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Tue Mar 18th, 2008 at 10:31:38 PM EST
In his latest blog, Sarkozy season II: back to basics, The Times' Paris correspondent Charles Bremner declares:
Three sentences from Sarkozy over the past two months encapsulate
everything he has done to disappoint and irritate.
Firstly, these three sentences disappoint and irritate because they are true and we all know people don't like the truth about the state of affairs being bandied about by their politicians, let alone by their national leader.
1) Carla et moi, c'est du sérieux (It's serious, Carla and me.)
TRUE. Well, what's wrong with that? After all, he proved by marrying her that the love affair was serious, didn't he? Now that he's done it, people must get over it. That said, I agree, the voters did not hesitate to pummel the UMP in the last local election partly to "punish" Mr Sarkozy's very public lifestyle with his mistress turned wife/First Lady, something which is rather anathema to many French. I believe (and hope we all do, including Mr Bremner I should hope) Sarkozy will have learned a lesson, eg, to keep his private amorous life well out of the public eye. (Must admit, Sarkozy's display of something so 'unpresidential' also seriously got my goat!)
2) Les caisses sont vides (The treasury is empty)
ABSOLUTELY TRUE and our dear friends who are not French should know that part of the problem is caused by the French themselves who cannot go beyond the permanent 'assisté' mentality.
3) Casse-toi, pauvre con (Piss off, jerk, or equivalent. .../... A glimpse of hot temper and lack of self-restraint)
DEFINITELY TRUE. Unfortunately, people prefer their leaders to be hypocritical about things.
I am however disappointed that Charles Bremner, considered an excellent reporter and a journalist hors pair with clearly a loyal and die-hard following who believe that Bremner is the ultimate dream writer, is only able to pick out only 3 sentences to define, i.e., encapsulate everything he (Sarkozy) has done..., Sarkozy's 10-month record following the May 2008 presidential election, Charles is guilty of resorting to a bit of crap reporting; lets face it -- Sarkozy started with a stack of French problems against him that couldn't be resolved 10 months after he was elected, no way! So to expect him to fix the ills of the nation, considered the sick man of Europe, in so short a time, is hardly realistic.
"les caisses sont vides!"
In that sense, Charles Bremner is doing his readers great disservice by infering that Sarkozy should have kept quiet about the state coffers being empty. Why should he keep quiet about it? It's the truth! Shouldn't the French be forewarned about the truth? Don't they have the right to know that
"les caisses sont vides!" ?
If only Charles could use his great talent for digging info and scrape well below the surface of the 10-month old Sarkozy presidency, instead of constantly resorting to hollow journalistic 'rhetorics' where the Sarkozy presidency is concerned, he'd find that the Sarkozy-Fillon tandem have had achievements albeit modest in trying to turn France from being the sick man/ICU case of Europe into a "convalescing patient." But I leave Charles to do the digging -- he is the professional reporter/journalist/blogger who owes his readers a bit more than just regularly dissing bad news.
In fine, someone judged that particular post of Charles as being well-balanced and witty, I'm afraid, witty it may be but well-balanced, certainly it isn't.
NB: I am well aware that this post may not sit well with the majority of ET diarists here whom I've noticed to be diehard anti-Sarkozy, but the truth of the matter is that this post is more in keeping with my privilege to criticise a lopsided article published in a mainstream 'broadsheet', eg, The Times. If this diary is deemed to defend Mr Sarkozy's presidency, so be it.
Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 10:57:25 AM EST
The Centre for Economic Reform (CER) launched in Brussels 'The Lisbon scorecard VIII' with President Barroso earlier this week.
The report highlights EU's 'heroes and villains' and is contained in a pamphlet The Lisbon scorecard VIII: Is Europe ready for an economic storm?, authored by Katinka Barysch, Simon Tilford and Philip Whyte.
The scorecard provides an annual overview of the EU's record on economic reform and points to the capacity of member-states to flourish in a world in which high-cost countries cannot sustain their living standards unless they excel in knowledge-based industries.
The CER was upbeat in their report, pointing out that GDP growth rates in the EU-27 outstripped those in the US with an estimated 3 and 2.9 per cent growth in 2006 and 2007 respectively. They also observed that the economic upswing was due to the efforts of many European countries to improve the structural underpinnings of growth as they followed the recommendations of the EU's 2000 Lisbon agenda, a set of pledges for growth and jobs which EU leaders signed in 2000.
After half a decade of economic gloom, the years 2006-07 finally re sto red some much-needed optimism to the European Union. GDP growth outstripped that in the US, and some 8 million jobs were created across the EU. The upturn was partly cyclical, but it was also the result of the re forms to product and labour markets that many EU countries have pushed through in recent years.
The Lisbon scorecard VIII salutes these successes. But it also warns against complacency, especially at a time when the global downturn will test Europe’s economic resilience.
As in previous years, we single out those countries that have made the fastest pro g ress toward s raising employment, encouraging innovation and opening up markets. This year’s ‘heroes’ are: Austria – which has done well in copying the Nordic model of ‘flexicurity’; Estonia – a small, nimble newcomer that has moved ahead quickly; and the Netherlands – the only EU country that combines high employment with high productivity. Our ‘villains’ are Greece and Italy, which continue to combine poorly functioning markets with mediocre social outcomes. Some of the new member-states also need to raise their game if they want to cope with competition from emerging Asia.
Most EU nations have met the following pledges:
opened previously closed for transport and communications have opened
reformed retirement systems to encourage people to work longer
made life easier for small companies
their educations systems
CER underscored the fact that the Lisbon agenda has helped to turn EU into a laboratory for economic reforms but also acknowledged that while the EU cannot force individual memner-states to reform, Lisbon has made an indirect but noticeable contribution to Europe's recovery, notably in the employment sector which they said has always been regarded as the continent's weak spot. According to CER, the EU economies created an estimated 7 to 8 million jobs in 2006-2007 alone. Huge improvements were registerd among older workers and women.
The Lisbon league table/Overall Lisbon performance 2007:
1 - Denmark (maintained overall EU lead as first both in 2006 and 2007)
2 - Sweden (rank 2nd in 2006 and 2007)
3 - Austria (was ranked 5th in 2006)
4 - The Netherlands (was 3rd in 2006)
5 - Finland (rose from 6th in 2006)
6 - Ireland (jumped 2 slots from 8th in 2006)
7 - UK (fell 3 slots from 4th in 2006)
8 - Germany (jumped from 9th in 2006)
9 - France (rose from 11th spot in 2006)
10 - Slovenia (was ranked 12th in 2006)
11 - Estonia (described as one of the "heroes" by CER; jumped up from 15th slot in 2006)
12 - Luxembourg (an incredible fall from 7th place in 2006)
13 - Belgium (did not budge from its 13th place in 2006)
14 - Czech Republic (a rather disappointing performance from 2006 when it figured 10th)
15 - Cyprus (fell one slot from 14th in 2006)
16 - Spain (improved from 17th in 2006)
17 - Latvia (was 18th in 2006)
18 - Lithuania (enhanced its ranking 2 places from 20th in 2006)
19 - Greece (an astonishing rebound from 22nd place in 2006)
20 - Slovakia (was 23rd in 2006)
21 - Portugal (a disappointing leap; down from 16th place in 2006)
22 - Hungary (not quite good news on the Hungarian front as they slid from 19th slot in 2006)
23 - Italy (continues to baffle; sliding from 21st in 2006)
24 - Romania (good news on the Romanian front from their 25th slot in 2006)
25 - Bulgaria (was 24th in 2006)
26 - Poland (improved from 27th place in 2006)
27 - Malta (was ranked 26th in 2006)
The above scoreboard was based on the Lisbon agenda key elements in areas touching on innovation, liberalisation, enterprise, employment and social inclusion, as well as on sustainable development and the environment.
In their conclusion, the CER sought to defend the Lisbon process from observers who have assailed the agenda as a shopping list of crude and sometimes inconsistent objectives and admitted that criticsims couldn't be dismissed lightly but insisted that Lisbon has helped to foster a broad, Europe-wide consensus on what needs to be done to secure the continent's future prosperity.
They also recommended that if European countries aspire to close the gap in living standards with the US, they must raise their rates of employment and productivity at the same time. They also highlighted the need for EU countries to keep going declaring that openness will be particularly important in 2008 and cautioned against the risk of EU countries falling into complacency.
The EU and its member-states still have to work harder to reach the Lisbon
targets. For example:
★ E n e rgy market liberalisation remains stuck. The EU needs to find a
compromise on ‘unbundling’ quickly, and move on to building a low-carbon
★ In many EU countries, one in five youngsters is looking for a job. More flexible labour markets and improved education will be needed to change this.
★ European countries need to do more to encourage entre preneurship and innovation. The EU’s current, narrow focus on the overall level of research and development spending is not helpful.
The Lisbon Scorecard VIII has a plethora of wonderful inputs for the Europhile as well as for the Eurosceptic. I recommend that each and every European wort his salt should get a copy if only to verify for himself/herself where our own respective governments are headed and if they've been up to the task of building the EU on our behalf that they've been expected to do.
Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 04:14:12 PM EST
This political commentary by Peter Brookes of The Times may be in cartoon form but it seriously depicts the Gaza situation: Israeli forces re-enter Gaza one day after pulling out and leaving a Palestinian baby girl dead.
There will be scores and scores of deaths again.
Condi Rice who is back in the Middle East Rice to try to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may find it difficult to persuade an Israel that's clearly on a war momentum to stop their offensive. Seems the White House has lost a great deal of influence on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who, even as we speak, is boasting that Israel has power to defend itself against Iran.
I don't doubt Israel's capacity to defend itself against Iran -- a lot of the yearly US$ 2 billion in US aid it receives is spent (or roughly 75% of that aid) in buying the most sophisticated hardware to beef up Israel's military capability, but this is not the point. Let's take things one day at a time...
Israel must stop its Gaza offensive and go back to the negotiating table! Why is that so difficult to do? What do they actually want to happen? Stop only when the Palestinians have been driven and drowned in the Red Sea?
Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 11:52:44 AM EST
(Picture lifted from USA Today)
President Bush addressed concerns about the sagging US economy at a press conference a few minutes ago and declared that "recession is not likely" even if "the economy is slowing down."
Asked by a reporter about his policy/objectives for sustaining Iraq, Bush's response was "...to keep enough troops so we could succeed" insisting that "long term security agreement is part of sustainability."
I will not pretend to be an economist because I am not, but one thing I do know -- from a housewife's perspective, is that if a household runs expenses and in so doing, incurs debts of monumental proportions, that household's economy is likely to suffer from a steep downward trend. Again, from a housewife's perspective, the only thing to do in that case is to cut on household spending radically and eliminate unecessary expenses.
Or Bush's "sustainability policy" in Iraq will mean sustained unecessary expenses for American households of monumental proportions. One wonders if President Bush realizes that with the running cost of his war on Iraq (with no end in sight), American taxpayers(housewives included), are bound to pay up for the cost today, tomorrow and in the many years to come.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz has tallied the staggering cost of Bush's `war on terror' in a book The Three Trillion Dollar War, and make no mistake about it, that war will cost US taxpayers for a wee while a lot of money that can be better used elsewhere, in health care, education, infrastructure, etc.
Here are the bullet points extracted from the book by The First Post as to the true cost of Bush's 'war on terror':
Three trillion dollars: the true cost of Iraq
* By March 2008, America will have been in Iraq for five years - longer than it spent in either world war.
* The monthly 'running cost' of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is $16bn - a monthly cost to every American family of $138.
* $5bn, which pays for ten days' fighting, is what America spends in supporting Africa for a whole year. The monthly cost of $16bn is equal to the entire annual budget of the UN.
* The true ratio of wounded to dead, seven to one, is the highest in US history. (Injured troops who are treated on the battlefield are not counted in official records, Stiglitz discovered.)
* The US Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for caring for the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, is still clearing a backlog of claims from the Vietnam war.
* By the year 2024, the US will face an annual bill of $4bn for caring for disabled servicemen, with about 40 per cent of troops returning home severely injured.
* A contractor working as a security guard in Iraq earns about $400,000 a year: a typical soldier's annual wages are $40,000.
* Sign-on bonuses, introduced in an effort to recruit more men and women to the war effort, have to be repaid by soldiers who are injured in their first month.
* 1,500 Americans were killed by roadside bombs before Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as US Defence Secretary in 2006 and Humvees were replaced with mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) armoured vehicles.
* Because postwar reconstruction jobs went to US firms instead of local Iraqi companies, one painting job cost $25m instead of $5m.
* One American company alone, Halliburton, of which Vice-President Dick Cheney (right) was CEO from 1995 to 2000, has received a total of $19.3bn in single-source contracts for work in Iraq.
* The price of oil has climbed from $25 a barrel to $100 a barrel over the past five years - and a significant proportion of this rise is directly due to the instabilities caused by the Iraq war.
* Before the war, Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, set aside £1bn to pay for Britain's share of the cost; as of late 2007, UK operating costs in Iraq and Afghanistan had already hit £7bn.
* By 2017, the interest alone on America's cost of borrowing to pay for the war will be $1 trillion.
* Because the saving rate in the US is zero, the war has been financed by borrowing abroad. "So China is financing America's war," says Stiglitz.
Joseph Stiglitz was chief economist at the World Bank and won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2001
If there's anyone who's making great deal of money straight from the pockets of the US taxpayers is VP Dick Cheney of the Halliburton fame. The company that Mr Cheney headed as CEO from 1995 to 2000, has received $19.3 billion of contracts in Iraq.
Over in the UK, the cost to British taxpayers of Blair's war on terror has not been itemised yet but it's easy to predict that it will run to tens of billions of pounds.
In 2005, Prof Keith Hartley, a defence economist from University of York estimated that the UK would bear $7.5 billion to meet the costs of Britain's military involvement in Iraq. In 2006, it was reported that the Iraq war had cost UK over 4 billion pounds so far and last year reports had it that since the invasion, the spiralling cost of the Iraq war to the British taxpayer was set to exceed £1bn.
The total cost on the UK defence budget since the invasion exceeds £5.3bn but
increases in defence spending have pushed up the cost by 10 per cent in the past four months. In November, the Ministry of Defence said it was expecting the cost
of the Iraq military operations this financial year to be £860m - a fall of £98m on the previous year. But the latest spring estimates put the total at £1,002m,
£142m more than expected four months earlier.
What about the hidden costs?
British Government technocrats, topnotch economists, financial experts may say all they want that the UK economic growth stays steady but they're not fooling this housewife here who believes that the cost of the Iraq war has and will continue to have dire economic effects on the ordinary British taxpaying household.
Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 07:18:04 PM EST
L'armée française prend pied dans le Golfe (French Army sets up base in the Gulf)
The French army will set up a military base in the United Arab Emirates according to a report last month by Le Figaro.
The agreement was signed between France and the UAE following a visit by President Sarkozy in the Gulf region. Some 500 troops will be deployed in the UAE on a "permanent basis" and will be based in Abu Dhabi, considered the most important hydrocarbon producers in the federation. The base will be located facing the Hormuz Straits, site of collission between the US and Iranian navies.
The French will be joining US and British military already based in the area.
The stationning of 500 troops or so, in the Straits of Hormuz may be taken as a sign that France wants show the world that she is an international key player in the Gulf, a status that only the US and the UK have enjoyed so far. While an Al Qaeda or Islamist extremist terrorist threat to the more moderate Gulf states is real, France's agreed military presence could be considered a mere token or for 'show-off' or deterrence purposes at best.
Undoubtedly, the economic angle, i.e., the oil question and more, ta da... nuclear business prospects to say the least, may be the real motivation behind France's presence in the Hormuz. If so, the logic, i.e., France's presence in the Straits, then becomes implaccable especially after a cooperation agreement was signed between the two nations for the development of nuclear energy in the UAE, an agreement that could bring billions in dollars to French businesses and high-flying industrialists.
President Sarkozy sure looks like he's giving it all he's got -- his campaign promise to bring out France from its moribund economic state may soon fly (or so he hopes.) Incidentally, the Financial Times reported that France has overtaken the UK in terms of gross national product putting France in 5th place among the world's super powers.
Meanwhile, for those who are keen for Europe to stand on its own two feet, at least in matters of defence, you'll be glad to know that the EDA (European Defence Agency) held a high profile meet today on logistics (well, gotta start somewhere and logistics seem to be a good one to start with) announcing EDA Conference Sees Benefits from Greater Use of Commercial Logistics to Support EU Military Operations. In essence, it was all about what, how, when to and why buy, etc. The meeting was opened by Javier Solana, High Representative and Head of European Defence Agency.
(Frankly, it would have been an interesting conference if only every star ranking speaker had stuck to his time allotment. Each speaker was supposed to deliver a 10-minute speech but some military officers got over-excited and went on and on and on and ended up saying nothing.)
But to ET's EU united defence enthusiasts, I say, don't get all excited now -- Europe is still far from achieving a working defence institution for a united EU, what with veritably, only TEN MILLION EUROS allocated for equipment purchase! Believe me, that's not gonna buy a lot of defence for the EU. No way, Jose!
Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:56:44 PM EST
Mansion 'mistake' piles the pressure on Barack Obama
This news is actually 'buried' somewhere in The Times on line news.
What surprised me was how this once prestigious British newspaper has been going hammer and tongs at Hillary Clinton while something as 'newsy' as, which if you think about it, is something Anglo-American media usually love to dwell on, gets 'buried' and that unless you click away like crazy on your keyboard in search of all available news stuff on line you don't get to read (Sen Obama's picture lifted from The Times.)
The issue I'm raising here is not whether a wrongdoing was committed by Sen Barack Obama when he got involved in a land deal with the wife of his "bagman" Antoine "Tony" Rezko who, by the way, has been linked to Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain's wealthiest men who was convicted in France for corruption, but whether The Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, Australian-American media tycoon, has not in fact been playing footsie with its journalism 'privileges' by preferring to downplay a story that might place Mr Obama in a bad light.
What I've been observing these last few weeks is that The Times has clearly joined the Obama bandwagon. I noticed this started when Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary but chose to downplay the former first lady's victory in favour of an all out campaign cover for Barack Obama. From then on, The Times has been doing a non-stop Obama rah-rah-rah while being openly critical of every word and move of his rival, Hillary Clinton.
I'm frankly suspicious and wonder if Mr Murdoch is not behind all this double standard journalism practice in the hope of becoming a kingmaker. After all, he's already tried to do it in the UK -- he once lent his support to Conservative Party's Margaret Thatcher but switched to Labour and supported Tony Blair. The Times and The Sunday Times, which used to enjoy considerable influence in Britain, then rallied support for Blair almost throughout the latter's tenure as UK's PM.
According to Wikipedia,
"The closeness of his relationship with Blair and their secret meetings to
discuss national policies was to become a political issue in Britain."
Mind you, Murdoch, who became a US citizen in 1985, has been known to be a strong supporter of some Republican Party stalwarts that began in earnest with Pres Ronald Reagan, but it is not far fetched to think that just like what he did in Britain, i.e., switched from Tory to Labour, he might be doing the same in the US. It is said that Mr Murdoch owns 175 newspapers, is known to be politically conservative and has never sought to hide the fact that he's always been in favour of the US invasion of and war on Iraq.
In the absolute, one may say there's nothing wrong with switching party allegiance, witness the great switch, i.e., Winston Churchill from Liberal to Tory. It's not unusual for a businessmen, particularly at the level of Murdoch, to switch support either, i.e., from one political party to another -- it has happened before and will happen again but what can be worrisome is if Murdoch is tempted to use (an understatement) his media empire to flex his muscles on an untried, un-tested but potentially future tenant of the White House and under some journalism cover, "fix intelligence around" an unsuspecting US president.
Of course, the thoughts expressed here are mere speculations that can only be confirmed if and when Fox News, which Mr Murdoch owns, starts playing up to the Illinois senator who's now fast becoming the Democrat party's favourite contender for the US presidential election in November.
Mon Feb 25th, 2008 at 12:34:14 AM EST
Very active chief Paris correspondent for The Times Charles Bremner's forté is clearly French bashing! I find that he sometimes goes overboard and have criticised him in the past, even if only obliquely (I do try not to be adversarial -- have also complimented him on a few occassions for some of his articles) but he did get quite peeved by one of my comments which he felt had questioned his journalistic ethics -- the topic of his rant then was the 21-year old son of President Sarkozy whom he had decided to attack in both his regular column and weblog.
Bremner's weblog and regular column have been the epicenter of Times' huge French bashing print activities. Wouldn't be off the mark to say that Bremner has been encouraging, wittingly or unwittingly, his largely Anglo-American commenters (although there are a few French regulars) to heap ridicule, contempt and beastly remarks on the French and France. Although he's been focused on bashing Sarkozy and Carla Bruni of late (must say they've become more than a fair game), any topic that would allow him a 'swipe' at the French is not lost on him, eg., Is Colonel Gaddafi a Frenchman?
Bremner, whom I believe is a Scot (not too sure anymore but I think he's written that he's also part Aussie) but raised and educated partly in Moscow, says his current wife is French so I don't understand why his rather smart alecky comments vis-a-vis the French and France continue unabated. It's not as if the French and France are any 'worse' than the Scots, the Aussies or the Russians for that matter...
I don't really mind the anti-French comments by his readers -- they're just having fun and that's fine with me but I do mind when Bremner writes something that incites them to believe as 'biblical truth' about France and the French. I haven't been posting comments in his weblog for some time now but recently, I decided to add my grain of salt (not sure though that Bremner will not moderate) to the usually acidic commentaries in his weblog after reading a non-French reader ask:
Didn't CB once write here that the French don't like or trust each other?"
My "grain of salt" (CB is Charles Bremner):
CB's 'critiques' of the French, including the one you said he wrote is part and parcel of his job -- if he writes negative things about the French and France, he has to do it -- it's his bread and butter. Besides he works for Murdoch and Murdoch is not enamoured of the French (nor of the Brits for that matter.)
You must understand that Brits have an inbred hostility against the French, it's almost visceral. The French haven't as much -- they are more nuanced and if anything at all, the French have great respect for 'les Anglais' when they deserve it (I know this because my family is Anglo-French.) And even if CB is not English, I'm sure he feels that respect in France. Not sure CB returns the compliment.
Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:10:50 AM EST
The First Post UK's defence expert Robert Fox: presents a radical plan on how to modernise the (British) Army and believes that one of the solutions is to copycat the French Foreign Legion (shown).
But how radical is "radical"?
"Hiring foreign nationals should be more flexible - in effect, our own Foreign Legion," Fox says.
Mr Fox's 10-point plan for the 21st century:
* We need flexible forces that can deal with conventional tasks and acquire new skills for humanitarian and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.
* Education, training, welfare and support must be improved in order to encourage recruitment. Servicemen and women should be offered something like the American GI Bill - an educational or vocational qualification, a contract of a minimum six to ten years, plus incentives including a provision for housing when they leave.
* We need to be able to hire more foreigners from more countries - Commonwealth and EU and other nationals should be invited under strict contract terms. In effect, our own Foreign Legion.
* The structure of the forces needs to be less fragmented and complex. There are too many HQs. The Army, in particular, is over-officered.
* The RAF should be held at 40,000 personnel, and should stick to its core business of deep strike, surveillance, transport and emergency rescue.
* The Royal Navy should stick to its task of keeping the sea lanes open and preserving maritime security.
* The Army should be restructured as a mobile force of about 90,000 plus a permanent reserve and volunteer reserve of about 10-15,000 each. Like the Roman army, it should be built on an ascending scale of
simple building blocks, the company (a few hundred), the battle group or battalion of 1,000, and the brigade of about 3,500.
* The old regimental cap badges could be kept for team loyalty, but should fit the new structure rather than the other way round.
* More obscure specialisations such as arctic and jungle warfare should be cut.
* Extravagant equipment programmes need to be cut or cancelled. The Typhoon aircraft (£24bn), the Astute submarine programme
Tue Feb 19th, 2008 at 07:44:59 AM EST
NATO in Afghanistan has come under severe attack not only from a major ally, the US, but also from different quarters, political and otherwise.
At the outbreak of the US invasion and bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 to boot out the Taleban government in place (that the US once supported hugely), I couldn't see from where I sat, how the American bomb and awe tactics of the time could solve a highly complex problem that was Afghanistan through the use of extreme violent force after all, the Russians had already tried and failed miserably. But the harm was done.
We all know that America realised that they couldn't go it alone and asked NATO for help through the UK. The political and military situation on the ground further changed after the UN mandated NATO to get into the thick of things and which has forever altered the entire Afghan picture. (See UK House of Commons Research: Operation Enduring Freedom and the Conflict in Afghanistan). The rest is history as we know it today -- NATO is now expected to pick up the pieces.
There are many arguments for and against NATO intervention and continuing operations in Afghanistan but as I said earlier on in a comment in my previous diary, Afghanistan's killing fields, assuming that European nations involved in NATO operations in the country were asked to leave the Afghans to their fate today, would that be the judicious thing to do? In my view, it wouldn't be for a very, very simple reason, something I stated in the same follow on comment:
Realistically, if we leave Afghanistan because we believe that it is fundamentally a "failed state", there is no guarantee that we will not find ourselves with the kind of Darfour debacle [and more] in our hands once again. Pakistan had borne the brunt of the Russian wars there that produced more Talebans, more extremists, more violence, etc. In the long run, the only way out of that kind of total and utter fiasco is to try to bring progress to the ordinary people of Afghanistan, education, health services, infrastructure, etc.
I received the following "missive" on the issue from a friend working at NATO saying why he believes NATO should continue their job in Afghanistan. You be the judge.
Diary rescue by Migeru
Fri Feb 15th, 2008 at 07:56:28 AM EST
Two of the pressing issues that Europe is facing and will have to face today and in the very near future concern the expansion of the EU as well as the inclusion of Turkey. They are political issues on which I have posted in my personal blogs. While I believe these issues border on the highly controversial, I have decided to confront them head on.
These questions are also contained in DoDo's link to an FT.com international poll (which, incidentally, tackled objections to Tony Blair's leadership, a subect DoDo and I were "debating" about sometime last January.)
To be perfectly honest, I am not surprised by The Harris Poll® #59 results, published on June 20, 2007 which revealed that Many European Adults Believe that the European Union Should Not Take in New Members and showed that majorities in France and Germany also said that Turkey should not be allowed into the EU.
Diary rescue by Migeru
Sun Feb 10th, 2008 at 06:29:28 PM EST
One of the latest cartoon commentaries by Peter Brookes of The Times illustrates what goes on in the 'killing fields' of Afghanistan ...
A friend-member of NATO-ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) who's just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan is adamant and says it's a myth that Afghans want to grow poppy... He says it's not your ordinary Afghan farmer who wants poppy fields in Afghanistan. He insists the Afghan farmer would prefer to plant other crops because he's convinced that he could make more money planting another crop; however, even if poppy harvests don't bring him enough income to feed his family, he has no other recourse but to plant poppy because if he doesn't plant the blasted poppy, your ordinary Taleban warrior or terrorist comes and shoots him.
In other words, the Afghan farmer is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Diary rescue by Migeru
Sat Feb 9th, 2008 at 01:20:16 PM EST
6-Nation Rugby Tournament Saturday: Wales and France win!
Result: Wales 30 -15 Scotland Wales clearly outplayed Scotland with Shane Williams leading the Welsh pack. Bravo Wales!
Result: France 26 -21 Ireland France, was hot and cold, outclassing and outgunning the Irish team during the first 50 minutes of the game but Ireland rallied during the second half; at the end of the day, Ireland buckled under. Bravo for Vincent Clerc and bravo France!
Tomorrow, England tackles Italy in Rome.
Rugby, VI Nations, 3ème Journée (3rd part)
16h00 Pays de Galles 23/02 Italie (Wales v Italy)
18h00 Irlande 23/02 Ecosse (Ireland v Scotland)
21h00 France 23/02 Angleterre (France v England)
Rugby, VI Nations, 4ème Journée (4th part)
14h15 Irlande 08/03 Pays de Galles (Ireland v Wales)
16h15 Ecosse 08/03 Angleterre (Scotland v England)
16h00 France 09/03 Italie (France v Italy)
Rugby, VI Nations, 5ème Journée (5th part)
15h00 Italie 15/03 Ecosse (Italy v Scotland)
Thu Feb 7th, 2008 at 08:49:15 PM EST
I don't get it... Some three weeks ago, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates faced the world media and accused Britain and US NATO allies of inexperience in fighting the Taleban that made me go almost ballistic.
These last 24 hours print and broadcast media have bannered stories about US State Secretary Condi Rice meeting with PM Gordon Brown and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband demanding NATO allies in Europe for more troops on the Afghan front lines, warning that unless more troops were deployed in the South, Afghanistan would risk becoming a 'failed state.'
New York Times reports: Condoleezza Rice Visits Afghanistan
With criticism of the war in Afghanistan increasing on both sides of the
Atlantic, Secretary of State said Wednesday that European governments needed to convince their people that sending troops to Afghanistan -- and keeping them there -- should remain a priority for NATO.
The Condi Rice initiative prompted NATO to make a rebuttal dismissing the Afghanistan crisis.
And while the US foreign affairs circus is going on in Khabul, we now hear from US blogger The Vigil a report that Mr Robert Gates testified yesterday before a congressional hearing that all was well in Afghanistan and that the Talebans had been routed, "thrown out", booted out, etc.!
General Petreaus has left me confused about Iraq, and now Secretary Gates has me stumped about Afghanistan...
In a congressional hearing yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates implied that the U.S. military had routed the Taliban from Afghanistan. Gates blathered out a rosy assessment that the Taliban has "lost" in Afghanistan and that they had been "thrown out" of the country...
I may be in need of some assistance here, in squaring what Gates's testimony with what I read in the world press and media ...
The Vigil also posted a video link of Mr Gates' testimony at the hearing in which you could hear Gates declaring the following verbatim:
"The Taliban no longer occupy any territory in Afghanistan. They were thrown out of Musa Qala a few weeks ago before over Christmas. And the Taliban have had some real setbacks. Probably 50 of their leaders have been killed or captured over the past year, and we know that that's had an impact on their capability and also on their morale."
Is that so? Then WTF got into this ex American spook 3 weeks ago when he accused America's NATO allies virtually of incompetence in routing out the Talebans?
Watch the video link in Think Progress and see, er, hear for yourself!
WTF is going on?
Has Secretary Gates covered himself in guano again? Are we sure that POTUS knows what's going on under his very nose? We have two top US guns all over the place giving contradictory assessment of the Afghanistan situtation, i.e., Rice saying to Europeans, "We need more troops in Afghanistan to fight the Talebans or we will have a failed state" and Gates in Washington bombastically declaring before US Congress that "The Taliban no longer occupy any territory in Afghanistan."
Have these two top US guns become confused or debilitated like POTUS that they probably think that Afghanistan is in Iraq or vice-versa? Has ineptitude become the order of the day in the Pentagon and in the US State Department?
Mon Feb 4th, 2008 at 08:04:23 PM EST
In an unprecedented move, Prince Andrew, 4th in line to the British throne, had some harsh words for the Americans over the Iraq war disaster.
According to the International Herald Tribune, From Prince Andrew, critical words for the U.S. on Iraq
While Prince Andrew declares himself a fan of the United States - and his cellphone ring tone comes from the American TV drama "24" - the man who is fourth in line to the British throne has some critical words for America's Iraq policy and thinks that Washington should have listened to advice from London.
In a rare Buckingham Palace interview ahead of his departure Tuesday for a 10-day U.S. trip to support British business, the prince described the United
States as Britain's No. 1 ally but conceded that relations were in a trough. There are, he added, "occasions when people in the U.K. would wish that those in responsible positions in the U.S. might listen and learn from our experiences."
The Duke of York's criticism aimed at President Bush's handling of post invasion Iraq will undoubtedly jolt many in the British political 'Establishment' as well as opinion writers like Mathew Parris of The Times (Parris is one of those writers who believe they are the only people who have the right to be vocal about certain politicial issues) and a few mainstream media writers like him who will think that Andrew has gone overboard or that he has no business making his political thoughts known, particularly when they involve number one ally, the US.
Prince Andrew, Britain's general trade ambassador par excellence (he's been globe trotting these last many years hunting juicy contracts on behalf of UK industries, eg., defence, etc.) will surely be at the receiving end of a lot of flak not only from folks at home but also from allies on the other side of the pond even before he steps on that plane en route to the US in support of British business. I have no doubt that he's been made aware that he will be walking on a tight rope, but what the heck! The man is bloody right!
"If you are looking at colonialism, if you are looking at operations on an international scale, if you are looking at understanding each other's culture, understanding how to operate in a military insurgency campaign - we have been through them all," he said. "We've won some, lost some, drawn some. The fact is there is quite a lot of experience over here which is valid and should be listened to."
The fallout from Iraq has fueled, the prince argues, "healthy skepticism" toward what is said in Washington, and a feeling of "why didn't anyone listen to what was said and the advice that was given."
After all, British views had been sought - "it's not as if we had been forcing that across the Atlantic."
A tit-for-tat? Prince Andrew's criticism of Pres Bush's handling of the Iraq war comes at the heel of US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates' own unprecedented accusation that Britain and other close allies fighting in southern Afghanistan lack experience in counter-insurgency warfare. In my book, Pres Bush greatly deserves the criticism and coming from a Falklands War veteran, Americans will be hard put to say that Prince Andrew is wrong.
It's time to call a spade a spade!
Fri Feb 1st, 2008 at 07:22:18 AM EST
(Map of Russia's nuclear arsenal lifted from The Daily Telegraph)
Here is a definitely not amusing subject for a 'debate', one that concerns the other side of the border: Russia, and which comes at the heel of Russian bombers that were sent in the Bay of Biscay a couple of days ago.
According to The First Post, the great Russian debate centers on: "In order for America not to beat Russia we will need to be as cruel as the Americans'"
Diary rescue by Migeru
Thu Jan 31st, 2008 at 09:03:51 PM EST
Calling all defenders of human rights!
Help save the life of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a young Afghan who's been sentenced to death for downloading a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.
The 23-year old Afghan student was arrested and tried by religious judges after he distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter, reports the Independent.
The story is in The Independent's Friday, 1 February 2008 edition: Save Pervez! Global protests to save Afghan student from death sentence
Independent's e-petition: How you can save Pervez
Sayed Pervez Kambaksh's imminent execution is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai's government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared.
NB: Apologies, can't seem to embed link here but easy enough to access e-pettion by going direct to: www.Independent dot co dot uk slash petition.
Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 11:54:31 AM EST
Fellow European Tribune diarist Talos has published an interesting article "Five of the most senior military officers and strategists" lost it based on a report by The Guardian, Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told which tackled most key points contained in a recent 152-page report to NATO by five retired senior military officials.
(NB: I realised after writing this entry that it is quite long and have decided against 'cluttering' Talos' own diary page, hence am posting it as a separate item altogether instead).
This page does not wish to argue the points highlighted by Talos from The Guardian article, instead it seeks to complement those points. In a way, it also would like to correct certain impressions that may have been created by the issues raised in the Guardian article itself by submitting a different summary/analysis.
I have read the report entirely and I thought that while the Guardian's report drew from the facts and data provided by the 'manifesto', the overall tenor of the news report to me bordered on sensationalism that made the five generals who authored the 'manifesto' look like a bunch of Colonel Blimp. Personally, I thought Ian Traynor of The Guardian did a hachett job of reporting by adding/citing comments that did not really address the 'manifesto's' true objectives and aims.
So I asked a friend who previously served in a top post at NATO but in a civilian capacity for his own summary/analysis. I believe his own summary/analysis albeit brief, provides a full overview of the 'manifesto' from a non-journalistic perspective as it gives us a clear cut summary of the five generals' report, and which I feel is worth submitting here. By publishing my friend's one-page summary/analysis, I hope readers will be afforded a good glimpse of the "two sides of the coin."
The reading of the entire report first (intro provided below) is of course highly recommended.
Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World - Renewing Transatlantic Partnership (pdf).
General (ret.) Dr. Klaus Naumann, KBE
Former Chief of the Defence
Staff Germany Former Chairman Military Committee NATO
General (ret.) John Shalikashvili
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff of the United States of America Former NATO
Supreme Allied Commander in Europe
Field Marshal The Lord Inge, KG, GCB, PC
Former Chief of the
Defence Staff United Kingdom
Admiral (ret.) Jacques Lanxade
Former Chief of the Defence Staff
France Former Ambassador
General (ret.) Henk van den Breemen
Former Chief of the Defence
Staff the Netherlands
Benjamin Bilski and Douglas Murray
In every country, and at all times, we like to rely on certainty. But in a world of asymmetric threats and global challenges, our governments and peoples are uncertain about what the threats are and how they should face the complicated world before them.
After explaining the complexity of the threats, the authors assess current capabilities and analyse the deficiencies in existing institutions, concluding that no nation and no institution is capable of dealing with current and future problems on its own. The only way to deal with these threats and challenges is through an integrated and allied strategic approach, which includes both non-military and military capabilities.
Based on this, the authors propose a new grand strategy, which could be adopted by both organisations and nations, and then look for the options of how to implement such a strategy. They then conclude, given the challenges the world faces, that this is not the time to start from scratch. Thus, existing institutions, rather than new ones, are our best hope for dealing with current threats. The authors further conclude that, of the present institutions, NATO is the most appropriate to serve as a core element of a future security architecture, providing it fully transforms and adapts to meet the present challenges. NATO needs more non-military capabilities, and this underpins the need for better cooperation with the European Union.
Following that approach, the authors propose a short-, a medium-and a long-term agenda for change. For the short term, they focus on the critical situation for NATO in Afghanistan, where NATO is at a juncture and runs the risk of failure. For this reason, they propose a series of steps that should be taken in order to achieve success. These include improved cost-sharing and transfer of operational command. Most importantly, the authors stress that, for NATO nations to succeed, they must resource operations properly, share the risks and possess the political will to sustain operations.
As a medium-term agenda the authors propose the development of a new strategic concept for NATO. They offer ideas on how to solve the problem of the rivalry with the EU, and how to give NATO access to other than military instruments. They further propose bringing future enlargement and partnership into line with NATO's strategic objectives and purpose.
In their long-term agenda the authors propose abandonment of the two-pillar concept of America and Europe cooperating, and they suggest aiming for the long-term vision of an alliance of democracies ranging from Finland to Alaska. To begin the process, they propose the establishment of a directorate consisting of the USA, the EU and NATO. Such a directorate should coordinate all cooperation in the common transatlantic sphere of interest.
The authors believe that the proposed agenda could be a first step towards a renewal of the transatlantic partnership, eventually leading to an alliance of democratic nations and an increase in certainty.
Non journalistic SUMMARY/ANALYSIS
of Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World - Renewing Transatlantic Partnership
° The authors (K Naumann, J Shalikashvili, P Inge, J Lanxade, H van den Breemen)
are all distinguished top national and NATO commanders.
° Their analysis is striking:
°° There are 6 prime challenges facing the world: demographic change, climate change, energy security, the rise of the irrational (from the cult of the celebrity to fundamentalist terrorism), weakening of the nation state, and the dark side of globalisation. Plus the unpredictable.
°° These challenges cannot be addressed separately or by any nation on its own. We need a new concerted grand strategy which integrates all the instruments available to each nation and combines them through alliances.
°° The West needs to stand up for its values and be proactive in defending them without imposing on others. No Western international institution or state today has an appropriate strategy, capabilities or will to accomplish this. The new grand strategy should be anchored on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the UN (protect the individual human being). Its aim would be to preserve peace, values, free trade and stability. Its objectives would be: dealing with global challenges; building security in the allies' neighbourhood; and working towards stability through cooperation. Its elements would include deterrence (you will never be safe anywhere if you attack us), escalation dominance linked to fast decision-making, asymmetry, unpredictability, and pre-emption (in the case of imminent threat). Security at home (including missile defence) would be its essential basis but this can no longer be achieved with responsibilities split between homeland security and external defence.
°° Protection at home requires a proactive side as well - to act against threats wherever they emerge (not necessarily military means). Other elements include conflict prevention/reolution, crisis management and enforcement operations and post-conflict stabilisation.
°° The West should redefine itself: no longer two pillars (US/CA and Europe) but a single security space from Finland to Alaska. NATO should adapt its strategic concept along the lines above (so should the EU). Capabilities need to be made available to match.A new transatlantic bargain should support the new strategy. A new US-NATO-EU steering directorate should be established at top level and address longer term issues such as climate change.
°° NATO-EU cooperation is vital: one way forward might be to negotiate "Berlin
Plus in Reverse" ie assured NATO access to EU civil capabilities on certain conditions.
°° Both NATO and EU should undertake fundamental reviews of their capabilities.
° The report also includes numerous more detailed recommendations, for example
on reform of NATO decision-making. (Some of these are probably impractical and
are unlikely to be agreed.) It says much less about the EU than it does about NATO, probably because the authors are less expert in EU affairs.
° From my point of view, the main conclusions (need for a comprehensive security approach, NATO-EU cooperation, better capabilities, stronger transatlantic links) are all ones we should support and should consistently argue for.
Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 11:59:39 AM EST
When Tony Blair came to Paris to address a recent Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) symposium, President Sarkozy's centre-right wing party, it occurred to me that the former British prime minister could be seriously gunning for the position of EU president. After all the idea of a Blair EU presidency had been vaguely dangled to him even before he moved out 10 Downing Street.
French politicians are fascinated by Tony Blair. During the last French presidential elections, no less than major contenders Royal and Sarkozy referred incessantly in their campaign stumps to Blair's British formulas that they might adopt for the economic revival of France if they won. It therefore came as no surprise to me that 'lobbying' efforts for a potential Blair presidency of the EU should start in France; France being a major or key player in the EU, Paris becomes the logical choice for Blair to start his campaign.
But there's a hitch: France's veteran politicians are opposed to the idea of a Blair presidency, and from what I've gathered, so are many people in Brussels.
Fold inserted here - Diary rescue by Migeru
Sun Jan 20th, 2008 at 07:03:08 PM EST
The chosen ones: The war children born to Nazi fathers in a sinister eugenics scheme speak out
20 January 2008 23:48 Home News > Europe in The Independent
They were the blue-eyed blonds born into a sinister SS scheme to further the Aryan race. But the defeat of the Nazis left Norway's 'Lebensborn' facing the vengeance of an entire nation. Here, five former war children talk for the first time about their ordeal - and their fight for compensation
Ellen Voie says she was locked in a dark room by her adoptive parents ©Portraits by Lucinda Marland other pics 1 2 3 4
By Rob Sharp
They stare blankly into the lens, their lips tellingly pursed. All are the Norwegian subjects of a terrifying Nazi experiment. All were involved in one of the most shocking trials of eugenics the world has ever known. All are Lebensborn - the "spring of life". And all are here to tell their stories for the first time.
The Lebensborn Society was born on 12 December 1935, the brainchild of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's right-hand man and head of the SS. He had designed a project to promote an "Aryan future" for the Third Reich and turn around a declining birth rate in Germany. People were given incentives to have more children in the Fatherland as well as in occupied countries, most importantly in Scandinavia, where the Nordic gene - and its blond-haired, blue-eyed progeny - was considered classically Aryan.
But after the conflict had ended, many of the Norwegians born into the programme suffered. In an attempt to distance itself from the occupying forces, the Norwegian government publicly vilified the children born by Norwegian mothers and Nazi fathers. Many of those children subsequently experienced intense bullying, and in some cases, extreme mental and physical abuse. In recent years, a Lebensborn group in Norway has been fighting what it sees as the Norwegian government's complicity in their horrific ordeal.
Now, these once-persecuted children, many of whom are in their sixties, have been brought together by British photographer Lucinda Marland, who travelled to Norway to interview them and take their portraits, Full story in The Independent...
I personally know a Lebensborn who was adopted from an orphanage by a Norwegian family when he was 10 years old. He recounted that unknown to his adopted father who died when he was a teen-ager, he experienced extreme bullying in the hands of his own adopted cousins and at school because of his origins. At the beginning he didn't understand why the cruelty. When his adopted father died, he tried his best to find out more about his real parents and learned that he was the offspring of a Nazi paratrooper and a Norwegian peasant girl.
He was drafted into the Norwegian Army and confessed that he liked life in the Army. Later on, he went to live and work in Germany where he became fluent in the language. He says he likes the German spirit, their efficiency, their discipline and Germany's overall culture of no-nonsense approach to life. He now lives in Norway but goes to visit Germany often.
I don't pretend to be a psychologist but I have a suspicion, that his sentiment towards everything German is a way of expunging the nightmares he experienced during his growing up years.
Wed Jan 16th, 2008 at 10:06:53 PM EST
US DoD chief attacks NATO allies... Read and laugh!
Outrage as US accuses Britain of inexperience in Taleban conflict
Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, risked an unprecedented rift with Britain and other close allies after accusing Nato countries fighting in southern Afghanistan of lacking experience in counter-insurgency warfare.
Mr Gates said failings in the south were contributing to the rising violence in the fight against the Taleban.
His outspoken criticism, voiced in an interview with an American newspaper, provoked instant reactions from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, the three
most prominent members of the alliance, who have endured much of the fiercest
fighting in southern Afghanistan. Full story here.
Unbelievable! WTF got into US Defence Secretary Robert Gates' head that he should attack US' NATO allies over America's own incompetence in Afghanistan?
And may I ask, just what is US experience or competence in fighting the Talebans?
Does Gates accuse us Brits and US NATO allies of incompetence because we refuse to bomb Afghanistan to kingdom just like what the CIA proposed to do to Pakistan and what Bush wants to do to Iran?
What a bunch of crackpots these Pentagon people are, And speaking of US incompetence... The only American general worth his salt was General Jones, ex SACEUR, an extremely hard act to follow who was pulled out because some Pentagon kink didn't like the way he was doing things in Afghanistan...
Talk of incompetence -- that's the Pentagon under Bush for you!
(I've got to hit the sack but will update this post tomorrow.)
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