When taking over this site we regret that we found the resources significantly smaller than we had been led to believe, but the debts and certain additional liabilities considerably higher than had been clear. However, we shall do our best.
We should also make it clear that at no time did we have the intention of using the name which the departing owners of the site had attributed to us. Provisionally, the postings here are to be in the name of the Distant diary.
(1) From one point of view, the worst mistakes include those which not only are morally wrong – which so many see as irrelevant – but also against your own best interests, and which produce the opposite effect to the one intended. Those (few) whose memories of international news stretch back more than a week will know that, after Al-Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, launched an attack on New York, Bush and Blair decided to arrange a retaliatory war against Iraq; this surprised many, not least because Iraq and Afghanistan are two entirely different countries, but also because as the same careful observers of international news well knew, Al-Qaeda was not represented at all in Iraq, and the régime of Saddam was strongly hostile to it. (The surprise was sufficiently great that some nations who were supposed to be loyal allies treacherously expressed – very politely, of course – strong doubts about the wisdom of the war. This did not make much difference, because it was discovered that there was another ground for pursuing war against Iraq, namely that the then dictator was preparing weapons of mass destruction, which, some believed might reach Blair in only 45 minutes. It later turned out that those weapons did not exist, even though their existence had been demonstrated to the Security Council, but this did not make much difference either because the war had been well and truly (if those are the right words) launched by then. The same observers of international news may, or may not, be surprised now to see it reported that the cities of Falluja and Ramadi, in Iraq, are at present occupied by armed representatives of Al-Qaeda. As geopolitical mistakes go, this one was breath-taking (and for thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Arabs, life-taking).
How might this mistake have been avoided? Obviously, much, much more learning about the real state of things in places you don’t know well would help and so would a better balance between realpolitik and just trying to get what you want by force. Bear this in mind when noticing the resistance of some in America to Iran’s attendance at the conference to recover peace in Syria; even if we leave aside two and a half thousand years of close historical and cultural links (as irrelevant?), if Iran is involved in activities in the conflict then it is imperative that she comes to meet the other parties to hear their views, and perhaps be persuaded to change policy, while if she is not embroiled in the conflict then as a nation with enormous knowledge of the region, there is no reason not to invite her. Or consider recent events in Egypt. The American government was obviously well aware of its own relations with the Egyptian military, but how far were they aware of the basis for the brotherhood’s wide support? On the other hand, they must have known of the special position of the military in Egyptian society, but it seems unlikely they could have looked so benignly on the counter-revolution against a president who gave evidence of being personally moderate in a difficult situation, and who had been democratically elected in free and fair elections, if they had taken into account fully the cleavage between the privileged classes who talk to the west and the great mass of the population. For that matter, why the extraordinary reluctance to describe as a military coup a takeover which was a prime and brutal example of the type, while an increasingly farcical series of charges against the overthrown president reach the point of accusing him of espionage while in office. What next? Camel-rustling, hazarding ships by swimming in the Canal?
(2) Great quotations of our time:
‘Air pollution is an urgent public health problem but in the grand scheme of things it is a good problem to have.’ From a recent issue of the Economist
It is a little surprising to find this kind of approach so boldly stated. We wonder if traffic accidents can be entered in the same category, and perhaps coal-mining disasters too, although some who are unsympathetic to the Chinese might take a more hawkish view.
(3) Some people just are so unpredictable:
‘If a mechanical person talks to you and makes eye contact and smiles it’s very hard indeed not to talk back.’ (Remark from a researcher in artificial intelligence.)
This must depend on who you are. One response: “I certainly wouldn’t talk back, I’d just punch it in the face.” And from one of our secretaries: “Sure, I’d answer back. I’d shout ‘Help!’ and run away as fast as I could.” Should anyone be investigating the effects of long-term research into artificial intelligence – on the researcher?