Category Archives: international

The Liar moves on

The Liar is going to be peace envoy to the middle east. Well, its somewhere the skills of a fluent and easy liar could be extremely valuable. If, that is to say, he’s credible to the parties.

So, what’s (almost) the last thing he does as British prime minister? He sticks up two fingers at Islam, by knighting Salman Rushdie[1]. This must surely be a calculated gesture: Rushdie’s claim to merit is as a novelist, and novelists don’t get knighthoods. If the intention was to set a new precedent, I’d expect to start with an author with a decent claim to britishness, not one who has rejected this country and now lives and works in another continent (not to mention being born in yet another).

If he’s going to make any progress, he’s going to have to talk seriously to the people he calls enemies. Like Hamas. That’ll enrage the powers-that-be in Israel, and many who control the purse-strings of elected politicians in the USA. But it’s unlikely that just talking will be enough: he’ll have to go right out on a limb and cause serious offence to some of his friends if he’s to win any kind of trust amongst people who see him as a leading figure in a conspiracy against them. Will he do that? Or will he just pursue the current line?

Or is there a Third Way, in which he acts as fall guy for someone conducting real negotiations behind the scenes, leading to something like the 1993 Oslo agreement? And if so, will the international community stand behind it this time, and stop another Netanyahu just tearing it up again and expanding Israel’s Lebensraum – and sending a clear signal to palestinians that peace does not pay?

Oh, and good riddance.

[1] Just to be clear: I firmly support free speech, and Rushdie’s right to publish his satanic verses. It’s the artist’s rôle to challenge, and even offend. But a national leader acting in an official capacity should be much more sensitive.

One for the spooks! [Updated – From the horse’s mouth!]

As we all know, a group of British servicepeople was captured by Iranian forces in disputed circumstances, and released after two weeks. Both sides have now used them in propaganda exercises in their respective media: the Iranians extracted apologies and admissions of possible transgressions; the Brits extracted a story of abuse. Both stories are no doubt true up to a point, but heavily spun.

The UK press conference of course took place after debriefing, in which the presentation of the story was obviously prepared. Tellingly, only six of the fifteen took part: these people are not natural spin-doctors. Also tellingly, the story was a bit of a damp squib: the worst abuse described was a pale shadow of what’s being inflicted by the US and its allies in Iraq. The British side comes out with egg on its face. Again.

So far, no surprises. What is more surprising is that the servicepeople are now to sell their stories to the press. That must mean the spooks have assessed them carefully, and concluded that the press will turn the stories to their advantage. It’s a high-risk strategy, so they must presumably see high returns.

But how high-risk is it really? They can make some pretty good guesses about important aspects of the story. It’s easy to enumerate the newspapers with the biggest chequebooks to buy an “exclusive” on this kind of story, and they’re jingoistic rags who will want to tell a story of British heroism and Iranian villainy: James Bond rather than George Smiley. They’ve presumably gone as far as to enumerate the journalists and editors who might take on the stories. And the task is simplified further by the fact that just one of the fifteen is overwhelmingly the most important: the sole woman in the party is expected to be far and away the biggest story. Of course that could be a mistake, if one of the men proves particularly interesting – all part of the gamble that any of them will come across right.

So the risk comes not so much from the direct stories, but rather from indirect commentators. And that’s happening anyway! So this is really about deflecting attention.

And in the precedent it sets. That’s sure to come back to bite. But it’ll be the successors to the people who took this decision getting bitten, so that’s OK.

If anyone from the mainstream media is reading this, please get some well-informed comment from outside the official line. I want to hear what John Le Carré may have to say on this subject!

[UPDATE] One of them has just been on the radio saying “I’m not doing it for the money, just to set the record straight”. Also seemed to say the money would be given away, but his words left some ambiguity. Should’ve foreseen that gambit! BUT … that just highlights the suspect premise underlying those words, the assumption that he’s going to sell his story in the first place, all the more starkly.

[UPDATE 2 – Monday Morning] They’ve just had Kelvin Mackenzie on the radio confirming my speculation.  Not so long ago, he was editor of “The Sun” (a very big name in trash chequebook journalism), so he should know!  And he adds that last week, someone from MoD PR was indeed sniffing around the relevant newspapers, doing the research on how they’d play this.

Getting paid from the US

The book is out, but I still have a hurdle to clear before I can see any royalties. This one is the US Government, which requires me to wade through a mountain of obscure documents (thanks to my publisher for helping steer me there) and complete a form (ditto) in order to be paid royalties. Comes of having an american publisher:-(

Specifically, the publisher needs a US taxpayer number to pay me. But I’m not a US taxpayer. I’m not even eligible to be a US taxpayer. So instead, I need something called an ITIN, which involves filling a form W-7. And that form has a subtext:

You’re a scumbag perpetrating a fraud on us. We know you’re really just a stooge for someone who wants to hide money from us (though you don’t have permission to live or work in America). Taxation treaty? What taxation treaty? All your money are belong to us!

Anyway, I need to submit my passport with the form. The original [shudder], or a notarised copy.

Notarised? Yep, that means going to a Notary Public, who then signs that he’s seen me with the original passport, and it’s genuine, and it’s me. Today I went to a notary for that. Seems the underlying premise is that Notary == someone we grudgingly trust, because there’s no way we trust a scumbag like you. Yeah, great. A nice little earner for the Notary, and a PITA for anyone needing to use one.

Once upon a time, any professional person might normally have seen as trustworthy: it was the natural authority of those in the educated classes. Interesting that a country seen as having so much less of a class system than us should nevertheless have classism so ferociously enshrined into its law.

In fairness, the notary told me that notaries are ten-a-penny in America, so finding and going to one doesn’t seem such a big deal to an American.

A timely shot

China shoots down its own satellite (thus demonstrating its technological capability to do so). Others huff and puff about it.

From a UK perspective, this looks timely. It comes within a week of our megalomaniac warmongering liar of a prime minister’s latest speech about the virtues of war everywhere (a speech that finally led me to the frightening conclusion that the best thing our army could do for us right now is to execute a coup against him). It’s comforting that there is another power that neither The Liar nor his Master can expect to bully or bomb into submission. Especially when there’s no reason to suppose that power threatens any legitimate british interest.

Someone in Taiwan might legitimately feel different about this news. Time will tell the negative aspects of China’s rise, but this at least is positive in terms of the very necessary checks and balances it’s bringing to the world. And China is not (AFAICS) pursuing the kind of ideological imperialism that characterised both sides in the Cold War.