“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for September 2006

NATO, the Cold War and Afghanistan

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The current fiasco of scraping together NATO forces for Afghanistan brings to mind the Cold War.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO was on the front line to stop, as we were told at the time, the ever present possibility of conflict with the Warsaw Pact countries.

NATO was to be the bulwark against Soviet expansion and millions of Soviet troops.

Oh, how things have changed since the early 1990s.

NATO, instead of fighting millions of soldiers under the direction of the Kremlin, now faces a ragtag band of Taliban.

Of course, guerrilla actions can be unpredictable and hard to contain, but the probable thousands of Taliban fighters hardly compare with the millions of East European troops and the Red Army.

The undignified diplomatic shuffling and arm twisting which is going on now just to raise a few thousand troops for the NATO force in Afghanistan does not bode well for the future.

European nations seem more content when the threat is on the doorstep (has allegedly it was with the Warsaw Pact), but the ramifications of a rejuvenated Taliban retaking Afghanistan are too awful to consider, for the want of countries in the West fully engaging with the problems there.

The recent treaty signed by President Musharraf will, in all probability, give the Taliban a launch pad for attacks into Afghanistan from the lawless border region of Pakistan.

Combined with bumper crops of poppies it would seem that Afghanistan might regress.

Western countries have known for at least the past two years of the Taliban’s resurgence and yet have not taken up the challenge, there is much talk of winning “the hearts and minds” but comparatively little real change on the ground.

So the four broad problems of Afghanistan, as I see them, are:

1. Western countries pitiful contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan
2. insufficient aid and military expertise
3. a method for dealing with the growth of poppies
4. how to make the border region of Pakistan inhospitable for the Taliban and Al Qaeda

The first two points should be comparatively easy to deal with if Western countries feel that the rebuilding of Afghanistan is in their vested interest and not just another annoyance.

The third point could possibly be dealt with by buying up the crop entirely and using it for medical purposes rather than allowing it to be processed into hard drugs. It seems unlikely that an eradication programme would be feasible or achievable in Afghanistan, so the alternative is to spend money to mopping them up and win the hearts and minds, that way.

The fourth point is very tricky, that border region is incredibly inhospitable and as the British found probably unconquerable. It may be that tribal loyalties in the region take precedence over money or perceived self-interest, military operations would seem futile and buying off parts of the border region may be more effective and in the long run cheaper than military incursions. Either way it is unclear as to how to deal with this problem.

So Western countries have several choices: engage with Afghanistan, pour money and resources into the region or allow Afghanistan to become, yet again, a mediaeval barbaric regime under the Taliban.

I think I know what is more preferable but do the politicians in the West?

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 23:10

Posted in Uncategorized

Shock! Iran Wanted Nukes

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Shock, horror, we are surprised (sarcasm) has reported by the BBC:

“A letter from 1988 in which Iran’s top commander says Iran could need a nuclear bomb to win the war against Iraq has come to light in Tehran.

The commander is quoted in the letter, written by the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, to top officials in the final days of the war.

It has only now been made public – by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The letter seems at odds with Tehran’s statements that Iran is not seeking a bomb because it is against Islam.


The letter from Ayatollah Khomeini lists the requirements of military commanders if they are to continue fighting against Iraq.

It mentions more aircraft, helicopters, men and weapons, and also quotes the top commander saying Iran would within five years need laser-guided and atomic weapons in order to win the war.

Some Iranian news agencies have, however, deleted the reference to atomic weapons in the letter.

It is sensitive because Iran has always said it is not seeking a nuclear weapon and leading clerics say an atomic bomb would be against Islam.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s letter also reveals how challenged Iran’s economy and military were by the eight years of war against Iraq.

The letter quotes the prime minister of the time saying the economy was operating at a level below zero and volunteers for the front were in short supply.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s letter has been made public at a time when Iran is preparing for a possible confrontation with the US over its nuclear programme.

But it also comes against a background of an argument between Mr Rafsanjani and a top military commander over who was instrumental in persuading Ayatollah Khomeini to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq that the Ayatollah himself likened to drinking a poisoned chalice. “

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 17:59

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Of Books and Things to Read

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Deciding which books to read can be a bit of a hit and miss process. I have more than my fair share of “looked good at the time but questionable quality” type books, so finding a good source of bibliography information is very valuable and saves time.

The topic of the Middle East is unlikely to disappear from our horizons any time shortly, and I think it pays to be well-informed on the region and its goings-on, so why not try the Mideastweb as it provides a searchable bibliography of books relating to the region..

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 00:15

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David Aaronovitch – Fighting Terror

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Whilst I remember, here are the clips which make up David Aaronovitch’s Fighting Terror programme shown recently on Channel 5.

Thanks to Harry’s Place.

Written by modernityblog

28/09/2006 at 17:15

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YouTube and Fighting Terrorism

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YouTube is very handy, and the recent Channel 5 programme Don’t Get Me Started by David Aaronovitch is a fine example of how technology is allowing people across the world access to British Television.

Watching clips directly on YouTube is okay, but if you want to download the clip, then help is at hand.

1. Get the URL of the clip, e.g.

2. Goto

3. Paste into the space below “Download direct from most video sites” and on the right toggle bring “YouTube” and click on download (right handside).

4. Wait a moment and the file download link will appear, do a right click and save the file.

5. Bring up Media Player Classic or your favourite media player and watch locally.

6. If your player complains about missing FLV codecs, visit the FDDshow page, download, install and try again.

7. Alternatively use this FLV player.

8. NB: Make sure that the downloaded file has the FLV extension.

Update: I forgot to add that the VLC media player will probably play FLV files too.

Written by modernityblog

27/09/2006 at 19:32

Posted in Uncategorized

Better Fox?

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Version 2.0 of Firefox is coming out of Beta, with the first release candidate being shipped today.

Firefox 2.0 has a wide range of new features, which include, but not limited to:

Built-in phishing protection
Enhanced search capabilities
Previewing and subscribing to Web feeds
Inline spell checking
Improved Add-ons manager
JavaScript 1.7
Extended search plugin format.
Updates to the extension system
New Windows installer

A fair few existing extensions don’t work with the Beta 2.0 of Firefox, but hopefully those problems will be resolved shortly.

Written by modernityblog

27/09/2006 at 12:01

Posted in Uncategorized

BBC Radio 4 Listen Again

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The BBC Radio 4 Listen Again is great, it allows listeners to re-play programmes that might have been missed or just to enjoy again, I would recommend tonight’s offering: With Great Pleasure

Written by modernityblog

24/09/2006 at 23:29

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