Archive for August, 2013

Victory For Parliament

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Yesterday’s unexpected vote rejecting the flawed policy so heavily driven forward by Cameron and Hague, was perhaps the most significant for a century, with repercussions which will travel far beyond these islands. The policy of confrontation and intervention which both the State Department and the Foreign Office have followed with such calamitous outcomes since 9/11 has finally crashed. Having egged a reluctant Obama on, Cameron has been forced by the weight of common sense to withdraw. This is a shock for the Americans and although without military significance, it will play to their increasingly sceptical public opinion. In a modern world the public communicate globally with friends and colleagues and they travel. Media is 24/7 and coverage is no longer just the national network. People are much better informed.

They know that after 9/11 Al’ Quaeda was holed up in Afghanistan. It was banned from Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Now it is operating effectively in all five countries and as the de-facto ally of the West in its opposition to Assad. This is all the direct result of military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. All three countries are without governments in charge of events, either propped up, unstable or non existent. Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon are in political convulsions and Syria is rent by a terrible civil war, which could never have got going without the enthusiastic backing by the West of the rebels at the beginning. Strategically the whole policy has been a headlong dash into a cul-de-sac in the very location opposite to where we said we were going.

The British Parliament has for some years been held in little short of contempt by the public, following its abominable nativity in in backing the Bush/Blair wars and its acceptance of the infamous dossier which anyone with a scrap of understanding of the dynamics of the issue, could see was drivel. This betrayal was then followed by the expense scandal and the discovery that not only were these people inept, they also expected taxpayers to pay for holiday homes, cleaning out moats, homes for pet ducks et al.

But last night Parliament redeemed itself. It changed the course of history for the better. We cannot tell precisely how, but it is certain that whatever the outcome, it will be better than the consequences of yet another futile attempt to save lives by killing. Politically Cameron is very badly damaged. Hague too has taken a hit. The Special Relationship has taken a new turn. Soon it will be clear that it is one where the people of the one country influence those of the other and that the things they hold dear are not those their leaders promote. That could make the relationship very special indeed.

Syria: NO To Military Action

Monday, August 26th, 2013

This Blog is emphatically against any sort of armed intervention, missile strike or whatever in Syria. It can only make matters worse. There is no doubt that the apparent chemical attack is shocking. There is no doubt either that the Assad regime could have been quicker to let in the UN Inspectors. There is, however confident William Hague and the Foreign Office claim to be in blaming the Assad regime, some doubt about who exactly released the toxins and how.

The shambolic mess called western foreign policy failed at the very beginning when it refused to talk to anyone constructively including the Russians and the Chinese, unless Assad went first. Had this condition not been made an accommodation would have been found of one sort or another or talks would still be going on, but there would be no full blown civil war.

The Rebels, some of whom are friendly to the West, but a substantial group among the most powerful fighters are virulently hostile, gambled that a trigger happy combination lead by Britain and France, would persuade everyone to back military support of the kind offered to the Libyan rebels. This miscalculation has all but destroyed the Syrian state and wrought abominable suffering upon its people. The West assumed Assad would be gone in weeks but not only has he stayed, but he is gaining the upper hand.

There is therefore no motive for Assad to use chemical weapons on a major scale now and especially not with weapons inspectors in the country. On the other hand the rebels are desperate. They are losing militarily and losing international support. The latest exodus from Syria of Kurds in the north to Iraq of many tens of thousands, especially families with elderly relatives and women and children, is a flight from the Rebels. All interviewed said that under Assad they lived in peace and were happy.

There has been endless talk of red lines and it would make good strategic sense based upon principals devoid of humanity, for the Rebels to gas their own people and blame Assad. Maybe then the West will respond. No said a cautious Obama, but Hague and Cameron, unable to see the last military effort, Libya, as a failure, were determined to draw America in. Evidently they are too prejudiced to see that that the only coherent motive for Assad to gas his people is to provoke the West into action which it will regret and which will cost it a decade of diplomatic credibility.

Hague and Cameron have already forgotten the downfall of Blair and fail to see the damage that the chaos in Iraq, the mess in Afghanistan, the instability in Pakistan and the complete failure of Libya to from an effective government, is doing to the credibility of not only the United States and the UK, but also to their allies. This is because all of it stems from the post 9/11 shift in foreign policy from one of containment and compromise in which enemies become friends, to one of intervention and force in which friends becoming enemies.

It would, if they paid attention, now be prudent to move cautiously forward, as far as possible in step with the Russians, until the UN Inspectors report their findings. If there is proof that Assad did it, then agreement should be possible with the Russians on what might prove an effective restraint. Without a clear line of guilt, the risk of action is many times greater than doing nothing. It will intensify the fighting, draw more fighters in, create conflict , if not with neighbouring states, in them. The added dimension is the collapse of the governments established in the Arab Spring in both Egypt and Tunisia, adding to the lack of stability in a region now so volatile as to be on the verge of going critical.

When claiming there is ‘no doubt that Assad is guilty’ Hague should remember above all that the very experts now briefing him are the ones who said there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Hague and his people may have forgotten or wish to make light of it as in the past, but the rest of the world has neither forgotten, nor does it view one of the greatest intelligence failures in history as over and done with.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and above all Syria, countless innocents die every day. A cruise missile strike on Syria will kill many more. It is beyond the comprehension of this Blog to see how even a fool can suppose this will help.

Cameron Feeling False Good

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

The Tories are closing the gap with Labour, UKIP may have peaked and is beginning to attract negative publicity and the economy is showing positive signs of modest recovery. There is now a real prospect that in May 2015 things will be looking a lot better. The Tories will claim to be the architects of recovery and they will point out that Labour was the architect of the great financial crisis. Why give Labour another chance to wreck all the good that has been done? It is a good line. Just a few months ago Cameron’s party looked doomed. Now it is rapidly becoming the safer bet.

This would be worthy if the slow recovery were based upon sound economics. Unfortunately it is not. It is based, once again, on stoking the housing market without adding sufficiently to the supply of new low cost housing to rent. This can only lead to an increase in house prices, which will increase borrowing and take the country in sight of another bubble. The Treasury’s latest loan guarantee scheme has been roundly condemned by every economist without a direct finger in the house price pie and has been derided as mad by the CBI.

Sadly this is the historic default economic policy of the Tory party in government post war. Stoke the economy before the coming general election then rein back. This happened in 1964, 1973, 1987 and 1992. Labour took over in 1997 and managed to engineer the biggest bust in history in 2008. Now the Tories lead the coalition and dominate a financial policy which even their coalition partners describe as risky.

Not only is this a morally reprehensible way to engineer a false new dawn; it has been proved over and over not to work. The Tory leadership knows that well enough, or if it doesn’t, it is even worse than its enemies proclaim. The obsession with home ownership as the only worthwhile measure of wealth has killed saving and inflamed debt. It has created an imbalanced economy slipping down the league, hobbled by a dangerously shrunken industrial base, unable to create new wealth, for which it substitutes excess debt.

The voters are entitled to regard their politicians with little more than derision. It does not matter which party you look to. The Tories are guilty of promoting a flawed policy to stoke a false recovery. Labour is guilty for having nothing better to offer and the Lib Dems are guilty for working out that this won’t work, but saving their skins for the moment by staying in the coalition. The British people have been stoic and realistic as well as disciplined in the longest recession in modern history. They have, unlike other countries in crisis, made their nation easy to govern. They deserve better from those to whom they have entrusted the task.

Labour Looks Vulnerable

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

This country is not used to fixed term parliaments and rarely experiences a five year government. It has only experienced coalition previously in wartime. It is therefore not surprising that Labour has to feel its way forward as the Opposition party. At the beginning the Coalition had a free ride, while Labour elected a new leader and when it chose the wrong one the government chuckled. Not for long however, as Ed Milliband turned out to be a much tougher Opposition leader than expected, with Parliamentary performances often rated above Cameron’s own. Labour’s lead in the polls widened. The government’s economic policies  did not achieve the expected recovery and UKIP went on the rampage in the Tory shires. Labour’s lead grew bigger.

Now it has all gone wrong. Labour’s lead in the polls is shrinking and could be wiped out in the campaign of 2015. The chances of a clear majority are slipping. They could win, but not outright, and have to go to Clegg for backup. This is not what they want. To avoid that prospect they have to stop behaving like an opposition and become an alternative government in waiting. That requires a clear set of principles by which they intend to govern, a clear set of policies to give effect to their mission and a clear strategy by which they plan to win.

All of this is currently missing. Voters ask what is their mission? The reply is muddled, sometimes meaningless and never recalled the day after. Nobody knows what Labour stands for or where it is headed or what it would do if given the chance. Even its own shadow cabinet members are themselves beginning to ask when, where to and why. They now issue warnings about drift, whilst proclaiming loyalty to the leadership, itself the signature of the plotter.

It is not too late for Milliband and his people to come up with something good, but it nearly is. The Milliband leadership, so recently full of promise, is now perilously close to re-launches and fight-backs. Like the leadership of Ian Duncan-Smith of the Tories, once that happens it is over.

Egypt in Turmoil

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Nobody gains from the crisis now splitting Egypt apart. Neither the army, nor the Muslim Brotherhood nor the millions of neutral Egyptians who just want their normal country back. Meanwhile hundreds die.

The West is confused as to how it should react. Morsi’s presidency was clearly a disaster for all Egyptians who do not support the Muslim Brotherhood and hardly good for the secular and economic well being of even its own members. Most Egyptians supported the Army takeover and the Western capitals did not rush to condemn it. Had the Army announced that the constitution would be amended to provide a secular framework upon which democratic institutions could stand, following which elections would again be held, with the the deposed president  free to run again for the Presidency, all would have been well. It would not have looked like a military coup, Morsi would have been soundly beaten and the Revolution would have progressed.

Unfortunately the Army did not do that and maybe that is because it could not guarantee to its own satisfaction that the above sequence would follow. There are a number of reasons for this, including the absence of established democratic institutions and a lack of consensus which enables the losers in an election to be governed by those in the majority whom they voted against. Democracy confers authority on the winners, not power.  There is one other factor which is contributing to the current turmoil and bloodshed. In the whole country there are only two organisations which are organised with sufficient cohesion to effect outcomes. The one is the Muslim Brotherhood, the other is the Army. The majority of Egyptians who want a democratic secular state free of religious or military domination, have no leader and no political organisation. It is into this vacuum that the Army has stepped and where it is likely to stay.

How it will end or where it will lead is unclear. The loss of life among protesters is shocking. The West cries out and wrings its hands. Maybe that is, for the moment, the best it can do.

America and Russia

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S foreign policy towards Russia has been uneasy. There have been several attempts to re-calibrate, re-set or whatever words you like to use, but none has quite worked. Americans cannot understand this. It is, in fact, quite straightforward.

For a good while after the collapse of the Soviet Union, America had a free hand in the world. Bush sen. failed to reach out to Yeltsin as much as he could have; Clinton missed opportunities as well, but in the round did more good than harm; Bush jun. was a disaster, not so much because of his attitude to Russia, but  the drift of American policy in general. Essentially Russia gave America a free hand to see where it would lead. It lead to a big expansion of NATO without sufficient effort to bring Russia on board as well and calamitous military doctrines for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russia has watched all this with interest. Moscow has no illusions. It knows that Russia will never now be the dominant world power, but it intends to show its weight at the top table. America, in Obama’s words, still talks about world leadership and has failed completely to see that the rest of the world no longer sees it in that role. It had its chance and blew it big time. Russia knows that; it does not seek to supplant America, but it wishes to be taken seriously as a partner. Putin uses the word partner in connection with the US all the time. Translated that means the US has to listen as well as tell.

Meanwhile America is in a mess on the diplomatic front in the hotspots. The emerging democracies about which the US cares so much, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, supposedly its natural allies, are all unstable and in various degrees of turmoil and government dysfunction. Yet its true allies, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are all some form of monarchy or autocracy. Two very different democracies, but both founded on strict principles of faith and religion, Israel and Iran, are sworn enemies and torment each other by proxy.

Syria has been a disaster for the West. Not only have all the predictions proved wrong but the line up of so called free Syrians includes many to make the blood of rational people curdle.  Al’Qaeda is technically its ally against Assad. This is a diplomatic position approaching farce. American lead Western policy in the middle east no longer has a coherent theme and to the rest of the world is beyond comprehension.

The Russian message is clear. America is a leading player, not the leader. Russia has accepted that it is no longer the leader and it feels now is the time for America to do the same. Because then the two working in partnership can do a very great deal in many different ways for the benefit of both, and  for all of us.