26 February 2010

The Future of 'Prevent'

Well there's been lots of talk, discussion and speculation about the future of the 'Preventing Violent Extremism' programme, what the current government is planning, what a new Tory government would do about it, and so forth.

Earlier on in the week I participated in a roundtable meeting hosted by Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury - who also apparently takes the Cabinet lead on faith and community issues.

Anyway, an informed source at the meeting working at a senior level in Communities Minister John Denham's office confirmed in no uncertain terms what is gradually becoming clear to many - the government is essentially looking to narrow down the 'Prevent' agenda into a fundamentally and openly 'security'-oriented programme which may well be police and/or intelligence-led. Meanwhile, community-oriented capacity-building work which has previously been (at least in theory) the province of the 'Prevent' agenda will be relegated primarily to an emerging separate programme of work under 'Cohesion'.

Community capacity-building under Cohesion will be much less focused on one particular faith, i.e. Islam and Muslims, but will work toward getting different faith communities to collaborate and cooperate in various social enterprises. Even the new more ostensibly security-driven 'Prevent' programme would not focus exclusively on Islam and Muslims, but more broadly on 'violent extremism' coming from any other religious and non-religious groups.

Other sources familiar with 'Prevent' working in other government departments/agencies tend to generally corroborate this shift in thinking, so it's clear that although Denham has clearly taken a lead in driving this process in the Communities & Local Government Department, it's the outcome of a fair amount of new thinking going on throughout Whitehall.

Allowing myself to speculate, this could mean that if a new Tory government comes in after this year's elections, it's unlikely to be able or even willing to radically shake things up. The new Cabinet would of course consist of people who've had no experience of government for more than a decade, if not longer. They would be heavily dependent on civil servants to get to grips with things. That doesn't mean that they might not try to implement some major changes - given that many of the Tory MPs interested in security issues like Michael Gove or Patrick Mercer tend to swallow the pseudo-scholarly diagnoses of former (and still clearly quite confused) ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir ideologues hook, line and sinker, it's also likely that a Tory government would wish to ensure that 'security'-oriented programmes continue to focus heavily on Islam and Muslim communities generically.

22 February 2010

The Iran Threat: more of the same

abridged version to be published in The Muslim News

The pressure is cranking up on Iran. During her recent tour of the Middle East, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared that Iran is “moving toward a military dictatorship”, because the civilian government is being “supplanted” by the Revolutionary Guard, which “poses a very direct threat to everyone.” She added: “We don’t want to be engaging while they’re building a bomb.” About a week earlier US National Security Adviser Jim Jones described the Iran nuclear issue as the “top global security threat.”

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s announcement that the country would now begin producing higher enriched uranium has thrown fuel on the fire. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg described the gesture as “pushing back” the “outstretched hand of the international community.”

Yet amidst the escalating calls for greater sanctions and diplomatic pressure to isolate Iran, there have been contradictory statements. In September last year, US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Glyn Davies declared that Iran had now acquired “possible breakout capacity” if it decided to enrich its uranium to bomb-grade level. American intelligence reportedly found that despite having enough nuclear fuel “to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon”, the regime had “deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.”

Yet after Ahmedinejad’s declaration of plans to ramp up enrichment to a higher 20 per cent level, White House officials responded with scepticism, putting the statement down to “politics not physics.”

“The Iranian nuclear program has undergone a series of problems throughout the year,” said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. “We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching.” Indeed, production at the Natanz plant has been notoriously beset with technical difficulties leading experts to believe that Iran will not be able to increase its enrichment capacity. Despite these findings, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) insisted on the imminent danger that Iran would embark on a breakout programme capable of producing weapons-grade uranium in six months.

Yet the speculation that Iran could achieve this feat, despite the fact that its “centrifuges appear to be breaking down at a faster rate than expected” according to US and European officials, is difficult to take seriously. Indeed, the notion that Iran currently has enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb, promoted even by purported expert groups such as ISIS (and first hyped in inaccurate media reporting about February 2009’s IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme) is simply a myth.

Debunking the myth, Physics Today reported: “... as Chemist Cheryl Rofer points out, at 3.49%, the concentration of Iran’s 1010 kg of enriched uranium-235 is still too low to make an atomic bomb and would have to be reprocessed for a number of months to reach the necessary enrichment level for military applications. The uranium enrichment facility would also have to be reconfigured to reach higher concentration levels of U-235. An atomic bomb requires highly enriched uranium-235 at greater than 90% concentration.”

Given Iran’s current technological capacity, there are no grounds to suspect that Iran can or will soon be able to develop a nuclear bomb. Indeed, all of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) is safeguarded by the IAEA, subject to round-the-clock surveillance, and could not be further enriched to weapons-grade level without immediate detection.

This, in fact, was the actual conclusion of the IAEA’s February 2009 report, which – contrary to claims that Iran had deliberately underreported its uranium stocks – found instead, according to IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, that there was “no reason at all to believe that the estimates of LEU produced in the (Natanz) facility were an intentional error by Iran. They are inherent in the early commissioning phases of such a facility when it is not known in advance how it will perform in practice.” She added on fears that Iran could divert its uranium to other secret enrichment facilities: “No nuclear material could have been removed from the facility without the agency’s knowledge since the facility is subject to video surveillance and the nuclear material has been kept under seal.”

The latest IAEA report has also already been distorted beyond all proportion. In particular, much has been made about "alleged activities" with "possible military dimensions" relating to "the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." Yet there is no evidence at all that Iran is or has ever tried to develop a nuclear payload. These phrases are in fact references to the infamous "alleged studies" contained in a laptop obtained surreptitiously by US intelligence from unidentified sources. The "alleged studies" on the laptop constitute a bundle of supposed confidential Iranian documents related to nuclear work. Almost all detailed allegations about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons activities currently derive from these "alleged studies", attributed to Iran, but whose authenticity has never been proven. The IAEA has tended to approach the issue by referring to them in its reports and demanding that Iran provide information to disprove them - yet to date, the US government has refused to provide Iran copies of the "alleged studies" (which allegedly originated from Iran in the first place) so as to respond to them appropriately.

But we now know that the "alleged studies" are an intelligence fabrication. US national security journalist Gareth Porter has recently confirmed from senior US and German intelligence officials that purported evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme – including the IAEA’s ‘alleged studies’ as well as an alleged Iranian ‘neutron initiator’ document unearthed by the Times – was forged. The IPRD published an extensive analysis of previous IAEA reports and information on, among other issues, the Iranian nuclear weapons issue toward the eve of the Bush administration. Our report found systematic evidence of intelligence politicization and even fabrication in relation to Iran over the last few decades. In summary, detailed analysis of this new 2010 IAEA report illustrates that on matters of fact, evidence and substance, it yet again undermines the case against Iran.

In the meantime, there is, evidence that Western intelligence agencies are already conducting a covert war inside Iran. In early 2008, a US Presidential Finding uncontested by Democrat members of the House affirmed that the CIA was financing anti-Iranian ‘blackops’ to the tune of $300 million. Robert Gates, the architect of Bush’s Iran strategy, remains Obama’s defence secretary. Former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi told Gareth Porter that the media had frequently published “false intelligence” on Iraq and Iran from unreliable pro-Israeli sources.

The core issue for Iran "is its need for fuel rods, which are processed from 20%, enriched uranium" to create "medical isotopes" (for cancer treatment) at the Tehran Research Reactor - a need which no one disputes. The Reactor was in fact built by the United States in 1968 under the Pahlavi regime. Iran's current need for fuel rods is new, and has arisen "due to the low levels of its current stockpiles and its need for 120Kg of fuel."

Under the latest deal proposed in October 2009, Iran would be required to send its uranium to Russia, where it would be further enriched and then dispatched to France for conversion into fuel rods for use in the Tehran reactor. Under US leadership, the international community unilaterally demanded that Iran send 1.2 tons (1,100 kilograms) – around 70 percent of its entire stockpile – by the end of last year. Iran received heavy criticism for failing to meet the deadline, despite the fact that no actual agreement was reached, largely due to the international community having failed to provide unequivocal legally-binding assurances that they would comply with fuel rod supply requirements; and despite the problem that the international community still refuses to recognize Iran’s right to develop and enrich the uranium in its own reserves under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has already had binding agreements with both France and Russia with which they have failed to comply - more would be needed than bland assurances.

As if to prove this point, goal-posts keep changing, with the US and EU suddenly declaring on 6th February 2010 that “even if it agrees to a nuclear-fuel swap”, Iran must separately “prove to the rest of the world that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes.” Their ‘clarification’ came shortly after Ahmedinejad announced Iran’s willingness in principle to accept the deal, subject to reviewing “some of the details.”

Yet Iran has for long stated its willingness to implement the IAEA’s ‘Additional Protocol’, an entirely voluntary measure which would subject Iran’s nuclear facilities to an even more stringent and intrusive international inspection process, and which would satisfy US and EU professed demands for ‘proof’, while also permitting a multilateral consortium to adjudicate uranium enrichment within Iran – as long the international community equally recognizes Iran’s NPT-stipulated right to develop its own peaceful nuclear enrichment programme. Yet detailed proposals along these lines have been repeatedly ignored and rejected out-of-hand by both the US and the EU.

To understand the Iran nuclear stalemate, just as with the Iraq-WMD fiasco, we need to look beyond official western platitudes, threats and narratives about Iran-WMD to explore the wider geopolitics and pressures emerging in the context of an increasingly strained global hydrocarbon energy system, in which access to the world's largest strategic oil and gas reserves and domination of the world's fast-emerging nuclear market are increasingly urgent problems.

Understanding Violent Radicalization in Britain

My piece, based on my parliamentary submission, for MCB's Platform Blog.

12 February 2010

They Live

Despite his campaign promises, over a year into his presidency, Obama has been unable to deliver the change that Americans and the world alike had hoped for. Part of the problem is that neocon ideology is alive and well, reaching into the corridors of the Whitehouse, and dominating the airwaves.

Indeed, back in January 2009, after Obama had just announced his appointments, prominent neoconservative icons, intellectuals and ideologues were virtually jumping for joy. Military historian (and McCain campaign staffer) Max Boot, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and regular contributor to the Washington Post and New York Times, declared: “I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain.” David Horowitz, editor of FrontPageMag.com and a regular columnist for Salon.com, rebuked sceptical conservative activists: “Now, as president-elect he has just formed the most conservative foreign policy team since John F. Kennedy, one well to the right of Bill Clinton. Where is your gratitude for that?”

And even earlier during the campaign period, Robert Kagan, co-founder of the notorious Bush-affiliated Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and columnist for the Washington Post and New York Times Syndicate, hailed “Obama, the interventionist”; while staunch Bush supporter Christopher Hitchens, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, demanded that readers “Vote for Obama” due to McCain and Palin being a collective “disgrace.”

Why did so many leading neoconservative commentators, who previously supported the Bush administration’s doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive global warfare, come running to Obama’s doorstep?

Over the last few decades – particularly after 9/11 – neocons have increasingly come to prominence in the American policymaking establishment. Despite Bush’s massive unpopularity by 2008, his administration on the one hand allowed neocons to consolidate their penetration of the foreign policy and media circuit; and on the other, was buttressed by right-wing pundits who exploited their media access to support even its most absurd claims.

Neocon commentators were instrumental, for instance, in promulgating the widely debunked allegation that 9/11 chief bomber Mohamed Atta was linked to Saddam Hussein, seized upon by the Bush administration to justify the war on Iraq as part of the war on al-Qaeda terrorism. As late as November 2008, 52 per cent of Americans still believed that “Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda” – down from 64 per cent in 2006.

Despite such neocon myths being totally discredited, their promulgators even now continue to get air time and print space. In November 2008, Weekly Standard columnist Stephen F. Hayes – who wrote an entire book trying to prove the non-existent Saddam al-Qaeda link and whose official biography of Dick Cheney was described by American Prospect as “fawning”, “turgid, soul-killing” and “meaningless” – was hired by CNN as a political contributor. Frank Gaffney – a founding member of PNAC and regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times among other publications, who also advocated this myth during the war – was able to come on MSNBC’s respected Hardball show in March 2009 and tell host Chris Matthews that the perpetrators of 9/11 “had, in fact, collaborative relationships with Iraqi intelligence.”

“They are effectively insulated from failure,” observed Harvard political scientist and neocon antagonist Stephen Walt on this curious phenomenon. “Even if you’ve totally screwed up in office and things you’ve advocated in print have failed, there are no real consequences, either professionally or politically. You... continue to agitate or appear on talk shows as if nothing has gone wrong at all.” One explanation for this persistence is that despite serious differences, left and right of the American political spectrum have increasingly converged on their diagnosis of the central goal of US foreign policy: maintaining US pre-eminence. They therefore also agree that the central challenge for American foreign policy is how to do this in the face of trends of potential decline due to geopolitical, financial, ecological and energy crises. This convergence is illustrated in the “common cause” many top Obama advisers had made with neocon “war-minded think-tank hawks.”

A new study by left-wing and right-wing academics at Manchester University, Birkbeck College and University College London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas, New Directions in US Foreign Policy, finds that “American foreign policy has not changed course after the Bush years.” On issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, actual policies have been markedly similar. UCL Professor Rob Singh, a neoconservative, points out that “when you look at substance over style and rhetoric, you can legitimately question the extent of change. We all agree that militarism is a crucial part of US strategy, along with a commitment to robust free trade.” No wonder Robert Kagan could write so approvingly in the Wall Street Journal – citing the ongoing troop presence in Iraq, escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, military actions in Yemen and Somalia, and worldwide expansion of military bases – that “the US under Barack Obama remains a martial nation.”

It is no surprise then that neocon pundits continue to retain undeserved influence and even credibility. As the longevity of the Saddam al-Qaeda ‘meme’ shows, their influence on public perceptions can be indelible, and disastrous.

In one of the latest episodes, Christopher Hitchens lashed out at American essayist, dissident and one-time JFK adviser, Gore Vidal, describing him as a crackpot for, among other things, noting that bin Laden is “still not the proven mastermind” of 9/11. Right-wing bloggers everywhere rejoiced. “Vidal is another old writer who won’t last much longer. After he croaks, Christopher Hitchens will need a new whipping boy,” said one. “Thank you Mr. Hitchens for skewering that crackpot,” said another. Yet as I pointed out in my rejoinder to Hitchens in the latest Independent on Sunday, “it would seem the FBI agree with Gore, not Hitchens: according to Sonoma State University’s Project Censored, one of the top 25 censored news stories of 2008 was that ‘He [bin Laden] has not been formally indicted and charged in connection with 9/11 because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.’ Clearly, this doesn’t prove bin Laden wasn’t the mastermind, but should give us pause for thought about why the evidence isn’t so forthcoming.”

Indeed, Hitchens himself is not averse to “conspiracy-mongering” when it suits. He was among the group of discredited pundits trumpeting the neocon conspiracy theory that 9/11 chief bomber Mohamed Atta was linked to Saddam Hussein.

Hitchens and his ilk have now set their sights on Iran. In a recent column for Slate, Hitchens demands that the US government ‘Abolish the CIA’ due to successive National Intelligence Estimates failing to find evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme – in true conspiratorial fashion, ‘no evidence’ constitutes proof that Iran is “lying”, and that the CIA is “worse than useless - it’s a positive menace. We need to shut the whole thing down and start again.’

Similarly, neocon icon Daniel Pipes early last week urged Obama to order the US military “to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity” as a “dramatic gesture” that would “change public perception of him as a light-weight… Just as 9/11 caused voters to forget George W. Bush’s meandering early months, a strike on Iranian facilities would dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene.”

Does such alarmism play a political function? In early 2008, a US Presidential Finding uncontested by Democrat members of the House affirmed that the CIA was financing covert operations against Iran to the tune of $300 million. Robert Gates, the architect of Bush’s Iran strategy, remains Obama’s defence secretary. US national security journalist Gareth Porter has recently confirmed from senior US and German intelligence officials that purported evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme – including the IAEA’s ‘alleged studies’ as well as an alleged Iranian ‘neutron initiator’ document unearthed by the Times – was forged. Former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi told Porter that the media had frequently published “false intelligence” on Iraq and Iran from pro-Israeli sources.

The lesson is obvious. The continued public prevalence of neocon discourse on foreign policy not only throws fuel on the fire; it imagines smoke when there is no fire. But as we have learnt from the Iraq-WMD farce, now unravelling in the Chilcot Inquiry, such alarmism is part of the problem, not the solution.

9 February 2010

Blair Did It - or did he?

So far, Blair’s testimony before the Chilcot Inquiry has been seen as a largely self-incriminating affair, illustrating the extent not only to which Blair was willing to lie, or deceive himself and others, to go to war, but also the extent to which he remains utterly unrepentant for doing so.

His argument scurried round the complete non-evidence of Saddam’s WMD, and focused instead on the idea that the world had changed after 9/11. Before 9/11, containment would’ve been the normal procedure, but 9/11 proved that rogue states or terrorist networks anywhere could endanger us all. So if there was even a chance of Saddam having WMD, war was necessary. This, of course, is quite a faithful rendition of the traditional neocon position justifying unilateral pre-emptive warfare.

And evidence continues to emerge about Blair’s pivotal role in the run-up to war. Although he adamantly denied that he had made his own deals with Bush about the war irrespective of dissent in his own Cabinet from the likes of senior ministers such as Jack Straw, Claire Short and Robin Cook, we now know otherwise. For instance, much has been made of Blair’s meeting with Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, particularly in the context of Elfyn Llwyd MP’s claim of possessing a memo showing that “Tony Blair and George struck a deal to invade Iraq a year before the 2003 war.” Several witnesses at the Chilcot inquiry corroborate this, saying that Blair assured Bush at this meeting that Britain would support the American war-drive. Indeed, Blair’s foreign policy chief Sir David Manning had already referred to Blair’s instructions to then defence secretary Geoff Hoon to devise a war plan nine months before the invasion.

But the deeper question is whether it is really feasible to hang primary responsibility for the war on one admittedly unscrupulous Prime Minister. Was Blair the prime culprit? Was the Iraq War a person-centred problem that could have been solved with a better Prime Minister less enamoured of war (or neocons... or Bush)? Or was the Blair-phenomenon itself a product of deeper systemic problems at the heart of the British – and American – foreign policy establishment?

There was certainly dissent. Then foreign secretary Jack Straw’s damning letter to Blair sent 10 days before his secret Crawford love-in with Bush, pointed out that “there is at present no majority inside the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] for any military action against Iraq”, that there was “no credible evidence” linking Iraq to al-Qaeda, and that 9/11 had not “worsened” the “threat from Iraq.” It also added, for good measure, that there was no legal or UN mandate for the war either.

So how is it that despite the opposition of the vast majority of the public, the majority of the Labour party, senior Cabinet officials, and even the majority of mid-level civil servants (such as Carne Ross, Britain’s Iraq expert at the diplomatic mission to the UN who resigned over the decision to invade), Blair was able to lead the country to a war that no one apparently wanted? This question highlights a fundamental issue that all the finger-pointing at Blair has missed – the issue of the abject failure of Britain’s democratic decision-making institutions to reign in a Prime Minister leading a government into an illegal and immoral war.

Indeed, although Blair clearly enacted a pivotal role as our own home-grown chief ideologue and salesperson for the war, we also know that by and large, the government itself did little to stand in the way. This emerged from the testimony of Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to Iraq (1997-2003), who told the inquiry that the government had by and large decided a year before the invasion that it was “a complete waste of time... if we were going to work with the Americans, to come to them and bang away about regime change and say: 'We can't support it'.”

In other words, once the Bush administration had made its decision, Blair’s government simply decided to go along for the ride. Rather than the time-line to the war being dictated by issues such as diplomacy or what the UN weapons inspectors were saying, British officials were “scrabbling for the smoking gun” evidence for WMD. According to Meyers, there was a consensus among the senior mandarins in Whitehall that the policy of containment and sanctions had “run its course” by 2002. But that was not the view of mid-level officials working directly on the Iraq question, according to Carne Ross, who noted: “The mid-level people who spent all their time doing Iraq – our view was that sanctions had been effective in stopping Saddam rearming, and several of us believed a lot more could have been done to stop Iraq's illegal oil sales.”

All this highlights fundamental problems. The extent to which Britain’s special relationship with the United States implicitly informed the scope of what was expected of Britain is alarming. The US took for granted that the trans-Atlantic alliance entailed British support for a fundamentally American decision. While Blair has taken the fall, and rightly so, for his role in steering this, the fact that senior government officials and advisers largely accepted this as a reality that could not be altered, despite opposition from the lower rank and file, says volumes about the deeply damaging role of the ‘special relationship’ in the formulation of British foreign policy.

It also says volumes about the extent to which British intelligence services allowed themselves to become political tools. We didn’t need to wait for Chilcot’s inquiry to see this. It emerged in the 2003 Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee investigation of whether Blair’s infamous September 2002 ‘dodgy dossier’ had been “sexed up”. Although that Committee laughably absolved the government and its director of communications Alistair Campbell of including the ’45-minute’ Saddam-WMD claim, it did so only by overlooking the obvious evidence. The committee’s report noted that the 45-minute claim was “discussed at a meeting” of the Joint Intelligence Committee “on 9 September 2002”. Yet the same report notes, and Campbell’s Chilcot testimony corroborates, that Campbell “actually chaired” the same JIC meeting in which publication of the dossier was planned.

What was the government’s head of PR doing chairing a JIC meeting where the heads of British intelligence are supposed to deliver impartial advice to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on intelligence collection and analysis priorities? Who, precisely, was advising who? We don’t know. As if in a bizarre parody of a Mexican stand-off, Blair says that he responded to advice from his aides, while his aides are saying that Blair did what he wanted to do – all trying to shift the blame onto someone else, it is more than likely that they all share systemic responsibility.

Unfortunately, we will probably not know the whole truth for another 50 odd years. Sir Chilcot has agreed a protocol with the Cabinet Office that allows Whitehall to effectively control what classified documents, of the 40,000 made available to the inquiry team, are released to the public. This means that largely the real decision-making process behind the Iraq War will remain the province of a few ministers and civil servants.

This is dangerous, as the inquiry has so far failed to interrogate the fundamental problem: not simply that Blair was a liability for democracy, but that democracy was never even a particularly significant obstacle to Blair being a liability. The real decision-making processes behind British foreign policy belonged, and still belong to, a small cohort of people: the Prime Minister, his senior advisers and aides, and the intelligence services; all of whom work, it seems, rather unquestioningly within the framework of the British-American ‘special relationship’. The British foreign policy establishment, in other words, suffers from a deep-seated institutional unaccountability and arrogance.

Blair did it, no doubt about it. But his accomplices still sit in Whitehall.

6 February 2010

Christopher Hitchens on Gore Vidal... and Me: and My Reply in the Independent on Sunday

This month, Christopher Hitchens published an appallingly monumental piece of drivel as a 'web exclusive' in Vanity Fair. Although it's dated February, it actually came online late last month. The piece is a furious attempt to prove the supposed decline of the great American essayist, dissident, and one-time adviser to JFK, Gore Vidal.

In order to secure his takedown of Gore, Hitchens also took a bash at me. 'What's the connection between me and Gore?' you may ask. Well, for those who don't know, Gore Vidal wrote a piece in the Observer in late 2002 based largely on my first book, The War on Freedom. That piece was re-published as a chapter in a New York Times bestselling anthology of Gore's recent essays, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. So Hitchens obviously felt it important to discredit me, as a way of discrediting Gore's critique of the Bush administration's response to 9/11.

So in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens describes me as a "risible" individual wedded to "conspiracy-mongering" running a "one-room sideshow" institute on the Brighton seaside. Obviously, he does this to try and create the impression that I'm some kind of lunatic nobody who, therefore, no one should bother reading.

I corresponded with Aimee Bell, Vanity Fair's Deputy Editor, who I'm happy to say was very amiable, professional and understanding about the situation. They published my letter to the editor correcting Hitchens's factual inaccuracies - and along with it an immediate response from Hitchens himself (to be expected given that Hitchens is a contributing editor there). Hitchens's response to my letter is so bizarrely arrogant, self-conceited and needlessly bullish, it verges on delusional. Describing me, in summary, as a conspiracy nut-job, he goes on to try to emphasise his own purported intellectual superiority by listing his various honorary academic positions. (I honestly had no idea I'd elicit an inferiority complex out of the poor fellow.)

Since Hitchens's original VF piece came out, I've received several emails from concerned supporters trying to bring his ravings to my attention, and suggesting that I organize some sort of response.

Well, my response to Hitchens has arrived this morning.

Today's Independent on Sunday (IoS) has published my full rejoinder to Hitchens as its own 'web exclusive' here. My piece defends Gore Vidal by clarifying his actual arguments and looks critically at Hitchens's own pathetically despicable track record of war-mongering after 9/11. The IoS has also reported on the whole issue in today's print edition in a separate news piece. And the whole thing has been front-paged on today's IoS homepage.

Spread it around.

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