Home > World Events > UK soldiers ‘storm’ Basra prison

UK soldiers ‘storm’ Basra prison

September 20th, 2005


There’s loads of confusion about this story, but it seems to be common ground that British forces used tanks to break down the walls of an Iraqi prison where two soldiers, arrested for firing on Iraqi police, were being held. It’s increasingly evident that the coalition forces have become one of the array of armed militias in Iraq, all pursuing their own overlapping agendas and all claiming not to be answerable to anyone else.

Update This story is, not surprisingly, front page news in Britain and Australia, but the NYT barely covers it. It never made the front page of the website and, on the International page, it appears as a subheading to a story about the murder of an NYT reporter, also in Basra.

The latest statements from the UK government say that the soldiers had been handed over by police to a Shia militia group, presumably one of the Sadrist factions. The provincial governor, who has condemned the British action strongly, is also a Sadrist, it appears, though most of the reports I’ve seen suggest that the police are predominantly associated with the Badr brigade (armed wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who are currently regarded as ‘good guys’, being part of the national government). There’s more on this in the comments thread.

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  1. September 20th, 2005 at 11:00 | #1

    Freedom is messy….we have laid the groundwork for democracy…in 5 years it will all be better…

    What further excuses?

  2. Neil
    September 20th, 2005 at 11:04 | #2

    The Foreign Office – that the soldiers were released after negotiations and no force was used. A spokesperson added that three soldiers were injured during the operation. They negotiate rough, I suppose.

  3. September 20th, 2005 at 11:07 | #3

    You seem pretty confident of your take on it. But, in the end the end, there is a difference and it matters. Despite all of the stupidity, corruption, etc. evident in their ranks, were Union troops in our civil war just another militia?

    No offense in saying this (especially because I really do enjoy your thought provoking economics essays), but is it possible you are sort of out of your element here? I could be wrong, but I seem to recall for instance that at Crooked Timber you have more or less predicted repeatedly, and more or less incorrectly, that US troops would face a bloodbath Stalingrad-like scene in the course of urban fighting in this war (eg in the Fallujah assault).

  4. September 20th, 2005 at 11:09 | #4

    Sorry, that was US-centric of me: when I refer to a civil war, I meant the American Civil war of 1861-65.

  5. September 20th, 2005 at 11:35 | #5

    Report that the two British soldiers arrested by the Iraqis were driving around in a car packed with explosives:

  6. jquiggin
    September 20th, 2005 at 11:36 | #6

    Peter L, I was incorrect in predicting a Stalingrad-style siege in the initial assault on Baghdad, and admitted this. But I think the attacks on Fallujah, Tal Afar and so on fit my predictions pretty well – large numbers of civilian casualties and most of the population driven out of their homes. Overall, I’d say my predictions (and those of other pessimists) have been far closer to the mark than those of the optimists.

  7. Katz
    September 20th, 2005 at 11:41 | #7

    Peter Lance,

    The Union forces in the (American) Civil War were in a chain of command up to Abraham Lincoln, who stated and steadfastly adhered to a publicly proclaimed war aim — preservation of the Union.

    The Bush Clique, on the other hand, can never be accused of explicitness or clarity in their war aims, nor can they be said to be steadfast in their adherence to a set of benchmarks for success. I cite in evidence their backstairs relinquishment of sovereignty and the way they were railroaded into accepting the January elections.

    There are insufficient Coalition forces in Iraq to achieve anything that could be asserted as success-at-arms. Thus, the Coalition forces in Iraq are there for the domestic political purposes of the regimes who committed to Iraq. Withdrawal would necessitate acknowledgement of failure. Yet, none of the Invading powers is willing or capable of committing sufficient troops to enable success-at-arms.

    This state of affairs is a betrayal of the troops stuck in Iraq. Dumb compliance with an incompetent and dishonest chain of command. and/or survival, and/or private profit like that revealed by the Indpendent Newspaper of a giant billion dollar arms scam run by US troops, and/or privateering like that revealed in this recent British Basra incident, remain the only rationales for Coalition troops.

    And this truth is likely to dawn on more and more of them. Watch for a collapse in troop morale.

  8. Neil
    September 20th, 2005 at 11:51 | #8

    JQ deserves praise for one prediction: from memory, he was one of the very few people, on the left or the right, to claim that Iraq had no WMDs. Most people like me, who opposed the war, though Saddam had them and was a threat, but that the costs of toppling him (in terms of human lives) would be higher than the costs of attmepting to contain him (especially given who the actors were). We were right about that, but wrong about the WMDs. JQ’s hit rate is pretty good: my guess is that there are few who can claim as good.

  9. Hal9000
    September 20th, 2005 at 11:58 | #9

    Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent newspaper have been reporting for a long time now that ordinary Iraqis believe the Coalition to be behind many of the bombing outrages. The ABC reports spontaneous rioting and attacks on British military vehicles by angry crowds in Basra. http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200509/s1463925.htm
    It also appears the British soldiers dressed in Iraqi mufti initiated a firefight with the local constabulary. Given the popular belief that the invaders are behind the terrorism, it seems to have been at the very least careless to drive around in civvies armed to the teeth in a vehicle full of explosives. Are the British military as thick as this suggests? What is really going on here?

  10. September 20th, 2005 at 12:01 | #10

    Katz, You should read a bit about the Civil War. Your sense of the clarity of the issues in comparison with the present situation (and no, I am not some un-apologetic Bush supporter) is the result of 140 or so years of dust and smoke settling. People made near parallels to each of your arguments at the time of the war..

    JohnQuiggin-As Yogi Berra might have said (and probably did) when you get me, you got me…and I admit it. I searched your old posts. The line that I think sparked my memory of your predictions about Fallujah was “if the assault on Fallujah turns out as bloody as appears likely” (on November 3, 2004). You are correct: that does not speak specifically to US casualties. Apologies on that one.

  11. jquiggin
    September 20th, 2005 at 12:18 | #11

    Peter, thanks for that.

  12. September 20th, 2005 at 12:47 | #12

    By the way, I also admit that our low casualties are partly luck. Via a common good friend I recently met someone who was in fairly recent urban combat in Iraq (a member of the USMC). His frank assessment as an actual soldier:
    If the Sunni insurgents had any real basic combat infantry skills, we would be bathing in blood. What saves us is that they basically can’t keep it together in even the smallest unit action. They don’t shoot accurately, because they get no chance to practice. They make one stupid move after another at the tactical level, because most of them never got any real training. Most of the individual insurgents we kill in fights made some move that they beat out of you in USMC training. Their target selection is generally terrible: they tend to blow their cover on stupid targets. They don’t have any real ability to dynamically respond as a unit. Most of the time when they try to keep some semblance of a unit, we wipe them out after a pretty basic and predictable flanking maneuver to which they failed to respond. etc. etc. And they know all this. If the fighting with Al Sadr or in places like Fallujah didn’t teach them, hundreds and hundreds of vicious little fights that never made the news taught them. This is why they rely so heavily on IEDs, but those can’t inflict casualties on us at the level they really want (ie the Vietnam war pace of casualties). So, plan B: choose a target as tactically inept as you are. In other words, other Iraqi civilians. Try to start a civil war. And the weird thing is that in the end it may turn out that that plan B wasn’t such a bad plan A from their standpoint.

    Can you imagine what kind of a fight we would have gotten if they didn’t have these problems?

  13. September 20th, 2005 at 12:53 | #13

    Sorry, how I wrote that was misleading. The sentences “So, plan B: choose a target as tactically inept as you are. In other words, other Iraqi civilians. Try to start a civil war. And the weird thing is that in the end it may turn out that that plan B wasn’t such a bad plan A from their standpoint.” were mine. I missed a carriage return.

  14. Roberto
    September 20th, 2005 at 13:22 | #14

    Hal9000 Says: September 20th, 2005 at 11:58 am Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent newspaper have been reporting for a long time now that ordinary Iraqis believe the Coalition to be behind many of the bombing outrages.

    Maybe Messrs Fisk and Cockburn are polling the same people who argued and continue to argue that 9/11, Bali, jakarta, London, Madrid, etc etc were not undertaken by Al Qaeda (and other assorted crooks and thugs).

  15. September 20th, 2005 at 13:32 | #15

    What seems to be missing in this discussion is that prior to going into Iraq senior British military officers asked for clarification from the Blair government that the war was legal. They don’t want make appearances at war crimes tribunals.

    Having gone in to a war of aggression at the behest of the USA, these guys (and the ones that Peter Lance mentions) have no choice. If they live long enough to go home and think about it for long enough, many will realise that the war on Iraq and the plunder of Iraq’s assets, as well as the brutal occupation and loss of life, has all been unnecessary and illegal.

    There is a special place for the consciences of combatants who work in ‘Special Forces’ because they know their work is illegal and they know that if they are caught their existance is usually denied. On this occasion the British Army has decided that they are above the law (or maybe there is no law). Perhaps they have not thought about it, but they are a short step away from the kind of warfare being waged in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Forty years ago British and Australian ‘Special Forces’ as well as military engineers were contributing to the CIA’s Secret War in Laos. Documents relating to this remained secret for many years. But then, we are supposed to believe, we live in a democracy. We live in a society where foreign policy and militarist adventurism are conducted in our name but without our informed consent. This incident in Basra is the inevitable outcome. Its a disgrace.

  16. Katz
    September 20th, 2005 at 13:47 | #16

    Peter Lance,

    Thank you for your suggestion that I read a bit about the Civil War. I believe that my current knowledge will suffice for the present discussion.

    1. Let’s look at the clarity of Lincoln’s war aims: in his inaugural address 4 March 1861, Lincoln stated “No state upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union.” Lincoln’s Proclamation of 15 April 1861 commanded that the States raise 75,000 militia to suppress “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings”.

    Thus, Lincoln identified the Confederacy as an illegal “insurrection”, a position which he maintained steadfastly even as the Civil War became the bloodiest military conflict of the nineteenth century.

    Compare that with the shilly-shallying of the Bush clique over war aims in Iraq.

    2. Let’s look at Lincoln’s methods. Granted, manpower mobilisation was haphazard. But such a war was unprecedented. By 1865, the 20 million or so Northerners sustained an army of 1,000,000 men in the field.

    Lincoln raised taxes to pay for the war.

    Moreover, by 1962 Lincoln recognised that victory required the emancipation of the slaves, a proposal he explicitly rejected in his inaugural address. Everything, including racialism, was sacrificed to the “military necessity” required for preserving the Union.

    It is true that Lincoln was privately opposed to the radicals’ insistence that rebels’ property be confiscated. Nevertheless, he signed the legislation in the interests of unity.

    The Bush clique has done none of these things. Their prosecution of the Iraq War has been characterised by “too little, too late”, arrogance, and denial.

    Lincoln confronted a national emergency that required the utmost effort. The Bush clique embroiled itself in an unnecessary war. Yet, the Bush Clique enjoyed enormous popularity when it unleashed “shock and awe” over Baghdad. The US had at its disposal the military and civil means to make a much better fist of postwar reconstruction, yet chose not to use them.

    If Iraq were really the “central front” in the most important conflict of our era, why didn’t Bush commit adequate assets to ensure victory?

    More pointedly, if Iraq were really the “central front” in this climacteric, why didn’t Bush adjust his methods when the wheels started falling off?

  17. September 20th, 2005 at 13:49 | #17

    Willy: That is not exactly true. In the US at least Special Forces are regarded as formal US troops (regardless of their elite status) and their existence is generally not denied if captured. This is the pattern from WWII right through to people like Michael Durant (MH-60 pilot, 160th SOAR) in Somalia or the Navy Seals that were recently MIAs in Afghanistan. The government may be less than forthcoming about their mission and in the event that they are KIA their families may never learn the exact circumstances of their deaths, but those are separate issues. I think you are confusing the Special Forces, which are a branch of the armed services, with people like CIA operatives. With them issues like denial may come into play.

    Though I have a lot of cynical feelings about this war, I would be careful making assumptions about how these guys will look back on it. That’s their story, not yours.

  18. Ian Gould
    September 20th, 2005 at 13:54 | #18


    While it was hardly reproted this way in the supposedly anti-war mainstream media, the second battle for Fallujah was comparable in many ways to the recapture of Tet from the Viet cong during the vietnam war.

    In both cases, American casualties were over 100, the fighting lasted about 10 days and enemy casualties were in the thousands.

    You’re probably right about the lack of training of the insurgents but another factor keeping US casaulties down is much better emergency medical treatment – which saves lives but is adding to the tragically high number of amputees and other American vets with crippling injuries (much higher than in previous wars.)

    All: what I find most worryign about this isn’t the specific details, it’s that it seems to fit into a pattern of increasing violence and public disorder in Basra and the south.

  19. September 20th, 2005 at 14:05 | #19

    A. Lincoln did fudge a lot of things about the war. He didn’t recognize that emancipation was necessary by 1862: that was obvious from the outset to anyone who casually examined the South’s economy and suspected the war might be a prolonged affair (I suspect Lincoln was ahead of the the curve on both counts) and its pretty clear from his writings that this is indeed what he wanted for a long time before. In the course of the war he fudged it while awaiting a great victory, which is what Antietam was (unless of course you were a casualty).
    B. Your confidence in the military execution is easier to come by now, after the screams from the field hospitals at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, etc. etc. have died down. You know very well that there was widespread criticism of the execution of the war at the time.
    C. In any case. my point was less about Lincoln (with the passage of time, I think you and I are more or less in agreement about the correctness of his actions) or Bush but about ourselves reacting to Bush in the present circumstances and those who reacted to Lincoln in his time. Most of the angry judgements of the Peter’s and Katz’s of Lincoln’s time have not withstood the judgment of history.
    D. My statement about reading more about the Civil War in retrospect looks snottier than intended. I meant it in a very off handed, flippant sense at the time: I did not mean to seriously suggest you had no grasp of that war.

  20. Razor
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:05 | #20

    JQ – you have sunk to a new low saying “It’s increasingly evident that the coalition forces have become one of the array of armed militias in Iraq”.

    What a load of unadulterated crap. Where is your evidence?

    The rather sketchy details indicate that it is lilely that a covert recon team got sprung. Given the security situation in Iraq, if I was commanding a unit and two of my diggers got banged up I would be straight down there to get them out of that Police station by whatever means necessary.

    I can’t vouch for the other unilateralist countries there, but the Australian US and UK forces are in no way militias.

    I demand an apology form you, JQ, to the serving soldiers in Iraq.

  21. Dave Ricardo
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:10 | #21

    “I demand an apology form you, JQ, to the serving soldiers in Iraq.”

    Reminds me of the time in WW1, a Tasmanian newspaper thundered, “We warn the Kaiser”

  22. September 20th, 2005 at 14:18 | #22

    Ian: No question you are correct that better battlefiled medicine has also played a big role.

    I think the Hue analogy (I’ve seen it made in other places) is a bit overdone. First, in terms of US casualties don’t these comparisons usually involve actually statistically stacking *two* battles of Fallujah against one of Hue. Further, a far better job was done sealing off escape routes in the second battle of Fallujah than in the first of Fallujah or Hue. So the total number of enemy person-days (for lack of a less awkward term) of resistance may in the end have very well been higher in the 2nd Fallujah battle than either of the other two. And I think it is clear how a trapped enemy fights. By this standard our casualties in Fallujah 2 were pretty low. Finally, civilian losses in either fight were bad but in Hue they were atrocious (mainly a by product of the surprise nature of the attack).

    Small point: the main thrust of the resistance at Hue was probably NVA, not VC (I admit that an exact counting of the VC is really tough).

  23. September 20th, 2005 at 14:19 | #23

    People, lets keep it civil.

  24. Razor
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:22 | #24

    Katz – I recommend to you the excellent three book series on the civil war by Shelby Foote.

    Abe Lincoln was under as much criticism as Bush is now. And he made many poor decisions – McClelan probably being his worst.

    Bush has one war aim – to win the war on terror. He has been completely consistent since 11th Sep 2001, reiterating this in his most recent address to the nation about the war in Iraq.

  25. Katz
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:24 | #25


    It is undeniable that Lincoln was subjected to enormous criticism throughout the Civil War. Wars are expensive, wasteful, inefficient, morally questionable. My point is that Lincoln refused to resile from his initial objectives, even if methods had to change in order to achieve those objectives.

    Here is another passage from Lincoln’s inaugural address:

    “[I shall fight a civil war the way I may wish to] unless my rightful masters, the american people, shall withhold the requisite means, or in some authoritative way, shall withhold the requisite means…] Can you imagine Bush saying anything remotely like this?

    In other words, even though Lincoln recognised himself to be constrained by political realities, the most potent of which in a democracy is public opinion, he kept sight of his main objective.

    Bush either never had a real objective, or has lost sight of it, long before the American people even began to wake up to how thoroughly they had been conned.

  26. September 20th, 2005 at 14:39 | #26

    Katz, John and Ian:
    I have enjoyed our exchange, but I am out now. Its clear that Razor and Willy are determined to make sure that their respective ends of the political spectrum are not outflanked in this battle for low ground.

  27. jquiggin
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:40 | #27

    Razor, you’re on a warning. I”ve deleted a bunch of comments from you, and several replies. Any further abusive comments and you’ll be barred.

    On the substantive point, your own comments make it clear that you agree that the Coalition forces are acting (and in your view should act) without regard to Iraqi law or the views of Iraqi government, pursuing whatever course of action seems necessary for force protection and other objectives such as the US war on terrorism. Similarly, the Badr brigades and the Kurdish peshmerga, which provide most of the effective armed support for the Iraqi government at present, have their own goals and don’t accept any outside control. In my view, the term “militia” is appropriate as a description of this role.

    There’s nothing pejorative about the term “militia” (look at the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution) though obviously I don’t think that it’s helping the situation in Iraq that the Coalition forces have taken this role. They should either have been placed under the command of the Iraqi government when it took office or withdrawn.

  28. Katz
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:47 | #28

    “Bush has one war aim – to win the war on terror. ”

    Thanks for the reminder Razor,

    Perhaps Bush should have worked himself up to this one by doing a practice run on a Proper Noun (like “Iraq”) or even a Concrete Noun (like “drugs”) before leading the posse out against an Abstract Noun. They’re real slippery critters, them abstract nouns.

    Note for contrast’s sake Lincoln’s 1861 proclamation of commencement of hostilities against “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedingsâ€?,

    Lincoln sought to end the conditions under which rebels could “combine” with the object of overthowing the American constitution. Note that Lincoln did not declare war on “rebellion” (another one of those pesky abstract nouns).

    This is how proper grown-up statesmen identify their objectives.

  29. Razor
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:52 | #29

    Willy Bach you say – “you are condemning them to a brutalising and mind-altering experience that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives”

    My response to that is that, in my direct experience, I’ve seen more psychological damage done to blokes by females compared to guys who have been on combat operations.

    JQ – fine, put me on a warning. At the same time you should be putting the other guy, I assume it is a male, on a warning too for his abuse, but then, since you don’t appear to understand what it means to be a professional soldier as compare to a militia, I doubt you understand the level of the insults being dished out.

  30. brian
    September 20th, 2005 at 14:53 | #30

    What seems to me significant is the collapse of the security situation in Basra which the British have held up as something of a success story. In the south there is,as Prof.Cole has said repeatedly ,a division between the Shiities loyal to the Govt. in Baghdad,and the growing band of supporters of Sadr. If Basra becomes a battlefield,like Baghdad,et.al,it will be a huge problem for Blair,who has got to face the Labour party Conference in a few weeks time…though doubless he will spin sone fatuous tale in his most theatrical manner.If you have any benign thoughts about the way British imperialism works,you could do well to read some Irish history,which will quickly set you right !

  31. Martyn Carthy
    September 20th, 2005 at 15:35 | #31

    From the information I’ve been receiving on this, it seems there is a whole dimension on this not truly portrayed. This is all a new development in the long running Badr/Sadr feud.
    The two men arrested being British Special forces, were arrested by Iraqi police largely loyal to the ‘Al Sadr’ shiite faction. The British troops unwisely ‘resisted arrest’, and so the violence broke out.

    This is where it becomes interesting. The Iraqi government in Baghdad (as we know mainly aligned with Sciri, of which Badr is the military wing) actually ordered their release. However the local police forces on the ground refused, and attempted to humiliate the British Troops in Basra by allowing the troops photographed by arab news services.

    In response, the British encircled the jail, and local Mahdi supporters came out to attack them. The British retreated, but that night returned and broke into the jail, using their tanks to break down the wall. This seems to be very uncharacteristic of the British in Basra, who seem to have been very reserved and methodical in their approach, with the result that the South has been much quieter than American controlled areas. This operation seems very troubling, it seems for once that British do not have their usual firm hand on the situation. It also shows that large sections of the Iraqi police down in Basra seem to hold no real alliegance to the Iraqi government, are actually under the sway of Moqtada Al Sadr.

  32. September 20th, 2005 at 16:45 | #32

    Razor – “My response to that is that, in my direct experience, I’ve seen more psychological damage done to blokes by females compared to guys who have been on combat operations.”

    Boy you must have had some bad relationships to see dismembered bodies and friends blown away before your eyes. I think the sights, sounds and smells and fear of combat will be with most of our troops for a lifetime. I know my father woke up screaming many years after WWII shouting for old comrades.

    To put young men through such an experience you need a really really good reason. We didn’t have one.

  33. Katz
    September 20th, 2005 at 16:55 | #33

    “My response to that is that, in my direct experience, I’ve seen more psychological damage done to blokes by females compared to guys who have been on combat operations.�

    Is this still true if you exclude Bronwyn Bishop?

  34. September 20th, 2005 at 17:25 | #34

    Willy: That is not exactly true. In the US at least Special Forces are regarded as formal US troops (regardless of their elite status) and their existence is generally not denied if captured.

    In regard to the Australian Special Air Service Regiment; their primary role is special recconnaisance operations and I would not be surprised if they are routinely put into situations where denial may be pro-forma from the Government if captured or killed.

    For example it is documented that the Navy and Air Force made incursions into Indonesia before the formal independence of East Timor. Our Government simply denied it. It is also documented that at least one SASR squad was “on the ground” observing the situation and reporting to Canberra. If captured, however unlikely, I would not put it past governments of any stripe to issue a pro-forma denial as admitting it could cause a major international incident. Its also claimed that the SASR were well inside Iraq long before the invasion took place.

    Also the conventional submarines are used in surveillence, insertion and intelligence operations inside national waters. Hardware is harder to deny than some men but still, I’d like to see the plan for action if there was an unfortunate ‘incident’ inside some foreign harbour. Perhaps they simply bank on their opposite numbers denying the existence of the incident in the first place to leave us guessing and gain some advantage from it.

  35. Ian Gould
    September 20th, 2005 at 17:33 | #35


    Sadr has been rebuilding and expanding his power ever since the Americans pushed him out of Najaf and Karbala.

    In addition to his effective control of Sadr City in Baghdad, he’s expanded his power in the south (where his family orginated).

    He’s also been building connections with the Sunni insurgents and other groups opposed to federalism. (Most Iraqis seem to seem federalism not so much as away of empowering local majorities = shi’ites in the south, Kurds in the north – but as a threat to minorities such as the Turkmen, arabs in Kirkuk; Shia in Baghdad; Sunnis in the south…).

    I don’t think Al Sadr’s planning another confrontation with the US in the short term but any major disturbances in Basra (where his forces seem to be battling SCIRI for control) could threaten the entire supply chain the US forces further north depend on.

  36. joe2
    September 20th, 2005 at 18:20 | #36

    It’s a big story that has been, largly, neglected in the media, so far.
    If British soldiers have dressed up as locals with a car full of explosives and then been arrested by police, we should all know about it.
    Just like we should be informed about the actual numbers of civilian deaths in Iraq.

  37. Ian Gould
    September 20th, 2005 at 19:01 | #37

    Two recent headlines from ABC:

    08:43 AEST UK denies storming Iraqi jail to free soldiers

    17:23 AEST UK admits smashing jail wall in rescue bid

    I guess it all depends on what your definition of “storming” is.

  38. Argo
    September 20th, 2005 at 19:17 | #38

    Mr Quiggin, in the BBC article you link to, it states that the two soldiers were freed from a house nearby, rather then the police station itself. Considering the possibility that they were handed over to a militia, rather then in the custody of Iraqi police, was this not an understandable course of action?

    “Later in the day, however, I became more concerned about the safety of the two soldiers after we received information that they had been handed over to militia elements.”

    After troops broke into the police station to confirm the men were not there, they staged a rescue from a house in Basra, said the commanding officer of 12 Mechanised Brigade in Basra.

  39. fatfingers
    September 20th, 2005 at 19:32 | #39

    A note from your friendly neighbourhood pedant, JQ – the coalition forces are not militias, as they are professional soldiers. But I agree with the rest of your original sentence.

    What I think is interesting is that the arrested soldiers were what the coalition forces regularly condemn – illegal combatants (no uniform, criminal behaviour) and would have been deemed not worthy of protection under the Geneva Conventions if they had been Iraqis/Afghanis/Pakistanis/Saudis/Syrians captured by the US.

  40. Jim Birch
    September 20th, 2005 at 19:39 | #40

    My response to that is that, in my direct experience, I’ve seen more psychological damage done to blokes by females compared to guys who have been on combat operations.


  41. September 20th, 2005 at 23:28 | #41

    Ok, I’m back.
    T. Rex: I am not that familiar with the Australian military and hence cannot comment with great authority, but I would be very surprised if what you saying is true (ie that the Australian gov’t would deny that the captured guys were theirs and hence fail to assert their right to Geneva Convention protections and eventual release).

    I think part of the question here is really about the distinction between covert and clandestine OPS. From a recent US newspaper article:
    Paramilitary operations, which are used to arm rebel organizations, destabilize governments, destroy targets or collect intelligence, are conducted by armed units that do not belong to conventional military formations.

    Such operations, such as the use of CIA officers and American special forces to help topple Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban rulers in 2001, are often more physically demanding and require more specialized techniques than regular military operations.

    U.S. special forces often mount paramilitary operations, but they are mostly clandestine missions in which concealing the American government’s involvement is not a priority.

    Covert paramilitary operations, on the other hand, are those in which the U.S. government wants to be able to deny any involvement. Covert missions at times violate international law or the laws of war, and American special forces are expected to follow those laws. As a result, such missions largely have been the work of the CIA.

    If Australia has an equivalent of the CIA (does it?) those would probably be the guys in the sort of situation you are referring to.

    US Special Forces are part of formal military units and recognized as soliders in the formal sense. They have doctines, orders of battle, etc. in all of the essential normal senses that a regular military unit does. One thing I do know is that this at least is also true of SASR. Note that the US does have units comparable to SASR (their write overlaps to a degree with that of Delta Force, Navy Seals, elite Marine Scout/Sniper units, Air Force Combat Controllers, etc.).

    My guess is that these covert ops are more extensive than America’s supporters admit, but less so than her critics believe. The world is not crawling with Jason Bournes (to use a Hollywood icon) but they probably do exist.

  42. September 20th, 2005 at 23:32 | #42

    Juan Cole has a timeline from various sources.

  43. September 21st, 2005 at 00:26 | #43

    I have heard similar arguments in other venues, but that seems sort of strange. The US military got the parts of the county most likely to offer serious resistance. This is not exactly experimental evidence we’re talking about here.

  44. September 21st, 2005 at 07:31 | #44

    John – you’re right, this is all over the UK news, it lead the R4 news again tonight. What actually happened is still a bit vague: it wasn’t really tanks smashing down walls it was a warrior APC which is only a mini-tank. The current story does seem to be that we tried to negotiate, and only went and knocked walls down when it turned out that our chaps had been handed over to local militia. And indeed that the Iraq govt ordered their return but the locals wouldn’t.

    The thing that really seems to be annoying the Iraqis is that this rather blows the pretence of their sovereignty, which was always rather thin anyway. As soon as its our chaps in trouble, we’ll go knocking their walls down. Which (I would guess) won’t play well with the locals.

    It may not be big in the US but its on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War#UK_fighting_against_Iraqi_police

  45. Homer Paxton
    September 21st, 2005 at 09:56 | #45

    a little late but I totally agree with razor re: civil war

  46. Razor
    September 21st, 2005 at 11:43 | #46

    Thanks Homer.

  47. Ros
    September 21st, 2005 at 12:39 | #47

    Sept. 19 –“ An Iraqi journalist and photographer working for The New York Times in Basra was found dead early Monday after being abducted from his home by a group of armed men wearing masks and claiming to be police officers, relatives and witnesses said…
    Mr. Haider had worked for The Times since April 2003 and had recently reported on the growing friction and violence among Basra’s rival Shiite militias, which are widely believed to have infiltrated the police.â€?

    Is it known whether the capture of the 2 British servicemen was opportunistic or planned. I think we can probably discount the carrying weapons excuse.

    Al Sadr’s involvement would serve to reinforce the belief that Iran is a main mover in this current violence. Aside from the British moving towards seeking sanctions against Iran, the unrest in the south of Iran earlier this month was blamed on again British intelligence officers (disguised apparently as top Shell management) and the British Ambassador was threatened with expulsion. The new President appears to be increasing authoritarianism in Iran and if these attacks are planned going proactive on threatened sanctions.

    Prior to his election the Iranians had held regional meetings and spoken of the need to address concerns of non-Persians. Now the governors are to be sacked and replaced with intelligence and security operatives, and there are to be increased crackdowns.

    There may be more of this to come in south Iraq.

  48. Homer Paxton
    September 21st, 2005 at 12:57 | #48

    the main reason I watched and then enjoyed the civil war docu by Ken Burns was because of Shelby Foote’s involvement.

    Get rid of those trailing commisions !!!!

  49. Razor
    September 21st, 2005 at 16:09 | #49

    I didn’t actually see much of the docu but hae read Shelby Foote’s impressive tome. That and Serle’s biography on Monash and Liddel Hart’s histories of WWI and II are a must for anybody interested in getting a grounding in Military History.

    Fee for service, mate – fee for service, and screw any product supplier for as much commission/underwriting as possible and fully rebate to clients – they love it!

    We don’t generally do commissions, but I am certainly of the opinion that there is a place for them in the market place in order for small clients to be able to be serviced in an economical way. Full disclosure is what is important, rather than how you are remunerated.

  50. Homer Paxton
    September 21st, 2005 at 16:12 | #50

    agreed again Razor.

    I now need a drink more so since your advising is good as well

  51. Razor
    September 21st, 2005 at 16:17 | #51

    Have one for me – I ‘m off the gas for a while because I’m a fat knacker and it’s going to be a bloody long weekend celebrating the West Coast Eagles victory on the wagon.

  52. jquiggin
    September 21st, 2005 at 16:26 | #52

    Ros, although it’s all very murky, I don’t think Sadr is as close to Iran as SCIRI/Badr Brigades, his main rival in Basra.

    But regardless of how things pan out with the Shia factions, Iran is bound to emerge as a major player in Iraqi politics once the US pulls out. This is already happening to a significant extent as Shia militias take over in Najaf, Basra and so on.

  53. Ian Gould
    September 21st, 2005 at 19:23 | #53

    “Al Sadr’s involvement would serve to reinforce the belief that Iran is a main mover in this current violence.”

    contrary to common westenr assumptions, there’s little evidence of collaboration between Al Sadr and the Iranians.

    when other leading Shi’ite clerics fled to Iraq or the west in the 1980s the Al Sadr family remained in iraq and were fiercely critical of Khomeini’s “Regency of the Jurist” doctrien which turned about 1000 years of Shi’ite theology on its head.

    The Iranians have much closer links to Grand Ayatollah Sistani (whose family is Iranian and who reportedly speaks Arabic with a Persian accent) and the Badr Organsiation which was based for many years in Iran.

    so long as the current politcla process in Iraq looks like it’s favoring SCIRI, there’s little reason for the Iranians to back Sadr.

  54. Jeff Harvey
    September 21st, 2005 at 19:44 | #54

    Razor made this rather inane comment: “Bush has one war aim – to win the war on terror”. He forgot to add a second relevant sentence: “By waging a bigger war of terror”.

    I am surprised how many people swallow this transparent “war on terror” myth when its nothing more than pedantic camouflage in support of the Bush regimes post- 9-11 corporate/global economic agenda. The “war on terror” has simply replaced the old ‘red scare’ in legitimisation of the neocons salivating aim of global economic expansion and domination.

    Neil also claims that JQ was one of few pundits on the left or right to clam that Iraq did not have WMD before the US/UK war party initiated their aggresson. However, this is also completely wrong. I’d suggest Neil that you read some of the material from the radical democratic left – people like William Rivers Pitt, Anthony Arnove, Norman Solomon, Paul Street, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman and others who asserted the fact that Iraq was a defenseless punching bag for several years leading up to the war. Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM inspector, made the same claim. The thing that these people all have in common is that they were, by and large, ignored by the corporate media. To read what they were saying you had to check out websites like Counterpunch and ZNet or else read their books. Pitt and Ritter’s 2002 book laid out the facts of Iraq’s helplessness in the face of a potential US/UK onslaught.

  55. Nabakov
    September 21st, 2005 at 20:01 | #55

    This seems to be a reasonably coherent and believeable explaination of what actually went down in Basra.

    Not a bad site generally if you feeling like playing 21st 4G swivelchair general.

  56. Ros
    September 21st, 2005 at 21:12 | #56

    The relationship between the Persian Shias of Iran and the Arab Shias of Iraq is about more than the Regency of the Jurist. There is the issue of Najaf and Kabala and Qum. Eg, some Iranian political analysts, say hard-liners in Iran may secretly want to stir the violence in Iraq to prevent the formation of a powerful Shiite center in Najaf, which could overshadow the religious leadership role of Qum.

    It was reported that this issue had such a negative impact in Qum that Ayatollah Haeri was forced to withdraw his support for Sadr though up until the end of last year he had been a supporter of Sadr.

    As to Regency of the Jurist or velayat i-faqih
    In practice, velayat i-faqih has only been partially implemented and
    has met with a great deal of opposition from Shi’ite clerics. So while Shi’ite clerics believe that political power will distract learned clergy from their real purpose, the study and reasoning over Islamic traditions, and that promotion into the higher ranks of clergy will be based on political and bureaucratic service rather than religious dedication, intellectual achievement, and Islamic knowledge, that the learned clergy will become less religious and less Islamic.

    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is of those who favors separation of state and religion. Sistani is a quietist. Khamenei was an Activist
    The conflict between the Activists and the Quietists has been described by Amir Taheri as duel for leadership. Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, many people had expected it to happen: a ‘theological duel between Najaf, in central Iraq, and Qom, south of Tehran, over the leadership of the world’s Shiite Muslims
    “The rival fatwas reveal not only two schools of “Ijtihad� but two visions of the role of religion in society.�

    If there is a distance between Sistani and Iran why wouldn’t Sadr go along with Iran, as long as it was of value to him. And while he has been taken off Zarqawi’s death list his relationship with the Sunni insurgents is poor, he hunts them down and kills them (or his thugs do)

    British intelligence does think there is evidence of collaboration currently. Washington Times reported in 2004 that he travelled to Iran and met with the clerics, and that intelligence then considered that he was being funded by Iran and supported by Hezbollah,

    Then there is the repression of the Ahwazi Arabs (Marsh Arabs) by the Iranians (oil as well as ethnicity of course) and the alliance of the Kurds of Iran and the Ahwazis.

    To add to the complexity Iraq the model reports this update from Zarqawi on his threats.
    He now excludes Sheat groups led by:
    Mahmood Al-Hasani (a firebrand cleric and one of the most extreme in his views. He also claims to be the messenger of Imam Mehdi, the awaited savior of the Sheat who vanished some thousand years ago).
    The group of Al-Khalisi (another extreme cleric).
    (guess who?) the famous and the one and only Muqtada

    Al-Qaeda explained that the previous ‘warning’ was meant to address the SCIRI, the Daw’a party (led by PM Jafari)

    Murky is a good word and how they will all jump is hard to know.

  57. Katz
    September 21st, 2005 at 23:33 | #57

    Good thing for those SAS chaps that they weren’t travelling on the London Underground. Unlike Sr Menezes, they were armed to the teeth, and travelling in mufti.

    The Basra Police were content to ask questions first and shoot later, even though one of their officers was killed and several were wounded during this attempt to arrest these characters who must have looked for all the world to be “foreign insurgents”.

    Perhaps Iraq needs some stronger anti-terrorism laws along the British (and Australian) model.

  58. brian
    September 22nd, 2005 at 00:54 | #58

    Ros..You are quite wrong about Sadr and the Iranians. SCIRI,his rival group among the Shiities,is very close to Iran..Jafari,the P.M,and other leaders recently made a visit to Tehran(and visited the Ayatollah Khomeni’s tomb! ) According to Prof. Cole and Robt. FisK,Sadr,sees himself as an Iraqii nationalist,and scorns the pro-Iranian wing . He wants a common front with all who oppose the occupiers,even Sunni group. So its quite wrong to see him or his Shiites as pro-Iranian

  59. September 22nd, 2005 at 01:33 | #59

    Katz: I imagine a pair of peaches & cream complexioned caucasians on a boys own adventure would appear much like the average “foreign insurgent” in Iraq. *snort*

    edited for offensive language, JQ

  60. Ian Gould
    September 22nd, 2005 at 07:02 | #60


    I haven’t looked at the accompanying video footage yet but the still picture accompanying this article doesn;t seem to portray a “peaches and cream Caucasian”. Shocking isn’t it that the racial purity of the British armed forces has been compromised.


    The report from US-funded al-Iraqiya TV says they were caught with anti-tank missiles and a machine gun – and were wearing disguises.

    At a guess I’d say this was either an attempt to infiltrate an insurgent cell or a sting operation offering weapons for sale.

  61. Ros
    September 22nd, 2005 at 09:23 | #61

    You may be right Brian, (Times on line)
    “Sheikh Ahmed al-Fartusi, arrested by British troops on Sunday with Sayeed Sajad, another terrorist suspect, is believed to be a senior leader in the police mafia at al-Jameat and commander of a terrorist group receiving funding and weaponry from Iran.

    It was the detention of al-Fartusi, a former Iraqi army officer, that sparked Monday’s unrest. Sources said that after the two British special surveillance troops were arrested while observing al-Jameat, the policemen and their militant allies tried to barter them in return for al-Fartusi’s release.

    Al-Fartusi’s terrorist cell is said to be a splinter group of the Mahdi Army, whose followers are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric at the centre of last year’s Shia insurgency. Now more of a populist, political figure, al-Sadr is not believed to have been aware, or in control, of al-Fartusi’s activities. Al-Fartusi, 32, had been sacked from a command position in the Mahdi Army. Iran, however, was aware of his operations…

    The power struggle between these Shia parties is at the heart of the paralysis and corruption in the Ministry for the Interior and may explain why its demands for the release of the soldiers fell on deaf ears.

  62. Katz
    September 22nd, 2005 at 11:33 | #62

    “Katz: I imagine a pair of peaches & cream complexioned caucasians on a boys own adventure would appear much like the average “foreign insurgentâ€? in Iraq. snort ”

    Thank you JQ for relieving us of some of SATP’s habitual crudeness of expression.

    What a pity you were unable to relieve us of his habitual crudeness of thought.

    I have four questions for SATP.

    1. Do you disagree with the Pentagon when they assert that there are foreign insurgents operating in Iraq?

    2. Do you deny that David Hicks was a foreign insurgent operating in Afghanistan?

    3. Do you believe that David Hicks would have looked out of place in the SAS automobile in Basra when it was apprehended by the Basra police?

    4. That snort of yours is a little unmannerly. Have you ever considered using a hankie?

  63. Razor
    September 22nd, 2005 at 12:19 | #63

    Look at their pictures Katz – they are Caucasians. Now, go off and find me evidence of any other Caucasian insurgents identified, captured or killed in Iraq.

    WTF has David Hicks got to do with this????

  64. Katz
    September 22nd, 2005 at 14:55 | #64

    On the matter of White insurgents in Iraq, Razor, there’s always a first time.

    After all, the Chimp himself called his frolic in Iraq the GLOBAL War on Terrorism. Islamists, whether white or not, have demonstrated that racial identity or geographical location are irrelevant. Need I remind you that one of the London suicide bombers was a West Indian (which, when you think about it, is not too far away from Brazil). Is it markedly less likely that there are white insurgents in Iraq than in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan?

    Do you think that it is possible that the Basra police who survived the volley of shots from the SAS car consoled themselves with the thought that their colleagues had been killed by “friendly fire”? do you think that they dismissed out of hand the possibility that this murderous attack was an insurgent attack?

    Need I remind you that this is one of the favoured methods used by insurgents all over Iraq to kill Iraqi police in their thousands?

    Do you think that the Basra Police owed a greater duty of care to non-combattants than did the London Police in the case of Brazilian Sr Menezes? As a matter of fact, they did exercise a greater duty of care. After extreme provocation they didn’t shoot these SAS chaps like dogs.

    Sr Menezes probably didn’t think that he looked like a Wog. He was proven to be sadly mistaken on that point.

    On the matter of the pictures of those SAS chaps, I note that SBS showed their actual visages, unpixillated, from al Jazeera sources. The ABC, on the other hand, showed the pixillated version permitted in Britain.

    I guess the British taxpayers, who footed the bill for the training, salaries and equipping of these chaps are still not permitted to see what they paid for, even though their enemies can get a good look at them with a few mouse-clicks.

  65. Razor
    September 22nd, 2005 at 15:35 | #65

    You make it sound as if the SASR lads intitiated the engagement “this murderous attack” – highly unlikely – the SASR lads were probably returning fire and atempting to break contact – a fairly standard procedure for them.

    I would hope that the Basra police feel they are on the same side as the SASR and consider it a Blue on Blue. Hopefully the grieving families accept that this does occur in war. Doesn’t make it right, but mistakes happen.

    And WTF has the shooting in the London Subway got to do with this incident?

    It is terribly unfortunate that Al Jazeera works with the enemy and decided to broadcast the SASR lads pictures. Once their ID is blown then there isn’t a lot of use pixilating any more. Why the ABC here did it I don’t know. It may actually be qagainst the law in the UK.

  66. Katz
    September 22nd, 2005 at 18:21 | #66

    The London Underground Atrocity = racist violence in the context of a democratic, civil society. Thus, the authorities who licensed the police to kill summarily and then to lie outright about the circumstances of this atrocity, are subverting the rule of law and common decency.

    The Basra Police Incident = a very heartening example of humanity and restraint in that the SAS chaps were not killed after apprehension. This humane response occurred in a context of spiralling civil violence.

    So, in direct answer to your WTF question Razor, both incidents were examples of the corrupting influence of ethnocentrism on British civil and military policy.

    Is it any wonder that the Occupation Forces in Iraq are facing the same fate as Napoleon’s forces in Spain?

    People don’t like being reminded that their lives are less valuable than those of the folks who happen to be waving the biggest weapons around.

    As I’ve suggested all along, this Iraq frolic is going to end very badly.

  67. Ian Gould
    September 22nd, 2005 at 19:17 | #67

    Razor: “Look at their pictures Katz – they are Caucasians.”

    Razor, get a dictionary and look up the origin of the word Caucasian, then get an atlas and note the relative positions of

    1. the Caucasus;

    2. Chechnya; and

    3. Iraq.

    Then you might want to look up the origin of “Iran”.

  68. Razor
    September 22nd, 2005 at 21:39 | #68

    OK Ian – I was being PC. They are White anglo-saxon males. Happy?

  69. September 22nd, 2005 at 22:08 | #69

    We seem to be getting off the topic. 2 troopers, who by military law must do as ordered, were riding around in mufti, armed to the teeth. Clearly they were not doing this for fun, Iraq is not destination for R&R.

    These soldiers are NOT operating in enemy territory. The British Army is in Iraq at the request of the UN recognised & legitimately elected government of Iraq.

    The troopers were taken into custody by Iraqi civilian police, & were subsequently handed to a band of outlaws.

    The British public, the captured troopers, & the rest of the British Army have every right in such circumstances to expect that all reasonable measures, including whatever force is required, will be used to rescue the troopers.

    I challenge any person who feels differently: Drop in to a pub full of soldiers (say about 10pm) & state your views. It would be a bonus if the soldiers in the pub had seen active service.

  70. SJ
    September 22nd, 2005 at 22:21 | #70

    These soldiers are NOT operating in enemy territory. The British Army is in Iraq at the request of the UN

    There seems to be some air of unreality about your posting.

    I challenge any person who feels differently: Drop in to a pub full of soldiers (say about 10pm) & state your views. It would be a bonus if the soldiers in the pub had seen active service.

    Do your own hypothetical reality check: drop into Basra, and explain to the citizens this “UN request”.

  71. Katz
    September 22nd, 2005 at 22:49 | #71


    Am I to conclude from your posting that you believe that soldiers’ grasp of the intricacies of international law improves with inebriation?

    Maybe the fact that these two heavily-armed SAS chaps killed one and wounded several contributed to their subsequent treatment.

    Do we know whether the Basra police who apprehended these charracters knew that they were SAS? If I were an insurgent or a gun-runner caught by the Basra police, I think that I might try to persuade them that I was SAS too. And if I were the senior surviving Basra police officer, I’d be inclined to treat such a claim with some scepticism.

    All up, this whole sorry affair is a microcosm of the mess that is Iraq.

    Who the hell is in charge in Iraq?

    Why have the occupying forces not been given sufficient manpower to make good their claim to control the situation on the ground?

    Why is there such a pervading tone of denial that the inadequate forces at present on the ground in Iraq can retrieve this deteriorating situation?

    When will apologists for this fiasco recognise that Coalition forces in Iraq are being betrayed by their governments?

  72. September 23rd, 2005 at 01:51 | #72

    Agree that allied forces in Iraq should be given enough firepower to blast the living daylights out of anyone who even breathes heavly about resistance.

  73. jquiggin
    September 23rd, 2005 at 06:51 | #73

    “Agree that allied forces in Iraq should be given enough firepower to blast the living daylights out of anyone who even breathes heavly about resistance.’

    And this is going to improve the situation how?

  74. September 23rd, 2005 at 09:54 | #74

    On this point I have to tend to agree with John Quiggin. The Sunni insurgency (responsible for the bulk of our ongoing military problems) knows they cannot fight us even with what would conventionally be considered guerilla tactics. They rely primarily on one indirect tactic after another (eg suicide bombings) and shun any sort of meaningful or pronounced military exchange. Quiggin is right: kicking ass, a frame of mind and approach that served the US so well in some historical conflicts (eg Patton in France, Sherman’s March, Grant’s Wilderness Campaign, some moments in Korea and even Vietnam) will not do here: the problem isn’t whiping out “anyone who even breathes heavly about resistance.” It is finding them. If we just let loose and kick ass we may give the Sunni insurgency the one thing it has arguably not had so far: a very broad consituency of Iraqi society behind it.

  75. Katz
    September 23rd, 2005 at 11:28 | #75

    Ah yes.

    So we arrive at the critical point. Those not besotted by the glamour of predatory hardware and big bangs understood it a little quicker than our desk-bound chicken-hawk interlocutors.

    There comes a moment when predatory hardware and big bangs cease to be the solution and become the problem.

    To be explicit, there are two types of problem that arise from access to predatory hardware and big bangs:

    1. Too little on the ground provokes but fails to defeat.

    2. Too much on the ground imposes financial strains on the aggressive power and political strains in that too many personnel are required than seems necessary to voters.

    The fascinating aspect of the Iraq fiasco is that there is simultaneously too much and too little predatory hardware and big bangs on the ground in Iraw.

    Now isn’t that a delicious irony?

  76. September 23rd, 2005 at 12:58 | #76

    Don’t get carried away.
    Point 2 is a non-starter. As I’ve long argued, the US is only stretched thin because it perists in adhering to strategic doctrine that is rooted in the cold war and unnceesarily (by which I mean, by all odds unrealistically) elaborate. In terms of planning, we are basically still in the 1 big war, 2 little ones groove. In that one sense, Rumsfeld is really right about some of the doctrinal shifts he wants to see in US strategic thinking and planning. Simply by changing doctrine regarding planning, we can hugely adjust the strain this presents for our military.
    Point 1 is far from settled. It will take a long time for history to decide what was the right balance of force in Iraq given local security threats and political sensitivities.
    History, my friend, history: yours are judgments that are really in history’s hands, not yours.

  77. Katz
    September 23rd, 2005 at 14:04 | #77


    History means “inquiry”. This is expressly a human activity.

    I think you mean that vindication or refutation of my judgement, which is based on necessarily human and therefore fallible lines of inquiry, lies in the future.

    Of course, I agree that the United States has the capability of blanketing Iraq with men and military materiele. But I think that you must agree that US voters are experiencing a dwindling desire to do anything of the sort.

    The same applies to financial resources. Twin hurricane disasters, and the like, are not definitive rationales for changing national priorities, Yet, events like this occasionally fuel changes in perception, which sometimes have far-reaching consequences.

    As to the provocative effects of Coalition practices, I believe that Rumsfeld’s frequent and increasingly hollow predictions of the demise of “dead-enders”, “regime loyalists” and the like, serve as useful milestones on that particular march of folly.

  78. September 23rd, 2005 at 14:50 | #78

    JQ: blasting restistance to kingdome come = no more resistance. Rather simplistic, but a favourite with those who have the front line task of “absorbing” any resistance.

  79. Ian Gould
    September 23rd, 2005 at 18:29 | #79


    yo uassume that the tactics involved in “blasting the restistance ot kingdom come” won’t simply result in more people joining them.

    The US claims to have killed thousands of insurgents in Iraq and imprisoned tens of thousands of others – and yet the estimates from the US military of the size of the insurgency keep growing.

    Ever hear of the concept of “vendetta”?

    The Iraqis certainly have.

  80. Ian Gould
    September 23rd, 2005 at 18:37 | #80

    Razor: OK Ian – I was being PC. They are White anglo-saxon males. Happy?


    Take a look at the pictures in the link i provided, in particular the video out-takes.

    The two British soldiers are swarthy, dark-complected and dark haired. Compare rhem with the Iraqis in the other pictures in the same series.

    Is it really that hard to grasp that the British would pick people for an undercover/low profile operation who didn’t stand out like sore thumbs?

    Is it really that difficult to accept that there’s a possibility – and we’ll probably never know if it’s mre than a possibility – that, for example, they were flagged down at an Iraqi check-point, the Iraqi police found weapons in their car and in an ensuing confrontation they shot one of the Iraqis?

  81. September 23rd, 2005 at 22:48 | #81

    Ian Gould: If we don’t kill our enemies, how do you suggest we handle them?

  82. September 24th, 2005 at 00:05 | #82


    I am more skeptical that the hurricane situation will change much. Most likely the financial side of this is going to be handled mainly by deficit (I think that some are seeing this in the light of the S&L bailout, so people think, rightly or wrongly, that this is a similar one-off event that we can get away with sending to deficit).

    I think you also misread the great middle among American voters (and yes, the support of that ever elusive mass is the key to stable rule from the White House). I am actually rather surprised, in some ways proud and in others a bit nervous, by the willingness of the American people to hold the line in a long fight. I think the real reason the support for the war is the sense that Bush has no strategy for dealing with the insurgency other than to trade blows forever. It is the lack of a coherently conveyed game plan that it really hurting the support for the war right now.

    If the hurricanes have any longer lasting impact, it is that they will create another little chink in the wall of indifference about global warning. On certain issues the US public moves at a glacial pace but it does move, and I think global warming is likely to be one of those kinds of issues. Another example of such an issue would be the death penalty. I live in a red state in the US South, and I have to tell you that in the last 5-6 years I think I have seen enthusiasm for the death penalty among ordinary southerners gradually become thinner.

    I think that if our effort in Iraq fails (and this still is not a done deal), the long run impact of the war in Iraq will be to push the US toward becoming a more “normal” country in its aspirations toward the rest of the world. I think this will be so partly b/c we were already sort of headed down that road, so this may happen even of Iraq eventually emerges as a qualified success for us. I do believe that in all kinds of subtle but substantive ways the “American” era in global foreign policy may be drawing to a close, however slowly. And this is not due to external pressures: these ideas about the US being pushed off its pedestal by, for instance, China or the EU are absolutely silly, for a variety of reasons. Its more about a gradual closing of the American mind in terms of our thinking about what we can or should achieve through the leadership of grand coalitions of the sort we assembled in the cold war.

    I don’t think this should lead you to break out the champagne however. The US has by far the largest and most capable military in the world and is in no danger of losing that distinction (eg do you realize that even if our guard and reserve units face attrition in the aftermath of Iraq, there is still a tradeoff here since their combat skills and experience now rival or exceed those of elite infantry units from most European countries: they will be smaller but their skills will be far deeper and well suited toward smaller unit combat operations) and has for decades used it as a crucial guarantor of security in large blocs of the world, and that has had all kinds of positive spillovers. I don’t think the world will be made better by the US adopting an increasingly Israeli approach to its security, and increasingly relying on bi-lateral arrangements of convenience in security, trade, etc.

    History does mean inquiry, but from a vantage point neither you or I enjoy. I admit that my thoughts are also mere speculation, in some sense shaped by the warping of things by the heat of the moment. No one, not you, me, George, Juan Cole, Martha Stewart, or anyone else alive on earth currently has the dispassionate big picture view of this thing that a more distant (in time) vantagepoint will afford.

  83. Katz
    September 24th, 2005 at 11:15 | #83

    “I think that if our effort in Iraq fails (and this still is not a done deal), the long run impact of the war in Iraq will be to push the US toward becoming a more “normalâ€? country in its aspirations toward the rest of the world. I think this will be so partly b/c we were already sort of headed down that road, so this may happen even of Iraq eventually emerges as a qualified success for us. I do believe that in all kinds of subtle but substantive ways the “Americanâ€? era in global foreign policy may be drawing to a close, however slowly.”

    PL, thank you for your thoughts on these interesting and weighty matters.

    I agree with you in regard to the likely trajectory of US self-perceptions and their consequences for the wider world.

    Any champagne that I might break out in relation to these events will be to celebrate the return of the US, which historically has been a force for good in the world, to sane and sustainable domestic and foreign policies.

    I believe that Clinton sketched out how the US could be both powerful and mostly benign in its domestic and foreign policies. Of course he made mistakes. And he failed to cope with the more fanatical and messianic of your fellow-citizens. David Brock’s “Blinded by the Right” provides a scary insight into the mindset and influence of those people. But perhaps these folks needed to taste some bitter failure before they were discredited. And perhaps Iraq is that necessary medicine.

    Perhaps as an American you are not as exposed as we are in the rest of the world to the truth that the Bush administration has eroded public sympathy for the United States. But I have always remained confident that, as glacially slow as the American electorate may be, eventually they’ll get it right. For example, I predict a devastation of Bush loyalists in the forthcoming half-term elections, and a self-preservational shunning of Bush by a large part of the Republican Party.

    Perhaps too you are unaware of the deep cynicism of Bush’s two most vociferous foreign supporters.

    John Howard, our PM, has done his own “All the Way with LBJ”. (Google it) for cheap domestic political advantage.

    Tony Blair perceived Bush to be an ignorant rube. He intended to be the organ-grinder to the Chimp who’d do all the dancing, with the intention of diverting American energies in the direction of Good Works that satisfied Blair’s evangelical vision of himself as a Real Force for Good in the world. Unfortunately for Blair, he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, nor was Bush as dumb as he presumed. Hence Blair is a political corpse who hasn’t fallen over yet, And all his Good Works remain forever unperformed.

  84. September 24th, 2005 at 13:23 | #84

    I am a development economist who spends 30-50% of each year outside of the US, primarily in lower income nations. (I am one of those rare species of Americans who has had to have many pages added to his passport to make room for visa stamps). In particular, the last year has found me in Muslim societies quite a lot. I agree with you about the world’s perception of the US (or rather, at least in the non-random parts of it I have seen), However, let me offer some qualifications:
    1. I categorically disagree with the idea that this is simply about Bush. As the 1990s wore on, I became increasingly aware of several converging but generally incoherent and illogical strains of anti-Americanism that were becoming more and more prevalent outside the US. Partly it had to do with a reaction to Clinton’s commitment to a liberalizing approach to international economic affairs. The explosion of more general global anti-Americanism in the Bush Jr. era already had deep roots primarily in the anti-globalization feelings of the Nineties. What really set the stage for bin Laden (who in the Arab street and other corners of the Muslim world had already attained a bullshit budget-renta version of Che Guevara’s aura by the time Clinton left office) was the US troops in Saudi Arabia, a policy maintained faithfully by Clinton.
    2. Much of the anti-American argument I run into abroad even now is of rather low intellectual quality-and I’m putting that as diplomatically as I can. Moreover, I often hear the line “You Americans are so ignorant of the world…” followed by some analysis of the circumstances in America. More often than not the only thing this provides me with is a reminder that ignorance is a two-way street.
    3. A big part of the rise of anti-Americanism was the end of the cold war. This left a unipolar world, and so we became the natural focus of the resentment of the world’s have nots (and, in some case-though I don’t like using this language-the has beens). The other problem with the end of the Cold War is that it suddenly rendered many of the multilateral arrangements that had undergirded the security of the West irrelevant. That is something we are still coming to terms with. Some of our differences with Europe (or, more specifically, as Rummy would put it, “Old Europe”) for instance stem from a simple truth: with the binding threat of the Soviet Union removed, our interests and priorities have diverged. We can get as angry as we want at each other, but in the final analysis its boils down to that. Common threats tend to suppress other sources of tension: note that the relationship between the US and Japan, faced with an erratic North Korea and a rising China whose intentions are often difficult to discern, have actually pulled closer together since the end of the Cold War.
    4. To a certain degree, anti-Americanism has become some kind of hip political posture for certain people in the world today. But among them, it is in the end just the latest dumb fad. When I hear critiques of the US from foreigners I am sometimes struck by how thoughtful they are, and they have in fact influenced my thinking about, for example, how to vote. But more often than not I am presented with a series of tired cliches in the course of a line of argument that isn’t even internally consistent. This is not simply a story about American ignorance.

  85. September 24th, 2005 at 13:32 | #85

    Let me add that one country I cannot claim to have visited is yours: no matter how hard I dance on the subject, my university still will not accept the idea of Australia as a way station on the flight out to South Asia.

  86. September 24th, 2005 at 13:48 | #86

    Let me also add that there is a wholly ridiculous self-righteous quality to the anti-Americanism I often run into. I remember an incident in China about a year ago where a young woman harangued me about the arrogance of the United States for nearly a half hour. Highlights: you are an arrogant bully led by an idiot (and this is a good juncture to mention that I do agree with you Katz: the reason Bush has been so dangerous for so many is that in terms of his political acumen he is perhaps the most `misunderestimated’ man on earth); you think you are policeman of the world; you have no right to go into Iraq; you only want Iraq’s oil; we would be united in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Taiwan if it were not for you; North Korean babies are starving because of you; etc. etc. Had the visit occcurred a few months later she no doubt would have blamed us for the tsunami as well. I tried to be polite, but after a half- hour of this I turned to her and finally said: “I tell you what: why don’t you guys get the hell out of Tibet and then I’ll let you lecture me for days about how evil my country is.” At this point every muscle in her face tightened and she said “Tibet is a part of China.” I have had similar experiences with Europeans who lectured me about the stupid brutality of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East, about our ignorance of Muslim aspirations, etc. I sometimes turn to them and say “Well then, if you are so attuned to Muslim sensibilities, why is it that al Queda seems to have a much easier time recruiting among Muslims in Europe than America (see, for instance, the 9/11 hijackers)”. I usually get an analogous (to the Chinese girl’s) response at that point. The most absurd response I’ve ever gotten was from a Brit: “Because, can’t you see that our society is so much freer than yours?”

    My point is that in this argument about the role of the US in the world the American neo-con right, who I don’t care for at all, do not have a monoply on blinding self-righteousness.

  87. Ian Gould
    September 24th, 2005 at 15:55 | #87


    The “killeverything that moves” strategy you aapear to be advocating worked abysmally badly in Vietnam and in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion.

    Current US tactics in Iraq are creating new insurgents as quickly as they’re killing or imprisoning existing insurgents. Barring a change in tactics, that process will continue until you etiher run out of Iraqis, US soldiers or, most likely, money or political capital to continue the war.

    One alternative strategy which ahs been advocated by miltiary experts is to temporarily relinquish control of areas of Anbar to the insurengents, concentrate US forces in other areas to improve security and speed up the development of competent indigenous forces (that don’t engage in counterproductive tactics such as random reprisal killings.)

    Admit that the US will need to be present militarily in Iraq for the next decade and dig in.

    It’s not an attractive alternative but as I’ve said here repeatedly I think an early Coalition withdrawal would probably only make the situation worse.

  88. Katz
    September 24th, 2005 at 19:28 | #88

    PL, thanks again. Clearly you have broad experience of the wide world.

    Some anti-Americanism is like sin: it will always be with us. This applies to that which is fuelled by jealousy and an assortment of conspiracy theories.

    Some anti-Americanism is fuelled by a misunderstanding of the American polity. Lazily, people who hold these opinion believe that most Americans think and act in one way, This variety is at least susceptible to disproof.

    I’d be intrested in your opinion about how the 2006 Congressional races are shaping up at the moment. Specifically, what’s happening inside the GOP. My guess is that there will be more than the usual number of spirited primary contests. Is there any early indication of this?

  89. September 25th, 2005 at 01:19 | #89

    Thats an interesting question (ie the 2006 elections) and one I myself have been thinking about.
    On the one hand, Bush has political problems right now. 2006 is an eternity away in US politics, so who knows. Some of it will depend on the situation in Iraq, which is hard to predict. I do believe that with continued successful elections there the insurgency must eventually at the least begin to starve for political oxygen. Whether those elections are successful (and there is some cause for qualified optimism) and whether the faltering domestic political fortunes of the insurgency translates into diminished capacity to inflic atrocities are two big questions. If the situation looks more under control (at least superficially) I think Bush should recover some in this regard. I don’t think the hurricanes will hurt him. The really big fallout will come in a state that usually leans Democratic anyway (LA).
    On the other, despite Bush’s missteps and other problems, the Democrats are still fundamentally in disarray politically. The real story in America in the last 5 or so years has I think not been so much about Republican brilliance as Democratic implosion. In that sense I am very worried. I am beginnign to think that Clinton was just a superficial phenomenon (b/c he was such a brilliant politician) and that fundamentally the party has resumed the downward trajectory it was on when Clinton rose to prominence in the early 90s. I have always rejected complaints about unfairness in Florida in 2000: the real (and hard) question Democrats should ask themselves is, given Bill C.’s wild popularity and the coat tails that should have created, how the hell did it ever get this close to begin with?

    I think my mom, a Kerry supporter who really dislikes Bush, summed up the problem when the 2004 debates were over: “I really like Kerry and do not like Bush. Kerry is more articulate and thoughtful. He seems the more capable man and I do not like these right-wingers backing Bush. But after three debates I don’t know what the hell Kerry or the Democrats stand for. I know what Bush and the Republicans stand for. I’ve received that message, zero distortion. I may not like it, but it is clear.”
    I think my mom was really on to something. I think the really big problem for the Democrats is not liberalism per se but the fact increasingly they come across as an unruly coalition of very focused interests, but with no real overarching vision except for hatred of Bush. But that isn’t going to get you across the finish line. You need to articulate a vision of your own.

    So that is the balance I think: Bush and the Republicans have serious, but probably superficial political problems (though if these are not cleared up by 2006 it will cost them) while the Democrats still fundamentally have all of the entrenched problems that have lost them election after election except for the brief and shining Clinton era.

    That is one thing I do not think many foreigners understand well about the US. Yes, the US populace is more conservative and generally religious (a term that spans from the holy roller hell fire and brimstone evangelical traditions to the equally goofy but probably more harmless California crystals and speicial teas “new age spirituality”) than that of, say, Europe. But we are not all a bunch of Tom Delays. He is far to the right of the American center. I don’t think outsiders fully grasp just how strategically and tactically inept the left of center party is in the US.

    There is of course, a final issue: the legacy of redistricting, which both parties have engaged in to one shameless degree or another in different states. This disgusting gerrymandering has generally reduced the competitiveness of US congress races, all other things being equal. So this will tend to dampen the level of competitiveness that might otherwise have prevailed.

    By the way, the continuing ineptness of the Democratic party should really enrage people. Why? Because the cost of continuing electoral failure is going to grow exponentially. A few months ago I met a girl who is a high ranking staff member for an established Democratic member of congress. She has many social friends who travel in Republican congressional circles. Believe it or not, she says that among those peopl there is a fair degree of ill will toward Bush. Why? B/c they feel that he is way too political and not nearly ideological enough. He makes, in their view, way too many compromises with the Democrats.

    So Bush’s eventual replacement may make you long for the days of Dubya.

  90. Katz
    September 25th, 2005 at 08:12 | #90

    Thanks for that PL.

    I’m fascinated by your rather glum assessment of the American polity.

    As I understand you, these are the leading features:

    1. The Democrats are devoid of a vision for America that simultaneously attracts a majority of voters and satisfies the agendas of activists and pressure groups within the Democratic Party.

    2. The GOP is subject to a takeover by fanatics who regard Bush as a trimmer and compromiser. In their eyes, Bush has committed the worst American political sin: he has become a “Washington Insider”.

    3. The Bush forces are the only viable agents of national unity,

    Assume an outcome in Iraq that can be sold as “satisfactory” by the Bush forces? What then?

    Assume an outcome in Iraq that cannot be sold as “satisfactory” by the Bush forces. What then?

  91. September 25th, 2005 at 09:52 | #91

    Well, I’m not sure I would go so far as to call Bush a force of unity. The Republicans are the only party with a sufficiently coherent message to get a substantial base behing them. But by the time you add up those left out, you have a pretty big chunk of Americans. The trouble with the Democrats is that they can’t offer a vision sufficiently coherent to rally another, competitively broad base for themselves. Thats the real problem: the Democrats are too inept to mount a real challenge to the Republicans, but at the same time one could be mounted. I think one of the biggest reasons for the lack of reform among the Democrats is that a more dynamic party would benefit a broad base of Americans and the Party itself (it would also probably also help the Republicans in the long run: the vigorous conservative intellectual movement of the Seventies and early Eighties has devolved into intellectually lazy and hollow sloganeering; the Republicans today are, and one really can’t blame them for this, becoming lazy and complacent in the same ways that a seemingly unbeatable Roman army once did) but remove from power those who now control the party (the Democratic Party leadership could well be thought of as an oligarchy of feudal lords running their own various fiefdoms). Note that when Clinton emerged he had to first do serious political battle with a Democratic establishment that has since his administrationmore or less re-asserted control over the Party.

    As for your two scenarios, anything I could offer at this point would be a guess, but let me offer a stab:
    A “satisfactory” outcome in Iraq: Become more familiar with Jeb Bush, the man likely to replace his brother. He brings a lot of things to the table:
    1. The Bush brand name (and lets face it: the Bush family is close to becoming more realistic political royalty in this country than the Kennedys ever were). He adds to it an odd and appealling twist that could particularly help with a growing Republican consituency (Hispanics): he has not led (eg in his marital choices) a particularly WASPy life. He is, I believe, also a Catholic, which allows him to leverage his religious appeal and wage a respectable fight for some ethnic constituencies in traditional Blue states. He has the same potential problem as his brother (cultural connection with Edith Wharton’s world in an increasingly diverse, suburban, western and southern oriented party) but brings a solution to that problem as novel as and perhaps actually more compelling than Dubya’s (and remember that Dubya’s “I’m as Texan as the boys from King of the Hill” act actually worked on balance).
    2. His brother’s fearsome political team and grass roots machinery. People may really dislike Dubya, but one has to envy the discipline and focus of his team (again, one thinks of Roman army at the height of its discipline).
    3. His brother’s track record of electoral success to give him credibility. (Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans actually do concern themselves with whether someone is actually electable.)
    4. His brother’s incredible fund raising machine.
    5. The right balance in more subtle ways: Jeb played the Terri Schiavo story very well from a political standpoint. He really bolstered his credibility with the cultural right in a way that I would argue his brother Dubya never really has. At the same time, he benefits from his brother and father’s reputation with the corporate, Reagan and Goldwater wings of the party: they can view him as deep down a true traditional conservative and not some religious nut. (Remember, as much as you may be bothered by Dubya’s concessions to the religious right, he has actually given them very little in terms of the agenda they wanted).
    6. A swing state. With Jeb in the game, Florida is no longer a swing state, and at that point the electoral arithmetic becomes simply terrible for the Democrats. I don’t know how much you know about American football, but the analogy here (with Florida non-competitive) is having to start
    every drive on your own 1 yard line while the other team starts every drive on your 30 yard line.

    Many other Republican contenders are slowly fading (eg Bill Frist has cozied up to the religious Right enough to scare the shit out of people, but then sort of backtracked and now as a result has credibility problems with evangelicals as well; now it turns out he may have a financial scandal on his hands).

    Anticipating your next question: what should the Dems do? Answer: go with Kerry again. Hillary Clinton has no chance of beating Jeb. Anyone else starts off so far behind in terms of the factors I have just listed that they have no damn chance of catching Jeb. And Kerry has made the right sort of signals on some issues, like the 2nd Amendment. Believe me when I say that the Democrats generally pro-gun control agenda has hurt them in the South, where I live, far worse than any of other more religiously tinged cultural issues. I think that gun control has made the Dems look like a bunch of loafer-wearing, Martha’s Vineyard-visiting liberals who want to pass judgement on rural, suburban and southern America. I am a gun owner (though not opposed to *any* gun control). Kerry’s pro-gun stance got him a lot of traction with me. The issue isn’t just guns but the cultural signal he sends by being pro-gun rights. Kerry just might beat Jeb, if he learns from the mistakes of the last election (I think he is more likely to do so than the Democrats far left activist base, who are basically a bunch of idiots totally cut off from the American mainstream and political reality).

    If Iraq goes poorly: then it gets harder to predict. But I still think Jeb by a hair. THe bottom line is that the Dems have no message for the American people. And if they do win, the victory will be a short lived “protest” vote, as in 1976. Even Clinton would never have been re-elected if it weren’t for the sheer luck of excpetional economic performance.

    Now, what should you make of Jeb? I think he is in truth more ideological than his more Machiavellan brother. To paraphrase the Economist “At a time when Dubya was drinking deep of the world’s distilleries, Jeb was drinking deep of the world’s conservative think tanks.”

    So now help me out: what is the secret of Howard’s success in Australia?

  92. September 25th, 2005 at 11:19 | #92

    Let me add one other ingredient to this: regardless of events in Iraq, largely because of the lack of an effective center-left challenge, the Republican ship has gradually lurched ever more to the right. While I think the Republicans remain by far the more structurally sound party (for the reasons just mentioned), eventually they will drift far enough from the US center that they will risk getting their clocks cleaned in one or two elections. Who knows? As 2006 draws near, a real right wing element in the Republican party may seize the agenda for the congressional elections, with disastrous results (for the Republicans). They have no shortage of stupid and extreme right wing characters.

    However, I am skeptical that this will really put any enduring wind in the sails of the Democrats. It still does not solve their fundamental problems. And history suggests that the Republicans are much quicker to reform and re-impose party discipline after an ill advised move in one direction or the other (note the speed with which they recovered from the defeat of Goldwater ’64, Ford ’76 (who was really a diet version of Nixon but without the political vision or motor skills), and the Buchanan populist revollt which played a major role in Clinton’s 92 win (after that it became very hard to dislodge Clinton b/c of economic circumstances)).

  93. September 25th, 2005 at 13:08 | #93

    Completely off the subject: tonight I am home working and on the TV a crime/human interest oriented US TV news magazine (“48 Hours”) has told the most amazing story about a killer from Australia and one strange little girl. Basically, a guy named Frasier (Fraser?) was accussed of killing a bunch of missing women. Suddenly, one of them (a girl named Natasha Ryan) turned up alive in the midst of the killer’s trial. In the US TV version, Natasha Ryan comes across as the most amoral, opportunistic little sleaze. Meanwhile Frasier was protrayed as a monster, an absolutely savage sociopath. This is the most unbelievable story. Have you heard of this? Is this true (ie is this a fair representation of events)? If so this is weird even by the American scale, which has been defined by such odd stories as that of BTK, Andrew Cunanan, Amy Fisher, etc., etc.

  94. Katz
    September 25th, 2005 at 14:51 | #94

    PL, Had to Google “Natasha Ryan” to remind myself of the case. Yes I do remember it. No, it’s not one of our better-remembered cases. One reason for this is that Australia is the world headquarters for bizarre hoaxes. Google “Helen Demidenko”, “Ern Malley”, “the Tichbourne claimant” for some good ones.

    Google “murders in adelaide” for a peek into the bizarre. Residents of Adelaide will protest that they don’t have many murders in Adelaide. What they lack in numbers they more than make up for in strangeness.

    Your Howard question should be opened to the floor.

    One short answer is that he learned from his mistakes, came back from the political dead: “Lazarus with a triple by-pass” he called himself, got his teeth fixed, tamed his hedge-row eyebrows, and learned how to conceal the truth without betraying the remorse of his morally tidy Methodist upbringing.

  95. Ros
    September 26th, 2005 at 11:22 | #95

    “I wrote that Latham was like John Howard in that he saw the nation for what it was, rather than what it fancied itself to be�, Margaret Simons in an article praising Mark Latham.

    Margaret is one of many who have written about Latham. At least 5 biographies have been written about Latham, one on Howard. And he is our2nd longest serving Prime Minister. A biographer of Keating when asked to do an article on Howard said that writing a Howard biography would be a “waste of time”. Plus Howard’s success simply came down to “luckâ€?. Nothing of interest for writers there clearly.

    Margaret’s passing reference to Howard does in part explain his success. But most of what is written about Howard attempts to describe him for what is wrong with him. There is the personal stuff, like his shortness (he is five foot ten) his eyebrows, some even have a go at his deafness. He is laughed at for his morning walks and his neat track suit. He has been called nothing but a manager and while he does not get called dumb as Bush is he is considered to be no great intellectual. And of course he is the greatest of liars. There was a website prior to the last election called John Howard’s Lies.

    But his morning walks are what he is, incredibly disciplined. I saw one of those airport realities (Heathrow) in which one event covered was Howard boarding a flight. The cameras stayed with him through the plane window until the plane moved off. He sat down and went to sleep.

    And as with Bush Australians know what he stands for and what you say about Bush

    “I think the really big problem for the Democrats is not liberalism per se but the fact increasingly they come across as an unruly coalition of very focused interests, but with no real overarching vision except for hatred of Bush�

    could reasonably be applied to some of Labour and its supporters here.

    But despite the commentariat view of Howard Australians do like him, and our last election would seem to demonstrate that they trust him. Not much discussed but the campaign against him was based on his “lies� and how he couldn’t be trusted. He said in response, trust is critical and who do you trust to represent you and your future effectively and efficiently.

    He is also sneered at for his ordinariness, eg

    “It’s the banality and ordinariness of John Howard that is the most vexing. If it weren’t for his conservative politics, his morning walk and the Akubra hat, he might not be there at all. It’s the vacuousness of the retirement village, the Tidy Town, the Lions Club, the neat nature strip, the RSL and the bowling club.â€?

    Of course that “vacuousness� is much of what Australia is. It doesn’t seem to occur when these remarks are thrown about that it probably offends the Italian club and the children’s sporting clubs etc as well.

    Howard is intelligent perceptive determined and disciplined. It is said that he gets where he wants to by increments, so despite the radicalism of some of his views, his political prowess and discipline and will takes the Australian public with him.

    Goh Chok Tong says in today’s Australian,

    “Mr Howard has said that Australians need not tie themselves “in knots defining Australia’s place in the world with some unyielding, rigid formula� This is good advice. I would add, neither should we tie ourselves in knots defining Australia’s place in Asia. Australia is in Asia.�

    That is classic John Howard.

    If you have time I would be interested in the view of Howard from outside of Australia. Australians still cringe and even though we may claim that our name is mud because of Howard there is still a sense that we don’t think anyone really takes any notice of us, or our leaders. But I was taken by an Iranian blogger complaining about their President’s gross reaction to Katrina and thanking Bush for his sympathy for the death of 40,000 in the Bam earthquake. The other leader he referred to was John Howard Prime Minister of Australia, “from the other side of the world� and his condolences and sadness for the Iranian people killed and their families in his New Years eve address 2003. Something that had resonated for this individual so that 18 months later it still mattered.

  96. Katz
    September 26th, 2005 at 11:49 | #96

    Won’t disagree with much of the content of Ros’s above assessment.

    I’ll add that Howard took most of his political career looking like a perennial loser before he got his act together. His own party recalled him as leader for the third time as an act of desperation.

    Since then Howard has purged the Liberal Party, recreating it in his own image. It should also be added that the Liberal machine has been brilliant at attracting critical support in critical swing seats. Two elections ago the anti-Labor coalition won with a minority of the popular vote. [PL should also note how efficient are the major parties at courting the marginal vote. National elections are often decided by a mere handful of votes in a handful of electorates. If US vote-counting methods were used on Australian elections, I doubt that we’d ever know who actually won.]

    Howard dominates Australian political life to an extent that is unprecedented in our national history. Even FDR was unable to convince the Congressional Democrats in 1937 to nobble the US Supreme Court. Howard has be able to achive far more with a much small working majority and even Senate minorities.

    “the campaign against him was based on his “liesâ€? and how he couldn’t be trusted. He said in response, trust is critical and who do you trust to represent you and your future effectively and efficiently.”

    This is a most telling point. The electorate recognised that a liar can be an effective politician, especially when those lies are undergirded by cherished national myths, To challenge the lie endangers the integrity of the myth. Howard thus makes the electorate complicit in his one-sided struggle with the truth.

  97. September 26th, 2005 at 12:36 | #97

    Very interesting. In terms of how Americans, for instance, view Howard: well, they don’t. Australia does not really exist in the political consciousness of Americans the way, that, say, France, China, Britain, Japan or Russia does. That may seem very insulting, but I’m just trying report what I sense to be true. Those that think of him at all (like me) I think tend to think of him as a fellow life member of the good old boy club to which Cheney, Bush et al. belong. To me the mystery is how he has remained so popular despite a foreign policy (particulalry vis the US) that seems to go againts the grain of public opinion. But then again I fully admit that Bush’s success is a vexing mystery to those outside the US.

    Like Italy, Australia lives more in the American cultural consciousness, and here the country tends to come off very well. For instance, in a country obsessed with its own macho (in that sense Americans could almost be viewed as having Roman arrogance about their personal tougness and the martial virtues of their society), Australians are seen as tough guys (and that is rare acknowledgement from Americans). This shows up sometimes in the funniest ways. At dinner a few weeks ago we drank a very powerful Australian shiraz and a fellow guest remarked “leave it to the Australians to turn some effete French girly varietal into something of power and clout, into something worth talking about.” Of course all of us burst out laughing, but that basic statement, however silly, hints at some basic American cultural prejudices about the two countries.

  98. Katz
    September 26th, 2005 at 14:10 | #98

    If that wasn’t a Rutherglen shiraz, PL, your dinner companion is a wus.

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