Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scotland

What Would Scottish Independence Mean for NATO?

In just over a year, Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from Great Britain. At issue is the emotional desire of many Scots for independence versus the realism of other Scots that Scotland gets more financially from the United Kingdom than it contributes: Most paved roads in rural Scotland are a symbol of British largesse that many Scots ignore or forget. Some Scots counter this argument by noting that they stand to gain more in assistance from the European Union if they have full independence than if they are merely part of Great Britain.

Another aspect of devolution could have profound impact on the British navy: Most British submarine bases are in Scotland. This has been discussed in some British papers. Here is an article from The Guardian, for example:

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In just over a year, Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from Great Britain. At issue is the emotional desire of many Scots for independence versus the realism of other Scots that Scotland gets more financially from the United Kingdom than it contributes: Most paved roads in rural Scotland are a symbol of British largesse that many Scots ignore or forget. Some Scots counter this argument by noting that they stand to gain more in assistance from the European Union if they have full independence than if they are merely part of Great Britain.

Another aspect of devolution could have profound impact on the British navy: Most British submarine bases are in Scotland. This has been discussed in some British papers. Here is an article from The Guardian, for example:

The British government is examining plans to designate the Scottish military base that houses the Trident nuclear deterrent as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year’s referendum. In a move that sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, which vowed to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible after a yes vote, the government is looking at ensuring that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus. The move would be designed to ensure that the Trident fleet would continue to have access to the open seas via the Firth of Clyde. Under Britain’s “continuous at sea deterrent”, at least one Vanguard submarine armed with 16 Trident nuclear missiles is on patrol at sea at any one time.

If the British military decides to keep the bases as sovereign territory, there is not much the Scots will be able to do about it, but the notion of a diplomatic fight between independent countries over British nuclear weapons and military facilities will quickly sour other aspects of the British-Scottish relationship and could both invite unwelcome diplomatic attention from other European quarters and also raise questions about the many shipyards upon which British shipping depends both for new ships and refurbishments of existing ships.

As President Obama and Defense Secretary Hagel increasingly look to share the burdens of defense, it is important to recognize that the capabilities of some of our staunchest partners in NATO are, at best, uncertain. What happens in Scotland may not be the stuff of headlines right now, but independence and partition within NATO countries—perhaps Turkey will be next should the Kurds there achieve their national desires—will have ramifications far beyond their borders.

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Scotland Recovers, and Plans to Waste, Oil for Food Kickbacks

A Glasgow-based engineering firm, Weir Group, has been fined 3 million pounds and had 13.9 million pounds of illegal profits confiscated after it admitted paying kickbacks to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. Weir Group, the BBC reports, made payments of 3.1 million pounds to the regime, plus another 1.4 million pounds to “an agent in Iraq” (regrettably not named in the judgment) in order to secure a contract worth approximately 35 million pounds. Weir Group, now under new management, fully acknowledged and apologized for its wrongdoing.

The judgment by Lord Carloway correctly describes the Oil for Food Programme as “bedeviled by corruption,” though his Lordship is charitable in stating that this was recognized “by 2004.” Actually, by 2004, the investigation into the Oil for Food fraud had not begun, and the scale of the corruption — and the extent to which individuals, companies, and UN officials were complicit in it — was certainly not fully established.

The sorry saga prompts a few reflections on Oil for Food and the problems inherent in it. The first is that doing prohibited business with dirty dictators is amazingly profitable: Weir Group made almost 14 million pounds off a contract worth 35 million. Even after making illegal payments amounting to 4.5 million pounds, that leaves about 10 million pounds of profit, about 30 percent of the value of the contact. There are very few legitimate businesses, here or abroad, that can boast that kind of return on “investment.” Other shady businesses will probably find doing deals with regimes under UN sanctions similarly profitable. Read More

A Glasgow-based engineering firm, Weir Group, has been fined 3 million pounds and had 13.9 million pounds of illegal profits confiscated after it admitted paying kickbacks to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. Weir Group, the BBC reports, made payments of 3.1 million pounds to the regime, plus another 1.4 million pounds to “an agent in Iraq” (regrettably not named in the judgment) in order to secure a contract worth approximately 35 million pounds. Weir Group, now under new management, fully acknowledged and apologized for its wrongdoing.

The judgment by Lord Carloway correctly describes the Oil for Food Programme as “bedeviled by corruption,” though his Lordship is charitable in stating that this was recognized “by 2004.” Actually, by 2004, the investigation into the Oil for Food fraud had not begun, and the scale of the corruption — and the extent to which individuals, companies, and UN officials were complicit in it — was certainly not fully established.

The sorry saga prompts a few reflections on Oil for Food and the problems inherent in it. The first is that doing prohibited business with dirty dictators is amazingly profitable: Weir Group made almost 14 million pounds off a contract worth 35 million. Even after making illegal payments amounting to 4.5 million pounds, that leaves about 10 million pounds of profit, about 30 percent of the value of the contact. There are very few legitimate businesses, here or abroad, that can boast that kind of return on “investment.” Other shady businesses will probably find doing deals with regimes under UN sanctions similarly profitable.

The second is that this judgment comes almost seven years after the illegal payments ended, and almost a decade after they began. Lord Carloway justified the imposition of the fine, in part, on the grounds that it would “deter future offenses.” Well, one can hope. But judgments that come so late after the offense are not likely to deter. Furthermore, Lord Carloway had remarkably few similar cases on which to base his decision, so, frankly, the odds of getting away with this sort of kickback scheme must still look pretty good — especially because the corruption of Oil for Food came to light only because the U.S. and its allies overthrew Saddam. One wonders if the conclusive proof of Weir Group’s payments — and they are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg of payments made round the world — will prompt any opponents of the war in Iraq to reflect that, just maybe, Saddam was not so securely “in his box” after all.

And third, there is the question of what will happen to the money recovered by the Scottish government. That may be the most depressing part of the saga. Let’s be clear about this: the illegal profits that Weir Group earned were stolen from the Iraqi people. The money should be returned to them, in full, with the fine included as interest. Instead, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has stated that some of the funds will “be put to good use through our successful cashback for communities program” — in other words, spent to fund what the government describes as “diversionary activities for young people.” The remainder — “a significant sum” — will be used to “support the Scottish government’s international development work.”

Fantastic: the fate of these millions of pounds, stolen by a corrupt government and a corrupt firm, will be to fund soccer pitches in Scotland and foreign-aid programs that have already wasted billions. Well, knowing that would certainly put me off paying bribes to Saddam. But maybe it’s an appropriate decision: money born of corruption will flow to an activity that all too frequently promotes it.

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You Want to Talk About Scandal?

Forget Wikileaks. For genuine scandal, check out the newly released letter from the U.S. embassy in London to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. It reveals a) the Obama administration’s passivity in the run-up to Scotland’s release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, b) the administration’s deception in claiming to have had no foreknowledge of Megrahi’s release, and c) the administration’s inability to persuade other governments of anything.

Although President Obama previously said that he was “surprised, disappointed and angry” about Scotland’s release of Megrahi, the letter makes plain that there was no surprise whatsoever. The anger and disappointment now belong firmly to the American people. The letter contained a watery wink-and-nod “objection” to the release while simultaneously discussing how the U.S. would like to see the release proceed . Keeping the terrorist locked up or freeing him was just another Obaman false choice. Here’s how the State Department framed its hopes for the details of Megrahi’s liberation:

If a decision were made by Scotland to grant conditional release, two conditions would be very important to the Unites States and would partially mitigate the concerns of the American victims’ families. First, any such release should only come after the results of independent and comprehensive medical exams clearly establishing that Megrahi’s life expectancy is less than three months. The results of these exams should be made available to the Unites States and the families of the victims of Pan Am 103. The justification of releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds would be more severely undercut the longer he is free before his actual death.

Second, the United States would strongly oppose any release that would permit Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. We believe that the welcoming reception that Megrahi might receive if he is permitted to travel abroad would be extremely inappropriate given Megrahi’s conviction for a heinous crime that continues to have a deep and profound impact on so many. As such, compassionate release or bail should be conditioned on Megrahi remaining in Scotland.

0 for 2. A year later, Megrahi is alive and well in Libya. Forget outreach to the Muslim world and the open hand extended toward Iran. At this point, our president needs to make a speech in the capital of a free, Western country, affirming our ties with (and re-establishing our leadership of) the democratic world.

Forget Wikileaks. For genuine scandal, check out the newly released letter from the U.S. embassy in London to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. It reveals a) the Obama administration’s passivity in the run-up to Scotland’s release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, b) the administration’s deception in claiming to have had no foreknowledge of Megrahi’s release, and c) the administration’s inability to persuade other governments of anything.

Although President Obama previously said that he was “surprised, disappointed and angry” about Scotland’s release of Megrahi, the letter makes plain that there was no surprise whatsoever. The anger and disappointment now belong firmly to the American people. The letter contained a watery wink-and-nod “objection” to the release while simultaneously discussing how the U.S. would like to see the release proceed . Keeping the terrorist locked up or freeing him was just another Obaman false choice. Here’s how the State Department framed its hopes for the details of Megrahi’s liberation:

If a decision were made by Scotland to grant conditional release, two conditions would be very important to the Unites States and would partially mitigate the concerns of the American victims’ families. First, any such release should only come after the results of independent and comprehensive medical exams clearly establishing that Megrahi’s life expectancy is less than three months. The results of these exams should be made available to the Unites States and the families of the victims of Pan Am 103. The justification of releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds would be more severely undercut the longer he is free before his actual death.

Second, the United States would strongly oppose any release that would permit Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. We believe that the welcoming reception that Megrahi might receive if he is permitted to travel abroad would be extremely inappropriate given Megrahi’s conviction for a heinous crime that continues to have a deep and profound impact on so many. As such, compassionate release or bail should be conditioned on Megrahi remaining in Scotland.

0 for 2. A year later, Megrahi is alive and well in Libya. Forget outreach to the Muslim world and the open hand extended toward Iran. At this point, our president needs to make a speech in the capital of a free, Western country, affirming our ties with (and re-establishing our leadership of) the democratic world.

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How an Internet Myth Is Born

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

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Between Wives

Several British papers report from Scotland that a local Muslim restaurant owner recently caught speeding in an urban area was given a lighter-than-usual sentence: instead of losing his license, the normal punishment, he had to pay a fine and get penalty points. Why was he speeding? He was traveling between wives. He has two, you see, and shares their bed on alternate nights.

What’s striking in the news reports is that, though it is acknowledged by reporters that polygamy in Great Britain is illegal, the offender’s lawyer actually used his bigamous status as an extenuating circumstance, and that the court bought this argument. It should, in my opinion, have prompted the judge to have the man arrested for a much more severe criminal offense than speeding: bigamy. Does this decision mean that Great Britain tolerates polygamy de facto and de jure?

Several British papers report from Scotland that a local Muslim restaurant owner recently caught speeding in an urban area was given a lighter-than-usual sentence: instead of losing his license, the normal punishment, he had to pay a fine and get penalty points. Why was he speeding? He was traveling between wives. He has two, you see, and shares their bed on alternate nights.

What’s striking in the news reports is that, though it is acknowledged by reporters that polygamy in Great Britain is illegal, the offender’s lawyer actually used his bigamous status as an extenuating circumstance, and that the court bought this argument. It should, in my opinion, have prompted the judge to have the man arrested for a much more severe criminal offense than speeding: bigamy. Does this decision mean that Great Britain tolerates polygamy de facto and de jure?

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What Iraqis Want You to Hear

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

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ATONEMENT: The Same Surprise Twice

Your reaction to the film version of Atonement, which opens December 7, may depend on whether you can be shocked twice by the same revelation.

Ian McEwan’s superlative 2001 novel starts with a fusty Victorian framework — a country house, an upstairs-downstairs flirtation and a mislaid letter — that McEwan soon charges with eroticism. The tale gradually expands into both a harrowing war story and a decades-spanning meditation on morality. Keira Knightley, who grows thinner in each movie and is now approximately the width of a parenthesis, stars with James McAvoy (who played Idi Amin’s doctor in The Last King of Scotland) in a sumptously decorated and expertly photographed vision of the novel directed by Joe Wright, who also guided her to an Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago.

Wright’s Atonement is a fine effort that left me largely unmoved, possibly because the two greatest strengths of the book are absent. First is McEwan’s devastatingly precise and unnerving prose, which invariably makes you shiver at the terrible things that haven’t even happened yet and for which Wright has no real equivalent apart from a somewhat overused audio motif of a prewar typewriter’s keys slamming like ammunition being locked and loaded. Second is McEwan’s much talked-about pull-the-rug-out ending, which has little effect on you if you know it’s coming.

There’s a reason why surprise-twist stories rarely hold up well the second time around: You lose interest in the characters as people because you begin to see them as mere tools of the plot.

Your reaction to the film version of Atonement, which opens December 7, may depend on whether you can be shocked twice by the same revelation.

Ian McEwan’s superlative 2001 novel starts with a fusty Victorian framework — a country house, an upstairs-downstairs flirtation and a mislaid letter — that McEwan soon charges with eroticism. The tale gradually expands into both a harrowing war story and a decades-spanning meditation on morality. Keira Knightley, who grows thinner in each movie and is now approximately the width of a parenthesis, stars with James McAvoy (who played Idi Amin’s doctor in The Last King of Scotland) in a sumptously decorated and expertly photographed vision of the novel directed by Joe Wright, who also guided her to an Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago.

Wright’s Atonement is a fine effort that left me largely unmoved, possibly because the two greatest strengths of the book are absent. First is McEwan’s devastatingly precise and unnerving prose, which invariably makes you shiver at the terrible things that haven’t even happened yet and for which Wright has no real equivalent apart from a somewhat overused audio motif of a prewar typewriter’s keys slamming like ammunition being locked and loaded. Second is McEwan’s much talked-about pull-the-rug-out ending, which has little effect on you if you know it’s coming.

There’s a reason why surprise-twist stories rarely hold up well the second time around: You lose interest in the characters as people because you begin to see them as mere tools of the plot.

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Acts of Union

The 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland fell on Tuesday, May 1—in a sense, the birthday of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1707 provided for the amalgamation of the two parliaments at Westminster, the Hanoverian—hence Protestant—succession, and the creation of a single flag, the Union Jack.

It may seem strange to American eyes that the English show no desire to commemorate what is in effect their country’s tricentennial. But there remains deep resentment in some quarters at the overrepresentation of Scots at Westminster and the constitutional anomaly (known as the “West Lothian Question”) that allows Scottish members of Parliament to vote on English legislation but not vice versa. Meanwhile, north of the border, the bitterest opponents of the union—the Scottish Nationalists—are predicted to become the largest party in the newly resurrected Scottish parliament when Scots go to the polls this Thursday.

These matters may seem highly parochial today. And even if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum, it would be greeted south of the border with a shrug: English taxpayers are quite aware how generously they subsidize their Scottish counterparts. But there was a time in the 17th century when relations between England and Scotland had implications far beyond either realm.

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The 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland fell on Tuesday, May 1—in a sense, the birthday of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1707 provided for the amalgamation of the two parliaments at Westminster, the Hanoverian—hence Protestant—succession, and the creation of a single flag, the Union Jack.

It may seem strange to American eyes that the English show no desire to commemorate what is in effect their country’s tricentennial. But there remains deep resentment in some quarters at the overrepresentation of Scots at Westminster and the constitutional anomaly (known as the “West Lothian Question”) that allows Scottish members of Parliament to vote on English legislation but not vice versa. Meanwhile, north of the border, the bitterest opponents of the union—the Scottish Nationalists—are predicted to become the largest party in the newly resurrected Scottish parliament when Scots go to the polls this Thursday.

These matters may seem highly parochial today. And even if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum, it would be greeted south of the border with a shrug: English taxpayers are quite aware how generously they subsidize their Scottish counterparts. But there was a time in the 17th century when relations between England and Scotland had implications far beyond either realm.

The original union of 1603, which brought together the two kingdoms under the Stuart dynasty but preserved both as separate and intact realms, had enhanced the power of the monarchy. In 1641, however, a second union, with a very different purpose, was agreed by treaty. This Anglo-Scottish union was the work not of King Charles I but of the two parliaments in Westminster and Edinburgh.

According to The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I (Weidenfeld and Nicolson), the magnificent and authoritative new history by John Adamson, the creation of this Anglo-Scottish union was “perhaps the deepest challenge to traditional monarchical authority, at least as it had been exercised in the half century to 1640.” Charles I was deliberately excluded from the treaty negotiations, the prime objective of which was “to ensure that London-based monarch’s permanent constraint.”

At the solemn inauguration of the 1641 union, a sermon was given by Jeremiah Burroughes, a famous Congregationalist preacher and a believer in elective monarchy on the Polish model. The union, he declared, would secure the new constitution created by the Triennial Act, whereby the power of the king to summon parliaments had been abolished in favor of automatic elections every three years.

Under the new union treaty, each parliament could call on the other for military aid against the king, and it was this threat of insurrection that Burroughes had in mind when he proclaimed that “God hath put in a barre to this our doore of hope, to keep it from being shut.” And the effect of the union was, in the view of the Venetian ambassador Giustinian, to promote “Dutch”—that is, republican—“forms of government” among the English, “for which the people here show far too much inclination.”

Already in September 1640, even before the treaty, the English rebels were making plans to raise a joint Anglo-Scottish force, to be known as the “Armies of the Commonwealth”—thereby usurping the prerogatives of the monarchy. Adamson calls this plan “unambiguously treasonous” and argues that the parliamentarians were intent upon reducing Charles I to what he calls a “Duke [Doge] of Venice,” a mere figurehead.

In many respects, the formation of the Anglo-Scottish union in 1641 and the civil war that began in the following year anticipated the events of the American Revolution. (Just as the Constitution of the United States is a working-out of ideas originally generated by the British crisis of the mid-17th century and further enunciated by European thinkers from Hobbes to Locke and Montesqieu.) Americans may be forgiven for being a little hazy about this part of their history, but their ancestors in the 1770’s knew it very well indeed. And Americans, at least, have more excuse for their ignorance than the British, most of whom seemingly neither know nor care about the origins of their own liberties. Nobody buys an antique without informing themselves of its provenance. But we treat our freedom as if its history did not matter.

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The British Pat Buchanan

The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

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The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

Wheatcroft is equally hostile to the United States: “There was once a vigorous high Tory tradition of independence from—if not hostility to—America. It was found in the Morning Post before the war, and it continued down to Enoch Powell and Alan Clark.”

As it happens, I met both these colorful figures, who served in various Tory administrations, though never at the highest level. Powell is best remembered for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968, in which he denounced mass immigration from the Commonwealth and warned of civil war. This speech was widely interpreted as racist; it permanently marginalized Powell in mainstream politics. A few years later he left the Tory party. Some people now see him as a prophet who foresaw the difficulty of integrating a large Muslim minority, but his concerns were about race rather than religion.

Powell was once asked whether he was anti-American. He replied: “Most people are. The only change is that it has become a term of abuse.” In answer to the question why, he said: “Well, I just don’t like America, or Americans. It’s like saying you like sugar in your tea. De gustibus non est disputandum.”

At least Enoch Powell was not an anti-Semite. Alan Clark, however, was not only anti-American, but an enthusiastic and unashamed admirer of Hitler, whose portrait he kept on his wall. Clark’s pro-Nazi views permeate Barbarossa, his well-known history of the German invasion of Russia, but they also shine through at several points in The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-1997. He hints that German-Jewish refugees hindered Anglo-German efforts to preserve peace. Of Chamberlain’s belated decision to declare war on Germany in 1939, he writes: “Not since the Angevin kings had responded to mystic revelations from the Divinity instructing them to call a crusade to arms can any group of national leaders have taken so momentous a decision on such tenuous assumptions.”

But it is when Clark comes to Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland that his agenda is clearly revealed. Not only is he convinced (against all the evidence) that Hess brought a genuine peace offer from Hitler, that Churchill turned down this “wasted opportunity” to save the British Empire, and that the entire British establishment then engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up right down to 1987, when Hess was “strangled in his cell.” Clark also believes that a fall in Wall Street stocks on the news of Hess’s flight holds the key: peace, he claims, would have hit profits, which were far more important to Americans (many of them Jewish) than “the certain fate of human beings.”

As for more recent episodes: Clark depicts the Falklands war as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Reagan administration, determined to frustrate the British attempt to regain the islands, and a stubborn Mrs. Thatcher—which is more or less the opposite of the version she herself recalls. Clark gained notoriety by publishing his sensational diaries, but they merely reinforce the impression of a clever but twisted mind, a crashing snob and conspiracy theorist, who fantasized about his boss, Mrs. Thatcher, as a kind of female Hitler, describing the thrill he got from her proximity as “Führer-Kontakt”.

So much for Alan Clark and Enoch Powell as keepers of the Tory flame. But Wheatcroft also admires the Arabist tradition exemplified by the vehemently anti-Zionist Ian (now Lord) Gilmour. Then he goes further back, rejecting Charles Moore’s claim that Conservatives have usually supported Israel in the past: “That highest of high Tories, Lord Curzon, deplored the Balfour declaration. . . . In his day Curzon might have seemed the truer Tory than Balfour, and it’s only recently that his spirit has been stifled in his old party.”

So, in Wheatcroft’s mind, true Tories reject the existence of Israel. He ignores such Conservative heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly supported both America and Israel, or in the more remote past Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Instead, he postulates “infiltration” of the party by “zealous Anglo-neocons” who have “encircled” the Tory leader. He does not want David Cameron to become “the Hugo Chavez of Notting Hill,” he says, but to “forge a foreign policy that, unlike Blair’s, is based on the national interest of this country and not another.”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft emerges here as a British equivalent of Pat Buchanan. It is not often that such venomous resentment of the United States and Israel from the Right is brought out into the open in Britain—and no accident that it is the Guardian that offers these views a platform. To judge from the readers’ comments on the Guardian website, he has brought quite a few extreme anti-Semites out of the woodwork, too. But the tenor of Wheatcroft’s article is not untypical of the circles in which many senior Tories move. It is not only in America that paleoconservatives exist. Britain evidently has its very own Anglo-paleocons.

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