Category Archives: War & Peace

Cameron’s declared bombing aims in Syria are ridiculously vain

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?

 

Cameron misleads the Commons again

There are three big holes in the government’s defence of the drone killings of 3 British citizens in Syria in this last month.   One is the legality when under Article 51 of the UN charter every country has the right of self-defence, but any armed attack would have to be “imminent or actual”.   More specifically the need for pre-emptive self-defence must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”.   That does no conceivably fit what happened.   Cameron told the Commons that Khan and Hussein, the two British jihadists killed, had been planning to attach public commemorations in the UK, and No.10 later specified VE Day in May and Armed Forces Day in June, long before the two men were killed in August.   On that basis the killing was clearly not within the law.

Second, there is the much more blatant fact that these killings defy the unambiguous vote of the Commons in 2013 rejecting UK bombing in Syria.   It is clear that Cameron intended at the end of July this year to recall Parliament which had just gone into recess in order to win a vote to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria, but at the last minute pulled back.   Then by September the abrupt rise of Jeremy Corbyn made it unlikely, or at least uncertain, that such a vote could then be won, so Cameron and Fallon decided to make the issue a prior settled one in order to get their way.   But this is a blatant abuse of Parliament for which the government should be expressly censured.

A third very serious gap in the government’s handling of this episode concerns the legal advice received by the PM and National Security Council from the government’s Law Officers.    Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, has been keeping a very low profile, and it is crucial that that advice, and the reasons for it, should now be fully disclosed, both regarding these drone killings already executed and any that might organised in future.

Cameron never answered any of these charges in the House, but concentrated instead on his own agenda (as he always does, irrespective of the questions asked).   That was to try to demonstrate his readiness to take tough action against ISIS and to win plaudits from the more bloodthirsty parts of the press.   But above all, he should not be allowed to get away with operating drone killings as a matter of policy without any parliamentary sanction.

Western media-led view of Ukraine is selective and wrong

So Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, wants to set up a European army in the face of the threat posed by Moscow.   Quite apart from the fact that this would partly duplicate NATO and the suspicion that it is motivated more by the desire to centralise key powers at EU level since in terms of foreign policy (in Juncker’s words) “we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously”, it completely misreads ‘the Russian threat’.   Over the last 20 years there has been a steady Western encroachment eastwards which was bound eventually to cause Russian resistance and retaliation.   It has also happened in blind disregard of ~Western pledges to do no such thing.
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Will 2015 be the year when the UK awakes to how disastrous right-wing economic, political, military ideology has been?

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.
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It’s vital that tomorrow’s Commons vote recognises the Palestinian state

It is significant that tomorrow’s vote in the Commons for Britain to recognise the Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state comes not at the behest of the government, but on the initiative of an MP (the redoubtable and resourceful Labour MP, Grahame Morris) under the relatively new procedure that allows Back-Benchers to choose the issue for debate on the floor of the House.   The government would never have allowed this to be debated and voted on if they could have prevented it, and if this resolution supporting Palestinian statehood receives a majority, which seems likely, it will insist that the vote is purely advisory and simply ignore it.   It is yet another abuse of the House of Commons that the government has quietly and unobtrusively adopted the principle, without consultation or consent, that the only votes it will accept are those put forward by government itself as part of its own business programme.   This not only means that debates and votes on international matters not initiated by the government are ignored, but also domestic petitions that gain enough signatures to earn debate on the floor of the House.
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How can ISIS be stopped?

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.
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UK must not be sucked into yet another war in Iraq

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.
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Cameron, over-hasty as always on rhetoric, has to retreat over action on ISIS

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.
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Rushing into new anti-extremist powers has a troublesome history

Here we go again.   The undoubted threat represented by ISIS and the return of its recruits to the UK is leading to calls for new banning orders for extremist groups, new civil powers to target extremists, and measures to target persons even when have actually not broken the law.   It has also led to proposals to revoke the passports of returning British citizens, a power already being used after it was introduced in April this year via royal prerogative executive powers – an anachronistic means of acquiring new powers without explicit parliamentary authority.   The emphasis is being put on strengthening terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) which replaced control orders and are almost identical with them, when the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson has recommended stronger ‘locational constraints’ and required attendance at probation service meetings, though these are unlikely to make a decisive difference.
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