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Friday, September 08, 2006 

A Brownian movement.

Joy of joys. After two days of highly vitriolic coverage of his "coup attempt", Gordon Brown has written or had ghost-written a very much Sun pleasing article for everyone's favourite semi-pornographic rag:

NEXT Monday is the fifth anniversary of September 11.

In a few days, I will visit New York, and reaffirm to the American people that Britain — under the courageous leadership of Tony Blair — stands now as then, shoulder to shoulder with them.

In al-Qaeda, we face an enemy driven by hatred of our very existence.

Between justice and evil, humanity and barbarism, democracy and tyranny, no one can afford to be neutral or disengaged.

That is why — even as we mourn the losses from a dark week in Iraq and Afghanistan — Britain can take pride that our heroic armed forces are leading in the global fight we must wage against terrorism

In other words, you're either with us or with the terrorists. You must watch all the television memorials over the weekend, you must watch those buildings collapse time and again, you must watch the fireball, you must never ever forget, you must endlessly mourn. Repeat until the end of time. (Simon Jenkins expands on this.) The only thing missing is for Brown to have said that this is a clash not of civilisations, but for civilsation.

September the 11th resulted in the deaths of just less than 3,000 civilians. Our heroic armed forces in Iraq have been involved in a war which has cost the lives of at the very least 40,000 Iraqis. Other estimates suggest over 100,000 could have perished as a result of our actions. If Iraq was meant to be part of the war on terrorism, as some would have us believe, then it has not just failed, it has spectacularly backfired. The only people that do not believe that the Iraq war has increased the threat to Britain and America from terrorism are the British and American governments. Only 1% of the public believes the war has left us safer. Not only has Iraq been turned into the new Afghanistan, where extremist militants can go to train and learn their craft, but it has so radicalised an already disaffected tiny minority in this country that they are prepared to fight and kill those that they have grown up with. The United States' plans to make Iraq a model democracy for the Middle East ought to be measured against how yesterday 27 "terrorists" were hung in a mass execution. The Iraqi government also shut down the Baghdad bureau of the al-Arabiya television after accusing it of inciting sectarian violence and of "unprofessional" reporting.

In Afghanistan, our occupation and rebuilding has been so successful that this year's opium crop is up an incredible 40% on that of last year's. Other news sources have suggested the figure could be as much as 60%. Where the Taliban once threatened opium growers with death, they have now learned to use it to their advantage. Hamid Karzai's government still has little authority outside Kabul, while warlords, some of them ex-Taliban, control their own fiefdoms. British soldiers, ill-equipped and deployed in far too few numbers are fighting against an enemy which they cannot possibly destroy or beat. They are effectively lambs to the slaughter, providing target practice for the resurgent Taliban and drug barons who now control most of Helmand province. Possible solutions, such as purchasing the opium crop for Western medical use, have been dismissed out of hand. The orthodoxy is that we cannot let Afghanistan fall back into the hands of those who planned attacks against the West and brutally oppressed their own people, but the reality is that it's already in back in their hands.

Brown goes on:
As a result of the August 10 terror raids alone, there have been 69 separate searches, with 400 computers, 200 mobile phones and 8,000 data storage devices seized.

When encrypted data takes weeks to decipher and thousands of email and phone contacts need to be checked, all across dozens of countries, it is obvious to me that the police need more than 28 days to investigate.

So — as well as money — we must ensure our police have the powers they need.

Brown believes every single word of what Peter Clarke said at his press conference, and comes to the conclusion many feared he already believed in - that the police need more than 28 days to investigate terrorist plots. This is nonsense. Buried by the leadership crisis, only two of the men who had been held for the full 28 days were charged on Wednesday evening. 3 others were released without charge after being locked up and interrogated for the best part of a month, subject according to one of the lawyers representing the men to repeated strip searches. The police knew full well this was their first real opportunity to put their case across for up to 90 days detention to be made, hence why they chose to keep the men in custody until the very last minute before charging them. The politicisation of the terror threat has resulted in the government and police agenda becoming almost entirely interwoven - an incredibly worrying development.

So, alongside the national ID card scheme, our next step must be the introduction of biometrics in new passports and visas, and the screening of all passengers.

Gordon doesn't seem to mind then that the ID card scheme, already delayed and likely to cost billions more than the original estimate, might rather put a dent in his finances. Then again, when the public may have to pay up to £300 for the privilege of having an ID card which will make it even easier for your identity to be stolen, backed up by a government database which will in effect monitor the movement of every citizen from cradle to the grave, the government's spending plans may be the last thing on his mind.

When Britain and America set out to win the Cold War, we realised victory lay both in our military power and in persuading people under Soviet control to demand their economic freedom and human rights.

It was a battle fought though books and ideas, even music and the arts, and it helped bring Communism down from within.

So, as well as supporting our police, security services and armed forces in the front line of the war on terror at home and abroad, we also need to mobilise the power of argument and ideas to expose and defeat the ideology of hate.

I speak often of the challenges of globalisation. But upon overcoming the challenge of global terrorism all else we value depends.

In a week in which President Bush has compared Osama bin Laden to both Hitler and Lenin, Brown also uses the Cold War analogy. The problem with this is that the threat from the Soviet Union was all too real - it had weapons of mass destruction that is was prepared to use, even if it resulted in mutually assured death. The "ideology of hate", as Brown calls it, doesn't even control one country's government. If anything, the al-Qaida doctrine is actually in retreat in the Middle East, not down to the actions of the west but through the murderous actions of extremists who have targeted Saudis and Jordanians just as they have westerners. The victory for Hizbullah in the month long war with Israel has left it as the current hero in the Arab street, and although it certainly was a terrorist organisation at one stage and still is in many eyes, it shares very little of al-Qaida's ideology. Indeed, Hizbullah's Shia revolution, financed and backed up by Iran is a direct threat to the Wahhabist/Salafist mixture from which al-Qaida draws its ideology. al-Qaida in Iraq's attempts to provoke sectarian conflict through attacking the Samarra mosque was in effect a declaration of war against not just Iraq's Shia, but Shia everywhere. That Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command, demanded that Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi stop attacking the Shia showed how much he feared a backlash.

Brown is entirely right that the real war on terror will be won through arguments, but it has been our failure in arguments that led directly to the disaster in Iraq. Global terrorism, much as a menace as it is, is far less of a threat than that of climate change, something about which Brown has said very little.

As Ewen MacAskill argues on Comment is Free, Brown says very little of worth in the entirety of the piece. It's almost as if he let the Sun or one of his more awestruck aides write it for him, which is quite possibly what happened. Write something which pleases Mr Murdoch, get the arslikhan dogs of Downing Street off your back, for now at least. More of concern is the possibility that Brown actually believes what's been written for him. It's certainly been suggested in the past that he was fully in favour of 90 days detention without trial, but there's equally been whispers that he may well pull troops out of Iraq to show that he intends to have a more arms-length relationship with the Bush administration. Wishful thinking perhaps?

Depressingly, this article suggests what we've known for some time: that Brown will in practice be little different from the Blair we've come to loathe. The best thing we can start planning for is to get John McDonnell (or another left-winger, such as Michael Meacher, if he decides to stand) as a high share of the vote in the eventual leadership contest as possible, to show that Brown is going to have to listen to us, the real grassroots Labour supporters (members or not) as much as he does to the rants of both the Blairites and the Sun.

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So Gordon has informed Rupe "No matter who's PM you're still the master, and I'm up for a few war crimes. Any arse Blair has kissed I will kiss with equal passion."

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

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