Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blairing the issues: full text

Guardian Comment is Free full text It's not Blair

Gordon Brown's first trip to the US since becoming prime minister highlights how different he is from Tony Blair.
Ian Williams

July 30, 2007 8:00 PM | n

One of the consequences of the federal system is that American politicians have difficulties getting name recognition on a national scale. That is one of the reasons why they have to spend so many millions to get their names imprinted in voters' minds, and why dynastic names do so well in the electoral market place, with Kennedy, Bush and Clinton being good examples.

If so many Americans have difficulty recognising, for example, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson - despite his distinguished career as congressman, UN ambassador, energy secretary, negotiator with North Korea, and currently governor of New Mexico - it is understandable that Gordon Brown, currently on his first visit to the US since becoming prime minister, has not been on everyone's mind.

But he will be, whether through acts of omission or commission. Despite former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that "all politics is local", at the moment all politics is Iraq, and Brown's silence on the subject has been masterful. "Don't mention the war!" may not have worked for Basil Fawlty or Kurt Waldheim, but Brown seems to be getting away with it.

When he praises Bush for his efforts in the war on terror, the subtext is that nobody in Britain, least of all the prime minister, is under any illusion that the Iraq invasion was anything to do with 9-11, al-Qaida, or the war on terror. What is more, Brits often do nuance. "My country right or wrong", is not an acceptable posture, and "someone else's country right or wrong", is even less palatable, at least outside the pseudo-patriotic world of the media owned by Rupert Murdoch.

In fact, I was on the Neil Cavuto show on Fox two weeks ago trying to explain that Brown's refusal to use the phrase "War On Terror" did not mean he was soft on terror, but simply somewhat more precise about it than Fox, or the 70% of Americans who at the time of the invasion of Iraq had been nudged into believing that Saddam was behind the World Trade Centre attacks.

Brown is, of course, in no way anti-American, as the newspapers in his Cape Cod holiday spot can testify when they rubbed their hands in anticipation of "Downing Street West" there. But unlike his predecessor, the current prime minister is more nuanced and selective in his enthusiasm for aspects of American society. It is a strain sometimes for his zealous spinners. Comments by Douglas Alexander and Mark Malloch Brown about putting some distance from the US administration went down well in Britain and did not need as many apologists as they ended up with.

Fifteen years ago, a group of expat Labour supporters met Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Manhattan on one of their visits. It was while John Smith was the leader of the Labour Party so they were still chums. Both, but Blair particularly, were overwhelmed with Bill Clinton. "He wins elections," Blair said as Brown nodded. Tony was not put down by the suggestion that Clinton would put his grandmother on the streets to win votes and campaign financing, and went back home to denounce me as "a wild man from Liverpool badmouthing Bill Clinton," to a meeting of Labour candidates.

Despite a superficial similarity, there was cleary a difference between Blair and Brown, even back then. Blair saw the Labour party as a vehicle for him to get to power just as Clinton saw the Democratic Party. He certainly did not have the feel for its traditions that Brown, a long-time activist and biographer of Jimmy Maxton, the staunchly-left leader of the Independent Labour party, clearly showed. Brown has grown Britain's economy and under his care as chancellor of the exchequer, the pound is beginning to make the declining dollar look like an Albanian Lek.

Blair enthusiasts predicted electoral disaster when their leader's disingenuous smile disappeared off the airwaves. The opposite happened, at least in part because the British electorate was thoroughly disillusioned with a completely subservient policy. This time, there will be no humiliating greetings of "Yo Brown", and the prime minister cannily cut back on the photo ops. He will be going to the United Nations, which he and his party take seriously, to discuss Darfur, global warming and other multilateral issues.

Perhaps he will swap notes there with Ban Ki-moon, the self-professed "slippery eel", on their respective balancing acts: how to put distance from the paraplegic duck president while not totally alienating the administration of the world's only superpower.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Western Sahara and Palestine

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007, pages 26-27

United Nations Report
Morocco’s Designs on Western Sahara Pose Danger to Palestinians
By Ian Williams

APRIL 30 WAS just another day at the U.N. Security Council stakeout. As the veteran Polisario representative to the U.N., Ahmed Boukhari, was answering questions about the resolution that had just been passed, someone called the UNTV control room and told them to fade the cameras to black. No one has confessed, but some current or former Moroccan member of the U.N. staff doubtless will be rewarded by his grateful Kingdom. Morocco plays tough on this issue, as one would expect from a country that stands international law on its head.

As an old Brazilian saying has it, “For our enemies, the law, for our friend—that’s different.” It is a message Washington clearly has learned well. Sadly, however, the Americans are not alone in their expedient view of international law.

We know that Arabs will protest loudly when an occupier seizes land, dispossesses people and replaces them with settlers, while building a massive ugly barrier to keep out terrorists, in defiance of U.N. decisions and International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgments.

So why is there complete silence from most of the Arab world when Morocco has done just that in Western Sahara?

Arab friends have told me that there are not that many Saharwis, so why bother? But then non-Arabs also ask why we spend so much time on a relatively minor problem like the Palestinians.

The point about law, domestic and international, is that—theoretically, at least—it applies equally to rich and poor, strong and weak. Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain rightly lives in ignominy for handing Czechoslovakia over to Hitler because it was a “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

It is clear that lawbreaking sets a precedent. For over 15 years the U.N. Security Council has addressed the issue of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara every six months, agreeing to pour yet even more money into the sand for MINURSO, the peacekeeping force.

Everyone wishes the issue would just go away, since it poses such a clear challenge to the U.N. and to international law. Before Morocco occupied the territory, the ICJ ruled that there should be a referendum. The Security Council said Morocco should end its occupation, and in 1991 endorsed a cease-fire that was to end in a referendum which would allow the Saharwis to decide whether they wanted independence, or incorporation into Morocco.

As part of that cease-fire, even the late King Hassan II of Morocco had said there should be a referendum—although he stopped saying that as soon as it became apparent he could not win it, since the U.N. and MINURSO would not let him pad the electoral rolls with Moroccans.

But no one had enough of a dog in the fight to force Morocco to abide by Security Council resolutions. On the other hand, smaller members, who naturally want to uphold international law as their only protection against larger powers, have been concerned enough to thwart the perennial plans of France and others to legalize handing over the territory to Rabat.

In his last week in office, just before Christmas, for example, former Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar tried to smuggle through a solution favorable to Morocco.

On April 30 of this year the French were joined by the Americans, but once again could not railroad a decision past the atavistic attachment of the smaller members to legality and the principle of self-determination. Even so, the resolution that Bukhari was discussing shamelessly thanks the Moroccans for their latest initiative, while only “noting” Polisario’s willingness to go along with the full letter of U.N. resolutions.

The compromise resolution did not endorse the Moroccan plan, but called for talks between Morocco and Polisario “with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” The Moroccan plan directly precluded self-determination and offered less autonomy than Puerto Rico enjoys.

Significantly, over the same period of time the PLO also renounced armed struggle and put its faith in international law and diplomacy. The PLO has spent over a decade refining and reiterating the corpus of U.N. and ICJ decisions that support its case, while invoking multilateral bodies like the signatories of the Geneva Convention. They have done this with the full and served support of the Arab and Islamic bloc. But all their work could be for naught if the Moroccans were to succeed in getting U.N. endorsement of their autonomy proposal—which does in fact bear an uncanny resemblance to the Bantustan that Israel would like to see the Palestinians accept.

If Morocco can overturn international law, and legalize its movement of settlers into and annexation of occupied territory, then why can’t the U.N. Security Council simply hand over Jerusalem and the settlements to Israel regardless of its previous decisions? Arab countries that stand aside and let Morocco get away with this are forging the legal weapons to dispossess the Palestinians—not to mention condemning their Arab brothers of the Sahara to a justly condemned regime that consistently violates their human and national rights.

They also should look at the friends Morocco has bought in the USA. Rabat has been spending some $30 million in lobbying and, through its surrogate, the “Moroccan American Policy Center” (MAPC), has been tickling the soft underbelly of Congress. It has identified its friends in Washington, who amassed over 160 congressional signatures for a resolution supporting the Moroccan proposal. For most of the signatories Western Sahara is indeed a faraway country which may as well be Freedonia for all they know about it.

But the people heading the lobbying effort do know what they are doing: they are the architects of Washington’s disastrous polices on the Cuban embargo, on Central America and Iran-Contra, on the spurious War on Terror, on Iraq and on Israel. With friends like these Morocco should be ashamed.

The congressional signatories are almost a roll-call of anti-Castro, pro-Israel members of the House of Representatives, and their numbers doubtless were boosted when the MAPC recently hired the legal-and-lobbying firm of Alberto Cardenas, a veteran anti-Castro Cuban American who served two terms as head of Florida’s Republican Party and co-chaired Bush’s 2004 effort in the Sunshine State.

For Morocco’s supporters, an enemy's friend is a hated foe. Polisario has the dubious benefit of Castro’s support and that (plus a $15,000 monthly retainer to Cardenas) is enough to rally the Florida delegation, which has noticed that Castro has a soft spot for the Palestinians as well, with similar results on their voting patterns.
The Anti-Castro Connection

Prominent among the resolution’s signers was Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is at least consistent. In addition to hating Castro she has been waging war on UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, so it seems fitting that she shows no concern for Saharwi refugees.

Toby Moffett, a former Democratic representative from Connecticut who had been elected on a Naderite clean-up-Congress ticket, engagingly described a week in the life of a lobbyist in the Los Angeles Times recently:

“I leave and rush to the House side of the Capitol to meet another client, the ambassador from Morocco. We have a meeting with a key member of the Appropriations Committee. Morocco has a good story to tell. It is a reliable friend of the U.S. It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved.

“We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible al-Qaeda training area....My idea is to sell this as a chance for Democrats to resolve a dispute in a critical region, in contrast to the president’s utter failure to fix anything.”

On the Republican side, Elliot Abrams, the “deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy,” a hawkish pro-Israeli supporter and one of the neocon devisers of the Iraq war, also has been pushing the Moroccan plan, betraying the same insouciance toward legal technicalities that he did when convicted for lying to Congress about the Iran/Contra scandal. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Abrams sees the parallels between Israel and the Palestinians and the Moroccans and the Saharwis, and appreciates the precedent it would set.

In Washington, the Moroccan Embassy hired the Edelman PR firm for $35,000 a month as its lobbyist. This, of course, had nothing to do with the timely letter from an increasingly conservative and belligerent American Jewish Committee weighing in with a letter of support for King Mohamed VI, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel’s best friends in the Arab world.

Most of these organizations and signatories piously profess support for democracy but happily overlook the mere detail that Freedom House and similar bodies give Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara the same human rights score as Zimbabwe—just beating, by a wrenched-out finger-nail, Tibet, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan.

If in doubt, of course, invoke terrorism. Most of the letters from the king’s men and women invoke the Polisario-held areas as potential heartlands of al-Qaeda-style terrorism. In the real world, oddly enough, the Polisario’s biggest supporter is Algeria, which is battling Islamic extremists with some considerable vigor—indeed a little too much for some tender-minded observers. Until recently, moreover, Polisario itself was proclaimed a communist plot by American politicians, which is why they have tacitly supported the Moroccan occupation all these years. In Morocco itself, the king’s repressive policies have made the Islamic party the most popular, as free elections would show.

Thus, should Morocco get away with denying self-determination, it would be bad for the rule of law, bad for the Saharwis—and bad for the Palestinians.

Ian Williams i

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brown Needs a Bit of Gray

Brown Needs a Bit of Gray
My Tribune column, 27 July 2007

Every mature adult knows that being friends doesn't necessarily imply consent to non-censual screwing, which is why no one with any sense takes as declarations of war the muted declarations of independence from George Bush's policies that some of Gordon Brown's new ministers have expressed.

There is something obsessively dysfunctional about this preoccupation with a relationship, which, rhetoric apart, is not so special at all. The recent total fixation with it has cost Britain considerable clout with the rest of the world, in the Middle East, and with the Commonwealth, while failing to deliver influence in the European Union commensurate with its size and power. After all who wants to listen to the dummy when you can contact the ventriloquist directly in Washington.

Even so, there are indeed very good reasons, economic, political, military and historic, for close British relations between the USA, even though there are equally good reasons why the disparity in power between the two nations necessarily implies some degree of inequality in that relationship. In the early days of Labour government, and indeed before, Britain hovered round a Goldilocks position, not too close to, nor too distant from Washington. As a result it had influence.

A particular case of both the success and the limitations of that more measured alliance was Tony Blair's prevailing on a reluctant Clinton that they should act in the Balkans – and his failure to persuade the President that bombing attacks were symbolic but counterproductive. It took months before the mere threat of a ground attack that Clinton had publicly renounced, had Milosevic running up the white flag over Kosovo. Apart from the deranged Leftists who think that thousands of dead Kosovars a mere peccadillo, most of the world agreed that this was in the end one of Blair's (and Robin Cook's) most positive achievements.

But faced with an American administration that has lost the confidence of its own electorate, at least in part because they can see just how unpopular Bush has made their nation across the world, it makes no sense at all for Gordon Brown to tie himself to the mast of the sinking USS George W. Bush in the same way that Tony Blair did. Real allies tell you when you are about to hit the rocks, they do not stand beside you calling "full sail ahead."

For a start, there is more to close relations with the USA than kowtowing to the President. Only the most naïve foreign potentate would think that a visit to the Queen would necessarily deliver British support for his regime. Of course George W. Bush does indeed have more power than Mrs Windsor - but in many aspects vital to British interests, the President could not deliver even when he was more popular than he was now. Economic relations, trade, open skies agreements, even military production and sales, are in the hands of a Congress that is currently not exactly a Presidential fan club.

However, while Bush may be intellectually challenged and detached from reality in his perceptions, his reactions are all too real, so it makes no sense for the Prime Minister to go much beyond "Up to a point, Mr President," in tactfully disagreeing, while firmly stating his points where they disagree and emphasizing the points of agreement. But while dancing daintily with dogma in the White House, he also needs to cultivate relations with the broader spectrum of American politics.

Of course, there is no way that Britain can rally a domestic lobby with the power of the Israel lobby, (which is, of course, the real "Special Relationship,") nor should it want to. British expatriates in America, although significant in numbers, are British enough not to subscribe to the "my country, right or wrong," scoundrel school of patriotism. But at the very least, Gordon Brown, either directly or through his ministers, needs to charm the majority of the American public and the politicians who represent them while putting some discreet distance between himself and Bush, whose poll rating makes Richard Nixon look positively saintly.

Even so, there are times when the kissing has to stop because it is not getting you anywhere. In the US, as the former speaker of the House Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." Any domestic lobby (and in case you think this contradicts what I said earlier, AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is a domestic lobby!) will trump foreign representations.

Experience shows that playing hard to get can win appreciation, while playing tough produces results on Capitol Hill. The EU has demonstrated that with its threat of tariffs to secure the delivery of WTO commitments from a perennially protectionist Congress. So the choice facing the Labour government is not "either Europe or the US." A significant British role in Europe strengthens Britain's hand in the USA.

Indeed, an independent British role in the rest of the world strengthens the hand of a British Prime Minister. There is a lot of ground to be retaken, however. The White House is reportedly understanding that Brown has to put some distance for domestic reasons. While appreciating their forbearance, the new cabinet should also realize that distancing is essential to rebuild British standing in the rest of the world.

Kosovo independence, US pigheadedness: full text

Kosovo independence, US pigheadedness

The Russian veto of Kosovar independence was Moscow's way of telling the United States to pay attention. Here's what the US should do.
Ian Williams

Guardian Comment is Free
July 25, 2007 6:00 PM | Printable version

Monday was the 93rd anniversary of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, the country that had harboured the terrorist group responsible for killing the Archduke. As we now know, a bullet shot in the Balkans can have global consequences.

Irresponsibility, it seems, is forever - not to mention well-distributed around the world.

One consequence of this fact was the least surprising event of last week when, facing a Russian veto, the US, Britain, and France dropped their UN security council resolution that was intended to nudge Kosovo on its way to independence.

Russia is wrong on the issue. Kosovo will probably declare independence anyway in November, and if one thing is certain, it will never be part of Serbia ever again. But the whole thing will be a lot messier than it should be, largely because of grandstanding nationalist politicians in Belgrade, in Moscow and in Washington.

In a recent poll, only one in five Serbian voters thought there was any chance of getting Kosovo back, and 70% of them wanted to join the EU, an organisation will almost certainly make recognition of Kosovo's independence a precondition of membership. Assuming that they have a Russian veto behind them, Vojilslav Kostunica and the nationalists are still digging in their heels. They have missed their opportunity to persuade the Kosovars that they are not the same people as Milosevic's murder squads, which roamed the country and forced Kosovars across the border.

Currently, the nationalist posturing is being foolishly encouraged by Russia, whose interest in Kosovo and Serbia is not that great. But Moscow has its own nationalist agenda - and one has to ask how much that is a reaction to unabashed American nationalism.

Understandably, the Russians saw the "new world order" following the cold war as a joint enterprise. Successive neocon-influenced American administrations saw it as a Russian defeat, and treated Moscow with disdain. It was the wrong thing to do when Russia was weak, even if some of that was a self-inflicted wound when Russia followed American advice and adopted a klepto-oligarchic model.

Russian resentment was obvious and well-signalled over the years. One signal has been perennial reminders about the veto that it inherited from the Soviet Union on the security council. In fact, it has hardly ever actually used the veto, at least in comparison with Washington's promiscuous abuse of the power.

American nationalism has teamed up with Polish nationalism to plan an anti-missile system in Poland, which can only be aimed at Russia. This just confirms all the suspicions that Moscow has, as displayed in Sergei Lavrov's recent article.

There are several things Washington could do. One is to try a little consistency, and show the same enthusiasm for independence in Palestine and western Sahara that it does for Kosovo. In both those cases, international law and UN decisions are much more unequivocally in favour of independence than in the morally justified but legally fuzzy case in Kosovo.

Henry Kissinger and others were recently in Moscow. No one knows what they were offering, but what they should have offered was a package deal. In addition to adjusting its attitude, the US should accept Vladimir Putin's offer to put the anti-missile systems in Azerbaijan, which would be far more effective if Iran really were the threat that Washington claims it is, in return for a Russian abstention on Kosovar independence.

But there is no reason for polite diplomacy to descend into pandering. Moscow's bluff can easily be called: if Kosovo declares independence in November as its government threatens, then the US, most of the EU, and many of the Islamic countries would very likely recognise it immediately. In the end, the Russian veto may stop Kosovo joining the UN, but for a state in the Balkans, relations with Nato and the EU are hefty consolation prizes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Russia, the US and Kosovo independence

latest in the Guardian Comment is Free


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bush's new faith-based strategy

Bush's new faith-based strategy

Comment is free in the Guardian, click for the link and check out the comments, which remarkably fail to deal with the main suggestion.

President Bush says he wants a new mideast peace conference, but he needs to tell Israel to return to its legal boundaries in exchange for a military guarantee.
Ian Williams

July 18, 2007 5:00 PM | Printable version

Has God sent a reminder to the amnesiac president of the United States? How else to account for George Bush's sudden and belated announcement of an international peace conference on the Middle East? It was back in 2003 that the US President reported an even earlier divine directive as told to the Palestinian leaders Abu Mazen and Nabil Shaath:

I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ...'. And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And by God I'm gonna do it.

Presumably Jehovah, operating on an eternal time scale, thought that half a decade or so of indolence on the Israel/Palestine file would not make a difference.

So when Bush announced the conference I did not know whether to be relieved that it was taking his customarily single-track mind off any divine directives to bomb Iran, or to be horrified that someone of such demonstrable ignorance and prejudice about the region was about to embark on such a perilous venture.

The fatal flaw is the usual one: complete, one-sided support for Israel. While boasting of the $190m of US aid for the Abbas regime in return for ousting Hamas, the elected victors of the free and democratic elections that Bush boasts of in his speech, there is no hint of any conditionality on the billions of dollars of aid and assistance going to Israel, not to mention the implicit guarantee of unconditional American military and diplomatic assistance.

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of anything more conducive to boosting Hamas's support than the president's announcement of $80m for the Palestinians to "reform their Security Services", which is shorthand for helping the Israelis arm the very Fatah factions that they had been locking up, bombing, and assassinating until Fatah lost the election. That's a monstrous amount of guns for a small amount of butter. This not a peace proposal: it is a plan to foment civil war in the occupied territories.

I can't really support any faith-based party, whether Bush's Republicans or European Christian Democrats - let alone one like Hamas that wants to close down breweries - but Bush proposes to exclude Hamas from the talks. It is passing strange that everyone considers sedulously the need to win over the Israeli electorate for concessions, but we rarely concede the same privilege to the Palestinian public.

What makes it worse is to see unscrupulous Fatah leaders joining in exactly the same kind of demonisation of Hamas that Israel and the Americans practiced on Yasser Arafat, Fatah and the PLO until recently. It is worth remembering that the "violent and lawless takeover" that Bush referred to in Gaza removed an unelected Fatah militia and freed Alan Johnston, for which some gratitude is surely due. Few journalists have dared to risk tarring with the "T" word to suggest that Hamas may not be quite as bad as depicted. Alistair Crooke is one who is well worth looking at.

Hamas won the election for two reasons, the corruption and ineptitude of Fatah, now the chosen partners of Israel and the US - and because of the total failure of the Road Map. Palestinians supported the peace process in overwhelming numbers, but by the turn of the century had every reason to ask: what process? Since Oslo, unimpeded by the paraplegic Quartet the settler population of the West Bank increased by 5.3% last year, and has doubled since Oslo, when the Palestinians were promised peace.

The Palestinian territories have become like war-time ghettoes, economically isolated, road blocked and walled into Bantustans, with the Israelis treating Gaza in particular like a free-fire zone.

And now Palestinians will parse Bush's speech for content. "A territorial settlement, with mutually agreed borders reflecting previous lines and current realities, and mutually agreed adjustments," looks like accepting the "facts on the ground" created by settlements, which he has previously supported. Bush says "unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended", ignoring the illegality of all settlements and overlooking the pertinent detail that the "unauthorized outposts" are provided with power and water, policing and defence by the government of Israel that had, even with its 14 riders to the Road Map agreed to stop such activities.

Abbas has wisely refused to get bogged down in the details with the Israelis who, since Oslo, have been nitpicking their way to obstruction. The final status issues are the important ones, and all the rest is commentary.

Perhaps God could tell Bush to accept the Saudi plan with his own added oomph. If Israel accepts the 1967 boundaries with whatever mutually useful trade-offs of territory the Palestinians are prepared to make, the president should guarantee those new borders and get Nato and maybe even the Russians to back that pledge. There is no real military threat to the only nuclear power in the region, but paranoia is a real phenomenon that needs to be dealt with. Such a guarantee should calm all but its most pathological sufferers.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dying for Carbon: Environmental Funerals

A deadly challenge to the environment
Comment is Free in the Guardian

There are more people alive today than ever before. What will the environmental costs be when we all die?

More than one in twenty of all the humans who have ever existed is alive now. The environmental cost of that is apparent, but what about the cost when we all start emulating Monty Python's former parrot?

I leave it to the theologians to work out whether the relevant authorities are planning high rises in Heaven or Hell to cope with the imminent influx of immortal souls. But for mortals the remains must surely pose problems of disposal, even if Hell may not be the place most conducive to worrying about global warming.

If there were land enough, the old ashes to ashes, dust-to-dust recycling stuff could apply, but with most of the world now living in cities, old style burial in serried ranks of single sepulchres is no longer feasible. Questions of space and hygiene led the Victorians into cemetery reform to cope with the tidal wave of whiffy dead building up in crowded cities, as inexorably as they led to sewage works to cope with the noxious floods from the living. As the twentieth century rolled on, a majority of the British opted for cremation, which solved problems of hygiene and space in a flash.

In the United States that met resistance from a potent lobby - the funeral directors, whose embalming talents developed during the Civil War. They used arsenic to preserve the departed and the coffins were soon gentrified into sealed caskets. In those pre-environmentally conscious days, no one thought of the consequences of putting an entombed toxic time tomb near the water table in a country where so many householders rely on well water. Now there are elevated arsenic levels in the ground water around old cemeteries. The departed are now pickled in formaldehyde, a class one carcinogen rather than an outright poison like arsenic, the practice raise issues of both land use and ecological damage. The odd Lenin or Eva Peron is one thing, but billions of embalmed dead represent an environmental loss for most of the living, albeit a major profit centre for funeral director.

In fact, I did a "Do It Yourself" funeral for my father some 20 years ago at his express request to stop the funeral directors making any money. But even cremation is now under suspicion. In India, it consumes wood and contributes to deforestation. Gas and electric crematoria add to greenhouse gases. Increasingly their chimneys need scrubbers to trap the mercury from dental fillings and other heavy metals ingested by the deceased.

One ancient nautical tradition, in keeping with recent ideas of sequestrating carbon on the ocean floor, is burial at sea. There have been problems with this in the past, when the recently departed return to the beach or in trawling nets, but the British regulations, which demand two hundredweight of steel or concrete attached to the coffin - which must have holes drilled in it, would seem to get over that problem. The UK also insists that the cadaver should not have been embalmed while the US insists that the water be at least a hundred fathoms deep and at least three miles off shore. All that steel and concrete must have a rather heavy carbon footprint, quite apart from the shock to any passing crabs when it comes hurtling down like a marine meteor.

Rather than planting trees to offset the carbon from cremation, a land-based alternative is one of the green funeral services - biodegradable wrappings in a forest where the recycling is ecologically direct. Some of the ultragreens want to account for the carbon footprint of using motor hearses rather than horses, but I personally think this is tending towards what comes out from equine rears.

My personal contribution to the environment in this regard will be try to stay alive for as long as possible, and although a Viking funeral has its aesthetic attractions, combining as it does green cremation and the burial at sea option with a great party, convenience and a determination to cheat the funeral directors of their gains points to a quick cremation. I hope that by the time the contingency arrives, they have developed solar powered green ovens with carbon (and mercury) sequestration technology. Some public-spirited inventors are already on the case - most appropriately in India.

I don't really care what happens to the residue - as long as they are called "ashes" and not the horrible American term "cremains", surely a word that morticians invented and promulgated to put people off cremation.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reading the Ban

from Guardian Comment is Free

Ban Ki Moon needs to put some distance between himself and Washington: John Bolton could help - by attacking him.
Ian Williams

July 11, 2007 9:30 PM | Printable version

After the invasion of Iraq, a BBC reporter backed Kofi Annan into a corner. Beleaguered by the conservative media, Annan had never explicitly endorsed the war but had tried to keep lines open to Washington by not attacking it either. However, the persistent reporter wrung an admission that the war was "illegal".

That extorted comment put him on the firing line with those American politicians and media commentators for whom the United Nations is axiomatically always wrong anyway, but who are always eager to find new reasons to back their prejudices.

In contrast, this week, when a German reporter from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was asking Ban Ki Moon how he proposed to resolve that perennial friction between the US and the UN the new secretary general seemed to be occupying a parallel universe. He replied, "The US plays the main role in the coalition forces in Iraq. America has suffered many casualties. Nobody can doubt that America has played a major role in stabilizing Iraq. We have to appreciate the contribution of the US and their sacrifices. How the US will develop their military presence and strategies in future, they will have to decide themselves, in close cooperation with the coalition forces. The UN will not directly be involved in this."

Even most Americans now seriously question just how much "stability" the US has contributed to Iraq, so this seems to be taking politeness to rather unrealistic extremes. Or it could reflect a South Korean foreign office view, which sees the world with an event horizon encompassed by Russia, China, Japan, North Korea - and the US as an essential counterbalance. It is not, incidentally a view shared by all South Koreans, a surprising number of whom resent the American presence even in the face of the unprepossessing Kim Jong Il whose response to global calls for downsizing government has been to wear platform shoes.

Certainly Ban has betrayed some lack of appreciation of the finer points of the Middle East until now, instinctively taking the American view: on a recent visit to East Jerusalem where he met a group of Palestinian notables he seemed to be under the impression he was in Israel - an impression shared only by the Knesset, since no other government recognizes the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, and the official position of the UN and its members is that until there is a peace settlement, both East and West Jerusalem are supposed to be a UN-administered "corpus separatum", which precludes them being either Palestinian or Israeli capitals without a further resolution.

There are some signs that he is learning about the region quickly - aided in part by the Guardian's leaking of his former envoy Alvaro de Soto's accurate critique. Only last week, Ban broke with his previous precedent by suggesting that the Israelis should be less eager to use tanks to fire in built up areas.

But he seems to be having difficulty understanding the US-UN relationship, and has not learnt from its history. Both Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan went as far they could to accommodate a demanding Washington, but in the end had to draw a line when they realized that anything other than unconditional surrender to every whim of the White House and Congress would be attacked as an anti-American posture.

Ban's uncritically enthusiastic adoption of an American "reform agenda", and his applied acceptance of neocon critiques of previous secretaries-general distorts reality. The UN's under-secretaries for management under both Boutros Ghali and Annan were American presidential patronage appointees, which should have made him think twice about the American media's ritual incantations of waste, mismanagement and corruption at the UN.

There is little doubt that Ban Ki Moon sincerely believes in what he is doing. He differs strongly with the US on the International Criminal Court, on the death penalty and other issues, and was clearly miffed when the US disrupted his arduously relentless diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese President with an ill-timed bout of sanctions.

In fact, that, along with the funny business about UN peacekeeping dues where the US votes for operations, indeed often proposes them, and then does not fund its full share of their costs, should have taught Ban a lesson. There is a significant constituency in the United States, ranging from reincarnated isolationists to uninhibited unilateralists, for whom the UN is always wrong. Pandering to them will get him no favours, and alienates most other members of the organization, which is most countries in the world. Indeed, it could alienate most Americans who now see the failures and costs of faith-based policies.

He should put some distance from the failed policies of a failed administration. Perhaps to establish his own credibility the best thing he could do is to provoke the former uncomfirmed US ambassador John Bolton, who has so far been praising him, into denouncing him. Maybe a long speech of support for the International Criminal Court, attacking the bilateral agreements that Bolton secured, opting Americans out of its jurisdiction, would do the trick. It would do wonders for Ban's image with members and staff alike.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Sanity Contagious?

Tribune 6 July

Ian Williams

If John Bolton attacked Satan, it would certainly boost the Prince of Darkness's credibility with most of the rational world. So it is no bad thing that the blowhard reactionary, who has moved from being the unconfirmed US Ambassador at the UN to being the confirmed and plentifully paid pundit of choice for Fox News, has attacked Gordon Brown's appointment of Mark Malloch Brown as a foreign office minister.

Rupert's other mouthpiece, the Times, has been at it too, broadcasting Bolton's frothings against both Browns without reminding its readers that the ex-envoy is simultaneously attacking Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration for their alleged reluctance to invade Iran immediately. The Times darkly warns of Bush administration angst at the "mixed signals" that the Prime Minister is sending with his appointments. Of course, anything more complex than nailing a white flag to the pole counts as a mixed signal in the Murdoch-Bolton alternate universe.

In fact, Bolton's attack on both Browns and the State Department raises hope that sanity is contagious and may be spreading to both sides of the Atlantic – it's almost enough to revive hopes for the "special relationship."

With Bush's popularity dropping lower and lower, in both the US and the UK, it is of course very astute of the Prime Minister to put down the markers he has. His appointments of Malloch Brown, John Denham, and David Milliband all radiate strong signals of foreign policy rationality from No 10.

None of these people could remotely be construed as anti-American, but they have certainly disagreed with some aspects of recent American foreign policy. But then, so do most Americans. Malloch Brown in particular came into the UN as an archetypal champion of genuine values of the kind that some in the West are trying to trademark, but he was firm in not surrendering them under the current administration's pressure.

Even so, both Browns, and the rest of the cabinet still have to cope with relations with the USA. Anyone with an historical eye can, of course, see the end of the American Empire, the far-flung battle lines, the sinking fires on the dunes and headlands and all that. In fact, when Kipling foresaw the end of Empire, London was still the world's creditor. In contrast Washington is currently the world's biggest debtor.

But from decline to fall still implies long historical presence. It will be a long time before the Chinese Seventh Fleet steams up the Channel to challenge us directly, while the USA will loom large in the foreign policy of both Europe and the UK for as long as anyone currently in the cabinet is around.

Albeit with less urgency since the end of the Cold War, any British government still has good reasons to maintain friendly relations with Washington, and historically Labour ones even more so. But the purpose of that is to have some leverage on policy, as Tony Blair totally failed to do, and indeed, according to those close at hand, did not even try to do.

It is not a new dilemma. Harold Wilson's tightrope walking to keep the UK in with Washington but out of Vietnam was a virtuoso performance for which the former Prime Minister has not had sufficient credit from his leftist detractors, who, I regret, included myself at the time. Wilson's refusal to capitulate to the very heavy pressure from President Johnson for even the most token British participation in the war demonstrates the residual power that Britain had, and may even still have. LBJ wanted it as a token of international respectability.

In the even more isolated position that George W. Bush's White House found itself in, it is reasonable to doubt whether the disastrous invasion of Iraq could have gone ahead if Tony had imposed conditions.

Similarly, while failing to exercise influence in the White House, recent British behaviour has contributed to the failure of an independent European foreign policy. To be honest, EU foreign policy failed at its first challenge in the Balkans. For a long time, the best argument against a UN Security Council seat for the EU was that it would post a permanent abstention in the face of indecision. But for a time, when most of Europe was social-democratic in outlook there were the beginnings of a common outlook, not totally disrupted by New Labour's love affair with Clinton.

When fickle Albion's affections went to Bush, the British government soon lived down to the reputation that Charles de Gaulle gave it of being an American Trojan Horse in Europe, an even bigger argument against a European Security Council seat was that it would vote perpetually with Washington. Despite the snub to our European partners implied by over-attention to the US, Britain does indeed have influence there. Blair was instrumental in switching a consensus towards uncritical acceptance of the Bush-Cheney eschatological visions of the so-called "War on Terror."

A constructive engagement with EU countries need not reduce leverage in Washington – rather it redoubles it. Similarly, if a UK policy returns to a commitment to development and multilateralism unmitigated by pandering to NeoCons, its influence in the rest of the world will increase, and be reflected in its voice in the USA.

Doormats have uses, but do not have much in the way of influence. The new cabinet seems to reflect that insight.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

George III or George W? Full text

George III or George W?

As Americans celebrate independence on the Fourth of July, some of them must be wondering if it was all a mistake. The answer: join Canada.
Ian Williams
full text of Guardian Comment is Free

All Ian Williams articles
About Webfeeds
July 4, 2007 9:30 AM

English-speaking countries share a common political ancestry in 18th century Britain. But the United States has stayed fossilised in that historical moment over two centuries ago, while most others have moved on.

The purpose of politics at that time was to seize control of a government's treasury and use it to distribute cash and jobs to the victor's friends. Think Halliburton and those hosts of Bob Jones University graduates swarming through the White House and the Iraq occupation administration. Think of the atavistic attachment to the death penalty, undiminished since the time of Tyburn Hill.

Even as the Founding Fathers complained about the overbearing demeanour of King George, they enshrined in the constitution a presidency with all, and perhaps even more, of the powers and perks of an 18th century British monarchy. George W has abused his own power and his own subjects far more consistently and effectively than Farmer George III ever did.

Just compare the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence with the behaviour of George W. It refers to a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind", a respect that his biggest American supporters legitimately cheer because of its complete absence in his diplomacy.

"That all men are created equal" and have "certain unalienable Rights .. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - it is difficult to reconcile that with stripping non-citizens of their civil rights after 9/11. Indeed, one could hardly say that José Padilla was freely granted such rights even as a US citizen.

But then that is covered more freely in the list of gripes the Founding Fathers had against Farmer George, "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury", or "For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences," both of which Rancher George has made a specialty. The colonists' whinge that "he has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power", gets a little too close to the bone as well.

George III also "made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries," which in spirit, if not in letter, Rancher George has certainly been emulating that with federal attorneys.

Although less true of George W, his followers are certainly "endeavouring to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

In a constitutional monarchy, the presence of the intellectually challenged on the throne matters not one jot, since it has been stripped of power by generations of reform and was the result of random royal rogerings rather than the purchase of elections that produced the national symbol. I mean, the British royals can ride horses, but as one correspondent suggested to me, did you ever see a picture of absentee ace pilot Rancher George on a horse?

But a US president is not only the national figurehead. He, or maybe even she, is the brains of the operation. The president is commander in chief - even if he went Awol back during Vietnam. He appoints ambassadors, even if what he knows about diplomacy could be gleaned from a reading of My Pet Goat. He appoints an unelected cabinet, and swings the supreme court appointments.

And as if these powers are not enough, George W is encroaching. His invocation of the "presidential prerogative," derived from the powers of the Hanoverian monarchy would have had the 18th century British parliament rising in rebellion. (Sadly I am not so sure about the 21st century version.) Even George III never thought of signing statements in which the head of state decides which parts of laws passed by the legislature, he would implement.

There is too much water under the bridge to rejoin the United Kingdom and, frankly, there would not be much popular enthusiasm there for the idea. Certainly no one would want the ugly glottal stops of Blair's expediently acquired Estuary English as the official language any more than the swallowed vowels of Buckingham Palace.

But there are alternatives. Early on the morning that that John Kerry conceded the 2004 election, I was punditting on CNN. Confronted with a map showing how the states had voted, it just came out: "Look at the map, it's time to secede from the Union. Join Canada! Get free healthcare, reduce the murder rate - and get out of Iraq - all in one move."

Liberal Canadian bilingualism could expand to allow the use of "-ize," and the skip the "u" from "honour," and allow you not to say "oot and aboot," if it offends your linguistic sensibilities.

Americans would also get a constitutional monarchy at one remove, that they do not have to pay for, and unlimited royal gossip that is slightly more upmarket than Paris Hilton's escapades but occasionally every bit as salacious. They would also get a charter of human rights that is taken seriously - as opposed to a constitution that the supreme court reinterprets in Rancher George's favour.

How can you go wrong? Think of the alternative - imagine Hillary as elected queen combining Victoria's lack of amusement with Thatcher's forbearance.

Hamas springs Alan Johnston

So let's get this straight, while Fateh controlled Security in Gaza, a rogue clan abducted Alan Johnston. When Hamas took over security, or staged a coup, or whatever happens when an elected government exercises its authority, they tracked him down, and rescued them. He thanks them.

Interesting, bearing in mind that Blairbush and Olmert do not want us to talk to Hamas...

And congratulations Alan, who like many other journalistic hostages in the Middle East (too many) does not blame the entire people, all Arabs or indeed all Muslims for their plight.

Unlike some of their colleagues hostage to Murdoch & Co in the West.

Fox: war on terror

I will be on Fox July 4 at 1600 EST on the Neil Cavuto Show to discuss (and defend) Gordon Brown's refusal to buy into the so called "War on Terror."


Happy Birthday...USA

Today in Comment is Free George W vs George III

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Prophet With Honour, Martin Luther King and the Memphis Garbage Strike

Tribune Review 28 June 2007

Prophet with Honour

The USA that preaches democratization to the rest of the world could adduce Martin Luther King Day as one its qualifications. There are of course a few contradictions to that. King spent his public life fighting against segregation. In the self-proclaimed leading country of the free world, for most of his lifetime black people were lynched for trying to vote, arrested for trying to ride on segregated buses or eat in segregated restaurants and were refused housing in vast tracts of America. And it is worth remembering that when King was shot in Memphis Tennessee, there celebration many whites in the south celebrated.

King tried with some degree of success to build a movement of labour unions, churches and liberals to achieve the progress that was made, in return for which the FBI tailed him constantly, and in an early, pre-internet form of swiftboating, maligned him as a communist. A complaisant press reprinted and amplified these slurs, while a New Left and Black Power movement reviled the democratic socialist King as an “Uncle Tom,” for trying to use non-violent and constitutional methods to achieve practical progress in real time and the real world rather than pontificating about pie in some future revolutionary sky.

Almost four decades later, Doctor King’s body lies a-moulderin’ in his grave, while his soul has been misappropriated by his former enemies across the political spectrum. Equally vacuous pious platitudes come from across the political spectrum, whether the New Democrats who denounce the unions, poor people and minorities whose cause King had so eloquently championed as “Special Interest groups”, and the old Southern Democrats and Republicans who worked so hard to maintain the vengeful white spirit of Dixie.

Michael Honey’s richly detailed history “Going Down Jericho Road,” is a telling reminder of those forgotten days when leaders could stand strong for principles and try to rally people behind them, instead of relying on focus groups to triangulate their policies.

Not many people remember that King was assassinated in Memphis because he was there rallying support for a garbage workers’ strike. The union’s members were black, but their struggle for union recognition was a battle for union rights in the South, as well as for shedding the shadow of the Confederacy in the South.

And hanging over it was the Vietnam War, which King had righteously denounced, even though it risked losing him crucial allies, including the leadership of the AFL-CIO. Honey shows the complexity of the struggle, perhaps one of the last times that democratic socialists had any major influence in American life. The unions lent support, even though their white members in the South were not generally in the forefront, and it was not until the assassination that LBJ ordered his Labour Secretary down to Memphis to find a solution.

At times, the parochial detail may seem overwhelming, but Honey’s narrative shows the complexities of the period, rescuing it from the retrospective false simplifications of iconography.

King’s murder certainly helped win the Memphis strike, but it also possibly destroyed the big chance for a democratic socialist coalition to develop in the USA. Without that vision, the clear beacon light of progress that he had projected split into the “rainbow coalition” of disparate interests that broke on the all too, too solid flank of conservatism.

Honey records that King considered that American Capitalism had failed his people, and preferred the European social democracy. He was, and is, right, and King’s memory should remind European allegedly socialist reformers trying to bring in American values of that. Martin Luther King day may be a Federal holiday and also for fifty states, but most American workers still have no statutory right to take it, or any other vacation or holiday off.

Going Down Jericho Road

Michael Honey

“Going Down Jericho Road”
Michael Honey, WW Norton & Company

Monday, July 02, 2007

Love Americans Loathe America - full text

Love Americans, loathe America
Join the somewhat immoderate debate in Comment-is-Free

John Bolton's attack on the US state department, the same week as the Pew poll on global attitudes, raises questions about American diplomacy: is it an oxymoron?
Ian Williams

July 1, 2007 5:00 PM

This week former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton lamented to the Jerusalem Post
that the Bush administration's foreign policy today was "not the same" because of what he complained was the state department's overwhelming dominance.

"The state department has adopted the European view and other voices have been sidelined," he moaned, complaining that the US is not currently pushing the military option against Iran. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice "is overwhelmingly predominant on foreign policy," presumably discounting his chances of another recess appointment in American diplomacy.

Former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali once noted that neither the Roman Empire nor the US had any patience for diplomacy, which is "perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness." However, as the Parthians, Goths, Huns and Vandals, were to show, not paying attention to the lesser breeds without the law can have penalties.

"American diplomacy" has often seemed liked an oxymoron, and no more so than when conducted by Bolton. Despite the professionalism of the state department (apart from occasional understandable lapses like when political appointees there rewarded Slovenia instead of Slovakia for joining the "coalition of the willing," in Iraq, American foreign policy is too often contrived by lobbyists and interest groups. Who would guess from watching Fox News or listening to GOP legislators that even after several years of swift-boating Kofi Annan, more Americans (48%) have a positive view of the UN (39%) than oppose it. Incidentally, that makes the UN more popular with Americans than George W. Bush - and, by extension, than John Bolton.

There are signs that the global public can be quite sophisticated. The Pew Poll this week showed that people across the world in 47 countries can distinguish between Americans and their country's foreign policy. It reported that "favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available."

But the pollsters report that while only 30% of Germans have a positive view of the US, 63% have a favorable opinion of its citizens. And while only slim majorities in Canada and Great Britain express a favorable opinion of the US, views of Americans as individuals are overwhelmingly positive. In the Middle East for obvious reasons, the US is widely distrusted and even while the locals support US calls for democracy, most people surveyed across the world assume that the US only supports democracy when it is expedient for its national interests.

Part of an effective diplomacy is "see ourselves as others see us," and that is something missing from how American foreign policy is formulated. In fact, looking at how badly and parochially US broadcast media covers foreign affairs, it's remarkable that the public is as sophisticated as it is. (One of the bemusing results is that while 42% of Israelis say that America is too supportive of their country, only 27% of Americans see their country's foreign policy biased toward Israel.)

For politicians in congress, foreign policy is like academic politics, the stakes are so low that anyone can play, with no significant penalty. As long as they do not cross any of the significant lobbies, whether Israel or Cuba, they can sign on for silly resolutions, sign up for boycotts and sanctions, confident that most of the public do not know what they are up to.

Almost as bad is the White House, and the Pentagon which it has stacked with conservative clones who share the same faith-based view of the world. The world's public, including Americans but presumably excluding the cheering Albanians, have a perceptively negative view of Bush's foreign policy.

That leaves the state department, whose professionals, when left to their own devices, often try to temper the excesses of Capitol Hill and the White House. If Bolton is right, it is a heartening change for the US and the world - and not just about Iran. Shame it is too late for Iraq.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Loathe America, Love Americans

American Diplomacy - not necessarily an Oxymoron.
Comment is Free

Weapons inspectors? What weapons inspectors? -full text

Weapons inspectors? What weapons inspectors?
Shameless to the last over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, London and Washington send Unmovic down the memory hole.

Ian Williams

Guardian - comment is free
June 29, 2007 9:30 PM
It is fitting that the very week that Tony Blair sets out snark-hunting in the Middle East - riding on the quadriplegic Quartet in search of Middle East peace - the UN security council finally wound up the equally nugatory quest for the weapons of mass destruction that were the excuse for Tony and W's big adventure in Iraq.

The resolutions that Tony claimed the allies were implementing against Saddam Hussein all maintained that sanctions should remain in force until the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission or Unmovic and the IAEA made a final certification that Iraq had disarmed.

However, after the inspectors' failure to find any weapons when Saddam finally allowed them in, the Americans (and British, by implication) told them to get out so the professionals from the CIA and the Republican youth corps could get in there and find the hidden weapons.

It is now history that they could not find any, thereby retrospectively stripping themselves of any legal or political cover for their invasion.

In a fit of bloody-minded embarrassment, Washington has consistently refused to allow the UN inspectors in to complete their task, in defiance of the UN resolutions that London and Washington had drafted and moved, and the Russians, keen to remind the world of this anomaly, have been insisting that the inspectors had to put in their final report before clearing the slate of the relevant resolutions. In the end, Moscow went along grudgingly with the Anglo-American plot, and merely abstained on the resolution winding up the inspectors' role.

In their letter requesting the resolution, the Americans and British declared: "All appropriate steps have been taken to secure, remove, disable ... eliminate or destroy all of Iraq's known weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers," rather skipping the point that this work had been done before the invasion, which was therefore a rather inappropriate step.

The Iraqis will now self-certify in the next year and everyone will believe them - or not depending on whether one or other bunch of Shias, Sunnis or Baathists then controls Baghdad. The Iraqis will get the last tranche of $60m from the Oil For Food funds that had been set aside to pay for Unmovic and the IAEA inspectors. And at least they can misspend it themselves instead of it being handed over to the Americans like the previous $10bn Oil for Food Surplus that went missing in the general direction of the likes of Halliburton.

And everyone was too polite to remember that the struggling Iraqis are still supposed to be paying reparations from oil sales to the Gulf states for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

It has been a comic opera story. The Americans and British baulked at sharing the Unmovic documents with the full council, since the reports were in many respects a comprehensive "How To Make WMDs" guide. The Syrians, when they were on the security council, were understandably miffed to be told that the relevant sections would be edited out for non-permanent members. Unmovic's archives include a Scud missile engine and guidance systems for ICBMs, not to mention sundry other items of military mayhem that will continue to tax the ingenuity of UN filing systems clerks.

But since no one ever found Kurt Waldheim's war record files in the UN archives, the lethal bits are probably safely lost for ever.