Oliver Kamm on Trump, Putin, and Syria

Oliver Kamm takes a break from telling us George Orwell’s advice on writing is rubbish to advocate war with Russia. The headline:

Trump’s abdication of duty leaves Putin unchallenged

Let’s see.

Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state in the Clinton administration, famously described America as the indispensable nation.

Ah, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. Clinton’s foreign policy can at best be described as one of benign neglect: on his watch Al-Qaeda formed, carried out deadly attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and put in all the ground work for 9/11. In terms of interventions, he put American troops into Somalia which ended in humiliating disaster and managed to drop a bomb on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade while helping Kosovars. Now I’m perhaps willing to listen to the argument that there was a humanitarian need to intervene in Kosovo, but the decision to make it a NATO action and subject Belgrade to aerial bombardment was a catastrophic mistake we’re still paying for (I’ll come back to that later). So why Albright is someone worth quoting on the subject of foreign policy I don’t know.

Her supposed vaingloriousness has been criticised but she was right. In the absence of a supranational authority capable of exercising sovereignty, the task of guaranteeing global public goods like regional security and a reserve currency falls to the world’s leading democracy.

Now Oliver Kamm was one of the biggest supporters of Tony Blair’s decision to join George W. Bush in invading Iraq, sincerely believing that bombing a population, wrecking their country, and killing thousands of them is a sensible solution to a humanitarian crisis. To be fair, at the time lots of people – myself included – thought the idea had merits. What the Iraq debacle taught us is that it didn’t, and military intervention only makes things much, much worse. To my knowledge, Kamm is the only person aside from lunatic neo-cons in the US who thinks it’s still a good idea. Presumably that’s why The Times didn’t let him run this piece on their pages.

Tragically, the United States under President Trump is suspicious of that historic role. And into the vacuum that America leaves, President Putin steps.

This is a neat little narrative, but historically inaccurate. America left no vacuum in Syria because they were never there; they left a vacuum in Iraq because Obama pulled out too early, allowing ISIS to form; and it was Obama, not Trump, who blathered on about “red lines” in Syria before doing absolutely nothing when they were crossed. Note also that a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he seemed uninterested in getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars. But the likes of Kamm thinks it’s the responsibility of US presidents to uphold supposedly liberal principles in bombing countries against the wishes of both sets of people.

It’s an abdication of responsibility that undermines the liberal international order and betrays peoples struggling against oppression.

The immediate victims of this shift in relative power are nearly 400,000 civilians in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, who last week suffered heavy bombardment (with hundreds of fatalities) from the depraved Assad regime.

Presumably this wouldn’t be happening under Obama, who dealt with Syria and Putin in robust fashion. I might as well say it now: the entire basis of this article is snobbery about Trump on the part of Kamm. Most of his criticism ought to be directed at Obama – who is not mentioned once. Anyone familiar with Kamm’s Twitter feed will know he considers Trump to be awfully vulgar and not fit for office, not like the oh so sophisticated and well-mannered Obama.

Syria is a client state of Russia.

So what? So is Belarus. Kamm thinks the US should adopt the same zero-sum geopolitical as Putin, whereby whatever is good for Russia must automatically be bad for America. America has absolutely no strategic interest or reason to be involved in Syria. Does the US have some sort of moral obligation to ensure no state is a client of Russia? Is this a cause American servicemen sign up to die for?

The UN Security Council carried a resolution on Saturday demanding that “all parties cease hostilities without delay for at least 30 consecutive days” to allow the transport of humanitarian aid. The compromises required by Russia ensure that the resolution is an exhibition of handwringing. It doesn’t establish a starting date and it doesn’t constrain Syrian and Russian forces from continuing attacks under the fiction of being engaged in anti-terrorist operations. Essentially, all opponents of the regime are labelled terrorists by Assad, Putin and their apologists.

The UN is useless, yes. How is any of this Trump’s fault?

This is not quite the scenario that Russian state propaganda looked forward to under the Trump administration but it’s bad enough. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the fake news channel RT (formerly Russia Today), said triumphantly on the night of Mr Trump’s election that she would retire when “Trump recognises Crimea as part of Russia, strikes a deal with us on Syria, and frees Julian Assange”. These things have not happened, nor are they likely to…

So a news channel that Kamm thinks peddles fake news makes some daft predictions which he later references in an article to support his argument – but immediately concedes were ill-founded. I can only assume the editor of this piece is a personal friend of Kamm’s.

Yet there is a new modus vivendi in international relations, whereby the Putin regime can in effect do whatever it likes, however outrageous, confident there will be no pushback from the US.

Kamm will be well aware that this modus vivendi is not new, and came about during the Obama administration. His attempts to blame it on Trump are disingenuous. Also, Kamm has obviously missed this story:

The other big story involving Russia in Syria relates to the devastating American response to an attack mounted on a base of US-supported fighters where some American advisers were located. The US responded with extreme–and I mean extreme–violence. In response to a battalion-sized attack, they threw just about everything in the arsenal at the assault–artillery, F-15Es, MQ-9 drones, AH-64 Apaches, B-52s(!), and AC-130s.

This extremely forceful response was clearly sending a message.  It reminds me of what Mattis told Iraqi tribal leaders: “I come in peace. I did not bring artillery. But if you fuck with me, I will kill you all.”  The assaulting force was f*cking with the US, and Mattis’ military responded by pretty much killing them all.

They’ll think twice next time. And that’s the point.

This represents a far greater direct action against Russian interests in Syria than anything Obama managed in his 8 years. Apparently the reason the US has had such success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria recently is because Trump handed operational control over to James Mattis and told him to get on with it. By contrast, Obama wanted to micromanage every last detail. Now personally I don’t think the US should be fighting in Syria, but given that they are – and killing Russians – it’s hard to see how this fits in with Kamm’s theory that Trump’s election is good news for Russia and he’s allowing Putin to do whatever he wants.

Indeed, interfering in America’s presidential election is one of those flagrant Russian violations of international comity, and Mr Trump was the beneficiary.

You know the article is in trouble if the author’s bought into the “Putin swung the election for Trump” bullshit. As I said already, little wonder The Times didn’t run this piece. I’m wondering why CapX did: they’re normally more sensible than this.

To point out how far American diplomatic influence has fallen under Mr Trump is a commonplace of commentary but it bears repeating.

The Nato alliance, founded in 1949, ensured that Western Europe remained democratic and Eastern Europe once again became so even in the face of Soviet expansionism and threats.

Kamm spends considerable efforts both on Twitter and in The Times telling everyone how wonderful Germany, France, and the EU are. Rather than blaming Trump for the demise of NATO and the rise in Putin’s confidence, he might want to remark on the refusal of European countries – chiefly Germany – to provide for their own defence, preferring instead to carp from the sidelines under the safety of the American umbrella. He might also want to remark on the fact that Trump has quite plainly said the European countries – chiefly Germany – must start contributing more if the alliance is to survive. He might also reflect on the fact that much of Russia’s distrust of NATO stems from the alliance’s decision to bomb Serbia for reasons which had nothing to do with its charter.

There’s nothing to be done by us pundits that will affect the world of statecraft but we can at least expose the propaganda efforts by which the Putin regime advances its goals.

We’ll oppose Putin’s propaganda by publishing risible nonsense of our own. But what is Kamm suggesting, exactly? Trump has maintained the sanctions on Russia put in place by Obama, and increased arms sales to Ukraine. Once Putin decided to guarantee the survival of Assad by military force, the US wasn’t left with much choice other than outright war with Russia. Is that what Kamm wants? War with Russia? If America’s interests in Syria were purely humanitarian, opposing Assad and Russia by arming their opponents and dragging the war out indefinitely was probably the worst thing to do.

Despite the headline, nowhere does Kamm outline what he believes Trump’s duty is, other than the vague idea he should oppose Putin. I’d be more forgiving of pompous metropolitan journalists if they offered some concrete solutions instead of lofty ideals, and didn’t airily dismiss the results of the democratic process when the masses don’t sign up to their bone-headed agendas.


22 thoughts on “Oliver Kamm on Trump, Putin, and Syria

  1. But he was a personal friend of Christopher Hitchens. We know so because he says it so often. And he even quoted Hitchens. So you must be wrong. Retract your criticism and apologise.

  2. But he was a personal friend of Christopher Hitchens.

    From what I can figure out, Kamm’s modus operandi is:

    1. Use his position at The Times to meet prominent thinkers and academics.
    2. Arse-lick them to heaven and back.
    3. Write articles which basically re-hash what the prominent thinkers and academics have already said, praising said thinkers and academics in the article and referring to them as his friends.
    4. Earn – unsurprisingly – the praise of the thinkers and academics.
    5. Invoke the name of the thinkers and academics whenever anyone challenges his own version.
    6. In parallel to steps 1-5, trash-talk easy targets such as Farage, Trump, etc. to earn further praise from his liberal friends.

    I’ve got to say, it’s quite effective. What is more difficult to understand is where Kamm’s added value is in all of this.

  3. Obama’s middle east ‘policy’ amounted to sucking up to America’s enemies and cold-shouldering America’s friends in the region. When Putin put Russian forces into Syria on Assad’s side, he was telling the whole region that Russia is a reliable friend.
    Trump’s middle east policy seems to be that America is the enemy you least want: don’t mess with US or our friends and we won’t come calling on you. If you’ve got problems with the neighbours, that’s not our problem. Try making nice with them.
    Putin is now stuck with a relatively expensive middle east policy that he really can’t back away from. Trump’s middle east policy looks relatively cheap.

  4. Mr Kamm is duly “fisked”!

    Curiously there is no way to comment on Mr Kamm’s “article” to point him in this direction…


  5. Curiously there is no way to comment on Mr Kamm’s “article” to point him in this direction

    He rarely responds to criticism, except to invoke his friends’ authority. On Twitter, it’s normally an army of sycophants who take up the cudgels on his behalf.

  6. Note also that the statement he used from Hitchens was a rather bone-headed one: “It’s strange to think that many on the left have been slow to see the menace of one-party, one-state or messianic systems.”

    It’s not strange at all, it’s what most left-wing activists are aiming at.

    Also, it’s a very general statement that provides no support for Kamm’s view of Trump’s handling of Russia.

  7. I read this article a couple of months ago, I had no idea American special forces were so prevalent around world and neither does Kamm apparently.
    “In 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command. That’s around 75 percent of the nations on the planet — and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration.”


  8. Kamm – as has been noted here before – is a 12-bore cunt and a fully-fledged mentalist who anonymously slags off people who give his books negative reviews on Amazon. That’s how pathetic he is.

    So, I’d say old news except Tim makes a good point by noting that snobbery is Spamm’s main driver. He sees himself as the liberal elite and dissenters as the grubby little people. Grammar, Brexit, War in Iraq, Trump – tis all the same.

    I loved to listen to Hitch, even though he was wrong about so many things. However I find it hard to believe he was friends with such a low-grade bell end as Spamm. Still even the brightest are vulnerable to flattery.

  9. And WTF is it with these people who want us to go to war with Russia? The Telegraph is full of this shit all the time: the threat Russia poses, Putin’s evil plans to cyberattack/bomb/invade/corrupt us. It makes me worry about what this misdirection is intended to conceal.

    I am also interested in the economics of Capx. It does not seem to have adverts and it’s all free, so who is paying? Do they pay their writers? Do they market to people who sign up for their email?

    I see Tim W has written for them, if you’re reading I’d be intrigued to know!

  10. >However I find it hard to believe he was friends with such a low-grade bell end as Spamm. Still even the brightest are vulnerable to flattery.

    Kamm says they were friends. Doesn’t mean they were.

    Hitchens was well-known for being extremely generous with young writers and would encourage bucketloads of them as long as they liked to drink and chat and gossip into the early hours.

    Also, bear in mind that Hitchens was friends with a lot of arseholes with dubious views, like Edward Said and Susan Sontag. Being a friend of Hitchens is not necessarily a compliment.

  11. “to advocate for”: oh for fuck’s sake, Tim. If you insist in writing subAmerican could you please use the vivid bits, not the sociological/managerial boilerplate boreathon bits?

  12. It is of my opinion, that letting Russia establish a presence in a country can only help us and hurt them. Look at the precedent. Everything they touch turns to shit. Streetwise Professor just wrote up another fisking of his favorite muse, Igor Sechin, and Russia’s throwing money into a hole in Venezuela. Giving them Syria could drain them even further. Of course, there are risks that the “turns to shit” effect could pull Western countries in to stop a disaster. However, I’ve never felt threatened by Russia squatting in Syria. Good luck to them.

  13. “to advocate for”: oh for fuck’s sake, Tim.

    All right, all right!

    oh I think not. For Clinton/Albright benign liberal neglect, try this.

    I never bought the “500k/1m/2m dead children because of sanctions line”. If there were kids dying under the sanctions, it was because of Saddam Hussein’s malevolence.

  14. ‘I never bought the “500k/1m/2m dead children because of sanctions line”‘: I’ve no reason to think it was a half million, but that poison dwarf just accepted the figure and then justified the action that had brought the calamity about.

    Sanctions were bound to kill civilians. They might be justified, I suppose, if a country sees itself as fighting for its existence or some vital interest (e.g. Britain in WWI, Germany in WWII). But the US, against Iraq, in Slick Willie’s time? Casual murder.

  15. Well, Saddam Hussein was a problem for Kuwait and Saudi, no doubt: this is easily provable and I’ve done so before. Or rather, he was a threat to their oilfields which is a global problem, outsourced to America. So what was to be done? The world got squeamish when the American army moved into Iraq in the late stages of the Gulf War, and preferred a policy of containment. Which the UN voted for, time and again. Personally, I’d have preferred to see Saddam Hussein captured there and then and hanged from a crane but I wasn’t in charge. So the compromise was sanctions, which wouldn’t have been so devastating had Saddam Hussein not deliberately turned their effects onto children for propaganda purposes. In other words, the misery brought by the sanctions to Iraqis lies squarely at the feet of Saddam Hussein, and given how so many Iraqis behaved when they were finally rid of him, they’re not high on my list of things I care about.

    As I’ve said before, I didn’t have too many objections to the Iraq War either: those oilfields were worth protecting. But I wouldn’t dress up a war as a humanitarian exercise again.

  16. The West is completely obsessed by Hitler and the effects of overthrowing Hitler, and the assumption that we fought the likes of Hitler and got democracy in Germany ever since, when the real story is more complicated. Why did so many African countries get democracy after the colonial era and rapidly descend into dictatorship. Why did Russia shift from democracy to dictatorship. Why did we stop kicking lumps out of the French and Spanish after hundreds of years of doing so? Why did Spain get democracy so much later than France and Italy?

    The final answer to that is that most of the Middle East isn’t worth fighting over. Two drug dealers fighting over turf will probably stop if the coppers turn up for a day. But once they leave, they’re going to go back to how they are. Iraq is falling apart, as is Afghanistan.

    Just buy oil from the victors and leave them to it.

  17. So what was to be done?

    There’s a lot to be said for Anon’s view above. In Iraq, the Yanks ought have just picked the next strongman off the rank, helped him win power and turned a blind eye to a bit of house-clearing slaughter. Then supported him, while warning that he ought to stay behind his own borders and perhaps be a teeny bit less of a bastard than the last one.

  18. In Iraq, the Yanks ought have just picked the next strongman off the rank, helped him win power and turned a blind eye to a bit of house-clearing slaughter. Then supported him, while warning that he ought to stay behind his own borders and perhaps be a teeny bit less of a bastard than the last one.

    Something like that, yes. Not much fun for those under him, but that’s not our fault.

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