Ticket to Pride

Last year we discovered that being the victim of domestic abuse anywhere in Latin America was enough to warrant an asylum claim in the USA. In Britain things aren’t a whole lot better:

Four newly arrived LGBT Syrian refugees will be able to openly express their sexual identity when they join the Pride celebrations in central London on Saturday.

The first thing desperate refugees do when they reach the host country is join in with a massive public jamboree?

They arrived in London on Thursday after waiting for more than two years to be airlifted to safety. Their situation was resolved after the Guardian highlighted the plight of 15 LGBT Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey this year. Others in the group were expected to follow soon.

Are gays persecuted in Syria? It’s an honest question: parts of the country are dominated by religious nutjobs now, but Damascus is still under the control of the Assad government and I don’t think he’s got much interest in hounding gays. His regime was pretty brutal to anyone who opposed him, but it was broadly secular and while I can’t imagine it was as accepting as Brighton, I’m not sure gays were put to the sword as a matter of course. Besides, these lot were in Turkey. Can you be gay in Turkey? Yes, you can, which is why the article must resort to woolly guff like this:

While some Syrian refugees who flee to Turkey are relatively safe, there were concerns over the safety of this group because of homophobic attitudes in the country. Same-sex relationships are legal but negative attitudes prevail and some refugees have reported being pelted by rocks, followed in the street and attacked if people suspect they were not heterosexual.

So they’ve been granted refugee status on the basis that, although homosexuality is legal where they are, “negative attitudes prevail”? Seriously? And have these individuals been pelted with rocks for being gay? Or are they claiming refugee status based on stories of what happened to other people?

Members of the Syrian group were forced to conceal their sexual identity and in some cases to live in hiding. Some received death threats because of their sexuality.

I’m wondering what any of this has got to do with Britain. And how much work is the word “some” doing in this case?

The refugees said they were at risk not only from the population at large but also from their own families, who in some cases did not know about their sexual identity.

His family doesn’t know he’s gay, but he needs asylum in Britain in case they find out.

Toufique Hossain and Sheroy Zaq, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who launched the legal action, said: “These men have been forced to conceal an enormous part of their identity, not just in their country of origin but also in Turkey. The detriment they suffered as a result of their sexuality in Turkey simply could not go on any longer; we had to ensure that their resettlement was expedited through legal channels. We are elated that they will at last be able to be open about their sexuality in all walks of life, just in time for Pride.”

Well, I can at least understand why they’re up for a party. I would be too if I’d just pulled off a stunt like that. These people are not refugees in any meaningful sense of the word, and all it’s doing is hardening attitudes to people who face genuine, life threatening persecution. And isn’t it interesting to contrast the efforts expended to grant these individuals asylum with the British government’s decision to refuse it to Asia Bibi.

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The sudden concern for the Kurds is mostly fake

As America woke up and got on Twitter yesterday, there was a lot of this sort of sentiment:


Some moron who subsequently blocked me asked how can Trump talk about loyalty after such “betrayal of the Kurds”. Even Noam Chomsky is writing articles supporting American military intervention overseas, which is the equivalent of a Liverpool fan saying he hopes for a smooth transition at Manchester United following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Kurds. They seem less insane than anyone else fighting in Syria, more organised than anyone trying to manage territory in Iraq, and they are well-disposed towards America and their allies. They’ve been screwed over by the major powers on several occasions, suffered terribly at the hands of Saddam Hussein and ISIS, and been oppressed by the Turks. I would like to see their lot improved, and I will be deeply unhappy if the Turkish army move into Syria and start massacring them. If somehow they find themselves in possession of advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry with which they can inflict heavy losses on their enemies, I’d not be too upset.

However, let’s get realistic here. The US was never in Syria on behalf of the Kurds. US forces on the ground may have formed informal alliances with Kurdish groups, but there was never a US policy of protecting Kurds in Syria, at least that I’m aware of. To begin with, what do people mean when they say America should not abandon “the Kurds”? Do they mean the Kurds in Syria fighting Assad and ISIS? The Kurds in Iraq, who run a peaceful, semi-autonomous region subordinate (in theory) to the government in Baghdad? The Kurds in Turkey? And with whom should the alliance be made? The PKK? The Peshmerga commanders?

I asked a few people on Twitter who the Kurdish leaders were, what were their names. Nobody knew. When people talk of Palestinians we know they fall under the leadership, however flawed, of the PA and Hamas. We know the names of the leaders and what their policies are, and these people regularly attend meetings with the large powers and mediators to discuss their aims. But who represents “the Kurds”? What do they want? If Trump is “betraying an ally” this suggests an alliance was formed and promises given. Okay, but when, and by whom, and with what authority? Did any Kurdish leader meet Trump or a member of his administration? Did they meet any of Obama’s? Nobody who is screaming “betrayal” can answer any of these questions: they want war to continue indefinitely in support of an alliance they can’t describe on behalf of people they know nothing about. If this is what passes for political wisdom in the US these days, it’s little wonder they’ve been neck-deep in unwinnable wars since I left university. Fighting a war used to be a serious undertaking, now it’s something advocated on a whim to spite one’s domestic political opponents.

If Americans want to fight a war on behalf of the Kurds, they need to first come up with a clear strategy. What are the objectives, and over what timelines? And on behalf of which Kurds are they fighting? If they attempted to draw up such a plan, they would see why they need to give the matter a wide berth. The Kurds are not some homogeneous bloc, they are fractured along several lines and were they somehow to get their own state it would likely be completely dysfunctional as the various groups squabble among each other. There’s also the small matter that the most capable Kurds are invariably socialist; I get the impression a lot of Americans don’t know that. If America were to support the Kurds in any meaningful sense it would entail severely distabilising the national government in Iraq, as well as taking on Turkey in a big way. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things – I’d like to see Turkey booted from NATO and Erdogan put in his place – but they need to be part of an overall strategy which the political classes in Washington simply lack the competence to put together, let alone pull off. Hell, they can’t even agree to protect their own borders.

I’m sure there are US military commanders on the ground in Syria who feel they are betraying local Kurdish forces with whom they’ve built up strong relationships, but this does not make up for a lack of overall strategy. The Kurds might also note that in 2014 when ISIS was at its height and they were facing annihilation on the Turkish border during the Siege of Kobani, the US did and said nothing. What we’re seeing from the American chattering classes are crocodile tears; their concern for the Kurds is opportunism at its very worst.

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On Trump’s withdrawal from Syria

So Donald Trump has decided to pull US forces out of Syria, and people are upset. Some are opposed because they are neo-cons who think America should be fighting wars anywhere and everywhere to spread peace and democracy, while others don’t like it just because it’s Trump. This tweet is an interesting example of the reaction:


If the goal of the US military in Syria is to protect Israel, the Kurds, and Iraqi Christians this should have been stated before their deployment as part of a clear and transparent policy. This never happened. Instead, US troops turned up in unspecified numbers which the public gradually got to hear about as they took part in various actions. Certainly Congress was never consulted, as they are supposed to be (although that requirement is laughable these days). We were told various stories, one of which was that US forces were in Syria to support rebels opposed to Bashar al Assad, another was they were there to fight ISIS. But there was never a clear policy as to why they were there, nor any indication of what would constitute victory. As usual, US troops were in a foreign country for an unspecified purpose seemingly indefinitely. What should be upsetting people is there were US forces in Syria under these conditions to start with, not that Trump is pulling them out.

Trump is quite correct here:

Firstly, Trump is right that ISIS – being a shadow of what they were a few years back – are mainly a local problem in a military sense. I have few doubts Russia can handle any threat posed by ISIS to Assad’s government. One of the points many people don’t like to acknowledge is Russia made short work of the various rebel groups, mainly because they didn’t pussyfoot around with how they went about it. They’ll do the same with ISIS.

Secondly, America has no strategic interest in Syria whatsoever. People talk all sorts of nonsense about surrendering the Middle East to Russia, often in the same breath they condemn Trump for being too close to the Saudi Crown Prince. It also overlooks the rather large US military base in Qatar and the strategic alliances they have with the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain. So what if Russia establishes itself in Syria? Assad has always been aligned with Russia, and I can’t for the life of me think why Russia is so invested in the place other than for some vague notion of prestige and as a handy place to test and sell weapons systems.

Now consider this tweet:


Who cares if Iran and Russia “claim a victory”? Over whom? The US is withdrawing from the battlefield because the Commander in Chief doesn’t know why they’re there or what constitutes victory. Who are they supposed to fight in the coming years? Russians?  I’ve seen some pretty daft justifications for keeping an army deployed overseas in perpetuity, but doing so in order to deny others from claiming a non-existent victory surpasses all others.

What is also laughable is the idea that Russia, Iran, and Turkey are in a grand alliance whose nefarious plans were only thwarted by the presence of US forces. One thing is certain, and that is neither Russia or Turkey are going to allow Iran to do whatever it likes in Syria. I wrote before about how Israel has little to fear from Russia, who might play a useful role in keeping Iranian ambitions in check. And if Israel can’t handle Iranian forces fighting in Syria because 2,000 US soldiers stationed nowhere near their borders have been withdrawn, they have serious problems indeed. Rather than a coordinated effort between Russia, Iran, and Turkey to threaten US interests – whatever they may be – and Israeli security, I expect we’ll see non-stop squabbling, scheming and backstabbing with the occasional military engagement thrown in for fun. I have little doubt that Turkey will seize the opportunity to flatten the Kurds, and personally I’d have been happier if Trump had been a lot tougher with Erdogan on several issues. But with the best will in the world, any attempt to support an independent Kurdish state will end in disaster; I see no reason why the US shouldn’t give them weaponry to make the Turks think twice, though.

Finally, Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria seems to have come at the price of James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence. In his resignation letter to Trump he said:

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

Meaning, he disagrees with Trump on how he sees the role of the US military in future. A lot of people are saying this is a body-blow for Trump, and losing a man like Mattis is a big loss for any organisation, but I’m not so sure. Mattis is one hell of a soldier and probably knows everything there is too know about winning wars, but it is not his job – nor his expertise – to determine the political direction in which US forces are applied now or in future. As I understand it, his job is to advise the president on military possibilities and, once strategic political decisions have been made, to make the military decisions necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. In other words, Mattis might be quite happy for the US to stay deployed in Syria forever and “advance an international order” but that’s irrelevant to his duties.  His job is to win battles in Syria, not decide whether the US is involved there and for how long.

So while it is quite right for Mattis to resign at the end of his tenure if he is unconvinced by Trump’s political approach, one must remember that Trump ran on a platform of not using US military power to “advance an international order”. Indeed, that seems to be a policy many Americans, and an awful lot of foreigners, really wish America would abandon. Unless, it seems, it’s Trump making the decision, in which case bombing people is good again.

UPDATE

See this from the BBC:

The Trump administration is planning to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, US media say.

Reports, citing unnamed officials, say about 7,000 troops – roughly half the remaining US military presence in the country – could go home within months.

Analysts have warned that a withdrawal could have a “devastating” impact and offer Taliban militants a propaganda victory.

Better stay for another 17 years then, eh? I remember when the likes of the BBC were against American military adventurism.

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How not to recruit

Commenter Bardon graciously provides us with a business case study to analyse. Here goes.

We recruited a bloke recently to work in Dubai, and we initially were considering him for Kuwait, but the offer and acceptance was done on the Dubai role by me from Brisbane.

So this company has operations in at least two Middle East countries, but has no regional manager. Instead, things are run from Brisbane which makes about as much sense as running South American operations from Moscow. When I worked in that region, one of the first things I learned was Arabs appreciate physical proximity, and expect the regional manager to be in their country. Before I went to Kuwait I was very briefly based in Abu Dhabi, and the first thing the Kuwaitis asked was “are you based in Kuwait?”. We quickly got the message we need to be based in Kuwait if we’re working with Kuwaitis. At the very least, the regional manager should be based in the region; anyone who tries running things from the UK or elsewhere won’t be taken seriously.

He was based in Canada and coincidentally was in Doha when he initially arrived from Canada to get a briefing from our management team there.

So there is a management team in the Middle East. But they’re not the ones doing the recruiting for roles in their region. This sounds like a confused mess.

I spoke to him and told him that he needed to go and get some work…

So this chap reports to you, who is based in Brisbane. Presumably the management team in Doha is there for show.

…and that we will support him from Doha for the moment and that we will start building a Dubai team on the back of contracts.

I can only assume you told him this now because it wasn’t made clear during the recruitment process. It sounds to me as though you recruited him for an operational role in Kuwait and, once he’d signed up, decided to put him in a business development role in Dubai.

He came back to me and said that he wanted some staff now

So he’s advising you of his resource requirements for this new role you’ve suddenly sprung on him.

I said that he will have to wait and use the existing resource,

Ah yes, a regional “support” resource which he has no control over, yet he will be accountable for meeting targets. How drearily familiar.

then he said we needed to negotiate, negotiate what I asked him, he said that it was a very senior role more so than the Kuwaiti one…

So he is confused about the role, and I can’t say I blame him. Obviously you spoke to him about the role in Kuwait (or how else would he know about it), then later changed your mind. A professional company would have supplied a job description for the Kuwait role and later replaced it with one for the Dubai role, with the differences between the two roles clearly identified. Obviously this didn’t happen, hence you’ve mobilised a person halfway around the world who is confused about the role. This is not good management.

…and he felt that his package should be much higher.

Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s not, but you have changed the role he signed up to (or at the very least, left him extremely confused about the role he’s supposed to be doing). If you change someone’s role they are by definition permitted to enter into a discussion as to whether more money is warranted.

I told him to see me after lunch, contacted the relevant director and confirmed that he was on the next plane back to Canada.

This is the response of an immature child, not a professional manager. You have messed this bloke around since Day 1, changing his role and his country of assignment, and when he approaches you, quite reasonably, to ask for increased terms upon finding out the truth your immediate reaction is to fire him. This decision was not made for the benefit of the shareholders but your fragile ego.

I then told him it was over and he backflipped to say that he would do the Kuwaiti role for the leer money

Okay, seems reasonable. He pushed for money, got turned down, so weighed up that, having come all this way, he might as well give it a go. He sounds rather mature.

, no way, you are out of here.

So your employee, who has done nothing other than ask for more money having been lied to about the role and stuck in the middle of a dysfunctional mess of an organisation, agrees to do the job he was hired to and you fired him. Wow, what a tough guy you are.

He lasted about three hours.

And for this you wasted countless manhours on the recruitment process, plus paid for his mobilisation costs and whatever salary you owe him. On top of that, there’s the delay of several months spent trying to find a replacement. Probably the kindest thing I can say at this point is I hope this tale is made up.

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Corbyn isn’t the problem, his supporters are

Sometime last year three Turkish people I knew visited Jordan on holiday. Everywhere they went they found the locals, upon learning they were Turkish, would get all excited and say:

“Oh we love Erdogan! We love how he stands up to the Israelis!”

This despite Jordan’s rather sketchy record when it comes to Palestinian refugees, the PLO, and occupying land. Now there is every chance these locals were Palestinians, but my acquaintances said it is now common to hear similar sentiments in Turkey. In particular, they like this performance:

The fact is, regardless of where you go in the Middle East and certain other regions, bashing Israel is hugely popular. More often than not, this equates to simple Jew-bashing. Yes, there are many legitimate complaints which can be leveled at Israel and criticising Israel does not in itself make one anti-semitic. However, if the only country in the world whose existence you dispute happens to be the Jewish one, and you sound as though you’re reading from a Hamas pamphlet when the subject comes up, people will draw their own conclusions. And for Turks to complain about the occupation and oppression of Palestinians is a little ironic, especially given how much their dear leader admires the Ottomans. As usual, the problem is not that Palestinians are oppressed, but that it is Jews doing the oppressing.

Which brings me onto this:

Jeremy Corbyn said he was present but not involved at a wreath-laying for individuals behind the group that carried out the Munich Olympic massacre, a partial admission that led to a row between him and Israel’s prime minister.

The Labour leader had been asked if Palestinian leaders linked to the Black September terror group were also honoured at a memorial event he attended in Tunisia in 2014, at which victims of the 1985 Israeli airstrike in Tunis were remembered.

Corbyn said “a wreath was indeed laid” for “some of those who were killed in Paris in 1992” and added, in response to a question: “I was present at that wreath-laying, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

The hard-left in Europe and elsewhere has always been anti-Israel, partly because they took their lead from the Soviets who had an interest in undermining America’s ally in the Middle East. Coupled with that, you have the left-wing suspicion of Jewish bankers, businessmen, and media moguls who supposedly run the world and conspire to thwart the success of glorious socialist revolutions. The latter is where they share common ground with the hard-right: go on any alt-right or MAGA blog and within three comments someone is writing a thousand-word paragraph on the Rothschilds.

Jeremy Corbyn is famous for being a hard-left outsider, and being anti-Israeli is near enough compulsory in those circles and if this stems from anti-semitism, then so be it. Certainly, nobody’s going to complain. Only now Corbyn has found himself leader of the Labour party people are appalled at his behaviour, but I fear they have missed the point. What they should be asking is why someone who lays wreaths at the graves of dead terrorists is enjoying so much support, and the answer – as our Turks traveling in Jordan discovered – is that this sort of thing is popular among determined and vocal minorities everywhere. There’s no point blaming the preacher when so many people are tripping over themselves to hear the sermon.

Corbyn has never been interested in building a broad coalition, and he wouldn’t know how to even if he was. Like George Galloway, his shtick is to pander to a select audience and thrive on the notoriety it generates. He knew exactly what he was doing when he laid that wreath, just as he did when he defended the IRA and invited Sinn Fein to Parliament. The reason why his denials are so nonsensical is because he needs to say just enough to get rid of the reporter and move onto the next question without disappointing his core supporters who fully approve of his actions. The fact is, Corbyn’s just doing what he’s always done, only now it’s a lot more popular.

So rather than demanding Corbyn resign – why should he? – those concerned should ask how laying a wreath at the grave of Islamic terrorists became a sensible political act for the leader of Britain’s opposition. In other words, who is supporting this stuff, and in what numbers? It’s not difficult to find some pasty white septuagenarian at a protest or online ranting about the Jews, and some younger lefties may have swelled their ranks recently, but these people have always been at the fringes of British political life. So what’s different now? How come blatant anti-semitism in a major British political party is nowadays no longer something over which the leader should resign, but a source of much of their popularity? This is the elephant in the room that, for all their outrage, the media and political classes don’t want to address.

It used to be one had to travel to the Middle East to find people supporting a mainstream political leader solely because they sided against Israel and the Jews. Now we can find it in Britain, and those squawking the loudest about this state of affairs are usually those who did so much to bring it about.

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Banging the War Drums

Given both sides of the American Establishment detest Trump I can’t tell if this article is supposed to appeal to Republicans or Democrats, but its language is illuminating:

President Donald Trump has spoken: He wants U.S. troops and civilians out of Syria by the fall. But don’t call it a “timeline.”

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides.

There was a time when Democrats would be extremely happy that a president would face down hawks in the military, but nowadays they’d back nuclear strikes on Tehran if Trump advised against it.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Sorry, what US vacuum? Nobody has any idea what the US is actually doing in Syria, let alone why it is doing it. The US was rightly criticised for creating vacuums in Iraq, firstly by deposing Saddam Hussein and then by pulling its troops out before the Iraqi army was ready to defend the place. But unless you believe the nonsense that the CIA were behind the uprising which led to the civil war, the US is in no way responsible for any vacuum that forms in Syria. While some neocon lunatics probably believe it is America’s moral duty to insert itself into any vacuum which appears around the globe and make things worse, most normal people aren’t sold on the idea.

Besides, this assumes there would be a vacuum anyway. Assad remaining in power was assured the minute the Russians stepped in to prop him up, and Iran poured into whatever was left. So if there was a vacuum, it was rapidly filled by Russia and Iran years ago. Are American operations so significant that their cessation would radically alter the balance of power in Syria? I doubt it. But most importantly, so what? The one thing I’ve never got my head around is why anybody cares whether Russia or Iran are in Syria. The place has absolutely no strategic value for the US, and the only justification I hear for American involvement is a product of demented zero-sum thinking that what is good for Russia must automatically be bad for the US. There is absolutely no chance that Assad, the Russians, the Iranians, neighbouring Turkey, the Kurds, and roaming bands of jihadists will be able to create a functioning state that threatens American interests in any meaningful way, unless they step outside the borders of Syria. In which case, let’s keep and eye on things and cross that bridge when we get there, eh?

Granted, a Syria with a large Iranian military presence could cause problems for Israel, but my guess would be Iran will have its hands full trying to deal with the Russians, Turks, and Assad. If in the event Israel is seriously threatened, that is another bridge we can cross when we come to it. And in any case, I do hope Israel isn’t the reason America is getting itself bogged down in another Middle Easter quagmire, because that would look very bad indeed.

But the article doesn’t consider any of these points, preferring to paint Trump as an imbecile ignoring the advice of national security experts who, ahem, haven’t put a foot wrong, ever.

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.

What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

It speaks volumes that this authors of this piece believe this reflects negatively on Trump. What I want to know is why the hell the press haven’t been publishing such tirades and asking these questions themselves? And remember, Trump ran on a platform of not getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars and the public liked it, so why the surprise he’s trying to follow through on that?

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said: Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.

At one point, Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities.

Sounds clear enough.

Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said.

This reminds me of Brexit. The public were asked what they wanted, and they said they wanted to leave the EU. Cue howls from the ruling classes that this would be impossible and irresponsible. So why ask the question if you already know what’s best? Until I read the above statement I had high opinions of Mattis, but I think they’re due a revision. Calling an American withdrawal from Syria irresponsible implies America is somehow responsible for ridding the country of ISIS, which is nonsense. Have the American people been asked if they want the US military to assume this responsibility? Has Congress been consulted and their agreement secured? No, they haven’t.

As for ISIS, the only people who could be accused of arming jihadists in Syria are the Americans. The Russians have proven themselves far more willing and able than the Americans to deal with ISIS (and anyone else who threatens the Assad regime), even if we don’t much like their methods. So why not leave it to them? And note that one minute we’re being told an American withdrawal will leave a vacuum which Russia and Iran will fill, the next it will leave the field clear for ISIS to regroup. Well, which is it? I can’t see a Russia-backed Assad having much tolerance for ISIS.

And even assuming that nothing I have written thus far is true and we dismiss it all as absolute nonsense, what the hell is the Americans’ plan in Syria? What is the strategy? What is the end game? Who will run these “newly liberated territories”? And why aren’t the media demanding Mattis & Co. answer these questions and present a coherent plan, instead of looking for any excuse to bash Trump for doing precisely what he was elected to do?

What a mess. You have a civilian government which has lost control over its military which is hell-bent on fighting endless, disastrous wars on as many fronts as possible, and the media are supporting it because they don’t like the president. Who is representing the public’s interest in all of this, especially those who will be called upon to fight and die? Aside from Trump, there’s nobody that I can see.

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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.

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More on that murder in Beirut

Further to my post yesterday on the murder of Rebecca Dykes in Beirut, and via Theophrastus in the comments:

A Lebanese Uber driver has confessed to killing a British diplomat in Beirut, a judicial source has told the Guardian.

The suspect arrested on Monday morning has been named as Tariq H, a taxi driver for Uber.

The source said preliminary investigations showed the killing was not politically motivated, and that the suspect had confessed to the crime.

The source said Dykes had hired the driver using the ride-hailing app. Lebanon’s state news agency, NNA, said the vehicle that picked her up was identified using CCTV footage.

A spokesman for Uber said in an email: “We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family. We are working with authorities to assist their investigation in any way we can.”

Unless the Lebanese police have fitted up some poor sod for reasons unknown and beaten a confession out of him, this looks pretty much an open-and-shut case. Why the hell an Uber driver, who can be linked to the crime with astonishing ease, would commit a murder of a passenger is anyone’s guess. He’s either remarkably stupid or mentally ill.

Whatever the driver’s motives it’s absolutely tragic, and I was completely wrong. That’s the problem with speculation; don’t expect that I’ll stop, though.

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A Murder in Beirut

Back when I lived in Dubai I spent an evening in my flat in the company of three women: an Australian, a Russian, and an Uzbek (who was staying with me at the time). We were sat around my bar drinking tequila when the Russian, who was in her mid-twenties, started telling us about the problems she was having with her boyfriend, a Lebanese chap. Two nights previously she had gone out for a drink with another Russian woman and started receiving text messages from her boyfriend. As the night wore on the messages got increasingly angry and accusatory – a pattern which many women (and men) will know well. By the time she went home, rather distressed, her boyfriend was openly accusing her of going home with another man. She went to bed and heard a pounding on the door. Then she heard glass breaking. She went downstairs to find her boyfriend had put his fist through a window and was shaking with jealous rage. She let him in and he belted her one, but after much sobbing they both calmed down. She told us she didn’t know whether she should stay with him and try to work through his anger issues. At this point I asked how long they’d been together. Two weeks, she said. I reached for another tequila.

When I lived in Dubai I heard a lot of stories about women, particularly British and Russians, getting involved with Arabic men and things getting ugly. I know a Russian woman who unwisely entered into a relationship with an Egyptian waiter who regularly beat the shit out of her in a jealous rage; she at least had the sense and courage to eventually leave him. Just as Anglo-Saxon men go funny in the head around Asian women, and Frenchmen lose their senses in Africa, European women often get all giddy over swarthy Middle Easterners. (There’s a theory that this explains why white, liberal women vote to allow more refugees and migrants in, and there is probably some truth in it – stories like this certainly lend weight to the theory, anyway.)

I remember taking an English girl out on a date in Dubai and the first thing she did when she got into my car was turn off the bluegrass, switch to the radio, and retune the damned thing! She entered some station called Habibi (love, in Arabic) and explained the songs alternate between English and Arabic and she and her Lebanese ex used to listen to it. Bear in mind we’d barely left the car park at this point. She breathlessly went on about how charming the Lebanese are, and how romantic they can be, but he was shagging anything that moved and she dumped him (or him her, I wasn’t paying much attention). I’ll leave you to guess how the rest of the date went. I also met up with a Ukrainian girl who within minutes handed me a photo album four inches thick. I flicked through pictures of what looked like a group of gangsters in tracksuits stood beside a murky river a mile wide (this was her family on holiday) and found myself wading through a hundred photos of some dodgy looking Lebanese stood beside a pimped-out Camaro. She then rabbited on about how this guy was the love of her life, and very charming, and bought her flowers, and…you get the picture. Only he was “crazy”.

Now I actually got to know some of the Lebanese men in Dubai, one of whom became a good mate of mine (I stayed with him and his family in Beirut in 2010). He told me two things. Firstly, Lebanese men are only interested in serious relationships with Lebanese women, ones who their family will approve of. There are a few exceptions, but it’s a general rule that Lebanese men intend to marry a Lebanese woman (preferably a virgin) at some point, but until then they want to shag as many loose women as they can, regardless of quality. The Lebanese are descended from Phoenicians, and are first and foremost traders. The thing they like selling most of all is themselves, and Lebanese men are particularly gifted at telling gullible western women exactly what they want to hear in order to get them into bed. British men, when viewed alongside, seem plodding and unromantic. Secondly, my friend said a lot of the Lebanese men you encounter are rather low-class, hailing from farms in the mountains rather than universities in Beirut.

There’s something I observed, and learned the hard way myself, in my travels around the world. Working out the class background of somebody is extremely difficult if you’re not from their culture. I can pick out a British chav in seconds simply by the clothes, habits, and vocabulary. I’ve learned to do it with Russians too, but that took some time. Otherwise, if I’m honest, I have no idea who’s who when I first encounter them. This poses a problem for men turning up in Thailand, for example. They have no idea that the girl they met in the bar is actually a peasant from the jungle on the Cambodian border who grew up in hut and has four years of schooling. Middle-class Thai women exist, but they don’t mingle with foreigners on holidays and sure as hell don’t dance on tables in bars in Pattaya and go home with some fat fuck on the back of a scooter. A lot of the guys who turned up in Sakhalin didn’t realise the pretty, seemingly-classy women they fell in love with spoke a rough version of Russian littered with profanity and grammatical errors – something which would mark them out as lower-class in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

When I was in Lagos I had a colleague who was British-Nigerian, and he’d married a British-Nigerian woman. She came out to visit for a while and joined us at the pool in the Eko Hotel. There’s a bar area next to it which is a favourite spot for the local prostitutes to pick up expats, and my colleague’s wife saw this and her eyes went wide. What stunned her was that these western men were talking and canoodling with absolute, low-grade peasant women, the types ordinary Nigerians stay well clear of. Being a middle-class Nigerian she could see what class of women they were, but the expat men couldn’t. She was still talking about how shocked she was when she came to leave two weeks later. Similarly, my well-educated and middle-class Turkish friend is absolutely astounded by the willingness of British and Russian women to sleep with Turkish barmen, waiters, and boatmen who come from remote villages in the country’s east and can barely read, write, and hold cutlery. These women would never in a million years be interested in some villager from their own countries, but faced with a swarthy foreigner they can’t pick his class and are blinded by the exoticism. The same was true for the girls who dated Lebanese men in Dubai.

This is all a very long-winded prelude to my comments on this story:

Police in Lebanon investigating the murder of a British woman who worked at the UK embassy in Beirut have arrested a man, a source has said.

Ms Dykes, who is believed to have been in her early 30s, had been working in Beirut as the programme and policy manager for the Department for International Development since January 2017.

It is thought Ms Dykes had spent Friday evening at a going-away party for a colleague in the popular Gemmayzeh district of Beirut, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Martin Patience said.

After leaving the bar at about midnight it appears she was abducted. Her body was found close to a motorway on the outskirts of the city.

What I’m about to say is complete speculation, and I may be completely wrong. It may well be that Ms Dykes was jumped by a complete stranger when alone outside a nightclub in Beirut and murdered, that is indeed possible. But I’ve been to Beirut and it’s not really that kind of place, especially where expats hang out. There is terrorism there, and political violence and kidnappings, but it’s never been known as a place that’s unsafe for foreign women. Your average Lebanese is a pretty decent sort and if a western woman has been abducted and murdered fresh off the street it is a very unusual occurence.

Which makes me think she knew the guy who killed her. Whereas I can’t imagine a Lebanese guy deciding to abduct a stranger, I can well believe a Lebanese guy could fly into a rage and murder his western girlfriend. Let’s do some more speculation, the kind of which her family wouldn’t want to read. She’s around 30 and there’s no mention of a husband or kids, so we can assume she was single. She works for the Department of International Development so she’s probably a bit of a lefty, maybe a do-gooder type. Lefty, do-gooder women in their 30s often have this bizarre belief that the greatest danger to their well-being is from old, white men and foreign thugs won’t hurt them. Indeed, I’d hazard a guess that any sexual harassment training women get in the Department of International Development – even in the embassy in Beirut – talks more about white men making lewd remarks than foreign thugs who view western women as nothing more than sluts.

So here’s my guess. She arrived in Lebanon in January and started frequenting the expat bars and nightclubs. At some point she’s got into a relationship with a local (or perhaps someone from a nearby country) without having any idea what the guy was like, or his history. She’d have been blinded by the initial charm and exoticism, and assumed he was the same as the educated Lebanese she’d met at work. The embassy would – like everyone else – have heard plenty of horror stories about western women who get entangled with the wrong sort of local men, but don’t want to actually warn their staff about it as that would deviate from the approved narrative. The result is a dead employee.

We probably won’t ever hear the truth about this case and I might be completely wrong anyway, but I reckon the smart money is on the killer being someone she was (or had been) romantically involved with and he won’t have a university degree.

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Recep Erdogan, leader of Muslims

From the BBC:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged leaders of Muslim nations to recognise Jerusalem as the “occupied capital of the Palestinian state”.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen in Istanbul says the rhetoric at the start of the OIC summit was strong.

But the question is what in practice the grouping can do, he adds, given the fact some members are more pro-Trump than others.

Actually, the issue has little to do with Trump. Every generation a Muslim leader fancies himself as the leader of Muslims everywhere or, to begin with, regional boss: the Saudis, being custodians of the two holy sites, believe it should be their king; Egypt’s Nasser pushed his way to the front during the years when Arab nationalism was fashionable; Libya’s Gaddafi was always blathering about forming some pan-Arab-African union or other, headed by himself of course; the Iranians don’t shy away from the role of religious leadership especially among the Shia, but have now spilled into Sunni areas like Syria and Qatar where previously they weren’t welcome. Now we have Erdogan putting himself forward as the natural leader of the region and, he hopes, Muslims everywhere.

He might as well try putting himself at the head of the Combined Manchester and Liverpool Football Supporters Club while wearing a red shirt. If there is one thing Muslims in the Middle East hate more than Jews it is other Muslims from a different sect or tribe thinking they’re in charge. Erdogan probably lacks the self-awareness and sense of Arab history to understand that any attempt to rally Muslims under his banner will be met with suspicion as to his motives, and have the Saudis calling the Israelis for transcripts of his phone calls.

One of the main reasons Israel has survived for so long is because its enemies are more distrustful of one another than they are of Israel itself. Erdogan is probably going to find this out before too long:

Mr Erdogan instead urged a unified response by Muslim nations to Mr Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

“I invite all the countries that value international law and justice to recognise Jerusalem as the occupied capital of the Palestinian state,” he said.

Good luck with that.

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