1.Go into your LJ’s archives.
2.Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3.Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4.Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
And despite any setbacks, you can really cook a good meal whenever it’s called for.
Lots of interesting meetings today at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, including an unexpected encounter at lunchtime with a Serbian journalist friend. “
After our last meeting I found myself in a lift with a tall parliamentarian wearing a large campaign badge with the name ШЕШЕЉ and a picture of one of the most evil men in Europe. I realised that my own name was visible on my visitor’s badge, and casually took hold of my own lapel in order to cover it. If I’m really that well known in Serbia, that’s one political party I don’t want to be stuck in the lift with.
I didn’t bother with the press room. Five hours’ drive back from Strasbourg, but I made it safely and am now going to bed.
One meeting that I had at NATO with my Caucasus team yesterday was interesting for quite the wrong reasons. It was with the person who would be my direct supervisor if I get the job I applied for last week. He did not impress me at all. OK, there were certain things that had gone wrong in how we set up the meeting, but it waved a strong warning flag for me. I’ll have to do a bit more digging.
Out last night with Anne for birthday dinner combined with work dinner (two colleagues visiting from my Caucasus team). Now I have a meeting at 0900 and before I leave the house I have to pack for a 24-hour trip to Strasbourg (so no blogging tomorrow, unless I manage when I get home late in the evening). Right, must shower, dress and then pack.
Home. Tired. Reading Jack Vance.
Well, we’re back, having taken two small children to the Hague for the weekend and attended the royal wedding.
The engagement ran into some controversy last autumn, as a result of which Mabel and her fiancé, Prince Johan Friso (known generally as Friso) withdrew their request for the Dutch parliament to approve their wedding. The consequence is that Friso ruled himself out of the line of succession. He is the second of the Queen’s three sons anyway, and both his brothers are already married with children, so the constitutional consequences are fairly minimal, but it was a difficult period for them.
However it did mean that the wedding was a bit less royal than it might otherwise have been. A further dampening factor happened last month, when the Queen’s mother, who had ruled the Netherlands as Queen Juliana from 1948 to 1980, died at the age of 94. More cream envelopes arrived from the Palace, explaining that out of respect the celebrations were to be toned down. But the wedding was going ahead on schedule.
I took Friday off work. More or less – an Albanian journalist tracked me down and came out to Leuven to do a TV interview, but I made him sweat for it! I’d spent most of the previous month grappling with our report on the mid-March violence in Kosovo, and it had finally been published on Thursday. (I came back this evening to find a message that it had already been downloaded more than 3000 times, making it our quickest starting report ever.)
But by 4.20 pm we were ready to set off: first, delivering B to her respite care on the far side of Brussels, and then driving 200 km north to the Hague. Of course, the rush hour on Friday hits much earlier than on other days, and we were awfully delayed on both Brussels ring road and motorway; combined with essential stops for food and maintenance, we made it to our hotel in Scheveningen only by 9.30. Oddly, as we made our final approach to the Hague, the signs over the fast lane of the motorway told us not to use it, which seemed puzzling as there was no obvious physical obstruction. But all was to become clear.
Why did we stay in Scheveningen? It is the grandest beach resort in the Netherlands, and originally the evening do was supposed to be at the Kurhaus spa hotel there. Because of Queen Juliana dying it was scaled down, but we’d already made our booking – and rather than go for one of the grand hotels with a special (but still huge) rate, I found two doubles in a perfectly presentable three-star establishment nearby. Buses were laid on from the “official” hotels to the various events.
And then came phase two of the master plan: Anne’s sister H, who conveniently works right beside the channel tunnel train station in Kent, arrived in the Hague around 1030 to help with babysitting for the big day. So I was able to pick her up from the central station (it’s only five miles) with minimal difficulty. Though I do wonder how we ever managed in the days before text messages.
Anne and I rose early the next morning – F woke up in time to help us get breakfast at the hotel, and then Anne and I left the children with H and walked down the hill to one of the “official” hotels to get the bus. The weather was overcast but mild. I wore my standard work suit. Anne wore her wedding dress for the first time since 1993 (she had no difficulty fitting into it, which she finds most gratifying) along with a red jacket and a Hat. The invitation had specified most explicitly that ladies were to wear Hats. Anne’s was a straw hat with a ribbon which looked great.
The journey to the wedding ceremony took place in two phases. First of all we were delivered to the front door of the Dutch Council of State in the centre of the Hague, five miles inland from Scheveningen. The buses were surrounded by police escorts, holding up traffic for us, waving us through red lights and the wrong way down one-way streets. I could get used to travelling like that. At the Council of State we were ushered into the Gothic Chamber for coffee and biscuits, and to be assigned our seats in the church. This turned out for me to be the most politically hacky bit of the whole event as various people who know me (and Mabel) through Balkan politics made contact.
After the coffee we were ushered out of the back door of the Council of State and got another bus, another five miles inland, to the ancient town of Delft where the wedding ceremony was due to take place. Coincidentally it’s also the area where Mabel grew up. We ended up on the bus beside George Soros, who continued a conversation we’d started earlier about Kosovo, but eventually switched to talking about the Hats, and pretending to reminisce about his memories of 17th-century Delft. The bus and our police escort zoomed along the fast lane of the motorway, which was closed to other traffic, thus explaining the mysterious traffic signs I had seen the previous night.
We were let off in Delft and ushered towards the Oude Kerk and our seats in it. Crowds of well-wishers (today’s paper estimates about 3,500) cheered us on as we arrived. Apart from my own wedding, I don’t think I’ve ever been cheered by a crowd in that way. OK, I know perfectly well that they were mostly cheering the happy couple, the royal family, the Queen and their country, but there is a part of me that feels that to a very small extent they were cheering us as well.
Our block of seats was mainly work colleagues of Mabel’s plus partners, ie the people who had never before been invited to a royal wedding and don’t expect it will happen again. That was actually rather reassuring. We were in those lovely pews which are shut by half-doors at either end, only six rows back from the open space in the front where the action was to take place. Because of the Hats, of course, it was impossible to see directly. There were apparently 1500 people in the church.
Huge TV-screens discreetly nestled amongst the pillars; they alternated between stern warnings to turn off our mobile phones and coverage of people coming from the civil ceremony in Delft Town Hall to the Oude Kerk, and eventually of events inside the church which would have been invisible to us otherwise. There was a huge telescopic boom with a camera mounted on it immediately to our left, and I twitched occasionally as it appeared to be about to collide with the pillars, the screens or the overhead lights. But there was no problem. With this the third royal wedding in three years (and also two royal funerals in the last year and a half – the present Queen’s husband died in late 2002) the cameramen are obviously well practiced.
People arrived – including the Queen’s father, 94-year-old Price Bernhard, who looks a good fifteen years younger than his actual age, and eventually the two mothers (Mabel’s mother is also a widow; she wore a fairly modest hat, whereas the Queen’s was a huge blue feathery but regal affair), the witnesses and Mabel and Friso themselves. Mabel’s dress was of course fairly spectacular, and I write as one with no eye for these things. (Because they had already had the civil ceremony there was none of the bridegroom-waits-anxiously-for-bride-to-arrive nonsense that happens elsewhere; they arrived together.)
The order of service was provided for us in two booklets, one in Dutch with just the hymns, readings and section headings, and one slightly bulkier in English with translations of the sermons, prayers and other interventions (which of course were otherwise in Dutch). The first hymn was “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”, to be sung in Dutch or English as the singer preferred. This didn’t quite work but the rest of it did. Only the first reading was in English, read by an American minister.
The service was really very good. The celebrant had done both Friso’s brothers’ weddings, but this didn’t stop him bringing a real sense of personalisation to it. The standard I Corinthians reading was presented in a fresh translation. There was a rather hauntingly beautiful hymn written specially for the occasion. The one glitch – and it was very funny – happened when Friso had considerable difficulty getting the ring onto Mabel’s finger!
And then it was all over, and we filed out under orders, through the winding corridors of the Delft pottery museum, back to the buses and back to Scheveningen and our hotel, waving regally in response to the (many) passers-by who waved at us, again with police escort and motorways blocked off. We got back to the hotel to find H, F and U in good form; they had paddled in the sea in the morning, to general glee and hilarity.
It was now after 2 pm and we hadn’t eaten since the early breakfast (apart from coffee in the Council of State) so we ventured to the Scheveningen boardwalk and found a very acceptable tex-mex type place. F and U had pancakes. H, who’d been teaching all week and then had sole charge of the children all morning, went for a rest, and we took F and U on a tram to Madurodam, the exhibition of 1/25 scale model buildings from all over the Netherlands.
I’d prepared the way for this by taking F to a similar exhibition near Brussels called Mini Europe on Easter Monday, and he’d enjoyed that so much that he demanded to be taken back later that week. But Madurodam is three times the size of Mini Europe, and probably five times as good. A ship that goes on fire, and another ship that puts it out! A fun-fair! A lorry that drives around and gives you a sweet for ten cents! And most of all the trains!!!!! U surveyed it all from her push-chair, and Anne and I mainly enjoyed watching F enjoy himself, to the extent that looking through the official guidebook afterwards we realised we’d missed a lot of other interesting things. But Madurodam was a fantastic success, just as much fun as I remember it from when I was thirteen, if not even more so.
We rejoined H, had another good meal on the boardwalk, and then Anne and I changed into “smart casual” clothes for the evening do (I wore smart jacket and trousers but with a “Sandman” t-shirt; she wore a blouse and skirt). This had originally been planned for the Kurhaus in Scheveningen, but the venue was now switched to the stables of the Royal Palace at Noordeinde in the Hague. Not a huge function room, with I would say fewer than 200 people there. (Of course, there had been several other meals and parties for the other guests.) Parked casually in a corner of the room was the Gold State Coach that the Queen uses every year on April 30 for the state opening of the Dutch parliament. Otherwise it was chairs, comfy cushions and throw mats.
We got there in time for Friso’s brothers to show an affectionately mocking video biography of the couple made by them and their friends, including embarrassing photographs from their teenage and student days, and the Queen offering supposedly essential words of wisdom to the happy pair (and keeping a straight face). The Queen herself was mingling very informally with the guests, though we did not introduce ourselves; Mabel greeted us with immense affection but didn’t stop to chat; I did manage a conversation with Friso later on; he commented that the whole day had passed much more quickly than he had imagined it would.
I brought Anne back to the hotel around midnight but returned for a little more partying myself. A friend of mine, who is an MP in an Eastern European country, commented that he thought these Dutch royals were pretty good; it turned out that apart from his own country’s royals (who are still visible on the local scene) he’s had more dealings than he felt necessary with Prince Charles. I agree with his assessment (though I admit from less direct experience.) Generally good fun, and good company. I got back around 2 am and must admit I found it rather slow going this morning.
But in the end we made it back; H caught a mid-morning train back to England, we pottered around on and off the boardwalk for a few hours, then drove back south (no closed off lanes this time), collected B and got home by 7 pm. A fun weekend.
Good to see
Trying to take today off. But did an interview with Albanian television (made them come out to Leuven to talk to me) and phone interviews with two other journalists.
We’re off to tomorrow’s royal wedding this evening, so unlikely to update tomorrow. More on Sunday.
From John Doyle, columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail:
I’ve never been called “a douche-nozzle” before. At least, not that I know about anyway. The insult came from one supporter of the Fox News Channel.
But then I don’t think The Globe and Mail has ever been called “the far-left Toronto Globe and Mail” before. That’s what this great newspaper was called by Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel on Monday night.
Reacting to my column, which cheerfully suggested that the proposal to bring the Fox News Channel to Canada should be acted upon promptly, so that we can all take a look, and get a laugh, O’Reilly gave us a Fox-style whacking. In his segment The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day, he quoted from my column (which called him “pompous”), dismissed The Globe as a lefty outfit and said, “Hey you pinheads up there, I may be pompous, but at least I’m honest.”
Right. But the very idea that The Globe and Mail is “far left” only proves my point that the Fox News Channel is the most hilarious thing on American TV since Seinfeld. When we get to see it, we’ll decide if, like Seinfeld, it’s about nothing.
Spurred by O’Reilly’s remarks, dozens of Fox News viewers wrote to me. Remember now that I only suggested that Fox News be available to us — not only as a vital window on the United States, but as an outright tonic. Before the channel has even appeared, I can tell you I was in stitches reading the voluminous response from Fox News supporters in the U.S. By Monday evening, I was so paralytic with laughter I had to call off the writing of yesterday’s column. I was incapacitated with the hilarity.
Me, I find it quite bracing to be so reviled and it’s very encouraging to know that mere newspaper coverage of a TV news channel can make some people so very angry.
The people who support Fox News must be the most uncivil and foul-mouthed creatures on the planet. This is an informed opinion. They’d give English soccer hooligans a run for their money.
I lost count of the number of times I was called “an a**hole.” It was at least 43 times, anyway. I was called “a pussy,” “a wussy,” “a pr**k,” “a jerk,” “a hack” and “a creep.” A man in Cleveland not only called me “an a**hole” but also wished me a “f***ed-up day.” A lady — and I use the term advisedly — in Colorado wrote to say that all Canadians are “a**holes” and thenordered me not to visit her state. I was also called a Canadian numerous times, as if that were an automatic and withering insult.
In an nice touch, a man from somewhere-in-the-USA opened by cheerfully calling me “sonny bub” and, after some confusing name-calling that involved the word “intellectual,” he rose to a great rhetorical flourish — he asked if I had served in Vietnam! Nothing of the sort has ever come from viewers of Newsworld, CTV Newsnet, CNN, MSNBC or, indeed ROB-TV. My point was that we have a great deal to learn from the Fox News Channel. And I am proved right. Talking to Americans is always a tonic. Bring on Fox News and bring it fast. Let’s see this thing that has so many ardent and incredibly aggressive viewers.
Just got an email addressed to me and a former colleague as follows:
Osama Bin Laden Captured.
Hey, Just got this from CNN, Osama Bin Laden has been captured! Goto the link below to view the pics and to download the video if you so wish: http://xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx/ “Murderous coward he is”. God bless America!
Presumably the website advertised is pr0n.
These days, I hate to let a day go by without updating this.
Kosovo report appears likely to get published tomorrow. Thank God. Azerbaijan next.
If you haven’t sat in front of a computer screen with a very small child doing the Teletubbies’ Animal Parade, you need to do so as soon as possible.
Spent large part of this evening preparing for the royal wedding at the weekend. That’s a phrase I never thought I would use…
From Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty:
Georgia’s National Security Council ruled on 16 April that the holding of a women’s World Chess Championship in Batumi in late May or early June is inexpedient because the presence in Adjaria of illegal armed formations poses a threat to participants, Caucasus Press reported. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze reached agreement on 15 April with Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who heads the World Chess Federation (FIDE), on hosting the championship. Georgian Minister of Culture and Sport Giorgi Gabashvili told journalists on 19 April that the Georgian government has proposed to FIDE that the championship be held elsewhere in Georgia. Zurab Azmaiparishvili, who is Georgian Chess Federation president and FIDE vice president, argued on 17 April that holding the tournament in Batumi would contribute to defusing tensions between Abashidze and the Georgian central government, Caucasus Press reported. Azmaiparishvili met on 19 April with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to discuss the issue, which Zhvania asked for two days to resolve.
Heh. Clearing out the papers this morning I came across a letter from my boss’s predecessor, sacking one of my predecessors six years ago.
I’m nearly two years in this job. My predecessor was appointed in Feb 2001 and resigned in December though carried on working part-time until I started in May 2002. His predecessor managed about ten months in 2000. Before him there was a gap of over a year, and the first holder of the job did it from May to October 1998. He is the one whose letter of dismissal I just found. Needless to say I was a good boy and handed over to the personnel dept for safe-keeping.
Oddly enough, he’s also the person I’ve been talking to over the last week who has applied for the same two jobs as me…
Emailed my application to NATO this morning. Will bring around a hard copy at lunchtime.
Article in today’s International Herald Tribune – mostly written by me though my name does not appear.
Ken MacLeod reflects on Scottish history.
1) Why am I being such a lazyass about showering?
Because you are an internet addict, and also because there is nobody currently in the same country as you that you feel the need to clean up for 😉
2) Why is it so friggin’ hot here when it’s supposed to be almost winter?
Because you’re not very far south of the Tropic of Capricorn. According to this graph the average daily temperature will drop to a mere 18°C, 65°F, in July. What did you expect, Central Europe? 😉
3) How are you today?
Well, today only just started. I hope to try and finish work on this Kosovo paper in the next few hours. But so far I’m awake and apparently healthy which is all you can ask for.
nicholas whyte is completing his doctoral thesis in
nicholas whyte is a ceps research fellow
nicholas whyte is a ceps
nicholas whyte is an honorary senior research fellow at the institute of governance
nicholas whyte is published today by
nicholas whyte is presently working for an international organisation in bosnia herzegovina
nicholas whyte is in charge for the balkans
nicholas whyte is a political researcher who has produced a fantastic and detailed analysis of northern ireland elections going back over a
nicholas whyte is a research fellow at the centre for european policy studies
nicholas whyte is the international crisis group’s balkans director
nicholas whyte is the most ambitious
nicholas whyte is already available on the www
John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam speeches were chronicled in three 1971 strips from Doonesbury –
Best Novel: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. OK, so it deals with a subject close to my heart, but it really is a good book. The only other nominee I’d read, Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold, was great but minor by Bujold’s standards.
Best Novella: Coraline by Neil Gaiman. This gives Gaiman two wins out of two nominations in the written fiction categories for both Hugo and Nebula, and makes Coraline the 55th story to get the double. I thought it had some strong competition (and several others were more like Nebula winners) but obviously Gaiman is on a roll right now.
Best Novelette: “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford. The best in its category I thought. At first seems to be just a bizarro piece about synaesthesia but then turns out to have a plot as well.
Best Short Story: “What I Didn’t See” by Karen Joy Fowler. Creepy story about gorillas.
Grand Master Award (as I had predicted) to Robert SilverbergCharles Harness, which seems really to be a prize for having reached the age of 89 and published one classic story in 1953 (along with other work varying from competent to good).
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
From Geoffrey A. Landis’ Hugo-winning story, “A Walk in the Sun”, in The New Hugo Winners, Volume IV. About time for Volume V, methinks…
Latest from our man in Kosovo:
This afternoon at least 3 UN police officers were killed and 7 wounded in a firefight among themselves at the detention centre in North Mitrovica (the Serb side of the divided town).
Apparently, a political argument (possibly over Iraq) between US officers on one side and Jordanian and Pakistani officers on the other side got out of hand.
Two female US police officers and one male Pakistani police officer are confirmed dead. Two died at the scene, and one of the two Americans died later at North Mitrovica hospital. A further 5 police officers (3 female, 2 male) of various nationalities are being treated for wounds at North Mitrovica hospital – two are in critical condition. A further two wounded were taken to the French KFOR hospital.
A platoon of US KFOR is now reported to have arrived in Mitrovica to guard the detention centre. Several Jordanian police officers reported arrested.
This will send shockwaves through this and other UN peacekeeping missions and further damage confidence in the ability of the internationals to provide security in Kosovo in general and Mitrovica in particular in the wake of the province-wide rioting of 17-18 March.
Had another chat with my friend who is going for the same two jobs as me. Actually it seems he’s much more interested in working with the new commissioner from his mother’s native country per se, rather than (as I am) going for the new commissioner with particular responsibility for the Balkans. Latest gossip (which I had picked up over a very interesting breakfast yesterday) is that his target commissioner will not be getting the Balkan job.
So anyway, I’ve finished doing up my application form for NATO, and since I’ve had to cancel my trip to Rome on Monday to finish the Kosovo paper, I’ll try and hand it in in person. As Anne reassured me, he can’t get both of the jobs that I’m chasing.
One thing that worries me is this: the reason my friend got in touch in the first place was to ask me to write something in my professional capacity for the magazine he edits. The same day, someone else solicited an article from me for his sf zine. I found the latter request much more attractive than the former.
Ask me three questions, no more no less. Ask me anything you want about my life, interests, hobbies, anything really. Then I want you to go to your journal, copy and paste this allowing your friends (including myself) to ask you anything they want.
5) How Bosnia Armed by Marko Attila Hoare
I’ve read lots of “big picture” books and essays on Bosnia-Herzegovina (heck, I’ve helped write one or two of them myself) but there are surprisingly few micro-studies of particular aspects of the conflict other than the horrors of particular atrocities. So this book is a real breath of fresh air in some ways; the author has looked only at the army of one faction in the conflict, the Muslims aka Bosniaks, and concentrates on the army’s organisational and political history rather than its performance in battle.
Indeed, one of the points that comes out is just how few battles there actually were in the three and a half years of war. The consequent stalemate left plenty of time for politicking between state and officers and for disputes within the system; parts of the Sarajevo corps were controlled by local gangesters; the viciousness of the Srebrenica group towards its local Serb antagonists was ultimately, and horribly, more than repaid; the Bihac command was the only consistent area of success, facing down an internal rebellion and making gains off the Serbs.
This is really only a book for the Bosnia-Herzegovina enthusiast, as demonstrated by the fact that there are no maps – OK for those of us who know the country but no good for the neophyte. It did explain one or two things for me that I had been wondering about – the micro-history of the patchwork of Croat and Muslim areas of control in central Bosnia, and the previous history of the sinister Munir Alibabic. Although the writer takes a pro-Bosnian perspective it doesn’t much cloud his judgement, really because he is telling the inside story of the people with whom he sympathises rather than their opponents.
There are three points where I think his account is lacking. One is his repeated dismissal of rebel Muslim Fikret Abdic as a mere “traitor” or “agent of Belgrade”. Abdic’s story, from fraudulent agri-businessman to local warlord, is much more interesting than that – indeed, in terms of democratic legitimacy he outpolled all others in the 1990 elections, so a clearer explanation is needed of who was betraying whom. It would be interesting for someone some day to explore Abdic’s story in more detail. He won’t come out of it well, but it will be a more rounded picture than is found here.
The second is the man to whom (for reasons never properly explained) Abdic handed the leadership of Bosnia in 1990, Alija Izetbegovic. It is apparent at frequent points in the text that Izetbegovic was very nearly worse than useless as a leader, and that he repeatedly made disastrous decisions about military and political strategy. It would have been good to see an overall assessment to this effect, as well as some explanation of why despite his manifest deficiencies he held onto leadership of his party and his part of the country until 2000.
The third is actually the question raised by the title of the book. How did Bosnia arm? The supply of arms from Iran in 1994-95, sanctioned by the Clinton administration, is mentioned only briefly in passing. How many arms were supplied? What difference did it make to the outcome of the war? Likewise the rumour I have heard about the unusually success of the Bosnians in Bihac being helped by UN peacekeepers “donating” them significant amounts of military materiel. It may well not be true, but it would have been interesting to investigate.
There’s a brief afterthought about the influence of Bin Laden and the Mujahedin on the Bosnians, which shades into the author’s more recent and highly entertaining and effective demolition of the leftish conspiracy theories about the Yugoslav wars (I’m glad someone is doing it as well as Hoare does). A good book for the expert, not one for the beginner.
When I first went to Bosnia in 1997 I moved into an apartment in Banja Luka that I was told had recently been vacated by the previous tenant, an Englishman generally known as “Mr Attila”. I guess the odds are high that he and the author of this book are one and the same. It’s a small world, especially in the Balkans.
4) Essays and Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington Macaulay
This book was given to my great aunt as a second prize for general good behaviour at her Somerset boarding school in 1886. It includes several of the Lays of Ancient Rome published first in 1841, two other historical essays (on Robert Clive and Warren Hastings) published at the same time, and Macaulay’s first ever historical essay on Milton, published originally in 1825.
I don’t remember my father’s aunt, who died aged 98 when I was very small; she was one of the oldest of my great-grandfather’s 15 children, and her husband was the chieftain of one of the Irish clans, whose brother founded a medium-sized poliical party in the early years of the Irish Free State and then merged it into what became Fine Gael. Meanwhile my great-aunt’s son grew up to become a British ambassador in south-east Asia, and added a knighthood to the clan chieftainship which he eventually inherited.
However the book is not especially enlightening about her – presumably she had no qualms about leaving it behind in her parents’ house when she got married in 1894. Once or twice in my historian days I found relics from early on in someone’s life, and it does leave you realising how little you can tell of what lies in store for you at that stage. The connection between this book and the elderly lady who, visiting Dublin in the 1940s, would stay in Phoenix Park with her former neighbour, President Douglas Hyde, is fairly slim. But not completely fictitious.
Oh yes, the book itself. Well, the Lays of Ancient Rome are supposedly translated from a Latin original by Macaulay into the style and rhythm of ballads, the most famous being “Horatius at the Bridge”. I felt bothered by the fact that actually much of the plot and all the incidental details were as far as I can tell made up by Macaulay, so it’s really a work of historical fiction by him. Good stirring stuff, but to this cynical reader obviously invented to inspire good manly values in the reader – build the alliance of aristocracy with the common people in order to prevent democracy and mob rule. Indeed, that’s what I felt about all the poems.
The two historical essays on Englishmen who got involved with India, Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, brought home to me how little I know about India. Macaulay of course lived there for several years himself, but earlier readers – both in the 1840s when the essays were written and in the 1880s when my great aunt was given the book (one of her brothers later died in Fyzabad, now Faizabad, enforcing the values of the Raj) – would have had a much better knowledge of the localities mentioned than I do. His opinion of Bengalis is so negative that it is comical (one of my mother’s sisters is married to a Bengali). John Keay’s History of India is sitting on my shelf looking accusingly at me; I don’t think I got beyond 700 AD when I last tried reading it a few years ago.
Finally, the essay on Milton – as I said, Macaulay’s first published work, and one that is much more directly political. For any Irish reader it’s difficult to deal with the approval rating that Cromwell gets from otherwise sane and sensible English people. Macaulay of course isn’t sane and sensible by any measure, and I felt I learnt a lot more about Milton and his age from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Pepys – although Milton isn’t actually mentioned in Pepys’ diary, his secretary was the brother of Pepys’ long term lady friend.
In summary, a book that made me realise how distant we are (or at least, how distant I am) from the cultural heritage of the nineteenth century, and also how much more mature history (at least the history I read) is as a discipline than the rhetorical Whiggery which made Macaulay famous.
…from the U.S.-based thinktank Stratfor, who have called a number of things right so far. (Locked post more because this is copyright material than because it’s political, so feel free to quote extracts attributing to Stratfor.)
Bush’s Crisis: Articulating a Strategy in Iraq and the Wider War
President George W. Bush’s press conference on Tuesday evening was fascinating in its generation of a new core justification for the Iraq campaign: building a democratic Iraq. It is unclear why Bush would find this a compelling justification for the invasion, but it is more unclear why the administration continues to generate unconvincing arguments for its Iraq policy, rather than putting forward a crisp, strategic and — above all — real justification.
It is clear that the current crisis in Iraq was not expected by the Bush administration. That in itself ought not to be a problem. Even the most successful war is filled with unexpected and unpleasant surprises. D-Day in Normandy was completely fouled up; the German Ardennes offensive caught the Allies by surprise.
No war goes as expected. However, in order to recover from the unexpected, it is necessary to have a clear strategic framework from which you are operating. This means a clearly understood concept of how the pieces of the war fit together — a concept that can be clearly articulated to both the military and the public. Without a framework that defines where you are going, you can never figure out where you are. It becomes impossible to place the unexpected in an understandable context, and it becomes impossible to build trust among the political leadership, the military and the nation. This is why the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam was unmanageable — yet the Ardennes offensive of 1944-1945 was readily managed.
In a piece entitled “Smoke and Mirrors: The United States, Iraq and Deception” which Stratfor published Jan. 21, 2003, we commented on the core of the coming Iraq campaign, which was that the public justification for the war (weapons of mass destruction) and the strategic purpose of the war (a step in redefining regional geopolitics) were at odds. We argued that: “In a war that will last for years, maintaining one’s conceptual footing is critical. If that footing cannot be maintained — if the requirements of the war and the requirements of strategic clarity are incompatible — there are more serious issues involved than the future of Iraq.”
During President George W. Bush’s press conference this week, that passage came to mind again. The press conference focused on what has become the new justification for the war — bringing Western-style democracy to Iraq. A subsidiary theme was that Iraq had been a potential threat to the United States because it “coddled” terrorists. Mounting a multidivisional assault on a fairly large nation for these reasons might be superficially convincing, but they could not be the main reasons for invasion – – and they weren’t. We will not repeat what we regard as the main line of reasoning (War Plan: Consequences http://www.stratfor.com/story.neo) behind the invasion, because our readers are fully familiar with our read of the situation. We will merely reassert that the real reason — the capture of the most strategic country in the region in order to exert pressure on regimes that were in some way enablers of al Qaeda — was more plausible, persuasive and defensible than the various public explanations, from links to al Qaeda to WMD to bringing democracy to the Iraqi masses. Such logic might work when it comes to sending a few Marines on a temporary mission to Haiti, but not for sending more than 130,000 troops to Iraq for an open-ended commitment.
Answers and Platitudes
Bush’s inability and/or unwillingness to articulate a coherent strategic justification for the Iraq campaign — one that integrates the campaign with the general war on Islamists that began Sept. 11 — is at the root of his political crisis right now. If the primary purpose of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to Iraq, then enduring the pain of the current crisis will make little sense to the American public. Taken in isolation, bringing democracy to Iraq may be a worthy goal, but not one taking moral precedence over bringing democracy to several dozen other countries — and certainly not a project worth the sacrifices now being made necessary.
If, on the other hand, the invasion was an integral part of the war that began Sept. 11, then Bush will generate public support for it. The problem that Bush has — and it showed itself vividly in his press conference — is that he and the rest of his administration are simply unable to embed Iraq in the general strategy of the broader war. Bush asserts that it is part of that war, but then uses the specific justification of bringing democracy to Iraq as his rationale. Unless you want to argue that democratizing Iraq — assuming that is possible — has strategic implications more significant than democratizing other countries, the explanation doesn’t work. The explanation that does work — that the invasion of Iraq was a stepping-stone toward changes in behavior in other countries of the region — is never given.
We therefore wind up with an explanation that is only superficially plausible, and a price that appears to be excessive, given the stated goal. The president and his administration do not seem willing to provide a coherent explanation of the strategy behind the Iraq campaign. What was the United States hoping to achieve when it invaded Iraq, and what is it defending now? There are good answers to these questions, but Bush stays with platitudes.
This is not only odd, but also it has substantial political implications for Bush and the United States. First, by providing no coherent answer, he leaves himself open to critics who are ascribing motives to his policy — everything from controlling the world’s oil supply, to the familial passion to destroy Saddam Hussein, to a Jewish world conspiracy. The Bush administration, having created an intellectual vacuum, can’t complain when others, trying to understand what the administration is doing, gin up these theories. The administration has asked for it.
There is an even more important dimension to this. The single most important thing that happened during the recent offensive in Iraq was that the United States entered into negotiations for the first time with the Sunni guerrillas in Al Fallujah. The United States has now traveled a path that began with Donald Rumsfeld’s dismissing the guerrillas as a disorganized band of dead-enders and led to the belief (shared by us) that they had been fairly defeated in December 2003 — and now to negotiations that were initiated by the United States. The negotiations began with a simple, limited cease-fire and have extended to a longer, more open-ended truce.
The United States is facing the fact that the Sunni guerrillas have not only not been defeated, but that they are sufficiently well organized and supported by the broader Sunni population that negotiations are possible with them. There is an organized Sunni command authority that planned and executed this operation and is now weighing U.S. offers on a truce. That is a huge change in the U.S. perception of the Sunni guerrillas. Negotiations are also something that the administration would never have contemplated two weeks ago, regardless of how limited the topic might be. The idea that the United States needed to negotiate anything was unthinkable.
This is not the only negotiation going on at the moment. There are negotiations with the Muqtada al-Sadr group. Negotiations with the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani group. Discussions with the Iranians. Iraq is swirling with negotiations, offers, bluffs, double crosses and lies. It is quite a circus at the moment, with at least three major players (the Sunnis, the Shia, the United States) who are in turn fragmented in all sorts of fascinating ways — and this doesn’t even begin to include the Kurds and other minorities.
The United States is going to have to make alliances. Its core alliance with the majority Shia has to be redefined in the wake of al-Sadr’s uprising. Even if al-Sadr is destroyed with his militia, the United States and the Shia will have much to talk about. Far more important, the United States is now talking to the Sunni guerrillas. That might or might not lead anywhere, but it is vitally important to all sides, no matter what comes of it. The United States has recognized that the Sunni enemy is a competent authority in some sense — and that changes everything.
The United States will combine military action with political maneuvering. That is logical and inevitable in this sort of war. But as deals are cut with a variety of players, how will Bush’s argument that the United States is building democracy in Iraq fly? The United States will be building coalitions. Whether it is a democracy is another matter. Indeed, it was al-Sistani demanding elections (which he knew the Shia would win) and the president putting off elections — declaring at the press conference that he would not bend to Shiite demands on a timetable.
The problem that Bush has created is that there is no conceptual framework in which to understand these maneuvers. Building democracy in Iraq is not really compatible with the deals that are going to have to be cut. It is not that cutting deals is a bad idea. It is not that the current crisis cannot be overcome with a combination of political and military action. The problem is that no one will know how the United States is doing, because it has not defined a conceptual framework for what it is trying to accomplish in Iraq — or how Iraq fits into the war on the jihadists.
Bush Political Crisis
This is creating a massive political crisis for Bush domestically. The public knows there is a crisis in Iraq, but there is little understanding of how to judge whether the crisis is being managed. If the only criterion is the creation of democracy, that is not only a distant goal, but also one that will be undermined by necessary U.S. deal-making. Democracy — by any definition that the American public can recognize — is not coming to Iraq anytime soon. If that is the mark of success, Bush’s only hope is that he won’t be kept to a tight timetable. What is worse for Bush is that, in his news conference, he framed the coming presidential election as basically a referendum on his policy in Iraq. The less that policy is understood, and the more Iraq appears uncontrollable, the more vulnerable Bush will be to charges that the Iraq war was unjustified, and that it is a distraction from the wider war — which the American electorate better understands and widely supports.
He is facing John Kerry, who has shrewdly chosen to call neither for a withdrawal from Iraq nor for an end to the war on the Islamist world. Kerry’s enormous advantage is that he can articulate a strategy without having to take responsibility for anything in the past. He can therefore argue that Bush’s impulses were correct, but that he lacked a systematic strategy. Stratfor said in its annual forecast that the election was Bush’s to lose. We now have to say that he is making an outstanding attempt to lose it.
Obviously, the administration has a strategy in Iraq and the Islamic world. It is a strategy that is discussed inside the administration and is clearly visible outside. Obviously, there will be military and political reversals. The strategy and the reversals are far more understandable than the decisions the Bush administration has made in presenting them. It has adopted a two-tier policy: a complex and nearly hidden strategic plan and a superficial public presentation.
It could be argued that in a democratic society like the United States, it is impossible to lay bare the cold-blooded reasoning behind a war, and that the war needs to be presented in a palatable fashion. This might be true — and there are examples of both approaches in American history — but we tend to think that in the face of Sept. 11, only a cold-blooded plan, whose outlines are publicly presented and accepted, can work. We could be wrong, but on this we have no doubt. Even if the administration is correct in its assumption that there must be a two-tier approach to the public presentation of the war, it has done a terrible job in articulating its public justification.
The administration has held only three press conferences. Some explain this by saying that the president is too inarticulate to withstand public grilling. We don’t buy that. He is not the greatest orator by any means, but he doesn’t do that badly. His problem is that he will not engage on the core strategic question. Franklin Roosevelt, our best wartime president bar none — who should be the model for any wartime president — spoke on and off the record with reporters, continually and with shocking frankness when we look back on it. He did not hesitate to discuss strategy — from Germany First to relations with Joseph Stalin. He filled the public space with detail and managed public expectations brilliantly, even during the terrible first six months of the war.
We are convinced that the Bush administration has a defensible strategy. It is not a simple one and not one that can be made completely public, but it is a defensible strategy. If President Bush decides not to articulate it, it will be interesting to see whether President Kerry does, because we are convinced that if Bush keeps going in the direction he is going, he will lose the election. The president’s public presentation of the war is designed to exploit success, not to withstand reversals and hardships. What is fascinating is that political operatives like Karl Rove, the president’s political adviser, can’t seem to get their arms around this simple fact: The current communications strategy is not working. They seem frozen in place, seemingly hoping that something will turn up. We doubt strongly that building democracy in Iraq is the cry that will rally the American nation.
I see that the Prime Minister is ahead in the first round of the Macedonian presidential election, but that there is a second round still to come – with the ethnic Albanian votes holding the balance.
I’ve met PM Crvenkovski a couple of times; I don’t know the other candidate at all. The good thing is that the more moderate Albanian candidate kicked the ass of the more extreme one, which suggests that Macedonia is not doing too badly.