The War of the World – Why Niall Ferguson is wrong and America Needs an Obama Presidency

This morning I happened to catch a repeat of the Channel 4 documentary The War of the World presented by historian Niall Ferguson.

He is a controversial figure arguing amongst many other controversial things that the British Empire was a force for good in the world.

I agree with his analysis of the events that led to the Second World War which he quite rightly points out started in July 1937 with the Battle of Lugou Bridge

Quite by chance I discovered via The Long Now blog because of the million dollar Warren Buffett bet. hosts videos of debates and speeches given around the globe on the world’s most interesting political, social and cultural issues. As well as hosting a very interesting debate between Niall Ferguson and Peter Schwartz as part of The Long Now Foundation’s Seminars about Long-term Thinking there is the following video of Niall Ferguson’s speech given to the Hoover Institution with the title The Old Man and the (Blue) Sea: Why America Needs a McCain Presidency.

Here Niall Ferguson unusually for him fails to present a compelling argument. He barely presents any kind of argument on Why America Needs a McCain Presidency, but instead attempts to make a case as to why the conventional thinking on the three major candidates (at the time of his speech Hillary Clinton was still in the race) is wrong.

In trying to counter the argument that John McCain at 72 is too old to become U.S. President, Ferguson contrives a statistic that in terms of age relative to the median age of the U.S. population McCain is no older than most of the previous Presidential candidates because the median age of Americans has risen over the decades. This is a spurious argument as clearly if you extend it maintaining the same relative age difference then for a population of median age 46 a candidate aged 90 would still be acceptable by Ferguson’s metric.

For as arduous a job as President of the U.S. the health of the candidate has to be a consideration and as people get older there is a tendency for their health to decline so age is definitely an issue. All this being the case I don’t believe that John McCain is not in the required health for the job.

Another of Ferguson’s major arguments concerns an area where he does have expertise, foreign policy. Specifically the argument in this case concerns Iran and its nuclear ambitions, this being an important issue where there are clear differences between Barack Obama and John McCain. Ferguson mentions the Barbara Ann/Bomb Iran incident and he views the dissemination of this video as a positive thing. The argument is that a hawkish president would have the upper hand in talks with Iran as there would be no doubt as to his commitment to follow through with military action should Iran not accede to the US demands.

This is only true if there are lines of communication open and if Iran believes that the U.S. President can be reasoned with. The crucial question here is how does the leadership of Iran view McCain and Obama? Will Iran view a casual reference and a jokey song about bombing them as McCain being a guy that they should take seriously in any possible future talks? I think not.

But putting the video aside there are still reasons that diplomacy is more likely to break down with Iran under a McCain presidency than if Barack Obama were president. McCain is tarnished by his association with President Bush and the current U.S. government’s failure to find a solution to the Iran question, he has said diplomacy is the preferred path but has ruled out talks with Tehran. In contrast Obama has stated that he believes strong presidents talk to their enemies, including the Soviet Union which posed a greater threat to the United States than Iran. Indeed the world was pulled back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of the willingness for Kennedy and Khrushchev to ignore the hawks and open up lines of communication.

I don’t think that Iran would ever believe that any President of the United States would lack the resolve to launch military action. Obama’s willingness to talk is I believe a strength and not an indication that he is too weak to consider the military option.

Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States.

In closing it comes as no surprise to me that Niall Ferguson would endorse John McCain as President as in fact he is now an advisor to McCain on Foreign policy. But I expected more substance from him on the question of Why America Needs a McCain Presidency?

Review: No End in Sight

No End in Sight

Fantastic documentary about the war in Iraq and the policy decisions that have led to the current situation. It has really clarified my thoughts on the whole Iraq question especially in light of the opinions and statements of the people who are now running for the next Presidency of the United States.

I was of the opinion that the US forces should remain in Iraq until they had cleaned up the mess that they had created and achieved some kind of stability. I believed that if the US military withdrew then Iraq would descend into an even more chaotic situation than it is currently in.

But in the past year my opinion started to shift as some stability was achieved, however it has not been due to The Surge but instead due to the ceasefire between the US and the Mahdi Army and an equilibrium between the rival armed factions who control different districts of Baghdad. The Iraqi government is a joke that has lost the respect of the people and the US has just become one of the many armed gangs that control Iraq now albeit with better weapons.

Considering the way the Bush administration botched the entire post-war period and occupation as is depicted in this movie I hold out no hope that they can produce any positive results in Iraq. Perhaps a new President could but none of the possible candidates inspire me with confidence that they have any real grasp on the situation.

The title of the movie is interesting, to what is there no end in sight? The obvious answer is the war. Will there be an end to the War in Iraq?

Two answers to this basically.

Either it ended on April 15th 2003 or it will end a long time from now depending on whether you believe that the events that occurred after the invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government are part of that same conflict. What can be considered victory in Iraq? Was it defeating Saddam? If so Mission Accomplished. But if it was to do that and then build a stable democratic Republic of Iraq then it isn’t going to happen for many years.

Pulling US forces out of the region will not end the “war” it will just mean fewer dead American soldiers, because the war now is a conflict between many different armed factions it is an extremely complicated kind of civil war. The US just happens to be one of these armed groups albeit with better weapons.

If the US electorate voted based on personal economics.

According to the New York Times. Over the last six decades, the real incomes of middle-class families grew twice as fast under Democratic presidents as they did under Republican presidents. The real incomes of working-poor families grew six times as fast under Democratic presidents. [via]

The incomes of affluent families were relatively impervious to partisan politics, growing robustly under Democrats and Republicans alike.

Iraq five years on: Epic Fail

British people deceived on entering the war and deceived about our withdrawal.

We have left a mess of Basra and Southern Iraq.

Iran and disparate militias have control basically, and former translators are being abducted and killed.

Violence is down in Baghdad but the new Iraqi parliament is a failing system and many MPs having suffered threats and attempts on their lives are not attending parliament and due to sectarian division very little agreement can be reached on any legislation.

Former enemies are being paid to secure their own neighbourhoods, the insurgents have been given territory.

The US is effectively governing Iraq through Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) militias

Numbers of Al Qaeda will dwindle when the US pulls out as the locals get reabsorbed into civil society or join militia and foreigner will return home.

The Kurdish north has become a self governing autonomous region. Iraq has broken up.

Cheney again links Iraq invasion to 9/11 attacks as bombing victims are buried

“The improvement may be due at least in part to the “surge”, the increase in US troops”.

The downturn in violence has nothing to do with the surge. The downturn in violence is due to;

– the ongoing cease-fire with Muqtada, a cease-fire that he recently extended;

– most of the internecine fighting is over with and the Shias and Shiites now live within their own ghettoes and will not travel outside them. Baghdad today is a collection of hostile Sunni and Shia ghettoes divided by high concrete walls. Different districts have different national flags. Sunni areas use the old Iraqi flag with the three stars of the Baath party and the Shia wave a newer version, adopted by the Shia-Kurdish government. The Kurds have their own flag.

– Americans paying and arming those they were fighting a few months ago. The Sunni defeat in the battle for Baghdad in 2006 and early 2007 was the motive for many guerrillas, previously anti-American, suddenly allying themselves with American forces. They concluded they could not fight the US, al Qa’ida, the Iraqi army and police and the Mehdi Army at the same time.


Five years of occupation have destroyed Iraq as a country, but the media carries on and reprints Bush’s mendacious claims of victory and a noble cause without even blushing.

The Guardian: There must be a reckoning for this day of infamy

Ex-SAS man who made torture claims gagged

The Guardian reports that former SAS soldier Ben Griffin has been served with a high court order yesterday preventing him from making fresh disclosures about how hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans captured by British and American special forces were rendered to prisons where they faced torture. [via]

The full text of the statement he read at a press conference hosted by the Stop the War Coalition is available here.

Illegal downloaders ‘face UK ban’

British internet users face ban for illegal downloads. A draft copy of a Green Paper produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was leaked to The Times newspaper which detailed how the government was considering introducing legislation that would require ISPs to take action against users who access pirated material.

The Government’s resolve on the issue has apparently been stiffened following similar proposals made by the governments of the US and France. The proposal is designed to bolster the UK’s creative industries but it is questionable how much impact it will have on piracy and how willing Internet Service Providers will be to cut off their revenue by banning their own customers.

How to Kill a Human Being

In the BBC Horizon documentary How to Kill a Human Being former politician Michael Portillo investigates the current methods of execution used by countries that carry out capital punishment concentrating on those used in the United States

Prompted by the American Supreme Court’s examination of whether the lethal injection is causing prisoners to die in unnecessary pain Michael Portillo set out to find a solution which is fundamentally humane.

I was suspicious of his motives throughout this documentary as he started by explaining his changing views on the death penalty and how he had been in his political career initially in favour but then as more and more miscarriages of justice came to light in the UK he altered his stance and voted against it’s reintroduction in Britain. If it was the case that he was opposed now why is he investigating methods so as to find the most humane?

But as the programme went on and Portillo discovered that each and every method was deeply flawed I began to think that perhaps he was not in fact doing what he’d stated but had in fact set out with the purpose of failing so as to create a credible argument in opposition to capital punishment. Throughout he is exclaiming that “it’s the 21st century surely science can come up with the perfect way to kill a human being!” And of course he is correct and it’s hypoxia, the restriction of oxygen, and which is one of the primary methods used to humanely kill animals used in medical research.

He then visits a couple of facilities in Holland that have been designed to measure the effects of oxygen depletion through extreme G forces or through extreme altitude so that he can experience it for himself to the point shortly before loss of consciousness and death. Discovering that it is completely painless and far from being stressful is actually euphoric Michael Portillo now thinks he has the answer but needs a more practical method of administering it. He turns to Dr Mohan Raj of Bristol University who has been researching more humane methods for use in slaughterhouses and who has developed the very simple system of using inert gases such as Nitrogen, which are non-toxic and tasteless and the subject is completely unaware of the gases presence.

Now armed with his ‘perfect’ method of how to kill a human being Portillo returns to the United States to put his findings to the pro-death penalty side of the debate to gauge their reactions and he doesn’t get the reaction he was hoping for.

Oddly he only seems to have a discussion with a single person and that is Professor Robert Blecker of the New York School of Law who as a known retributivist advocate of the death penalty surely can not be representative of the views of most Americans who are in favour of capital punishment.

Robert Blecker is very much in favour of the method of executing criminals being horrific and painful (despite the US constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment) and is appalled by Michael Portillo’s perfect method.

I would think that the majority of those who are in favour would also respect the US constitution and believe if the state is to kill people that it should not come down to the level of those it is executing but do it in a humane manner. In a way I’ll be glad if Portillo’s perfect method doesn’t gain traction for the longer the debate rages in the US about their current methods being cruel and unusual the more likely it is that it will abandon the death penalty entirely.

Plus we have to return to the point that Michael Portillo made right at the start and that is with the dozens of miscarriages of justice coming to light and the investigations that have revealed a number of people have been wrongly convicted and subsequently executed in the US how can capital punishment be justified when it is likely to be used again on the wrongly convicted. I’m left confused as to what Portillo’s current position really is.

Harmful internet and videogame violence

A new enquiry into harmful content on the internet and in video games was launched by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 5 December 2007, Session 2007-08.

The Committee is announcing today a new inquiry into the potential risks from harmful material on the Internet and in video games, with the following terms of reference:

The benefits and opportunities offered to consumers, including children and young people, and the economy by technologies such as the Internet, video games and mobile phones.

The potential risks to consumers, including children and young people, from exposure to harmful content on the Internet or in video games. The Committee is particularly interested in the potential risks posed by:

– Cyber bullying;
– user generated content, including content that glorifies guns and gang violence;
– the availability of personal information on social networking sites;
– content that incites racial hatred, extremism or terrorism; and
– content that exhibits extreme pornography or violence.

Very similar remit to the Byron Review which is examining the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. Though I think the Byron Review is more concerned with videogame violence than the DCMS Committee’s enquiry.

Talking of videogame violence a new bloody trailer for Ninja Gaiden II is out

It seems like there’s almost nothing you can do in this game that doesn’t result in an enemy losing an appendage and spewing forth a geyser of blood.

and Rubbish Pixels has listed The six biggest arseholes in games

The King of All Cosmos, Katamari Damacy
Nothing’s ever good enough for this bearded, carpet-headed bell-end. No matter how big your Katamari is he’ll complain about it being too small. Maybe you shouldn’t have accidentally destroyed the entire cosmos then, you giant regal fuck.

The last character on the list is a bit of a surprise. but on reflection I think I do agree with the assessment.