The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. That Means You, Beyoncé.

Beyoncé sticks it to The Man.


It may seem bizarre to some, but in fact as an archetypal British stereotype I actually have a deep affinity for some aspects of American sport.  For instance, my typically-British craving for reliable disappointment led to me defecting from cautious support of the Boston Red Sox when they shamelessly won the baseball World Series in 2004 to the Chicago Cubs, whose implaccable and relentless pursuit of an losing streak has long since combined a grim sense of Calvinist doom familiar to any Scot along with the assumption of an epic narrative of nemesis from Greek tragedy.  Then consider the undeniable resonances between cricket and baseball, particularly the long spells of induced boredom which encourage a mantric, zen-like meditative response from the spectators, and I think it can safely be asserted that there are some little-explored but substantive connections between American sport and the cliched British national character.

This, however, does not apply to American football which, to anyone who has experienced a game of rugby, appears to be a fossilised and disarticulated variant of rugby played by overpaid, overweight steroid-addicts swaddled in excessive protective armour pausing every ten seconds of actual gameplay to permit several minutes of inane commentary and longer periods of comically overblown advertising.

I exaggerate to make the point.  Slightly.  Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to escape the commentary on the Superbowl, even when you don’t actually watch it.  Thus I find myself compelled to respond to reports of Beyoncé’s performance of a Black Power-inspired song and dance routine at this year’s Superbowl.  My credentials to conduct this critique are, of course unimpeachable.  As a self-appointed champion of liberal history, my sense of entitlement is boundless.  As a middle-aged bourgeois white male, my authority to comment upon African-American sectional politics is clearly unchallengeable.

Just in case that isn’t enough, I’m not the only bourgeois white dilettante sounding off over the issue.  And, no, I’m not referring to Coldplay’s Chris Martin whingeing about being upstaged by Beyoncé (although I’d like to think he was).  Here’s Barbara Ellen in The Guardian, for example, pre-empting my critique by observing that ‘… sneering at the mode of protest rather than examining what the protest is about is an old method of silencing and cowing.’

Allow me to demonstrate that, in my case at least, sneering at the ‘protest’ is a valid consequence of a comparative analysis of Black Power protests at sporting events.  Let’s take the archetypal example, Tommie Smith and John Carlos making Black Power salutes on the winner’s podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos (with Peter Norman) synergising their marketing across various media platforms, Mexico City Olympics, 1968

I agree with the essential objectives of the Olympic Project for Human Rights which Smith and Carlos protested for (alongside their fellow medallist, Australian Peter Norman), but more importantly I respect the gesture as a valid gesture of political protest, while Beyonce’s performance was nothing of the sort.

Smith and Carlos were directly affected by the issue they were protesting about.  They suffered personal consequences, in terms of missing opportunities for sponsorship or lucrative employment in football teams which would otherwise have followed Olympic sprinting success.  Finally, they earned the right to make it by the remorseless meritocracy involved in winning the world’s most prestigious athletic competition against the best competition in the word.  Standing on that podium as a medallist meant running two hundred metres, at altitude, in a time between nineteen-point-eight and twenty-point-one seconds.  Smith and Carlos did that, thereby succeeding in one of the few arenas where racial prejudice could be openly and undeniably defeated by individual achievement.  They earned the right to protest on the basis of that, never mind anything else.

By contrast, Beyoncé is a rich, talented entertainer whose platform for her performance comes from her celebrity status and whose reward will secured in terms of increased record sales for the song she performed and promoted at the show (possibly doubling sales, according to previous experience of performers at the half-time show).

All of which means that Beyonce’s attempt at gesture politics remains a straightforward exercise in commercial self-promotion, while Smith and Carlos made a genuine, and warranted, political protest.  And When it comes to ‘sneering’ at commercial self-promotion to mass television audiences at American sporting events on that basis, don’t take it from a whitey on the moon like me.  Here’s Gil Scott-Heron, poet and cultural spokesman for Black Power on the subject in ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’:
You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

Don’t Mention the Spitfire! Thornberry Did It Once, But She Didn’t Get Away With It.

Or – ‘The Corbynites Shoot Themselves In the Foot With Those Ignorant Historical Parallels.  Again’.

Spitfire Mk I’s from the first production order (indicated by the K-prefixed serials), flown by No. 19 Squadron, the first RAF unit to receive them, in September 1938. These aircraft would not have existed if contemporary Labour party policy opposition to rearmament had been taken seriously, with obvious consequences for the outcome of the Battle of Britain. No pressure there, then.

Commendably enough, Emily Thornberry’s reported comments from this week’s meeting with the PLP (an exercise which is swifly becoming a regular exercise in cynical bear-baiting by the Corbynite vanguard of the revolution at the expense of the PLP) warrant two separate and distinct explorations of their comic value.  The first being the deconstruction of her understanding of deterrence theory (see below).  The second being her reported use of the eventual obsolescence of the Spitfire as a comparable analogy for her assertion of the obsolescence of Trident submarines.

The problem for Emily here is the inevitable parallels this invites from the last time the Labour party was led by myopic ideologues sincerely attempting to make the world conform to their virtual pacificism.  And the obvious parallel to draw is the position of the Labour party in the nineteen-thirties towards the rearmament policies of the National Government of the time which actually produced the Spitfire.

The first prototype Spitfire was ordered in January 1936 and the first production contract for 310 aircraft placed in June 1936.  These aircraft were delivered after substantial production delays by September 1939.  Further orders followed in September 1938 and April 1939 to continue production when the first batch had been completed, but that initial production run provided the first Spitfires in service.  They represented the totality of Spitfires available to the RAF when the Second World War began in September 1939, and a remained a substantial fraction of those available when the Spitfire entered intensive combat service covering the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940 and throughout the Battle of Britain which followed.

The Labour party’s contemporary attitude towards the procurement of the Spitfire can be accurately summarised by the statement of their then-leader George Lansbury during the Fulham by-election in June 1933, when he proposed disbanding the army and the Royal Air Force and inviting the world to do it’s worst.  Labour therefore voted against the annual defence estimates which followed, including the 1935 estimates that funded that first Spitfire contract.  Even after Lansbury’s deposition as party leader in October 1935, his sucessor Atlee maintained a hypocritical mantra that proposed collective security through the League of Nations in place of rearmament while denying Britain the military capacity to achieve that end.  I don’t believe Atlee justified his opposition to rearmament on the obsolescence of fighter aircraft like the Spitfire, but it’s worth remembering that there was a substantial constituency which believed that recent technological advances meant that there was no practicable defence against bomber aircraft in the nineteen-thirties.

Presumably their descendants are saying similar things about drones making Trident submarines obsolete today.

Although Labour moved from oppposing the defence estimates to abstaining from 1937 onwards, and eventually moved into a successful wartime coalition government under Churchill, there can be considerable legitimate doubt that the attitudes and official policies of the Labour Party during the rearmament period would have led to there being sufficient Spitfires – or perhaps even any Spitfires – available when they turned out to be desperately needed not just for the defence of Britain but for the defence of liberal democracy against the imminent triumph of genocidal fascism in 1940.

A German bomber pilot writes – ‘Yes, those Spitfires are obsolete. Please get rid of them in the name of disarmament and peace.’ Meanwhile a bemused British soldier inspects the wreckage of Labour Party defence policy.

Emily might be better advised not to walk into such self-defeating traps created by her comical ignorance of the potential historical consequences of Corbynite ideology.  So perhaps it might perhaps be better not to mention Spitfires next time.

A Lesson in Deterrence Theory for Emily Thornberry from Dr. Strangelove

One of the great joys of the current chaotic position of the Labour party, as the retro-eighties hard left under their charismatic leader Wolfie Smith, err, I mean Jeremy Corbyn struggle to impose the direction of a Leninist vanguard on the recalcitrant reactionary bourgeoisie of the PLP, is the endless stream of comic amusement provided by the spectacle of the Corbynites repetitive collisions with reality.  The latest to make me roar with laughter was the interview with Emily Thornberry on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on Tuesday 9 Feburary.

In the wake of yet another fractious meeting with the PLP, this time over the Corbynite policy of non-renewal of the submarine-launched Trident ICMB nuclear weapons system, Thornberry was exposed to further amusement at the hands of BBC interviewer Nick Robinson.  The issue of unilateral nuclear disarmament is, of course, a major bugbear from the glory days of unelectable Labour in the nineteen eighties, and it was a genuine delight to see Corbyn displaying the leadership skills necessary to ensure this issue blew up in his face and divided the party even further.  The context was set by the appointment of Thornberry to replace Maria Eagle, Corbyn’s choice for shadow defence secretary last year, who at the time of her appointment pointed out her multilateralist position on Trident renewal would conflict with Corbyn’s unilateralism.  The public embarassment the exposure of this conflict generated seems to have prompted Corbyn’s appointment of Thornberry to appease his unilateralist constituency.

The parallel appointment of Ken Livingstone, hard left unilateralist eighties survivor, to participate in the relevant defence review to ditch the inconvenient current Labour policy (decided in 2007) to renew Trident demonstrates the dynamic at work once again.  The appointment and then defenestration of Eagle demonstrates Corbyn’s inability to accomodate a ‘broad church’ approach to reconciling the irreconcilables in the PLP.  The appointment of Livingstone and then the de-emphasis of his role in the defence review demonstrates the fact that obviously-predictable resistance to the installation of cherished hard-left chums to achieve cherished hard-left policy reversals has been unanticipated by the leaders of the vanguard of the proletariat.

So much for Corbyn’s tactical capacity.  Granted, reconciling the rump of ex-Blairite Labour (because that is what the PLP is, no matter how much they wish to deny it) to the Corbynite leadership was always going to be hard.  But even after the prologue of Ed Milliband’s warm-up act, the extent of Corbyn’s ineptness on that score remains genuinely surprising.

However, Thornberry’s radio interview indicates that tactical incapacity is not restricted to The Glorious Leader and remains a problem for Corbyinites in general.  Here’s Thornberry on the utility of nuclear deterrence:

‘If nuclear weapons need to be threatened then they have failed.’

No, Emily: it is the latent threat of retaliatory use of nuclear weapons that makes nuclear deterrence work.  The threat of nuclear weapons is what provides the deterrent effect of Mutually-Assured Destruction.  For somebody claiming to be concerned with an ‘evidence-based’ reassessment of ‘all the options’, the evidence (such as it is) suggests that the threat of using nuclear weapons restrained direct conflict between the superpowers during the cold war, and between nuclear powers after the Cold War.  On that basis, it can be cogently argued that the threat of nuclear weapons has succeeded.

The key point of Thornberry’s argument is to question the ability of Trident submarines to avoid detection and thereby avoid elimination in any ‘first strike’ use of nuclear weapons.  This, if true, would undermine their credibility as a deterrent.  Fortunately, the unchallengeable authority for this assumption appears to be an un-named ‘Young Turk’ who asserts that remotely-piloted underwater drones will soon be able to discover Trident submarines hidden anywhere under the oceans.  I look forward to finding out which conspiracy theory-driven corner of the internet or what drone-promoting corporation that particular analyst originates from.  Quite correctly, her interviewer characterises this as a technological smoke-screen to justify her pre-existing rejection of nuclear weapons on ethical grounds.

Thornberry goes on to say:

‘Everybody says that the whole point about nuclear weapons is that you don’t use them’

No, Emily.  The point is that the threat of nuclear retaliation (i.e. using nuclear weapons) by one side logically inhibits their use by another, thus placing a premium on not beginning an escalation that might trigger their use (i.e. by avoiding war).  An openly-declared refusal to use them renders them useless as a threat, thereby making them useless as a mechanism to prevent war. Thornberry, like most Corbynistas, would be more impressive if she could just comprehend the the rationale of policies that she so sincerely objects to, rather than vainly seeking a tactical approach to allow her to achieve an ideological objective which is self-evidently correct to the selected elite like her but painfully contentious and wrong to those in Labour who retain some connection to the real world.

This wouldn’t be a bad approach if it was successful.  Indeed, never mind the intellectual deceit involved, overcoming wider resistance to achieve otherwise unobtainable but necessary policy objectives would be a measure of the tactical political capability of the politicians involved.  But only if they could pull it off.  In the case of the Corbynites they are just too inept to manage it.

The advantage the Corbynites have is their electoral mandate in the leadership election, which gives them a genuine legitimacy.  Their attempts to reverse policy over nuclear deterrence smack of cack-handed Machiavellian plotting by contrast.  While that is the hallmark of the hard left, they would be better advised building a consensus for policy reversal on nuclear deterrence at the party conference.  Granted, this is uncharacteristic of the hard left.  But so is Corbyn’s electoral mandate, and they need to embrace the unfamiliar concept of maintaining democratic electoral support within the party to legitimate their policies.  That does assume that they have any real interest in implementing their policies, which is not a given.

The handling of the issue so far seems to indicate that the Corbynites suspect this suggestion would provoke a confrontation that they can’t win.  In which case, it might be wondered what the purpose was of a leadership which couldn’t gain a mandate from it’s own party, never mind the wider electorate, to implement it’s policies.

Frankly, I don’t think the Labour party has the residual capacity to challenge the Corbynites.  I might be pleasantly surprised if it did, but as a true Machiavellian aficionado I think the surviving social democrats in Labour have sold the pass so many times by now that their only hope is to cling to the wreckage and let the hard-left have their deathride into electoral oblivion before beginning the task of reconstruction.  If they are even capable of doing so once their main opposition has comprehensively been discredited by the external agency of the British electorate.

Now for a concluding statement from Dr Strangelove, wheelchair-bound maniacal ex-Nazi Cold warrior and our specialist expert commentator, on Thornberry’s complete misunderstanding of deterrence theory:

Our man in the White House situation room explains to Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and Angela Thornberry why it will be necessary for the Labour leadership cadre to go down a deep mineshaft and remain there for one hundred years.

‘Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack’.

Electing a unilateralist like Corbyn as party leader and appointing a unilateralist like Thornberry as shadow defence secretary means there is no fear of reprisal, and therefore no ‘fear to attack’.  So let’s not bother with the risible attempts to mask the unilateralism with drones or any other transparent, intelligence-insulting exercise in camoflaging the real intent of the Corbynites. There is no credibility to the strategy of nuclear deterrence under a Labour government with Corbyn and Thornberry in charge, regardless of the outcome of paper exercises like Labour’s current policy review.

That the Corbynist approach to nuclear deterrence can be effortlessly dismissed by a character from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire on the failings of deterrence theory indicates the high comic value of the current Labour leadership and their politics.  It also gives some added resonance to Thornberry’s statement that ‘… national security is an important issue and shouldn’t be played with’.

Even Dr. Strangelove might approve the irony.

Another Realist Rationale for Intervention in Syria for Slow Learners

A Russian SU-24 shot down in flames by Turkish F-16 fighters after infringing Turkish airspace, 24 November 2015. Any similarities with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party going down in flames over Syria is purely coincidental.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I’ve said little about the situation in Syria as I’ve already outlined my thoughts on the matter two years ago, and nothing has changed to modify them since.  The core problem in rethinking western involvement was demonstrated in the 2013 rejection of military intervention by the British House of Commons.  This featured an unlikely alliance between hard-left anti-Americanists in Labour, right-wing so-called realists in the Conservatives, and sanctimonious opportunism on the part of the Lib Dems and secessional nationalists like the SNP.  The glue in this alliance was the post-Iraq orthodoxy that western military intervention is always futile and counter-productive, and buyer’s remorse that the Iraq intervention was unjustified, illegal and based on a prospectus of lies.

I’ve derived some amusement from the second factor over the past few weeks, as the centrist rump of the Labour party have finally realised the costs of conceding the verdict on Blairism (and, by extension, the Iraq intervention) to a hard left which is now triumphantly in command of the party’s leadership and popular membership.  Still, the Paris attacks have represented a catalyst for a degree of change as public opinion apparently changes as a result of exposure to stark reality of islamic fundamentalist terrorism.  Although any sense of post-Paris consensus on the necessity for using force in defence of western lives will soon evaporate under the predictable resurgence of revisionism which will follow the exercise of western military force (see the errosion of support for post-9/11 military action for a relevant example), it is clear that the old certainties are no longer widely accepted to be so certain.

This brings me back to a baseline appraisal of the utility of western military intervention to secure neoliberal and even realist aims.  So let’s check those examples in the post-Cold War era.

Bosnia in 1993-95 demonstrated the futility of attempting to negotiate a diplomatic settlement (such as the Vance Owen peace plan) when the local Bosnian Serb forces felt free to benefit from continuing aggression, which, let us recall, included the mass-murder of civilians and the forced expulsion of refugees on all sides of the conflict.  Western air strikes were necessary to allow diplomacy in the form of the Dayton accords to succeed, while peacekeeping intervention without the willingness to use lethal force lead to the Srebrenica catastrophe.

Kosovo in 1998-99 represented another case study of the same dynamics, with even bigger refugee problem.  While air strikes were one component of western military intervention, it was clear to the British leadership (i.e. Blair) that the deployment of sufficient western ground forces with a mandate to use force directly were also necessary.  The culmination of Blair’s diplomacy was the utilisation of British willingness and capacity to deploy ground forces to draw the Clinton administration along and thereby achieve a settlement; one which would not have been possible without the deployment of force.

Neither of these cases represents a perfect solution.  To this day the settlements involved in the former Yugoslavia simply preserve the divisons and, in some cases, the bitterness involved in those conflicts.  None of these conflicts have been resolved in any final sense.  But they have been halted.  This means that the most immediate humanitarian crimes (mass-murder and ethnic cleansing) have been stopped, but also that the absence of armed conflict has been achieved.  Such imperfect ceasefires are the necessary precondition for any lasting peace.  And they were only achieveable after the deployment of armed force in pursuit of humanitarian aims.

The Sierra Leone example seems successful enough; is there anybody who really believes that the limb-maiming, child-soldier exploiting, mass-murdering and mass-raping RUF should have been left to devastate Sierra Leone unchallenged, or that Blair did the wrong thing by intervening to end their terrorism and bring their leader to justice?

But if Sierra Leone was a success, then how about Afghanistan and Iraq?  Let’s be clear about this.  By any reasonable standard used by realists, both of these interventions were successful.  In both cases governments hostile to the west, major factors in regional instability, and hosts and backers of proxy attacks on the west have been deposed.  While there are plenty of real shortcomings involved in their replacement governments in terms of corruption, inefficiency and sectarianism, they are no longer direct threats to the west.  In terms of national interest, that’s a genuinely acceptable outcome for realists.  And also for liberals, as both the Iraq and Afghan governments are, however ineptly and incompetantly, our allies in terms of fighting islamic terrorists such as ISIS or the Taliban, and both remain a clear improvement over their predecessors in terms of delivering some semblance of human rights to their population.

This does not mean that either intervention has been handled well.  In Iraq, for example, the outcome has been marred by a catastrophic level of civilian casualties and this was (and remains) a clear problem in Afghanistan as well.  But, as I argue elsewhere in relation to the British military experience in Iraq, most of the civilian casualty toll cannot be attributed to western military forces and in fact is attributable to the forces fighting against them.

In conclusion, western military intervention has a relatively successful record in terms of securing national interest in a way realists (concerned with self national interests and power) and neoliberals (concerned with values and international collaboration) should be able to recognise.  All of these interventions have been constrained by relative factors negatively affecting their outcomes; none have been perfect.  But no military operation will ever be perfect.  Nor will any diplomatic compromise be perfect.  What matters is an objective judgement determining national interest, whether in realist or neoliberal terms.

Which brings us to Syria.  There are a long list of reasons, many of them completely valid, why any western intervention in Syria will fail to achieve the objectives sought.  Some are less valid.  Two of the latter that realists tend to invoke are the apparently-interconnected necessities of accomodating Russian interests and accepting the continuance of the Assad regime as a component of an anti-ISIS coalition.

There’s no question that the Russian intervention, basing Russian aircraft in Syria to attack anti-Assad rebels, has complicated matters.  The shooting down of a Russian aircraft by Turkish fighters was a predictable consequence which, even now, risks further escalation.  But in realist terms, it may well be useful that after Russian intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by coercion, Putin receives a demonstration that his escalations risk responses, and that other actors have the will and capability to respond in unmistakably hard power terms which may exceed his appetite for brinksmanship.  In this case, the Turks can be seen to be responding to Russian airstrikes on Syrian rebel groups such as the Turkomans (supported by Turkey).  There is a Russian interest in ensuring that the conflict between Turkey and Russian over what are on both sides their backing for proxies, does not escalate uncontrollably.

Nor should the Russian deployment be seen as imposing a veto on western action.  The reality has been that the Russian deployment is limited to the north-west of Syria and, as their recent agreement with the French indicates, agreements over ‘deconfliction’ (avoiding a repeat of the Turkish shoot-down) are possible.  They are even more likely if the evident conviction behind western action is apparent, which, after Paris, seems to be the case.  Putin’s room for manoevre has been limited not only by this, but also the fact that airstrikes alone are unlikely to be decisive.  Absent a massive escalation in the Russian commitment in terms of air and, most of all, military power on the ground, the Assad regime remains unable to defeat the disparate but extensive rebel groups confronting it.

While Putin’s intervention might buy some more time for Assad, it is now clear since the loss of the SU-24 and the Paris attacks, that it can only constrain and not eliminate a more significant western response.  If true, this leaves Putin with problems unresolved by his intervention.

The limited capacity of airstikes alone to defeat insurgents is a  factor which also destroys the ‘Assad is necessary to fight ISIS’ argument.  If Assad was able to defeat ISIS, he would have done so by now.  His regime is either unable or unwilling to do so.  If it lacks the capacity, we have no need to consider it as a necessary partner in that task.  If it lacks the will, this merits some consideration.  Indeed, if the claimed necessity of keeping him on hand to fight ISIS is a major card in his hand when attempting to preserve his regime in the face of western demands to depose him, then it is in Assad’s interest not to fight ISIS at all.  At least until his continuation in power has been accepted.

A reluctance to intervene in Syria is understandable; but as the modification of previous realist objections to intervention after the Paris attacks indicate, the essense of the problem has always been political will.

In this situation, any realist worth their salt will reconsider what British national interests are without cloaking their reluctance in fradulent assertions of the capability and interests of the Assad regime.  I suggest the continuation of the Syrian civil war is against British interest, as is the continuation of the Assad regime.  The reality is that his regime is going to go, either now, or later; it lacks the capacity to defeat internal armed opposition by itself.  What matters is the post-Assad order, and on that basis, and for all their manifest shortcomings, the Iraq and Afghanistan examples offer some basis for proceding with a reasonable expectation of some (albeit limited) success.  But as the Yugoslav experience demonstrates, the necessary diplomacy to achieve this will require military intervention; and not just air strikes, but intervention on the ground in sufficient force to a) defeat the pretence of ISIS to run a state in eastern Syria, and b) shape the consequent political settlement in western interest.  Restricting ourselves to exploiting the Kurds to provide the necessary forces to fight in our interest has limitations on both counts.

Neither of these objectives will be easily achieved.  But nor are they impossible.  Even the attempt would stand a better chance of shaping the outcomes to be better for western interests than the continuing and unchallenged acceptance of a dangerously misguided received wisdom on the (f)utility of western intervention.  Note how well that has served us in Syria thus far; while the deconstruction of it in the post-Paris conext at Jeremy Corbyn’s expense provides some amusement, it has also come at the cost of tolerating the civil war and everything it has produced so far – catastophic levels of refugee movement to Europe, mass-murder, barrel-bombings, chemical attacks on civilians, mass-rape, ethnic cleansing, the invasion and extension of ISIS to northern Iraq, the inspiration of terrorist attacks in Europe and overseas, and another episode of Russian adventurism.

None of which are in British national interest, and all of which should have been addressed by all necessary means in British national policy long before now.

The Liberal Case for Non-Intervention in Syria. Probably. Or Not. Whatever.

Tim Farron – Fearlessly Leading the Fight Back Against Liberal Interventionism

Some issues merit considerable attention.  Some don’t.  Tim Farron is one of the latter.  In his speech to the Lib Dem conference in September, Farron posited the following argument for people with liberal political convictions in other parties to join the Lib Dems under his leadership.

‘If you are a liberal, why don’t you join the liberals?  If you have never been involved in politics before but are dismayed by the blame, division, fantasy or fear you see peddled by others, join us…  Because, now more than ever, being a spectator is not an option.  Action is vital.’

Let me explain why, despite being a classical liberal in almost every sense, I will not be joining Tim Farron.

I prefer my Liberal leaders to understand the possibility that defence of liberal values and national defence may require armed intervention.  Paddy Ashdown understood the necessity of liberal interventionism, notably over the Balkans, even if he disagreed with the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq.

There is always mileage for an opposition party at Westminster in attempting to capture the moral high ground when challenging government policy.  Charles Kennedy did this by exploiting the mainstream canard about the illegality of the Iraq war, although the results of the 2005 general election (which saw the Labour vote decline by 5.5% and the Lib Dems gain 3.7%) indicate that public disapproval of Iraq, and the assumed toxicity of Blair himself, was overstated.  At least Kennedy’s opposition had some level of consistency behind it in comparison to the Conservatives, whose defection to the anti-war camp in the name of political expediency reaped the meagre rewards of a 0.7% increase in the popular vote; little consolation when considering Blair’s return to Downing Street.

Judging by that result, leading the ‘anti-war’ consensus did little for the Lib Dems.  It is tempting to suggest that the high water mark for the contemporary brand of Lib Dem opportunism principled opposition was Norman Baker MP.  Baker’s 2007 book, ‘The Strange Death of David Kelly’ book exploited the miasma of conspiracy theory surrounding the suicide of an Iraq weapons inspector and at least made him some money confirmed by Lib Dem party policy.

How different things are in 2013-15 for Farron over Syria.  Following the model of ageing military generals in fighting the last war all over again, Farron skipped Ashdown’s response to Bosnia and Kosovo.  Faced with the greatest refugee displacement since the Second World War, driven by the ruthless mass-murder of civilians by the Assad regime using chemical weapons to desperately cling to power on the one hand, and the barbaric ethnic cleansing, mass-murder and sexual slavery imposed by ISIL on the other, Farron responded fearlessly to defend Liberal principles:

‘Tonight I did not vote for military action on Syria. There should be no rush to take military action. We must instead continue to exhaust every possible diplomatic option.’

Well, that was 2013.  Before the Paris attacks and before politicians started to perceive that an anti-interventionist stance was not necessarily the ticket to public support that it had been.  After two more years of mass-murder and increasing refugee mass-migration. Now everything is different.  Dimly grasping the fissure in Labour between a traditional PLP and a left-wing non-interventionist constituency exposed as a result of the Paris terrorist attacks, Farron has now revolutionised his position by applying five tests necessary to government policy to justify Lib Dem support for military action against ISIL.  So let’s run through them here.

1.  Military intervention must be legalised.  Fortunately UN Resolution 2249 does this for Farron, despite the fact that this is a non-binding resolution and has only moral, not legal validity.  If you want a UNSCR to do the real thing, say hello to Putin’s veto.

2.A diplomatic settlement in the Vienna talks.  Where Russia can succeed in delaying or halting any attempt to depose Assad.  A no-bomb zone to protect civilians.  Fine; now who enforces it, and stops ISIL/Assad bombing, bombarding or shooting anyone in it?  One thing would – western troops.  Are you willing to do that, Tim?  I thought not.

3. Pressure on Gulf States for increased support in the region and prevent the funding of jihadists.  Fine by me.  But why are they going to listen to you?

4. A Post-Isil plan.  How about a disarmed, democratic Syria with stable liberal institutions which can (eventually) defend individual rights and minority communities, thereby obviating the necessity for others to militarily intervene.  Too liberal for you, Tim?

5. Publish government report on Muslim Brotherhood and investigate funding of extremists here in the UK.  Fine by me.  But why does that have to be attached to any question of intervening in Syria?

All of this comes down to the problem Farron and his constituency have with the use of force for humanitarian intervention in defence of universal liberal values in the post-Iraq era.

The reality has always been that the diplomacy to resolve a conflict like that is contingent upon the military power deployed to faciliate it.  Which is why Ashdown advised Blair that ground troops would be needed in Kosovo in 1998, not just air strikes.  If Farron wants British and international liberal values to be defended in Syria – or anywhere else – he needs to grasp the nettle of understanding what that may involve.  If he wants to embrace cynical realism, bemoaning the inability or unwillingness to intervene, he should say so and thereby spare the rest of us his hypocritical sanctimony in the process.  And just for aficionados of hypocritical sanctimony:

‘Because, now more than ever, being a spectator is not an option.  Action is vital.’ – Tim Farron, Lib Dem conference speech, September 2015.

So much for the rhetoric.  The reality is that, understandably blinded by the post-Iraq narrative of the ‘illegality’ of western intervention, and even complicit in it, Farron has denied himself tactical room to move when the calculus shifted.  This is precisely the similar problem faced by the Corbynite Labour party, although to their credit Labour actually have a constituency capable of making the liberal case for interventionism by the international community in the form of the PLP.  But it does no credit to Farron’s capabilities, and leaves Ashdown’s criticism of his leadership bid with greater resonance.

‘Judgement is not his strong suit’

Which is the main reason why Farron’s loudly-announced attempt to steal centre-ground from the Labour party is doomed. Elected on a left-of-centre platform to replace a discredited centrist leadership, Farron is, effectively, the Corbyn of the Lib Dems.  I anticipate a demonstration of this when Farron parrots the opposition of ‘realist’ Tory anti-interventionists and regretfully claims the case for military intervention has not yet been made.  But he would be strongly in favour of it if it was.  Honest.

If this prediction is correct, and the related prediction that there will be enough Labour rebels defying Corbyn to grant Cameron parliamentary approval of British participation against ISIL in Syria, it will prove that a coalition of Tories and post-Corbynite Labour party rebels will demonstrate the capacity to outperform the Lib Dems when it comes to the defence of liberal interventionism.

Risking the Wrath of Godwin’s Law with the Hans Ostro Conundrum.

‘I heard that Ken Livingstone on “Question Time” the other night and he hit the nail on the head; it stands to reason Germany’s subjugation after the Treaty of Versailles was all the fault of that liar Blair.’ – Mr. A. Hitler, Bertechsgarden

Another day, yet another incident of Corbynite retro-hard-left triumphalism colliding with reality.  This time, it’s Ken Livingstone’s recent statements on Question Time regarding the 7/7 bombers – ‘I remember when Tony Blair was told by the security services if you go into Iraq we will be a target for terrorism. He ignored that advice and it killed 52 Londoners.’ … ‘… they gave their lives. They said what they believed. They took Londoners’ lives in protest against our invasion of Iraq and we were lied to by Tony Blair about Iraq.’

While the Syrian conflict is providing the anvil for the party’s internal contradictions to be hammered upon, it’s Livingstone’s predictable recitation of the prevalent trope that terrorist attacks are reactive responses to western interventionism that merits attention here.

The problem with this analysis is the denial of agency involved.  In fact the inhabitants of the nations involved, the wider moslem community and indeed the human population of the globe are free to chose how to react to any given action or event in international history.  The point Ken needs to grasp is that the resulting reactions need to be clearly understandable as reasonable and proportionate responses to the precipitating action to warrant consideration in response.  Otherwise we are at the mercy of any wild and irrational claim that one action – let’s say the invasion of Iraq – caused the mass-murder of uninvolved civilians in response, and therefore our foreign policy can only be conducted under the veto, and with the approval, of the wild and irrational.

Somehow when western countries kill civilians in pursuit of what they consider to be legitimate war aims, such as the failure of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to abide by the disarmament provisions of the 1991 ceasefire, Ken and his ilk find this morally unconscionable.  Yet when somebody responding to this in the name of an islamic terrorist ideology murders civilians en masse, it’s a regretable yet inevitable product of western policy.  On the one hand, we have agency, on the other, they don’t.  This sort of thing is certainly nothing new, but when practised by 19th-century politicians extolling the colonisation of ‘uncivilised savages’ by’civilised nations’ Ken and his fellow-travellers have less of a problem recognising the unacceptable level of condescending imperialism involved.

So let’s explore the question of agency a little, in regard to taking the statements of islamic terrorists involved in the mass-murder of civilians at face value when determining the causal linkage between western interventionism and their attacks.

Following Ken’s lead, let’s kick off with the 7/7 bombers. An intensive 2-minute spell of research on the internet reveals that in video statements subsequently released to the media after their attacks, Mohammad Sidique Khan claimed that; ‘Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.’

His fellow mass-murderer Shehzad Tanweer likewise claimed; ‘What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.’

A common element in the first here is the global nature of supposed western oppression of moslems (‘…all over the world’), rather than just concerning Iraq.  While the second does at least mention Iraq, it only comes alongside Afghanistan and – of course – the ritual culpability of America and Israel. Which means in both cases the invasion of Iraq is not the single causal link, but just one of several cumulative rationalisations behind the sense of ideological outrage involved.

I would mention the repeated mass-muderers conducted elsewhere by islamic terrorists, notably the Mumbai shootings which presaged the Paris shootings in 2008, or the Kenyan truck bombings of 1998 where al Queda managed to murder 224 people, only 12 of whom were American.  Or the Estgate shootings in Kenya which killed 64 civilians, supposedly involving the widow of one of the 7/7 attackers (presumably inspired by her personal experience of western oppression as part of the native-born British bourgeoisie).  While these amply demonstrate the propensity of islamic terrorists to kill indiscriminately, regardless of the nationality of their victims, I suspect it is not Eurocentric enough to convince Ken .

So let’s make things a little clearer by considering that the attack on British tourists in Tunisia this year took place despite the rejection of military intervention in Syria by the British parliament two years before.  Or that, despite their non-involvement in the Middle East since the Second World War, how fourteen German tourists were among the nineteen murdered by an al Queda truck bomb of a Tunisian synagogue in April 2002.  At that time an al-Qaeda official called Sulaiman Abu Ghaith attributed those deaths to the deaths of Palestinians, presumably at the hands of Israeli forces; ‘A youth could not see his brothers in Palestine butchered and murdered… [while] he saw Jews cavorting in Djerba’.  Even ignoring the rampant anti-semitism involved, there is not even an attempt to link the foreign policy of the governments of the victims with the attack.

The irrelevance of national foreign policy to targetting by islamic terrorists is perhaps best illustrated by the case of the first Europeans people I can recall to have been subjected to that signature feature of modern islamic terrorism – the ritual decapitation of captives.  In 1995 a party of six European tourists were kidnapped by islamic terrorists in Kashmir.  While one American escaped, the remaining five tourists were presumed to have been killed.  That number included one other American, two Britons, a German and a Norwegian, Hans Ostro.  Ostro’s decapitated body was the only one recovered.

Perhaps Ken Livingstone would like to enlighten me as to the history of Norwegian intervention in Kashmir which justified or explained that?  The kidnappers helpfully provided their rationale;  ‘We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam.’

Evidently no need for an invasion of Iraq or even one of Afghanistan there.  No need even to have a foreign policy involvement on the same continent.  It’s sufficient just to be from the west.

I suspect this will still not be enough to challenge Ken’s adherence to the claimed casual link between western foreign policy and the reaction.  So let’s open the throttle with the maximum reductio ad absurdum, and go for the Nazi parallel. Although this risks incurring Godwin’s law, which warns against the hyperbole involved in citing the Nazis in an internet argument, I believe I can get away with it in this case because; a) I’m old enough to remember encountering it on usenet, and b) I’ve cleared the ground with the preceding argument to legitimatise the pressing of this particular nuclear button.

So, here we go.  If we are to accept that islamic terrorism is a regrettable but understandable response to western foreign policy, how about other regretable but presumably understandable responses to similar external stimuli?  Like this one by a certain Austrian ex-NCO explaining his own sincere yet somehow misunderstood policy of national recovery and European integration:

‘Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and this the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!’

So, the Second World War – along with the First World War and, indeed, everything else – can be blamed on the Jews?  Fortunately there is an alternative hypothesis we might consider before accepting that one.  That alternative would be that, given the historical evidence for the causes of the First and Second World Wars, neither the Jews, the Bolshevists nor degenerate western liberal democracies forced those wars upon Germany.  While by contrast, those wars were (in the case of the first) caused by German agency in pursuit of autocratic militarist hegemony and (in the case of the second) caused by the irrational and genoicidal ideology of one national leader in particular, namely Adolf Hitler, pursuing the same end.

Hitler may well have sincerely believed his own ideology, and rationalised the collisions between his prejudices and external reality accordingly.  But such views have no value when trying to objectively determine the causes behind the outbreak of World War Two, and they have no value to any reconsideration of national foreign policy in response.  Otherwise we might find ourselves seriously responding to the question, ‘How to avoid another World War?’ with an answer like ‘Dealing with the International Jewish Conspiracy before they provoke another Hitler, of course’.

The same is true of Ken Livingstone, and by extension, the more widespread rationalisation of irrational prejudice involved in both the ‘7/7 caused by Iraq intervention’ and the ‘Blair lied’ tropes.

On the first, I have no doubt that the Iraq intervention inflamed irrational prejudices about the legitimacy of western foreign policy.  But it did not create such prejudices, nor the barbaric responses of islamic terrorists towards the west which represent the extreme of those prejudices. Hitler’s rise to power may require understanding the Versailles settlement as a necessary precondition, but the fact that various Weimar governments had succeeded in revising the Versailles settlement (over reparations, or the Locano treaty) without recourse to militaristic anti-semitic agression.

And on the second allegation, Blair’s lying about WMD, I have a simple request – either prove it, or admit it’s bogus.  You’ve had more than a decade to prove it.  How much more time do you need to either find the evidence necessary to prove the allegation, or, by contrast, accept that it was erroneous to start with?

On both of those tropes, the real problem is the existance of an irrational prejudice which demands the selective interpretation of evidence to support a particular ideology.  Which, intellectually speaking, is where Ken Livingstone and the 7/7 bombers find themselves on the same tube carriage.  If that prospect did ever materialise I suspect Ken’s sympathetic critique of western foreign policy would cut no ice with the jihadi about commit a suicide bombing at Ken’s personal expense.  Which brings me to my final point in response to Ken’s asinine statement about the 7/7 bombers; ‘No, they gave their lives.’

That would imply some level of recognisable self-sacrifice along the lines of a Buddhist monk incinerating himself in protest about the Diem government’s repression during the Vietnam war.

A Buddhist monk in Vietnam in 1963 shows Cobryn’s critics in the PLP how to face constituency reselection by the ‘Momentum’ group.

By contrast the 7/7 bombers didn’t ‘give their lives’.  They took them. Just like they took the lives of 52 civilians. Let’s not indulge them by continuing to delude outselves about the causes and consquences of irrational and violent ideologies.

Citizen Smith: What a Difference a Weekend Makes

Comment can seem redundant after an event as shocking as the Paris massacres, but I can’t resist observing how things have changed since the events of last weekend.  This seems undeniable when even the Guardian’s Comment-is-Free is feels compelled to publish an article by Rafael Behr denying the reflexive orthodoxy that islamic terrorism is a product of western interventionism.

Granted, CiF give space to that very same orthodoxy in Mehdi Hasan’s companion piece, but the point is that even a week ago, Hasan’s voice would have passed almost unchallenged on the resurgence of any debate on Parliamentary authorisation for British air-strikes on Syria.

This is, of course, mirrored by the manner in which the Isis attacks have managed to accelerate what I have previously outlined as the necessary falsification of Corbynism (yes, you knew this was coming…).  To recap, my thesis is that the triumph of the ‘anti-war’ hard left represented by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party is so deeply embedded in the established political orthodoxy that only a final and decisive collision with electoral reality could discredit it, subsequently allowing Labour to reconstruct itself as a practical social democratic alternative to Conservative government in Britain. I expected some minor precursor shocks along the line before that catastrophic and cathartic event as the saner elements of Labour contested Corbynism from the centre-ground, even if I regarded them as futile.  These were indeed swiftly apparent in Corbyn’s clashes with the PLP, even if I must admit they came thicker and faster than I expected.

The first, I believe, came in the form of his IRA-apologist Shadow Chancellor embracing then abandoning Tory legislative government spending limitations, thereby torching his own threadbare fiscal credibility like a teenage joyrider setting fire to a stolen Trabant.  The next arose over his nuclear unilateralism conflicting with existing Labour policy to maintain Trident submarine-launched nuclear missiles. Demonstrating considerable value for money, the same issue came back into the news with his appointment of another veteran retro hard-left figure, Ken Livingstone, to conduct the relevant policy review alongside his multilateralist shadow Defence Secretary and provide the necessary unilateralist influence.  Immediate embarrassment followed when Livingstone reacted to predictable criticism of his appointment from Kevan Jones, a junior shadow defence Minister, by accusing him (apparently in ignorance of Jones’ treatment for depression) of needing ‘psychiatric help’.

Jezza himself has made commendable efforts to lead his cronies by example in this sustained comic opera.  One being his expressed unhappiness over the legality of drone strikes killing Isis members with a penchant for the recreational decapitation of civilian hostages.  Another being his halting attempt to distance himself from the Stop the War Coalition’s tweet made immediately after the Paris attacks, which blamed the attacks on western foreign policy.  That particular effort might have been more effective if the tweet in question wasn’t entirely consistent with STWC’s ideological approach (i.e., they are not so much ‘anti-war’ as ‘anti-western intervention’ in isolation).  The damage that sort of analysis now involves in the post-Paris political context might have been less obvious if Corbyn himself both hadn’t been chair of that particular organisation until his leadership election, and if he hadn’t clearly shared their opinion on the matter.

To add to this embarrassment of riches, another example immediately followed in the form of his reluctance to accept the necessity of ‘shooting-to-kill’ suicide bombers, which was also revealed immediately after the Paris attacks.  Corbyn’s precise comments on the issue of the police shooting suicide bombers bear further ridicule, I mean repeating;

‘But the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing.’

Indeed.  I suggest when you have fanatics using assault rifles and bombs to engage in the mass-murder of civilians you already have a war on your hands, Jeremy.  Responding in self-defence may not be ‘a good thing’, but it is almost certainly necessary.  That Corbyn has, in another episode of abruptly backtracking after yet another collision with reality, accepted this evil necessity still does nothing to detract from the damage his first responses have caused; very few people outside the echo-chamber of his own constituency will now have confidence in his capacity for decision as a Prime Minister responsible for the defence of the country.
This is only the latest in an exhaustive list of buffoonery which Jezza has managed to cram into his short but fun-packed career as leader, hopelessly attempting to manage the self-destructive episodes inflicted by himself and staged by his hard-left buddies as soon as he appoints them to shadow cabinet positions.  It’s like a really bad episode of Dr Who where Corbyn, McDonnell, Livingstone and a coterie of like-minded revolutionaries from a fringe Trotskyite meeting in the glory days of the Lunatic Left under Ken’s leadership of Greater London Council in the late seventies or early eighties find themselves propelled into a twenty-first-century post-Thatcherite world which they don’t comprehend understand, and where the yawning gulf between their ideological certainties and conflicting reality leads to a series of predictable episodes of comedy embarrassments.

For some reason I find myself recalling the exploits of another hopelessly deluded urban revolutionary and his acolytes from the Tooting Popular Front from that era.

Power to the People!  Forward to Oblivion!