former Pacific Trust territories, such as Palau and Micronesia, whose budget is entirely dependent on Washington, and whose defence is entirely committed to the US. For almost half a century, Byelorussia and Ukraine, constituent republics of the USSR, which at the time had less independence than the average American village, were full voting members of the United Nations. Queen Elizabeth is represented by some eighteen countries, whose diplomats technically submit their credentials in her name.
There are even precedents for member states, such as the two Yemens or Germany, to reunify after decades of separate representation, so Taiwanese membership need not be irrevocable.

One can understand that when Chiang Kai Shek ruled Taiwan under martial law as an offshore island waiting to regain the mainland, many delegations would have reservations, but those days are gone. It is clear that most Taiwanese would much rather go their own way, and if they could be assured that they would not be nuked for doing so, an overwhelming majority of them would.

The PRC's failure to live up to the spirit of the Hong Kong SAR agreements, and the bellicose threats against the people of Taiwan, have strengthened the Taiwan independence movement, but one presumes that they are not really aimed at Taiwanese hearts and minds, but rather a domestic mainland constituency, indeed probably an inner party one.
The Chinese Communist Party's effective abandonment of its former claimed socialism, leaves only nationalism with which to score points inside the party. Ironically, there are probably more "Socialist" provisions, in terms of social welfare, healthcare etc, in Taiwan than in the former land of the iron ricebowl, but that probably exacerbates the comrades' ire.

It could rationally be asked, why has Taiwan become so obsessive about membership of the United Nations? Apart from the symbolic value, that membership has become synonymous with acceptance as an independent nation, the most tangible benefit is security. The Taiwanese want assurances that they will not be attacked.

The US and Japan, in their own way, as irrational as the PRC, do not recognize Taiwan, but recently re-pledged their military support for what is presumably a "defence entity" for the purpose. However the situation is indeed, as the thwarted Taiwanese resolution says, a threat to peace and security.

Far from pressuring the PRC diplomatically to pledge a nonviolent solution, the major powers prefer to kow tow, or at least to humour Beijing. One notes with mild amusement the silence of former Taiwan lobbyist John Bolton on the issue. But there are precedents which suggest that Beijing's bluff can be called. For example, when the Chinese delegation was about to veto UN peacekeepers for Haiti because of the Caribbean republic's recognition of Taiwan, Latin American ambassadors firmly but politely told them that they would blow their credibility in the region and in the broader non-aligned. China backed down, and now actually has peacekeepers in Haiti – which still has ties with Taiwan!

One can understand other governments pandering to a nine hundred pound gorilla, but there is a very real danger fermenting across the straits, and some such hard, not necessarily hostile, talk is overdue to remove the threat of war spinning out of control in the region.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9-11+5 = Bin Laden beats Bush

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, the bang interrupted the article I was writing on the impending downfall of the US dollar. I was living in downtown Manhattan and not only did I report from close to the burning stumps of the twin towers all day I lived by tithe smoldering gate of Hell for months afterwards.

Some hours afterwards I was one block away from the WTC, where the streets were cloaked in several feet of ash, through which snaked the hoses from the Hudson River to the fire trucks. The firemen had crowbarred a convenience store open and were treating it as a supply depot. One of them came out, caked in dust and sweat voraciously stuffing a banana into his mouth in between gulps of water.

He looked around with a sort of pugnacious puzzlement at ash, the debris, the mud, and the smoke. "Can you believe it?" he asked me, "I'm looking for a fucking garbage can!" He threw the banana peel defiantly into the white ashen fallout in the street as if he were having a one-man demonstration against the lack of civilization in the neighborhood.

On the weary back home walking round the tip of Manhattan, I got a foretaste of police powers and the fate of the freedom of press in the new era. A gang of thuggish NYPD detectives refused to let me carry on, and offered me the choice of climbing on a tugboat to New Jersey - or being thrown onto it. And when, many weary hours later that night we trudged back to downtown Manhattan, it was in time to watch from the apartment window as army convoys trundled down the East River Drive. It was a sign of things to come: the response to the tragedy was going to be military, no matter how inappropriate.

"Foreign Policy" was something the US had inflicted on other nations, and for the first few days, I began to see a possible silver lining to the smelly dark cloud at the end of Fulton Street. This was the first time foreign policy had happened to the American homeland since Admiral Cochrane had burnt the White House two centuries before. Would it make them take more notice of what their nation was doing to others? I watched carefully for any admission that American ways of waging proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan had been responsible for nurturing Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan. But instead, the airwaves of America increasingly relayed the administration's war drums beating up fervor about Iraq.

Only last week, it was still considered news in the US that a Senate Committee could find not find any trace of links between Saddam Hussein and Iraq even though to the rest of the world this was about as novel as news of the Pope's Catholicism. And even that did not stop Condoleezza Rice invoking the "War on Terror" in Iraq as making the US safer from repeat attacks.

In fact, in retrospect, the carnage on September 11 was a spectacularly successful terrorist attack. In so far as indiscriminate mass murder can be rational, its logic is that it provokes a foolish and unequal reaction from the powers the terrorists are struggling to overthrow, provoking support for their ideology.

If Bin Laden had indeed had such rationality behind his eschatological visions, he was indeed vindicated in his planning. Just like the fireman, but with much less excuse, the Bush administration has decided that the normal rules no longer apply. Bush’s and Blair's attack on Iraq, their uncritical support for Israel, their threats against Iran, combined with their wholesale abandonment of constitutional and international legal protections for suspects at home and abroad, have all put truth in the rumors that Osama Bin Laden was spreading about a Western anti-Muslim crusade.

Within a day of September 11, the UN Security Council had unanimously declared support for the US, and implicitly authorized the attack against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Did Bin Laden know that the Bush administration would blow it all within two years and move to a position of almost complete diplomatic isolation - apart, of course, from the unwavering support of Tony "Yo" Blair, who is now paying the price for it?

Ironically, while Bin Laden may delight in how effectively Bush and Blair are propagating his creed, he should have some regrets. Some of his worst enemies, from the Iranians to the Iraqi and Syrian Ba'athists, have stolen the spotlight from him and cheated him of the martyrdom he preaches. Five years after September 11, the US has effectively pulled out of oil-less Afghanistan and left it to NATO, and last week it was that reported that it has been over two years since the US snatch squad detailed to catch him has had any credible intelligence leads about him.

Meantime, thousands of Muslims, or people of Muslim origin, from cab drivers to professors, have been deported from the US for reasons as various and vacuous as donating to Palestinian causes down to traveling while being called Mohammed. So desperate is the FBI for terrorists against whom to wage a war that they pay agents to start "plots" that they can then "foil."

And then the UK jumps on the bandwagon, trying to sell us a hi-jacking plot in which the principals appeared to have no passports or airline tickets -- but may have helped launch an assisted take-off for the political ambitions of the Home Secretary.

Five years on I think of that fireman with his banana, and also of one of his colleagues, who with less nuance had told me, in the literal furnace-heat of the moment, "I don’t want to offend anyone, but we just gotta go in and nuke the whole fucking Middle East now."

Without his apologetic nuance, he seems to have had an apocalyptic hotline into the White House - thou hast conquered, Bin Laden.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blairing the party lines

Below is the statement made by Tony Blair earlier today, which shows severe signs of detachment from reality. Note that he has apologized "on behalf of the Labour Party for the last week."
He is "apologizing" for the fact that his best friends, nay even some of his most grovelling Toadies, in the party have called for him to go. And then invokes "the interests of the country" to change the subject.

He is impervious to the opinion polls that show that the "country" thinks he should take a hike, as well as most of his party members. The attitudes of the latter can easily be explained by his arch dismissal of the Labour Party Conference, and the Trade Union Conference. "The next TUC will be my last TUC, probably to the relief of both of us." There is not the slightest hint of acknowledgment that, following the failure of his Clintonesque schemes to sell influence and honours to millionaires, it is only the unions that stand between the Labour Party and total bankrupcy.

"We've got the blockade on the Lebanon lifted today," he announces proudly,overlooking his part in frustrating the ceasefire for a month of slaughter and demolition, and taking credit for the diplomatic efforts of others like Kofi Annan. Blair himself has, as hundreds of Palestinian intellectuals pointed out in a letter to greet his mediation efforts, no credibility whatsoever because of his slavish following of Bush and Olmert.

The he adds "we can't treat the public as irrelevant bystanders in a subject as important as who is their PM," Indeed. He should listen to the opinion polls, as well as the Labour Party members, and go immediately, and the insouciant arrogance of his statement contains an adequate explanation of just why he lost their support.

Blair's Statement.

"The first thing I'd like to do is to apologise actually on behalf of the Labour Party for the last week, which with everything that's going on back here and in the world has not been our finest hour to be frank. But, I think what is important now is that we understand that it's the interests of the country that come first and we move on.

"Now, as for my timing and date of departure, I would have preferred to do this in my own my way but has been pretty obvious from what many of my Cabinet colleagues have said, earlier in the week, the next party conference in a couple of weeks will be my last party conference as party leader. The next TUC will be my last TUC, probably to the relief of both of us. But I'm not going to set a precise date now. I don't think that's right. I will do that at a future date and I'll do it in the interests of country and depending on the circumstances of the time. Now that doesn't in any way take away from fact it's my last conference but I think the precise timetable has to be left up to me and to be done in a proper way.

"Now, I also say one other thing after the last week. I think it's important for the Labour Party to understand and I think the majority of people in the party do understand, that it's the public that comes first and it's the country that matters and we can't treat the public as irrelevant bystanders in a subject as important as who is their PM. So we should just bear that in mind in the way we conduct ourselves in the time to come. And in the meantime I think it's important that we get on with the business. I mean I was in a primary school earlier. Fantastic new buildings, great new IT suite. School results improving. I'm here at this school that just in the last few years has come on by leaps and bounds doing fantastically well. We've got the blockade on the Lebanon lifted today. You know, there are important things going on in the world. I think I speak for all my Cabinet colleagues when I say that we would prefer to get on with those things because those are the things that really matter to the country. So, as I say, it's been a somewhat difficult week but I think it's time now to move on and I think we will."