Thursday, February 11, 2016 

Syria: where our "best intentions" go to die.

If it wasn't for what's happening in Syria being horrific, you'd have to laugh.  Syria is where the West's best intentions, for which read best intentions in terms of what's best for our allies in the short-term, have come to die.  Gradually, slowly but surely, every claim of our politicians and often our media also have been shattered.

First, we were told that President Assad was doomed.  He would fall imminently.  Five years on, and he's still there.  Let's for argument's sake assume that prior to the Russian intervention last September that he was finally beginning to wobble.  This was not due to those within Syria who have supported the government from the outset withdrawing their consent, and whom we chose to pretend didn't exist.  It was down to attrition: territory gradually being taken by the rebels and Islamic State, supply routes being cut off, the displacement of millions, manpower shortages in the military, all of which you would expect after four years of brutal, often sectarian war.

Second, the claim that the rebels other than Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front are "moderates" of the kind we can work with, that some are even secular liberals who genuinely want democracy.  Regardless of the beginnings of the uprising, as the revolution became civil war it turned viciously sectarian in very short order, unsurprisingly considering the support and funding that was soon provided by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Emirate statelets, with Iran following in to help the regime.  Even now, when it could not be more apparent that the remains of the Free Syrian Army are allied with jihadist groups, whether they be the Saudi-backed Islamic Front or the Army of Conquest, the latter of which includes the al-Qaida aligned al-Nusra, we still hear of how terrible it is these moderates are being targeted without mercy by the Russians.

Third, that the Russian intervention was failing or would fail, that it was helping Islamic State, that it wasn't achieving anything.  Suddenly, as soon it became clear from the shrieks of said moderate rebels that Aleppo was in danger of being encircled, starved, according to today's Guardian editorial being "exterminated", subject to a siege equivalent to that of Sarajevo, we've been getting articles either grudgingly respectful of Putin while still slandering him, or ones that remarkably have some relationship to what's been going on quietly for months.

The most obvious example being this fine summary by Jonathan Marcus for the BBC.  He only really errs in saying many of the so-called moderate rebels are being "forced" into alliances with groups close to al-Qaida, when the truth is they've been fighting with them for months and in some cases years.  The Russian goals in Syria have been simple, and make sense, agree with them or not: ensure Assad doesn't fall in the short-term, then build his forces up in the medium-term in order to support them in regaining the territory the government needs to survive long-term.  In the process Putin has shown that Russia is still a military power to be reckoned with, displayed his new weaponry in the field to buyers around the world, and prevented a regional ally from potentially falling.  Whether once these goals are achieved Russia will turn its attention fully to Islamic State or not, who knows.  It doesn't matter so much as IS is relatively contained, if not in danger of losing as some of the more wishful thinkers imagine.

Meanwhile, just what has our policy been in Syria all these years?  Has it made even the slightest sense?  Has it looked like achieving our supposed goal, which is the end of the Assad regime and some sort of inclusive governmental system to replace his one-party rule?  As Marcus says, essentially our policy for some time has been to ally with al-Qaida against both Assad and Islamic State, while pretending that in fact we're helping moderates.  Has it worked?  The Ba'ath certainly looked in danger of falling last year, but what would have replaced it?  Something better, little different, or in fact worse?  If your answer is anything other than one of the latter two, try again.

So here we are.  Rather than say encourage genuine peace talks when it looked as though the rebels were in the ascendant, we preferred to allow them to make excuses about why they couldn't attend.  We preferred to go along with the foreign policy objectives of our regional allies, the Saudis and the Turks, helping to fund and arm the rebels through their auspices, while knowing full well who their backing always goes to.  We carried on doing this even as hundreds of thousands of refugees fled and came to Europe, as we still apparently believed that our side could win, whatever winning would look like.  Even now, we talk about "stains" on "records", as though anything we've done in Syria has been about protecting civilians at any point.  The more deranged talk about moral bankruptcy, and would it seem quite happily push the world to the brink of war to prove our "moral commitments" and "humanitarian objectives".  Sorry, boys.  You've been outfought, outplayed and outmanoeuvred.  Time to admit it and cut our losses.

Except, of course, we won't.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 01, 2016 

A fundamental lack of imagination.

At the weekend, out-going chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick gave a blistering interview to the Graun.  All but told his services were no longer wanted after he proved to be one of the most critical of inspectors in what has often been a post filled by those of an independent bent, he made clear he was in fact glad to be leaving, fearing that he was at the point of becoming desensitised to the problems of the prison estate.  Levels of self-harm and suicide are at record levels in a system that Hardwick declares has deteriorated further in the 5 years since the coalition government promised a "rehabilitation revolution".  

The only bright spot is Chris Grayling, who Hardwick relates attempted to interfere with his annual report, has since been moved on from his role as justice secretary, replaced by Michael Gove.  Amazingly considering his record as education secretary, Gove is now without doubt the best minister of a very bad lot, if only because he has spent almost the entirety of his time cleaning up the mess left by Grayling.  In little more than six months Gove has lifted the ban on sending parcels to prisoners, scrapped the criminal courts charge, reversed further planned cuts to legal aid, and persuaded David Cameron to put an end to the proposed link up with the Saudi Arabian prison system.

As Hardwick outlines in his interview, there are manifold things wrong with the prison system, but one of the most obvious is that there are still far too many people in jail who either shouldn't be or who would be far better cared for elsewhere.  Policymakers, he says, have two major failings: "lack of imagination and failure of empathy".  This could be expanded from just policymakers to be a criticism of the justice system as a whole, afflicting not just politicians and those who put pressure on them, but also the police, prosecutors and judges.  It affects not just those being processed through the system, but victims too: witness how 20 years after her death the family of Cheryl James have only now managed to obtain a second inquest, thanks to the Human Rights Act the government wants to repeal.

The absurdity of the system as it stands is perhaps best illustrated by the lack of consistency in decisions made by prosecutors.  Approaching a year after they left, the four school girls from Bethnal Green academy who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State will still apparently be treated as victims should they return to the UK, despite it would seem having no intention whatsoever of doing so.  As I've pointed out on a number of occasions, it seems doubly perverse to prosecute the sad sacks who do return home after quickly discovering they are not cut out for life in a war zone, the Mashudr Choudarys, the Nawazses, and now most notably of all, Tareena Shakil, the 26-year-old who travelled to the capital of Islamic State's self-declared caliphate, Raqqa, only to make her escape less than 3 months later.

Shakil it's safe to say is also the most perplexing character of all the jihadis so far charged on their return.  She apparently loved shows like The Only Way is Essex, seems to not always worn the hijab, let alone the full veil that she would have been required to in Raqqa, and it's not disputed that her brief flirtation with the jihadi cause came after the breakdown of her marriage.  Whether she genuinely was radicalised online by contact with individuals who told her she would go to hell if she didn't live under Sharia law, as well as by other notorious online figures Aqsa Mahmood and Sally Anne Jones we can't know, but it seems more realistic a claim than in many similar instances where families have insisted their loved ones were preyed upon.

Also not in dispute is that whatever the reality of how she managed to make it out of Raqqa, bribing a tax driver and then slipping past Islamic State fighters on the border as she told the court after first telling police she had been kidnapped, she did so because she had become disillusioned with life in Syria.  The claim made by the police that she posed a threat to this country has not been substantiated in the slightest by the evidence heard in court, nor by her conviction for being a member of IS and sending messages inciting terrorism.  She genuinely was escaping, not attempting to return without being noticed with the aim of either proselytising for IS once back in the country, or worse, launching an attack.  Some of the case presented against her was downright laughable: a "senior security analyst" insisted that women in Raqqa were only allowed access to weapons if they were members of an IS police unit, as clearly Shakil couldn't of borrowed a gun for the pictures she posed for from one of the other 30 women she was living with.

This is not to overlook how utterly irresponsible it was of Shakil to take her young son with her, nor how shocking and perverse it was to allow him to be photographed by the side of an AK-47, or wearing a hat with IS insignia.  We can't know for certain how much of a choice she had in much of what she did once in Raqqa, especially when like most radical organisations IS is paranoid in the extreme about spies, where refusing to do what is asked of you can soon result in suspicion and potential execution.  Nonetheless, after admitting the truth of her decision to travel to Raqqa, she has also said she doesn't want sympathy.  Nor does she deserve any for that decision.

What she does deserve sympathy for is realising the terrible mistake she made.  While it doesn't seem to have been reported what has happened since to her child, one would presume he is either now with his father or in care.  Precisely what benefit the public receives from imprisoning her for six years, of which she will likely serve three, is not immediately obvious.  Is it meant to send a message of deterrence to others in a similar position, thinking of travelling to Syria, when we know full well that such thoughts are often furthest from their minds?  Is it meant to make clear you can't "join" a terrorist organisation and then come back as though nothing has happened, regardless of regrets?  

Would it not make far more sense to let individuals like Shakil tell their story, once it has been confirmed they pose no threat, when the only people those at risk of radicalisation are likely to listen to are those whom for whatever reason felt the same way they did?  Wouldn't it be a far better use of police time and court resources to ensure that those who do pose a threat, like Siddhartha Dhar, aka Abu Rumaysah, the man thought to be in the IS video directly addressing the UK are not able to skip bail?  Shouldn't we have learned at least a few lessons by now about the way Islamic State operates, and that while we must be suspicious about anyone attempting to return, the IS view in general is that to leave is to disassociate yourself, to go back to the land of unbelievers?

Indeed, the other message the sentence sends to others who've travelled to Syria is that there is no escape.  You can leave, try and repudiate what you've done, but you'll still likely go to prison for years.  Life after prison is hard enough for most offenders, let alone those branded for life as a terrorist, needing to report to the police for years afterwards as Shakil will.  Knowing that awaits, it's hardly surprising that few whether still believing in the cause or not have made the journey home.  As Hardwick identified, fundamentally it comes down to a lack of imagination.  Shakil could have been an asset in the fight against IS.  Now she'll rot in a cell.  Terrorism aside, her fate is the same as many others who could have been helped previously, who could still be helped, but won't be until our criminal justice policy is completely re-evaluated.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 

A question.

Is it victim blaming, or making excuses for terrorists to argue that Istanbul has now fully "reaped the whirlwind" of its at best years of turning a blind eye to the activities of Islamic State within its borders, and at worst active connivance with the group for unbelievably short-sighted political reasons?  Who could have known that IS wouldn't be satisfied with killing merely the opponents of President Erodgan and the AKP, and would eventually turn its sights to tourists?

Considering even Kyle W. Orton, for it was he, suggested in a piece back in December that "Turkey has laid the foundations for what would be called, if it happened to Westerners, “blowback”", perhaps not.  Of course, you could also make the case that it is Turkey's very belated and still not wholly convincing crackdown on Islamic State inside the country that has prompted today's slaughter and the previous bombing on the 6th of January, and I could also be less of an arsehole about it when the bodies of the German and Peruvian nationals are not yet cold.

Forgive me though, as I've become more than a little sick of late having to read the bloviating opinions of people determined to assign positions to their opponents that they do not hold, at the same time as refusing to accept so much as the merest possibility that foreign policy could have something of a role in the threat we face from terrorists, even if it does not for an instant excuse them or make them less responsible for their actions.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Monday, January 04, 2016 

Meet Kyle W. Orton, for he is the future.

How many 24-year-olds get to write a comment piece for the New York Times?  Answer: not many, not even around the dog days of Christmas time.  And how does a 24-year-old who aspires towards writing for the New York Times go about achieving that goal?  Answer: by saying the right things to the right people at the right time.

Meet Kyle W. Orton, for it is he.  Orton you might recall was one of two analysts getting big ups for telling us exactly whom those 70,000 moderates in Syria David Cameron mentioned were, despite err, the government itself saying it couldn't for reasons of national security.  Not many will make the leap from say, Left Foot Forward to the NYT, Orton's former main stomping ground away from his own blog.  At least, not unless you have the chutzpah to break out a really big lie, an untruth so humongous it dwarfs everything else you're ever likely to write.

Even better is if your lie overturns an established truth.  The vast majority of people think the Iraq war was a disaster.  They don't however agree on an over-arching reason as to why it was a disaster.  Some think it was a disaster because of the Iraqi loss of life.  Some think it was a disaster because there were no weapons of mass destruction found.  Some think it was a disaster because it has made subsequent interventions in the Middle East more difficult to sell to the public.  Some think it was a disaster because we invaded and *didn't* take the oil.  Some think it was a disaster because one of its unintended consequences was the creation of the predecessor groups to Islamic State.

What then if you make the case that, rather than the Iraq war in part being to blame for the desperate situation in the wider region, you instead turn history on its head and say no, we're not responsible, Iraq's leader was at the time and still is now?  Isn't that exactly what a whole class of politicos who always have great problems taking responsibility for their actions and those of their immediate predecessors want to hear?  Isn't that exactly the message a decent proportion of the public themselves want to hear, that rather than it being somewhat their fault, or their country's fault, it's in fact always been the dastardly workings of a leader long since dead, who was so evil that even in the grave his wicked scheming has come to fruition?

Yes, Orton's big lie is that Saddam Hussein put in place everything Islamic State needed to eventually gain power.  Hussein according to Orton created an Islamist state; his Faith Campaign led to a "Baathi-Salafism".  Sure, the occupation made mistakes, but the point remains: Islamic State was not created by removing the Ba'ath; Islamic State is the aftermath of the Ba'ath.

It's a lie so huge it temporarily blindsides you.  Forget the claims before the war that Saddam was in league with al-Qaida, that he had links to 9/11, and all the rest of it.  That was bullshit, but the truth, the real truth is he was using Salafism to maintain power.  It all makes sense.  It all makes perfect sense.  How did no one prior to Orton see this before?

Bit of a shame then that Salafism only bothers Orton when it comes to the Ba'ath's "Salafism", or the IS brand of Salafism.  Along with most of the other high profile Syria analysts and aligned commenters, Orton cried into his Christmas dinner over the killing of Zahran Alloush, leader of Jaysh al-Islam, most likely in an Russian airstrike.  This is the purest example of Russia's perfidy, went the wail.  Russia, allied with Assad, is killing the leaders of the groups needed to reach a deal with the Syrian government!  Couldn't it be clearer what they're up to?

That Alloush was a Salafist didn't matter.  That Alloush had repeatedly denounced the Shia, Alawites, had called for Damascus to be cleansed, repeatedly allied with the al-Nusra Front (indeed, was apparently killed at a meeting between various rebel groups, including al-Nusra), wanted an Islamic state, just not an Islamic State, was explainable as rhetorical exuberance or understandable in such an atmosphere of war.  After having met with American officials, Anne Barnard in the NYT explains, Alloush had "softened his tone".  Hassan Hassan (so good they named him twice) writes it would be a mistake "to equate [Alloush's group] with extremist organisations, especially since such statements by no means reflect the group’s intentions or actions."  Why, Alloush even reassured a Christian dissident of how the Alawites were victims of Assad.  The head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, went so far as say the killing of Alloush was part of the effort to reduce Syria to a false choice between Assad and IS.

Don't get confused.  Orton doesn't think Alloush was a moderate, or at least, "never said" that he was.  Get it in your head, there's huge differences between Jihadi-Salafism, Ba'athi-Salafism and just plain old Salafism.  Besides, Alloush was supremely anti-Islamic State, and that's the sort of thing that matters most.  His differences with IS were with mainly over turf rather than ideology, but that sort of thing is what we have to work with in Syria.  Don't allow it to be to a binary choice, as Roth said: it's not Assad, or IS.  It's far more complex.  It's Assad, IS, or rather Ba'athi-Salafist or just plain old Salafist.  Those Salafists may be moderates, they may not be moderates.  They're better than the alternatives, though, right?  How can you not trust a 24-year-old with the wherewithal to get in the NYT, to make discoveries the rest of us can only dream of?  Orton's going to go far, that's for sure.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 

Droning on about targeted assassination.

In all the excitement over the decision to bomb Islamic State in Syria, you'd be forgiven for it slipping your mind that we err, already had been.  Not only were British pilots embedded with the Americans without parliament needing to be informed, a British citizen no less was also judged to be such an immediate danger to us back here that he needed to be evaporated via drone.  Rather than let the Americans do it, as they did our good pal Mohammed Emwazi, on this occasion we did so ourselves.  Why?  The answer seems to remain along the lines of "because we could" and "fuck you, we'll bomb what we want".

For the decision behind the drone strike on Reyaad Khan (for it was he), Ruhul Amin, the other British jihadi killed in the strike, and an unknown Belgian, remains completely opaque, as evidenced by today's appearance by defence secretary Michael Fallon before the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry into the apparent change in policy.  Integral to the government's case that it is entirely legal to kill whoever it feels like so long as they are judged to pose a significant enough threat is Article 51 of the UN Charter.  This talks of "armed attacks", and how nothing in the rest of the charter should impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if one occurs.

If you find it dubious that the authors of the UN Charter were thinking of armed attacks by jihadists using improvised explosive devices, or quite possibly even knives when they wrote it, rather than say the actions of another state's military, then you're probably not on the attorney general's Christmas card list.  Individual terrorist attacks, the memorandum submitted to the JCHR by the government goes on (PDF), may rise to the level of an "armed attack" if they are of sufficient gravity, as the 9/11 attacks clearly were.  In any case, the "scale and effect's of ISIL's campaign" as a whole are judged to reach the level of an armed attack against the UK.  Islamic State, you'll note, has not directly attacked the UK, even if it has threatened to do so.  Force can also be used where an "armed attack" is "imminent".  It's not clear if imminent is the same thing as "highly likely", as in a terrorist attack is highly likely, as judged by the current and all but perpetual overall threat level, but we can take a wild guess and hazard that yes, it is.  Fallon for his part told the committee "I don’t think it’s possible to have a hard and fast rule about how you define imminent".

In other words, the government considers it lawful to kill Islamic State cadres full stop.  This seemingly applies outside of Iraq and Syria also, or at least that was the impression Fallon gave, as he said there was no overall policy on targeted killing at all.  Considering David Cameron had already hinted at the potential for future drone strikes in Libya this isn't surprising, and yet it would all but confirm the wholesale adoption of the US policy on drone strikes, with Fallon refusing to address questions about any substantial difference.  This would be the same US policy that has come in for heavy criticism of late, including from no less a figure than the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Quite why we would decide to emulate it at this point isn't clear.

If indeed we have, as it remains an open question of why Khan was targeted, as the memo certainly doesn't explain any further than the government did at the time.  Khan the memo argues could have launched an attack at any time, such was the danger he posed; it's extremely odd then that not a single one of the plots it is claimed he directed would it seemed have reached the point of being launched.  The memo interestingly notes that "some were foiled", presumably the ones newspapers splashed on, including the one the Sun itself claimed to have averted.  What then was the result of the others? Did they just fall apart?  Were they abandoned?  Did those recruited to carry them out get cold feet?  Or were these "plots" of the type like the one the Sun saved us from, of the inspiring and telling sympathisers how to make pressure cooker bombs variety?  As there still doesn't seem to have been a single person arrested for terrorism offences linked to Khan, it's worth asking the question.  The memo goes on to argue that there was no other way of stopping Khan as he had no intention of leaving Syria, and yet his plots seem to have petered out all by themselves.  Of course, there is no guarantee he would have continued to fail, but this rather undermines the claim he could have ordered an attack at any time.  Certainly, there has been no evidence presented to substantiate that, or that he had risen to that sort of position in IS.

It's almost as though the fact the newspapers were reporting on these apparent threats to events and people, however lacking in reality they were, was enough on its own for Khan to be put on the "kill list".  This might seem all but moot now that we're fully joined up members of the death to IS club, but how can it not be troubling when politicians take the decision to kill one of their own citizens on evidence they refuse to expand upon, beyond vague declarations of the righteousness of doing so?  Khan was not Emwazi; his guilt was not and is not obvious.  Fallon might have bristled about how the others killed along with Khan were not innocent civilians, which is true; did they deserve to die, however?  If the policy is expanded to countries like Libya as suggested, why should we have any confidence based on what we've been told about Khan that others won't be killed alongside the target?  At the very, very least there ought to be a genuinely independent investigation and review after the fact, as the JCHR suggested. 

The smart use of drones could be the least worst option when a real, genuine threat cannot be countered in any other way.  The government has not even begun to prove that is the policy it has decided on.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 

The brilliant PR and distraction techniques of a terrorism sponsoring kleptocracy.

Unless you're one of those members of the general public we talked about yesterday, you won't have missed the wonderful news at the weekend of how a tiny number of Saudi Arabian women were able to vote (and stand for election) for the first time.  They were voting for local councils that have essentially no power whatsoever, the country remaining an absolute monarchy, or better described, a vast kleptocracy, Saudi Arabia literally meaning the entire country belongs to the Sauds, but such things nonetheless remain important.  At least as long as you regard such gestures as retaining meaning; the film Suffragette thought it was notable enough to include in its ending sequence of the year women first gained the vote, so who am I to argue?  It's the principle of the thing, and if say some women who wanted to take part weren't able to as their guardian refused to drive them to the polling station, as suffrage or not, women remain chattel, that can be worried about later.

If nothing else, the Saudis have great PR, and you can bet every foreign desk in the world was informed weeks ago of the approach of this great democratic advancement.  Turnout overall might have been derisory, most of those eligble might have taken part in the boycott, and it might have made Iran's managed democracy and presidential elections where hundreds of candidates are blocked from standing look the very model of free and fair, and yet the headline, that women were able to vote, will be all that matters to the Sauds.

The exact same thinking is behind the launch of a Saudi-led anti-terrorism military coalition of Sunni Muslim states.  Just as much play was made of how the Saudis, Emirate nations and Jordan were taking part in the bombing of Islamic State, sorties that lasted at most a few months before those jets flew off to take part in the other proxy war in the region in Yemen, it's not whether there's any realistic chance of the coalition doing anything whatsoever, it's that it exists.

Some might for instance think it a striking coincidence that last week also saw the Saudis play host to the first ever foreign meeting aimed at bringing the various opposition factions in Syria together, excluding Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front, of course.  Invited was Ahrar al-Sham and other groups in the same Saudi backed alliance that includes the al-Nusra Front, but can you imagine al-Qaida signing up to a declaration that Syria after Assad will be a rainbow nation of every colour and creed, democracy a necessity?  Granted, Ahrar al-Sham did withdraw and only returned when it was explained that their goal of an Islamic state could be achieved via a democracy that would then never be called on again,  but let's not splits hairs, eh?

Also purely coincidental is how this week sees talks between the Houthis and Yemen's nominal president Hadi, talks not being attended by Iran, the Saudis or the Emiratis, the key backers of the respective sides.  The Saudis and their allies have been reducing what was already the Arab world's poorest nation to rubble in a war backed by both the UN and our good selves, without so much as a smidgen of the outrage or opprobrium that has rained down on President Assad.  Like with the backing given to the allies of al-Qaida in Syria, one of the side effects of the conflict has been the advance of al-Qaida in Yemen, aka al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, aka until the rise of Islamic State the jihadist group most feared in the West, and the one linked to the two French nationals who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Cynics might be drawn to the conclusion there is some sort of connection between the Saudis making clear just how against terrorism they are while groups they either enable or actively support march on.  As Hayder al-Khoei has tweeted, this joke doesn't need a punchline.  It's too bad we're the joke.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 14, 2015 

The vicious circle of twatitude.

Hey, you there.  You're a twat.  Yeah, you heard me.  Now, wait a second, I didn't mean you're a twat in the sense that you, singularly, are a twat.  Far from it.  What I meant was, we're all pretty much twats.  I'm a twat.  You're a twat.  The people gathering around us anticipating you smashing me in the face with your clenched fist are twats.  That twat there with the beard and man bun with the smartphone filming all this, he's really a twat.  And all the people that had some sort of role in the production of that phone, whether it be the designer, the programmers that coded the apps, the poor sods in China that put it together while getting poisoned in the process, the people that marketed it, they're all twats.  Most of all, the people that will then share the video of you twatting me, the journalists who will write clickbait articles on it, all the people on Twitter that will laugh about it, they especially are twats.  Life isn't a bowl of cherries.  It's a neverending parade of twats, twatting about, twatting each other and shoving their twats in our faces.  Do you get me?

It won't have escaped your attention that a good section of the commentariat appears to have declared the general public to be twats.  Of course, they aren't talking about the general public at all.  The actual general public are completely indifferent to what the commentariat thinks about anything.  A good percentage of the general public never watches the news, listens to the news when it comes on the radio, reads a newspaper, or so much as visits a news site unless a huge, earth-shattering story like man bites dog breaks.  The real general public, if they are on social media, use it to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances and talk about everything other than politics or the news.  The commentariat are really talking about the people who don't agree with them.

And now, especially following the Syria vote, MPs too have decided that the general public, i.e., anyone who contacts them, are for the most part twats.  They're a bit more discreet than most hacks, but former MP Tom Harris rather lets the cat out of the bag.  Think Hugh Abbott in the have you ever had to clean up your own mother's piss episode of The Thick of It, only without agreeing with him that the public are another fucking species as it's impossible not to like him.

Harris, bless him, thinks just as how the way someone treats a waiter tells you a lot about their character, the same should be the case with how MPs get treated.  Leave aside just for a moment how there are plenty of waiters out there who could do a darned sight better job than a good number of the MPs we currently have, and just focus on the thought process behind that.  Waiters, MPs, what's the difference, apart from the power they have, the wage they get, the people they serve, the clothes they wear, the having to deal with incontinent brats barely past shaving whining about how their steak isn't precisely medium rare?  I'm stumped.

Just for good measure, Harris brings up Jess Phillips MP telling Diane Abbott MP to "fuck off".  Harris and all the people cheering on Phillips don't like Abbott.  Abbott just happened on this occasion to be right, in telling Phillips to stop being so sanctimonious about women not getting top roles in the shadow cabinet when there were more women overall than ever before, but that doesn't matter.  Phillips is to put it mildly, another of those MPs who believes the world revolves around them and if their name isn't in the press on any particular day they have failed.  They adopt a faux of-the-people persona, write comment pieces about how hard it is being an MP while at the same time not suggesting for a moment that they want or deserve sympathy, and then carry on stirring the pot for all it's worth.  The media as a result love them, regardless of how idiotic, repetitive, narcissistic or publicity seeking their comments and reactions are.  Simon Danczuk and John Mann have made great careers out of being loudmouth blowhards jumping on every passing bandwagon, with only the former ever held anything approaching to account.  Phillips will apparently stab Jeremy Corbyn in the front if it comes to it, thinks the public wanted to hear from Corbo that terrorists with AKs and bombs strapped to them will be shot in the head 10 times on sight, just like that Brazilian jihadist was, and the party needs to stop going on about Trident.  Because you haven't been able to move for the Labour party obsessing over Trident of late, rather than about itself thanks to say twats like Phillips not knowing when to shut the fuck up.

Which brings us to the media as a whole.  They love twats even as they denounce them.  They couldn't exist without twats.  While the commentariat denounce petition writing twats and complain about free speech being eroded, the hack at the screen opposite them writes up the latest piece about whichever petition some idiot on Twitter has just started, and how many people a second are signing it.  The editor demands yet another piece on what Trump just said, and another to go with it on what it all means, and then a thinkpiece by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett or someone of that ilk on why Trump has a dodgy hairpiece and herpes.  Of the brain.  Look at what this twat is wearing!  Look at what this twat thinks!  Look at how this twat looks tired!

It doesn't seem to occur that you can only go on regarding everyone as a twat for so long.  This is being borne out by, you guessed it, Trump.  The media in America might be slanted to the right to a ridiculous extent, but Trump supporters still don't believe a word they write.  And why should they?  They think the media are twats, and the people behind the media think they're twats.  It's a vicious circle of twatitude.  The same is the case here.  We saw it in the Labour leadership election, where the "modernisers", the "moderates", whatever you want to call them, exasperated the grassroots to the very limit.  The result was Jeremy.  You see it with the SNP and their supporters, who are convinced the media is biased against them, which it is, and that it matters, which it apparently doesn't considering the election results.  Look at this opening line from a Wings Over Scotland post, and try not to see either projection, or an irony so overwhelming that it should by rights knock you off your feet:

A strange phenomenon we’ve remarked upon numerous times since the independence referendum is the inexplicable undying rage of a certain subset of Unionist voters.

We heard lots about how the internet was supposed to be this great democratic force, how it will transform everything, how nothing will ever be the same ever again, the end of history, and so on.  In fact what it seems to be doing is quite the opposite: we've never been exposed to so many different views, and yet at the same time we've never been so prepared to dismiss them when they don't fit with our prejudices.  Like the old Marx (Groucho) joke about those are my principles, and if you don't like them I have others, if we don't like the fare offered by the lamestream media, there are a whole host of new and improved alternative news sources that will tell it just like it is.  Their content might be unbelievably narrow in scope and subject, but when they think the same people are twats that you do, what does it matter?

Naturally, you can discount all of this as I'm a twat.  Indeed, I'm an even bigger twat than most, as I'm a twat pointing at twats being twats while being a twat myself.   If there's a coda to all this, beyond how we so often mistake those we disagree with as being twats or being the majority when the majority is never very interested in anything you're doing, it's that disagree on how serious what this group or this person or that petition writer is currently doing, there are some individuals who would rather we were less human, and they're not necessarily the Trumps of this world.  For example, see the conclusion of this otherwise fairly reasonable Laura Bates piece:

The feminist endgame is not to publicly punish everybody who makes a rape joke, or ban every advert that uses rape as a titillating way to sell products. It is to create a society in which it would never occur to anybody to do either in the first place.

That's a world I for one would not want to live in.  A society where we cannot make jokes about anything, to anyone, where the very human spirit of finding humour in the bleakest aspects of our nature is denied, even if that means Dapper Laughs or Jimmy Carr still existing?  Count me out.  I'll take my chances with all my fellow twats.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, December 10, 2015 

Can you imagine if they had stopped a war?

Here's a challenge to someone of a cultured literary bent: write an alternate history short story/novella based around the premise that rather than fail, the February 15th 2003 Stop the War march led to the resignation of Tony Blair.  Ian McEwan set his novel Saturday on the day of the march, after all; why not a "what if" considering the ramifications had the march succeeded?

The incredible thing is that in the minds of some, that march did succeed.  How else to explain the vitriol, the gnashing of teeth, the sheer fury the Stop the War Coalition continues to inspire among those who demand it be condemned whenever it rears its head?  How can an organisation that is otherwise such a laughing stock, ran by far leftists who have never won a thing in their lives be regarded as such a malign force?  How can an group that has not stopped a single war it has campaigned against inspire otherwise well-grounded individuals, who insist they respect those with anti-war opinions, to repeatedly come out with the most childish taunts and absurd criticisms?

Believe it or not, today's Independent regards the latest machinations surrounding the StWC and Jeremy Corbyn as being the top issue facing the country.  Labour MPs and the likes of James Bloodworth are demanding that Corbyn, whom is attending the StWC's Friday dinner to effectively hand over the chairmanship that he resigned from after becoming Labour leader, to not go.  Corbyn in response has said that "The anti-war movement has been a vital democratic campaign which organised the biggest demonstrations in British history and has repeatedly called it right over 14 years of disastrous wars in the wider Middle East."

Well yes, but what exactly do opponents of those wars have to show for it other than being able to signal their righteousness?  Almost nothing.  At best, they can point to how, finally, the debate on Syria last week was somewhat better informed than previous ones and did consider if we could be making the same mistakes again.

Otherwise, what is there?  As has been made clear, to be against war is one thing; to campaign against it, whether that involves lobbying your MP or protesting outside an MP's constituency office is to risk being tarred as a bully or far worse.  In this world, a vigil organised in part by a local vicar becomes a mob, with the Labour deputy leader going so far as to say that if Labour members were among the crowd they should be expelled from the party.  Words taken completely out of context from blog posts that were hosted on the Stop the War site before being swiftly deleted and disowned are repeated over and over.  Yes, it does sound awful on the surface that StWC apparently said "Paris reaped the whirlwind", or that "IS fighters are the equivalent of the International Brigades", only they didn't, and the author of the latter has apologised profusely for any misunderstanding.

It is nonetheless impossible to pretend that the StWC are the ideal organisation or vehicle for mainstream anti-war sentiment.  They are not, and have always been tied up with the familiar baggage Trotskyist groups carry, some of whom do still believe in being anti-imperialist only when it's Western countries invading and bombing other nations.  They are however the only one we have, and there is no reason to believe if there was a new anti-war group created that was entirely separate from the manoeuvrings of the rump far left it would be regarded any more kindly when its goals would be the same.

This is because the majority doing the finger jabbing now are the exact same people who were condemning their comrades on the left back in 2003.  The standard flavour of discourse both now and then can be gleaned from a Nick Cohen piece for the Telegraph back in January of that year, when he complained of how the anti-war movement ignored Iraqi democrats.  12 years later, and what's being used as one of the principal weapons to bash the StWC, including by Peter Tatchell, who ought to know better?  That they won't so much as let Syrians speak.  The precise details, that these Syrians are in fact a UK group specifically calling for a "limited" intervention in their country, not against Islamic State but against Assad, something that would entail a direct confrontation with the Russians, are naturally left out.

When that gets a bit stale, it's back to the what-abouttery the Eustonites claim to be so against.  Why aren't they protesting outside the Russian embassy?  Why? Why aren't they condemning this, or this, or that?  Why aren't they doing what an anti-war group of my fantasy would, which is admit it's wrong about everything and commit ritual suicide on the graves of the victims they both blame and ignore?  There is simply no satisfying them, however much they claim to be reasonable: Bloodworth in his article writes "even on those rare occasions where the government appears to be acting militarily for the greater good, there is usually some base motive buried under it all," as though he has opposed any of the wars when in his words the government wasn't acting for the greater good.  The StWC could protest outside the embassies of every government involved in the proxy war in Syria, and still it wouldn't gain them any grudging respect.  Nor would it have any impact whatsoever; what is the point of gathering outside the Russian embassy when our government, about the only one that could possibly be influenced by such protests has so little sway over them?

What it all eventually comes back to is the touching faith the pro-war left continues to have, for reasons unknown, in politicians and military commanders who often hold views diametrically opposed to theirs.  The Iraq war was never about those Iraqi democrats, whom the likes of Cohen dropped just as quickly as the Americans did.  Syria has never been about protecting civilians, not in 2013 and certainly not now, otherwise we would have been serious about trying to reach a settlement in the early years of the conflict.  Hillary Benn can talk about fighting fascists, when to George Osborne far more important is that "we've got our mojo back".  Reducing bombing to being about national prestige, slandering opponents as terrorist sympathisers, both seem a lot more disreputable, repugnant and abhorrent than going to a fundraiser for an organisation that whatever its faults, has always exercised its democratic rights legitimately and lawfully.  In the end, there's a choice we all have to make.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 07, 2015 

The definition of terrorism is in the Mire.

Often after terrorist attacks you'll get the odd tiresome and incredibly wearying piece about how you're more likely to die eating a cheese salad than you are getting sprayed with bullets or having your neck sawed by some mouth-breathing goggle-eyed halfwit with an exceptionally ill grasp of their cause.  This is probably true, unless you're unfortunate enough to live in one of those places we've bombed better, it just rather misunderstands the whole risks you personally take and accept on a daily basis versus the fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Abu Beavis decides to do jihad rationality scale.  If it's impossible to convince people of the inadequacies and injustices of the draconian approach to controlled substances when statistically it is more dangerous to go horse-riding than it is to take MDMA, then the same argument adjusted to terrorism is hardly going to work when it comes to the chances of getting caught up in a bombing.

In truth, there is a similar sort of grim calculus at work in America on a daily basis.  For just about enough people the 2nd amendment right to bear assault rifles, use incendiary ammunition and own your very own rocket launcher* is more important than the right not to be shot dead at your place of work or education by the latest person to decide they're mad as hell and not going to take it any more.  Every so often there is a massacre so exceptional, like that at Sandy Hook, that it seems, even if just for a moment as though something might finally be done, only for momentum to very quickly dissipate.

It does then get all the more difficult to quickly work out whether the latest incidence of mass bloodshed is a "simple" case of loser going down in a blaze of infamy, or rather An Attack on Us All by Islamic Fascists.  Indeed, Dylann Roof's racially motivated mass killing wasn't deemed terrorist, nor was the attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic a week and a half ago, even if in the case of the former it was very much politically motivated, with more than reasonable suspicions about the same with the latter.  Mass shootings in America have become an epidemic: depending on whether your prefer the collating method of the GunsAreCool group on Reddit, which counts incidents where four or more people are shot regardless of the circumstances and for this year comes to the figure of 353 so far, or the one used by Mother Jones, which has far tighter criteria and counts "only" 4, both make clear that mass shootings are occurring more often.

On quite a few levels the mass shooting in San Bernardinho by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik still doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of being an outright terrorist attack by Islamic State sympathisers as opposed to a curious mixture of terrorist act and more familiar "going postal".  The killers don't seem to have given any explanation themselves as to their actions during the attack, while they destroyed or smashed up all their electronic equipment prior to carrying it out.  The terrorists and spree killers of our modern media age usually want their reasoning, however twisted or self-serving to be broadcast and disseminated as widely as possible, for us to feel their rage, their anger, their anguish, to be scared that we could be next.

It could be that as Farook and Malik left behind pipe bombs and other explosives at their home the plan was to go on and commit further attacks, possibly even returning to the house to replenish their arsenal.  Alternatively, it could be that the argument Farook has been said to have had at his workplace, the Inland Regional Center social services agency, earlier in the day made him decide at the last minute to change targets.  Malik it is claimed may have pledged allegiance or made some sort of dedication to IS just before the attack took place, but regardless of that the very involvement of a woman in a mass shooting is rare in itself, let alone for a husband and wife to apparently act as a team.

That Farook was an Illinois born US citizen and Malik a Pakistani who spent a large period of her life living in Saudi Arabia hasn't of course stopped the Republican presidential candidates stepping up their demands for not so much a single Syrian refugee to be allowed in lest they be a terrorist.  Your average American is far more likely to be caught up in a mass shooting/spree killing carried out by a white male with a legally bought weapon, an action almost indistinguishable in method and results from an attack deemed to be "terrorist" carried out by two brown people, and yet the clamour, fearmongering and the demands that something be done, not about the easy availability of firearms and ammunition designed for warfare, but instead about Islamic State abroad is the overriding discourse of the day.  Just, you might add, as it was always going to be and always seemingly will be.

Which brings us to Leytonstone underground station last Saturday night.  According to the Metropolitan police the stabbing there was a "terrorist incident".  The decision to distinguish it as such was apparently "as a result of information received at the time from people who were at the scene and subsequent investigations".  These subsequent investigations must have moved extremely quickly, as the police were describing it as a "terrorist incident" within a couple of hours.  A former counter-terrorism officer quoted by the Graun agreed with the Met's description of the incident, as "he espoused a political motive and he caused someone harm and threatened violence".

Terrorism is undoubtedly something different to each person, although I especially like the War Nerd's designation that a terrorist group is any armed faction that doesn't have an air force.  Some, like myself, will argue that the murder of Lee Rigby was not a terrorist attack, while others will vehemently disagree.  I would like to think though that most people would not declare on the basis of someone shouting "this is for Syria, my Muslim brothers" they are a terrorist by that very fact.  Anyone can "espouse a political motive" while doing any stupid fool thing; it doesn't mean they so much as believe themselves, let alone that the police or the public should take them at their word.  The Telegraph is reporting tonight that the family of Muhaydin Mire, the man charged with attempted murder over the incident, had contacted the Met with concerns over his mental health 3 weeks ago.  Whether or not it turns out that Mire was suffering from delusions when he stabbed and then we're told sawed at the neck of his victim, to treat one man with a knife as a terrorist based on his ravings is to give in to and elevate his act from the merely criminal into something that it neither deserves to be nor should be treated as such.

If the incident carries on being treated as "terrorist" however, where does that leave us?  Predictably enough, anyone on social media who cited a link between last week's Commons vote on Syria and the words of Mire was quickly called out.  Apart from Mire saying "my Muslim brothers", a line that wasn't included in most accounts until the hearing today, there was nothing to suggest any sort of sympathy for Islamic State or that he was linking his actions to Islam at all.  No one has claimed he shouted "Allahu Akbar", the most common cry of Islamic militants when they are carrying out an attack.  The house magazine of IS, Dabiq, in its latest issue encouraged lone attackers to "pledge allegiance, record a statement and carry a banner", none of which it seems Mire did, unless more is still to come out.

Who though are we to second guess the police?  If they say an incident is a terrorist one, then surely it follows that we should look at what transpired and react accordingly.  "This is for Syria," the assailant said, and what conclusion are to we draw other than he was influenced by what went on earlier in the week, influenced it would seem to the point where he decided to act?

For if his was actions were those of a terrorist, then where else do we need to look for explanation than to the obvious?  We don't need to consider whether he has mental health problems, just as we didn't in the case of Michael Adebowale.  We don't need to wonder if it might occur to an especially narcissistic criminal in the future to ascribe political motives to their crime for the extra attention it would bring despite their apparent absence, as if something looks to be politically inspired despite other evidence suggesting otherwise, that's enough.  We don't need to worry if there is something other than extreme silliness, or narcissism, again, behind social media solidarity of the #YouAintNoMuslimBruv variety, the need to make clear just how united and together we are and project our goodness to our friends, as how else should a city respond to a "terrorist incident"?  Why should we do anything other than, while blaming the perpetrator wholly for their own actions, not look at who or what inspired him to act, whether it be Islamist extremists, or politicians taking decisions of life and death?  That, surely, is the logical end point of describing his actions as "terrorist", isn't it?  Or is it just another label increasingly denuded of meaning?

*RPGs probably don't fall under the 2nd amendment.  Probably.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, December 03, 2015 

War erections at diamond cutting turgidity.

"I can't see a fucking thing with these goggles on" 
"No, me neither. Good thing we don't need to in this game"
Britain has always been at war in Syria

Mushroom clouds at lunchtime

By blowing up a few oil-well heads

In other news:
Government u-turns on practically everything ever

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 

"I don't even know your name." "Oh, it's evil death cult, but you can call me Daesh."

Call me old-fashioned, but just like it's not the best idea in the world to sleep with someone when you don't so much as know their name, I would advise that at the very least we ought to decide on what to call an "evil death cult" before we start bombing its capital.  For in one of the most inane and specious decisions in politics of recent times, David Cameron and the government have decided to start calling Islamic State Daesh.

Except no one knows exactly how you pronounce Daesh.  In the Commons today various people have gone for Die Ash, or Die Esh, while for others it's Dash.  US secretary of state John Kerry prefers Dayshh, all one syllable.  When MPs that can barely speak English start trying to get their tongues round Arabic, it ought to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we might be in over our heads.  That it's phenomenally stupid to use Daesh at all, with those arguing for its use claiming it has fewer negative connotations than Islamic State, despite how, err, Daesh is merely the Arabic acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa’al Sham, which translated means the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, doesn't seem to matter.  Whatever you call them other than an evil death cult adds up to the same thing, regardless of whether Islamic State likes Daesh or not.  Once again I extend my offer to Cameron, or anyone else for that matter, to go and meet al-Baghdadi and tell him to his face that his organisation is neither Islamic or a state.  His response would be interesting.

Perhaps this ridiculous overprotection of someone somewhere offended by how their faith is being impugned by a terrorist group, the sort most Tories would ordinarily denounce, has a link with the similarly fragile disposition of some Labour MPs.  Precious flowers that they are, they've been complaining of bullying and threats by anonymous people should they vote with the government.  Threats it nonetheless ought to be obvious are unacceptable, and utterly counter-productive.  So too are suggestions that the way MPs vote on Syria will lead to the deselection process being activated.  If there is any truth whatsoever to Stella Creasy for instance being targeted in such a way, it only proves how brain dead and foolish a few within Labour are.  The party desperately needs such dedicated campaigners, whether members agree entirely with their politics or not.

Some of the supposed "bullying" though is little more than robust debate and lobbying, of a kind that MPs are not used to and which social media has enabled.  Many MPs today have stated how this is the most serious decision they will be asked to make.  Such serious decisions lead understandably to passionate, angry and unfiltered discourse, especially when the medium being used is not moderated.  It's also in part down to the weariness, the feeling of having been here before.  Add how it's being pushed by a Conservative government whose leader last night all but called anyone who disagrees with him a "terrorist sympathiser", as he must have known his words would be interpreted, and it's not surprising feelings have been running high.

Similarly, until the intervention tonight of Ed Miliband and then Corbyn himself, unequivocally condemning for a second time any bullying there has been, most of those at the forefront of complaining have been those opposed to Corbyn from the get go.  For John Mann of all people to decry bullying is of itself a laugh, when he's had no problem making claims about child abuse at Westminster without providing the slightest of evidence.  It's difficult also to feel much in the way of sympathy for MPs who might now be getting dogs' abuse when the disloyalty has been so total in recent weeks, from the constant briefing of the media to the outright siding with Cameron of a couple of weeks ago.  Pat McFadden even had the chutzpah to once again bring up the making excuses for terrorists nonsense, while John Woodcock whined of how he would do everything to prevent Labour from becoming "the vanguard of an angry, intolerant pacifism", the party needing to do better to "be a credible official opposition".  If being a "credible official opposition" translates to agreeing with military action despite the very basics of a viable plan not being on offer, then angry, intolerant pacifism is most certainly preferable.

The Commons has never wanted for exceptionally gifted speakers who can convince with the sheer power of their rhetoric.  Hilary Benn a matter of minutes ago made a speech to rival that of Robin Cook's back in 2003, such was its eloquence, only his was for British involvement in a Middle Eastern country rather than against it.  If the decision was simply about providing air cover for the Kurds, whether in Iraq or Syria, and other countries were not already doing so or drawing back from it, then I too would be convinced of the need to act.  It will not do to pretend that air power has not "worked" in so far as it has helped the Kurds to defend themselves and then fight back against Islamic State.  At the same time we must look at what that means once the dust has cleared: Sinjar was taken back by all but destroying it.  The same will almost certainly happen in time to Raqqa.  Similarly, before Islamic State is "degraded" the threat will increase.  It will increase whether we involve ourselves directly in Syria or not, but doing so will specifically make us even more of a target than we are currently.  One of the slim consolations about the debate today has been the awareness of how our action will alter that threat, something previously not acknowledged anywhere near enough.

What I find sad is that with the exception of Benn and a few others on both sides of the argument who made their case with clarity and without giving into clichés, those few Tory rebels against their leader spoke more for me than many of the representatives of a party I am now a member of, albeit of the registered supporter variety.  John Baron, Julian Lewis and Andrew Tyrie all set out how internationalism and solidarity, as important as they are, are not enough of a justification when a broad strategy and plan is sorely lacking.  As Tyrie said, "Once we have deployed military forces in Syria, we will be militarily, politically and morally deeply engaged in that country, and probably for many years to come".  It is not about doing nothing, as some have claimed, as we have long been doing something in Syria.

Now that the government has won with a large majority, with some Labour MPs clearly influenced by Benn's oratory, I genuinely hope those MPs do not come to regret their decision. Nor that in 15 years' time we will be awaiting the results of a further war inquiry.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, December 01, 2015 

About those 70,000 moderates.

Back in February of 2013, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in the London Review of Books wrote what is still the best article on understanding the armed Syrian opposition, or what we now know as the "moderate" opposition.  Basically, if you had a few men, a couple of weapons, and crucially, a laptop and a video camera, you could form your very own battalion by little more than posting a video on YouTube.  Funding would come from the diaspora or Gulf financiers, especially if the latter were impressed by the name of the group, something involving lions, tawhid, conquest or even better, referencing a heroic figure from Islam's past, and you would go from there.

At some point all these battalions and factions were meant to come under unified command, or join the Free Syrian Army.  It never happened, for a whole host of reasons.  Fighters started drifting off to the groups that were better funded, or were more hardline in their ideology, and the "moderates", such as they always were, pretty much stayed where they had started off.

This is one of the underlying reasons why it's so difficult to believe there really are the 70,000 moderates on the ground we've been hearing so much, or in actuality, so little about.  It doesn't make any sense to us how at this point into the civil war there could still be so many factions that are on their own rather than part of a wider, cohesive whole.  Abdul-Ahad asked the question of a Syrian journalist and activist, who told him it's because they are Syrians, and relates a joke about a former Syrian president handing over power to Nasser, only to tell him he now has a country of 4 million presidents.

According to James Bloodworth, in another of those wonderful examples of projection that the pro-war left are so prone to, "nuance is alien to the anti-war politics that prevails on the British left under the leadership of Corbyn".  In the spirit of regarding nuance as completely alien, let us consider the arguments of those who do believe there are 70,000 moderates whom we could potentially work with in Syria.

Pretty much leading the field is Charles Lister, an analyst with the Brookings Institute in Doha.  Author of a recently released book on the jihad in Syria, his piece for the Spectator provides the kind of detail that David Cameron should and still could give to MPs.  He accepts that we all have different definitions of what "moderate" means in practice, and explains that while some of the groups he lists are part of the "vetted" opposition that have been provided by the US with heavy weaponry like TOW missiles, others are recognised as "mainstream" by Syrians themselves and might be "moderately" Islamic.

Altogether, with a few even smaller factions also included, these 105-110 factions have a strength of around 75,000 men.  These groups, Lister goes on, "seek to return to Syria’s historical status as a harmonious multi-sectarian nation in which all ethnicities, sects and genders enjoy an equal status before the law and state".  If you're sceptical, first about whether these figures are up to date, whether the leaders of the factions are telling the truth about the number of men under their control, and lastly and to my mind most pertinently, whether they truly do represent those values Lister ascribes to them, there's very little extra offered to persuade you.

Indeed, it's somewhat telling that Lister then quickly goes on to talk about Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, both of which he describes as "avowedly conservative Islamist movements", or as you and I would probably call them, jihadists of a slightly less vehement bent than Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front.  Lister implies that if they were included "in a formal political process, they will become one of many factions involved".  Alternatively, if they're excluded "they could become immensely powerful spoilers".  In other words, they might well ally themselves with al-Nusra fully if we don't let these people who are assuredly not moderates in with the people who are, despite how they're allied with al-Nusra currently anyway.  Finally, Lister argues that if only we had intervened definitively earlier, then we would have had a wider field of moderates to work with.  This assumes a whole plethora of things, not least that our intervening against Assad would have resulted in a victory for said moderates, rather than for the jihadists that were around then, or would have got involved sensing their opportunity with the fall of Assad.

Very much second to Lister is Kyle Orton, of the very much secondary Henry Jackson Society.  Orton has been sounding off on Left Foot Forward for some time with the permission of the aforementioned James Bloodworth, essentially making the argument that the only way to solve the Syrian civil war is to fund/arm the Sunni Arab groups, be they moderate or Islamist, just as long as they're not al-Qaida.  Orton in his piece for Now goes into a lot more detail than Lister, detail which makes clear just how complicated and fragmented the opposition is, and also how embedded it is with the non-moderate groups.  He relies extensively on a report from the Institute for the Study of War, which claimed to be able to identify groups that were "separable" from their current alliances which include the likes of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

While Lister is credible, Orton is very much not, as can quickly be ascertained by a look at his tweets.  One gem is "#Iran has been for 36 years the preeminent global terrorist threat to the West. IS shouldn't distract from that.", while another is "In #Iraq, all the worst failures came from a *lack* of intervention: not finishing Saddam in 1991, backing down in 1998, pulling out in 2011".  Yes, by far the worst failure in Iraq was pulling out, rather than de-Ba'athification, disbanding the Iraqi army, walloping Fallujah the first time round, or hell, intervening on the basis of claims that turned out to be mistaken in 2003.

Lister for his part has tweeted saying "Uninformed armchair (YouTube/Twitter) black/white analysis of #Syria’s armed opposition continues to dominate UK debate. Very unfortunate."  Surely much of the responsibility for the uninformed debate must be put on the prime minister for coming up with the 70,000 figure and then not providing a breakdown or explanation as Lister has.  Few are prepared to give the intelligence agencies the benefit of the doubt when their record is so poor.

Even if we accept completely that what Lister and Orton are saying is accurate, it doesn't alter the fundamentals.  Why would these moderates leave the areas they control and travel half away across Syria to fight Islamic State, assuming the Vienna talks lead to a ceasefire between them and the Assad government? Doing so would leave their territory wide open to infiltration by the groups that are unlikely to agree to a ceasefire, a tactic much used by Islamic State itself, picking off weak resistance.  Why would the non-moderates, opposed to IS as they might be, abandon their alliance with al-Nusra when the talks will offer only ceasefires rather than the removal of Assad and when their goal is an Islamic state?  Again, even if we accept that the moderates want a fully representative state and government, the chances of that being the end result are next to none as trust has completely broken down between all the various sects, tribes and religious groups.

Cameron if anything erred by going down the route of trying to meet the stipulations laid down at the Labour conference.  They clearly haven't been met, but those always inclined to vote to bomb Islamic State for the reason that it's far too much bother to keep our nose out will have supported him anyway.  Considering he's dropped the pretence of acting the statesman and is bandying about once again the "terrorist sympathisers" line, we might as well drop it also.  The case for war is utterly bogus, the 70,000 and those defending the figure a preposterous sideshow.  MPs tomorrow on all sides should oppose and defeat the government's war motion.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, November 30, 2015 

Let them have their war. This time they must answer for it.

If you thought Labour's machinations over Syria couldn't get any more absurd, then spare a thought for Syria Solidarity UK.  Despite the name, the group seems to exist solely for the purposes of trolling the Stop the War coalition.  In response to Saturday's various marches and actions by the StWC, SSUK put out a statement making clear its opposition both to their protests and the proposed government action, as the only legitimate option in their eyes and also by extension the ordinary Syrians they clearly represent would be "limited military action" to create no bombing zones.  They say the only way to oppose imperialism in Syria would be to protest outside the Russian embassy, and emphasise how Assad's forces are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.

As with all the dullards on Saturday who tweeted pictures of the Russian embassy demanding to know why there weren't any protesters outside, the obvious response is if you're so pissed off about it, why don't all you pro-war anti-Assad anti-IS people band together, get organised and rally there yourselves?  Indeed, one would think the point of a group like SSUK would be to do just that, only they seem more concerned with pointing out just how wrong the StWC is than taking action.  Then again, when you look at the full drill down of which groups are meant to have killed civilians in Syria and see that according to the SSUK source the Kurds have killed more civilians overall than the al-Nusra Front has, a claim so bonkers that you can but marvel at the chutzpah of those pushing such nonsense, taking anything they say seriously would be a mistake.

Sadly, we must return to Labour and the still divided shadow cabinet.  Supposedly over the weekend calm minds and rational thinking were meant to prevail, and a common policy would be duly thrashed out.  And it's true, a shared approach has been decided upon: the party has agreed to disagree.

So much in the way of bullshit has been spouted over the last week and continues to be now that trying to separate the reality from the bluster is all but impossible.  Either way, it seems the decision to ask the membership what they thought in a mass email on Friday night was not discussed at the shadow cabinet meeting, and if there's one thing that's completely unacceptable in this day and age, it's asking a party's membership what it thinks about anything other than the leadership.  We all know why: members of political parties are complete weirdos, in that they probably watch the news and have an interest in politics, whereas the vast majority of the public do not.  Members of political parties tend to get hung up on things like gay marriage, Europe or wars, topics that could not be more alien to Mr and Mrs Average, who are completely average in every way.  Mr and Mrs Average are aspirational, dislike hateful people unless they hate the people they hate, and usually can be relied upon to support war, as long as it's over by Christmas.  If anyone should be asked what they think, it should be them, not the people who pay their monthly dues and help to keep parties afloat.

This went down badly with some of those shadow cabinet ministers who we're told believe David Cameron's case for war to be compelling.  With the exception of John Woodcock, whose justification pretty much runs to the French president has asked us to join in with the bombing and so we must despite all of these reasons for caution, few Labour MPs who are minded to vote with Cameron have explained just what it is they've found so compelling.  Far more have spoken of how they aren't convinced, including opponents of Corbyn.  Chris Bryant, who trained to be a vicar and decided to join the only other organisation more split than the CoE went through all manner of moral contortions on the Daily Politics, asking himself if he would have failed in his duty if there were an ISIS attack that killed one of his constituents at home or abroad and he had voted against Cameron's plan.  Surely such considerations also have to be turned on their head: what if he voted for the plan and there was an attack regardless?  Would it be any more or less of a comfort then?  Would he consider if his vote had made that constituent less safe, or would that be as some Labour MPs have argued to take away responsibility from those wholly responsible?

Corbyn we're equally told was determined not to allow a free vote, a position ascribed as much to Seumas Milne as Jez, the former Graun comment editor fast becoming as much of a bogeyman figure to the right of the party as Alastair Campbell did to the right-wing press and Peter Mandelson was to the left.  That the end result then was not merely a decision to grant a free vote, but also the party failed to agree on a position other than the one decided upon at conference, which was pretty much designed to make it impossible for the party to support military action only for Paris to happen does then strike as strange.  Does this show Corbyn is far weaker than he seems, that he doesn't after all say one thing in public and do another in private?  Could he not chance the possibility that if multiple shadow ministers resigned the much rumoured and talked about coup would be set in motion?  Did him simply, gasp, compromise despite everything, and let it lie on the likes of Hilary Benn that the party doesn't have any sort of policy at all?  Is this merely Corbyn deciding to let this one go, knowing that the hordes of Momentum will set off after those who vote with Cameron?

Rafael Behr, another of those journalists who post-Miliband seems to have gone off the deep end, reckons the party will despite everything carry on muddling through.  To him the "cold war" will go on rather than become open battle.  This ignores that by any yardstick, the number of Labour MPs who stood up during Cameron's statement on the Paris attacks two weeks ago and essentially agreed with the prime minister that their leader is a terrorist loving coward was about as open a declaration of war as it gets.  No leader can stay in place long when there is such a breakdown of discipline, when mutiny is in effect only a heartbeat away.  Corbyn can perhaps spin his failure to impose his will on the shadow cabinet as being part of his "new politics", but we all know full well that he instinctively wanted the party to oppose the widening of our role against Islamic State.  It's all the more galling that his instincts are the right ones, and that none of those opposing his stand have come near to explaining which part of his letter to MPs outlining his reasoning is incorrect.  The 5 tests of Dan Jarvis have been forgotten about exceedingly quickly.

Nevertheless, in the end Corbyn's decision to back down was the right one.  It is and does look awful that Labour doesn't have a policy, that it seems as though Corbyn and his shadow foreign secretary will stand at the dispatch box and disagree with each other, but it wasn't worth risking the alternatives, whether it was widespread resignations or worse.  The proposed action is so weak, so minor, that if they're this set on getting their war on, then let them.

If this latest war goes wrong though, as it's almost guaranteed to as there are no ground forces to take Raqqa other than the ones opposed by its very people, then this time those responsible have to be held accountable.  Yes, the principal blame should be put on a government that has a majority, a fact that the media seems to want to forget in its rush to, amazingly, pin responsibility on a hopeless opposition, but those who do vote with Cameron should have to justify themselves also.  When the action and case are so weak, when the facts are once again being fixed around the policy, when the recent past points towards the potential for making things worse, not better, if we don't at this point demand that those who so willingly vote for involvement in foreign conflicts answer for themselves, in the words of Cameron back in 2013 and again last week, then when?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates