Well, Well, Well

I have no idea whether the report pubished by the UK Daily Mirror that George W Bush discussed with Tony Blair the idea of bombing the Doha headquarters of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera is well founded or not. How could I, I have no way of checking one way or the other. I do however agree with William Wallis and Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times that the fact that the British government has threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they reveal contents of the document does constitutes at least prima-facie evidence that the document exists, and contains information which the UK government is anxious not to make public.

I would also note that here in Spain this is only going to fuel more feelings about the José Couso case. José Couso was a journalist who worked for the Spanish TV channel Tele Cinco, and he was killed when a US tank opened fire on the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The case is scheduled to go before a judge here in the not too distant future.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Political issues and tagged by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

28 thoughts on “Well, Well, Well

  1. Update on the leaked alleged transcript of a Bush-Blair conversation about bombing al-Jazeera in Qatar:

    “Qataris, including senior officials, reacted with shock on Wednesday to newspaper reports in Britain suggesting that George W Bush, the US president, had discussed bombing the Doha headquarters of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera.”
    http://news.ft.com/cms/s/92fad322-5c58-11da-af92-0000779e2340.html

    This has me worried. Should all posting blog messages about this report take to wearing helmets and body armour and reviewing online security – just in case?

    “It’s being called the worst computer worm of the year — a fast-spreading Internet threat that looks like an official e-mail from the CIA or FBI but can leave your computer wide open to intruders. The bogus e-mail claims the government has discovered you visiting ‘illegal’ Web sites and asks you to open an attachment to answer some official questions. . ”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/23/AR2005112302147.html

  2. Perhaps this helps to illuminate the motivation:

    “Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks [of 9-11], Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. Clarke suggests the idea took him so aback, he initally thought Rumsfeld was joking. . .

    “‘Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq,’ Clarke said to Stahl. ‘And we all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.’ . .

    “Clarke was the president’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn’t until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn’t take the threat seriously.”
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/19/60minutes/main607356.shtml

  3. I would also note that here in Spain this is only going to fuel more feelings about the José Couso case.

    It doesn’t take much to fuel feelings in Europe with regards to Americans. I seem to recall that the number one book seller in France a couple of years ago was about a 9/11 conspiracy on a part of the American government. Yawn.

    Anyway, I don’t see what the big deal is. Discussing bombing Al Jazeera was probably on many American’s minds.

  4. “Discussing bombing Al Jazeera was probably on many American’s minds.”

    Any chance of seeing a listing of the other prospective bombing targets “on many American’s minds” ?

  5. Edward:

    The Jose Couso ‘case’ has been debunked many times already: there was a reporter embedded with the battalion CO who heard much of the radio traffic going out to the tank that shows they were under orders to look for a sniper in a high-rise in the general location of the hotel.

    It’s generally not a good idea to point anything at tank, in battle, with its hatches down, as Mr. Couso and some al-Reuter’s reporters learned the hard way.

    The Spanish ‘indictment’ is simply more left-wing buffoonery.

    The report about bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters is simply ludicrous on its face. Although I would not be surprised to find out some officials expressed a desire out of frustration to do so.

  6. “The report about bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters is simply ludicrous on its face.”

    Well, the UK government doesn’t seem to be taking this view, you must have your own independent sources.

    “The Jose Couso ‘case’ has been debunked many times”

    The point is Pierre that details here matter. I would have been more than happy to have agreed with you, and despite my deepest sympathy for the Couso family, accepted that this was an accident. In the same way that I have deep regret about the death of Jean de Menezes at the hand of the British police.

    But as cases of possible attempts to intimidate journalists begin to accululate, then this inevitably conditions how you view earlier incidents.

    Take a case in point, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. At the time I thought the CIA version that they had the wrong map was a cock-a-many story, because the real target was Milosevich’s TV station which had relocated into the building, but since I detested Milosevich I wasn’t particularly worried that this had happend.

    Now this Al Jazeera story is making me think again (of course I accept we need to await more clarification). I think if journalists become an acceptable target in war we are all losers, at least all of us who believe in democracy are.

    Of course Rupert’s “Anyway, I don’t see what the big deal is” is coherent with his own views, why the hell should we care……? We all get to die in the end, don’t we.(Yawn)

    Postscript: you are making a big mistake if you think that the Couso case is a left-wing issue in Spain. A majority of Spanish people of all parties (remember the franco right is traditionally anti-yankee) believe that this was intentional. As I said I don’t, or at least I didn’t. I am now waiting to see what comes out in the trial.

    And of course, you can say – following Rupert – what the hell does Spain matter. And you can go one step further and say “what the hell does Latin America matter”, I mean the US has now generated so many allies in the world, well, “what the hell”.

  7. Actually Rupert, I take it back. I’m not sure the position you’re arguing here is coherent. If the muslim world doesn’t matter to the US, becuase “it doesn’t take much to fuel feelings”, if Europe doesn’t matter to the US, becuase “it doesn’t take much to fuel feelings”, if China and the rest of Asia don’t matter to the US, becuase “it doesn’t take much to fuel feelings”, and if if Latin America doesn’t matter to the US, becuase “it doesn’t take much to fuel feelings”, then quite simply the whole inteventionist US foreign policy lacks coherence, because quite simply “the rest of the world doesn’t matter”.

    In which case your issue is with Condoleeza Rice (who certainly doesn’t take this view) and not with me, and I certainly don’t understand what the hell you are doing in Iraq, where undoubtedly “it doesn’t take much to fuel feelings”.

    It seems to me on this view over 2,000 US citizens have died for something which “basically doesn’t matter to the US”. I’m sure their families will be just overjoyed to hear this.

  8. If the US govt had plans to bomb al-Jazeera it wouldn’t be the first time it felt justified in killing uncomfortable newssources.

    During the war with Serbia in 1999 they certainly did bomb the TV station (after they had warned US journalists to stay away). The justification used was that the station had been a source of progapanda, which it certainly was, but that’s beside the point.

    However, if the enemy’s media is now a legitimate target, even outside the war zone, maybe the US should prepare for attacks against Fox News (or just about any of the large US networks for that matter).

  9. “A Labour MP has tabled a motion in Parliament calling on Tony Blair to publish the transcript of a discussion with George W Bush in which the US President allegedly proposed bombing the Arab television station Al-Jazeera.

    “The Attorney General this week warned newspapers not to publish the contents of the [apparently ‘ludicrous’] memo, citing the Official Secrets Act.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/25/ujaz.xml&sSheet=/portal/2005/11/25/ixportaltop.html

    Evidently, some Labour MPs want to live dangerously. Let’s all hope that wherever he is staying isn’t hit by one of those accidently misguided missiles.

  10. Edward:

    The ‘targeting reporters’ meme is nothing but recycled left-wing anti-Americansim. It cost Eason Jordan his job at CNN; but in Europe, such nonsense plays well to the public, the biases in the media and many politicians. In other words, no European reporter is ever going to be fired for inaccurate America-bashing.

    Thus telling me that a majority Spaniards think Couso was intentionally targeted is simply circular reasoning: what they think is largely influenced by what the anti-American press is telling them.

    Regarding the other posts about what ‘foreigners think,’ the simple fact of the matter is that European feelings matter little to the US because those feelings have little or no consequences.

    Tremendous European opposition to the Iraq war cost us almost nothing (with the exception of Turkey’s refusal to cooperate), and some money for postwar reconstruction. Take a look at the recent farce over ICANN as another example where the European ‘bark’ is far larger than its bite.

    The US was never going to get any significant commitment of military resources from anyone except Britain.

    Europe, Latin America and many others may complain vociferously about US policy but when push comes to shove, little or nothing will be done concretely against US interests.

    The worst Europe can do is try to sell weaponry to our enemies. But it tries to do that under any circumstances anyway and under regimes of both the left and the right. How much German gas centrifuge technology is floating around the Middle East already? How many European firms are involved in transferring chemical weapons capable technology (or the pre-cursors themselves) already? Does anyone actually believe that France is not selling weaponry or military technology to China under the table?

    ‘Europe’ is still primarily a geographical, not a political term Edward, in which case it’s ‘feelings’ matter little because they are seldom connected to actions.

  11. Well Boris Johnson has promised to publish the memo in the Spectator if he can get his hands on a copy. we’ve also pledged to publish it and have asked other bloggers if they would also publish it if Boris does.

  12. Edward,

    My yawning implies that there are legitimate things to get worked up over and then there is tripe, which continuously comes from Europe in the forms of Le Monde, La Vanguardia, or Giuliana Sgrena. The world will continue over the death of one journalist, even if Spain or you, will not. America will survive 2000 troop losses, even if Michael Moore will not. Of course, I don’t think he or Spain cares much about death itself, only promoting their superior, enlightened views. Save your outrage for things that matter, like genocide, or the rights of women.

    Europe and the Middle East, opinions regardless, didn’t stop America from invading Iraq, did it? You can go on all you want about how the rest of the world is opposed and hostile to the US because of this, or how Iraq is such a disaster, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter as much as your implying( China?!?) , unless you are AFOE or Jeremy Rifkin, and you have an inflated opinion of yourself and your ideas. Your arguments make sense if Europe ‘matters’ or will matter much in the future. I have my doubts, hence my indifference to one man’s death.

  13. “[Europe’s] ’feelings’ matter little because they are seldom connected to actions.”

    If torture is a crime with universal jurisdiction it would be prudent for some leading members of the Bush administration to make their future international travel arrangements with care.

  14. How much German gas centrifuge technology is floating around the Middle East due to the CIA? It is they who asked the Dutch to not stop pakistani spying

  15. “hence my indifference to one man’s death”.

    Imho death, Rupert, should never leave us indifferent. Not even one. It may be inevitable, we may be left with little choice, but we should never be indifferent. This is to do with our own humanity. But then each one is free to take his or her own decisions.

    As I said, I wasn’t exactly crying when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed – and I seem to remember there were people killed – but now I am having second thoughts. I think this is a very dangerous and undesirable road to go down.

    Of course you are entitled to take the view that the US can go it alone, and ‘sod the rest of the world’, that is what democracy is about, the right to hold opinions. I am simple saying that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice doesn’t share your views, nor do a majority of the current Bush Administration. The second term is being characterised by a serious effort at bridge rebuilding, and I personally welcome this.

    Spain is important here, since it is a good bridge builder for you in Latin America. This is why, IMHO, the affair of Zapatero’s ‘Iraq troop withdrawal’ was so quickly forgotten. Expediency. But you don’t need me to tell you all this, Condy must be explaining it on CNN every day.

    Can the US retreat into ‘isolationism’ again? This is an interesting question. Clausewitz said that ‘war is politics by other means’, but economics is also war by other means (other, less violent, means). The future will be decided not militarily, but economically.

    The US imports far more than it exports. Long term this is unsustainable. You can either start buying less, or persuade others to buy more, but this needs marketing (if you follow me: Hollywood needs to address the issue posed by Bollywood) and it needs structural reforms in the US (not protectionism) to make US companies as competitive as their German and Japanese rivals.

    Naturally, you could go down the protectionist road, and – please correct me if I am wrong – you and Pierre seem to favour this, but then your consumers would have to buy more expensive home-produced versions of the goods they now get from China and elsewhere, long term living standards would decline, and the military would not be sustainable.

    It’s not simply that I think you need the rest of the world, you do actually need it.

    And simply saying that I “have an inflated opinion” of myself and my ideas (which may or may not be true) doesn’t resolve the issue.

  16. Going back for a moment to the “The report about bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters is simply ludicrous on its face.” argument. The UK attorney general doesn’t seem to thing so, since as I said, he’s trying to use the Official Serets Act to stop further discussion of the memo contents. The Guardian last Thusrsday had more details. If the memo wasn’t for real, then its contents wouldn’t be subject to Official Secrets Acts rulings. I doubt Messrs Keogh and O’Connor are laughing.

    “Fears that fresh revelations about disputes between Tony Blair and George Bush on the Iraq conflict could damage Downing Street’s intimate relationship with the White House prompted this week’s unprecedented threat by the attorney general to use the Official Secrets Act against national newspapers…..”

    “David Keogh, a former Cabinet Office official, has been charged under the secrets act with sending the memo on the Blair-Bush conversation to Leo O ‘Connor, researcher to the former Labour MP Tony Clarke. Mr Keogh and Mr O’Connor will appear before Bow Street magistrates next week.”

    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12956,1649351,00.html

  17. We invaded Iraq to remove a tyrannical despot and install democracy.

    Right?

    How come this then?

    “Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country’s first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam’s regime.

    “‘People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse,’ Ayad Allawi told The Observer. ‘It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'”
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1651789,00.html

  18. Additionally, there were solid commercial considerations concerning the Iraq war:

    “Halliburton, the oil services and construction group once led by US vice president Dick Cheney, is in the spotlight once again over its role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

    “The Houston-based firm has been given reconstruction contracts worth almost $500m so far, according to a US congressman. . . ”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2950154.stm

    “A former employee of a Halliburton subsidiary has been indicted on charges of defrauding the US military of more than $3.5m for fuel in Iraq.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4359765.stm

    “Oilfield services conglomerate Halliburton says increased global oil and gas exploration boosted its profitability in the third quarter. Reporting its results for the three months to the end of September, it made a net profit of $499m (£281m).

    “But its KBR construction unit, which services the US Army in Iraq, saw revenues fall 7% to $2.5bn after the number of contracts fell.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4374252.stm

    “The US should reimburse Iraq up to $208m for work done by a US contractor, a UN watchdog agency has said.

    “The International Advisory and Monitoring Board said the work by Halliburton had been either overpriced or insufficiently documented.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4411366.stm

  19. Additionally, there were solid commercial considerations concerning the Iraq war:

    “Halliburton, the oil services and construction group once led by US vice president Dick Cheney, is in the spotlight once again over its role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

    “The Houston-based firm has been given reconstruction contracts worth almost $500m so far, according to a US congressman. . . ”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2950154.stm

    “A former employee of a Halliburton subsidiary has been indicted on charges of defrauding the US military of more than $3.5m for fuel in Iraq.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4359765.stm

    “Oilfield services conglomerate Halliburton says increased global oil and gas exploration boosted its profitability in the third quarter. Reporting its results for the three months to the end of September, it made a net profit of $499m (£281m).

    “But its KBR construction unit, which services the US Army in Iraq, saw revenues fall 7% to $2.5bn after the number of contracts fell.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4374252.stm

    “The US should reimburse Iraq up to $208m for work done by a US contractor, a UN watchdog agency has said.

    “The International Advisory and Monitoring Board said the work by Halliburton had been either overpriced or insufficiently documented.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4411366.stm

  20. Apologies for the double posting but the first dispatch appeared to have failed when I checked later.

  21. Some people still don’t seem to be be able to believe that the US (“The Greatest Democracy in teh world”) could bomb critical media outlets or kill journalists who report the ‘other side of the story’ (“The report about bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters is simply ludicrous on its face”).

    I’m sure there are plenty of other examples outside Iraq. US bombing of the RTS (Radio and Television Serbia) telvision station in Belgrade immediately comes to mind. Here’s an example of the US bombing a public television station because it was considered to be a “source of propaganda” in the words of the generals in charge at the time. And it should be remembered that this considered very controversial by the US politicians or media at the time.

    Why should things have changed now that we have an even greater war-monger in the White House than we did before?

  22. Oskar,

    By many reports, political broadcasting during American elections is largely dominated by negative advertising. I think bombing a TV station is probably just seen as a mild extension of that by means that would be considered a mite too excessive at home.

    However, I really think you are under-estimating the commercial motivation for the war.

  23. The British Government wishes to suppress publication because a) it’s secret; and b) it reveals the depth of the contacts between the Bush admin and Blair’s government.

    Al Jazeera is headquartered in Quatar, which was and is the home of one of the largest American military installations in the Middle East. It beggars the imagination to think the US would bomb the host country of such a facility.

    Serbian TV was in fact little more than the propaganda arm of the Milosevic regime, and so a legitimate target.

    By the way, exactly how many more years will Milosevic’s trial last? Will he be convicted before he dies of old age? Maybe before his victims die of old age?

    Ach, die Entschlossenheit der Europaer!

  24. A United States military policy of targeting journalists whose publication is not an official armn of a belligerent government would require a massive subversion of the military command and control system or the approval of Congress (which has not happened).

    In each military service there is a set of military regualtions that prohibit such antics. Each service also has a force (troops in the JAG and MP corps as well as the civilians in the IG and Criminal investigation units) to enforce it. These personnel have had to be frozen out of every other Bush administration abuse because they would not tolerate it (they also are responsible for most of the leaks about Gunatanamo Bay).

    What would make bombing a TV station different is that they could not be frozen out because senior JAG personnel have to actually fill out a form saying that such an attack is okay and not even the President can make them do it without approval from Congress.

    Bush very well may have thought about bombing Al-Jazzera, but even if he did, that does not mean that he could have actually done it nor does it mean that he could magically have issued some sort of secret directive to kill journalists (this is not a Star Wars movie- the U.S. military is not composed of mind controlled clones) without anybody knowing it.

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