Friday, 16 January 2009

Afghanistan: time for a new plan

Here it goes again.
A few days before the inauguration and people are bemoaning well-known ills such as the utter failure of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.
It is not news because it is not new.
Yet it will never stop being news because the whole endeavour has been such a monumental failure.
Plus we are all secretly hoping that what Bush broke, Obama will fix.
That magic wand again.

So we are back to talking about the privatisation of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Security companies, reconstruction agencies, catering outfits, engineering firms. They are all out there making a buck, doing good, messing up.
And journalists exclaim that ‘privatisation is benefiting the privateers’. Well done Sherlock.
And they also bemoan the fact that foreign aid funds don’t actually leave the US. Which they do. They just come back in, as most private businesses supporting the reconstruction effort are US-based. That bit, however, is not a mistake. It was always part of the plan. A plan we didn’t know about till it was too late to do something about. A plan we may not like. But a plan nonetheless.

And the thing about mistakes is that you can fix them or at least try. With plans, that’s trickier.
Because before the plan, comes the implementation, before that the groundwork, before that the decision-making. So someone, somewhere had what he thought was a good idea and set out putting it to practice.
Privatisation is an old idea and one that successive administrations thought good. It goes back to the Vietnam war. Clinton stepped it up. Bush went to town with it.
It was all part of the plan. A plan that we now see is not working.
But let’s go back to when the plan was hatched and what do we see?
Decades of groundwork and implementation. In other words, decades during which ‘other ways of doing things’ atrophied as they were not part of the plan.

So we need a new plan.
That’s not news either.
We need the decision-making – this bit Obama can do without a wand.
We need the groundwork and implementation. We need the result.
But all this takes time. Because first you need to reverse what is, to open up space for what could be. And while you are doing that, you need to find a way to carry on doing what you need to be doing. And if the old way is the only way, then you are stuck with the old plan for a while. Because the US won’t and shouldn’t stop reconstruction efforts.
So the money will carry on going to whomever has been leading the effort so far. USAID and commercial entities such as the Louis Berger group or private security companies such as DynCorp.

The truth is, much as we don’t like it, we can live with this a bit longer. As long as it’s part of a plan. A new plan that will eventually lead to a new way of doing things.
This is the time for decision-making.
And while the groundwork and implementation phases are unfolding, we will be patient. And we will await the result of the new plan.
Just as long as Obama doesn’t say ‘we are stuck with this for now, so we are stuck full stop’. As long as he says ‘we’re stuck now, but we have a plan’.
As long as he has a plan.

Bad brain day

I was just told by one of my readers that I am having a ‘bad brain day’ or maybe a bad brain life. And that I should read some history in order to understand the ‘anguish’ of the Greek people and all those who seek justice, truth and hate propaganda – amen.
That last bit is mine. The rest is verbatim. Look for yourselves.

Obviously I am not going to defend my brain, opinions or education. Comment is free and if they don’t like my blog they don’t have to read it. I won’t mind.

But to be honest, I was tempted to remove the comment for a moment. Not because it’s questioning my brainpower or my knowledge of history. But because it is anonymous and I find that cowardly.
But what the hell.
Some times it’s the type of people who disagree with you that tells you, you are doing something right.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Paranoid R Us?

A few days ago, I got a forward. I get a few of those. I get too many of those.
I never thought I’d be blogging about them.

This particular email was informing me that Lonely Planet magazine printed a two-page spread with the catchy title ‘How about Turkey for Christmas’ inviting people to catch some winter sun on the island of Kastelorizo.
Which is in Greece. Not in Turkey.
There is even a Greek flag in one of the beachfront public buildings on the edge of the photo, which kind of gives the game away.
So Lonely Planet had a d’oh moment and I had a laugh.

But the Greeks went bananas.
Greek TV is reporting on this ‘despicable act of propaganda’, bloggers are frothing at the mouth about the ‘known Turkish-leaning tendencies of Lonely Planet’, the ministry of external affairs is ‘monitoring the situation closely’ and I am aghast.
That people are seriously thinking that this is more than a mistake.
That people seriously believe that Turkey could be using this as a strategy for territorial expansion or political destabilisation in Greece.
That people seriously believe Lonely Planet would actively compromise their credibility in such a way just to do Turkey’s presumed bidding over an island for which Turkey has no known annexation agenda.

Obviously Greece and Turkey are not the best of friends. Never have been. But there is no actual territorial dispute over Kastelorizo. Disputes over the continental shelf or national airspace? Yes. Over Kastelorizo? No.
Unless you assume that Turkey is after every Greek island near their coast. Which many in Greece do.

This paranoia is not new.
Foreign affairs coverage in the press, political history coverage in schoolbooks and educational material – all work on the simple storyline of the little friendless nation whose land possessions are in constant danger, whose dignity and interests are under constant assault; the little country that needs to forever be vigilant.

So here we are talking about Lovely Planet’s political positioning, Turkey’s agents abroad and Greece’s diplomatic retaliation options. This is serious, we are told. Of course it’s serious. But not as a threat to Greece’s territorial integrity. Not as a threat to peace and stability in the Med.
This is serious because when you set off travelling, your Lonely Planet is your bible. And if they manage to leave you with the impression that a tiny Greek island off the coast of Turkey is in a different country to the one it’s actually in, then what else are they getting wrong?

And while my friends in Greece see this as a diplomatic episode, I’m thinking thank God I've always been a Rough Guide gal.
Paranoid? You bet ya.