Thursday, September 11, 2014 

The new strategy is there is no strategy.

One thing is abundantly clear after President Obama set out his new strategy on "degrading and destroying" Islamic State: our politicians have been getting themselves in a tizzy for nothing.  Just as policy on Syria has long been to contain, if not actively prolong the civil war in the country, with the result being the rise not of moderates but the likes of the al-Nusra Front and IS, so now this will be extended into Iraq despite the containment strategy having singularly failed.  Got that?

There certainly isn't any other conclusion you can possibly reach after Obama's televised address.  The strategy he sets out is the same one his administration has long favoured, using drones and special forces while trying to empower the jihadists' foes on the ground.  This has "worked" in Somalia and Yemen, in the sense neither al-Shabaab or al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have launched attacks on the west, despite the latter having made a number of attempts.  As for whether our allies in either country have been empowered, it's very much a secondary concern.  So long as the high-ups in the groups are thinned out every so often, as has just happened with al-Shabaab, it goes down as a success.

Why then all the rhetoric about destroying IS, it being a cancer needing to be cut out etc, when it's obviously a long-term aim?  Well, it's what he needed to do after he said previously there was no strategy, when he meant there was no new strategy.  There still isn't, it's just you can make it look as though he's proposing something different by ratcheting up the language, sending John Kerry round all the "friendly" American-allied despots and getting them to say they're going to do something when there's little evidence they will based on how some of them are just as much responsible for the rise of IS as the Ba'ath in Syria and the Americans themselves have been.

If this was the intention all along, it's not clear if the message got through to dear old Dave.  There he was declaring IS poses the greatest threat to the country since William the Bastard, with JTAC declaring it to once again be severe, and now it's not even apparent if the US wants us to help out by firing the odd Hellfire missile at a rag-tag bunch of wannabe headloppers.  Despite the media leaping at Obama saying he "will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria", that doesn't mean he's going to be authorising air strikes there any time soon.  Apart from the Russians making clear their displeasure, any sustained campaign against IS will only benefit Assad in the short-term.  If there really are "moderate" Syrian rebels currently being trained by the US, with Patrick Cockburn suggesting they amount to the last remnants of what was the Free Syrian Army, which was never an army in the first place, only now fully under the auspices of the CIA, the idea they can fight both IS and Assad at the same time is as ridiculous as it is amusing.  The US can't possibly imagine they'll make the difference either; the hope presumably is the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwatis etc will come round to the US approach and start funding their controlled rebels instead of the likes of the Islamic Front or IS itself.  This in turn will risk the non-IS jihadists going over to IS, but that apparently doesn't worry anyone.

The Syrian rebels are themselves still fixated on overthrowing Assad, not surprisingly considering that's err, why they rose up in the first place.  Sadly for them the mission's changed: once it was about getting rid of the Ba'ath, only the west soon realised the rebels weren't going to be any better than Assad, in fact probably worse.  Rather than admit we got all our predictions about the Syrian regime being doomed wrong, Assad "re-elected" and going nowhere, we settled on support for the rebels knowing full well neither they nor the government could strike a killer blow.  Only we didn't count on the apparently defeated and broken Islamic State of Iraq morphing into not just IS but also al-Nusra, or the Sunni Arab states using them in their proxy battle against Iran.  Or at least on IS becoming so powerful so quickly.

As for Iraq, the US is perfectly happy to send a few more units to the country, for allies to arm the Kurds and Iraqi government, and for neither to move all that quickly against the towns and cities IS controls.  Unlike the panic-mongers over here, Obama spelled out how IS currently doesn't have the intention of attacking the west, being far too busy in both countries.  No reason then to risk further unbalancing the fragility in Iraq; with the Yazidis mostly safe and other minorities having fled, the US is counting on IS once again outstaying its welcome amongst the Sunni tribes, just as it did back in 2007.

Moreover, Obama's reheated strategy is almost certainly the right one, despite its failure in Syria.  If the intention was to really deal with IS and right now it would mean temporarily allying with Assad, something we simply aren't prepared to do, both out of the sheer embarrassment it would involve and of course down to how he's a chemical weapon using tyrant.  Having morals is nice, but not losing face is far more important.

It would be great though if for once, just once, our leaders could admit how badly they've got things wrong.  We hold our hands up: we're just as responsible for the rise of IS as either Assad or the sectarian Iraqi government.  Now it's turned out this way, we're going to make it right by not making the same mistakes as we did before.  The Americans, against the odds and to their credit, have reacted in a far calmer manner than our politicians have, regardless of Cameron's rhetoric not matching the legislation proposed so far.  With the parties currently far more exercised by the little matter of Scotland potentially leaving the union, by the time parliament returns (assuming there is a no vote) the initial something-must-be-done stage might have passed.  Just don't count on it.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, September 04, 2014 

Desperate business.

It's a strange old world.  You might have thought for instance that regardless of how the SITE Intelligence Group, formerly the SITE Institute, is a self-started organisation that presents itself as an adjunct of the security services but in fact operates as the middle man between jihadis and the media and therefore needs to get more exposure, it wouldn't have plastered its logo all over the Islamic State's "Second Message to America" video.  It might not, as was the case in the previous video, actually show the beheading of Stephen Sotloff, but it most certainly does have the terrified, close to tears Sotloff reading out the statement demanded of him, before then cutting to an image of Sotloff's prostrate body, his severed, bloodied head placed on his back.  On the opposite side of the image to SITE's logo is the Islamic State's billowing black flag.  Still, it's good for business, right?

Equally odd is the idea a media blackout helps when it comes to those abducted in Syria or elsewhere.  Until Tuesday night when our new friend Jihadi John, as we apparently have to refer to him, was seen holding the scruff of David Haines's neck, we didn't have any idea there were Brits held by IS or any of the other groups.  The government and media did; they just felt it was better for all concerned if we were left in the dark.  Even yesterday, despite the rest of the world's media being understandably exercised by another westerner threatened with an especially grisly, brutal end, our own finest were pussyfooting around naming him.

As unlike our European counterparts we refuse to pay ransoms, failing a successful rescue operation David Haines faces the same fate as both James Foley and Sotloff.  It's true this might not have been the case until recently, as we don't know whether Foley, Sotloff or Haines were abducted by groups or rebel battalions other than IS and then sold onto them, and there might have been negotiations going on with them about possible deals not involving money, but if not IS has likely held these men with the intention of using them as pawns in a potential battle of wills with the west.  Media publicity before now might have made some sort of a difference, as it clearly did when Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza, for instance.  It's certainly difficult to think of further harm it could have caused, unless the coalition is haunted by the memory of Ken Bigley and the pressure put on Tony Blair at the time over it.

Ah.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, September 02, 2014 

A greater and deeper threat. Just not to us.

In a world so overflowing with bullshit, one where it's difficult to keep your head above the surface in the septic tank of life, it takes a statement the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow dung to give anyone the strength to make the effort to say simply, and boldly, you're talking crap.  According to our prime minister last Friday, the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIL, as he insisted on referring to the group for some bizarre reason, despite how we haven't described the greater area of Syria as "the Levant" for a very long time (those in the region refer to IS as Daash, the acronym for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, i.e. ISIS) is "greater and deeper than ... we have known before."

It's never been clear when politicians talk about threats and security just how far is it we're meant to go back in looking for a comparable situation to the one we're facing now.  Are we talking black death style threat, Spanish Armada type threat, the civil war, Waterloo, Crimea, the Boers, the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the IRA, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida?  Obviously enough, the new threat is always greater and deeper than we've known before, and we're all meant to have absolutely no knowledge of history at all, or indeed a memory span beyond that of last month.  Tony Blair claimed on a number of occasions the threat from al-Qaida was beyond comparison, just as every dictator we've faced off against since Hitler is, err, worse than Hitler.  Mao might carry the distinction of (arguably) killing more of his own people than any other 20th century leader, but it's always to good ol' Adolf the glib and shameless turn.

David Cameron's press conference came after JTAC concluded the overall threat is now once again severe, despite the lack of any specific information suggesting an attack is being planned or is any more likely than it was the previous day.  This is especially curious as only a few months back new checks were put in place at airports after specific intelligence suggested bombs could be concealed in iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.  That didn't necessitate any wider action, and yet here we are with a hypothetical threat from Islamic State requiring a "rules of the game are changing" style intervention, urgent legislation and the general public told to be more vigilant, reporting any concerns they have to the local cop shop.


Except Cameron's rhetoric hasn't matched the measures announced.  With the removing of citizenship from those born here not possible without breaching international treaties, the government instead proposed temporarily excluding those who've gone to fight in Syria or Iraq from the UK, without explaining where they would be expected to stay or just how long such an order would remain in place.  The police might be given the power to confiscate passports from those looking to travel, while TPIMs, the coalition's replacement for control orders, could be tightened by reintroducing the relocation element.  No one relocated under a control order absconded, so correlation must equal causation, right?  Even during the debate Cameron was emphasising how it "sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad ... and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state".  Apart from buying into Islamic State's own sense of self-importance, he knows full well those who do return can be prosecuted under the alarmingly widely drawn powers in the Terrorism Act, as Mashudur Choudary was, despite not having fought in Syria at all.  It raises the question of why if around half of the 500 estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight have come back more haven't been prosecuted, unless that is the threat posed by these Brit mujahideen has been over-egged.

Why then such a disjunct between the message and the action?  It's not down to the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have made it perfectly clear they're prepared to bring control orders back, and so are hardly likely to defeat the coalition, at least on this issue, for the sake of it.  Nor does breaking international treaties bother a party set to propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in its election manifesto.  Instead the reasoning behind it seems a strange mix of playing up the threat for all it's worth, just in case the Americans decide they would like our help in Iraq and/or taking the fight against IS into Syria, preventing a repeat of last year's fiasco, while at the same time knowing full well that for the moment at least the threat posed by IS to the country directly is fairly negligible.  Getting further involved would make the threat worse, just as our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did, but that irony seems lost on most involved.

With IS having followed through on its threat to kill Steven Sotolof, with the promise a hostage described as British, David Cawthorne Haines, will be murdered next, there's little reason to imagine the thinking behind all this to fail in its aim.  Despite there being no indication either ourselves or the Americans have the first idea of what to do about IS in Syria, as any suggestion of temporarily allying with Assad has been rejected, with the idea of training and arming "moderate" rebels to go after IS still being mooted, it looks as though we're heading towards another intervention without having either a plan or an idea of what the end game will be.  Destroying IS in principle is a laudatory aim; when however they have already turned to ethnic cleansing, what's the most likely outcome should they find themselves having to flee their current safe havens?  There is a great, deep threat to those trapped between IS, Assad and the other Islamist rebel forces, and we might just be about to make it even worse.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 

William's last words.

Who threw the first stone, if the stone is you?

First, thank you for all your kind words, thoughts and sentiments (including away from here).  They mean more than you can possibly know.  Perhaps in a couple of days I'll respond to them in more detail.  Forgive me for not doing that at the moment.

Second, back in the bad old days/best of days (as they honestly were, without wanting to echo Dickens) one of my favourite lines was that irony was smothering everything.  It is therefore wonderfully ironic that the exact same political backdrop we had then is still with us now.  See, just as I haven't moved forward, nor has politics.  How bitterly, hilariously fitting.  Or it could just be me.

As he almost always does, Flying Rodent has beaten me to it.  We tend to think of the Iraq war and the Gulf war as two separate conflicts when they were not.  The bombing didn't stop in 1991 and then start again in 2003.  It never stopped.  "Targets" were constantly being hit.  Sanctions that destroyed the actual economy and quality of life for the ordinary Iraqi while the Ba'athist elite continued to prosper were put in place and continuously ramped up.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, once we had finally "finished the job" we found a society that didn't welcome the final act of "shock and awe" as the more fervent supporters of the war insisted they would.  Instead a decent number almost instantly began resisting.  Added to these were, as the War Nerd explains, jihadists just waiting for a new sanctuary after failing to gain a foothold elsewhere.  The two groups merged, and to make a much more nuanced and long story far too short and simple, we eventually ended up with ISIS.

So here we are.  Again.  11 years on, and the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (as he must now be known, considering how keen he is on muscular promotion of our values) is standing up in the Commons and saying if we do nothing then we will have carnage on our streets.  You know, I'm tired.  Really fucking tired.  I'm especially tired of politicians telling me that only if we keep on killing people abroad will it mean safety back home.  I don't care whether those people end up getting killed with missiles fired by British jets promoting our muscular values, or by American drones with "long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent" intentions, at this point incinerating yet more Iraqis is about as likely to have the same effect on our security as sending a dog to the moon would.

Not much more really needs saying about the mess we've got ourselves in, supporting "moderate" Sunnis against Assad in Syria (there are no secularists in Syria says the War Nerd, they're all Islamists of one shade or another) as we now try and suck up to the Iranians to help save Maliki from much the same Sunnis, finally tired of the Shia dominance of the post-war years. But, but say the Blairs and the Bloodworths, had Saddam stayed in power he would most likely have faced the same protests as elsewhere in the Arab world, and if we'd acted against Assad earlier ISIS would have never gained such a foothold. Except ISIS would almost certainly have never established itself in Iraq to start with if it hadn't been for the war, and all out military intervention in Syria has never been on the table, only "punishment" strikes for the gas attacks. And why, principally, was that? It wouldn't have been down to how Iraq and Libya were such fabulous successes, right?

I'm also really tired of the left's failure to stand up for free speech. You expect the establishment to preach the virtues of tolerance and freedom of thought at the same time as the CPS prosecutes the likes of Jake Newsome for posting an offensive but what certainly should not be a criminal message on Facebook about the murder of Ann Maguire.  What you don't expect is for some to defend the outrageous six-week prison sentence he received.  Then again, when some, and I stress some of the left seem to think the real political issue of the day is their right not to be trolled and made fun of on Twitter, perhaps it's not that surprising.  I should be Jack's total lack of surprise.

Most of all, I'd love to fall asleep, and wake up happy.  And wake up happy.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, June 12, 2014 

A (slightly) shorter John McTernan.

Aren't the Kurds fantastic?  Shame about the Sunni and Shiites, eh?

You see, the real reason why Iraq is currently descending into the abyss is because we left too early.  We were selfish.  We should have stayed for as long as was needed, as long as it took Saddam to destroy the place.  He did it all, you see.

We have a responsibility to go back there right now and start killing more Iraqis.  Let's face it, if there's one thing we've been world class at over the past decade, it's killing Iraqis.  To be fair, we can't take all the credit.  Most of the actual smiting has been by the Iraqis themselves, we just lit the torch paper by having not a solitary fucking clue of what to do after we completely and utterly destroyed the Ba'athist state for the sheer sake of it.

As for all you cynics and stoppers, muttering under your breath about how al-Qaida didn't exist in Iraq prior to our kicking the door in, you're bloodless, amoral cowards.  You might as well say "Saddam may have been a fascist who inflicted genocide on the Kurds at the same time as we supported his war against Iran and sold him weapons", oh, sorry, got a bit confused there.  Wasn't the war about WMD? I've forgotten.

The truth is if we don't act now, we will have to act later.  We have to go back to Iraq to rescue a democracy that isn't working because the politicians won't share power.  Isn't that right, Tony?

P.S. As a very special treat, here's a shorter Owen Jones:

I have encountered no sense of vindication, no "I told you so", among veterans of the anti-war protest of 15 February 2003 in response to the events in Iraq.  That's why I'm writing this.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 

The taking of Mosul isn't our fault. Well, OK, partly it is.

The panic (by politicians and the media, not by the people of Mosul themselves, who know all too well what ISIS is capable of) at the seizing of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or al-Sham, or the Levant, or whatever you want to call them) is a little curious. After all, for a good couple of years between around 06 and 08 the then mere Islamic State of Iraq had the run of if not control of the so-called Sunni Triangle, with Mosul for a long time forming one of their strongholds.  Then though it was the Americans they were principally fighting and winning against. It was only once the Americans joined forces with the Awakening groups, formed after local tribal leaders grew tired of the brutality and fanaticism of ISI that the group was beaten back, and while never defeated, certainly brought to the brink.

Whether or not those who've taken Mosul and also now Tikrit are ISIS fighters in the true sense or a conglomeration of former jihadis including ISIS as some are suggesting, it does nonetheless signal the group's arguable usurping of al-Qaida as the world's pre-eminent jihadist organisation. This is all the more remarkable considering how earlier in the year Ayman al-Zawihiri removed ISIS's  affiliate/franchise status, following its refusal to patch up its differences with the al-Nusra front in Syria, itself originally an offshoot of... ISI.  Its success in Iraq and Syria also comes in spite of criticism from some of the most influential and respected jihadi thinkers, including Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, both of whom urged support for al-Nusra.

How far this is a victory for ISIS as opposed to a humiliation for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is as yet too early to tell.  ISIS without doubt has some battle-hardened, well-trained and deadly fighters, as is proved by their tightly edited and designed to terrify propaganda videos.  As for how many of their fighters in total have that level of experience and skill is anyone's guess, although it certainly doesn't come close to the 5,000 or so they are estimated to have in Iraq.  Something they do have both in Iraq and Syria is a constant stream of volunteers willing to become suicide bombers, regardless it seems also of whether the target, as in Syria, is their fellow jihadis.  The Iraqi forces, part out of fear, part out of lack of training and part out of lack of loyalty to a Shia-dominated government that has never tried to properly reconcile with the Sunni north since the civil war seem to have mostly melted away, leaving only a police force that soon also abandoned its posts.  Paul Mutter suggests the majority of the functioning Iraqi army is currently trying and failing to dislodge ISIS and other Sunni militias from around Fallujah, making it even less likely Mosul will be able to be retaken soon.

Indeed, as Maliki is apparently encouraging the arming of people's militias, he also seems to doubt whether it can be achieved.  The real key will be ISIS's strategy from here on out.  Where once the group was set on fomenting civil war, relying on holding just a few safe zones and then often under the hospitality of tribal groups rather than through strength, it now de facto controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria, with an even wider operational presence.  In the short-term the aim may well be to recapture some of the territory lost in Syria, with the materiel captured from the Iraqi security forces put into use against the rival rebel groupings there.  Also a major factor will be how the group intends to govern those who haven't fled their advance: promises given that they will not be looking to impose the kind of justice seen in Raqqa are wholly unlikely to convince given the group's propensity for killing first and asking questions later.

Where this leaves foreign policy in the region, or at least should is equally uncertain.  As Juan Cole writes, ISIS could not have survived without the wealthy benefactors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf who have no qualms about the funding of murderous fanatics if it means the weakening of Iran's allies.  Correspondingly, both the United States and our good selves are now in the position of propping up and supplying a Shia-dominated government in Iraq in its fight against ISIS, while at the same time supplying "moderate" Sunni rebels in their fight against both Assad and ISIS.  We welcome the farcical election of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt (in the words of Patrick Cockburn, he couldn't even rig the vote properly), while denouncing the farcical re-election of Assad in Syria.  We try not to mention Libya at all, while politicians who have spent the past decade telling us we've been fighting in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism here can be safe in the knowledge a group too extreme for al-Qaida now controls much of northern Iraq and a good chunk of Syria, both of which are hell of a lot closer to Europe than Afghanistan is.  And of course, we can also be happy about how ISIS didn't exist prior to the Iraq war. 

Other than that, things seem to be going pretty well.  Sleep tight.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, April 24, 2014 

Anne-Marie invites you to a mass slaughter.

Seeing as we so enjoyed our trip yesterday into the mind of Tony Blair, with its vivid reminder that there are plenty of people in the West who seem to thrive on exactly the sort of conflict they accuse others of seeking, it's worth bearing in mind he's something of a dove on Syria.  Here, for instance, is Anne-Marie Slaughter (nominative determinism quite possibly in action) on how Obama should go after Putin through Assad:  

It is time to change Putin’s calculations, and Syria is the place to do it.
...

It is impossible to strike Syria legally so long as Russia sits on the United Nations Security Council, given its ability to veto any resolution authorizing the use of force. But even Russia agreed in February to Resolution 2139, designed to compel the Syrian government to increase flows of humanitarian aid to starving and wounded civilians. Among other things, Resolution 2139 requires that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs….” 


The US, together with as many countries as will cooperate, could use force to eliminate Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft as a first step toward enforcing Resolution 2139. “Aerial bombardment” would still likely continue via helicopter, but such a strike would announce immediately that the game has changed. After the strike, the US, France, and Britain should ask for the Security Council’s approval of the action taken, as they did after NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999. 

 ... 

Putin may believe, as Western powers have repeatedly told their own citizens, that NATO forces will never risk the possibility of nuclear war by deploying in Ukraine. Perhaps not. But the Russian forces destabilizing eastern Ukraine wear no insignia. Mystery soldiers can fight on both sides. 

Putting force on the table in resolving the Ukraine crisis, even force used in Syria, is particularly important because economic pressure on Russia, as critical as it is in the Western portfolio of responses, can create a perverse incentive for Putin. As the Russian ruble falls and foreign investment dries up, the Russian population will become restive, giving him even more reason to distract them with patriotic spectacles welcoming still more “Russians” back to the motherland.

It really doesn't get much more lacking in awareness, or rather, such is the way we've seen US officials repeatedly say you can't just walk into foreign countries on a false prospectus or words to the effect, charges of hypocrisy or not learning from the past just don't seem to have any impact.  Slaughter is proposing precisely the kind of abuse of the UN as was first put forward during the run-up to the Iraq war, relying on resolutions either years out of date or never intended to be used to justify force.  It also ignores how much of the Russian opposition to UN resolutions on Syria is linked back to the misuse of Resolution 1973 on Libya], which NATO interpreted as authorising regime change, something neither Russia or China believed it did.

Slaughter doesn't explain how only Syria's "fixed wing-aircraft" would be eliminated, or how this would be achieved without taking out the country's anti-air defences at the same time, nor what the point of a half-hearted intervention is when so much trouble would have to be gone through in the first place.  Surely Putin, who as Slaughter tells us measures "himself and his fellow leaders in terms of crude machismo", would be far more impressed with the US going the whole way instead of resorting to just more half-measures?  It also fails to take into account how Putin could do the exact opposite to what Slaughter expects when faced with such a direct challenge, annexing vast sections of the east of Ukraine at the precise moment when US military attention is on Syria.  At least when Nixon and Kissinger came up with the bombing of Cambodia they were fairly certain of the results.  Such is the disconnect with military reality on the part of the Kissingers of our day, they can't even be sure of how such a policy would work in Syria itself, let alone on Russia.

P.S. Anne-Marie Slaughter was last month named the 37th most prominent "world thinker" by Prospect magazine.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 

A dangerous Melanie Phillips.

If there's one thing you can rely on when a new pronouncement emerges from the Office of Tony Blair, it's that it will be taken very seriously by both devotees and critics of our dear former prime minister alike. The responses might not be correspondingly dry, but they amount to the same thing. It's therefore not true to say that Blair's sermons don't have influence, especially when there are still those within government who share his increasingly worrying world view.

For Blair has at last dropped any real moderating factors from his black and white vision of the Middle East (and much of Africa for that matter) and what we should be doing to encourage "change". The odd thing is that Blair's idea of reform post-Arab spring seems remarkably close to the world prior to 9/11. Tony has you see clearly been revisiting Iraq and where it all went wrong, probably in anticipation of the Chilcot inquiry passing judgement on him. The problem wasn't the intervention itself or the lies leading up to it, rather the fact that both Sunni and Shia extremists immediately rose up against their supposed liberators.  Where al-Qaida previously had barely existed, within a year the most powerful franchise yet was established and on its way to controlling vast swathes of the north of the country.

Apart from Blair not admitting it was his very intervention that played exactly into al-Qaida's hands and prompted the biggest surge in jihadi recruitment since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as numerous commentators have pointed out, and ignoring all the mistakes made by the occupying forces in the first few years, his analysis is reasonably sound. Where he then gets it spectacularly wrong is in taking this view of Islamist extremism being the main factor holding the region back and applies it across the board. Yes, he is at pains to say there are other forces at work and that Islamism is not Islam, but frankly it's becoming more and more difficult to take his protestations seriously.

Blair's solution is remarkably simple. The threat is so serious and affects both ally and ostensible rival alike that differences should be set aside to challenge it. We should work with both Russia and China as they have their own problems with Islamists. Even more dramatically, such is the danger posed by the extremists in the Syrian opposition that we should aim for a negotiated settlement where Assad stays in power, at least for the time being.  Only if he rejects such a generous offer would we then look to help the same opposition through imposing a no fly zone.  This would obviously mean something approaching war, although we would demand at the same time that the extremist groups get no help from the surrounding states.  You know, just like we have for the last couple of years now, and what an overwhelming success it's been.

This new thesis from the man who previously gave us the Chicago speech is riddled with contradictions, and Blair must realise know it.  To be sure, he had no objection to dealing with authoritarian states when in office so long as they either supported or didn't interfere with the West's wider foreign policy aims, hence why he brought Gaddafi's Libya in from the cold and had no qualms whatsoever about shutting down the Serious Fraud Office investigation into fraud in the al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia.  This new emphasis on realpolitik though suggests that despite continuing to support the Iraq war, given the chance to do things differently he most likely would.  Considering the more barmy neo-cons have insisted in the past that the Iraq intervention was one of the catalysts of the Arab spring, this is quite the Damascene conversion.

Then again, Blair clearly has no love for the Arab spring or for the values those who initially rose up had.  He says our ultimate principle should be support for religious freedom and open, rule based economies.  Note that he doesn't mention democracy, a word he only uses three times throughout his entire screed, one of those in reference to Israel.  Like so much of the speech, the reason is simple: democracy, as seen in Egypt and in Palestine, can lead to the people voting for the very Islamists he is so opposed to.  As Blair sets out, whether they be Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, and regardless of whether they eschew violence, "their overall ideology is one which inevitably creates the soil in which such extremism can take root".  He goes on to say Islamism's very implementation is incompatible with the modern world, yet apparently this is its very danger.  One would suspect that if this were the case Iran's theocracy would have long since departed the scene, yet still it remains with us, in spite also of the sanctions bearing down on it.  Perhaps its survival can be put down to its managed democracy, but again, doesn't this rather undermine Blair's case?

Well yes, but it sure doesn't stop him.  Egypt then, rather than Syria, is where the future of the region hangs.  Despite coming to power in what were widely regarded as fair elections, the Brotherhood simply had to be overthrown, as it was "taking over the traditions and institutions of the country".  It wasn't just an ordinary protest that led to the ousting of Morsi, it was "an absolutely necessary rescue of the nation".  Any concerns we have about the over a thousand Morsi supporters who were massacred in the aftermath, or the 500+ protesters sentenced to death we should put aside, as we help the country "cross over to a better future".  Blair in other words supports wholeheartedly the restoration of the Mubarak era, just with a different general in charge.  Nor it seems should we worry that supporting the coup might encourage the very belief change can't be achieved through the ballot box, leading to the exact violence Blair so abhors, or about the journalists imprisoned on false charges, the kind of actions we so condemn of other authoritarian states, or indeed the very people who demanded true democracy and who want neither the army or the Brotherhood; all these are by the by when defeating the true threat posed by the Islamists is vastly more important.

The countries that go unmentioned ought to speak just as loudly as those he goes through in turn.  Strangely absent is Turkey, again perhaps because it would otherwise undermine his case.  On the face of it Erodgan's AKP would fit the bill: a party that bit by bit seems to be undermining democracy, which supports Islamists in Syria and describes children killed by its forces as "terrorists".  It remains however as popular if not more popular than ever, and has also established precisely the open, rule based economy Blair favours, to the point where the Gezi Park protests started because of the proposed development of yet another shopping mall.  For all Blair's radicalism, he also still can't bring himself to criticise Saudi Arabia by name, instead only remarking on the absurdity of spending billions
 

of $ on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems and in civic institutions of the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships.

It's this cowardice, along with his rejection of what he calls the "absolutely rooted desire on the part of Western commentators" to "eliminate the obvious common factor in a way that is almost wilful" that gives the game away.  Just as he spoke after 9/11 of "re-ordering this world around us", his ultimate desire remains the same even if his methods are now different.  Regardless of how just the grievances of those who have turned to violence and/or Islamism are, they have to be defeated whatever the cost.  It doesn't matter if those doing the smiting are as tyrannical as those they are fighting against, like the Russians in Chechnya, or the Chinese against the Uighurs, both of whom Blair wants onside for his battle, such is the danger of the ideology that we must if necessary make uncomfortable bedfellows.  We shall go on pussyfooting around Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of the very people Blair proselytises against, while keeping the pressure up on the potential ally we could have in Iran.  We must hug Israel ever closer, as the real problem is with the divisions among the Palestinians, again caused by Islamism.  


This, remember, is the Quartet's peace envoy.  He is also a man who regardless of the criticism, retains influence.  He ought to be thought of after this as Melanie Phillips with a hotline to the world's leaders.  And if that isn't scary, I'm not sure what is.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, April 08, 2014 

Scottish independence and "the forces of darkness".

The Better Together campaign against Scottish independence hasn't had a great time of it recently. Ever since the Graun quoted an unnamed minister apparently due to be involved in the negotiations should there be a yes vote as saying a currency union would be possible in exchange for Scotland continuing to host nuclear weapons at Faslane it's seemed more on the backfoot than usual. They must know "Project Fear" isn't working, but as yet they still haven't come up with an alternative. Last week instead saw a step-up in the complaints about online nationalists supposedly abusing their opponents, the internet equivalent of taking your ball and going home.

Lord Robertson wasn't speaking on behalf of Better Together at his Brookings Institution speech, although that won't stop everyone, myself included, from linking his ridiculous scaremongering to the No campaign's overall message.  As a paragon of the substrata of the political and military establishment seemingly unable to address any matter without seeing it through a prism of what's good for NATO is good for the world, he naturally thinks the United Kingdom breaking up would be the second great victory for dictators and annexers of the year. What's more, it will encourage all the other separatists in Europe, could undermine peace in Northern Ireland and also prepare the ground for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. To call it unhinged doesn't quite do it justice; the idea Scottish independence "could ... impact on the stability of the world" is only slightly less absurd than suggesting Colonel Gaddafi could rise from his grave and come back to power in Libya.

It doesn't even begin to make the slightest sense.  You could understand it more if Scotland were, as some would like, not intending to rejoin NATO or the European Union immediately, except that's precisely what the SNP is proposing.  Despite some on the no side comparing the SNP to the UKIPs, the differences couldn't be more stark: the SNP if anything wants to play more of a role in the EU than the UK currently does, and also favours immigration.  They might be similar in the way both insist that any problems with becoming independent/leaving the EU will be overcome as soon as the decision has been made, and in the personality cult surrounding their respective leaders, but that's about as far as it goes.

Robertson's argument is all the more mystifying for coming at the precise moment when such pleading to think about the consequences for everyone else appears to have lost the impact it once had.  Nigel Farage's man love for Putin is revealing for a supposed libertarian, and his claim that the EU has blood on its hands over Ukraine the most specious nonsense, yet one of his most telling blows against Clegg in the second debate was his attack on the deputy prime minister for being "hell-bent" on bombing Syria.  As exemplified by the coalition not crowing about what should be one of its crowning achievements, having now reached the point where 0.7% of gross national income is spent on international aid, going out of our way to "help" other nations is not currently in fashion.  While there's a world of difference between going beyond the bare minimum in helping developing countries and bombing those said countries, or at least there should be, the fact is the political class is no longer trusted when it comes to either.

This poses a problem when so much of the establishment still earnestly believes in interventionism.  We've just had the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, from which the notion of the responsibility to protect emerged, despite how peacekeepers were on the ground both there and in Serbia at the time of Srebrencia.  The same human rights organisations opposed to the Iraq war were practically cheerleading for an attack on Syria last year, with those of my generation who were in favour of removing Saddam Hussein now ensconced in positions of power in both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.  Despite the failures of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, there isn't the slightest indication that any lessons have been learned from the mistakes, hardly surprising when the Western media en masse celebrated Afghans "defying" the Taliban to vote last weekend, as though that was their main reason for casting their ballots, nor have any reflected on whether those interventions might just have influenced Russia's annexing of Crimea.  Instead we have Tony Blair (who we shouldn't be calling a war criminal apparently) once again given the time and space to say we will regret not acting on Syria, as though that isn't precisely what we've been covertly doing now for over 2 years.

Much as I loathe the moaning about the metropolitan elite, much of which ironically comes from those who are, err, a part of the metropolitan elite, they've started to have a point when it comes to foreign policy.  If we're to believe Seymour Hersh's latest report for the London Review of Books, the real reason Obama pulled back at the last minute from attacking Syria is it was discovered the sarin supposedly used by Assad's forces in Ghouta didn't match with the batches in Syrian government possession, and was instead part of a false flag attempt to force just such an attack by the Turkish government.  As incredible as that seems, there is evidence of other Turkish skulduggery in Syria, notably the conversation posted on YouTube, prompting the site's shortlived ban in the country, and which seemed to be between government figures discussing staging an attack the Turks could then use to justify intervening more widely themselves.  If the international community can come so close to being so spectacularly fooled, not to mention shown up over Crimea,  it takes a hell of a lot of chutzpah to then lecture ordinary Scots on what they should consider before they cast their vote come the referendum.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, March 17, 2014 

Interventionists: the biters bit?

The more you consider recent Western foreign policy, the more it doesn't make even the slightest sense.  Or rather, it doesn't so long as you consider it from the viewpoint that within reason, we try and encourage the spread of freedom and human rights, a notion that has become fashionable over the past couple of decades.  One of the favourite arguments of interventionists when it came to Libya in response to critics saying why now and why not somewhere else was just because we can't act everywhere doesn't mean we shouldn't take action when we can.

Our intervention against Gaddafi seems to gain ever more significance at the same time as the questions about why Libya increase with time.  How, when we have failed to intervene in Syria despite three years of brutal, horrific civil war, did we end up backing the Libyan rebels in the space of three weeks?  The stated reasoning, that Gaddafi was threatening a bloodbath in Benghazi seemingly carried enough cachet for both Russia and China to abstain on UNSC resolution 1973 and so allow what turned into NATO effectively acting as the air support for various militias.  Those militias duly summarily executed Gaddafi after NATO "protected" his fleeing convoy from the air, with the country remaining in utter turmoil a couple of years on, although it seems we don't much care any more.

The obvious answer is because we could.  Libya's military apparatus was in a far worse state than Syria's; we had significant business interests in the country whereas China and Russia had relatively few; Gaddafi had little in the way of actual support, relying on a hardcore of supporters backed up with hired mercenaries; and the military themselves it seems felt it was doable.  Despite seeming a success though, even if what actually happened went far beyond what UNSCR 1973 authorised, it also exposed a number of problems.  First, the Americans were not pleased at what they saw as having to do the heavy lifting when it had been the UK and France who had pushed for action with the most vigour.  Fatally for the Syrians perhaps, second is both Russia and China felt fooled by what NATO decided the resolution authorised, despite it calling for a ceasefire and negotiations.  While Russia would always have been more inclined to oppose action in Syria considering her long term ties with the Assad family, it emboldened opposition to any repeat.

My opinion remains that had we really wanted to intervene against Assad, we would have done.  By any measure there was a far stronger case for doing so as the civil war began in earnest, as compared to Libya when the action was meant to prevent a massacre, the Assad regime had already carried out mass killings.  It would have been far more difficult to be sure, and there has never been anything approaching a serious plan set out for how such an intervention would begin, but that has never stopped us in the past.  Indeed, as we came so close to doing something, although it was explained precisely what, there must have been contingencies in place.  The decision instead seems to have been made to do just enough not to invite the accusation of indifference while at the same time keeping up a false level of rhetoric: sort of arming the sort of moderates, and not a lot more.  Our real attitude was summed up by how the government had to be all but humiliated into allowing a tiny number of Syrian refugees into the country, the impossible aim of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands being far more important to the Tories than relieving incredible human suffering.

Which brings us to the Crimea and the truly laughable sanctions that have been imposed today after the weekend's phony referendum in the province.  For all the talk of illegality and standing in solidarity with the Ukraine, what it's amounted to is freezing the assets of a whole 32 people.  Taking the likes of Bill Hague at their word that more will follow if Russia continues to destabilise Ukraine or goes further and attempts to repeat the Crimean action in the east of the country, it still makes a mockery of how our leaders have puffed themselves up in ever greater flights of rhetorical fancy.  True enough, the media more than anyone else have tried to turn this into Cold War 2.0, but it doesn't excuse the nonsense we've heard or at times, the hypocrisy, even if the real hypocrites reside in Moscow.

It might be this is the best approach: Russia is isolated, China abstaining on the vote at the UN at the weekend, and the economy looks likely to continue to suffer.  The threat of far more stringent sanctions could well deter Putin from any repeat in the restive east, and the last thing we need at this point is an overreaction that would threaten the (slight) Eurozone recovery.  It does however stick in the craw: far from this being an example of what happens when we are weak, it's rather a perfect example of what happens when you abuse the sound in principle but unworkable in practice notion of responsibility to protect.  The west has spent the 2000s intervening wherever it feels like, most egregiously in Iraq, but has also had no qualms about violating national sovereignty across the entire globe under the pretext of rubbing out terrorists wherever they're to be found.  The US/UK actively encouraged Israel to decimate the south of Lebanon in 2006, and now have the temerity to complain when Russia stages an all but entirely bloodless annexation of a highly sympathetic area of a neighbouring state.  We also aren't averse to staging pointless referendums when it has come to both Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands: in the case of the 2002 plebiscite in the former, 98.48% rejected the notion of sharing sovereignty with Spain, an absurdly high percentage that obviously didn't come close to reflecting real opinion.

One suspects that in a genuinely free vote not held under such intimidation and where the status quo had been offered an an option, the result would have been far closer.  A poll last month suggested only 41% wanted union with Russia, but whether the number of respondents from Crimea was statistically significant enough to make that an accurate barometer of opinion is open to question.  When it comes down to it, we're right to impose sanctions, and right to denounce what is a flagrant breach of international law by an aggressor state made to look foolish by the people of a nation who want to take their own path.  Our politicians though would do well not to make promises they cannot keep, while they should also take a long look at themselves and think about whether the positions they have taken over the past few years have encouraged others to also see the treaties of the 20th century as there to be broken without consequences.  Our own interventionists however tend to see no such shades of grey.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates