Thursday, August 28, 2014 

It's about Farage, not Carswell.

Quirky is one way of describing Douglas Carswell.  Giving a bad name to all the perfectly respectable swivel-eyed loons out there is another, rather more accurate one.  He was certainly far closer to Dan Hannan than Boris Johnson on the libertarian scale of just how out there you can be and still stay in the Tories, and duly, despite a "few sleepless nights", he's off to join the good ship UKIP.

The first obvious criticism to make when that rare thing, an MP resigning only to stand again in the subsequent by-election on a different platform or principle happens, is self-indulgence.  This was thrown at David Davis when he stood down over 42 days detention, and clearly annoyed the Tory leadership despite Cameron just about managing to swallow his pride and campaign for the man he challenged for the leadership.  To give Carswell some credit, he has long campaigned for political reform and the public recall of MPs, a perfectly reasonable measure but one I've always felt could be triggered too easily by single issue campaigners under the system proposed by those pushing for it.

All the same, to stand down and trigger a by-election now, when we are only about 8 months away from the general election doesn't exactly speak of concern for the public purse.  Had he wanted to, Carswell could still have defected and hung on in his seat until the general election, then stand for UKIP.  Indeed, it would probably give him the best possible chance of remaining the MP, seeing as he will now face two votes within the space of 8 months.  He could easily win the by-election, only to lose his Clacton seat next year once the Tories have had time to build their candidate up in the constituency.

This isn't about Carswell though, it's about UKIP, Farage and keeping the party in the headlines right up until the election.  Give the party's adviser Patrick O'Flynn his due, the former Express hack knows both how to time their announcements and how to keep the illusion of pressure up on the Tories.  If making it the same day as the latest immigration figures were published wasn't coincidence, the rise of net migration to 243,000, just the 143,000 above the Tories' target, it couldn't have put their raison d'etre back on the agenda better.  With the media still more than happy to fluff Farage, despite his anointment as candidate for South Thanet guaranteed weeks ago, you can't help but wonder whether the Liberal Democrats are going to be left struggling with the Greens for attention, at least until everyone remembers at best UKIP might, emphasis on the might, pick up 1 or 2 seats next May.

Nor should Carswell get re-elected will he be the first UKIP MP, considering Bob Spink's defection to the party in 2008.  More important is proving Farage right in his prediction the party will pick up seats, or can win at least once, not having managed to do so in all the previous by-elections.  The party must be fairly confident he can take his support with him, as losing would be a humiliation; recoverable from certainly, but the kind of setback Farage has previously said could "puncture their bubble".

The other motive presumably is to put the same idea in the heads of other Eurosceptic Tory MPs, suggesting they too could defect and still keep their seats, being as right-wing as in their dreams, supporting their former party on a case-by-case basis.  It's why the Tories will throw as much at the campaign as they can, hoping they can make the best of a bad situation.  As for Labour, it's a dream: the Tories tearing themselves apart over an issue the public are only exercised about by proxy.  It will also split the vote in Clacton: unlikely as it is they could pick the seat up as a result, it will put under scrutiny the claim from both academics and UKIP alike that they pose as much of a threat to Labour.  Interesting times, at least for us politics nerds, are ahead.

(P.S. There's a simple reason I'm not on Twitter, or Facebook for that matter.  They're not for me.  I really appreciate the kind words about yesterday's post nonetheless.)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 

Victims today, undesirables tomorrow.

For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018).  I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall.  Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.

Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years.  Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it.  It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them.  Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone.  They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.

Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather,  by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle.  Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former.  Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.

And boy, do they.  It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew.  Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade.  All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness.  What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91).  She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases".  There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.

As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white.  Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian.  The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community.  As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns.  With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight."  Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.

The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101).  As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members.  One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114).  As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend".  When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93).  "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying.  The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).

If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages.  This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess.  Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29).  The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that.  As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).

Undesirables.  There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight.  Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out.  The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting.  They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy.  Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked.  Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014 

A damp rag.

There are some days when you look down the headlines, by-lines and photographs on any news site and you can't help thinking, I detest every single one of these fucking people and their fucking miserable, petty, ridiculous and contemptible obsessions and actions.  Well, OK, you probably don't.  I'm just projecting myself into you.  Which is pretty much as far as my anything goes into anyone.  Today there isn't even a comment piece by either Holly Baxter or Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.  Clearly nothing on their vagenda.

We do however have Jessica Valenti.  Every day, a new horror, or alternatively, a new breakthrough.  Although I don't mean to pick on Valenti, more writers whom are hired or worse, expound constantly for nothing on a single, deadening topic.  Last week women were no longer expected to be virginal, which is a wonderful triumph, something I imagined was fairly self-evident considering it's long been far more shameful to be a virgin rather than not, and the culture of the moment seems to dictate the more bare flesh you display the more successful you are, but there you go.  The next day, "sexual assault [is] infecting our every institution and town", which is a scourge.  I also don't mean to pick on feminism, more those where the record is always the same, the topic never changed, a problem never solved or even close to getting somewhere positive, but always requiring more action.  I don't doubt Valenti has a lovely, well-rounded personality; surely though this monetary monomania requires that you can't switch off, or at least not fully or for more than a few hours.

Yes, I realise I bang on about much the same topics here, and have been for way too long.  You could say they're all interconnected and interdependent, so they're pretty much the same one too.  You might even have a point.  I've never claimed to be anything other than a colossal hypocrite.  You can't have clean hands when you're all in the same plague pit, whether you try to be holier than thou and claim to be above all the other keyboard batterers out there or not.  My point, if I still have one, is that as much as you might think about something, and I think about everything and certain things in particular way too much, to actually write it all down is something different.  Some people it might help, I don't know.

As well as being a direct reference to a Chuck Palahniuk short story, I originally named this blog Obsolete both in reference to how my politics seemed to be and still are, but also down to how I've felt like my whole approach to life and who I am is redundant in this age.  I despise the falsity of everything, something epitomised by the apparent harmlessness of the ice bucket challenge.  It's not just that once you've seen one person drench themselves in cold water you've seen them all, requiring even less creativity than the fucking Harlem Shake craze did, it's that charity can no longer be a quiet thing you do for all the right reasons, rather one that requires the attention of the entire world and has to be passed on.  If it was more unpleasant than just cooled liquid it would help too, but celebrities only ever eat rats' cocks if they're the ones being paid or they really will do anything for the attention.  It's also just self-promotion in disguise, being a good sport, rather than a damp rag.  I've always rather liked damp rags.

I don't then give a shit about social media in any shape or form, just as Twitter doesn't about you, or your asymmetrical haircut. I don't care about Lena Dunham or any of these other anointed chroniclers of now, a now I don't recognise, a now which of course puts poor little rich people centre stage.  I can only laugh when the police urge the public to call them if they're worried about an "aspiring" terrorist, both words utterly perverted and corrupted by politics, conjuring up an image of jihadis who want more from life, like buying their own home to cook hydrogen peroxide up in.  I just sigh as we hear the same tunes from all concerned on this "new" threat, a media which has to reduce everything to a cartoon, moving on from the "white widow" to "jihadi John", alongside the demands for the entire justice system to be inverted.  I wonder about the point of it all when Israel and the Palestinians reach much the same agreement as they did three years previous, nothing changed except for the extinguishing of thousands of lives.  Anyone would think both sides need each other more than they do their supporters.  I'd like to snicker at Hopi Sen reaching for the "Stop the World coalition" moniker in his latest hand-wringing demand for bombing somewhere, setting out oh so rationally why doing nothing isn't the answer, even when doing nothing is the opposite of what we've done, but this particular joke isn't funny any more, especially when John Gray is also resorting to it.

There are a mess of contradictions at work here.  I prize anonymity while pining for the same attention I denounce others for wanting.  This very piece couldn't exist if it wasn't for all the above.  I need it as much as I loathe it, guilty of the same thing I criticise Jessica Valenti and the single issue campaigners for.  The other day I was attacking Russell Brand and others for writing about themselves by proxy.  Something I would never do.  Obviously.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014 

The security-industrial complex triumphs yet again.

Is there a better job going currently than being an "expert", either in security or radicalisation?  Your words are treated as gospel, regardless for instance of how many times we've been warned the sky is about to fall by these people, whether it be due to the ever more ingenious bombs created by the fanatics or by the sheer number of said fanatics just waiting to get their hands on those ingenious bombs.

Take Shiraz Maher for example, the now go to guy at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, which smartly drops the PV bit on the end and just goes by ICSR for short.  You might remember him (although probably not) for the work he did on Islamic extremism for Policy Exchange, the think-tank behind the report exposed by Newsnight as being based on forged evidence.  Maher's studying and researching pretty much amounts to following those jihadists with either no shame or no brains on Twitter, Skyping with those he's managed to persuade to talk to him about their own personal holy war, and then talking to journalists about the threat posed and horrors committed by these otherwise fine and upstanding gentlemen.  He probably has links to the more discrete jihadis who still use forums too, although the switch to Twitter and Facebook by so many has made the whole monitoring process easier for all concerned.

In short, Maher and his ilk are essentially spooks, only not as useful.  His numerous interviews with those out in Syria and now Iraq don't tell us anything we didn't already know, or rather tell those who have gone through Maher to get their own interviews exactly what they want to hear.  According to Maher the first wave of fighters going to Syria went with the best humanitarian intentions, only becoming further radicalised once they got there.  This ties in precisely with the bogus idea of the armed uprising at the beginning being dominated by moderates pushed by the violence of the Assad regime into embracing jihadism (for an especially putrid example of how this argument is still being made, you can hardly do better than this Left Foot Forward piece, a blog transformed by James Bloodworth into one pretty much advocating war all the time, all of the time).  This isn't to say some British fighters weren't at the start somewhat naive about what they were getting themselves into, considering the reporting which often reflected that narrative, only for it to later flip 180 degrees into the equally absurd, all these people are going to come back and continue the war here territory.

Maher nonetheless pours scorn on the idea any of the British fighters could be compared to those who joined the International Brigades in the 1930s.  The "modern state simply cannot allow itself to become a launch pad for every foreign conflict" he writes, except presumably when those conflicts are ones we approve of, or indeed take part in ourselves.  It's also deeply odd how so many of the 500 or more fighters have managed to leave the country, with only the waifs and strays and clingers-on prosecuted.  What purpose for instance was served by jailing Mashudur Choudary, who came back here precisely because he realised he wasn't cut out for the jihad game?  If letting them go is the plan, and it's not necessarily a bad one, shouldn't that be made clear, or are we playing a game of double bluff?  Maher even repeats the ridiculous claim that the Islamic State is too extreme for al-Qaida, when the split between IS and AQ was about personalities and just which was the "real" al-Qaida affiliate in Syria rather than tactics, despite AQ central's concern in the past over al-Zarqawi's igniting of a sectarian war.  Syria is nothing if not a sectarian war after all.

The belligerence of foreign fighters as described by Maher is predictable.  It also hides a weakness, just as the murder of James Foley was the action of a weak actor against a stronger one.  As yet IS hasn't faced an enemy worthy of the name in Iraq, although it will once the peshmerga proper gets involved.  Its ambition could also be its undoing: fighting on two fronts is liable to spread its best fighters too thinly.  Foreign fighters can threaten attacks against the west, but it doesn't make the prospect any more realistic, although the likes of Maher and the hacks following his every pronouncement will make the most they can out of them. Having successfully got the attention of America and the world, there's only way this is going to end for IS and its pitiful "caliphate".

2 months back the spooks and securocrats were convinced the threat was not from IS but al-Nusra, with all electronic devices in air travellers' baggage needing to be charged to show they weren't the latest AQAP-designed fiendish device.  How quickly things change.  What doesn't is the spiel, the certainty this latest danger is real, will endure, and requires immediate action.  And so the security-industrial complex will continue to triumph.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 

Wasted your life in black and white.

Hi Time magazine hi Pulitzer prize / Tribal scars in Technicolor / Bang bang club AK47 hour

The reaction to the murder of James Foley by the Islamic State, documented in their now favoured fashion of showing the beginning of the execution before fading the image out, with the victim's head then pictured atop their prone, lifeless body, has been both all too predictable and all too revealing.  Strangely, while even IS deems the release of an unedited decapitation with a small knife in high definition too stomach turning, too brutal, too liable to make even the most bloodthirsty armchair jihadis blanch and wonder about the merits of such base, pure propaganda, few bat an eyelid as our politicians, commentators and media respond as though such a heinous act has never been committed before.  David Cameron stayed on holiday as Gaza burned, the Yazidis took to Mount Sinjar to escape IS and dozens of celebrities took the ice bucket challenge, but the filmed killing of a white, western journalist?  He had to return when such "an act of violence shocks the conscience of the entire world."

Foley's murder is of course straight out of the old al-Zarqawi bequeathed playbook.  The words, both from Foley and the butcher tasked with the killing would with minor adjustment be the exact same as those we heard 10 years ago, when if we're to believe the Americans it was Zarqawi himself wielding the blade.  Things have undoubtedly changed since then: Zarqawi made demands that were never going to be accepted, but it gave the illusion of possible escape both to the prisoner and their relatives; up till yesterday some were still insisting Foley was being held by Assad's forces, not a group like IS.  Killing Foley without any such public warning or ultimatum as "revenge" for the US strikes is of a piece with their other filmed atrocities.  Straight brutality designed to invoke fear and rage in equal measure is the default position.

It's deeper than just a terrorist group being a terrorist group though.  The propaganda of the Red Army Faction for instance, at least during the initial Baader-Meinhof period was exactly what you'd expect from the pen of a political journalist turned wannabe guerilla.  IS by contrast, while working by the model put down by jihadi groups past doesn't have the same ideological or intellectual back-up, with the vast majority of scholars whom backed al-Qaida denouncing IS and its declaring of a new caliphate.  IS can point to even less theological justification for its actions than al-Qaida, which really is saying something.  All the same, for all its amateurism, its massacre first and ask questions later mentality, it knows both how to play the media and politicians at the same time.

For PJ Crowley to say the video isn't then aimed at the United States is completely specious.  It couldn't be more aimed at the US.  As Jason Burke writes, IS might not believe in "propaganda by deed" to the same extent as bin Laden did, understandably considering how the Ummah failed to rise against their infidel rulers despite such prompting, but it is about trying to once again get the US to involve itself fully in Iraq/Syria.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq resulted in the creation of IS in the first place, for goodness sake.  Those with an old school jihadi outlook will continue to look down on the chaos and mayhem IS has caused, until that is the US widens its current strategy and starts bombing more widely than just "threatening" vehicles.  Then any such concerns will quickly be forgotten, and another wave of fighters will start flocking towards IS's black flag.  It works both ways: threaten attacks anywhere, regardless of how unlikely an IS attack outside the Middle East is, and threaten the lives of the few Americans IS can get to.  Both demand a response from the war addicts at the Pentagon and in Congress.

Then we come to how it was apparently a "multicultural London English" man who speaks and then kills Foley.  The Islamic State is smart enough to realise both how the foreign fighter angle has been overplayed, the importance of communication, and the intended horror at how a westerner could be killing another westerner in a country far away from home.  No one knows just how many young British men (and women, for that matter) have gone to join the jihadists in Syria/Iraq, but plenty are willing to guess and draw the most alarmist, scaremongering conclusions, especially if it means more government money for the anti-radicalisation industry (1 in 800 young Sunni Muslim men, shrieks James Brandon, formerly of Quilliam).  We saw with the entire Trojan Horse affair just how deeply the government has bought into the at risk of extremism narrative, regardless of the lack of evidence of any actual radicalisation, simple intolerance and vile sectarianism not being enough.  Nicky Morgan has since given a speech making clear how nurseries and pre-schools will also be monitored lest they start churning out 5-year-old jihadis, in what has to be one of the most absurd government policies since oh, David Cameron promised to make all of them family friendly.

As the War Nerd wrote a few months back, the bigger question is why relatively so few go and join the jihadis.  Perhaps one of the reasons those few have is connected to our continued, blatant double standards.  You might remember the UN used very similar language to Obama in condemning the shelling of their schools in Gaza, language of the sort our politicians would never use to condemn a fellow democracy, regardless of its actions.  The same media commentators who wonder just why it is people in Ferguson are prepared to riot over the shooting dead of a black teenager regard the murder of Foley as terrorist attack that demands a response.  The slaughter of dozens if not hundreds of Shia men at the hands of IS gets perfunctory coverage, if that, with the images and video shared on social media freely.  A white westerner killed in the most brutal fashion necessitates a crackdown, the closing of Twitter accounts, another of those Twitter "campaigns" masquerading as being about not helping IS propaganda spread when really it's about people not wanting to see something happening to "us", rather than it happening to "them".  So much as watching the video could be enough to get a knock on the door from the police, presumably once they're done with harassing the wives and friends of fighters.

The only realistic endgame to all of this involves, as the Graun is brave enough to point out, a settlement in Syria as well as reconciliation in Iraq.  The difficulty is in trying to push for that reconciliation at the same time as Iraq looks destined to break apart.  If we take the side of the Kurds over the weak Iraq military, unable to take back Tikrit, the risk is it only holds things together in the short rather than the long term.  It also likely means coming to some sort of accommodation or at the very least a short term pact with the Assad government, regardless of how anathema such a deal will be.  It additionally requires the making clear to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar that even if they haven't directly funded IS or the other jihadist groups in Syria, their encouragement and indirect funding of an almost region wide proxy war must end now.  The same message must also go to Iran and Hezbollah, but their involvement was more in response to the actions of the above than out of any real love for Assad.  This is not the time for a recital of all the old noises about a war on terror, a generational battle or why-oh-whying about British Muslims and the other failings of the past.  It's time we learned from them.

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Monday, August 18, 2014 

Our clear as mud Iraq strategy.

Living life like a comatose / Ego loaded and swallow, swallow, swallow

At times, everything seems to descend into parody.  This, for instance, has to be a piss-take, an anonymous record producer making fun of a relatively new genre, a track made with a smile, the creator certain everyone will get the joke.  It gets best new music on Pitchfork, Boomkat describes it as "exquisite ear candy ... visionary pop architecture" and even Resident Advisor approves.  If this turn of events discombobulated the producer (whom last year put out this pleasing slice of house) then he seems to have just gone with it.  After all, why not?

By the same token, David Cameron surely didn't think he'd get away with his article for the Sunday Telegraph.  He (or whichever adviser/hanger-on wrote it) writes we can't let ourselves be imprisoned by the events of 10 years ago, and he has a point.  Just because we've had a major hand in Iraq being in the mess it now is doesn't mean we shouldn't return and help Johnny Kurd push back the ethnic cleansers of the Islamic State.  Besides, we're not going to put "boots on the ground", just as we didn't in Libya.  If we so choose to bomb a few Islamic State positions, or more accurately described, vehicles, as they seem to be the main targets the Americans have chosen to obliterate thus far, we should know that doing so is all the more likely to prevent the Islamic State from becoming a threat here.  Just think what might happen if we sat this one out.  A positively medieval caliphate stretching across the Middle East, on the shores of the Mediterranean, bordering a NATO country!  A NATO country!  What could be more terrifying, more ignominious, more unacceptable?

Like the estimable Flying Rodent, I'm more than a little tired of the this-time-it-really-is-as-bad-as-we're-saying-it-is intervention argument.  Ten years ago every politician told us we were facing a generational battle against Islamic extremism, a long war, a war we might even not realise was still going on or in fact had ended.  Yesterday David Cameron said we will be fighting this "poisonous and extremist ideology" for the rest of his "political lifetime".  His political lifetime could extend all the way up till next May, but put that happy thought to one side for a moment.  Outside of the anti-jihadist monomaniacs, around the time of the Arab spring with bin Laden dead and al-Qaida central having been reduced to Ayman al-Zahawiri occasionally holding forth in his eternally pompous fashion, all those predictions seemed to have come to naught.  Why then are all the old favourites being reheated like the fried chicken in the local kebab shop?

Cameron, naturally, has the answer.  According to him what we're seeing isn't Sunni against Shia, but rather "a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other".  This is, as Kim Howells had it on the Turner prize entrants however many years ago, cold mechanical bullshit.  The Islamic State of Iraq 5 years ago had been routed, thanks to the Awakening groups, i.e. Sunnis who had turned against ISI's brutality.  Only our friend Nouri al-Maliki didn't keep his promises to the Awakening groups, with many complaining the payments they were due were either paid late or didn't arrive at all.  Then came the uprising in Syria, which quickly descended into a sectarian proxy war.  Some of the remnants of ISI formed the al-Nusra Front, and seeing this brought funding from the rich Wahhabi takfirists in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on, possibly including direct from the Saudi authorities, ISI proper joined the fray.  Along with the proceeds from the oil fields they captured, ISI was suddenly swimming in wealth and gathering in a lot more fighters too.  With the Sunni Arabs in the north of Iraq once again prepared to join up with or acquiesce to the jihadis, first Fallujah fell, then Mosul did.

When Cameron then says we must work with the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey you can't help but wonder if he isn't doing this deliberately.  Those three nations have done more to help the Islamic State and its jihadi brethren than the rest of the world combined.  Saudi policy towards Syria only altered at the beginning of this year, while it's difficult to know whether Qatar's has at all.  Turkey's main role has been to keep the border open, helping refugees escape yes, but also to allow money and fighters to flow through unimpeded.  Cameron even mentions the spectre of the Islamic State taking Aleppo, which prompts the obvious question of whether we might just have backed the wrong dog in this fight.  Assad's a murderous, barbarous chemical weapon using dictator yes, but compared to the Islamic State he's a sweetheart.

What then is the plan now that the Yazidis have been helped off the mountain and the imminent threat of genocide seems to be receding?  We're going to arm the Kurds, although it's not clear which Kurds, or whether by "arm" we mean provide them with equipment rather than ammunition for their ageing Soviet-era weapons, but are we expecting the peshmerga to liberate all of the territory taken by the Islamic State, albeit with ourselves or just the Americans providing air support, or just Mosul?  If it's the former, are the Kurds then just going to hand all this Sunni dominated territory over to the Shia dominated Iraqi army once Baghdad has sorted itself out, or are they going to keep some of it in hope of a greater Kurdistan becoming inexorable at some point?  This major favour to the west isn't going to come free, that's for sure, and if anyone with the exception of the Palestinians deserves a state, it's the Kurds.  It certainly won't please either Turkey or the Iranians, though.

See, what starts out as a thoroughly decent operation to prevent abused and persecuted minorities from being slaughtered has the potential to quickly become the kind of conflict we did our best previously to prevent igniting.  Trying to justify it all by resorting to the ever more exhausted national security reasoning is contemptible.  When the best they can point to is hot-heads in east London flying an IS flag or ex-drug dealers joining a different type of war without the slightest evidence they have any intention of bringing the fight here they really have to change the record.  Indeed, getting further involved would almost certainly increase rather than decrease the threat, exactly as MI5 warned prior to 2003.  Yet here we are once again, with Michael Fallon warning our role is likely to take months rather than weeks.  Irony, as ever, is smothering everything.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014 

The personal is more political than ever.

Don't tell me, a liberal American Jew in London, what to think about Israel, pleads Hadley FreemanWe are all Palestinians, writes Karma Nabulsi.  We broke Iraq, therefore we have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to save its people from themselves, insists Tom WatsonFeel my pain, demands Tory MP earning an amount the vast majority of us can only dream of receiving at the end of the month.  No, feel our anguish, says group of utterly deranged Israel supporters, at how those we will defend to the death are forced, literally forced by Hamas, to kill Palestinian children.

The personal is political, as feminists prior to the current generation of Twitter using crybabies had it.  Back then it meant something, and perhaps it still does.  Politics is always personal, of course.  For some, it's a crusade or it is nothing.  It's hard not to think though we've reached a peak for this, despite what it seems I'm writing about, I am in fact writing about myself style of political commentary.

Hadley Freeman doesn't really care about Israel or Gaza then, nor does she care about the Tricycle theatre asking the Jewish Film Festival to reconsider accepting money from the Israeli embassy, rather she's affronted that anyone would dare think she, a good liberal American cosmopolitan Jew might care to express her opinion about something serious for a change.  In her entire piece we don't learn what she does think, although to judge by her quoting of Roger Cohen's claim that to not hold a negative view of Israel in Britain is to be considered without a conscience, and her end summation that media coverage in America and Europe is equally skewed, just in opposite directions, we can guess.  Nor does she present any evidence anyone has told her or any other Jews what to think about Israel, but that's to be expected.

Europe's roots are showing, nonetheless.  Reports of antisemitic attacks and vandalism have spiked, as they usually do when Israel brings out the Hellfire missiles.  Racism is always racism, and it is without question protests against Israel attract their fair share of Islamists, kooks, conspiracy theorists and outright loons.  Nor is enough done by others on the marches to denounce them, or make clear they are most definitely not welcome.  Smearing "FREE GAZA" on the walls of a synagogue is as just as much an act of stupid hate as painting "EDL" or something similar on a mosque would be.  It is strange though that, unlike when hate crimes against Muslims peaked after the murder of Lee Rigby, we haven't had left-wingers claiming such reports of antisemitism have been exaggerated, as we did with the attacks on Tell Mama by the Telegraph and Mail on Sunday.  Also peculiar is the number of articles which popped up one after the other about Europe's continuing problem with antisemitism, or as it could be more accurately termed, Europe's continuing problem with racism.

Other than crying antisemitism, the other perennial is victimhood, again because of its roots in reality.  Once, the Golda Meir quote about forgiving Arabs for killing their children but not forgiving them for making Israel kill their children was poignant and reflected how Israel was surrounded by enemies. Now it can be wrongly interpreted all too easily, precisely because Palestinian life is regarded as cheap and the standard defence of every Israeli attack is they have no choice.  The advert paid for by This World, co-written by Elie Wiesel, takes the "human shield" argument, whatever its extremely limited merits and debases it completely.  We are the ones who are really suffering by having to kill children is its message. The Palestinians are responsible if they don't change their leaders; they must find "true Muslims", to represent them, Muslims acceptable to Likudniks.  Even the main suspect in the murder of the Palestinian teenager Abu Khdeir, an act committed in revenge for the kidnap and slaughter of three Israeli teens, claims to have immediately felt remorse for his crime.  Feel our pain, not theirs.

Not that we are all Palestinians has any true resonance beyond the demonstrations either.  We are not Gazans, nor would we want to be.  It's not enough to want justice for the Palestinians, the lifting of the Gaza blockade, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, we have to be them, not just express our most earnest solidarity.  So too we must save Iraqis, at least once it's decided whom it is we should be demonstrating in favour of today.  We either have to do so because this could have been prevented had we armed the rebels in Syria, although it's not made clear which rebels we were meant to have given heavy weaponry to, or because of our involvement in the Iraq war, or because of Sykes-Picot, or because of whatever other justification can be dredged up.  Then again, according to the Sun, we can't do anything, although it isn't exactly clear what we're supposed to do about Australian jihadists taking their kids to Syria.  Perhaps we were meant to provide him with a toy AK-47 which in turn would have prevented the Islamic State from taking over the north of Iraq?

For a nation supposedly turned isolationist by the vote on Syria, our other representatives in the media are as quick as ever to want the bombers sent in, without explaining what it would achieve, whether there is any sort of plan, or if attacking IS from the air will push them back.  One has to wonder if this isn't about us rather than them.  It shouldn't therefore surprise when an MP tries the same tactic, attempting to garner sympathy as he can't afford to house his family in Westminster under the new expenses regime.  He wasn't prepared to have them live anywhere else in London, the public transport system in the capital being notoriously unreliable, and so would rather step down instead.  As one of the few people who wouldn't begrudge MPs a second home in London with the tab picked up by the taxpayer, at least within reason, Mark Simmonds hasn't really helped out his colleagues.  His wish to spend more time with his family could also have something to do with his missing the Syria vote last year, not hearing the division bell as he was discussing Rwanda with Justine Greening.

It could be in this age of Buzzfeed writers believe the only way to get readers interested is by making it personal.  It could be the cult of the self continues to grow.  It could be the only way to get anything worth doing done is to spell out why it matters to us, charity beginning at home, altruism no longer enough.  It could be we can only talk about things when they happen to celebrities, even if then most reach immediately for contemptibly puerile clichés.  At least it's talking, right?  It's that it's also limiting, closes down debate, encourages personal abuse, which in turn leads to further articles about how terrible it is to be called names in the comment section and on social networks.  What was it the original piece was about again?

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Monday, August 11, 2014 

Stop me...

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.  An armed force is approaching a major cityAlready hundreds of thousands of people have fled in their wake.  There is a very real threat of genocide being committed.  Those on the ground are pleading for help from the outside world.  Doing nothing isn't an option.  Parliament has to be recalled.

It's all too wearily familiar, isn't it?  In fact, if you were the cynical sort, you could say that seems to be the point.  The difference is that unlike in Libya a few years back, there really is a genuine possibility of an entire community being slaughtered, the Yazidis of Iraq threatened in a way they never were during the reign of the Ba'ath party by the self-proclaimed "Islamic State".  It's difficult therefore to object at all to the steps taken by the Americans since the flight by up to 40,000 Yazidis to Mount Sinjar, of whom up to 20,000 are now thought to have managed to escape into Iraqi Kurdistan.  How much help the airstrikes and drops of aid have been is open to question - there are suggestions the food and water parachuted down hasn't survived the impact with the ground, while in the past the aid itself has proven deadly - but if it has allowed the peshmerga the breathing room to evacuate some of the refugees, all pessimism should be tempered.  The danger is not just directly from the jihadists, but also the fearsome Iraqi summer: without shelter or water, heat exhaustion can affect the young and the elderly very quickly.

This said, these strikes are not anything close to altruism.  Over the weekend US media reported on the "thousands" (later "hundreds") of Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish city that has become a mini-Dubai, except far more liberal and tolerant than the emirate beloved by the corpulent Western elite.  As Steve Coll reports in the New Yorker, the vast majority of however many Americans there really are in Erbil are there because of the oil, with a far smaller number of military operatives also in residence.  Erbil probably wasn't at imminent risk of being overrun by IS, as the peshmerga would most likely have regrouped and been quickly reinforced, as indeed they now have.  Still, it never hurts to be absolutely certain, and the plight of the Yazidis and other minorities provided an opportunity to bomb a few Islamic State vehicles in the bargain.

Quite what the US plan now is doesn't immediately present itself.  If the idea is a rerun of Libya, with the US carrying out attacks on IS targets which get too close to areas they've decided to protect while the Kurds and hopefully also the central government properly get their shit together, this could take a while.  It's clearly not a coincidence that in Baghdad today there's been a coup against Nouri al-Maliki, after the reports Maliki himself was preparing a coup.  The appointment of Haider al-Abadi as the new prime minister, instantly welcomed by the US, hardly suggests the turmoil and torpor in the Iraqi capital is going to be over any time soon.  Nor is replacing one Shia Islamist from the Dawa party with another Shia Islamist from err, the Dawa party likely to win over the disenchanted Sunnis whom have either worked with the Islamic State or done little to oppose their takeover of much of the north of Iraq.

Exactly why it is then some MPs are now chomping at the bit to get ourselves involved is a bit of a mystery.  Or rather, isn't.  Ever since the Syria vote there's been continued murmurings from those convinced the only way we can stand tall on the world stage is to support America in absolutely everything she does.  When parliament voted against intervening in Syria at that time, something David Cameron took as ruling it out for all time, it was only a matter of days before government ministers were complaining this meant the royal prerogative had gone out the window, and we would no longer be regarded as a reliable ally, much less a "full spectrum" one.  It doesn't seem to matter the US hasn't made any suggestion as yet it could do with more help, and besides, we've already taken it upon ourselves to carry out further humanitarian drops of aid.  They've even gone so far as to suggest parliament could discuss Gaza at the same time, just to make sure it appeals to those on the opposite side, devious buggers that they are.

The real difficulty is knowing how much blame to put on each state actor for the current desperate situation.  Amazing as it is, at the weekend both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were insisting if only we'd armed the Syrian rebels earlier we wouldn't now be in this mess.  The fiction that there is or was a Syrian moderate faction ready to be trained and empowered before the Islamic State and al-Nusra established themselves as the big two continues to go unchallenged.  A more than healthy dollop of blame must obviously be put on Bashar al-Assad for his murderous reaction to the original, peaceful protests which demanded reform, not revolution.  After the switch to armed struggle, the funding of the most extreme factions by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, some of it through private donors, some of it direct, is how IS managed to reach the point where it was able to hold not only a large area of Syria, but also launch an operation to control much of northern Iraq, having previously been reduced to a mockery of its former self.  The west either turned a blind eye to this, or in some cases, facilitated it and encouraged it with little concern for the potential consequences.  Only last year did the west suddenly realise the monster it had helped create, and even then useful idiots and apologists for the other rebels kept pushing the nonsense there was some sort of deal between Assad and IS where they didn't attack each other.  Finally, al-Maliki and his Iranian/American backers bear a grave responsibility also for his antagonising and marginalising of the Sunni population to the point where so many were prepared to align themselves with the Islamic State.

Whether if given the same shock and awe treatment as Iraq was back in 2003 IS would quickly disintegrate doesn't enter into the equation.  Even with quite possibly the most violent and potentially dangerous jihadist force the world has yet seen dismantling the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Americans aren't interested in getting involved to such a point again, entirely reasonably.  At the same time, by carrying out attacks on IS from the air they seem ready to step into the role of ostensible Iraqi air force, with all that entails for possible civilian casualties and potential further disenchantment of the Sunni population should IS eventually be pushed back.

Call me crazy, but I think it might just be best if we sat this one out.  Don't count on it though.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014 

If Simon Cowell wants us to stay together, then who are Scots to argue?

One of the absolute finest qualities we as humans possess is our ability to admit when we're wrong, or when we don't know something.  By contrast, never back down, never apologise is the mantra of such towering figures as Kelvin MacKenzie, and even if not immediately, such principles tend to eventually catch up with you.

I will then freely set out how at times this politics thing completely and utterly bewilders me.  Do politicians seriously commission focus groups, which are often nothing of the sort, and use them as their ultimate guide for which policies are most likely to reach the nation's collective erogenous zones?  Did they really imagine that an obviously catastrophic in retrospect ploy would work, when anyone with half a brain could of told them it was beyond idiotic?  Is Grant Shapps a real person and not a fictional creation designed to destroy the Tories from within, ever ready with a charmless, redundant anti-Labour soundbite?

The ultimate example of this has to be, at least in my eyes, the celebrity endorsement.  Absolutely no good can come of it, either to the famous person or the cause they take up/are persuaded to support.  It doesn't matter how noble it is, whether it be trying to stop Sexual Violence in Conflict, a notion that seems to ignore that they the two have always and will always go together and the best way to end the former is to stop the latter, or as we're getting on to, urging the United Kingdom to stay united, someone out there will take against you for it.  Just tweeting #FreePalestine is enough to make an image consultant have kittens, while Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are naturally, according to the Times of Israel and other celebs, antisemites for their comments.  Bono was always a twat, but he didn't really become such a stupendous bell end (yes, equal opportunities sexual organ based insults are here again) until he started his philanthropic work.  At the same time as being a tax exile, natch.

So it is with the 200 or so celebs and semi-celebs who've signed the Let's Stay Together letter.  The sentiment expressed is mild, and done in such a way as to make it unlikely anyone could be genuinely offended by the simple plea for voters to consider all that we've shared over the past 300 years of union.  At the same time, those behind the campaign have what could be described as a murky past, and the message is one anyone contemplating voting yes will have already thought over themselves.  They really don't need people without a vote, famous ones at that, to tell them something they already know.  Some might also recall the Guardian's Clark Country fiasco back in 2004, when the paper urged readers to write to voters in America as to why they shouldn't re-elect George Bush.  It didn't go well.

Nor does it help when the vast majority of those who've added their signature are exactly the kind of celebs you'd be tempted to move to an independent Scotland to avoid.  The very first name is David Aaronovitch, for crying out loud.  Kirstie Allsopp swiftly follows, and once you realise both Trinny and Susannah have signed, along with Neil "paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me" Fox, it's easier to note those on the list who aren't complete tools.  Like Olivia Colman, David Mitchell and Tamsin Greig.  Or Stephen Hawking and Doreen Lawrence.  Then you realise Simon Cowell, Tracey Emin and Andrew Lloyd-Webber have also etched their initials, and heading north of Gretna after a Yes vote once again looks incredibly attractive.

It wouldn't be so bad if the lead No has in the opinion polls didn't look all but impregnable, or had Alex Salmond trounced Alistair Darling in the debate as so many expected he would.  As it happened, Salmond fell shortest on the currency question, the exact quandary Yes campaigners have repeatedly and with some justification said is a non-issue.  The problem is voters don't believe the rUK will roll over after a Yes vote and say OK, let's discuss this in a civilised fashion now it's happened, even if that's most likely what would happen.  Nor did Salmond help himself by bringing up the scare stories over a Yes vote, as it's one thing for a blog like Wings to do it, and quite another for the prospective first prime minister of an independent Scotland to.

Much as you don't want it to be the case, Project Fear looks as though it's done its job.  The Yes campaign's insistence everything will be absolutely fine post-independence just hasn't worked when set against the apocalyptic visions painted by Better Together.  A better society as Salmond promises is a fine sentiment, it just doesn't seem able to win out against those worried about what might happen if things don't go according to the SNP's plan.  Add in what you can only describe as the naivety of the Radical Independence campaigners, convinced supporting the SNP now will mean jam tomorrow, and it will take something miraculous for the gap to be made up.  A bunch of well-meaning if jumped up celebrities aren't going to piss off that many wavering voters, sadly.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014 

Run for the hills.

Boris Johnson's announcement he intends to return to parliament is about as much of a shock as Tony Blair signing up to shill for another dictator.  Beneath the bumbling act lies a man whose life has been one long tale of relentless ambition, as his biographer Sonia Purnell has documented. Having succeeded in becoming London mayor, it was only a matter of time before he made his move back to the Commons, readying himself for if or rather when there becomes a Conservative leadership vacancy, convinced as he is he was born to be prime minister.

That Johnson has chose to set out his availability now rather than wait until nearer the election and parachute into a safe seat courtesy of a late retiree isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the skills of his former adviser Lynton Crosby and his "Kill Mill" strategy.  Johnson clearly believes regardless of his transparent suggestions to the contrary that Cameron's position should the Tories fail to win is likely to hang by a thread; indeed, you can only really see Cameron remaining leader in the event of a Labour minority government.  A Lib-Lab coalition or outright Labour victory, distant as the latter might seem at the moment, and he would surely be forced to resign.

Johnson is far too canny though to just wait it out, hence the report he commissioned which finds although staying in the EU would be in our best interests, it wouldn't be a disaster to leave either.  Despite Cameron's placating of the right of the party by getting rid of the few remaining holdouts against leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, Johnson is positioning himself as the man to really get us out of the EU, whereas Cameron won't even contemplate his renegotiation strategy failing.  The one problem with this is Johnson is just as socially liberal as Cameron and Osborne (he could hardly not be) something that doesn't sit entirely comfortably with the headbangers who believe the only thing holding the Tories back is a "real" right-wing manifesto and leader.

Whether we'll see Cameron and Johnson on the campaign trail together isn't clear, although you have to suspect we won't be seeing a Tory version of Cameron buying his rival an ice cream.  Those with links to the "players" are making out this was all agreed in advance and how delighted Dave and pals are by Boris deciding to battle on two fronts.  Underneath George Osborne must be seething, his own designs on the leadership having clearly been thrown into the utmost jeopardy.  As for where this leaves Londoners, destined to have a part-time mayor for over a year in spite of Johnson's past promise to not do precisely this, they've never really been at the forefront of his considerations anyway.

The other question is whether the country as a whole could really stomach Johnson as leader of the Tories, let alone prime minister.  You have to go back almost half a century to find someone else with such a how, shall we say, distinctive past in a similar position.  We prefer our leaders if not boring then certainly staid; our most recent flirtation with someone even closely comparable didn't end well for us, although it certainly has for him.  The "Boris ler-gend" cult can only go so far.  Should the Tories not win next year however, making it 23 years since they last got a majority, longer than the 19 Labour spent in the wilderness, they might just be moved to decide Boris couldn't possibly make things any worse.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014 

There is a light and it never goes out.

As yesterday's post probably made clear, I'm not one for state approved close to enforced commemorations, or events in general.  Remembrance Sunday just about stays on the right side of voluntary, non-politicised reflection, despite the efforts of some to turn it into a support the troops, why aren't you wearing a poppy type fest of unpleasantness.  If you really were that moved, involved yesterday by the 100th anniversary of the start of four years of (then) unparalleled carnage and unnecessary suffering to turn out the lights and have a solitary candle burn between 10 and 11, good for you.

For most though I suspect it will have just passed them by entirely.  There are no veterans of WWI left, and an ever dwindling number of those who can remember the conflict at all.  It's also impossible to pretend WWI was a noble endeavour, at least compared to its successor, as arguable as the case is that one led inexorably to the other.  You can debate all the myths or claimed myths, but none of it alters how the one real, overwhelming reason to remember is the unconscionable by modern standards waste of life, the millions sacrificed so the elite could (mostly) continue to live as they had, at least for a few more years. The collapse of empires affected us after the war, but only at the time in the form of the Bolsheviks pulling Russia out of the conflict.  Yes, there were concessions given in the form of universal suffrage once it was over, and it took the rise of Nazism to make a major European war thinkable again, yet things for the most part stayed the same.

If you were expecting much, or indeed any of this to be reflected yesterday it was a forlorn hope. The leaders from the continent hinted at the role the EU has had in keeping the peace and we got the odd reference to what followed and that was pretty much your lot. Instead there was as much ceremony as you could take, a shallow sense of the loss so many went through and not much other than the hushed, reverential tones of the most maudlin reporters the BBC could get hold of in August. The Very Reverend Dr John Hall at the Westminster Abbey service went so far as to suggest, after mentioning the failed efforts to keep the peace, everyone spend a moment not in reflection but in repentance.  Many of us have things we could, should repent, but guilt over or responsibility for the first world war isn't among them.

While there were then German apologies for the violation of Belgian neutrality, there weren't any admissions the war as a whole was something to be regretted, just the loss of life.  Particularly abrasive was the involvement of the royals, with there being no recognition of the major role the European if not British monarchs had in the conflict and its continuation.  As the Graun remarks in its leader, there was also little thought given to how much this country, Europe and the world has changed since 1914, perhaps because all those at the forefront of the commemorations would much prefer the certainties and deference of that era compared to our unruly and acerbic times.  Queenie we're told was spending the day after a private memorial quietly contemplating it all, and she definitely had the right idea.

Without wanting to go the full Simon Jenkins, it's also a difficult sell for politicians who find it remarkably easy to send in the bombers, agitate for arms sales and compete over issuing the blandest statement on the massacre of innocents by allies to convince they take anything from WWI except the idea Britain always has been and always will be great.  David Cameron, bless him, mentioned the role the navy played last week in evacuating British citizens from Libya without pausing to consider whether the need to do so could have been linked to the regime change NATO all but instigated in the country.

Maybe it was this disjunct between Cameron's solemn intoning of learning lessons from history at the same time as doing nothing about Gaza that finally convinced Baroness Warsi to resign, or it could have been the symbolism of extinguishing a candle at the aforementioned Westminster Abbey service.  Either way, there is nothing that aggravates politicians as much as one of their colleagues suddenly having a fit of conscience: it suggests they don't have such pangs, when they do.  They just don't act on them, or persuade themselves the ends justify the means.  Read the contempt expressed for Clare Short in Alastair Campbell's diaries, which at times verges on the sexist, the same echoes you can clearly detect in the response from some Tories.  Warsi was probably surprised to survive the reshuffle, and in her resignation letter expressly mentions both Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve leaving the government, the loss of "their experience and expertise" as becoming "very apparent".  As direct criticism of your party leader goes, it doesn't get much more personal.

Nor does describing the stance taken by the coalition as "morally indefensible".  Images from Gaza of the destruction wreaked in the neighbourhoods that saw the fiercest fighting are reminiscent of the streets of Aleppo and Homs, so complete is the devastation, only this happened not over months but days.  No language is strong enough to condemn Assad and his forces, yet criticism of Israeli tactics, while beefed up in recent days, has remained muted by comparison.

Warsi's resignation will be shrugged off.  Not enough people care about Gaza; it won't decide many, if any votes next year.  If she has kept a diary of her time in office and publishes it before the election, then many will conclude her real motivation was personal gain.  Nor can we pretend this is the first government to cower when it comes to Israel; Tony Blair did everything possible during the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah war to delay a ceasefire, rather than try to put an end to the conflict.

Blair's legacy is even more fearful when it comes to Iraq.  Under reported has been the latest major propaganda release from ISIS I mentioned last week.  It contains what I can only describe as the most disturbing video footage I have ever seen, and I'm sorry to say I've watched a lot of jihadi releases and "real gore" clips.  Some begging for their lives, dozens of Shia men are taken into sandy wasteland where all ordered to lie on their fronts.  A masked fighter then walks along the line, carefully firing a single shot from an AK47 into each man's head.  In another section, a group of men are hurried to the bank of a river (as the footage is apparently from Tikrit, it has to be the Tigris), one of their captors slapping them on the back as they pass.  Once there, on a concrete section smeared with blood, each is taken to the edge and a single shot from a pistol fired into their heads, the victim then pushed or thrown into the water.  In its former incarnations ISIS carried out a number of executions of groups of men which were filmed, but never were so many killed as in this video.  Nor did we see them being led to their death, the majority going meekly, in the same way as so many thousands of Jews were taken to their deaths by the Einsatzgruppen, walking in line, told to lie side by side, waiting for it to be their turn to be shot in the back of the head.  A group that is unafraid to record its crimes against war, against humanity, potentially the beginnings of a genocide, is one that apparently believes its otherwise ridiculous claims of being the Islamic state, immovable.  A century on from the "war to end all wars", it's the far more recent ones we entered into that should be reflected on, troubling us most.

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Monday, August 04, 2014 

Funeral march for agony's last edge.

WORLD LEADERS ATTEND WWI CENTENARY EVENTS

REMEMBRANCE AND LEARNING THE LESSONS THE MAIN THEME

"MOST ENDURING LEGACY IS OUR LIBERTY," SAYS DAVID CAMERON. "WE MUST NEVER FORGET."

KEY QUOTES:

"When you think that almost every family, almost every community was affected, almost a million British people were lost in this war, it is right that even 100 years on, we commemorate it, we think about it and we mark it properly." -- David Cameron.

“The first world war will serve as a reminder of the brutality of conflict for generations to come and a reminder to those in power to avoid entering war unless it is absolutely necessary.” -- Ed Miliband.

"Thanks for fucking up the Boche while we got our shit together Belgium." -- Prince William.

"I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can't help it — I enjoy every second of it." -- Winston Churchill

In other news:

Fighting in Libya rages three years after Western intervention

Fighting in Iraq rages eleven years after Western intervention

Insurgency in Afghanistan continues thirteen years after Western intervention, recount in disputed presidential election goes on

Fighting in Gaza rages as politicians umm and arr over what is and isn't disproportionate at the same time as resupplying the Israeli military

REMINDER:

Turn your lights out tonight between 10 and 11 to demonstrate your depth of feeling for the sacrifice made by those who fought to secure our freedom.  If you find your attempts to knock yourself out aren't working, please tweet @lightsoutcompliance with your location and a NHS-sanctioned unconsciousness consultant will visit to ensure your conformity with this entirely voluntary and by no means redundant gesture.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 

Israel snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

If we spend our whole lives bending, what do you think we will get?  What are you trying so hard to understand, aren't the structures obvious yet?

In conflict, there comes a point where the only rational choice left, whether as a result of loss of men, materiel or territory is to surrender.  The alternative is complete annihilation.  This is predicated however on the victorious side accepting it.  Arguably, both positions were adopted respectively as the Sri Lankan forces closed in on the Tamil Tigers' last remaining strongholds, with the result being the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of civilians trapped in the crossfire.  Evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military following their eventual victory and the Tigers' belated surrender is also abundant.

Relating this to Gaza, Israel has no intention of fully reoccupying the Strip despite calls for just that from the far-right, not least as it would give the militant groups ever greater opportunities of abducting soldiers than "Operation Protective Edge" currently has.  It can't then force a victory that way.  It can try and exhaust the very ability of Hamas and Islamic Jihad etc to resist by keeping the military operation going for so long that their stockpiled caches of rockets and ammunition are completely depleted, but they can't know how long that will take, nor is there a guarantee the political pressure from the international community won't, finally, become too much to ignore.  Similarly, they don't know how many actual fighters Hamas etc have, nor can they trust their actions won't have pushed those with sympathy for the militant groups into joining/rejoining.

Just as there can only be peace through a negotiated settlement, so it appears there can now only be no peace through negotiations.  This is what is meant by the idea of "demilitarising" Gaza, something we've heard a lot of the past few days.  While it's not by any means clear just how "demilitarising" Gaza would be achieved, as the idea of UN monitors disarming Hamas while at the same time trying to provide for the hundreds of thousands reliant on UNRWA's various programmes, the implications are obvious.  Hamas, despite all the obstacles in its path, including the blockade and deteriorating relations with former allies such as Syria and Iran, has succeeded in becoming just that little more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.  During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas or other groups killed 6 Israeli soldiers.  56 have so far been killed in this latest conflict, including 5 inside Israel itself when Hamas used one of its "terror tunnels" to attack a military outpost.

This only underlines how the outside world and almost certainly Israel herself have underestimated HamasWe were told Hamas was weak, how it resorted to war as a sign of its decline, and it's true the unity government deal suggested Hamas knew its position was ebbing.  Only now do we discover that in fact Hamas has spent its time in Gaza preparing for just such a conflict, building the underground infrastructure any resistance group confined to a small area of land would need to store its weaponry.  It's also the case the tunnels provided Gazans with necessities denied by the blockade, as well as the odd luxury (if fried chicken can ever be described as such).  Nor is Hamas given any credit for its changes in strategy.  It still has its repellent, antisemitic charter which calls for Israel's destruction, but it has long since moved away from the suicide attacks that did so much damage to the Palestinian cause.  Had they wanted to they could have sent bombers through the tunnels; instead those who haven't been obliterated the second they stepped into Israel went for military targets.

Hamas then must be disarmed, not because its rockets threaten Israeli civilians in any meaningful sense, but as it now seems more formidable than before.  Israel has spent the last few years safe in the knowledge that Fatah is as corrupt and broken as it has ever been, while Hamas has been isolated and contained in Gaza, a situation especially useful for proving the governing party's military mettle prior to elections.  The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, itself in response to Israel yet again not living up to promises made in an effort to kick start peace talks, led to Israel taking the opportunity presented by the kidnap/murder of three teenagers to pre-emptively strike against Hamas in the West Bank, which in turn brought us to where we are now.

We shouldn't pretend the political mood is shifting against Israel when it isn't. Philip Hammond is right to say it is undermining its own support, but it seems however much Israeli politicians insult and lecture both Obama and John Kerry neither is prepared to take on the lobby in the country. The real, significant change is at the lower level, where the voices of journalists are being heard before false balance is added later.  When hardened hacks say the situation is as bad as they've experienced, and news anchors make clear their disquiet, it's ever harder for the frankly increasingly laughable IDF propaganda to affect the picture.  The "most moral" army on the planet, which once did worry about so-called collateral damage, now tells desperate lies or not even that when it shells UN schools or kills children playing on the beach.  Shortly, if not now, Israel will no longer be able carry on as it long as.  That, even as the slaughter continues, is the very slightest of silver linings.

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