Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

Obama continues to vocally argue that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear capability, and recently signed an agreement with Russia to reduce the nuclear arsenal of both countries.

Evidently then, he can see neither the irony nor the hypocrisy in going cap in hand to his senate to ask for 80 billion dollars with which to keep the US nuclear stockpile such that every other nation should continue to cower in fear of American military might. Well, they are, after all, the only country to have ever unleashed nuclear weapons against another nation and they have an ongoing policy of interference and seeking out armed conflict overseas, so fear is an appropriate response.

Iran hasn’t been involved in a war since the Iran-Iraq war of the eighties, back when Saddam Hussein was the regional golden boy of the US and it was apparently still acceptable to use mustard gas and other chemical weapons on Iranians and Kurds. It wasn’t until the US needed a pretext to start a war against Iraq that the US suddenly became righteously indignant about their former protégé’s war crimes.

I know which nation I fear more out of Iran and the US, and I base that on documented behaviour, both past and present, not fearmongering and lazy Western journalism.

The messianic qualities of the current US president continue to be grossly exaggerated. It just goes to show you how far having an appallingly bad predecessor, the combination of black skin with centuries of white guilt, and a good speech-writer can catapult one.

American War Crime Documented

WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video that depicts the indiscriminate slaying of more than dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. The victims include two Reuters journalists.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success, since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his would-be rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured. However, the video clearly shows the two children at the window of the van that had stopped to pick up the wounded.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”. Of course they were.

Make sure to watch the film through to the end.

Balkenende IV Falls

Our country is once again without a government. After a 15 hour crisis meeting to shore up the ramshackle remains of a coalition at the end of its collective tether, the cabinet fell at about 04:00 in the night of Friday to Saturday.

Not coincidentally, I’ve regained some respect for Wouter Bos in the last 12 hours.

Bos wanted to stick to an agreement made by this cabinet in 2007 when it first took office, that Dutch troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of 2010. Significantly, the majority of the population of this country still support the withdrawal of troops, as do an overwhelming number of politicians in the Dutch parliament. So, what could possibly be the problem?

Well, that agreement was made three whole years ago and you know what politicians are like. Bos’s CDA and CU colleagues felt that the cabinet should continue to discuss all options, which, of course, is not very well veiled political twaddle for wanting to ram their own will down the voters’ throat. Who cares about the will of the people or their elected representatives in Dutch parliament?

NATO recently issued a formal request for the Dutch to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010, no doubt assuming that those in power would do the usual cowardly thing and bend to the will of their American masters. Not this time, though.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with the PvdA these days, but, to his credit, Bos wasn’t having any of it. An agreement is an agreement, he said, and the will of the people isn’t there to support other options, so why discuss them? No, Dutch troops must be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2010 and I’m not willing to discuss alternatives.

And, with neither side prepared to back down and lose face either towards the other coalition partners or, indeed, within their own party faction, the last drops of goodwill at the bottom of a barrel already more than vigorously scraped evaporated, leaving Bos no other choice but to resign from the cabinet. With that, he took the support of the PvdA with him, leaving the cabinet unable to continue to govern.

For Balkenende, our Harry Potter lookalike prime-minister, it’s the latest of four dissolved cabinets that he has led. Not once in the history of his four terms in office has he managed to see the job through to the end. Either the man is very unlucky or it’s time to draw an increasingly unavoidable conclusion. Time to write your memoires, perhaps, Jan Peter?

The government splintering into pieces is becoming business as usual in this country. Things could be a lot worse, though. Looking around, one could be forgiven for indulging in the wishful thinking that some other countries’ governments would throw in the towel. Seemingly, no scandal is large enough to bring about the demise of the government in many countries, notably the more powerful ones. The politicians themselves have no honour, so they remain in office long after they’ve been exposed and discredited as idiots and liars, and the public who put them there are too jaded to demand their resignation. Democracy in action, people.

At least the coalition system here ensures that the politicians ultimately end up trusting one another as little as we trust all of them. You have to at least be grateful that our forefathers built that little bit of amusing poetic justice into the system, don’t you?

Anyway, not much is going to get done here in the next few months. The queen will appoint a demissionary government, whose bums will serve to warm the seats of the next elected government of this land. By its very nature, though, this cabinet won’t be empowered to do much. One has to wonder how the current economic crisis will be navigated. What, for example, would happen if a Dutch bank appeared likely to keel over on Monday? It’s not clear that it could be prevented, even if the political will to do so were there.

Perhaps the hardest question of all is who to vote for in the summer, which is when the next general election will probably happen. No-one’s looking even remotely appealing.

There’s ample material there for another blog entry, though.

Nobel Prize For What Exactly?

The news that Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize travelled around the world today like wildfire. Obama said he was surprised that he had been chosen. I’ll go one better and say that I’m positively flabbergasted.

It seems that one can now be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of words alone. After all, Obama talks about peace at every opportunity, but what has he actually done to achieve it? Aren’t peace prizes supposed to recognise, oh, you know, actual achievements?

The Nobel committee applauded Obama’s approach of considered international diplomacy and the willingness to make concessions along the way. Whilst these qualities are, indeed, uncommon traits in American leaders, they’re not unusual per se. it does therefore seem as if Obama is being rewarded for the sheer contrast of his presidency with that of his predecessor. Eight years of idiocy, lies and greed from Bush and his cohorts continue to make Obama look better than he really is.

Obama’s approach to international diplomacy is nothing new. Certainly, it’s new for the usually belligerent, unilaterally operating nation over which he presides, but at a global level, one has to wonder why, if the bar is set so low, no other Western leader has received a Nobel prize in recent years. After all, they, too, have waxed lyrical about peace and freedom, urged for talks and emphasised the need for the all nations to share in the responsibility of building a safer world for us all to live in. I’m not suggesting that they also deserved a prize; I’m saying that they didn’t, and neither did Obama.

Looking beyond the poetic speechwriters’ prose, let’s look at a couple of things that Obama has actually done this year to influence peace:

  • He has deployed an extra 21,000 troops in Afghanistan and is currently considering committing a further 40,000.

  • He has refused to cut military aid to Israel, in spite of the knowledge that Israel repeatedly uses arms manufactured in the US to commit gross human rights violations, as independently determined by Amnesty International.

Those two facts a lone make a mockery of Obama’s being awarded a Peace Prize. Robert Mugabe must be waiting in the wings for a 2010 nomination.

Being seen to broker peace whilst arming one side of the conflict is the kind of hypocritical currency with which observers of US foreign policy are all too familiar. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Obama isn’t so very different from his predecessors.

In his favour, he is vastly more eloquent and charming. Add to that the fact that he has come along at a time when the American public have never been more desperate to believe in something, and his meteoric rise seems all but inevitable. That the gullible, television-fed masses of America are helpless, willing fodder for Obama’s hollow promise of a better world is one thing, but shouldn’t we expect a more considered verdict from a Nobel committee?

Perhaps not. These same people hand-picked Al Gore for the same prize just a few years ago.

At best, this award is a prize of encouragement, an expression of hope. It’s to say: you’re on the right track; we like what you’re doing; please continue. It’s not a reward for any achievement already banked.

To Obama’s credit, he recognises that his goals, not his achievements, are being rewarded and states that he feels ill at ease having his name mentioned in the same breath as some of the previous recipients of the prize. He feels his name doesn’t sit well next to theirs. On that much, at least, Obama and I can agree.

Obama has said he will donate the prize money associated with the award to a good cause. One can only hope he doesn’t choose to add it to the Israeli military aid budget.