We have all learnt that Cameron routinely makes up policy on the hoof, but he has really outdone himself by his explanation of his case for bombing Syria. First of all as he states it, his military case is the defeat of ISIS. This is risible since the contribution that he is planning for Britain to make to that end would be marginal to the point of invisibility. It would not only be wholly ineffective, it would also have the perverse effect of making the streets of Britain less safe as ISIS or its affiliates sought to take revenge. But most important of all, it is easy to enter a war by some vainglorious posturing as Cameron is intending, but very difficult to exit a war as Iraq and Afghanistan make all too clear. There is the other inconvenient problem for Cameron that if Jeremy Corbyn wins on Saturday, his chances of winning a Commons vote are far from certain.
Cameron’s second declared goal is the political objective of strengthening the Iraqi government. This is equally fanciful thinking. UK participation in a few bombing raids in Syria will not have the slightest impact in achieving a more secure government in Iraq. It is a cliche’ that everyone understands that no war can be won or country saved from defeat by bombing from the air, only by boots on the ground. The protection of Baghdad is entirely a matter of the resolution and discipline of the Iraqi army, reinforced as it already is by heavy weaponry supplied by the West. The truth is that adding a few UK bombing sorties in Syria is far more likely to spur extra recruitment for ISIS/al-Qaeda than consolidate the government in Iraq.
Cameron’s third goal is to help to lead a new diplomatic initiative in Syria which with the support of Russia and China would install a government of national unity in Damascus. This again is a preposterously bloated ambition. The idea that Russia or China will take any notice of Britain’s minuscule participation in Syria in modifying or reversing their deeply held positions on the Middle East is again absurd. The proposal also rather arrogantly dismisses the far more important role of the US, EU and UN which are bound to be the key players in any wider initiative alongside not only Russia and China, but also the regional powers of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Who does Cameron think he is?
There never was a truer example of ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging’. His article in the Observer today is a gift to his opponents, but it does even more damage to himself. He reveals himself as increasingly deserted even his previous closest followers, an utterly broken man watching everything he stood for swept away before his eyes. He has gone from opposition to delusion, from hysteria to denial. But what is perhaps most disturbing of all is that he can’t, as he himself candidly admits, understand why the Corbyn earthquake is happening. He just blankly refuses to acknowledge the passionate resentment which he and New Labour created by laying the foundations for the financial crash of 2008-9 and making the squeezed middle and brutally punished poor pay for it, by taking Britain without any constitutional approval into an illegal was with Iraq, by introducing into politics the hated regime of spin and manipulation , by indulging now his squalid lust for money-making, and by clearly having no more overriding desire than to strut the world with Bush.
He describes his opponents as trapped “in their own hermetically sealed bubble”, when that applies exactly to himself. If what he says were really true, why has the Labour electorate swelled to over 600,000, 50% larger than he managed even at the height of his pomp when so many were glad to be rid of the Tories on 1st May 1997? Why is he so unfeeling and unapologetic about aligning the New Labour alongside the Tories in pursuit of austerity from 2010 onwards, especially since Osborne’s policy (to shrink the State) has been so dramatically unsuccessful in reducing the deficit? Why did he urge the Blairites to support the government’s welfare bill which opposed every tenet of the real Labour Party? Why did he push for privatisation of the NHS and other public services? Why did his acolyte Mandelson say “New Labour is “relaxed at people becoming filthy rich”, and proved it by letting inequality balloon to even highe heights than under Thatcher?
So after doing all those things, how does he expect Labour members and the country to treat him? After a 20-year temp;orary iruption of hi-jacking the party down a route utterly alien to its founders, in order to ingratiate himself with corporate and financial leaders on their terms, how can he imagine that anyone wants him back? He has a lot to learn, less egoism, more humility.
The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war (March-April 2003, nearly 12 years ago) was set up in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011. The announcement today that the report after 6 years on inquiry is being strung out until after the election this May is truly scandalous. Cameron has tried to wash his hands of it by saying that he is not responsible and the inquiry is independent doesn’t wash. He closed down the Gibson inquiry into alleged UK involvement in US rendition when it became clear that its revelations could be highly embarrassing to the UK authorities, so there is no question that he could set a time limit for the Chilcot inquiry if he really wanted to. What makes it all the more scandalous is not that more time is needed to complete the report (it has been completed), but rather that those criticised in the report have been given the option of indefinitely delaying its publication as a result of being given prior access to what it says about them and then being allowed endlessly to prevaricate by haggling over every detail they don’t like. On a matter that affects the whole nation and has left an abiding imprint of deep shame, this is outrageous. Read more “Establishment writes its own rules to evade embarrassment” »
The end of 2014 has certainly brought home some hard economic truths. Osborne told us he had a long-term economic plan and it was working because the UK had the fastest-growing economy in the G7. Well, it isn’t: the UK economy is now growing at only half the rate of the US economy, and even Australia is now growing faster than the UK. Worse, the UK economy is slowing, David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, comments that “the stark revision (downward) in annual growth confirms that the pace of recovery is slowing.” The budget deficit, which according to Osborne’s long-term economic plan, was supposed now to be £40bn is actually £100bn. Worse, the deficit is now beginning to rise, not fall at all. The re-balancing of the economy, another key part of the government’s long-term economic plan, hasn’t materialised and in fact has got much worse. Kern again: “the current balance of payments deficit has risen to an unsustainably high level….owing to the fall in net investment”. Business investors clearly don’t believe Osborne either. Read more “Will 2015 be the year when the UK awakes to how disastrous right-wing economic, political, military ideology has been?” »
It cannot be emphasised too strongly that this is not another invasion of Iraq. It is a response to a desperate plea by the new Iraqi Government for outside help to combat what is seen as an existential threat to the Iraqi state; nor is ISIL just another enemy in the complex and lethal sectarianism of the middle east. It is a monster, with a bloodlust that can only be compared to the Genghis Khan Mongols or the latter-day Nazis—and one that the world simply cannot turn aside from or wash its hands of. But equally, it is foolish not to recognise the risks of military action through air strikes: the inevitable civilian casualties, the death threats to hostages, the very real possibility of terrorist retaliation on British soil and the risk of mission creep, which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was talking about in terms of taking action towards Syria with a dubious legality—I gather from what he said—and the uncertain and unpredictable consequences for the civil war against Assad. Read more “My speech today in the Commons debate on Iraq” »
Tomorrow’s debate in the Commons brings to a head the issue of what action should be taken to stop Islamic State in its murderous rampage across northern Iraq and Syria. It is not this time another invasion of Iraq, but a desperate plea by the new Iraqi government for outside assistance to help combat what is seen as an existential threat to the Iraqi state. Nor is ISIS just another enemy in the complex and lethal sectarianism of the Middle East, but rather a monster with a blood lust which can be compared with the Genghiz Khan Mongols or the latter day Nazis, and one which the world can surely not turn aside from and wash its hands of. But equally it would be foolish not to recognise the risks of military action via air strikes – the inevitable civilian casualties, the death threat to hostages, the risk of terrorist retaliation on British soil, and the mission creep towards action on Syria with its uncertain consequences on the civil war against Assad. Read more “How can ISIS be stopped?” »
Whatever the result of the Scots’ referendum, an even bigger issue is now rapidly coming down the line. As the US is being dragged remorselessly into what Obama likes to call a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq-Syria – a war by any other name – it is vital that the UK doesn’t tamely follow suit as Blair did at Bush’s beckoning in 2003. A war fought by US bombers and drones, together with a steadily increasing number of US special forces and ‘advisers’ – boots on the ground whether or not they ostensibly have a combat mission – is not going to be won for years, if at all, when the regional coalition-of-the-willing (mainly Saudi, Turkey and Qatar) are unwilling to deploy their own troops, with the exception of the Kurdish peshmerga. There remains too the further critical difficulty that an attack on ISIS in their real power base in northern Syria has no legality if Assad has not asked for such action (he certainly won’t), there is no Security Council resolution sanctioning such a move, and Russia would almost certainly veto such action in the Security Council and threaten to retaliate in other ways. Read more “UK must not be sucked into yet another war in Iraq” »
Here we go again. Cameron’s latest declaration from the NATO summit is clearly hinting his intention of joining the US on air strikes against ISIS positions in Syria as well as in Iraq. This stance is legalised by claiming that the Iraqi government has called for these strikes, which is true, and that president Assad’s rejection of any such strikes is overruled by the fact that his war crimes disqualify him from being regarded as the legitimate ruler of Syria. The threat of the gruesome murder of the British aid worker is adding to the pressure on Cameron to take action, but after the previous Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have all led to internal insurgencies, instability and chaos, there needs to be a far clearer set of objectives than merely doing something, anything. What exactly are those objectives? Read more “Are we really sure of our objectives over Syria?” »
Cameron on Friday was waxing bellicose about a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before” because of ISIS. Compared with Hitler in 1939? Compared with the IRA during the 1980-90s? But Cameron’s statement to the House yesterday was remarkable not only for the way he has been forced to backtrack over the weekend because of the legal and political constraints, but also for its very limited focus on British jihadis. There was nothing about the central issue of how to deal with the ISIS threat on the ground, and nothing either about how to counter the radicalisation of young Muslims which is at the heart of turning them towards jihadism. It was restricted entirely to trying to stop fighters returning to the UK, as it is estimated some 250 out of 500 have already done, and the proposals even on this were weak on detail and effectiveness. Read more “Cameron, over-hasty as always on rhetoric, has to retreat over action on ISIS” »