Saturday, October 16, 2004

Anomie in the UK 

There's so much interesting stuff in the Sunday Independent that the best we can do is stack it up for your perusal and step aside:
UK TROOPS TO BAGHDAD WARNING: Tony Blair was last night accused of conspiring to use British troops in Iraq as a "political gesture" to boost George Bush's campaign in the US presidential elections . . . .

Mr Blair is considering a request to send around 650 troops north to help free up American soldiers to mount a major operation against insurgents in Fallujah. The most likely candidate is thought to be the Black Watch, which is currently acting as the reserve battalion in Iraq.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, urged Mr Blair to reject the American request yesterday, warning that it could associate all British troops with aggressive US methods: "The last time US forces attacked Fallujah they left 1,000 civilians dead and uproar across Iraq at their heavy-handed tactics ... If Britain frees up US forces for the next assault we may be held equally responsible by Iraqis."

STAR WARS DEAL PLACES US MISSILES ON UK SOIL: Tony Blair has secretly agreed to allow President Bush to site US missiles on British soil as part of the new US "son of Star Wars" programme, The Independent on Sunday can reveal . . . .

The confidential deal goes far beyond the official position that Britain is providing enhanced radar provision for the US national missile defence programme.

News of the deepening collaboration over the missile defence programme comes as the Prime Minister considers an American request to send British troops to the US-controlled sector of Iraq.

There was growing anger last night that UK soldiers stationed in Iraq might be put in even greater danger than they are already just to assist a pre-election offensive ordered by the Bush administration.

The siting of the interceptors on British soil would represent the most significant new military US presence in this country since the withdrawal of cruise missiles 13 years ago.

REVEALED -- THE MEETING THAT COULD HAVE CHANGED THE HISTORY OF IRAQ: They felt it was their duty. Six of Britain's leading experts on Iraq trooped into No 10 Downing Street on a Tuesday afternoon in November 2002, determined to warn Tony Blair that occupying the country would be difficult at best and catastrophic at worst. By the time they left, most were convinced that war was inevitable - and, in the view of one at least, that there was nothing the Prime Minister could do about it . . . .

Another said: "I was staggered at Blair's apparent naivety, at his inability to engage with the complexities. For him, it seemed to be highly personal: an evil Saddam versus Blair-Bush. He didn't seem to have a perception of Iraq as a complex country." He recalled that the Prime Minister had interjected only occasionally and cryptically. At one point he had exclaimed: "But he [Saddam] is evil, isn't he?" Later Mr Blair said of Saddam: "But he's got choices [over being good or evil], hasn't he?"

In the chaos that has followed the war, it has emerged that the academic experts were simply reinforcing warnings Mr Blair had been receiving from his own aides for months. Leaks show that as early as March 2002, a letter from the Foreign Secretary, marked "secret and personal", said no one had a clear idea of the likely aftermath of an invasion. "There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything," said Mr Straw, noting that assuring stability in Iraq would require large numbers of troops for "many years" . . . .

"What has happened in Iraq was predictable and was predicted, and the worst may yet be to come," said Professor Joffe. "Iraq was a strategic blunder," said Professor Clarke. "The entire policy has become incoherent." Dr Dodge said: "I remain very much against the war. I feel I've had no influence whatsoever on the Government in the last two years."

THIS IS WHERE THE ELECTION WILL BE WON OR LOST. AND IT AIN'T BAGHDAD: Seen from this corner of north-western Pennsylvania, as the bitterly fought, neck-and-neck 2004 campaign nears its climax, the war on terrorism and the mess in Iraq seem far away. This election is supposed to be dominated by foreign policy. But in this old town [Wilkes-Barre], in the troubled manufacturing heart of the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania, the over-riding concern is not with the world's deadly new political faultlines. Rather, it is the world's harsh new economic realities - which Mr Duda has learnt from his own recent experience.

He is president of the local branch of the Glass, Molders, Pottery and Plastics workers union. But that did not prevent him from falling victim to what is euphemistically known as "outsourcing" - the export from the US of well paid, steady jobs to foreign countries where wage and production costs are a fraction of those at home. For George Bush, the trend is regrettable, but inevitable. For Mr Duda, whose own job vanished to Asia a couple of months ago, outsourcing is a scandal, a disgrace to the country and to the President who permits it . . . .

Oddly, in a town where organised labour and the Democratic Party are entwined, Mr Duda had always voted Republican, even as boss of a local union branch. It used to make him "feel like a snowflake on a pile of coal". In 2000 he voted for Mr Bush, he explains, because in his view Al Gore wasn't up to it, and the current President seemed the lesser of two evils. But now Mr Duda has switched his registration from Republican to Democrat and has thrown himself into the struggle to have John Kerry elected President.

His views on the current President are withering. "Here in America we have people starving, people with no healthcare and seniors who have to choose: 'Do I buy drugs or do I eat today?' I'm always struck how, when Bush is asked how he intends to create new jobs, all he can say is 'tax cuts' or 'education'. But how do you tell that to a 55-year-old man who has just been made redundant? How does he pay his bills by going to college? Yes, there's some work around, but paying $8 an hour without benefits. How can these replace a $17-an-hour job with healthcare and pensions? Bush has no answer. He has no plan." On the President's tax cuts, Mr Duda is equally scathing. "What's a $300 tax rebate, when the cost of that tax cut is your job?" So he has turned to Mr Kerry. But like many rank-and-file Democrats, he is respectful, rather than enamoured, of the candidate. Mr Duda admits to a soft spot for Howard Dean, the blunt former Vermont governor who for much of 2003 led the chase for the Democratic nomination - back in the days when Mr Duda was a Republican . . . .

In 2004, Mr Bush - who is the first President to preside over a net loss of jobs during his term since Herbert Hoover at the start of the Great Depression - is seeking to pull off a similar trick. And who knows? Poor old Pennsylvania suffered hugely in the Depression. But in 1932 it was the only major industrial state to vote for Hoover in preference to Franklin Roosevelt.

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