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 accepting the limb-maiming, child-soldier exploiting, mass-murdering and mass-raping RUF should have been left to devastated Sierra Leone, 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.  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 part’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!

Hypocrite of the week award – Angus Robertson, MP, for services to Unionism.

Angus Robertson – Courageously Making Westminster Relevant for Secessionist Nationalism.

As a slight change from the normal series of turgid and rambling posts revelling in the self-inflicted catastrophe that has befallen the Labour Party, here’s a shorter post on the other topic which remains de rigueur on this blog – the hypocrisy of the SNP.

The latest in an endless series of examples of that subject arrived this week with the decision of the SNP to use their votes at Westminster to oppose Conservative plans for extended Sunday shop opening.  Although this offers an excellent example of the tactical opportunism of the SNP to posture at Labour’s expense as progressives, protecting the rights or retail workers, this is contingent upon a corollary which (as usual) remains unexplored by a media which remains largely incapable of challenging the SNP’s narrative.  So let’s explore it here.

Here’s Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, interviewed by The Huffington Post in July –

‘We are extremely sympathetic to matters which are strictly English being determined by English Parliamentarians, that’s always been the SNP position.’

But evidently not so sympathetic that he will abstain from voting on issues which are, de jure, not matters affecting the law in Scotland, and which involve legislating for the Rest of the UK (RUK) outside Scotland.

While that contradiction seems straightforward enough, there’s substantial additional value in this episode which makes this especially worthwhile for aficionados of nationalist hypocrisy.  Here’s Robertson, justifying his position on BBC4’s ‘Today’ programme when quizzed on this point (circa 2 hrs 33 mins into the programme, Tuesday 10 November 2015);

‘We’re going to vote it down because it does impact on Scotland and the reason is as follows – the legislation will impact on pay, not just in the rest of the UK but in Scotland too and because the UK government is not prepared to bring in any pay safeguards or guarantees.  We’ve been persuaded by the many shop workers, and not just in Scotland incidentally, but throughout the UK, who have been impressing on us the risk to their livelihood we will exercise our vote because of the impact it will have in Scotland but also the detrimental impact it will have in England.  Now I should say we are not opposed to Sunday trading.  We support Sunday trading, it exists in Scotland, it is a good thing, but if the government is serious about doing this it shouldn’t being doing it on the backs of shop workers who we fear, and they fear, will lose out on their pay terms.’

If the SNP want to mandate time and half overtime for Sunday working in Scotland, they should legislate for it in Scotland at Holyrood where the SNP have had plenty of time to do so, having been in government since 2007.  If Robertson is genuinely concerned with extending what Robertson refers to as the Scottish Sunday pay ‘premium’ to the RUK, he could of course introduce a bill to that effect at Westminster himself.

That’s still just the small change of this particular episode in nationalist hypocrisy, however.  The real crux of the issue is Robertson’s celebration of the power his party has to oppose and influence policy at Westminster on an RUK issue, where he considers the SNP to now be ‘the effective opposition’ to Conservative government – thereby providing Scotland with a salient example of precisely why Scottish representation and participation at Westminster is in the Scottish national interest.

So much for independence and secession, then.

Marxist Cliche: Seamus Milne and the role of Marxist-Leninist Crocodile Buggerism in Labour’s Electoral Strategy

A Japanese pilot about to demonstrate the utility of Corbynite electoral strategy against the USN and Royal Navy off the coast of Okinawa in 1945.

One of the reasons I post to this blog is to illustrate the historical parallels which confirm Marx’s axiom that history repeats itself; first as tragedy, then as farce.  And then, I would add, as cliche.  I’ve resisted posting much on Cobyn’s success in the Labour election because it remained unclear whether it would represent the triumph of what Norman Geras memorably titled the Verkrappt Left, or whether the reality of power-broking in a wider party political context would dilute the ideological purity of the Corbynites.  To some extent this uncertainty was mirrored by Labour MP’s in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) looking for signs that the Corbynites would reach back into the Bennite past to impose a policy of local re-selection of MP’s, handily allowing the hard left to seize control of the reselection process and thereby purge centrist Blairite ‘wreckers’ and ‘saboteurs’.

But does Corbyn even need to do this?  This sort of purging would only be necessary if the PLP had the potential to form a anti-Corbynite consituency and engage in a struggle for power.  My opinion is that it lacks even this capacity.  The evidence of the post-Blair Labour record, first under Brown and then under Milliband, reveals the complete absence of any depth of a genuine Blairite constituency in the PLP.  The pathetic support shown for Liz Kendall’s bid for Labour leadership, and the comically impotent responses of the PLP to the chaotic fiasco of Corbyn’s leadership so far, indicate that the absence of a centrist constituency in the PLP has become so pronounced that I doubt that the PLP would be able to challenge Corbyn even if it wanted to.  It’s apparent that many in the PLP are aware of the problem, but the point is that none have had the will to do anything about it.  Reselection would be an imperative if the PLP was to represent a threat to Corbyn.  The evidence to date is overwhelming that it does not.

Even if it did, there is no wider appetite for a public stand on discredited Blairite centrism.  Which means that the conditions necessary to challenge Corbynism are absent, and will need to be created anew.  It was my fond hope that electoral defeat in 2015 would have been sufficient to point out the error in abandoning Blairite strategy, but this is clearly not the case.  Blairism remains discredited in a wider sense within and without the Labour party itself.  Repeated electoral defeat is the only measure which will demonstrate the gap between what the hard left want, and the unarticulated but nonetheless distinct reality of what the British electorate will accept.  2015 was not enough to instil the lesson, and therefore an overwhelmingly catastrophic electoral defeat of the hard left is required in 2020.

The necessary pre-condition of that is the construction of Corbyn’s platform as an exemplary and uncompromising example of hard-left policies untained with any remaining traces of centrist deviationism.  It will not only need to be an eye-wateringly uncompromisingly leftist platform designed to demonstrate the obsolescence of any residual appeal to the centre, it will need to be widely advertised as such.  Fortunately Corbyn has landed upon the perfect agent to deliver this in the form of Seamus Milne, the Stalinist ex-editor of the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’.

It would be difficult to pick a better choice.  I won’t rehearse Milne’s full credentials here; suffice it to say that he’s long been an apologist for fascist terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iraqi ‘resistance’. His reflexive anti-Americanism has been a determining influence on his commentary over the past decade, most notably expressed in his attribution of blame for the 9/11 attacks on America itself and his characterisation of Putin’s invasion of Crimea and his military adventures in Ukraine as ‘defensive’.

Milne, like most ideologues and especially communist ideologues, likes to see himself on the right side of history.  Enraged by Francis Fukuyama’s assertion in the ‘End of History’ that the evident success of liberal democracy and the evident failure of Soviet communism at the end of the Cold War amounted to an end to history, Milne postulates (most obviously in his own book, ‘The Revenge of History’), that the following decade has seen the defeat of the American neo-liberalism Fukuyama saw as decisively victorious in the battle of ideologies.  The problem with Milne’s appropriation of historical teleology (and Fukuyama’s similar effort to interpret the past exclusively in the light of a pre-determined analytical conclusion) is that history does not work for the deterministic benefit of political ideologies, even if it is sometimes influenced by them.

[For obvious reasons, I am compelled to observe that, like many better-informed commentators in the field of political science and international relations, Milne is unaware that Fukuyama’s thesis was originally subverted by the classic parody of the Whig Interpretation of History, Sellar’s and Yeatman’s ‘1066 and All That’ published as recently as 1930. Milne’s ripost to Fukuyama was therefore even more unnecessary than might be suspected at first.  Still, you’d need sufficient knowledge of the subject and a sense of humour to appreciate that.]

To return to an illustration of the historical phenomenon of the repeated collisions between the ideological purity of Milne/Corbynism and electoral reality, I am gratified to find another excuse to quote Denis Healey after his recent death.  Healey was the nemesis of the Labour ideologues when they thought the arrival of the Millenium was about to be assured by the purging of centrist deviationists and wreckers like Healey from positions of power and influence in the Labour Party.  This process was exemplified by the 1981 battle for the Labour Deputy Leadership between Healey and Tony Benn.

‘Wherever I went, a group of Militant supporters followed me around to heckle.  In Cardiff there was an orchestrated attempt to howl me down by extremist mobs of Trotskyites and anarachists, whom Tony Benn did nothing to discourage or condemn.  He had made a point of inviting groups outside the Labour Party to join his cause, including even the Posadists.  The Posadists believed that socialism would be brought to Earth by extra-terrestrial creatures from outer space, because they would have high technology and therefore must be socialists…  In my rally at Birmingham such groups were joined by a mass of IRA supporters who made it quite impossible for me to be heard.  All these scenes were transmitted by television into ordinary homes throughout the country.  They gave the Labour Party a reputation for extremism, violence, hatred and division from which it has not yet recovered.  Yet Benn still insists on describing such election campaigns as “a healing process”.’

This is the template that Corbyn’s ‘new politics’ will have to avoid.  Given Corbyn’s prominence as an IRA/Hamas/Hebzollah/anti-American apologist, the attitudes of his shadow chancellor (deliberately and distinctively pro-IRA in the past) and Milne’s similar track record, my money is on it failing to do so.  After all, as Healey points out, the 1981 controversies were just another repetition of the same conflict which had riven Labour in the 1950s.

‘The real tragedy of Bevanism in the fifties, as of Bennery in the eighties, was that it distracted Labour from tackling the problems created by the social changes which the Atleee Government produced, and by the secular decline of Britain as a world power.  Moreover, by posing the issues in terms of a theological disputation about the religion of Socialism, it cut the Labour Party off from its natural roots, not least among the working class itself.  It was a reversion to the romantic Messianism which led to the defeat of the first Socialist movements in Europe in 1848.’    

Which means that if there is any teleology involved in all this, it points towards a further and entirely predictable Labour defeat in 2020.  First tragedy, then farce.  Then cliche.

To further illustrate the move from tragedy to cliche and then back to farce involved, I only need to quote Tom Sharpe’s satire ‘The Wilt Alternative’.  Tempting as it is to compare Milne to the left-wing terrorists Sharpe parodies (with their arch-Corbynite allegations against ‘CIA Zionist reformists’), the most accurate parallel arises when the protagonist feels compelled to defend a hard-left academic colleague from the hostile reaction to his film on Marxist-Leninist Crocodile Buggerism.  Yes, Marxist-Leninist Crocodile Buggerism.

‘He leant back in his chair and wondered yet again how it was that a supposedly intelligent man like Bilger, who had after all been to university and was a graduate, could still believe the world would be a better place once all the middle classes had been put up against a wall and shot. Nobody ever seemed to learn anything from the past.’

Which is why I unreservedly greet Milne’s cheerleading of Labour policy under the Corbynites as the natural and necessary precondition for what I have earlier described as Labour’s Kamikaze joyride to electoral oblivion.

Tom Watson and Szyslak’s Second Dictum

Great Philosphers of Our Time #1 – Morris Szyslak grapples with the conundrum of distinguishing ethical legislative representation from Watsonite opportunism.

It’s always worth observing phenomena which indicate the intersection of two disparate threads of human intellectual endeavour.  Politics and philosophy have a clear overlap, an area which has provided fertile ground for academics to pontificate upon and explore in order to access pots of grant money, err, I mean ‘for the advancement of knowledge’.  Barring a genuine revolution in British electoral politics of epic magnitude, characterising the post-Blair Labour party’s leadership choices as ‘a kamikaze joyride into electoral oblivion’ as I have done – repeatedly – seems all too predictable.  In view of the incredulous hostility evident in the recent meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party following John McDonnell’s abrupt U-turn on following Osborne’s proposals on legislating for mandatory future budget surpluses, even the shell-shocked, demoralised post-Miliband PLP appear to recognise this.  Given that the process of ‘kamakaze joyride into electoral oblivion’ has therefore reached the point of total inevitability under Jeremy Corbyn, that particular thesis has moved from philosophical speculation into the realm of predictable, repearable science.

To return to a question which remains within realm of philosophical inquiry, I would now like to move elsewhere, and demonstrate the clear intersection of politics and philosophy illustrated by the influence of Sizkakian philosophy on Tom Watson.

Most Labour politicians take well-known socialist thinkers as their reference points; Marx, Gramsci, Webb, etc.  However, all politicians tend towards a more morally-flexible realism encapsulated by philosophers outside that customary ideological orbit.  A lesser-known but nonetheless influential example of these would be Morris Szyslak.  Szyslak formulated many of his dicta after experience working in a public bar, allowing his subsequent observations of human behaviour to reveal a deep insight into the human condition.  An example of this would be Szyslak’s lesser-known but nonetheless instructive First Dictum:

Man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch ’em in the face, and for what?

Szyslak’s second dictum is of course far more well-known, and can be applied successfully to much political behaviour [see below – although often attributed to others, Szyslak originated the concept].  An obvious example would be Tom Watson’s refusal to apologise for advocating investigation of allegations into child abuse by British politicians and establishment figures.  These allegations culminated with a charge of rape against Leon Brittain, ex-Home Secretary in the Thatcher government – a charge Watson wrote to the prosecution authorities to investigate, and which was evenutally dropped.  But not before Brittain died ignorant that his name had effectively been cleared.  Demands for an apology mounted after Watson was forced to retract his assertion that Brittain had been ‘close to evil’.

In the period following shocking revelations about past abuse conducted by public figures such as the radio DJ Jimmy Saville there was a clear sense that victims of such abuse had been faced with too little assistance and a lack of willingness to investigate.  An investigation into historic allegations of abuse against various establishment figures, (later including Brittain) was one reaction.  Detective Superintendent McDonald, a police officer investigating earlier allegations, characterised them in December 2014 as ‘credible and true’, obviously to encourage other potentially vulnerable witnesses to come forward.

Questions soon arose about the credibility of those witnesses after Tory MP’s Harvey Proctor and Nigel Evans and radio DJ Paul Gamaccini complained about their treatment as suspects on insufficient evidence, an experience apparently parallel with that faced by Brittain.  Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecution warned that it was the job of the police ‘… to conduct impartial, objective investigations and not to indulge narcissists and fantasists, and certainly not to hand over the right to determine the truth to people on the sole basis that they claim to be the victims of crime.’

As a result, the pendulum was perceived to have swung too far against the presumption of innocence on behalf of those accused of such crimes.  Consequently, Watson’s close association with the allegations brought his personal role into question.

The problem here is how to distinguish between differing interpretations of Watson’s behaviour – reasonable representation of an issue of genuine public concern, or opportunistic exploitation of an emotive issue for political advantage which prejudices the legal principle of innocence before conviction after due legal process.  This is where a close observation of where Watson’s approach intersects with moral and political philosophy can assist our judgement.

To quote Watson’s statement to the House of Commons in response to demands for his apology:

‘We presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused, and then ignored, dismissed and then disdained. If anyone deserves an apology, it’s them.’

This would be respectable enough but it ignores the balancing requirement of respecting innocence before conviction, and avoiding witch-hunts inevitably tarnishing the reputations of public figures even when they are innocent of the allegations involved.  The original concept of facilitating allegations represents an excellent tactical choice for a politician wanting to simultaneously capitalise on the easy public support to be gleaned by attacking paedophiles whilst posing as a champion of justice denied.  But the inability to judge the moment when the pendulum begins to swing back against the original public mood, the moment when the injustice of false accusations became apparent which was unmistakably signposted by Lord MacDonald’s intervention, fatally undermines that posture as a champion of justice.  A champion of justice is most vulnerable when perceived to be fostering injustice – even in the name of the children.

In political terms this is counter-productive as it brings Watson’s political and ethical judgement into question instead of vindicating it.  There is a balance here, and Watson is unable or unwilling to perceive the damage unfounded allegations can do to both the accused and to the credibility of future allegations of abuse from marginalised victims.  The parallel with McCarthyism should be obvious.

In conclusion it can be seen that Watson’s approach is dangerously vulnerable to charges that it adheres too closely to Szyslak’s Second Dictum:

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

It seems reduntant to ask if anybody is concerned that Watson, perceived as the moderating influence upon the irrational Corbynite frenzy dominating the Labour party, has adopted the reflexive populism satirised by a suicidal misanthrope in the word’s best-known animated cartoon.  Forward to Oblivion!