Archive for March, 2011

Libyan War

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The Hawks are happy, the doves dismayed and the rest apprehensive. The attack on the Gaddafi military infrastructure and forces has begun impressively, with a formidable demonstration of allied technical firepower.These wars always begin well.

What is, once again, unclear is the exit strategy. Where is this going? If Gaddafi’s forces are stopped, as they will be, what happens then? Are the rebels to be allowed to advance? Will the civil war continue between armed militias? Who governs Libya? Will there be two Libyas? What process will help Libyans resolve their differences? Will there have to be a peace keeping force on the ground?

The hope is that Gaddafi will topple. Remember Saddam Hussein. When he was captured everyone thought it was over. In fact it made no difference because the collapse of his regime opened up divisions in the Iraqi state and among its people the planners had chosen to ignore. Do we know for sure what will happen if Gaddafi falls? Have we a plan if he stays? Are the Libyan people now condemned to years of violence among themselves? The UN resolution 1973 expressly forbids regime change. Obama and Cameron are adamant that regime chance is not the objective. Without regime change it is hard to see how the lot of the Libyan people can improve.

What, exactly, is the purpose of this war?

Libya Developments

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Things seem to be happening. First a ceasefire, now an invitation to observers. The difficulty is that what the Libyan government says is happening and what is actually happening may not be the same. Interestingly while Gaddafi talks about attacking insurgents and showing no mercy, his ministers announce a halt to all military operations. This may be significant or it may be Gaddafi up to his wily ways. It is important to remember he has been in power since Wilson was Prime Minister and Nixon was President. In a military confrontation he knows he would lose but in a battle of wits, the outcome is much less certain.

Meanwhile the allies meet in Paris to finalise, with the Arab league, how they implement 1973. It is possible that enough has already been done to stop the fighting in Libya, though what happens next if it has, is far from clear. The U.N. resolution is much more restrictive than it appears. If there is no fighting and civilians are not at risk, nothing is authorised. The Libyan government appears to have spotted this. Having been heavy handed and aggressive, with almost comical outbursts on television from their leader, the Libyans are showing unexpected sophistication in their response to what they gambled was a bluff, but which has turned out to be real.

The only certain thing is that this is a very unpredictable situation.

UN 1973: Success For Cameron and Sarkozy

Friday, March 18th, 2011

There is no doubt that U.N. resolution 1973 is a success for the Prime Minister and re-establishes the credibility of the Foreign Office. It takes the pressure off  Hague. It was not unanimous, but nobody voted against. The list of abstentions is impressive, however; Germany, Russia, China, India and Brazil. These countries either dislike getting involved in the internal upheavals of sovereign states or are uncertain both of the benefit and the outcome of military intervention in the Libyan Civil War.

The most significant development of all is the re-establishment of Anglo French military and diplomatic partnership as a decisive factor. This is very good for the prestige of both governments and provides an important alternative to the U.S., which arrived as a late backer of 1973 and is not planning to take part in the opening phase of any military action. We are therefore in uncharted territory. The last time Britain and France launched a war together was Suez. That did not have a happy outcome for them and confirmed America as the undisputed and dominant power in the West. Perhaps this is the moment when that epoch ends.

The best outcome is that this initiative has a decisive impact in halting the war and stopping civilian casualties. The best outcome of all would be the end of Gaddaffi’s rule as well. Should the initiative fail, many will say, especially in Germany, that failure was obvious from the start. Failure will make matters worse for Libyans. Worst of all would be an Anglo French military failure with casualties and rescue of the project by American military power, followed by an indecisive outcome and another endless conflict. Gaddafi might survive such a scenario, but Cameron and Sarkozy would not. Conversely if it works out, the war stops and Gaddafi goes, both will benefit significantly.

Meanwhile Bahrain and Yemen simmer and neither Egypt nor Tunisia have yet elected workable governments by a credible democratic process. What happens if things do not work out in one, or all, of these countries?

Libya Policy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

This blog is cautious about the value and wisdom of a No Fly Zone. At the moment it is a non runner. America sits on the fence. Russia, China and Germany are opposed. Only Britain and France are gung ho and pressing the case. So far the Arab League have supported, conditional upon a U.N. mandate, which kills it at the moment. The G8 have walked away, as has the EU.

Gaddafi is now winning, though not as convincingly as his propaganda proclaims. There is no certainty that his troops will remain loyal in sufficient numbers to overcome Benghazi. Without that victory, Libya remains divided. Gaddafi’s stand has impacted events in Dubai. Here the ruling family are now willing to use sufficient force to crush the rebellion. The Saudis are willing to help. In the long run all these autocracies will fall, but though this may be the beginning, the time for the wholesale Arab Revolution is not yet.

Part of the reason is the calamity of Iraq and Afghanistan, where bright new dawns turned at once to a long and bloody night, without being able to raise a government with a writ over all its territory. America is hobbled by this past foreign policy mayhem; thus it waits for others to lead. France, which opposed the Iraq invasion, is unburdened by this shameful legacy and thus feels strong enough to speak out. With a certain deftness, which may pass unnoticed in the wake of its recent blunders, the British foreign office has lined up with the French, to create a new dynamic on the international scene, independent of the U.S.

This is a very worthwhile development. Logically this should lead to a four power cohesion of Britain, France Germany and Russia. That will not happen on the Libya issue, but it should be a long term aim.  Meanwhile the failure to gain support for the NFZ, is a direct outcome of the shambolic Iraq invasion and the indecisive, never ending war in Afghanistan. In foreign policy, as in everything else, one thing leads to another.

AV Referendum and the Lib Dems

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

This is going to be more interesting than at first it appeared. I repeat, having posted it often, that under our constitution there is no need whatever to hold a referendum to vary the voting system and no such referenda have been held in the past. When negotiating the Coalition Agreement, the Lib Dems believed a referendum would be easily carried, while the Tories hoped that it would be lost. That is why they offered it.

There is some comparison between this AV referendum and the Monarchy referendum in Australia. Most observers thought Oz would become a republic;  instead it voted for tradition. Everyone at the time of the coalition negotiations who was not schooled in the subtleties of political mood, supposed that at last this country would seize the opportunity to modernize its democratic process. Now it looks far from certain that this is what will happen.

The reson is this. First past the post works perfectly if you have only two major parties. It becomes unfair if there is a third party big enough to count its votes in millions. The rise of the Lib Dems made the case compelling. But things have changed. The lib Dems are in government and their supporters have fled. People are not impressed. They may easily be persuaded that Tory or Labour is enough choice. That is what the No vote campaign is essentially saying.

The reason the Lib Dems are in trouble is not that they have behaved badly in government, or have not made a difference. Their contribution has been measured, courageous and positive. Their ministers are every bit as able as their Tory colleagues. Their problem is that during the last general election and for years before, they made loads of rash and silly promises and pledges which they are now unable to deliver. People who voted for them did so, not because they were tribally bound in, as with Tory and Labour, but because they liked Lib Dem ideas, those pledges and promises, in fact. They feel badly let down. Moreover they feel that if coalition provides an excuse for parties to break even more promises than usual, maybe it is not such a good idea after all.

Thus the Yes campaign will have to fight very hard on two fronts. One is the principle; the other is the perception. The first they can win, but the second they may lose. If that happens the Lib Dems will have lost all, including most of their seats at the next general election.

Doctors Behaving Badly

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

You do not have to search farther than the BMA’s  first special meeting for twenty years to find out what is wrong with the NHS and why change must happen to protect the future of our universal healthcare in a modern world. The rubbish that many doctors talk tells us all.

The government must confront these people who think that it is is in order for patients to wait way past their appointment times to see their GP, then be referred like skittles to wait at clinics for hours to see a consultant,  then wait again at home, in pain and anxiety, for treatment which is held up by weeks, months or even, in some dire cases, years. Through primary, secondary and tertiary levels of byzantine process, a task driven state within a state over managed and under nursed, offers a take or leave it deal to those who, through their taxes, pay a medical profession which has grown rich and complacent and,  in the case of many of its senior members, works for it only part time.

Through a clever wheeze they whisk exasperated patients, who can afford medical insurance, out of their NHS queue  and into their private hospitial just up the road, to get immediate treatment, which they charge £ thousands to provide. Meanwhile their absence from their NHS duties makes their queues grow longer still.

No, let us not kid ourselves any longer. In return for the money we spend on it, the NHS is  inefficient and spendthrift and, outside an acute emergency, cannot deliver timely healthcare to the population to an acceptable standard. The Government is to be congratulated on grasping the nettle of the medical profession and its fury at being made to fall into a rational way of working. It must have the backbone to press on. No U Turns. Not even for the Lib Dems.

English Baccalaureate

Monday, March 14th, 2011

This is where this blog backs Michael Gove to the hilt. Indeed we like this part of his education reforms so much that we forgive the others which are irelevant. We even forgive his neo-con leanings.

From the start of comprehensive schools to the departure of New Labour, education has been subject to continuous political tinkering by both Tory and Labour, as well as misguided academics and well meaning fools. The result is the current record number of unemployed young people. Never before in our history has there been such a sorry outcome to policy, nor with such wasteful human cost.

The excuse is that it is due to the economic downturn. This is not so. In an economic downturn freshly qualified young people, up to speed with modern learning, represent good value to an employer. Unfortunately our education system now produces young people who do not meet this criteria. What they do know is in many cases useless and worse, their command of their native language and ability to express themselves both by word of mouth and in writing, falls far short of foreign migrant workers. Gove knows this, thinks it is appalling and is determined to put it right. It will take time.

A start is needed right away. In order to point up where we are and focus schools on what they have to do, the English Baccalaureate is introduced. It affirms that a student has gained  C (for all practical purposes C is a pass) in English, maths, two sciences, a language and either history or geography. Such is the minimum standard of education needed to compete in the modern world where standards are high and rising. This is very good news.

If ever there were evidence of how timely this is, it is the chaos and confusion caused in so many schools by the need to at last separate what is needed from what is not.

Libya-New Dynamics

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

This started as a popular demonstration to end Gaddafi’s rule. It is now a full blown civil war. Militarily, Gaddafi now has the upper hand. The rebels are significantly outgunned and to hold their gains, will require outside support or defections, including equipment, from the regular forces. However, for the rebels, all is by no means lost. The Arab League has well and truly dumped Gaddafi. His regime is without support anywhere in the world. Britain and France are driving hard for a no fly zone. 

The problem is that, rightly, this time, only a minority will consider any military moves to help the rebels and only a tiny minority will consider such move without a U.N. mandate. The Arab League have made a U.N. mandate a condition for their support of a no fly zone. Germany, Russia and China are firmly against any used of armed force, including a no fly zone. That is a formidable combination in the U.N. Our blundering foreign office needs to avoid breaking the consensus which has provided the unanimity which will, in the medium term, prove more and more a problem for Gaddafi. Above all, he wants to divide the West, the Arabs and the U.N. It would be foolish to play into his hands.


Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The scale of this disaster exceeds modern experience. The loss of life is likely to far exceed the numbers talked of so far. The discipline, calm and response of  Japan’s authorities and people evokes the admiration of all the world. Over forty countries have mobilised to send support. Yet nobody knows how big this disaster actually is or what its consequences will be.

What we can now see is the effect of a major natural event on modern life, with its high population density and technological infrastructure. We need to reflect that these events occur at intervals and will go on occurring. Volcanoes, earthquakes and impacts from space are not things of the past. They are of the present, with many massive ones in the future. We are now called upon to plan better and invest more. Japan was among the best prepared of all the nations on earth, but still the effects are beyond normal understanding.

It is a peculiar irony that we engage in war to kill and destroy with a rationale which somehow articulates that we and we alone, control the powers of destruction. What we control, in the scheme of things is, for the most part, neither here nor there, when the real and natural powers are unleashed for comparison.

Civil Service Pensions

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

This has been a ticking bomb under the public finances for a very long time and Lord Hutton, a former Labour minister, is to be commended for the realism and frankness of his report.

Civil Service unions are understandably angry and will do all they can to protect their members’ retirement expectations. However the truth of the matter is that any concessions will have to be paid for and they will be paid for in fewer public sector jobs. The Unions need in private and when not making  propoganda on the airwaves, to reflect on the reality.  It is this. The bankers may well have been the source of the financial crisis, but the budget was in deficit beforehand. The primary reason among many is that there are too many people working in the public sector for the private sector to sustain. If the Unions want to avoid even more job losses they have to get real and do the sums themselves.