Anna Wintour and Diplomacy

December 5, 2012

One wonders if Obama could seriously be thinking of appointing Anna Wintour to be the ambassador to the UK or France.
This suggestion is frankly an insult to either nation. There are reasons for the diplomatic diplomatic corps, not least confidential data and negotiations. This suggestion smacks of a casual, even a dilettante attitude towards affairs of state.
Finally, it is worth noting that the pro-Assad attitude of this woman fits with the attitudes of the senior members of the Democratic Party. Here, one thinks of Clinton, Reid, Pelossi etc who tried to rehabilitate Syria under Assad and paint it as progressive.

‘Comment is Free’ editor Natalie Hanman asked a question today: Should Anna Wintour be the next US Ambassador to the UK?, CiF, Dec. 5.

Hanman begins her piece on speculation that Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, may be nominated as Ambassador to the UK, thus:

“The rumour – and it is far from being confirmed – that Barack Obama is considering nominating Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, as his next ambassador to either the UK or France has been met with gasps of outrage.”

Hanman quotes Nile Gardiner, in the Telegraph, questioning Wintour’s qualifications for such a prestigious diplomatic position, but then cites Carla Hall of the LA Times suggesting that criticism of Wintour’s background is unfair.

Hanman concludes by asking:

“What qualities and experience do you think qualifies someone for a job as a diplomat?”

While the question is a fair one, it seems that…

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Sanctions and Iran

November 2, 2012

There are two scenarios which may develop. The first is a similar pattern to that which developed in Iraq in which the regime intensified its security operations, while rewarding its supporters with economic subsidies and preference.
The second is the pattern belonging to the Arab Spring countries in which long-term underemployment (as seen in Iran today) was brought into conjunction with an economic crisis met by a regime without a sufficiently strong narrative to deflect or absorb popular discontent. This discontent found focus in liberal, nationalist and Islamist parties and factions.
Whilst there is an opposition movement in Iran, the strength of this movement remains unclear given the 2009 suppression of the Green Movement. It is possible that a further economic crisis provoked by lack of oil revenues and consequent relaxation of domestic subsidies could bring out mass protests once more. However, it must be borne in mind that this is not an axiomatic process – economic crisis – large protests = government fall. Instead, we must beware of the danger of a Syrian episode with the regime successfully resorting to mass murder and an intense counter-protest operation.
Additionally, there are other elements to be considered. The Iranian nuclear weapons programme may well render the question of sanctions null and void if the effect of a successful programme changes the attitudes of the Arab states. Such a change could result in the formation of an Iranian political hegemony within the Gulf region. Under such a scenario, access to Arab oil under favourable terms is not impossible – indeed, consider that Saudi Arabia offered to fund (and supply with oil) President Mubarak of Egypt in order to secure the continued existence of a friendly regime.
So under this scenario, Iran would not only break out of political and economic isolation, it would break out of the increasingly fragile great-power diplomatic ring placed around it. A reliable and strong Iran dominating the region would probably receive the support of Russia and possibly that of China. We may end the 2010s by seeing a decisive defeat of the US-EU group on the UNSC and the emergence of a Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance.
If this does not occur, then we return to the original two scenarios as possibilities. Either intensified repression and economic decrepitude or a breakdown in civil and state power. As earlier, the likelihood depends upon the will of the regime to commit to the necessary force to suppress dissent or the strength of the opposition movement or movements.

Reading Polybios

July 16, 2011

Having been re-reading Polybios on the origins of the Second Punic War (also known as the Hannibalic War), I am struck by a number of inconsistencies which may hint at a concealed history and I will attempt to lay these out below.

Polybios is right that the origins of the war as opposed to the cassus belli  lay in the revisions to the treaty which ended the First Punic War, when Rome threatened war during the Mercenary War (when some of Carthage’s mercenaries revolted over lack of pay) and took another 1,200 talents and Sardinia as indemnities. This was regarded even by Romans as monstrously unjust and the embarrassment felt can be detected in Polybios’ account. However this does not mean, as Polybios and the Roman historians state that the Barcids then determined that they would take revenge on Rome. Rather it was taken as proof of Roman infidelity and the need for strength against future Roman aggression.

The pattern of Roman diplomatic behaviour between the two wars comes across as arrogant and self-assured. Roman power, unlike Carthaginian, rested upon the superiority of Roman armies in the field. War with Carthage must have brought significant immediate and medium term wealth into Rome with the war indemnities as well as control of trade and the fertility of Sicily and Sardinia.

One wonders at the possible state of Roman internal politics after the war. One hundred years later, Tiberias Gracchus was proposing to redistribute foreign gold to the Roman poor in the form of land relief. Was it possible that a faction in Rome moved to extract more wealth from the still prosperous Carthaginians to relieve poverty caused by the war? Could this be a (partial) cause for Roman embarrassment over the origins of war? A breach of treaty motivated by a partisan faction would induce thoughts of hubris bringing about nemesis during the dark days of 216-215 BC. Nonetheless the eventual victory in the war would have suppressed memories of the Sardinian episode and confirmed (or created) thoughts of manifest destiny for Rome.

The years following the loss of Sardinia saw the Barcid family expand Carthaginian imperial domain in Spain. These successes replenished the treasury, built a huge powerbase and more than compensated for the loss of Sicily and Sardinia. The critical period for analysing the origins of the Hannibalic War is the period between 230 and 220. In this time, an undertaking was agreed with the Barcids that Carthaginian domain would not extend beyond the Ebro and Rome fought a hard but brief war against the Celts of the Po Valley, culminating in the Battle of Telemon. By 221, the bulk of southern Spain was ruled from New Carthage.

At this point, Polybios reports that Hannibal was arrogant, war-like and over confident, which if we follow the rules of Greek literature, should have meant he was guilty of hubris. Yet, following the declaration of war, it was Hannibal who stepped into the role of Nemesis, invading Italy and almost defeating Rome. This leads me to the possibility that the Roman Senate had decided that once a cassus belli could be found, a swift war could be fought, Spain taken from Carthage and wealth and even more importantly to Roman senators, political prestige in the form of triumphs and clients could be had. Given the known superiority of Roman arms over anything the Carthaginians could field, the Senate would have been justly confident of success in a preventative war for they would have justified this as preventing a war of revenge by Carthage for the Roman sin of Sardinia.

The shock came when Hannibal was able to defeat Roman armies with a regularity which shook Roman confidence to the core. Patrick Waterson has an excellent theory that following the Battle of the Trebia and then Lake Trasimene, Hannibal began not only rearming his veteran Libyans wholesale with captured Roman weaponry but also drilled his Libyans, Spaniards and Celts to fight in Roman fashion with supporting lines of relief and not committing to impetuous charges. Following this theory, Carthaginian armies were much efficient against Roman armies in the second war because they fought much more like Romans.

We are informed by Polybios that the cassus belli was the attack by Hannibal on the Roman allied city of Saguntum. Hannibal would have known that this would cause the war with Rome which his father, his uncle and himself had spent the years in Spain avoiding. We know that the Romans had intervened in Saguntum to remove a pro-Carthaginian faction. Was it possible that Rome intended Saguntum to be used as the base for the conquest of Spain? We know that Hannibal commenced siege operations against Saguntum in August 219 and these were successfully concluded by March 218 (eight months). It is hard to believe that Rome had previously warned Hannibal away from operations against Saguntum and then proceeded to do nothing – not even send a delegation for eight months while their erstwhile allies were besieged, the defenders massacred and the population enslaved.

I do not believe that Saguntum was a ally of Rome. I suspect that the leading factions in Rome were in favour of a future war and that the Roman delegation had arbitrarily ordered Hannibal to leave Saguntum alone or face the wrath of Roman arms. The story of the alliance with Saguntum was invented as a retrospective justification to put Hannibal in the wrong.

Given that Rome waited eight months to declare war on Carthage after demanding that the Barcid officers be either handed over to Rome (for execution) or punished (put to death) by Carthage herself, this tells the reader that either Roman policy was monumentally inept which seems unlikely given the leisurely pace of preparations for war or that the Senate had decided upon using the fall of Saguntum as a pretext (cassus belli) for war with Carthage. Rome did not need allies, since the Socii were effectively subject peoples, not allies as we would understand it, so it had no need to do more that observe the diplomatic forms. The retrospective justifications were required to avert the accusations of hubris and protect the reputations of the Cornelii and Sempronii families. It is also noteworthy that the consuls for 218 were P. Cornelius Scipo and T. Sempronius Longus.

The consular armies set out for Spain in August 218 both with strong warship contingents. If war was declared between March and June 218, how quickly had it taken the Roman state to raise and train these armies? The matter of concern is to train the armies. If it took longer than two or three months to gather the armies, organise logistics and the two fleets, then it is probable that the Romans had started war preparations during the siege of Saguntum.

As it was, Hannibal overthrew much but not all of the Roman war strategy by an overland invasion of Italy. It is noteworthy that Rome persevered with its war strategy of conquering Spain and finally landing in Africa, excepting the defence of Italy. But the political strategy of war almost overthrew Rome itself and this was never forgotten. I believe that the memory of this strategy impelled the Roman aggression against Macedon, Greece and the Seleucids as a series of successful attempts to prevent any other people or kingdom being able to do what Hannibal had unexpectedly almost done to Rome.

Finally, it must be noted that the destructive tendencies which tore the later Republic apart may well have been present in the period after the First Punic War. Arrogance, greed and a confident assertiveness based on military prowess gave Roman politicians the incentives to pursue war as a means of political success. The Cornelii may have been central to this drive. Polybios was a client of the Aemilii (related to the Cornelii) and would not have criticised them in his history, instead relating the stories which incoherently sought to blame Carthage and the Barcids in particular for war to exonerate the ambitions of the Roman patrician clans whom instead could be credited in Scipo Africanus in saving Rome from Hannibal.

How the Guardian perpetuates Palestinian misery (via CiF Watch)

April 15, 2011

An excellent piece which builds upon Pascal Bruckner as well as the work on the ‘human rights complex’. This is why Israel is reviled but Sudan is not.

How the Guardian perpetuates Palestinian misery A guest post by Mitnaged I believe that the psychology of Westerners who over-identify with the Palestinian cause is an under-explored dynamic.  It is clear that they seek the psychological benefit of being seen as on the side of "victims" but there may also be what Pascal Bruckner[i] refers to as "Western masochism", because man … Read More

via CiF Watch

Israel’s pacifist tragedy (via CiF Watch)

April 15, 2011

Excellent piece which demonstrates the flaws in pacifism.

Israel's pacifist tragedy This is cross posted by Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio and author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism. The essay first appeared in Ynet. “Welcome to hell,” says a graffiti painted in the road to Jenin, the capital of "Palestinian martyrs." Thirty suicide bombers have … Read More

via CiF Watch

Libya and the outcome of military intervention

April 4, 2011

Ex-Gitmo detainee training Libyan rebels in Derna

The situation increasingly appears to be one in which the Western allies (for want of a better term) have misjudged the situation.

Looking at the situation through British interests;

  1. Gaddafi has to be defeated. We’ve publicly broken with him and cannot resurrect an understanding.
  2. The Libyan opposition is multi-polar in that it is made up of the army (for the most part), the rebel tribes and a small but potentially influential core of Islamists.
  3. The multi-polar nature of the opposition means that unless Western military intervention is dramatically stepped up, Gaddafi will win
  4. Without a consistent political objective to the war, if Gaddafi loses, the West might well discover itself to have a weak, unstable state with parts of the country acting as breeding grounds for Islamist terrorism.
  5. This possibility means that the ideal solution would be a much wider intervention in the form of a ground invasion and occupation and an imposed diplomatic settlement splitting Libya and Cyrenaica.

This may mean the need for a UN Mandate administration by one or more of the European powers and given the history of European involvement, I would argue that France is best placed for this role.

We need to face up to the reality of our situation in the world. That we will need to be imperialists once more.

My D&D character (apparently)…

January 15, 2010

I Am A: True Neutral Half-Elf Wizard (4th Level)

Ability Scores:

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Half-Elves have the curiosity and ambition for their human parent and the refined senses and love of nature of their elven parent, although they are outsiders among both cultures. To humans, half-elves are paler, fairer and smoother-skinned than their human parents, but their actual skin tones and other details vary just as human features do. Half-elves tend to have green, elven eyes. They live to about 180.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard’s strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

An online fantasy comic

February 25, 2009

An old friend has started an online fantasy comic strip in which the chief character (played by herself in the real game) is a member of my old campaign party from university days.
It’s rather fun. So feel free to have a look!