Let me tell you a story. Or rather, why not let Prof. James D. Miller, writing for National Review Online, tell you one, since he does it so much better than I could: America should not even pretend to care about the rights of dictators. In the 21st century the only leaders whom we should recognize as legitimate are those who were democratically elected. The U.S. should reinterpret international law to give no rights to tyrants, not even the right to exist. We should have an ethically based foreign policy towards democratic countries. With dictatorships, however, we should be entirely Machiavellian; we should deal with them based upon what is in our own best interests. It's obviously in our self–interest to prevent as many dictators as possible from acquiring the means to destroy us. This comes in the course of a wider column, stressing the duty of the United States to prevent, and indeed, retard, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. You'll hardly believe this, but in the good professor's hit–list of unsavoury Middle Eastern regimes who ought not to have the bomb, well, he seems to have forgotten one. Still, it was a jolly long list, and we all have lapses like that – and anyway, that's not what's really interesting about his argument. Rather what should capture our attention is his appeal for a latter–day Holy Alliance of the democracies, and that, beyond this Pale, non–democratic regimes should have no standing in international relations: the rules of the state system should not apply to them. What's so captivating about that fairly standard issue neo–con argument? It rests upon their biggest fib of all, namely that, in contradiction to the attitude it should have to dictatorships, the good old United States respects the sovereignty of its democratic allies. This, as we shall see, would be decent of them, and a first step of sorts, but it's a long way from being the truth. However, let's leave America for the moment, and look at Britain fighting evil abroad. Tony Blair has been praised by many in America for positioning the UK firmly behind the United States in its response to September 11th: 'the fact is that we are at war with terrorism. What happened on Tuesday was an attack not just upon the United States but upon the civilised world'. Nor was this the only arena in which Britain under Blair has selflessly sought to rid the world of the evil of terrorism. When the Indian parliament was attacked, presumably by Kashmiri terrorists, the Prime Minister, on tour in India opined, 'I view an attack on your parliament with every bit as much outrage as I would an attack on the parliament in which I sit [...] Terrorism is terrorism wherever it occurs and whoever are its victims'. Moreover – for Blairite foreign policy is no Utopian flight of fancy – fighting terrorism overseas 'is not just right in itself, it is vital to our economy, our jobs, our stability, our security'. Quite how vital is perhaps demonstrated by how often we in the UK do it, for when we're not busy helping America fight Mr Bin Laden and his global conspiracy against freedom, or mouthing words of support for India, we're also saving the poor, downtrodden diamonds, er, people of Sierra Leone from terroristic types. Then there's our noble effort in Kosovo, which Mr Blair touched upon, in his speech last year to the Labour party conference, in an effort to reassure his audience that the war against terrorism wasn't a crusade against Islam. Forget all that stuff you might have read at antiwar.com about the gentlemen of the KLA, and all those burnt Orthodox churches, and the expulsion of the Serbs of Kosovo, what you really have to remember is that when Milosevic embarked on the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kosovo, we acted. And the sceptics said it was pointless, that we made matters worse, we made Milosevic stronger and look what happened. We won. The refugees went home. The policies of ethnic cleansing were reversed. And one of the great dictators of the last century will finally see justice in this century. Which was nice, so well done us. All in all, you just point to a terrorist and Britain's in like Flint, pretty much, bar one place, which is, well, Britain. The only bit of the globe where all this anti–terrorist rhetoric and action doesn't apply is within our own borders. However inactive we might be, though, we're hugely lucky (and here's the funny thing pace the America–won't–fiddle–about–inside–sister–democracies rhetoric) that the United States is especially keen to get involved with domestic British terrorism: so much so that one might even think that they were in some danger of taking the side of terrorists against the British state. The issue at stake boils down to this: should Northern Ireland remain, alongside England, Wales and Scotland, part of the United Kingdom, or should it become part of the Republic of Ireland? It's a simple enough matter, and one answered in every election there's ever been (the answer from the majority of the people of Northern Ireland is, by the way, let's stay British). In the way of fascistic nationalism, the terrorists of the Provisional IRA – more gangsters than anything else – have sought to overturn this electoral verdict through a 30 year campaign of sectarian murder. This was resisted, albeit in lethargic form, by London for about the first 20 years or so, but then a kind of ennui set in, and a certain lack of will began to pervade Whitehall. It wasn't due to military defeat. Indeed, the 'peace process' started with a message from the IRA leadership to the British government saying, 'the war's over, all we need you to do is tell us how to bring it to an end'. Rather, the inability of Ulster's Unionists to project a victim's image combined with external interference led London to consider how terrorism at home could be bought off, as opposed to defeated. This has led, in its most recent excrescence, to Sinn Fein MPs (mostly elected courtesy of shameful vote–rigging and intimidation of working class Catholics) being granted the right to offices at the House of Commons, and Ј100,000 per annum expenses, even though they haven't qualified by taking, as all other MPs must and do, an oath of loyalty. You'll remember that quote earlier when Mr Blair talked about his revulsion at the notion that anyone could attack a democratic legislature: the leaders of the IRA now have offices some 30 seconds walk from the spot where Tory MP Airey Neave was killed by a car bomb in 1979. That, admittedly, was the work of a Provo splinter group called the INLA, but the IRA haven't lost out in the MP murdering stakes, notching up, Ian Gow, Anthony Berry and Robert Bradford. Essentially, the strategy pursued by the British government towards Sinn Fein/IRA for the better part of a decade has been to coopt these particular terrorists into the political system. Hence, although the IRA retains its weapons, and uses them – since the 'ceasefire' there have been close to a hundred political murders north and south of the Irish border – London has turned a blind eye to all of this, instead insisting, with the braying assistance of the elite liberal media (notably the BBC and the left wing broadsheets newspapers), that men like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, far from being terrorists, are in fact statespersons. Successive domestic concessions to our home-grown terrorists have included freeing their convicted brethren from jail, granting an amnesty to those not yet caught, and, worse of all, imposing their leaders upon Ulster as government ministers, with the salaries and authority that that entails. To take Martin McGuinness – longtime head of the IRA, and in consequence, the grossest mass–murderer in the British Isles – as an example: he is now Northern Ireland's devolved, British–paid minister for education, in charge of the province's state schools. To compound the immorality of this, most Catholics in Northern Ireland opt not for the state system but for church schools (funded, naturally enough, by the British taxpayer), which means that the only schools over which McGuinness has sway are those to which the Protestants he's spent a lifetime murdering send their children. Yet it gets worse. McGuinness is a minister not because his 'party', Sinn Fein, have any electoral claim to such a role (proportional representation gave them just 18 out of the Northern Ireland Assembly's 108 seats), but because the devolved government in Northern is inherently undemocratic. The system has been gerrymandered under the coy nonsense of 'power–sharing' so that the four or five largest parties have to be included in the provincial government, by virtue of the Westminster legislation that established the devolved body. This is pretty much the opposite of conventional practice in a parliamentary democracy, where, if you lose an election, you lose office. It was included solely in order to appease Sinn Fein/IRA who, as we have noted, are incapable of winning elections. Now you're thinking, 'um, we've come a long, long way from America messing about with other democracies', except that, of course, we haven't. The current political dispensation in Northern Ireland goes under the rubric of the 'Good Friday Agreement', negotiated under the tutelage of former Democrat leader of the Senate George Mitchell. It has been flouted repeatedly by Sinn Fein since it was signed – most importantly, the deadline under which terrorists were to divest themselves of all their weapons has been completely ignored. And at each stage of this process the United States, either by invitation or at its own initiative, has involved itself in the internal politics of the UK. Washington, in her defence, might say, 'we were asked to get involved' but a sensible United States could have said, 'thanks for the invitation, but if you don't mind, we'll stay out of your internal affairs, as, after all, we wouldn't countenance your interference in ours'. What is far more honest in describing the actions of the US in this matter over the last decade, is that her interventions have taken place, more often than not, directly contrary to the wishes of the British government. The very act of appointing an envoy, Mr Mitchell, to participate in British politics was an act that Britain first resisted, then gave into. That was overt interference, and leaves unexamined the private pressure brought to bear upon London over the conduct of domestic British policy. America arrogates to it itself the right to intervene within, in defiance of the customary law as between sovereign states, the internal affairs of dictatorships precisely because they are dictatorships. It follows that democracies acquire the right to freedom from US intervention in their internal affairs, exactly because they are democratic. This is the theory, and it's what neo–cons would have US foreign policy rest upon, and as the case of devotedly loyal, impeccably democratic Britain proves, this is a shallow foundation indeed. To put this kindly, Britain is at least as democratic as the United States, and although I loath my cowardly government for tolerating American meddling in our affairs, on what basis do the proponents of American empire justify it? America's imperialism is as old–fashioned as any there ever has been, and if anyone tells you it's being done for new and better and more moral purposes than any in the past, punch him on the nose.
Forest fires in Siberia have been raging for three months already. They have become a disaster not only of Russian, but of global scale. The fires have already scorched 12 million hectares of land