Bombs explode in Syria. Effect on the terrorists: None.
Sorry, but This Writer is not wedded to the idea that carpet-bombing – or even precision-bombing – bits of Syrian desert in the hope that it might contain terrorists will make the United Kingdom any safer from attack.
For one thing, our armed forces have been following this strategy in Iraq for a year and have achieved no tangible result and, for another, bombing the desert will do nothing to prevent terrorist attacks on UK soil that are carried out in the name of Daesh (IS if you prefer).
David Cameron says “our pilots can strike the most difficult targets at rapid pace and with extraordinary precision”, and that’s great for them – but in that case, why are they still flying raids over Iraq after a year? In that context, one wonders why he mentions it.
His naming of technology like “the Brimstone precision missile system”, “RAPTOR” which he claims “has no rival”, and “Reaper drones” is reminiscent of a comedy routine by the late, great Bill Hicks – also in reference to the Middle East.
He said: “Those guys were in hog heaven out there, man. They had a big weapons catalogue opened up.
“‘What’s G12 do, Tommy?’
“‘Says here it destroys everything but the fillings in their teeth. Helps us pay for the war effort.’
“‘Well… pull that one up.’
“‘Pull up G12, please.’
“‘Great! What’s G13 do?'”
You take the point? Even the names of these things are sinister. “Brimstone” is another word for sulphur, associated with Hell and all things demonic. A “raptor” is a bird of prey. The “Grim Reaper” is, of course, death personified.
Those names remind This Writer of the “death’s head” emblems on German army uniforms in World War II, and the Mitchell and Webb sketch in which two German officers discuss them: “Do you think perhaps we are the bad guys?”
It’s a sobering thought, but if we take military action in Syria at this time, we may be creating a situation in which there are no good guys.
There are alternatives to military action – which of course may be run concurrently with attacks on the terrorists’ heartland. Jeremy Corbyn asked, “What co-ordinated action with other United Nations member states has there been under the terms of the resolution to cut off funding, oil revenues and armed supplies from ISIL into the territory it currently holds?”
David Cameron’s response, that “there was a resolution back in February, and we should continue to support all those measures”, is far from reassuring. This Writer was hoping for much more detail.
It seems that – in this respect – the hard work is being left to the hackers.
Note also that Cameron does not acknowledge the value of these alternatives. He wants us all to believe that the choice is between bombing Syria and “doing nothing” – and that’s misleading.
He was also vague about the positive effect that military action would have. The BBC’s Frank Gardner makes it plainer: “This will not lead to the immediate or even imminent demise of so-called Islamic State. It will simply add to the incremental damage being done over time to this proscribed terrorist group by other air forces already bombing in Syria.”
So we are looking at the possibility of military action that drags on and on, draining our country’s economy, with no conclusion in sight. That would be a poor use of our resources.
Remember Al-Qaeda? Remember how Osama Bin Laden was defeated?
It wasn’t on the battlefield; it was at his home, in a compound in Pakistan. A small US force launched the raid, acting on information picked up by intelligence agents. Some say this information was built up over a period of around 10 years; others say it came to them in a one-off tip. It didn’t come as the result of a bombing raid.
That’s why This Writer still says ‘slow and steady’ will win this war – not retaliatory bombing raids, no matter how accurate the missiles may be. The people firing them need to know what they are aiming at – and that requires information.
If British intelligence services really have foiled seven Daesh-inspired terrorist acts in the UK within the last year alone, then there is nothing wrong with our information-gathering powers.
By all means, let us do everything we can to help our allies in their military efforts, but let us also work to maintain the integrity of our own homeland, and to obtain information on the leaders of the terrorists and their whereabouts. Until we have that, let’s keep our powder dry.
There will be a time for Reapers, RAPTOR and Brimstone, but it isn’t today.
The face is red but the heart is black: Cameron’s strategy is now one of false arguments and ignoring the questions put to him.
Was anybody else dismayed to see media commentator after media commentator blithely commenting that this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions was, for example, an “easy win” for David Cameron (George Eaton, New Statesman), with Guardian political correspondent Andrew Sparrow tweeting, “Verdict from the Twitter commentariat – Unanimous for Cameron”?
It offends this writer’s sense of Britishness and fair play. If Cameron won, he did so by evasion, false argument, and perverting the facts.
Let’s go through the leaders’ exchange together, using the BBC live blog and Hansard for reference.
The first thing mentioned by Ed Miliband was the Iraq Inquiry – he called for its findings to be published as soon as possible. Then he changed subject, pointing out that the Coalition government will be the first to leave office with living standards lower than when they came into power.
David Cameron did not answer the question but went back to Mr Miliband’s comment about the inquiry instead. He said he too wants to see the Iraq Inquiry published as soon as possible – but it would have been ready years ago if the previous Labour government had set the inquiry up sooner, as the Conservatives and others had wanted.
This not true. Labour’s position on it is that the inquiry was set up at the appropriate time – after hostilities in Iraq had ended. In any case, we are now in the sixth year since the inquiry was established (in November 2009); most of the delays have taken place under the Coalition Government led by David Cameron. The reason currently being given for the delay, by inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot, is that witnesses need an opportunity to respond to any criticisms of them that have been made.
This blog wishes to point out that Mr Cameron himself is also partly responsible for delays in this matter. The Guardianreported in November 2013: “The Cabinet Office is resisting requests from the Iraq inquiry… for ‘more than 130 records of conversations’ between Tony Blair, his successor, Gordon Brown, and then-US President George W Bush to be made public. In a letter to David Cameron, published on the inquiry’s website, the committee’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, disclosed that ’25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush’ and ‘some 200 cabinet-level discussions’ were also being withheld.
“The standoff between the inquiry and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, has been going on for five months and has meant that the [process] in which politicians and officials are warned that they will be criticised in the report, is on hold. As a result, a date for the final publication of the report has yet to be agreed, more than four years after the inquiry started. ”
That’s a delay directly attributable to David Cameron and his government. It would have been more accurate if he had said the inquiry’s report would have been ready years ago if Mr Cameron himself had not done everything he could to hinder it.
Back to today: Ed Miliband noted that Mr Cameron made no mention of the economy in his reply, and pointed out that people are £1,600 a year worse off since 2010. According to the BBC blog: “David Cameron says Labour has no apology for not launching the Iraq Inquiry earlier – before launching into a defence of the coalition’s economic record. He says Mr Miliband is wrong about everything.”
In fact he raised the alleged drop in unemployment and rise in wages recorded by the ONS (and debunked on this blog earlier today). His mention of tax reductions as a defence against the “£1,600 a year worse off” claim is ridiculous as it shows how lightly his government has taken its self-described reason for being – reducing the deficit. This is not going to happen under a government that doesn’t want to take taxes.
Cameron’s claim that there is no cost of living crisis because inflation is at 0.5 per cent is a silly ‘excluded middle’ false argument; just because the headline level of inflation is low, that does not mean people are not struggling to make ends meet – especially when they have to deal with measures brought in by Cameron’s government like the Bedroom Tax, that have nothing to do with inflation and everything to do with Tory neoliberal ideology.
Mr Miliband stood his ground: Cameron has raised taxes on ordinary families, raised VAT, cut tax credits. Wages are down; taxes are up – and a report by the Joseph Rowntree foundation has shown that half of all families where one person is in full-time work cannot make ends meet at the end of the month.
“You can work hard and play by the rules, but in Cameron’s Britain you still cannot pay the bills—that is the reality,” he said – and it’s strong stuff.
Cameron’s response was feeble. He claimed that more than 30 million people are now in work – but we know that this is partly due to the rise in the population, and most of the jobs are zero-hours, part-time or temporary, meaning that Mr Miliband is right; families are struggling to pay the bills. His repeated reference to the ONS statistics – which were discredited within minutes of having been published, is risible. Cameron was making an ‘argument by selective observation’ – what he was saying was factually accurate, but he was deliberately failing to put all the facts before us.
The claim that people in work are seeing their pay rise by four per cent seems to be an outright lie. Even the ONS could only support a rise of 1.8 per cent.
“If we had listened to [Mr Miliband], none of these things would have happened,” blustered Cameron. “If we had listened to Labour, it would be more borrowing, more spending, more debt: all the things that got us into a mess in the first place.” How does he know that? He doesn’t. It’s another false argument – an ad hominem (attacking Mr Miliband, rather than his argument), also an ‘appeal to widespread belief’, as many people still seem to believe that Labour will borrow more and create more debt (despite repeated evidence that Labour will do nothing of the sort) and that the economy is safer with the Conservatives (even though their own rampant borrowing has nearly doubled the National Debt), and a non sequitur – it doesn’t follow that, if the Tories had listened to Labour, none of the favourable outcomes he listed would have happened.
Mention of borrowing prompted Mr Miliband to point out that the Coalition Government has failed on the deficit – accurately. According to his original preductions, Chancellor George Osborne should have reduced the deficit to around £37 billion per year by now – instead it stands between £90 billion and £100 billion.
Mr Miliband’s claim that executive pay has increased by 21 per cent in the last year alone, meaning the recovery is only for a few at the top, is also accurate. Spread among the workforce as a whole and coupled with the small pay rises they have received, the average may be 1.8 per cent – but most people aren’t enjoying any sudden increase in prosperity. Are you?
Cameron’s response: “The right honourable Gentleman criticises me on the deficit—he is the man who could not even remember the deficit.” Another ad hominem, and another non sequitur. What does Mr Miliband’s lapse of memory in a speech from last year have to do with today’s statistics?
Mr Miliband’s last question was about David Cameron’s decision not to take part in televised election debates if the Green Party is excluded. If he is so confident about the economy, why is he “chickening out”?
Again, Cameron did not even answer the question. Instead he quoted Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in support of his claim that the UK economy is improving. That discussion was over. Why did he have nothing to say about the TV debates? It’s a simple change of subject but, again, it’s no argument against what Mr Milband was saying.
So let’s tot up the Prime Minister’s score – did he win or lose? Let’s see: Iraq inquiry – lose; economy – lose; employment – lose; wages – lose; deficit – lose; TV debates – lose.
The moral of the story: You don’t have to win any argument if enough people are willing to say you did.
IS militants, doing exactly what the western powers want them to do, in order to maintain fear of terrorism among (for example) British citizens. [Image: AFP/Getty].
Does anybody else think the reaction to the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo – along with that against ISIS (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days), Al-Qaeda and, for that matter, Russia – has been, at the very least, off-colour?
Terrorists attack the staff of a magazine, claiming to be doing so in the name of Islam (we have no proof that this was their purpose and may never have it), so there’s a huge backlash against Muslims and the same magazine’s next issue – with a cover featuring a poor (yet still offensive) attempt at caricaturing Muhammad himself – sells five million copies; its normal circulation is 60,000.
Here in the UK, David Cameron does his best to use the attack as an excuse for even greater government intrusion into citizens’ privacy, on top of the incursions already enacted by his government.
Is it really about keeping us safe, or is it about keeping us down?
Some have argued that the western military-industrial complex has a vested interest in providing the public with a state-sponsored bogeyman to fear. During the Cold War it was the USSR. Immediately after Soviet Communism (which must not be confused with socialism) collapsed, the west went to war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a regime formerly supported by the USA. Since then we’ve had 911, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 7/7, Libya, Syria and Islamic State. While this has been going on, the western media seem to be stirring up fear of Putin’s Russia.
Isn’t that only to be expected from a coalition of groups with vested psychological, moral and material interests in the continuous development and maintenance of high levels of weaponry, in preservation of colonial markets and in military-strategic conceptions of internal affairs*?
There is no doubt that the British people are kept safe by the efforts of our security services – it is important that this should not be misunderstood. Many of the threats mentioned a couple of paragraphs above have been real.
But they aren’t anywhere near as serious as certain extremely rich people and organisations want us to think they are. Look at Iraq – Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction at all! He was found in a hole, living on ‘fun-size’ Mars bars (if certain writers are to be believed**).
It seems clear that there is a system of control being exercised upon us here. You can see it for yourself, evidenced by the fact that we never seem to find ourselves clear of any threats; there’s always another one on the horizon and it’s always important for us to give up more of our civil liberties in order to fight it – and of course, we pay for all the weapons and ammunition used, with our taxes.
So, looking at this objectively, we should be asking ourselves: Who is the greater threat?
As far as the Islamic extremists are concerned, if we lived in a rational world there would be a strong argument for someone to go and speak to them (under a white flag or whatever it took to be heard) and point out a few important facts: The western military has enough firepower to turn the Middle East into a scorched crater if it wants to do so. The reason it doesn’t is it needs you to be the equivalent of a pantomime villain, to be defeated at regular intervals on the evening news. The West will never defeat you completely, because you’re too useful for making a profit for the arms dealers and for keeping western citizens under control. You are, therefore, nothing but toys. The only way to defeat this strategy is to disengage completely; stop the violence against the west that will never, ever succeed and find better solutions to your problems.
If we lived in a rational world, they would agree.
Wouldn’t you like to live in that world, instead of this?
*As described in Revolution, by Russell Brand. Cheers for looking it up, Russell.
Not voting UKIP: VP could have run a picture of Farage or Cameron – but this is the message that needs to get through. Now watch the comment column fill up with something that is never seen in the wild – kippers bleating.
If anyone needed further proof of how badly UKIP has become divorced from reality, they need look no further than the latest bizarre claim from the party’s leader, Nigel Farage.
According to the Daily Mail(not the most reliable of sources, maybe, but closely-enough aligned with UKIP for this to have the ring of truth), Mr Farage and others have said that David Cameron’s recall of Parliament to debate action against Islamic State was a “cynical ploy” to divert attention from his keynote speech at the UKIP conference in Doncaster racecourse.
Speaking on Wednesday, Farage whinged that the timing of the Parliamentary recall was a deliberate attempt to overshadow him: “It is widely believed Prime Minister David Cameron held back on recalling Parliament on an issue of massive national importance so it didn’t affect the Labour Party conference… However, he still thought it best to delay parliamentary recall until Friday, and not do it tomorrow.”
That’s right, Nigel.
He didn’t recall Parliament because Iraq has appealed to the UK for help against IS.
He didn’t do it because IS has killed at least one UK citizen and may kill more.
And he didn’t do it because IS jihadists may try to attack UK citizens on British soil.
He didn’t leave the Labour conference alone because Labour has hundreds of MPs who would have found it difficult to extract themselves from their conference commitments, and he didn’t leave Labour alone because postponing the remainder of the Labour conference would give his strongest opponents more publicity than they were already getting.
Nor did he schedule the recall for Friday because UKIP has no MPs and would, therefore, be unaffected.
The fact that UKIP is fielding 12 (count ’em – 12!) candidates in next year’s general election has Cameron quaking in his boots.
He is terrified that you will wrest the balance of power away from Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats, meaning he might have to form a government with you if he can’t do it on his own.
And he lives in fear that you will go on to steal all the limelight from him.
As surely as a pig just flew past my first-floor office window – that is exactly how it is.
(Alternatively, you are a deluded egomaniac who badly needs to regain a sense of proportion. People are making life-or-death decisions and you are worried that people won’t see you spitting out your favourite soundbite on the Six O’Clock? Grow up.)
Dangerously right-wing policies wrapped in a fuzzy exterior – but can Boris Johnson pull the wool over our eyes?
A centuries-old pillar of British justice is too good for some UK citizens, according to that Great Briton Boris Johnson (who is descended from a Turk).
He wants Britain to abandon the core governing principle of its legal system – the presumption of innocence in UK law – so that people who travel to “war areas” such as Iraq and Syria may be presumed to be potential terrorists unless they can prove otherwise.
This means that people who go to war zones for humanitarian reasons would be labelled as terrorists, along with those who travel there to find lost relatives and bring them home, if they don’t notify the authorities first – and there are reasons why people might not want to do that.
It also means countries like Iran would have more advanced legal systems than the UK – Iran has the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven enshrined in its constitution.
Johnson reckons “the law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a ‘rebuttable presumption’ (which shifts the burden of proof on to the defendant) that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose”. Minor change?
Fortunately we do not need a change in the law to prove that this means Boris Johnson is an evil-minded arse.
Already fellow Tory and former attorney general, Dominic Grieve – who was allegedly ousted by David Cameron because he did not support Conservative-led changes to Legal Aid that would have made justice available only to the rich – has made it clear that Johnson’s idea would undermine British legal values.
How, exactly, is anyone supposed to prove that they did not cross borders to deliver supplies to terrorists or receive training in terror tactics?
James Ball, writing in The Guardian, states: “Recent history recounts in great and dismal detail the consequences of Johnson’s ‘simple and minor’ change: Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay.
“Camp staff were told in classified documents that ‘[t]ravel to Afghanistan for any reason after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 is likely a total fabrication with the true intentions being to support Osama bin Laden through direct hostilities against the US forces’. No matter if your detainee says they were visiting family, supporting NGOs, working with religious groups, or even – in some cases – supporting coalition forces, travel is deeply suspicious.
“’Travel to Afghanistan for charity reasons or to teach or study Islam,’ the document warned, ‘is a known al-Qaida/extremist cover story without credence.’
“Another sign someone is a terrorist, the US government said, was them telling you they were not. If the sleep-deprived inmates, who often had mental health issues, answered the questions slowly, this was also evidence they were a highly coached terror suspect. Even wearing a Casio watch – one of the world’s bestselling timepieces – was ‘the sign of al-Qaida’.”
It’s a Catch-22. According to this logic, anyone returning from a country where terrorists are active who claims they are not a terrorist must be – according to the authorities – a terrorist.
Wikipedia has it that “one connotation of the term is that the creators of the ‘catch-22’ have created arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power” and that “rules are inaccessible to and slanted against those lower in the hierarchy” (which is, of course, the intention behind Chris Grayling’s changes to Legal Aid).
So Boris Johnson wants to impose another abuse of power on those of us who cannot fight it.
Less than a day after this blog said David Cameron was waiting for media coverage to make war in the Middle East palatable to the people again, an article appears urging him to make war in the Middle East – by Chris Huhne.
That’s right, Chris Huhne – a former Liberal Democrat politician who had to resign his position as Energy Secretary in Cameron’s Coalition cabinet after being convicted of perverting the course of justice by trying to pretend his former wife had been speeding, not himself.
Huhne had maintained his innocence right up to the beginning of the trial, when he changed his plea to admit guilt. Apparently the public is supposed to accept the advice of this weaselly creature, writing in The Guardian.
That’s right, The Guardian – if ever a newspaper should know better than to publish warmongering propaganda, it’s The Guardian, which tries to be the voice of reason in an ever-feverish British press. Admittedly, this is an opinion piece in the paper’s ‘Comment is free’ column. Nevertheless, it is ill-advised and editor Alan Rusbridger should have thought twice before playing into David Cameron’s hands in this way.
The article itself reads like a response to yesterday’s Vox Political piece, which stated that Cameron, stung by his defeat over Syria, was waiting for public opinion to be turned back on-side by media support for British military intervention in Iraq.
And what’s the title of the Huhne piece? ‘David Cameron must get over his Syria humiliation and act on Iraq’. How swiftly the prophecies of Yr Obdt Srvt fulfil themselves these days… No crystal ball required, either.
Huhne, whose Parliamentary voting record shows he strongly supported an investigation into the last Iraq war, seems to have undergone a complete reversal of opinion since Cameron lost that famous vote on Syria, almost a year ago. Perhaps he’s had a “Road to Damascus” moment, to use a Biblical reference.
“Britain has so far done little except tip food parcels out of military transport; the last week has been notable for dither and delay,” he writes. “There have been no British air strikes… Such is the shadow of the government’s parliamentary defeat on the Syrian intervention.”
He argues that Cameron must try to represent “both strands” that identify Tories: “the Whig imperialists who believe in muscular intervention in good international causes; and the Tory nationalists who want nothing if it does not serve narrowly defined British interests.
“It is a debate that has raged throughout Tory history, most famously pitting Winston Churchill against Neville Chamberlain on appeasement.”
Hold on that thought; so now Huhne is comparing IS, still a relatively low concern to anybody outside its own backyard, with the German Nazis of the 1930s and the huge threat to lives and freedom that they posed?
That’s a step too far, too quickly. Huhne should have thought about what he was saying. Trying to connect IS with the greatest enemy this country has ever faced is a ridiculous step too far, utterly disproportionate and clearly manipulative. And nobody has any interest in appeasing Islamic State.
He is calling on us to make an emotional decision based on a grossly misjudged comparison.
The irony is that he didn’t need to do it. The arguments speak for themselves. His claim that “regional powers joining to meet their responsibilities” could solve the IS question is reasonable. This blog stated yesterday that an international alliance could surround IS and choke it to death, ending its threat forever.
But, ultimately, that is not what Huhne is demanding. He wants Cameron to rush in, do another quick-fix, and set up the pieces for another conflict – possibly bloodier – further down the line. This is odd, because there are no military suppliers among Huhne’s business interests.
The bottom line is that nobody should support military action on the basis of what is written here.
It would be a crime for British troops to go back to Iraq on such a pretext – especially when urged to do so by this petty criminal.
Laughing at the law-abiding: IS militants at a captured checkpoint in northern Iraq [Image: AFP/Getty].
David Cameron has no strategy to protect Christians who are threatened by violent religious groups like IS, and his policy is determined by the “loudest media voice”, according to the Church of England.
There’s no arguing with it. A letter from the Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, endorsed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, points out that Cameron’s UK has turned its back on the suffering of tens of thousands of Christians fleeing IS jihadists in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, while the government responded promptly to reports of Yazidis trapped on Mt Sinjar.
The letter also condemns Cameron’s failure to offer sanctuary to Iraqi Christians who have been driven from their homes, when the French and Germans have already done so. Parliamentary questions tabled last month to find out whether the UK intends to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians have lain unanswered. Perhaps this is a political decision as Cameron thinks more foreigners coming here will push up support for UKIP; if so, that would support the Church’s view that he is reacting to the media, rather than following his own policy.
In fact, Cameron’s approach is becoming clearer. He wants to involve us in another war.
But, burned by his defeat in Parliament last year over Syria, he is taking a ‘softly, softly’ approach.
“He warns that Britain will have to use its ‘military prowess’ to help defeat ‘this exceptionally dangerous’ movement, or else terrorists with ‘murderous intent’ will target people in Britain,” the Telegraph report states.
Didn’t Tony Blair also use the possibility of a threat to the UK to cajole Britain into supporting the last round of wars in the Middle East? The antagonist may change but it seems the script does not.
In fact it is true that something must be done about IS. A lawless gang of murderers is setting up a lawless state in parts of Iraq and Syria that have been weakened by wars we either fought or did nothing to prevent – and fears that they could radicalise gullible Brits and send them home to carry out terrorist acts on our soil are real.
What is needed is a co-ordinated response from all law-abiding powers – not just in the west but Middle-Eastern countries and others. IS is the political equivalent of a rabid animal; its members don’t care who they attack, as long as they cause maximum harm, and every country in the world should be aware of this.
Cameron potters around the edges instead, following the same plan the UK always uses.
We could have sorted out these problems before withdrawing from Iraq a few years ago. We could have done it in the 1990s, after the first Gulf War. We could have sorted them out at any time before then – and with greater ease, but that does not suit a western industrial complex that is geared towards perpetuating warfare.
Cameron’s attitude is media-driven. His defeat over Syria has led him to revise his strategy, waiting for public opinion to be swayed by media reports of the bloodshed taking place abroad, stoked by fears that it could happen here in Blighty. When the public is supportive again, he can announce action – but only just enough action to keep the Middle Eastern countries at odds with each other, making further military conflicts inevitable.
Today, it seems he has decided he can act, if comments like “we need a firm security response, whether that is military action to go after the terrorists, international co-operation on intelligence and counter-terrorism or uncompromising action against terrorists at home” are to be believed.
Cameron also wrote that this is a “struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology, which I believe we will be fighting for the rest of my political lifetime.”
His political lifetime will end in May 2015, so he’s right about that.
It seems his evil strategy for the Middle East will continue to affect the region long after the end of his physical lifetime, too.
War profiteer: David Cameron loves selling weaponry to foreign countries. Only a couple of years ago he was flogging Typhoon jet fighters to Iraq’s neighbours.
It seems the latest Iraq conflict is all about the money.
According to the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, the UK would “consider favourably” any request for arms from the Kurds in their battle with the extremist militant group Islamic State.
How wonderful for them. Last time anyone asked them, it seemed all these people wanted to do was get out.
They didn’t say they wanted weapons – especially not those supplied at inevitably huge cost by British war profiteers. Maybe the UK is saying no decision will be made on whether to give weapons as gifts or sell them, but consider Britain’s own financial situation. Is this an opportunity to put the Kurds in debt to the British government? If so, how would it be paid? By allowing British industry into their country afterwards, to exploit their people?
That might be better than what IS has to offer, but let’s be honest – last time anyone asked them, it seemed all these people wanted to do was get out.
Mr Hammond has also said, “Iraq now needs to have an inclusive government representing all the people of Iraq so that we can get behind it and push back this terrible threat from IS,” so he doesn’t understand the situation at all.
Iraq was an artificial country from the get-go. Its borders were drawn up by Western world leaders who did not understand the political situation between the indigenous peoples (and didn’t care). It is falling apart now and, for the sake of the future, this is probably just as well. While the threat from IS needs to be remedied, let the borders rearrange themselves in a more sympathetic manner once the dust has settled, otherwise other problems will arise soon.
After all, last time anyone asked them, it seemed all the Kurds wanted to do was get out.
Battlefield: Independence Square in Kiev after clashes on February 20. [Image: AFP]
It isn’t often that Vox Political discusses foreign affairs; this would usually involve mentioning that national disaster, William Hague. But we’ll make an exception in the case of Ukraine.
If you don’t know that thinly-disguised Russian soldiers have occupied the Crimea, which is currently Ukrainian, you’d probably have to be living in a hole in the desert.
Russia says this is entirely justified, but the position is not clear-cut.
It seems this crisis started after a pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to abandon plans for co-operation with Europe in favour of allying his country more closely with Russia.
At the time, Ukraine was deeply in debt and facing bankruptcy, with £21 billion needed to get through the current financial year and 2015. The country cannot call on the same financial levers as the UK, meaning this is a serious issue. How fortunate, then, that Russia was on hand to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and reduce the price of Russian gas supplies by around one-third.
Gas. Ukraine produces around a quarter of its own supply and imports the rest from Russia and Asia, through pipelines that Russia controls. These pipelines continue into Europe, providing supplies to Western countries as well.
The alignment with Russia sparked huge popular protests which quickly escalated into violence. Even though Yanukovych gain office through an election that was judged free and fair by observers, it seems clear his pro-Russian policies do not have the support of the people. But Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, and most of its population are Russians.
Then on February 22, Yanukovych did a runner to Russia, from where – surprisingly – he has claimed he is still President of Ukraine. Politicians in Kiev thought differently and have named their own interim president until elections can take place in May. It is this action that sparked rival protests in Crimea, where people appear to support the previous, pro-Russian policies.
Troops, apparently in Russian uniforms, have appeared across the Crimea, besieging Ukrainian forces and effectively taking control. It has been suggested that Russian President Putin sent them in response to a request from Yanukovych, but Putin denies this. Crimea’s parliament has asked to join Russia.
There is also the matter of the Russian naval base on the Crimean Black Sea coast. This seems uncontroversial, though, as Ukraine had agreed to allow Russia to keep it.
To sum up:
It seems that most of Ukraine wants to keep Russia at arms’ length; but it must still find a way to pay back its debts.
It seems that most of Crimea wants to rejoin Russia. This will be tested in a referendum on March 16.
It seems that Western European countries like the UK are desperate to condemn Russia for interfering in Ukraine. Concerns were raised on the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday that the referendum will be rigged, but we have no evidence to suggest that will happen – independent observers have reported that previous exercises of democracy have been free and fair.
It seems hypocritical of us to condemn Russia’s intervention in a place where that country’s citizens are threatened by violence. What did we do when the Falkland Islands were invaded in 1982 – and have we not stood firm against threats to those islands ever since? Nor can we criticise Russia for invading a country on a flimsy pretext – Iraq springs to mind.
So what’s it all about?
It seems most likely that, because most of Western Europe’s supply of Russian gas comes through Ukraine, we are far more concerned about our energy supply than about local democracy in an eastern European country. The UK, along with France and Germany and no doubt many others, wants to ensure that this supply is not interrupted as this could seriously jeopardise our ability to generate power.
… And if that isn’t a powerful reason for this country to invest massively in renewable energy generation, it’s hard to find one. What possible advantage is there in putting ourselves at the mercy of another country – especially one that has been less than friendly to us in the past?
It seems the only reason the UK has for outrage is the possibility of violence. We know that military intervention in the affairs of another country doesn’t work; nobody can parachute in, effect regime change, and leave a stable democracy running smoothly behind them. We should have learned our lessons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Unfortunately, it seems that only a minority are willing to speak up and admit this – headed most visibly by Russia Today presenter Abby Martin, who delivered an impassioned denouncement of Russia’s involvement. “I will not sit here and apologise for or defend military action,” she said.
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