The cost of travel

Ken Livingstone and Hugo Chavez.jpgKen Livingstone recently went on a trip to Venezuela, to sign a major oil deal with his favourite democrat – President Chavez.  Well, he would have done, if Chavez hadn’t played him for a fool, courting him assiduously until he was offered a trip to London and a headline grabbing oil deal, then dropping Ken like a stone, the minute he was no longer useful.

And the cost?

Mr Livingstone said the cost of the trip was “modest”.

The mayor and four officials stopped in Cuba, at a cost of about £20,000, including £16,991 in flight tickets.

When Mr Livingstone’s plans to go to Venezuela fell through, the four officials carried on at a cost of nearly £16,000, including £12,948 on flights.

Ouch.  That’s a lot of money to spend for the London taxpayer to spend on Ken’s humiliation.  

It’s really tempting, as one of those taxpayers, to say that I consider the money well spent.  But instead, I’m wondering whether its time I set myself up in the travel agency business.  

Chinese sub tails US aircraft carrier

china sub1.jpgThe Washington Post reports that a Chinese submarine was spotted tailing a US aircraft carrier battler group last month, just off Okinawa. 

Bill Gertz, who breaks the news, thinks its all a bit embarrassing for the US, particularly for the hopes of closer co-operation between the US and Chinese militaries: 

The submarine encounter with the USS Kitty Hawk and its accompanying warships also is an embarrassment to the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. William J. Fallon, who is engaged in an ambitious military exchange program with China aimed at improving relations between the two nations’ militaries.

I can’t really see why, though.  The whole point of a submarine is to travel undetected.  If anything, the Chinese Navy have done their American counterparts a favour, by demonstrating just how vulnerable carrier groups can be to comparatively puny submarines – even the diesel ones that everyone seem to write off these days.

Moving on, the Iowa Voice has posted some background information.  Of particular interest to British readers might be the news that an Argentine submarine – the San Luis – managed to successfully tail the British carrier fleet during the Falklands War.  Only faulty wiring in the San Luis’ missile systems saved them from what could have been a catastrophic suprise attack.  


An odd bunch

Every now and then someone comes along with a few short lines that seem to perfecly encapsulate the absurdity of the English.  Take the first paragraph of this Sunday Times book review, for example:

Insular, patriotic and fiercely independent, they have usually subcontracted their monarchy to foreigners. After being conquered by Saxons, Vikings and French, they offered the crown successively to Welsh, Scots and, ad infinitum, Germans. They made only two requirements, fecundity and the right religion. They were constantly let down on both scores.

These days, we seem to be developing a bit of a fetish for Scottish Prime Ministers.

Should we protect the embassies of our enemies?

A Muslim police officer apparently objected to protecting the Israeli embassy on moral grounds.  To make matters worse, the bungle-prone Metropoliatan Police accepted his request for another posting:

PC Alexander Omar Basha, who is attached to the force’s Diplomatic Protection Group, objected to being posted to protect Israel’s embassy in central London from possible terrorist attack because he disagreed with the country’s bombing of Lebanon. The officer had reportedly attended a recent anti-war protest.

Most commenters are – rightly – upset because he’s been allowed to pick and choose what parts of his job he does based on his political beliefs, rather than demonstrate the political impartiality that is required of a police officer. 

But I thought I’d add one more thought to the mix.  Has PC Basha considered what the role of an embassy actually is?  It’s too facilitate talking – negotiation rather than war.  We encourage the presence of the embassies of our enemies, so that we can try to talk our way out of crises – even occasionally while fighting rages around.  

If we all followed the logic of PC Basha’s actions, we’d remove all protections from embassies of those countries with whom we disagreed.  They’d then either be attacked, or live in fear being attacked.  And, if they had any sense, they’d pack up and go home.

And we’d have no-one to talk to about peace. 

Update: And how’s this for a breath-takingly stupid take on the affair:

MPA member Peter Herbert said the row was a “ridiculous fuss about nothing” and attacked Sir Ian [Blair – head of the Met Police] over an “unwise judgement” on opting so quickly for a review.

“From a security point of view, the Met would be seriously criticised if this guy has relatives in Lebanon and his picture was used around the world to demonstrate the irony about having a Muslim defending the Israeli embassy in the UK.”

Has Peter Herbert not noticed that 40% of the people of Lebanon are, in fact, Christians?  Would he also advocate preserving the Met’s reputation by preventing Christian police officers from protecting the Israeli embassy?

NATO takes over entire Afghanistan misson

NATO today took over full responsibility for the troops of all Alliance member states currently in Afghanistan:

Officials say the move will make the force more efficient, as it seeks to secure Afghanistan for reconstruction.

Some 10,000 US troops have come under the command of Gen David Richards from the UK.

The addition of US troops brings the total number of troops under Nato command in Afghanistan to about 31,000.

This is good news, and represents a major step forward for NATO.  A successful mission in Afghanistan (which is still not guaranteed) will boost the organisation’s credibility.

The cynic in me does wonder, though, just how effectively a British general will be able to ‘command’ US troops in practice.  I’m sure many of NATO’s member states will be watching with interest to see how well the US adapts to putting such a large number of its troops – who are currently engaged in combat missions – under the command of a foreign general.

Time to think properly about air support

When a British Major criticised the air support he was receiving in Afghanistan – “utterly, utterly useless” – it unleashed the predictable response from analysts of condemning the treasury, and questioning whether Britain should really be in Afghanistan at all.

So, it’s good to see someone with a real knowledge of aircraft weighing in on the debate.  Joe Katzman argues that, although British Harriers are underequipped in contrast to US Harriers, the real problem is that we are using the wrong kind of plane for the job.  He quotes a US Army Sergeant:

“The aircraft that we have are awesome, but they are too awesome, they are too fast, too high speed. The older technology, the A-10, is far better than the new technology, Antenori said.

And concludes:

[I]f the kinds of failed state/ peacemaking conflict represented by Afghanistan are indeed a future norm, the same Western militaries that are rethinking their wheeled patrol vehicles may also wish to rethink the balance and composition of their air assets. In order to provide the support required by their troops on the ground, “new” items like “Bronco” type forward air control aircraft (currently under US consideration) at the low end, purpose-built aircraft like the A-10 or lighter options like options like the Brazilian Super Tucano et. al., and even light gunship aircraft may be necessary, in order to handle forward observation and light precision attack roles properly.

The Treasury won’t like it – buying a whole new set of planes is going to cost money.  But it’s something that needs to be done.  We need to accept that a great deal of the missions undertaken by British troops over the next couple of decades will involve ground combat against insurgents.  They are not – usually – going to require Top Gun style dogfights against highly skilled Soviet pilots.

While the Harrier and Eurofighter are able to play both air combat and ground support roles, they are expert in one, and amateur in the other.  Far, far better for the British government to invest in two experts. 

Godwins Law strikes British politics

Tony Blair as HitlerThe No2ID folks have just run this advert in the press. Too cowardly to actually say the ‘H’ word in the advert, they’ve drawn a barcode moustache on Tony Blair’s face.

The do grudgingly admit that Blair isn’t Hitler on their website, but not many people will see that – instead, they’ll see the full page picture of Blair in their paper with a funny barcode moustache and they’ll think – ‘oh my God – Tony Blair looks just like Hitler’.

Godwin’s law is more usually applied to blog comment threads that have grown so entrenched that people have abandoned debate in favour of insults, and have run so low on insults that the only option that remains open to them is to compare their opponent to Hitler:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

So, lets just quickly recap the state of political debate in our mighty country:

  • Hitler thought ID cards were great.
  • Tony Blair thinks ID cards are great.
  • Hitler killed millions of people.
  • Tony Blair… um, didn’t kill millions of people.
  • But, whatever.  Tony Blair’s just like Hitler.

I tell you what, the government sure didn’t waste their money when they paid for me to read for a degree in politics.

London police outsource decision making

London police are going to consult with the community before they make any future anti-terrorist raids:

POLICE have agreed to consult a panel of Muslim leaders before mounting counter-terrorist raids or arrests. Members of the panel will offer their assessment of whether information police have on a suspect is too flimsy and will also consider the consequences on community relations of a raid.

Now, perhaps I’m missing the point here, but shouldn’t the police be able to figure out whether the evidence they have warrants a raid all by themselves? 

And, if the police are so uncertain of the evidence on which they choose to make their raids that they feel the need to get reassurance from the community – well, they probably shouldn’t really be considering the raid in the first place.