Root causes of terrorism

by Henry on June 25, 2004

Do you agree with the proposition that people join terrorist organizations because there’s no hope? Do you disagree? Discuss, with reference to recent developments in current affairs. (Hat tip to Chris).

Making History

by Henry on June 25, 2004

“Via Bookslut”:http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2004_06.php#002732, this “account”:http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i42/42a02502.htm of an interesting dust-up at _Foreign Affairs_ , the influential foreign policy journal run by the Council of Foreign Relations. Kenneth R. Maxwell, who was the journal’s book review editor resigned last month, claiming that the magazine had bowed to pressure from Henry Kissinger, and shut down a debate on its letters page about America’s role in the assassination of former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier and his wife in Washington DC by “Operation Condor.” Jeremy Adelman, who succeeded Maxwell, has just resigned too after only three weeks in the job. The editor of Foreign Affairs, James Hoge, has admitted receiving at least one phone-call from the head of the Council of Foreign Relations conveying Mr. Kissinger’s displeasure; if Maxwell is to be believed, Hoge also received repeated phone calls from Henry Kissinger. However, Hoge has denied that this had anything to do with his editorial decision to cut short debate.

Henry Kissinger’s historical legacy is very slightly more complicated than it might seem at first glance. Critics like Christopher Hitchens fail to acknowledge his very real contribution to the understanding of international relations – some of his early academic writings (“A World Restored,” “The Troubled Partnership”) are first rate. Nonetheless, his political career seems to have combined a particularly unpleasant variety of _Realpolitik_ with a gruesome eagerness to condone lies, murder, torture and other human rights violations. The greater part of his subsequent writing can be seen as a sustained effort to whitewash the record. Kissinger’s memoirs are mendacious and untrustworthy, even by the usual standards of statesmen’s self-justifications. Like Winston Churchill, he intends to ensure that history is kind to him by writing it. Given Kissinger’s track record, I’m not at all surprised that he seems to have used his clout to try to shut down debate about one of the nastiest aspects of his record as Secretary of State. I am surprised, and disappointed, that _Foreign Affairs_ seems very possibly to have knuckled under.

Bush and Europe

by Henry on June 25, 2004

George W. Bush gave an interview to Irish television’s “Prime Time”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2004/0624/primetime/primetime56.smil that’s worth watching (the interview starts about 15 minutes into the clip). It’s the first time that I’ve seen him subjected to a hostile (if not extraordinarily competent) interviewer, and he clearly didn’t like it – in particular, he got very tetchy whenever he was interrupted. In the course of the interview Bush claims that he had most of Europe’s backing for the war in Iraq.

bq. Most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq: really what you’re talking about is France isn’t it. They didn’t agree with my decision. … Most European countries are very supportive and are participating in the reconstruction of Iraq.

This is misleading in a way in which John Kerry’s much-ballyhooed statement that many foreign leaders preferred him as a potential president to Bush is not. Kerry was undoubtedly correct, even if he wasn’t able to provide public evidence to back up his claim. Everybody knows that most Western European countries (perhaps even including Britain) would prefer a Kerry administration to another round of Bush. Bush, in contrast, does apparently have evidence to back him up – he could point to the various resolutions signed by Western and Eastern European countries on Iraq. However, these statements are for the most part, rhetoric. Most of the Eastern European countries that signed on were less interested in resolving problems in the Middle East than in avoiding punishment by the hegemon, and reaping the “political and financial rewards”:http://archive.salon.com/news/feature/2003/03/12/foreign_aid/ of a friendly relationship with the US. Remarkably few of the so-called “coalition of the willing” were prepared to put their money where their mouth was, by committing substantial numbers of troops to Iraq.

If Bush sincerely believes that the difficult transatlantic relationship is all about France’s posturing, he’s in trouble. Even those governments which nominally signed on last time would have extreme difficulty in doing so again – their voters wouldn’t stand for it. Bush is electoral poison; Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern will not have been pleased at Bush’s “expression of gratitude”:http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2004/0625/1294716001HM1MAINBUSH.html to him for his help on Iraq. It’s almost certainly a vote-loser. The “conventional wisdom”:http://www.brookings.org/views/op-ed/daalder/20040620.htm among foreign policy wonks is that European leaders will not get much more satisfaction from a Kerry administration than they would from a second round of Bush. I don’t think this is true. Bush has managed to create such distrust among the voting public in Europe that it’s going to be politically impossible for European leaders to sign onto any major new transatlantic foreign policy initiative. Given the important threats (such as proliferation of nuclear weapons) that require decisive multilateral action, this is a very dangerous development indeed.

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by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

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The world’s oldest mountain guide

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

The world’s oldest mountain guide, Ulrich Inderbinen, has died at the age of 103, having climbed the Matterhorn more than 370 times (making his final ascent at the age of 90). “The Economist has the story”:http://www.economist.co.uk/people/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2787797 . I’m sure what they write of him is true, but anyone who has read the beginning of Ernest Gellner’s best book — “Thought and Change”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226286983/junius-20 — will feel slightly suspicious. Gellner illustrates the idea of a society living against “an unchanging temporal horizon”, where everything stays the same “like a train crossing a featureless landscape” with the story of the Taugwalders, survivors of the first ascent in 1865.

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England crash out

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

Brian Weatherson watched the England–Croatia game with us the other night, so he can attest to the general level of invective directed towards the television at Chateau Bertram. But, whilst I didn’t watch last night’s proceedings with detachment, I can say that one event followed another with the depressing inevitability all long-term England watchers expect. The early goal (Michael Owen, 6/1 at bluesquare.com — thanks very much!) reminiscent of Germany-England 1996 followed by the Portuguese equalizer just before the 90 minutes. Then the disallowed goal (an exact re-run of England-Argentina 1998), all ending, finally, with the penalty-shoot-out (too many precendents to bother listing here). At least we can enjoy the rest of the tournament free of “Rooneymania” and most of the St George’s crosses will disappear from assorted motor vehicles. Come on the Czech Republic!