Euston Manifesto Blog

‘What Next for the “Decent” Left?’

Martin Bright writes about supporters of the Euston Manifesto in his Spectator blog:

Earlier this month I was asked to address an audience about what future there might be for the “decent left”. For those unfamiliar for the term this is the tendency on the left generally associated with backing the Iraq War (though some of the key advocates of this approach did not), opposition to alliances with extreme-right Islamism and the identification of a tendency towards anti-Semitism in some left-liberal discussion of Israel and the Middle East. The Euston Manifesto, published in 2006 expressed some of the thinking of The Decents.

On the key issue of the Iraq War, I was an agnostic. I hoped that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would lead to a new era of democracy, but suspected it would probably lead to fratricide, sectarianism and the break up of the country into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish enclaves. The reality has been more complicated than either scenario.

New email blockade by Iranian authorities

In the aftermath of the most recent wave of protests in Iran,

The inventive tactics of Iran’s opposition continue to deny the Tehran regime the uncontested power it seeks. The result is that the post-election political contest over the future of Iran is reaching a pivotal stage, says Nazenin Ansari.

there have been reports that Yahoo and Google mail have been blocked. There’s a submission at Reddit! with suggestions of ways you can help Iranians oppose and circumvent these new restrictions:

This is a long fight; true reform doesn’t happen over night & one more person who who gets to know what is going on, is another small victory. Reading stuff on internet might seem something mundane; but believe me, if it was so mundane, they wouldn’t be constantly blocking sites & arresting bloggers & admins.

R2P not R2I

The latest edition of The Economist contains an excellent article about attempts to undermine the UN commitment (such as it is) to the “responsibility to protect” (R2P). It contains some important history:

R2P is certainly not—to judge by a careful reading of its history—a mere ploy by rich and powerful countries to poke their noses into the affairs of small nations. Its origins are somewhat more interesting.

One of the first international bodies to endorse the concept, or a version of it, was the African Union, which emerged from the discredited Organisation of African Unity. The AU’s Constitutive Act included a provision for “the right of the Union to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the [AU] assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” It cited a new principle of “non-indifference” to large-scale crimes.

One of R2P’s keenest sponsors was Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian who preceded Mr Ban as secretary-general. Mr Annan has agonised in public about the UN’s failure in Rwanda, when he was head of un peacekeeping, and has argued that his success as a peace-broker in Kenya last year owed something to the existence of R2P as a moral instrument.

Meanwhile, America, far from dreaming up R2P as a crafty way of justifying imperialist adventures, was initially rather sceptical. Under the Bush administration, both the Pentagon and the State Department were intensely wary of signing up to anything that might bind them to take draconian action in the name of humanity.

Indeed, R2P was a part of a much broader 2005 reform of the United Nations that George Bush first sought to weaken, then only reluctantly accepted. And to this day, there are voices on America’s political right that remain profoundly sceptical about the idea of costly pledges to wage wars in the name of protecting people from inhumanity.

Iran Anniversary Demo

This Thursday, 9th July 2009, is the tenth anniversary of the student protests in Iran in 1999—at the time the most serious in the country since the country’s 1979 revolution. On that day, there will be an anniversary demo in London, starting at 18:00, solely to show solidarity with the Iranian people. Participants are invited to wear green and come to 16 Prince’s Gate, SW7. The nearest Tube station is South Kensington.

New UK Cabinet member and peer Glenys Kinnock speaks on the Responsibility To Protect

Most—almost all—of the media’s coverage of the ennoblement of Glenys Kinnock to permit her to become Europe Minister in the UK government has focused on the court politics. Glenys Kinnock was a Labour MEP and is the wife of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, himself a former European Commissioner. Thanks to longstanding general public skepticism about the European Union and the perception that many of its employees are ineffective and expensive, plus recent (and justified) outrage at UK politicians’ nepotism and use of expenses allowances, the story has been that Ms Kinnock has glided regally from one undemocratic seat on the gravy train to another. The Kinnocks’ collection of “six state pensions” has been a target of particular anger.

I have only contempt for the freshly exposed behaviour of a large minority of MPs (and for their subsequent excuse-making); the manipulation of candidate lists and the appointment of unelected insiders to Cabinet posts disgusts me. But, behind what appeared to be yet more establishment fixing, there was another story to tell: Kinnock’s maiden speech in the House of Lords addressed the Responsibility To Protect (“R2P”). She questioned the widely-held idea that R2P was solely about questions of military intervention in the affairs of sovereign states and emphasised that it should be about responsible international co-operation to protect threatened populations. I think there is truth in this, even if history suggests such a view is optimistic. Sadly (according to Google News at least), no one is interested in discussing global matters of life and death when there’s a bit of parochial political gossip to cover. Thanks to the shoddy Website—there’s a link to an “advanced search”, but it’s not clickable in Firefox—it’s difficult to find the speech, if it is even available to read. If I track it down, I will post it here.

More than the sum

Today, for the first time, the powerful Guardian Council of the Constitution, responsible for supervising the conduct of the recent disputed presidential election in Iran, acknowledged irregularities in more than 50 constituencies. The actual “irregularity” in these 50 cities is that over 100% of those eligible to vote are recorded as having done so. It seems it is possible to have too much of a good thing, even good citizenship. Claims of vote-rigging by opponents of the declared winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sparked protests that have been continuing in Iran since the announcement of his victory on June 13, when supporters of the opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, first took to the streets. Just two recent reports and overviews of the situation in Iran are here at The New York Times and here at Prospect magazine.

The question of whether or not the election results were fixed—which has shaded into the question of whether or not the protests were primarily, or continue to be, about vote-rigging—had fascinated many outside observers. It seems that it has turned out to be an academic one, but it’s been interesting to see the various ways professional and amateur statisticians examined it, and how their investigations were viewed by “Kremlinologists” of the regime.

Many outside believed that Ahmadinejad’s perennial popularity in the provinces and the results of pre-election polls suggested that the published results weren’t completely implausible. Some of those also believed that the results were indeed fixed, but only to a limited degree and not to an extent that changed the final result. Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco, Ph.D. candidates in political science at Columbia University, looked at the suspicious last digits of the official election counts.

The US polling site, FiveThirtyEight, that did a fine job of analyzing and predicting polling and voting in the most recent US Presidential elections has a good summary and one of its contributors, Nate Silver, gives vent to his newly-justified skepticism:

For all the complex series of statistics that have been run on Iran’s election, it’s the simplest that might prove to be the regime’s downfall. More people “voted” than were eligible to vote—in a lot of places. The interior ministry admits to 50 such instances out of the 300+ jurisdictions in which Iran tallied results. That is widespread, prime facie and admitted-to evidence of fraud, and I don’t see how the Guardian Council expects people to buy the argument that whatever caused the tub to overflow in those 50 cities was not also tainting the results throughout the rest of the country. The Chatham House report we linked to earlier today found that there were more “votes” than voters in two entire provinces

The Interior Ministry will presumably next try to argue that these were irregularities owing to the mere overzealousness of the Iranian people. Perhaps, as happens with some regularity in the United States, people who thought they were eligible to vote but weren’t nevertheless tried to and weren’t screened properly by elections officials. But this explanation doesn’t hold water—voter eligibility is not a tricky matter in Iran. The Statistical Center of Iran reports that, as of the last census, there were some 47.7 million people aged 18 or older in Iran, which is the voting age in that country. By contrast, the widely-cited figure is that there were some 46.2 million eligible voters. Virtually all people aged 18 or older, evidently, are eligible to vote in Iran, which has very few non-citizens (only about 1.6 million according to official estimates).

This leaves only two possibilities: that there was widespread ballot-stuffing or that the results in some or all areas don’t reflect any physical count of the ballots but were fabricated whole hog on a spreadsheet.

[bold emphases mine]

Pictures of a Protester

On the 20th anniversary of the massacre by Chinese government troops of protesters in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China on 5th June 1989, The New York Times shows four photographs of the famous lone “tank man” and asks each of the respective photographers for their recollections of the event. After the article appeared, a fifth photographer contacted the newspaper to share his memories.

"Beyond Iraq: A New U.S. Strategy for the Middle East"

Richard N. Haass and Martin Indyk have an essay in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs in which they recommend policies to the new US President’s administration. Here are some of its suggestions:

The improved situation in Iraq will allow the new administration to shift its focus to Iran, where the clock is ticking on a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear program. Obama should offer direct official engagement with the Iranian government, without preconditions, along with other incentives in an attempt to turn Tehran away from developing the capacity to rapidly produce substantial amounts of nuclear-weapons-grade fuel. At the same time, he should lay the groundwork for an international effort to impose harsher sanctions on Iran if it proves unwilling to change course.

… Iran’s challenge has led other actors in the region to begin to work together and look to the United States for help. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have grown deeply disillusioned with U.S. leadership but would welcome an effective U.S. role. Even Syria, Iran’s ally, has launched peace negotiations with Israel partly to improve its relations with Washington and partly to avoid being stuck on the Shiite side of the emerging Sunni-Shiite divide. If the Obama administration could show that there are real payoffs for moderation, reconciliation, negotiation, and political and economic reform, it would recoup considerable U.S. influence throughout the region.

Obama will have to decide what to do about the conundrum posed by Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in January 2006 and then took control of Gaza through a military putsch in June 2007. Hamas rejects both Israel’s right to exist and the agreements the Palestinians have already entered into with Israel. It also advocates and practices violence and terrorism (which it calls “resistance”) against Israel. Nonetheless, given Hamas’ control of Gaza and its support among at least one-third of Palestinians, a peace process that excludes it could well fail.

The way out of this dilemma is to make it clear that Hamas, and not the United States, is responsible for the Gazans’ fate.

I link to the essay, not because I agree with everything in it—parts of it strike me as over-optimistic—but because it is interesting and timely and it collects a useful list of problems facing the new “leader of the free world” in a region that is more important to World opinion than it is to humanity’s well-being. Indeed, I feel that the Middle East (especially Israel and the Palestinian Territories) generates discussion out of proportion with the number of human beings living there and the economic significance of their activities. Others go even further.

Fresh Start

Euston was cracked in the small hours today (14Feb09) by a script kiddie in Saudi Arabia. This is understandable (or perhaps “mbunderstandable”): the boy was probably inspired by that country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Vice cracking down on Valentine’s Day, a festival created by “immoral Westerners” specifically to oppress him.

I’d been too busy to keep up with regular maintenance on the site and had been relaxed about the set-up here so it would be easy for other Eustonians to contribute. Now, I’ve moved the site from a managed host to my own server, removed and/or secured all compromised user accounts, and installed the latest WordPress.

Euston will be pretty quiet until the dead-tree collection of Euston essays comes out, so this is a good opportunity to clean out the site database, which is likely to be corrupted, and start from scratch, updating the text of posts from my back-ups.

More soon.

Time and Service

Time is not free, yet too often, the way service is organised suggests that it is.
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