Iraq, Afghanistan and others

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Standards of decency should be upheld - even in the Iraq war

Standards of decency should be upheld - even in the Iraq war

Sir: To imply, as Robert Fisk has, that Margaret Hassan wouldn't be dead but for the invasion of Iraq is not to absolve her killers of blame ("What price innocence in the anarchy of Iraq?", 17 November). They had other options of resistance, even violent means, open to them short of kidnapping, torture, execution and (possibly) mutilation. Even in war standards of decency should be upheld.

The insurgents are more analogous to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge than Vietnam's Viet Cong. Polls of Iraqis indicate that the insurgents, some of whom are foreign, are not representative of broad Iraqi opinion. Most Iraqis want the elections to go forward, terrorist acts to stop and reconstruction to proceed.

The fastest way to get the coalition forces out of Iraq - as Mr Fisk, the insurgents and, indeed most Iraqis want - is for the UN-administered elections to proceed and for the new government to build the capacity to maintain civil order unassisted.

The US has recently demonstrated its good faith in nation-building in Afghanistan. UN-administered elections have been held there and tens of billions of dollars have been invested in security, reconstruction and human capital. It can be the same for the Iraqis. Polls seem to indicate that's what they want. Elections are the only way to answer such questions conclusively. The insurgents' actions are only pushing that day further back and, in the process, leading to the deaths of thousands and the immiseration of millions.

Denver, Colorado, USA

Sir: If Iraq is not a quagmire I don't know what is. The mantra seems to be that since we're here (no matter we have no business to be) then we have to make the best of it, or in Bush's rhetoric "see it through".

The appeal to true grit however is misplaced in this kind of moral and political chaos. The unthinkable has to be thought, the unspeakable said. There can be no pacification, no stabilisation by force - as Vietnam proved. The abandonment of the project of occupation and the withdrawal of coalition forces is now the only available option. If civil war follows, so be it. It will not be of our making (or only so historically, and that's another story). All peoples have a right to self-determination, including the right to slog it out among themselves if need be. We've all been there.

With us out of the way, Arab mediation could become a critical factor in the future of Iraq. Meanwhile we eat humble pie; we say we are sorry; we offer compensation for the harm and the damage we have done by waging this unnecessary war.

Totnes, Devon

Afghan drug harvest will delight dealers

Sir: In October 2001 Tony Blair told us that "90 percent of the heroin sold sold on British streets originates in Afghanistan". Despite the fact that the Taliban all but eradicated opium production in Afghanistan, Mr Blair helped to put Afghanistan under US "management", and now the second largest crop in the country's history is expected ("report, 19 November).

Previously the trafficking route had been made much easier by US foreign policy makers (the same people who created cocaine-financed terrorism in Latin America) who ensured that all the former southern Soviet provinces between Afghanistan and Western Europe were plunged into poverty, anarchy and strife and taken over by corrupt criminal elements, often with the covert backing of the oil-hungry west. Yugoslavia, traditionally the last barrier to the uninterrupted flow of heroin into Europe via Italy, was bloodily dismembered and Kosovo made a playground for Albanian criminals who pass their time smuggling people (mostly young women) whilst waiting for the bumper poppy harvest. Meanwhile the enlarged EU has all but abandoned border controls with the East.

Drug dealers in the UK must be rubbing their hands in anticipation.

But wait a minute. There is one last snag. What to do with the millions in dirty drug cash? How can it be laundered by the organisers of this lucrative trade without arousing suspicion? No problem. Just get the Government to license super casinos run by those nice experts from Las Vegas. Stick one in every major city in the UK and you could, if you were a naive and incompetent politician, create the most efficient and legal way of shifting large quantities of dubious money from the street into legitimate bank accounts.

Just the sort of shot in the arm Britain needs.


Sir: The solution to the opium "crisis" in Afghanistan is simple: legalise the opium trade. This would take it out of the hands of terrorists and give the Afghan government an excellent source of tax revenue. If the UK, US and other nations wish to prevent their citizens using opium, that is their business. We have no right to declare a war on a nation because it has found a raw material profitable to trade. Or perhaps, now are we legislating against the use of tobacco, we intend to start fire-bombing Virginian tobacco fields.

London N17

Europe's borders

Sir: Christopher Smallwood is surely correct in arguing that Europe needs more open borders (Business, 18 November). But in the same article he also presents a fascinating case for the United States economy dwarfing that of the European Union by 2044, forecasting a global share of 26 percent for the US against Europe's 10 per cent.

Non-economists must be staggered by the confidence of such predictions. His article makes no mention of the various factors which could derail such long term projections, such as ecological catastrophe (being made more likely by America's obsession with appeasing its oil interests and its addiction to high levels of energy consumption despite clear evidence of global warming and its consequences).

Even the record current account deficit the US has accumulated under George W Bush merits no mention. War and terrorism are similarly ignored, despite the current administration pursuing a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and total spectrum dominance, as if security is guaranteed merely by huge defence budgets and a willingness to fight wars on various fronts in pursuit of a nebulous concept called "freedom" and against another equally nebulous concept, that of "terrorism".

Internal tensions in the US escape Smallwood's attention: the burgeoning prison population - five times that of the EU; 40 per cent of Americans having no health insurance; and an increasing polarisation between rich and poor. Consumer debt is far higher in the US (and in the UK) than in continental Europe, where Smallwood condemns the "chronically high" levels of personal savings, an extraordinary criticism of a tendency for prudence in planning personal finances.

These systemic failures threaten the fundamentals of the US economy. They also emphasise the more civilised aspirations of continental Europe's preference for a mixed economy that delivers labour protection, higher environmental standards and a reasonable level of social welfare. Why do so many economists continue to worship at the altar of economic growth as if nothing else matters? Many, like Smallwood, do not even attempt to argue that growth must be environmentally sustainable. This continual dash for growth, regardless of the consequences, will result in more wars over scarce resources and further destroy a fragile ecosystem.

St John College, York

Sir: I feel Christopher Smallwood has failed to ask the obvious question: why has the European birth rate collapsed since the 1960s? The birth rate all across Europe is below replacement level of 2.2; in fact the average European birth rate is 1.5 and has been below replacement level since the early 1970s.

Rather than suggesting immigration as a solution, the root causes of this demographic collapse must be addressed. Clearly any society with a below replacement level birth rate for a sustained period has a non-sustainable future. In contrast, the US has a birth rate of 2.1, which is at near replacement, and that is the real reason the US will continue to grow and Europe will gradually die out or be replaced by a non-European population

Brentford, Middlesex

Baltic dentists

Sir: Over recent months I have read with some amusement about the problems and fees involved with NHS dentistry. My wife is Lithuanian and we visit Lithuania at least twice a year. Last year I had my teeth cleaned and two fillings for a modest fee of about £36. Standards are high, most younger dentists speak English and you can make appointments within 24 hours.


Move beyond hunting

Sir: Whatever the rights and wrongs of the hunting argument, the row over the issue has been damaging to rural Britain because it has obscured so many other problems. Urban dwellers have been led to assume that chasing foxes is the major preoccupation of people who live in the countryside. In fact, though hunting is important to some, other concerns loom far larger for the majority. Their worries are affordable housing, decently paid jobs, the future of village schools, shops and post offices and the inadequacy of so many rural bus services. What are the chances of the debate about these issues attracting the intensity of the hunting debate?

Bideford, Devon

Sir: Only 46 MPs voted for Tony Blair's hunting compromise. At his low point Charles I secured 56 votes against the Attainder of Strafford, despite enormous public anger on the streets; tabloid pamphlets stigmatised his supporters as "Straffordians - betrayers of their country". It would seem that when the whips are off, Tony Blair is less popular in the Commons than Charles I was during the Long Parliament.


Sir: Those countryfolk who will no longer be able to use their red coats should take heart. Butlins will soon be recruiting for 2005.

Easton-in-Gordano, Bristol

Educating Charles

Sir: What a predictable response from the liberal elite. Prince Charles talked of "child-centred education", and sneering commentators wonder whether he knows what education is about?

Child-centred education is another of those modish theories popular in the Sixties, along with mixed-ability teaching, which caused so much damage to the education of generations of children. Education is about subjects, not personal expression. The culture of narcissism has taken us to a point where every talentless cretin in the country thinks they can be their dream, without talent, application or damned hard work.

Charles Clarke and the rest of the chattering classes know perfectly well what the Prince of Wales is talking about, and their response is terrifying because it is so dishonest.

North East Lincolnshire

Sir: Dr Noel Cox raises an interesting point (letter, 20 November), why should those coming in to the Civil Service at lowly grades not be given the opportunity to rise to high grades?

Would it not be better to have individuals to analyse the impact of policies who have experience of surviving on low incomes and who, through having attended and travelled to a local school, possibly have an understanding of society as a whole? Rather that than have someone institutionalised through their schooling and university.

London SE18

Commissioner's post

Sir: You were happy to see a committed Christian refused a post on the EU Commission (leading article, 27 October); why not the same steely resolution to have Jacques Barrot, a convicted embezzler sacked ("Barroso was not told of commissioner's suspended jail term", 20 November)?

Leigh Sinton, Worcestershire

Differences resolved

Sir: Your political editor claims that I "saw off a last minute challenge led by Jack Straw" to a draft Bill on corporate manslaughter (report, 20 November). It is common knowledge that the Foreign Secretary raised issues that he believed were pertinent. What is not true is that he "led" or participated in a "last minute challenge". He and I resolved outstanding concerns that he had legitimately raised in agreeing an approach to the draft Bill. Democratic government is about resolving differences and finding common ground to meet shared objectives.

Home Secretary
House of Commons

Female fantasies

Sir: What is so particularly male about having fantasies of rapid and stylish escape from awkward situations ("Heights of male fantasy", 17 November)? Does John Walsh believe no females ever dream of "surfing the elements" and "whizzing through the air"? I can assure him that I wanted a jet-pack just as much as he did.


Private Windsor

Sir: Prince William reportedly thinks himself pretty normal and that if he joins the Army he would like to serve alongside his comrades. What chance of him doing the normal thing and starting out as a private soldier?

Bishops Stortford

Chaotic language

Sir: Guy Keleny's article on our chaotic language (19 November) reminds me of the sentence set to test foreigners: "The dough-faced ploughboy coughed and hiccoughed his way through Loughborough." Here the combination "ough" is pronounced in seven different ways.

Dover, Kent