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OK, we’re on again. If there are toys, there have to be alternative toys. I am spoilt for choice, which means that there will be many more alternative toy postings. Heh!

Elephants! Now there is a word to strike awe or terror into every toy-lover’s heart. Used in war since antiquity, these animals could be relied on to sow panic while charging the enemy.

They were used for ceremonial purposes, transportation and, as this picture shows, to pull munitions in Sheffield during the First World War. This pachyderm was, according to the caption in the February 9, 1916 edition of Illustrated War News, “unofficially connected with Mr Lloyd George’s Department”. Hmm. Wonder who his father was.

It might have taken a little time, but – a week on - at least The Daily Mail has woken up to the full extent of the humiliation which our proud nation has had to suffer.

Thus, as the Iranians through their Moscow ambassador hint that a show trial is being prepared for our kidnapped service personnel – with the truly ghastly prospect of "punishment" if the "charges" against them are proven - the paper proclaims the stark truth in a robust leader: "This humiliation shames Britain".

The parading of the British hostages on Iranian television is not just humiliating for them but for this country, it says. "Those images will be beamed around the world, with the clear message that we are impotent in the face of this blatant aggression and provocation."

This is a theme picked up by Max Hastings in the Mail's Saturday essay. He rightly reminds us of past glories and the power of gunboat diplomacy and notes that "Blair's true legacy" is a bankrupt foreign policy and the tarnishing of our "glorious Armed Forces".

Along the way, Hastings also notes that there is no credible military option available to us in seeking to release the hostages, thus arguing that we must rely on diplomacy. He then remarks on the tardiness of the EU response (so much for all Blair's wasted wooing of the EU, he writes) and the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, under which mandate the British forces were acting.

Hastings, though, does not offer a way out – a solution to the crisis. He believes that there is nothing specific we can do as we are entirely in the hands of the Iranians. So the great man turns to Gordon Brown, the prime minister soon to be, and asks, "what will he do differently, to rescue this country from the international shambles which Blair will soon bequeath to us?"

Standing aside from Hastings for a moment, those who would advocate an invasion of Iran might do well to remember that it is the major supplier of oil to Japan. A disruption in the flow to that country alone would have a knock-on effect which could plunge the world into recession – a scenario we explored last year (here and here) - while the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off Saudi and Kuwaiti (and Iraqi) oil, would most certainly have that effect.

However, to rule out such an ostensibly satisfying option is not to say that, as Hastings suggests, passive diplomacy is our only option. And this is not the only issue where Mad Max goes off the rails. He writes:

When this business is over, hard questions should be asked in Britain. Who was responsible for exposing the sailors within reach of one of the most reckless nations in the world? This was a kidnapping waiting to happen. It has laid bare the bankruptcy of British foreign policy, shackled to America's Iraq calamity. Blair has forfeited respect in the Muslim world, where a decade ago our influence remained substantial. He has lost not only the battle to turn the British people into Euro-enthusiasts, but also his campaign to make this country a major force in Europe.
Here, we see the glimmerings of understanding, only for them to be submerged in left-wing rhetoric and nascent anti-Americanism – never far from the surface where Hastings is concerned.

For sure, we have lost the respect of the Muslim world – and especially Iran – but is it because of "the bankruptcy of British foreign policy, shackled to America's Iraq calamity"? The "kidnapping waiting to happen" was hardly a function of foreign policy. More likely, it was – certainly in the view of this blog - a result of failures of military intelligence, operational planning and execution.

However, if you think about it, the rot did not start in the northern Gulf. As we have been recording meticulously on this blog (in postings far too numerous to list here), Army policy in response to continued attack on British land bases has been supine to the point of being craven.

For years now, Iranian-backed militias have been taking free pot-shots with mortars and rockets at British bases, and the Army response has been to hunker down and do nothing (or very little).

When it got too much to bear in Camp Naji, al Amarah, the Army simply ran away, abandoning the camp, which was stripped bare by the militias in 24 hours. Similarly, we abandoned the British Consulate in the Basra Palace complex, despite a £13 million refit, because of constant mortaring - and we are now planning to retreat to barracks in Basra Air Station.

It seems obvious, therefore, that the Iranians must have taken home the message that you can attack British forces with impunity - they will do nothing about it, other than run away. From there, it is hardly any great feat to link the Iranian aggression against Royal Navy boarding parties and the attitude of the Army.

Should that be anything like a correct analysis – or even partially correct – then the answer is equally obvious. What we need is a variation on the theme adopted by the Metropolitan Police of yore, when one of their own was murdered. Without knowing who was responsible, officers would "turn over" villains, making their lives intolerable and ordinary theivery impossible. Sooner or later – or so the theory went – the criminal fraternity would sue for peace, and deliver up the murderer to justice.

In like manner, we know that there is strong Iranian influence (and presence) in southern Iraq. In that region, therefore, Iranians are accessible – and vulnerable.

There, a robust, aggressive response by the Army, with the help and support of our allies and the Iraqi Army – which is proving to be a force to be reckoned with – all directed against Iranian interests, could soon have Tehran suing for peace. And even if that did not work directly, such action would go a very long way to restoring that precious commodity which we have lost – respect. More than anything else, we must imbue our enemies and friends alike with the knowledge that the British are not to be trifled with.

COMMENT THREAD


Just feeling vindictive. An Air France Airbus A320 at Charles de Gaulle airport. Filched off the seriously good Airliners.net (if they complain, I'll have to take it down), the pic was taken in 2002 and, seems to me, to typify the classic European pose – on your knees (click on the pic to enlarge and enjoy the full glory).

Note the sensitivities were such that the Air France bosses had the logos covered up.

COMMENT THREAD

If taken at face value, the European Union has issued a robust statement. It came by way of a communiqué from the informal Foreign Affairs Council, meeting in the Park Hotel in Bremen, Germany. The full text is as follows:

The European Union deplores the continued arrest of 15 British citizens by Iran on 23rd of March and underlines the European Union’s unconditional support for the government of the United Kingdom.

All evidence clearly indicates that at the time of the seizure, the British Naval personnel were on a routine patrolling mission in Iraqi waters in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1723. The seizure by Iranian Forces therefore constitutes a clear breach of international law.

The European Union repeats its call for the immediate and unconditional release of the British Royal Naval personnel. The European Union furthermore calls on Iran to immediately inform the government of the United Kingdom about the whereabouts of the British Naval personnel and grant consular access. The fundamental rights of all prisoners in Iran must be scrupulously respected.

The EU Foreign Ministers requested the High Representative to present the EU position to the Iranian government. Should the UK citizens not be released in the near future, the EU will decide on appropriate measures
.
This was agreed between Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, holding the EU presidency, and Britain's foreign secretary Margaret Beckett (pictured), and endorsed by all the other 25 member states.

The response from Iran was not long in coming. It told the EU not to interfere in the "dispute". I guess we will now find out what the EU means by "appropriate measures".

Meanwhile, Rense.com is carrying a prediction from the "well-known Russian journalist Andrei Uglanov", first published in the Moscow weekly Argumenty Nedeli.

Uglanov tells us that the long awaited US military attack on Iran is now on track for the first week of April, specifically for 4am on 6 April - the Good Friday opening of Easter weekend. Code-named Operation Bite, about 20 targets are marked for bombing, with the list including uranium enrichment facilities, research centres, and laboratories. The attack will last twelve hours, from 4am until 4pm local time.

The EU had better get its skates on. It has seven days for "soft power" to save the world.

COMMENT THREAD


It is something of an irony that a few days before the Iranian Revolutionary Guard kidnapped 15 of our marines and sailors, Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation took delivery of its first new western-made aircraft since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the biggest irony of all is that the aircraft - which will be jointly operated between PAAviation and Iran's CAO for skydiving training – is a British-made 10-seater Britten Norman Islander. However, the interior can be re-configured to transport VIPs and it can also operate as an air ambulance or be used for coastal patrols.

The sale, worth $2 million, has been specifically agreed by Washington as part of efforts to encourage Tehran to halt its nuclear program, and a $2 million package of spare parts has also been agreed, to bring 10 other Islanders (bought before the revolution) to airworthy condition. It was thought that Britten Norman might send technicians to Tehran to help supervise the rebuild.

The agency which negotiated the sale says that this link gives an idea of specification of the aircraft. Needless to say, the Iranians are delighted with the deal so far and, we are told, have expressed interest in a further three aircraft. It will be interesting to see if our government now allows such a sale to go ahead – but then, the Iranians did recently increase their negotiating power somewhat.

COMMENT THREAD

That is how Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian Information Minister and not a member of either Hamas or Fatah, describes the recently formed "unity" government of Palestine in an interview with Der Spiegel.

The reason is quite simple: it represents 96 per cent of the Palestinian people. Without going too deeply into the arithmetic, I should like to point out that Stalin usually managed to get 99.5 per cent of the popular vote, so the Palestinian government has some way to go.

Furthermore, the last election Saddam Hussein held in Iraq actually gave him 100 per cent of the popular vote plus one. The reason, I was told by an Iraqi who lives in the United States is that Ben Bella, former Communist-leaning dictator of Algeria and a Hero of the Soviet Union, was visiting the country at the time and was asked to cast a vote for Saddam as well.

The problem is that the "unity" government was dragged together in Riyadh a couple of weeks ago after a good deal of fighting between Hamas and Fatah. Nor has that completely died down. So, in actual fact, there is some difficulty in getting people to accept that they are being represented.

Furthermore, there is the problem of an opposition. There isn't one and that is a bit of a handicap where democracy is concerned. If everybody is inside the tent, because that is the only way you can keep them from killing each other (mostly) and because that is the only way they will be able to give some dosh to their followers, then there is nobody to oppose the policies (when they finally make their way to the surface, if they ever do) peacefully.

The reason for the interview is that Chancellor Merkel is off on her travels again tomorrow. Even Blair has been known to stay in Britain for a while. What's with the lady?

This time she is going to the Middle East, to represent the EU in another attempt to sort out the mess, presumably by putting pressure on Israel to accept the somewhat unsatisfactory Saudi solution, which is, at the moment, the Arab consensus, imposed on the warring factions by the Sauds.

Mr Barghouti is hoping for good things from the visit, from the European Union and from Germany in particular as it has been "a supporter of the Palestinian people" for a long time. Sadly, it has not been able to ensure that the Palestinian people acquire some reasonable politicians. Nobody can do that.

Mr Barghouti has a point when he insists that other countries cannot pick and choose which ministers they negotiate with but, of course, that is not the real grievance. It is the absence (well, not exactly absence, but some diminishing) of aid money that the Palestinian ministers keep complaining about. While one acknowledges that the government was the choice of the Palestinian people, there is no particular reason why we should subsidize it or the various militias that are roaming the place.

The interviewer, to be fair, asks Mr Barghouti several times whether his government is prepared to recognize Israel's right to existence, getting no straight response, merely a good deal of complaining about putting the Palestinians under too much pressure.

Chancellor Merkel can save herself a trip, surely a good thing to do from the global warming perspective. Nothing much will come of it. Germany should not start putting pressure on the one truly democratic country in the Middle East.

COMMENT THREAD

We received this e-mail from 910 Group Forum (www.vigilantfreedom.org):

Assuming the Marines are still captive, we are organizing a protest for Saturday, March 31 at 3pm outside the Iranian Embassy. It will be in Kensington Rd (S side) 200 yards east of the junction with Prince's Gate - that's as near the Embassy as you are allowed to go to protest. Nearest tube is South Kensington - it's about 10 minutes walk from there. It is on several bus routes though. Please come and please bring placards.
We suggest you avoid inflammatory placards - suggestions that Tehran should be nuked might be misinterpreted. More dangerously, they might not be.

What with one thing and another, we do not seem to report news from Greece as often as we should. Let me, therefore, make amends.

First off there is the news that the Greek government has banned all team game matches for 15 days. Trouble broke out yesterday before the projected women’s volleyball match between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos the country’s two largest teams. The police, it appears, had not been aware of the massing of fans in Peania.
One fan was stabbed and run over by a car, at least six people were injured, one of whom was in critical condition, and police made 13 arrests following the 20-minute battle.

Among those injured were bystanders as well as several minor soccer league players on their way to training. Their team logo and colors resembled those of Panathinaikos.
According to the report there had been problems between the two sports clubs before:
Clashes among supporters of the two teams date back decades. The most recent death of a spectator in Greece, in 1995, was after clashes between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fans during a basketball match.
One can’t help feeling that the Greeks take sport perhaps just a tiny bit too seriously.

In the meantime,
The European Commission on Friday formally endorsed Greece's plan for how it will spend EU aid, opening the door for Athens to receive EU payments of €20 billion (US$26.6 billion) over the next seven years.
Greece is the second country, after Malta, to have its National Strategic Reference Framework for 2007 to 2013 accepted by the European Commission. We can forget that nonsense in the article about it being accepted by the 27-member Union. Nobody but the relevant Commissioners, Danuta Hübner, Commissar for Regional Policy and Vladimir Špidla, in charge of Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, and their staff even know that €20 billion of our money has been earmarked for the Greek economy.

The Greek strategy, we are told, “shows a strong commitment to promote the quality and the intensity of investments in human resources”. The priorities, outlined in the NSRF will be translated into 13 operational programmes, five of them regional and eight thematic, with an additional programme on technical assistance.

In the last quarter of 2006, unemployment in Greece dropped to 8.8 per cent as compared to 9.7 per cent in the same period of 2005. This is still substantially higher than unemployment across the EU and in the Eurozone. At 25.5 per cent Greece still has the highest (together with Poland) unemployment rate among the under 25s. (I wonder why we see no Greek plumbers or builders or waiters in this country.)

The Heritage Foundation Index for Freedom 2007 lists Greece very low among European countries. Its regional ranking is 36, just below Poland and above Croatia, with world ranking 94. It scores low on most signifiers, but particularly on financial freedom, freedom from corruption and labour freedom, all essential matters if a country wants to develop economically, not simply hold its hand out for more aid from other taxpayers in the European Union.

COMMENT THREAD

It looks a little as if the adolescents may find themselves without parental aid and support sooner than they thought. Not that the Americans are withdrawing from the European commitments they faithfully kept to throughout the Cold War. Deary me, no. They are merely realigning their installations.

According to the Department of Defense press release
With the U.S. European Command’s force structure realignment and transformation, it was determined that RAF West Ruislip and RAF Daws Hill are no longer required.
These will now be returned to the host nation though what it will do with them is anybody’s guess. Perhaps turn them into global warming theme parks.

One would guess that there will be quite a lot of force structure realignment and transformation in Europe in the next few years up to and including a complete disappearance of the force, which will no longer be with us.

It is true that in the teeth of smug opposition, Prime Minister Blair wants Britain to be part of the new Missile Defence System and several of the East European countries have also expressed strong interest, despite the inevitable and rather synthetic Russian anger. But Angela Merkel has been rather busy in her latest round of travels (she still finds it rather hard to stay at home for more than a week or so) trying to get European countries to oppose it.

No Missile Defence System and lots of force structure realignment. Well, it won’t hurt the European countries to realize that choices have to be made. It’s called growing up.

COMMENT THREAD

I had not intended to return so quickly to the Iran hostage situation, but two contrasting news pieces demand attention, one in The Daily Mail (no link) and one in the The Daily Telegraph.

The Mail headlines: "'Complacent' Navy faces inquiry", while the Telegraph - Thomas Harding again – has it that, "Vulnerable Royal Navy boats 'like sitting ducks'".

Interestingly, in the Harding story, we are told that "questions over why two lightly armed Royal Navy tenders were allowed so close to Iranian waters largely unprotected will be raised if and when the crisis is resolved," while the Mail tells us that an inquiry is already under way. "Senior commanders" say this paper, "want to know how they (the sailors and marines) could be captured so close to the frigate Cornwall…".

Very much echoing the theme of this blog, the Mail then goes on to say that, "Military sources last night claimed the incident had exposed 'lax procedures'". One "insider" is cited, saying: "We've been doing these boarding operations for months and it looks as though that has bred complacency".

Inevitably, we get a ritual denial from the MoD but, intriguingly, we also get an admission that "the Iranians had played games of cat and mouse with the Navy in the Gulf for months without any serious incident".

So much for the Mail but then we get the specialist correspondent Harding. He tells us that which we already knew, that the Lynx helicopter which escorted the Cornwall's boats in the boarding phase then returned to the frigate. Incredibly though, the reason given was that "...the situation was not deemed dangerous".

We are also told that the Cornwall was stationed between four and eight miles from a suspicious Indian merchant vessel, "because the water was too shallow".

But now Harding the apologist, looking after his chums, kicks in. "Radar operators on board," he writes, "would have been able to spot the green dots of the Iranian boats but they would have remained meaningless among the dozens of dhows in the area until they reached 25 knots," adding:

But with just three minutes travel to the boarding party, the radar would have picked them up too late. It was also too late for the Lynx to get back on station. Launching a helicopter off the back of a warship is not straightforward as the pilot has to judge the precise moment for lift-off.
He then informs us that the ship's 4.5-inch gun would also have been ineffective against the Iranian boats, which can travel up to 40 knots (even though the Cornwall's 4.5, with its highly sophisticated fire control, would have blown the Iranian launches out of the water) and that:

The servicemen were also caught unawares as they were disembarking with some already in the boats, some on the rails and others on the Indian vessel. The Iranians also appeared friendly at first.
Once again, therefore – we get no hint of criticism – an interesting reflection on a newspaper which is quite happy to give politicians, businesses and the rest a hard time. How curious it is that it then gives the armed forces such an easy ride, no matter how lamentably they perform.

And the more one looks at this, the more lamentable the performance of the Royal Navy does seem to have been. In the first instance, local commanders seem to have lacked any notion that the operation on which they were sending their personnel was highly dangerous, in a zone where Iranian action was always a possibility.

Then, as to the Cornwall standing off "four to eight miles" because the water was "too shallow", this beggars belief. Try this one for size: "…we are sending you chaps into action but the road is too narrow for our tank so we're parking it eight miles down the road to back you up".

As we have remarked on the forum, the Royal Navy does have two minesweepers in theatre, HMS Ramsey and HMS Blythe. These are shallow draught, so they could get in close. Furthermore, they are armed with 30mm Bofors Oerlikon guns (circled), which are more than adequate for taking on Iranian speedboats. If the frigate could not do the job, therefore, a more suitable craft should have been deployed - such as one of these minesweepers. The first rule has to be: chose the right tool for the job.

As for the Lynx helicopter, we have remarked on the forum, its best function would have been to provide an overwatch, warning of the approach of the Iranian vessels – although such helicopters are routinely fitted with door-mounted machine guns.


However, as we also pointed out, monitoring the movements of sea vessels is not something that has to be confined to rotary wing aircraft. In fact, the task could be carried out far more economically (and just as effectively) by fixed wing aircraft, in a task exactly analogous with fisheries protection. And, as these pictures illustrate (above), there are any number of small twins which can be used, the illustrations respectively showing Scottish, Irish, Australian and Canadian surveillance aircraft.

Finally, turning to the actual conduct of the boarding, we do not seem to have any footage of the actual capture but film shown by Iranian television does show the team on a dhow (possibly taken earlier by Cornwall personnel) – "grab" illustrated.

What is apparent is the lack of any tactical discipline. The boat crews are focused on picking up the team from the ship, there is no one obviously on lookout, or with weapons at the ready, facing any potential threat. In all, it has the air more of a school outing than a military operation in disputed waters, where there is a risk of capture and death.

In the past months, we have heard a great deal about the "covenant" between the nation and the military, and the obligation of the politicians to ensure that our service personnel are properly equipped and have the resources they need. But this also works the other way. We have a right to expect professional conduct from our armed forces and, on the face of it, there are indications that this was not delivered.

This does not only affect the conduct of operations. On issues such as equipment, it is up to the senior officers to specify what they need – which does not always seem to have been the case – and even with the contentious matter of the Rules of Engagement, field commanders and their superiors must ensure that our armed forces are not put in danger by overly restrictive rules.

We complain that our politicians have no military experience but the corollary of that is that they take advice from their military commanders, and will rarely contradict it. To that extent, our military actually have had a freer hand than they may have had in the past, but it puts a special responsibility on them to get their advice right. One seriously wonders whether that has been the case.

What must happen, therefore, is that the media must get over its infatuation with the military and take a more critical view of its actions and conduct. It could start by looking at the performance of the force commander, Commodore Nick Lambert (above). There seems enough now to be asking whether this man should be court martialled, and whether his superiors also should be held to account.

COMMENT THREAD

We have noted in the past that the European (and that includes British, in this case) anti-American posturing reminds us of nothing so much as adolescents displaying defiance of and contempt for their parents in the certain knowledge that in the case of any real trouble, those contemptible parents will be there to give aid and support.

The real enemy, on the other hand, have no such intention, so it is best not to annoy them. Curiously enough, this ridiculous attitude is now so prevalent that those who display it do not even recognize their own stupidity. They will, undoubtedly, be the first to scream for help if the Americans do, finally, turn their backs on Europe (with the exception of the odd East European country) and Britain.

We can all cite myriads of examples both on a personal and public level. I recall talking to a highly educated lawyer friend soon after 9/11 who was wistfully hoping that President Bush was looking at the rather beautiful moon, as we were (unlikely, given the time difference, but let that pass) and was imbibing peaceful ideas, which he badly needed, being a well-known warmonger. I pointed out that flying aeroplanes full of people into buildings on another country’s territory and killing several thousand in the process was, by any definition, an act of war. Oh yes, she moaned, but I still think … She trailed off.

At the time it was still not done (except on the BBC’s “Any Questions” – remember the treatment meted out to the American ambassador just days after 9/11?) to blame the United States directly for all the ills in the world. That came soon afterwards.

We have now reached a stage when a very large proportion of the population, egged on by the media and the political classes in Britain and on the Continent, do actually believe that the United States is a greater menace to peace than any other country; that it is more oppressive than any other country; and that its democratically elected leader is a bloodthirsty tyrant unlike say the peace loving and fairly elected leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea or Cuba.

One of the commenters on Biased BBC refers to an extraordinary exchange about the British sailors and marines in Iranian hands during a PM programme. The gist of it seems to be that an interviewee happily gets away with saying that we have to be so very careful of what we do because of the way the Americans are behaving at the moment.

This is rather vague as a description, with the writer relying on memory but sounds remarkably accurate.

Still, things are worse in Germany. Through Captain’s Quarters I found an interesting article in Der Spiegel about German anti-Americanism. The author, Claus Christian Malzahn starts his analysis with the not-so-very-surprising information that, according to recent polls, 48 per cent of Germans think that the United States is more dangerous than Iran, rising to 57 per cent among 18 to 29 year olds, with only 31 per cent across the whole population believing the opposite.

Presumably, much of that argument is based on that curious assumption that Iran has never actually attacked anyone. Well, give or take a few terrorist groups that they fund, arm and train, I suppose they merely threaten Israel with annihilation and, of course, seriously oppress their own people. Oh yes, there is that rather curious presence in Iraq and, well, they do seem to have kidnapped 15 British sailors and marines. But hey, who is counting?

Mr Malzahn blames the German political establishment, who will, in his opinion, shed crocodile tears at this unfriendly attitude towards the country’s great ally.
The German political establishment, which will no doubt loudly lament the result of the poll, is largely responsible for this wave of anti-Americanism. For years the country's foreign ministers fed the Germans the fairy tale of what they called a "critical dialogue" between Europe and Iran. It went something like this: If we are nice to the ayatollahs, cuddle up to them a bit and occasionally wag our fingers at them when they've been naughty, they'll stop condemning their women to death for "unchaste behavior" and they'll stop building the atom bomb.

That plan failed at some point -- an outcome, incidentally, that Washington had long anticipated. Iran continues to work away unhindered on its nuclear program, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reacts to UN demands with an ostentatious show of ignorance. The UN gets upset and drafts a resolution.

Another item on the Iranian president's wish list is the annihilation of Israel. But that will take a bit longer. In the meantime, just to make sure it doesn't get out of practice, the regime had 15 British soldiers kidnapped a few days ago. But it's still all the Americans' fault -- that much is obvious.
He then goes through the various “reasons” why Germans dislike Americans, knowing them so well through all those holidays they spend there. Much of it, of course, applies to other Europeans and the British as well. How many people know exactly what Americans are like (too materialistic and too religious, too obese and too obsessed with keeping fit, too aggressive and too apologetic all at the same time) after a visit or two to Florida or California?

Germany, in Mr Malzahn’s opinion, has special reasons for hating the Americans:
Worst of all, the Americans won the war in 1945. (Well, with German help, of course -- from Einstein and his ilk.) There are some Germans who will never forgive the Americans for VE Day, when they defeated Hitler. After all, Nazism was just an accident, whereas Americans are inherently evil. Just look at President Bush, the man who, as some of SPIEGEL ONLINE's readers steadfastly believe, "is worse than Hitler." Now that gives us a chance to kill two birds with one stone. If Bush is the new Hitler, then we Germans have finally unloaded the Führer on to someone else.
The Germans are not alone in this belief. How often do we hear about the incipient fascism and tyranny of the United States? Yet, it is a country that has never come even near to having either a fascist or a communist dictatorship. How many self-righteous Europeans can say the same thing about their own homeland?

The point is, of course, that there will be no consequences of these constant attacks on America and Americans, whereas the situation with Iran and other countries of that ilk is very different. You might find yourself under serious threats, some of which may be carried out.

Your “parents”, on the other hand, are never really going to let you down. Or are they? Will they finally get tired of this adolescent tantrum throwing?

This is what Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters suggests, having made it clear that he does not think America never makes mistakes in its foreign policy. It makes plenty, as do all countries.
Perhaps the Germans would get a better appreciation for security issues if they shouldered more of the burden for them. It's time to close down the relics of the Cold War in Germany, and locate our military forces in nations more amenable to America. Poland would probably have some interest in hosting American bases, and they would have more strategic location in this era than Germany. Let the Germans have their space from the warmongering Americans and pay for their own national security. We do not need to stay where we are not wanted or appreciated.
He is not alone in voicing these opinions. There is, indeed, little logic to keeping American or, for that matter, British troops in Germany. But if the west Europeans are so anxious to be rid of those incredibly dangerous Americans, their wish may well be fulfilled. The unthinkable might happen and the adolescents may well find that their threats to leave home are suddenly taken seriously.

COMMENT THREAD

Left in the humiliating position of having nothing in the locker with which to take on the Iranians after their abduction of our service personnel, our esteemed government has been running, cap in hand, to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Iran's action.

For all we got for our efforts, though, we need not have bothered. The mighty mouse groaned and heaved and delivered what Reuters called "a watered-down statement" which merely expressed "grave concern" at the detention of the 15 British crew members, calling on Tehran to allow "consular access" to them.

Britain had wanted a call for their immediate release but this was apparently blocked by the Russians. Her ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, is reported to have told the Council, during the closed-door consultations, that Moscow would not back Britain's call for UN support.

The original British draft circulated Wednesday would have had the Security Council "deplore the continuing detention by the Government of Iran of 15 UK naval personnel" and back "calls for (their) immediate release". It would note that "the UK personnel were operating in Iraqi waters as part of the Multinational Force-Iraq under a mandate from the Security Council under Resolution 1723 (2006) and at the request of the government of Iraq."

The final UN statement, however, avoided the issue of whether the ambush took place in Iranian or Iraqi waters, leaving the British service personnel hung out to dry.

More and more, this is developing into a "Tipperary situation" - after the old joke in which a tourist in the depths of Ireland asks a local the way to the town, only to be told, "I wouldn't start from here".

And, as more details emerge of the snatch, it has emerged that only two boats were initially used by the Iranians. Video footage has been released by Iranian television showing close-ups of one of the vessels, a small speedboat with a crew of three, armed with what appears to be a single 12.7mm machine gun.

This was hardly a formidable force and one which, with the right assets in place and an alert overwatch, could easily have been seen off. Given the enormous repercussions of the kidnapping – to say nothing of the national humiliation – questions as to how the British service personnel were so easily ambushed now become increasingly urgent.

COMMENT THREAD

It is entirely possible that some readers will show their displeasure at the fact that I have posted a picture of Eugene of Savoy at the start of a piece about Turkey, he being the general who defeated the Ottomans once or twice. This statue celebrates the Battle of Zenta of 1697 and stands above the Danube, in front of Buda castle. As he looks out, Prince Eugene commands a very fine view (though not as fine as the views in Yorkshire).

It was a short piece on American Thinker that led me to think of Prince Eugene. It seems that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was irritated by a farewell present to retiring (and not a moment too soon) President Chirac from Chancellor Merkel. It seems the antique beer mug was decorated by illustrations from a French victory over the Ottomans.

Thomas Lifson is rightly disdainful about the Turkish huffing and puffing:
Gull [sic] should understand that we are free to celebrate our victories. Americans celebrate our Revolutionary War from Britain with nary a peep from our Brit cousins. The French celebrate their victory at Austerlitz with a railway station, and Germany doesn't object. I have to wonder if Turkey might not celebrate a victory or two.
Very true, I thought, seething again at the thought of an inscription I read to a picture in the Royal Academy's "Turks" exhibition about the "glorious Szigetvár campaign" in Hungary in the sixteenth century. Glorious? It was a national tragedy, lightened merely by the heroism of the defenders, all but a handful of whom were killed.

And right again about Brits not minding too much about the Revolutionary War, not even when seriously misleading films such as "The Patriot" are produced. Though I cannot help thinking that German equanimity about the Battle of Austerlitz may have something to do with the fact that they were not much involved, it being the "Battle of the Three Emperors": Napoleon, Francis I of Austria (then still the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II) and Alexander I of Russia.

What rather puzzled me was the French victory over the Ottomans. I looked up the history of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century and found several Russo-Turkish wars, which went this way and that (mostly that) and several defeats of the Ottomans by the Austrians under Prince Eugene of Savoy (hence the picture). Of course, some of the defeats were reversed and had to be repeated but, on the whole, events went this way.

Which French victory? Right at the bottom of the list, dear reader, is something I ought to have remembered (mea culpa): 1798 Battle of the Pyramids. Quite so, though, as it was swiftly followed by the Battle of Aboukir and the Siege of Acre, it may not be something the French care to dwell on too much, despite Napoleon's stirring words to his soldiers:
Soldiers, from the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.
Still, the Germans could have produced a beer mug with l'empereur making that speech or fighting the mameluk army.

Looking up the original story I found, sadly, that it was all a storm in a tea-cup or beer mug.
The German government said Wednesday the commotion had sprung from a misunderstanding: The mug, manufactured around 1710 in Germany, was adorned with flower ornaments, not a pictorial depiction of a historic war victory.
I wonder which translator was responsible for that little effort and whether he or she is in the Bosphorus yet.

Meanwhile, beer mugs aside, something is stirring on the EU-Turkish front. The negotiations have been resumed with the opening of another chapter, number 20, to be precise, on enterprise and industrial policies, "after the German presidency held emergency talks between Spain, France and the European Commission (EC) on Monday". In fact, this is only the second chapter that has been opened in the negotiations with Turkey, so the ten year long timetable remains over-optimistic.

The question of whether Turkey could or should ever become part of the European Union is very wide, indeed, and starts with a very basic query for the EU: exactly how far does it intend to expand and what is the purpose of that expansion.

On other postings I have argued that the EU is a little like an amoeba (though less useful) in that it can exist only if it enlarges itself. If it is not negotiating the entry of new members it has to deal with all the internal contradictions of its structure as it exists. That would be an intolerable burden for the politicians and theoreticians of integration.

Aydın Dumanoğlu, the co-chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission, expressed the view that the EU and Turkey needed each other, as "the EU needs Turkey as a global actor and Turkey needs the EU as a vision".

It is nice to hear somebody describing the EU as a vision after all these years. It is, however, a vision that has been somewhat tarnished, not least in the eyes of the Turkish people who see a great deal of hostility to themselves (and if their foreign minister goes around making dumb comments, they can expect no other) and in the eyes of the Turkish military, a very important participant, who do not seem to like the idea of having to make choices between European defence strategies and the American alliance.

However, there is one very good reason why the EU needs Turkey. With the Turks inside the tent the European army may well become a reality at last.

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One need hold no brief for the Foreign Office to feel that the Daily Mail's criticism is a little bit wide of the mark.

For sure, its policy of appeasement has not improved the credibility of Britain but, as the latest Iranian response indicates, our diplomats have been dealt an almost impossible hand, where they hold very few cards.

Clearly, the Iranians are playing games, now suggesting that the promised release of Faye Turney may be delayed because of the UK's "incorrect attitude", demonstrating quite how difficult it is to deal with a government that simply has no conception of what playing by the rules actually means.

But, while seeking the release of our people is vitally important, not for one moment must the government (and especially the MoD) be allowed to gloss over the circumstances which gave rise to their abduction in the first place.

A classic line was taken by The Daily Telegraph with Thomas Harding cosying up to his chums in the military, noting only of the incident that, "caught unawares," the British personnel "had little choice but to surrender." He does not ask, though, why the personnel were caught with their pants down.

Neither was there any hint of criticism of the military from Tory foreign affairs spokesman William Hague who, in yesterday's Commons debate sought merely to "commend our forces for the difficult and dangerous tasks that they are undertaking", then asking whether the MoD would "look again at its configuration of forces in the area, so that the forces undertaking these tasks are fully protected, or better protected, or better able to deter interference with their activities?"

Ann Winterton, however, took a far more robust line, asking foreign secretary Margaret Beckett:

Will the Foreign Secretary have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that in future no British forces operate in Iraqi waters - which are known to be extremely dangerous; past incidents proved that -unsupported and without appropriate protection and back-up? Could there not be other incidents in future - we very much hope not - and might this not be a dangerous precedent given that, possibly bearing in mind the current rules of engagement, there is no meaningful deterrent against the Iranians?
Beckett, of course, sought to divert attention from this issue, stating that "there will be a careful review of the courses of action that the government should pursue in future," but then emphasising that "the focus at present is on action on the diplomatic front to recover our personnel" … exactly the line taken by the bulk of the media.

Winterton, however, backed up her plea with a letter published in today's Telegraph, picking up the sloppy reporting by the paper a few days earlier. She wrote:

The report (March 27) that "questions were asked in the House of Commons yesterday about whether rules of engagement prevented the Cornwall from opening fire " is inaccurate. I did not even mention the Cornwall in my question to the minister of state.

The best information available is that the Cornwall was out of visual contact with the two British boats when they were surrounded by several Iranian fast patrol boats with heavier arms. The question is why that was the case, given the risks in the area and UN action the following day to impose sanctions on Iran over its atomic programme, which was likely to cause some reaction. If the Cornwall had been in visual contact, would the Iranians have risked the abduction?

It seems to me that Britain is expecting its service personnel to take on ambitious and dangerous projects without providing adequate protection and back-up.
For once, even The Business is losing its usually deft touch, remarking, entirely reasonably that, "Spineless Britain faces its greatest humiliation since the Suez crisis," but failing to comment on why we ended up in this mess in the first place.

Beckett's "careful review of the courses of action that the government should pursue in future," is not good enough. The military must be held to account and, if there are failings – at whatever level – these must be identified and action taken to ensure there are no repeat failures. It serves no one's interest – least of all the armed forces – for any failings to go uncorrected. There must, therefore, be a proper, public inquiry on how the events of 23 March came to pass.

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According to The Times, the decision to offer no resistance to Iran "was down to the commander of the two boats". And there was no air cover at the time because a helicopter had just returned to HMS Cornwall after watching the successful boarding of a merchant vessel.

Of this latter information, we were aware, as this is recorded by the MoD website. But, since that was the case, one has to return to the issue of why the Cornwall was out of visual contact with the boarding team, and why she did not position herself between the boarded ship and the Iranian border, where she could better detect any protential threat.

Alternatively, we have things called Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft. One of these could have provided an overwatch for the whole of the Northern Gulf. But it is precisely these aircraft which we know have been used for land surveillance, backing up our forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Thus, it seems as if the overall shortage of assets could be having a knock-on effect right through the system, the end result being that our people are left unprotected.

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We have now an account of the Iranian abduction of our sailors and marines. According to Vice Admiral Charles Style, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, briefing on the MoD website, the events were as follows:

Our boarding started at 0739 local time and was completed at 0910 with the merchant vessel having been cleared to continue with her business. Communications were lost with the boarding team as the boarding was finishing … at 0910. HMS CORNWALL's Lynx helicopter, which had been covering the initial stages of the boarding, immediately returned to the scene to locate the boarding team.

The helicopter reported that the two seaboats were being escorted by Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Navy vessels towards the Shatt 'Al Arab Waterway and were now inside Iranian territorial waters. Debriefing of the helicopter crew and a conversation with the master of the merchant ship both indicate that the boarding team were ambushed while disembarking from the merchant vessel.
Now, with reference to the chart provided (above), using the measurements supplied by the MoD, the mother ship, HMS Cornwall is about 8.5 nautical miles from the boarding party - to the south east. Why wasn't she between the boarding party and the Iranian border?

Then, her top (flank) speed is 30 knots, but she takes a little time to work up to that so, on that basis, it will take her up to 20 minutes to get to the scene.

But, it would appear, the Cornwall does not immediately set out. All we are told is that, when communications are lost, the helicopter is "immediately" despatched and reports the British boats under escort, already in Iranian waters.

Now, it can only take the Lynx a couple of minutes to get to the scene. And the British boats are already over the border. They have travelled around two nautical miles to get there – faster than the Lynx can get to the scene, even though it left "immediately"?

Then we see the Iranian film. One scene is missing from the BBC rendition , a very short sequence with a "grab" shown above right. This shows a close up of HMS Cornwall. But it is Iranian film.

Let me get this straight ... one presumes the Cornwall is still in Iraqi waters. So, the Iranians, having kidnapped two boat crews from the Cornwall now hang around in Iraqi waters to get a video shot of the frigate? Otherwise, how come the Cornwall got that close to the Iranian boats? And if Iranian boats are in Iraqi waters, how come no protest is made?

Between what we are seeing and what we are being told, there seems to be a few gaps. And what we see simply does not compute.

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Temporarily away from my desk and my own computer. In fact, I have wandered into strange territory, known as West Yorkshire. So guess whose computer I am using? A clue is provided by the green helmet that is sitting atop the machinery. (Actually, it was delivered by me today. I got some very funny looks on the train.)

According to AFP, three Italian nationals have been charged and are being held in custody in Brussels as part of the corruption probe we reported yesterday. The three include an official working for the EU commission, an assistant to a member of the EU parliament and a businessman.

The three men, who live in Belgium and whose names were not given, were charged with forgery and using forged documents, corruption, fraud and forming a criminal organisation. Said spokesperson Jos Colpin for the Belgian prosecuting office, "There were bribes of millions of euros for more than 10 years." The bribes were paid in relation to public tenders for buildings housing "European Commission delegations outside of EU territory", he said.

The official is 46 and works for the commission services responsible for managing delegations' infrastructure. The second person charged is aged 60 and is the personal assistant of an Italian member of the EU parliament. The third person, 39, runs a real estate consortium.

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For all their supposed savvy, there is something touchingly naïve in The Independent today, claiming as it does an "exclusive" interview with the female sailor Faye Turney, recorded only hours before she was abducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

In a world where much of the media spreads its wares over the internet, does not the paper realise that we can read the same interview (or extracts from it) on the BBC website, in The Telegraph, in The Scotsman, The Daily Mail, and sundry others? Or does it think that people who read The Independent do not even look at anything else?

That the words and wisdom (and pictures) of Mrs Turney should grace the pages of so many newspapers, however, somehow typifies the state of our nation. As the captivity of the forlorn fifteen stretches into its sixth day, the attention devoted to the one female member of the former boarding party seems to mark yet another stage in the feminisation of our society – as a precursor to its headlong dash into infantilisation.

That Mrs Turney also has a three-year-old daughter, currently looked after at home by her husband also seems to convey a message. This is a society which appears content to send wives and mothers out to war while the men stay at home to look after the children.

Nor indeed do we get much comfort from the father of a naval officer serving in HMS Cornwall in the Gulf. In a letter to The Telegraph he finds it "very interesting to read the comments of those who seem to think that Cornwall should have somehow intervened to prevent the capture of her sailors and Marines by the Iranians." Asks Mr P R Woad of Chichester, West Sussex, "What should she have done? Blow the Iranians out of the water?" Er…. yes. What, in the final analysis, are warships for?

It is rather fitting, therefore, that the most robust comments on this debacle actually come from a woman, the redoubtable Melanie Phillips, writing in The Daily Mail. In its response to these events, she writes, "Britain seems to be in some kind of dreamworld. There is no sense of urgency or crisis, no outpouring of anger. There seems to be virtually no grasp of what is at stake." She then adds:

Some commentators have languidly observed that in another age this would have been regarded as an act of war. What on earth are they talking about? It is an act of war. There can hardly be a more blatant act of aggression than the kidnapping of another country's military personnel.
Melanie is absolutely right. All we are getting of Blair and his sad crew are reports that he has "piled the pressure on Iran" and is now demanding "the immediate release" of our personnel.

Or what, Tony?

It takes Victor Davis Hansen of the National Review to remind us that EU is Iran's largest trading partner and "a cessation of commerce would do more than anything to weaken the theocracy."

Why, therefore, are we not seeing demands for action on this front? Why, in fact, are we not seeing demands for action on any front? Why is it that we are led by wimps and have to suffer a media that seems more interested in girlies than action? Is this the same nation that spawned Nelson and of Churchill, or have we too become a nation of wimps?

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Given very little coverage by the MSM, yesterday a small demonstration was mounted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The demonstrators were calling on Britain to obey a ruling of the European Court of Justice to remove People's Mujahdeen Organisation of Iran from the official EU terror list.

Before this had been framed against the growing crisis of the service personnel abducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the background had been set out by Christopher Booker just over a week ago when he described the eagerness of our government to flout EU law in order to appease the dictatorial regime in Iran.

In March 2001 Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, placed on the list of terrorist organisations, under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the leading Iranian dissident organisation, the People's Muhajedeen of Iran (PMOI), even though the PMOI claims to be opposed to terrorism in any way and wishes only to carry on its campaign for freedom and democracy in Iran in a peaceful fashion. Mr Straw last year admitted to the BBC that he had done this at the behest of the Teheran regime.

Later that year, after 9/11, the EU drew up its own list of proscribed organisations and individuals linked to terrorism, and in May 2002, at the UK's behest, the PMOI was added to the list. With its assets thus frozen and its activities drastically circumscribed, the PMOI petitioned the European Court of Justice that the EU Council of Ministers had acted improperly, on a whole range of grounds.

In February 2003 the UK Government became the only EU state to join the case as a third party. Last December, the ECJ found in the PMOI's favour, ruling that it had never been given a fair hearing and that its name should never have been put on the list of terrorist organisations. Nevertheless, in January, again on the UK Government's insistence, the Council of Ministers told the PMOI that, regardless of the court’s ruling, its name would remain on the list.

The deadline for any appeal against the judgement has now passed. In its zeal to appease one of the most ruthless and dangerous regimes in the world, Booker wrote, the British government has thus persuaded its "partner" simply to put up two very large fingers to EU law.

The story has been told in more detail here, with author Joseph Omidvar accusing the EU of being "hell-bent on pursuing the threadbare policy of appeasing Tehran". He then observed that "the mullahs are always ready to exploit all these signs of craven weakness."

Despite Jack Straw's attempts as foreign secretary to cosy up to the monster, no more does this apply than to the government and the current situation.

From a strong piece in Hot Air it appears that a British boarding party was involved in a tense stand off against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy in December 2004, when they were surrounded by Guards in armed patrol boats. The impasse was only resolved when the British sailors were lifted by helicopter off the merchant ship they had boarded, where they had taken refuge.

MPs are now asking the government whether there were any other such incidents, as it begins to look like the 15 sailors and marines abducted last week were specifically targeted by the Iranians because of previously weak responses by the British and the evident vulnerability of their patrols.

You would have thought that the British government, more than most, would have understood the perils of appeasement but, it seems, the lessons of Munich, all those years ago, have been forgotten. It was Winston Churchill who observed in this context that, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." But, after years of appeasing the mullahs, it is 15 British servicemen who have ended up feeding the crocodile.

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UPDATED

Police raids have been carried out on offices in the EU commission in Brussels, and the EU parliament, as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. More than 150 federal police searched the Berlaymont building and an office of an aide to the Parliament. It is understood that three people were detained and an investigating judge is to decide whether they will be arrested.

Other premises, banks, company offices and homes, in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Italy have also visted by police in a series of coordinated dawn raids, making about 30 raids in all, targeting EU officials who are accused of taking bribes, and possible accomplices.

At the centre of the investigation are tenders for buildings used for housing EU commission delegations abroad and the installation of security equipment in those buildings.

According to IHT the Belgian prosecutors office said the raids, in which investigators seized dozens of documents, had taken place at dawn to ensure the element of surprise.

Prosecutors said the raids were part of a three-year-old investigation into contracts for commission housing and security equipment aimed at housing commission delegations abroad. They said investigators were examining whether EU civil servants had links to organized crime, had violated professional secrets or had breached public procurement laws.

"The investigation involves suspected bribery of European civil servants, forming a criminal organization, violating professional secrecy, breaches of public tenders laws and forgery," the Brussels Prosecutors office said in a statement.

A French police spokesman has told Bloomberg News that the case involved two Italian members of the European Parliament and an alleged connection to organized crime.

The EU commission has declined to comment specifically on the allegations. "It would be inappropriate for the commission to comment on any aspects of the investigation," said Johannes Laitenberger, a European Commission spokesman. "Until the end of the inquiry and facts are established, presumption of innocence must prevail."

Hans Peter Martin, an independent Austrian member of the European Parliament, who sits on the budgetary control committee and has been involved in investigating allegations of fraud at the European Parliament, said it was too early to tell whether the investigation was limited or could have a larger political impact.

"It is hard to say whether this is a case of the Belgian police trying to show off or if this is more than just action based on a qualified rumour," he said in a telephone interview. "It still has not risen to the political level in terms of its effect."

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First, the good news. Well, I think it is good news, though we have not heard the average Darfurian’s opinion on this. The People’s Daily reports that:
UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes stressed here Monday that humanitarian efforts in western Sudanese region of Darfur would continue despite difficulties.

During a press conference following his conclusion of one-week visit to Sudan, he told the reporters that "humanitarian efforts undertaken over the past three years are to be considered an extraordinary success giving the scale of the Darfur problem."
The trouble with all these statements is that there is no verification. Given the scale of the Darfur problem and given that all we hear about is the various horrors, what exactly is “an extraordinary success”? The simple existence of aid workers in the area? Surely that is anything but a success, as they are actually consumers of resources.

What is it the UN humanitarian efforts have achieved? Apparently, as in Iraq, they have become targets of attacks by various groups and militias, as well as encountering “practical difficulties relating to travel permits, visas, labor law and so on”. In fact, it sounds as if most of the efforts the UN expands in Sudan has to do with the aid workers themselves.

While we are on the subject of the UN, we have an update on the preposterous UN Human Rights Council, which as Reuters says with a straight face, was “launched last year to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission”.

Its 47 members has accepted a recommendation from a five-country working group, one of whose members is that shining beacon of human rights, Zimbabwe, that Iran and Uzbekistan should “be removed from the so-called 1503 procedure under which accusations of violations are discussed in closed-door, confidential sessions”.

Apparently, this is in line with the view of the majority of states on the Council that individual states should not be singled out for critical attention. Then who should? What exactly is the Human Rights Commission going to do if not raise the subject of human rights in various countries? Silly me, it is going to criticize the United States and Israel, just as its predecessor used to do.

None of this would matter if we did not have to pay rather a large amount of money for this malarkey.

Perhaps it would matter less if the UN and its Human Rights Council actually managed to look a little more seriously at its complete failure to do anything but criticize the United States and Israel, ignoring many millions of victims all over the world.

However, as this posting by Charles Johnson on Little Green Footballs shows, when UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer dares to tell the truth, he is abused and threatened by the Council president, Luis Alfonso de Alba, who informs us all that any similar comments will, in future, be struck from the record.

Watch the recording if you can.

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From a piece by Yaron London in Ynet News:

In the mythology of the global Left, the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939 was considered a shining example of assisting the oppressed. The good were on its side, it was written about the volunteers of the International Brigade. Had such a war erupted in our times, the global Left would have demonstrated in favor of the fascists.
Nice one.

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We are all human and, heaven knows, we make more than a few mistakes on this blog. However, mistakes are one thing – sheer sloppiness is another.

And that is the line the front page story in The Daily Telegraph crosses today when Whitehall editor Christopher Hope claims that: "Questions were asked in the House of Commons yesterday about whether Britain's rules of engagement in Iraq prevented the Cornwall from opening fire on the Iranians."

Although, as we reported yesterday, rules of engagement were raised by Ann Winterton, she did not mention HMS Cornwall. Mr Hope seems to be labouring under the impression that the Cornwall was in visual contact with the abducted boarding party - which is not something that can be assumed – and thus injected a reference which was entirely absent in the original proceedings.

From the very earliest, it emerged that the ship was in electronic communication only, via the Lynx, and heard of the abduction only from the helicopter.

This seems largely to be confirmed by The Daily Mail today, which, in a question and answer session, asks: "How could Iranians seize well-armed personnel?", offering this answer:

By surprise and force of numbers. The two British boats, armed with light weapons, were surrounded by a dozen or more Iranian fast patrol boats with heavier weapons. Despite the known risks in the area, the Britons were out of visual range of the heavily-armed Cornwall and a helicopter from the warship.
What the Telegraph offers, therefore, does indeed seem to be sloppy reporting, but it also demonstrates that the paper has missed the plot. As the Mail indicates, there were known risks – not least with Royal Marines having been previously abducted, in 2004. Whatever happens, therefore, there must be an inquiry as to why the boarding party was exposed to such risks.

One clue might come from an earlier piece published on the BBC website, recording an interview with the former First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West. Asked what training the (abducted) personnel have been given to help them in the event of capture, West responds: "These particular people would not be trained in counter-interrogation techniques because they are not expected to be captured."

That betrays an enormous degree of complacency which, if it is an accurate reflection of the view of the top brass, seems to verge on criminal negligence. But this seems to have passed the Telegraph by. As is all too often the case these days, when it comes to asking the hard questions, the MSM does not even look like it's in the game.

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Well, I suppose this is really not quite the done thing but one cannot help sympathizing with the woman in question.

As Expatica reports, the widow of one of the victims of the Madrid bombs attended the trial wearing a white t-shirt with the Mohammed cartoon on the front.

She sat among the audience for a while, then walked up to the glass enclosure where the accused were and stood in front of them for a while, subsequently leaving the court.

There was some confusion for a while as the presiding judge was not sure whether she was a relative of one of the accused and whether there was a message on the shirt for anybody. Well, of course, there was but it was not a message the accused wanted to see.

Filming of the trial was stopped briefly and the judge sent to find out the woman's identity. Having satisfied himself that she was not in cahoots with the accused, he announced that she was free to wear what she liked and the trial continued.

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Our sailors and marines - why did they not defend themselves? They were not allowed to ... their rules of engagement did not permit it.

This was raised in Defence Questions today by Ann Winterton MP. She put to the defence minister that "the current rules of engagement that allow no conflict in Iraqi waters with Iranian forces" and thus suggested that "this led directly to 15 of our service personnel being abducted by the Iranians".

Defence minister Adam Ingram was evasive, telling MPs not to speculate. "Let us stand back and understand the sensitivity of the situation," he pleaded. "There is too much speculation about what happened and what did not happen."

Then, in classic fashion, he went on not to answer the question, offering only obscurity: "Those carrying out that mission clearly have to respond to the level of threat that is posed to them ... We will have to investigate that when they are safely returned to these shores and we get their version of events rather than the speculation that is being paraded around in the media and elsewhere."

But Winterton was not speculating. Directly from extremely angry servicemen recently back from Iraq, she had received information that boarding parties were under rigid instructions that left no room for discretion. Even though faced with Iranian Revolutionary Guards, every one of the Party knew that to fire a weapon (even a warning shot) would have ensured their personal Court Martial.

This still does not explain, however, why the boarding party was caught by surprise by six Iranian vessels (and no one has disputed that figure). The team was equipped with fast, highly manoeuvrable boats and, given an alert overwatch, the members should have got enough warning to enable them to break for the shore or call up reinforcements.

Interestingly, no further light has been shone on this murky episode in the unofficial Army forum, where such matters are often discussed at length. A moderator moved in quickly to delete threads and shut down further comment, on the grounds that, "there now exists a real danger that speculation and reported remarks influenced by genuine anger will be to the detriment of the safety of our people and OPSEC (operational security)".

That the incident is being widely discussed on media forums and comment threads seems to have escaped the board moderators, demonstrating an acute sensitivity on the subject.

As it stands, therefore, it looks like the boarding party members were set up like rats in a trap, unable to defend themselves, leaving the Iranians only to say thank you very much indeed for the free hostages. And instead of facing their own military courts, our people are now at risk of being paraded through the Iranian courts, to the utter humiliation of a nation which cannot even safeguard its own troops.

Meanwhile read this from Hot Air.

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There they are, the "colleagues" lining up in Berlin for the "family photograph", with Mr Blair well in the back row, and what do we see on the wall behind them?

There is no identification as to the donor – who paid for the banner - but it is somehow rather sad that there are still people in the United States who are deluded enough to wish the European Union well (nothwithstanding that it only came into being in 1990).

Still, since one of the main sponsors of European integration back in the 1950s and 60s was the United States – without which it is unlikely that the Treaties of Rome would ever have happened – it was inevitable that American well-wishers should want to applaud their own handiwork.

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Small European nations, such as the three Baltic states, cannot easily sustain the cost of maintaining a dual defence arrangement with Nato and the European Union.

So said Estonian President Toomas Ilves (pictured), at a press conference in Helsinki with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, both leaders agreeing that the best solution for nations like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is for the EU to increase collaboration with Nato and establish a joint approach to European defence systems.

This is according to Defense News which has Ilves complaining that, while large European countries might be able to afford a dual system, the smaller ones cannot. Estonia, for instance, is both a Nato member and a nation within the EU. "In defence terms," he says, "this demands we dedicate time and resources to our Nato role and EU defence systems. This is costly for small nations. The vital dimension is that the EU and NATO must collaborate more closely."

This blows apart any claim that the EU defence identity is complementary to Nato, simply providing an alternative political framework for deploying the same military forces in areas where there is no Nato interest.

Hence does the Estonian president complain that it makes no sense for Europe to have two powerful parallel organisations that have "little contact with each other." He believes it would be much better "if small European nations could co-ordinate their defence arrangements with a single European defence organisation, rather than having to budget for two parallel organisations."

"National defence costs are rising at a time when European nations are being called upon to support Nato's international crisis missions and contribute to the EU's rapid response forces," added the Finnish president. "The issue of dual defence arrangements is one that needs to be examined."

This is, of course, precisely the issue to which we have been drawing attention for some time, so it is helpful to get formal acknowledgement that Nato EU members are having to finance what amounts to two separate defence polities.

This has been evident in the British struggle to support the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also building up the incompatible equipment and structures needed to meet the specifications for the European Rapid Reaction Force.

One area where Ilves is wrong, though, is in believing that large European countries can necessarily afford a dual system. The UK cannot afford huge white elephants like the Eurofighter, and it cannot afford two carrier groups and the Army's FRES programme, and support two wards, all on the current defence budget.

Our government has to admit that this, and – if it is going to maintain its commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan – cut back its support for building a European defence identity. Otherwise, it must put much more money into the defence budget and come clean with the British public, identifying the additional expenditures as part of the price of further European integration.

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