What would Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, the coolest of heads, have made of poor William Shawcross’s overwrought emotional plea that we must stay on in Iraq as a kind of act of faith (‘Britain must stay in Iraq’, 25 August)?
A menace of our making
Sir: What would Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, the coolest of heads, have made of poor William Shawcross’s overwrought emotional plea that we must stay on in Iraq as a kind of act of faith (‘Britain must stay in Iraq’, 25 August)? Well, the Duke once opined: ‘The real test of a general is to know when to retreat and dare to do it.’
Surely we have reached that point in Iraq, although a retreat needs to be well prepared and deliberate. Even American generals are now acknowledging that George W. Bush’s original purpose in attacking Iraq, that of creating a viable Iraqi democratic regime, is now beyond reach.
Willie Shawcross follows George Bush in yammering on about the present menace of al-Qa’eda in Iraq. Yet Bush (and Yo Blair in his time) themselves created this menace through their invasion and occupation of the country. In Saddam’s strictly secular Iraq, al-Qa’eda and other forms of Islamist extremism were ruthlessly put down.
Is it not plainer every month that we would all (including Iraqis) now be much better off if Saddam Hussein had been left in power, but under continued allied air surveillance?
Sir: Why does William Shawcross quote US military officers? What purpose does the British army in Basra actually serve, other than provide free target practice for the local thugs? We have no pressing or concrete national interest in Iraq, and our national honour already stands pawned in this matter.
The perception that we are held in Basra to prevent a humiliating loss of face by the US government may not be correct, but it is increasingly being believed, as the abject poverty of the Coalition’s political objectives becomes plain. If Mr al-Maliki lacks power over his own people, who is to blame for that?
Mr Shawcross ignores unfashionable though realistic objections in favour of unprovable apocalyptic statements and unsound historicity, glossing over the unpalatable facts with vague exhortations, promises and nightmares. As Santayana said, ‘fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim’.
Framwellgate Moor, Durham
Sir: What a terrific story by William Shawcross in your good periodical. It brings back memories of the horror of the killing fields of Cambodia. He truly seems to understand the peril of withdrawing from Iraq.
Freeport, Illinois, USA
The blame for Chindamo
Sir: It was not the Human Rights Act that was the primary reason for the ruling in the Chindamo case (Leading article, 25 August); rather it was the rights of EU citizens to move freely within member states, one aspect of EU membership that most would regard as positive. As to the ruling itself, as Chindamo has resided here since he was six years old, our society must bear some of the responsibility for the character he became by the time he was 15. He has paid the penalty for his crime, and there does not appear to be any justification for imposing a further penalty of deportation from a country which is the only home with which he is familiar. The real villains in this piece are government ministers who wilfully lied when they said he would be deported, when they must have known they had no legal power to do it.
Finally, on a philosophical note, it is a mark of a civilised society that it exacts defined and limited penalties from convicted felons, who do not automatically lose all their rights merely because they are criminals (this is the original meaning of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ — it limited the penalty imposed to what was proportionate). I, for one, think that this is important, and so should you, as arbitrary state power is something the Spectator has consistently opposed.
Sir: I read Anna Blundy’s article (‘We blondes face prejudice every day of our lives’, 25 August) with increasing disbelief. She asserts that there is no other socially acceptable target for jokes. Perhaps I may refer her here to ‘gingers’ or the Irish. And I would contend that the abuse she suffers is more to do with her gender than being blonde. I do not notice my brunette friends getting any less than me. But all the women I know would be incredibly offended to note that Ms Blundy herself thinks that women regard other women as ‘competitors who must be vanquished in order to win the prize of a man’. Really, grow up. As for her bizarre assertion that being attractive holds you back, clearly she has not read the numerous studies which prove the opposite is true.
It is women, not blondes, that Blundy needs to be fighting for. And if she really thinks that this is the only acceptable form of prejudice these days, well, I know black people with nice cars who are regularly stopped by police to make sure that the vehicle isn’t stolen, Muslims who wait hours at the airport and gay people driven to despair in adolescence by vicious bullying. I’m afraid her article may have done less to erase prejudice against blondes, than it did to reinforce it.
Cecily Long (blonde and proud)
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Sir: The only thing that puzzles me on this subject is this: if being blonde is such a handicap in life, why do unnumbered millions of non-blonde women dye their hair blonde, even in countries with no natural blondes (as in Japan)?
Sir: Both Matthew d’Ancona and Patrick Jephson overlooked one excellent argument in favour of monarchy (‘How Diana changed the royal family’, 18 August), which
is that a longstanding hereditary monarchy is by far the most effective way to separate the political roles of head of state and prime minister.
A nation’s head of state is the temporary embodiment of its identity, history and achievements and in this role serves as the natural focus for the affection, pride and loyalty citizens feel for their country. A nation’s prime minister is elected, for a limited period, to undertake the running of the country in the best interests of its citizens. With this responsibility comes great power and the interests of a country are best served if the prime minister and government are held accountable through severe, continuous, freely expressed criticism from its citizens.
If a country’s chief political executive is also its head of state, its citizens will be unwilling to take a strongly critical approach, because in doing so they are effectively criticising their country. In the USA, for example, the moves to impeach a president, such as Nixon over Watergate, produce a painful schizophrenic dilemma for the American public.
San Francisco, USA
Carry on camping
Sir: It is encouraging that Samantha Weinberg and her fellow climate campers aim ‘to persuade the wider population to listen to the science, and to make their decisions based upon it’ (‘Climate camp: next year we’ll go for longer,’ 25 August). I look forward to climate camps that promote nuclear power and GM crops.
Dr Robert Johnston