We Need a Hippocratic Oath for Journalists

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By George Monbiot

Is Murdoch now finished in the UK? As the pursuit of Gordon Brown by the Sunday Times and the Sun blows the hacking scandal into new corners of the old man’s empire, this story begins to feel like the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The naked attempt to destroy Brown by any means, including hacking the medical files of his sick baby son, means that there is no obvious limit to the story’s ramifications.

The scandal radically changes public perceptions of how politics works, the danger corporate power presents to democracy, and the extent to which it has compromised and corrupted the Metropolitan police, who have now been dragged in so deep they are beginning to look like Murdoch’s private army. It has electrified a dozy parliament and subjected the least accountable and most corrupt profession in Britain – journalism – to belated public scrutiny.

The cracks are appearing in the most unexpected places. Look at the remarkable admission by the rightwing columnist Janet Daley in this week’s Sunday Telegraph. “British political journalism is basically a club to which politicians and journalists both belong,” she wrote. “It is this familiarity, this intimacy, this set of shared assumptions … which is the real corruptor of political life. The self-limiting spectrum of what can and cannot be said … the self-reinforcing cowardice which takes for granted that certain vested interests are too powerful to be worth confronting. All of these things are constant dangers in the political life of any democracy.”

Most national journalists are embedded, immersed in the society, beliefs and culture of the people they are meant to hold to account.

They are fascinated by power struggles among the elite but have little interest in the conflict between the elite and those they dominate.

They celebrate those with agency and ignore those without.

But this is just part of the problem. Daley stopped short of naming the most persuasive force: the interests of the owner and the corporate class to which he belongs. The proprietor appoints editors in his own image – who impress their views on their staff. Murdoch’s editors, like those who work for the other proprietors, insist that they think and act independently.

It’s a lie exposed by the concurrence of their views (did all 247 News Corp editors just happen to support the invasion of Iraq?), and blown out of the water by Andrew Neil’s explosive testimony in 2008 before the Lords select committee on communications.

The papers cannot announce that their purpose is to ventriloquise the concerns of multimillionaires; they must present themselves as the voice of the people. The Sun, the Mail and the Express claim to represent the interests of the working man and woman. These interests turn out to be identical to those of the men who own the papers.

So the rightwing papers run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats. They savage the trade unions and excoriate the BBC. They lambast the regulations that restrain corporate power. They school us in the extrinsic values – the worship of power, money, image and fame – which advertisers love but which make this a shallower, more selfish country. Most of them deceive their readers about the causes of climate change. These are not the obsessions of working people. They are the obsessions thrust upon them by the multimillionaires who own these papers.

The corporate media is a gigantic astroturfing operation: a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests. In this respect the media companies resemble the Tea Party movement, which claims to be a spontaneous rising of blue-collar Americans against the elite but was founded with the help of the billionaire Koch brothers and promoted by Murdoch’s Fox News.

Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account. This purpose has been perfectly inverted. Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, stamping on new ideas, bullying the powerless. The press barons allowed governments occasionally to promote the interests of the poor, but never to hamper the interests of the rich. They also sought to discipline the rest of the media. The BBC, over the last 30 years, became a shadow of the gutsy broadcaster it was, and now treats big business with cringing deference. Every morning at 6.15, the Today programme’s business report grants executives the kind of unchallenged access of an unprecedented level. The rest of the programme seeks out controversy and sets up discussions between opponents, but these people are not confronted by their critics.

So what can be done? Because of the peculiar threat they present to democracy there’s a case to be made for breaking up all majority interests in media companies, and for a board of governors, appointed perhaps by Commons committee, to act as a counterweight to the shareholders’ business interests.

But even if that’s a workable idea, it’s a long way off. For now, the best hope might be to mobilise readers to demand that journalists answer to them, not just their proprietors. One means of doing this is to lobby journalists to commit themselves to a kind of Hippocratic oath. Here’s a rough stab at a first draft. I hope others can improve it. Ideally, I’d like to see the National Union of Journalists building on it and encouraging its members to sign.

‘Our primary task is to hold power to account. We will prioritise those stories and issues which expose the interests of power. We will be wary of the relationships we form with the rich and powerful, and ensure that we don’t become embedded in their society. We will not curry favour with politicians, businesses or other dominant groups by withholding scrutiny of their affairs, or twisting a story to suit their interests.

“We will stand up to the interests of the businesses we work for, and the advertisers which fund them. We will never take money for promulgating a particular opinion, and we will resist attempts to oblige us to adopt one.

“We will recognise and understand the power we wield and how it originates. We will challenge ourselves and our perception of the world as much as we challenge other people. When we turn out to be wrong, we will say so.”

I accept that this doesn’t directly address the power relations that govern the papers. But it might help journalists to assert a measure of independence, and readers to hold them to it. Just as voters should lobby their MPs to represent them and not just the whips, readers should seek to drag journalists away from the demands of their editors.

The oath is one possible tool that could enhance reader power.

If you don’t like it, suggest a better idea. Something has to change:   never again should a half a dozen oligarchs be allowed to dominate and corrupt the life of this country.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/11/media-corrupt-hippocratic-oath-journalists

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot’s website. On Twitter, @georgemonbiot.

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British threat to Israel over Dubai Hamas assassination

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Britain will consider severing its intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel if Mossad agents are proved to have stolen the identities of British passport holders, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

By Gordon Rayner, Con Coughlin and Duncan Gardham, Telegraph UK

Ministers are understood to be furious that an alleged hit squad which murdered a Hamas leader in Dubai last month cloned the passports of six unsuspecting Britons, who are now living in fear of reprisals.

Israel, which has not denied involvement in the murder, had previously promised that Mossad, its secret intelligence service, would never use British passports to help its agents carry out covert operations.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK was summoned to the Foreign Office to give his explanation as the diplomatic row intensified.

Ron Prosor will meet Sir Peter Ricketts, the permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office, on Thursday where the ambassador is expected to be asked whether Israel played any part in assassination.

Gordon Brown, making his first public comments about the incident, promised a “full investigation” into the passport forgery.

Mossad has been accused by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, of being behind the murder of its military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found dead in his hotel room in Dubai on Jan 20.

All of the British passport holders whose identities were stolen live in Israel, meaning Mossad would have had ready access to copies of their travel documents.

A senior Foreign Office source told The Daily Telegraph: “If the Israelis were responsible for the assassination in Dubai, they are seriously jeopardising the important intelligence-sharing arrangement that currently exists between Britain and Israel.

“If it transpires that Israel has been using British passports to assassinate its opponents, the British government will need to give serious consideration to any future cooperation.

“Britain has cut ties with Mossad in the past, and will do so again if the Israelis are found to be acting against British interests.”

Britain’s relationship with the Israeli security service reached an all-time low in 1986, when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed down Mossad’s UK operation in response to a series of incidents including the discovery of a bag of forged British passports which had been lost by a Mossad agent.

Mossad was allowed to re-establish its presence in the UK only after it promised not to abuse British passports in the future.

Its intelligence-sharing relationship with the security services over such sensitive issues as Iran is now more important than ever, but the Foreign Office source said: “In the past Israel has had a reputation for making life difficult for its friends. It is sincerely to be hoped that this is not the case in this instance.”

Several of the six Britons whose identities were stolen have spoken of their shock at being accused of murder, and of their fears that they could be in danger if Mossad did carry out the assassination.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: “If the Israeli government was party to behaviour of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations. If legitimate British passport holders were put at risk it would be a disgrace.

“Given the current speculation, the Israeli government has some explaining to do and the ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office to do so in double-quick time.”

The Labour MP Mike Gapes, who is chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said the cloning of passports raised a “big concern” and agreed that the ambassador should be asked for an explanation, while Hugo Swire MP, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, said: “This is not something that can just be swept under the carpet …you cannot conduct foreign policy at this extremely sensitive time by this sort of illegal behaviour.”

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, wrote to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, urging him to “establish the facts as rapidly as possible” to “prevent further such abuses from happening”.

Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said there was “no reason to think it was Mossad” which carried out the alleged hit, but refused to issue a denial.

He said Israel had a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence matters, and “never confirms and never denies” involvement in operations.

He added: “I think Britain recognises that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game. Therefore we have no cause for concern.”

The Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which has a unit based at the British Embassy in Dubai, has begun its own investigation into the identity thefts, and the Prime Minister stressed the importance of protecting the status of the British passport.

“We have got to carry out a full investigation into this,” said Mr Brown. “The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care. A British passport is an important part of being British.

“The evidence has got to be assembled about what has actually happened and how it happened and why it happened and it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.”

Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)

Dubai Babylon: The glitz, the Glamour – and Now the Gloom

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Property of TVS, Inc. Dubai, the Arabian city state that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf inside a decade, looks this weekend as if it may end up more like an expensive imitation of Sodom and Gomorrah. No brimstone, no vengeful God, but still an awful lot of wreckage after an orgy of hedonistic excess.

This, until last week, was the world capital of greed, a Legoland of lolly, where flashy malls, artificial islands, and preposterous skyscrapers were run up in no time; where monied chancers booked into £4,000-a-night hotel rooms; and where celebrities who didn’t know better were lured into a place that was even gaudier than their own homes. People said it was all built on sand, but, after the businesses at the core of the Dubai empire revealed a black hole of $80bn, we now know it was actually built on debt, semi-slave labour and the glossiest puffery that borrowed money can buy.

This, before we get down to the juicy details, is not how Gordon Brown saw it. The Dubai dream was largely the creation of the late Sheikh Maktoum and his successor, the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed. The day before Dubai’s shock debt announcement, the sheikh was in London. According to UAE’s national news service, Gordon Brown said he was “impressed with the quick recovery made by the UAE economy and the measures made by the leadership and government there that led to minimal impact of that crisis on the country’s economy.”

Once upon a recent time, this was true. At the height of Dubai’s property bubble, developers competed to outdo each other and impress the sheikh with more and more outlandish projects at the city’s annual property show Cityscape. Ski fields in the desert and the world’s largest shopping mall of 1,200 shops, complete with an aquarium housing 400 sharks, are among the projects already built, and plans for an underwater hotel.

Prospective buyers would queue for hours for the chance to purchase off-plan property. Ten minutes later they would sell on to someone at the back of the queue for a £10,000 profit.

While the economy boomed, the city partied hard. Dubai quickly became a favourite playground for Russian gangsters, Bollywood movie stars, and British footballers and their WAGs. David Beckham and Michael Owen were among those splashing out on multimillion-pound properties on the Palm, while Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington were also rumoured to have homes there.

Paris Hilton made a version of her reality show in the bars and malls of city this year. On any given night, parked out front the Grosvenor Hotel, with its popular bars, would be an eye-popping collection of the most expensive sports cars. “Soon,” one sheik was quoted as saying, “every Count of Monte Cristo will be in Dubai. In 10 years, only rich and famous people will live here.” And the servants? “I would hope robots or clones will do all that by then.”

With Western cash came Western cultural norms. Though foreign residents need a liquor licence to drink in their own homes, alcohol is widely available in hotel bars. All-you-can-drink brunches where expatriates got sloshed on champagne became the favoured way of passing Friday afternoons. While the Muslim community spent the holy day at the mosque, Westerners drank themselves legless.

It was at one of these infamous brunches that two Britons fell foul of the strict laws that govern the state. Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, who had met for the first time that day, were sentenced to three months in prison in July 2008 after being arrested for having sex on the beach. Not long after, British women Marnie Pearce and Sally Antia were jailed for adultery after their husbands told the police they were having affairs. Yet Arab men will drink openly in hotel bars and prostitution is rife.

The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 818m, disappears into the clouds high above this emirate of contradictions. Dubai is an architectural odyssey, yet an urban planner’s worst nightmare which employed, until recently, 50 per cent of the world’s largest cranes. The people of the more sedate and richer emirate of Abu Dhabi 70 miles down the road have often been said to shake their heads at the money its neighbour has wasted. Abu Dhabi’s developments such as the breathtaking Yas Marina Circuit used in this year’s Formula One championship have been carefully planned.

Dubai has simply built bigger and bigger with little thought given to planning. It was bound to fail: no city or region could sustain such growth – particularly as the oil that drove that expansion has been slowly running out. The financial crisis simply exacerbated the long-term structural problems of its economy. Last week’s announcement that Dubai World, the developer of the famous man-made Palm Jumeirah island development that can be seen from space, wanted a standstill on its repayments on a chunk of its $60bn indebtedness shocked the financial markets. Banks in London and Edinburgh, such as HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, had lent Dubai World billions of pounds. Now there is the very real possibility that they will lose much of this as Dubai World defaults.

On the Palm, on the Persian Gulf’s man-made coastline, is the Atlantis Hotel, an imposing construction of two towers linked by a bridge. Kylie Minogue sang at its star-studded opening last year, with spectacular fireworks visible for miles a one-night jamboree that cost £20m. Dubai World could not have chosen a worse time to open the seven-star hotel.

Attracting Western tourists has been one of the pillars of Dubai’s gross domestic product growth, but as Westerners tighten the purse strings so Dubai’s tourism industry has started to wobble. The fear now is that the dreams of Sheikh Mohammed could turn into an economic nightmare for both the emirate and the rest of the world. Economists are analysing whether this is the disaster that will create a so-called W-shaped recession – that is, two collapses rather than just the one of a V-shape.

It might seem extraordinary that a tiny emirate of about 1.5 million people could cause such global turmoil, but Dubai is intertwined with some of the most everyday parts of the UK economy alone. Dubai World owns P&O, the ferry operator, while Dubai International Capital (DIC), the state’s international investment arm, has a 20 per cent stake in the company that runs Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and the Sea Life Centres.

The reciprocal nature of the UK and Dubai economies means that British firms are now coming to the rescue. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that Dubai World’s big lenders, led by the UK-based institutions, have lined up the London-based financial restructuring team a accountants KMPG to salvage the $30bn-plus they are owed. A formal appointment is expected this week.

They will have their hands full.

Gulf state’s holdings: Small sample of Dubai’s global reach

Millions of dollars have been invested in Sheikh Mohammed’s passion: thoroughbred racehorses. In Newmarket, he owns Dalham Hall stud farm and Godolphin stables. The sheikh’s 4,000 acres in Ireland make him the largest farmer in the country. He also owns 7,000 acres of paddocks in Britain and 5,000 acres of farmland. Other assets owned by Dubai investors include:

* The QE2, currently moored in Cape Town
* The Adelphi on the Strand and the Grand Buildings in Trafalgar Square
* A 20 per cent stake in Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus troupe
* Budget hotel chain Travelodge
* A stake in Merlin Entertainments, which runs Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye
* Scottish golf course Turnberry
* Chris Evert tennis clubs in the US
* A ski resort in Aspen, Colorado
* A 21 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange
* Ports and ferries group P&O

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Obama Must Call Off This Folly Before Afghanistan Becomes his Vietnam

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Senseless slaughter and anti-western hysteria are all America and Britain’s billions have paid for in a counterproductive war

By Simon Jenkins

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy’s noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to eve r more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to “train and equip” a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that “we are not winning” and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the “mistakes” of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

Last year’s denial of reinforcements to Helmand is an open secret. Ever since the then defence secretary, John Reid, issued his 2006 “London diktats”, described in a recent British Army Review as “casual, naive and a comprehensive failure”, intelligence warnings of Taliban strength have been ignored. The army proceeded with a policy of disrupting the opium trade, neglecting hearts and minds and using US air power against “blind” targets. All have proved potent weapons in the Taliban armory.

Generals are entitled to plead for more resources and yet claim that -victory is just round the corner, even when they know it is not. They must lead men into battle. A heavier guilt lies with liberal apologists for this war on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to invent excuses for its failure and offer glib preconditions for victory.

A classic is a long editorial in Monday’s New York Times, congratulating Barack Obama on “sending more troops to the fight” but claiming that there were still not enough. In addition there were too many corrupt politicians, too many drugs, too many weapons in the wrong hands, too small a local army, too few police and not enough “trainers”. The place was damnably unlike Connecticut.

Strategy, declared the sages of Manhattan, should be “to confront the Taliban head on”, as if this had not been tried before. Afghanistan needed “a functioning army and national police that can hold back the insurgents”. The way to achieve victory was for the Pentagon, already spending a stupefying $60bn in Afghanistan, to spend a further $20bn increasing the size of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 250,000. This was because ordinary Afghans “must begin to trust their own government”.

These lines might have been written in 1972 by General Westmoreland in his Saigon bunker. The New York Times has clearly never seen the Afghan army, or police, in action. Eight years of training costing $15bn have been near useless, when men simply decline to fight except to defend their homes. Any Afghan pundit will attest that training a Pashtun to fight a Pashtun is a waste of money, while training a Tajik to the same end is a waste of time. Since the Pentagon originally armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviets, this must be the first war where it has trained both sides.

Neither the Pentagon nor the British Ministry of Defence will win Afghanistan through firepower. The strategy of “hearts and minds plus” cannot be realistic, turning Afghanistan into a vast and indefinite barracks with hundreds of thousands of western soldiers sitting atop a colonial Babel of administrators and professionals. It will never be secure. It offers Afghanistan a promise only of relentless war, one that Afghans outside Kabul know that warlords, drug cartels and Taliban sympathizers are winning.

The 2001 policy of invading, capturing Osama bin Laden and ridding the region of terrorist bases has been tested to destruction and failed. Strategy is reduced to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of young western soldiers and thousands of Afghans. Troops are being sent out because Labour ministers lack the guts to admit that Blair’s bid to quell the Islamist menace by force of arms was crazy. They parrot the line that they are making “the streets of London safe”, but they know they are doing the opposite.

Vietnam destroyed two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, and destroyed the global confidence of a generation of young Americans. Afghanistan obscenely dubbed the “good war” could do the same. There will soon be 68,000 American troops in that country, making a mockery of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 tactic of hit and run, which at least had the virtue of coherence.

This is set fair to be a war of awful proportions, cockpit for the feared clash of civilisations. Each new foreign battalion taps more cash for the Taliban from the Gulf. Each new massacre from the air recruits more youths from the madrasas. The sheer counterproductivity of the war has been devastatingly analysed by David Kilcullen, adviser to Obama’s key general David Petraeus no less.

Obama is trapped by past policy mistakes as were Kennedy and Johnson, cheered by an offstage chorus crying, “if only” and “not enough” and “just one more surge”. He and Petraeus have to find a means and a language to disengage from Afghanistan, to allow the anti-western hysteria of the Muslim world which the west has done so much to foster now to cool. It is hard to imagine a greater tragedy than for the most exciting American president in a generation to be led by a senseless intervention into a repeat of America’s greatest postwar debacle.

As for British politicians, they seek a proxy for their negligence in Afghanistan by staging a show trial of their negligence in Iraq. Why do they fiddle while Helmand burns? Might they at least ask how they can spend £40bn a year on defence yet watch a mere 8,000 troops on their one active front having to be rescued by Americans?

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