Lest we forget to bash Trump

Blue checkmark Twitter has been alight this past 24 hours with complaints that Trump is a disgrace. Why this time, I don’t hear you ask? Apparently, rather than join Merkel and Macron at Compiègne, the site where the 1918 Armistice was signed, Trump decided to stay in his room and watch TV because it was raining. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but given this version is being widely circulated by lefties and it happens to suit their narrative, we’ll be safer assuming it’s a load of bollocks.

There are several reasons why Trump may not have attended. Was it on his agenda? The main Armistice event is today under the Arc de Triomphe, I don’t know if attendance at Compiègne the day before is normal for a US president. Was Trump even invited? Many people posted pictures of Obama standing in the rain, albeit at a wholly different event but you’d not know that from any caption. This is known as “fake news”. I’m certain that had Trump gone along, the same people now saying “disgraceful” over and over would complain he wasn’t welcome and he did or said something inappropriate. Or his wife looked too good in her outfit, as usual.

The blue checkmarks also simpered over this Tweet, and followed up in the comments with more Trump-bashing:


It’s a good pic, but I fear the sycophants are missing a vital point. Angela Merkel, who was supposed to be the leader of the free world when Trump “abdicated the responsibility”, is barely in charge of Germany having been rejected at the ballot box. Macron, who is fresh from honouring the leader of the Vichy Regime, has a popularity rating of 29%, a record low. Meanwhile, the Americans have just had a vote which, if it not exactly providing Trump with a ringing endorsement, did not show he was wildly disliked either.

So here we have American, British, and European elites praising two deeply unpopular leaders for a cutesy photo-op while criticising, for the millionth time, a president who remains popular with the masses. Perhaps Trump was being disrespectful for not going to Compiègne, but standing on the graves of dead soldiers to virtue-signal your dislike for him is hardly better.

That’s not the only point they’ve missed, though. A popular view among the dim or dishonest is that it was Trump-style nationalism that caused WWI, whereas it was as much about competing empires as anything. One could hardly argue, as you might with WWII, that populations were whipped into war fever before the shooting began in 1914, nor that those who fought were doing so for selfish internal interests. If we’re looking for parallels between today and the pre-1914 situation on mainland Europe, we might want to look at the EU and it’s economic and political bullying of member states and Macron’s recent call for pan-European army. For the elites, though, this is all good. No doubt Archduke Ferdinand thought much the same thing when planning the tour of his subjects in the Balkans.

Frankly, the sight of deeply unpopular German and French leaders cosying up, cheered on by elites who scream hysterically about an American president, does not bode well for peace in Europe.

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Special Farce

Given the modern British military is mainly an excuse to employ lots of middle class people in the MoD and do a bit of PR, they may as well do this:

Women will be able to apply for any British military role for the first time, the defence secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson announced that all combat roles were now open to women, including serving in special forces units such as the SAS.

He said for the first time the “armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender”.

A ban on women serving in close combat units in the British military was lifted in 2016.

As of now, women already serving in the Army are able to apply for the Royal Marines and the infantry. That will open the door for them to join special forces units such as the SAS after the necessary training.

Mr Williamson told BBC News: “We very much expect women to be joining the SAS and the Special Boat Service.

“The value that they’ll bring, the impact they’ll make will be phenomenal and all the services are looking forward to welcoming them.”

Williamson sounds like a bright-eyed head-office spokesman informing staff of a merger which everyone on the factory floor knows will be a disaster and cost half of them their jobs. What value will women bring to the SAS, exactly? What tasks are the SBS struggling to execute with their traditional, all-male teams?

Now this blog is fortunate enough to have ex-seaman Jason Lynch as a commenter, who often weighs in on the topic of women in the military. In the past he has said that, in damage repair drills, women can prove their worth by doing tasks which require small, nimble people rather than big, strapping lads. He also said women have been involved in actual damage repair operations and performed adequately. I have no doubt this is true, and I am not against women serving in military units if they can add overall value.

However, I am certain that for women to serve in the SAS, SBS, or even the Royal Marines physical standards will have to be lowered to the point of worthlessness. We’ve seen how these things go: first they say standards will not be lowered, then there are  complaints that no women are passing, then the instructors are told to cheat to allow women to pass, then the standards are abandoned altogether. I walk the Brecon Beacons along the SAS and SBS selection routes back in my early twenties when a few of my friends in the RMR were training for R-Troop (they passed). The difference was they were loaded down with monster bergens and I trotted along with a day-sack. I am also pretty good friends with this chap, who recreates SAS selection marches for civilians to test their mettle. The loads each man carries and the pace they move at is obscene: a common complaint among my friends was that 21 and 23 SAS only required 4km per hour, whereas R-Troop stuck with the regular SBS and 22 SAS pace of 5km per hour. Over the Brecon Beacons this is a blistering pace, and I knew blokes who practically ran the whole route. I was exhausted after a day’s hike with these guys, and I was carrying no weight and only did it for one day in good weather. I couldn’t even get my friend’s bergen on my back, and when someone helped me I found I couldn’t move. During selection, my friends were doing these hill routes day after day.

Unsurprisingly, some men picked up injuries, mostly knees and ankles but also backs. When my friends joined the regular forces and got a few years under their belt, a few of them tried out for regular Special Force selection (including the Royal Marines’ Mountain Leader’s course). The general advice was, if you fail the first one, you have to think very carefully about having another go because of the pounding your body takes. I know at least one guy who was talked out of going for SF selection because it would wreck his already suspect body, and he was a fit lad in his mid twenties.

The rest of the UK special forces selection process which follows “the hills” phase is also brutal: “officer’s week” and “the trees” (i.e. the jungle) are particularly appalling if my friends’ anecdotes are accurate. However, I don’t know whether these would present any great obstacle to women or not. What I am absolutely sure of is if women attempt the current SAS and SBS selection routes in the Elan Valley and Brecon Beacons they will pick up serious injuries at a rate which will later be considered criminally negligent. The course already extracts an awful toll on men at their peak fitness: about 10% pass the whole thing. I suspect the first time a woman attempts it she’ll fail so miserably the units will come under enormous pressure to get her through, which eventually they’ll succumb to.

The good news is once the last British jihadist in Syria is shot and we finally withdraw completely from Afghanistan, we’ll not be sending troops overseas any more, at least not for anything important we can’t leave to the Yanks. Give it another decade and our armed forces will be best known for mincing around a medical tent in a third-world disaster zone along with a bunch of Norwegians, Belgians, and Latvians in green clothes. That being so, why not let women serve in the SAS? After all, Williamson got one thing right:

the impact they’ll make will be phenomenal

Indeed.

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Horizontal Collaboration

This is an interesting story:

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg has issued an official government apology to Norwegian women who were mistreated over World War Two-era relationships with German soldiers.

Many of the Norwegian-German children were born in the German-administered Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) maternity facilities set up from 1941 by the Nazis in the country.

The women who had relationships with the soldiers became known by the nickname the “German Girls”, and were targeted for reprisals in Norway when the war ended – standing accused of betraying the country.

Punishments included being deprived of civil rights, detained or expelled from the country to Germany along with their children.

I have recommended Keith Lowe’s superb book Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WWII before, and will do so again. He goes into substantial detail on the topic of the treatment of women in occupied countries who had relations with German soldiers, particularly in Norway:

The number of sexual relationships that took place between European women and Germans during the war is quite staggering. In Norway as many as 10 per cent of women aged between fifteen and thirty had German boyfriends during the war.

Regarding coercion, he has this to say:

On the whole European women slept with Germans not because they were forced to, or because their own men were absent, or because they needed money or food – but simply because they found the strong, ‘knightly’ image of the German soldiers intensely attractive, especially compared to the weakened impression they had of their own menfolk. In Denmark, for example, wartime pollsters were shocked to discover that 51 per cent of Danish women openly admitted to finding German men more attractive than their own compatriots.

The alt-right is fond of claiming western women support mass migration and open borders because they find their own menfolk emasculated, and any successful invader automatically becomes more attractive. The above paragraph would appear to support that argument (see also the young women who flock to refugee camps and immediately sleep with the residents). Lowe then describes the reprisals carried out on such women at the end of the war, which were particularly nasty in France and the Netherlands. Regarding Norway, he says this:

The study of Norwegian attitudes towards what they termed the ‘war children’ of German soldiers is a particularly rich area because, unlike in other countries, these attitudes are so well documented. In the aftermath of the war the Norwegian authorities set up a War Child Committee to consider what to do with such children.43 For a short time, therefore, the problem was openly discussed here in a way that it was not anywhere else in Europe.

There were good reasons why other countries didn’t want to talk about it:

In Denmark 5,579 babies were born with a registered German father – and undoubtedly many more whose German paternity was concealed. In Holland the number of children born to German fathers is thought to have been anything between 16,000 and 50,000.  In Norway, which had only a third of the population of Holland, between 8,000 and 12,000 such children were born. And in France the number is thought to be around 85,000 or even higher. The total number of children fathered by German soldiers in occupied Europe is unknown, but estimates vary between one and two million.

The treatment of children born of German fathers during the occupation of Norway included forced exile, being declared mentally unsound, and denied full citizenship and schooling. Given Norway is one of the more enlightened countries in Europe, one can imagine it was a lot worse elsewhere (in the Netherlands, some were killed outright at the end of the war). It’s hardly surprising national governments just buried the whole issue and moved on, but the impact on thousands of children must have been enormous.

There is also the question of whether the women deserved such treatment. In Norway at least, sleeping with a German soldier was not a crime, and the post-war laws were applied retroactively. As one girl complained, she was 19 and the Germans were the de facto government and had been for some time. Leaving aside the fact that teenage girls and women in their early twenties can hardly be expected to be immune from falling in love with whoever struts around town in the best uniforms, how was anyone to know the Germans were not going to be there forever? For much of the occupation it must have seemed that way to a lot of people; for how long were young women expected to wait for liberation?

The anger these relationships generated among the male population is understandable, and Lowe goes into detail on its origins. However, it’s hard to say with 70 years’ hindsight that all these women deserved to be abused, beaten, humiliated, and sometimes killed because of their relationships with German soldiers. Credit is due the Norwegian government for looking into this sordid episode of their past and issuing an apology, particularly as no other country dared even approach the subject. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given their true intentions – the treatment of women following the liberation of Europe warrants nary a mention from feminists, outside of the mass rapes of the Red Army.

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Kofi Annan

From the BBC:

Kofi Annan, the only black African to become UN secretary-general, has died.

The 80-year-old “passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness”, the foundation named after him said.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for helping to revitalise the international body, during a period that coincided with the Iraq War and the HIV/Aids pandemic.

My abiding memory of Kofi Annan is his repeatedly appearing on my TV screen shaking his head sadly and saying he was “gravely concerned” about something or other, and that something or other continuing as if he didn’t exist. I always thought he was probably a decent guy, but hopelessly weak and easily manipulated. The Iraq War probably did more damage to the UN than any other event: firstly the weapons inspectors dillied, dallied and let themselves get pushed around for a decade; then two permanent members of the security council undermined the very sanctions they voted for by doing illegal business with Saddam Hussein; then two other permanent members decided to gather up a posse and attack Iraq under the auspices of Resolution 1441, telling a pack of lies in the process. Of the five permanent members and the UN itself, the only entity that came out looking good was China. And doesn’t that tell you everything? As the UN was rendered impotent by its senior members, Kofi Annan shook is head and said he was gravely concerned. Nobody cared.

This would not be so bad were this not the first time something awful happened on his watch, but as the BBC says:

However, Annan was not immune from criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation’s peacekeeping operations.

Kofi Annan was head of UN peacekeeping between 1992 and 1996. During that period we not only had the Rwandan genocide – which happened right under the UN’s nose – but also the Screbrenica massacre. I find it hard to blame the individual Dutch soldiers in blue helmets who stood by and let a few thousand Bosnians get murdered by Serbs, but the Dutch government was so ashamed they resigned en masse in 2002. Not Annan, however: despite having failed to prevent two of the worst acts of genocide in my lifetime he got promoted a short time afterwards to the top spot. I’d be interested to know what you have to do to miss out on promotion at the UN, let alone get fired.

Unfortunately, Kofi wasn’t the only Annan making headlines during his tenure either. His son Kojo was also in the papers for being neck-deep in Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal, which (again) occurred right under the nose of his father. As Mark Steyn said back in 2005 in an article that’s worth reading in full:

You’ll recall that Kofi Annan’s son Kojo – who had a $30,000-a-year job but managed to find a spare quarter-million dollars sitting around to invest in a Swiss football club – has been under investigation for some time for his alleged ties to the Oil-for-Food programme. But the investigators have now broadened their sights to include Kofi’s brother Kobina Annan, the Ghanaian ambassador to Morocco, who has ties to a businessman behind several of the entities involved in the scandal – one Michael Wilson, the son of the former Ghanaian ambassador to Switzerland and a childhood friend of young Kojo. Mr Wilson is currently being investigated for suspected bribery over a $50 million contract to renovate the Geneva offices of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation.

The actual head of the Oil-for-Food racket, Kofi sidekick Benon Sevan, has resigned, having hitherto insisted that a mysterious six-figure sum in his bank account was a gift from his elderly aunt, a lady of modest means who lived in a two-room flat back in Cyprus. Paul Volcker’s investigators had planned to confirm with auntie her nephew’s version of events, but unfortunately she fell down an elevator shaft and died.

Most of the Ghanaian diplomatic corps and their progeny seem to have directorships at companies with UN contracts and/or Saddamite oil options. I had no idea being a Ghanaian ambassador’s son opened so many doors, and nor did they till Kofi ascended to his present eminence.

I got the impression the world gave Kofi Annan a pass on almost everything because, as an African, he was held to appallingly low standards. The same bigotry of low expectations which plagues prominent Africans everywhere was applied to Annan time and again, but reading the tributes pouring in it seems he’s been deified in the same manner as Nelson Mandela. For example:

Well, okay. But I remember him for being utterly ineffectual and presiding over a UN which proved itself to be both impotent and corrupt in equal measure, both of which got considerably worse when he was in charge – perhaps because he was in charge. This from the BBC sums up his career for me:

He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

He quit his post as UN envoy to Syria after only six months in the role, citing the failures of world powers to fulfil their commitments.

He did seem like a kind, decent person and I wish him to rest in peace, but he is undeserving of the professional platitudes being heaped on him.

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Montenegro and Article 5

This is another example of Donald Trump using bone-headed language but making a valid point nonetheless:

Carlson questioned why the US should have to defend Montenegro, as required by Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
Trump responded: “I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very strong people. They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War III.”

Now his characterisation of Montenegrin people is unhelpful and irrelevant, but in classic Trump style he raises a point most people would rather not discuss.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty requires the whole alliance to come to the aid of any member that is attacked. This made sense when a coalition of large and small western European countries were facing off against the Warsaw Pact: the Soviets had to understand that were they to invade Germany or Norway, America would step in. Taken to its logical conclusion, Article 5 meant the alliance was willing to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union in the event any one of them was attacked. During the Cold War this made sense, but now?

Supposing Russia decides to attack Montenegro. Are NATO’s member states really going to attack Russian forces, triggering a massive conventional war that could easily go nuclear within days? Would the various electorates be behind this? Now if France or Germany was invaded, then yes, despite everything I reckon enough Brits, Americans, Danes, Spaniards, and Dutch would think this was worth fighting over. But Montenegro?Does anyone even know the first thing about the place? Or Albania? Sorry, but I’m not sure I want to enter into a global nuclear war with Russia because Albania’s been attacked. Yet this is what the Article 5 of the NATO treaty requires, and Trump is raising serious questions over its suitability almost 30 years after the end of the Cold War.

Darmanovic took a generous view of Trump’s comments, suggesting the US President was making a broader point. “I think President Trump actually did not speak on Montenegro. He spoke on 2% on financing and contributing to NATO, and Montenegro was just picked up as an example — maybe because we are one of the tiniest countries in the alliance,” the foreign minister said.

Now Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017 when Trump was president, so it happened on his watch. Of course, his opponents are leaping on his remarks to claim they have undermined NATO by casting doubt on whether member states are fully committed to triggering Article 5 in all cases, but this is just shooting the messenger. The real doubt was cast as soon as countries like Albania and Montenegro were admitted to the alliance, and it’s high time western leaders both civilian and military acknowledged that.

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Waiting for Paradise

There’s something deeply ironic about this:

Thousands of protesters have marched in the Nicaraguan capital Managua and other cities to demand the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo.

Demonstrators blocked main roads, waving placards and chanting slogans.

Weeks of anti-government protests have led to at least 76 people being killed in clashes with security forces.

The latest rallies took place after peace talks mediated by the Catholic Church broke down on Wednesday.

Four people were killed in clashes on Saturday, police and witnesses say.

“They want to take us off the streets at the point of bullets,” said protest leader Francisca Ramírez, who led a rally in the north-west city of Leon.

Nicaragua was the setting for a pretty nasty proxy war during the Cold War, with the Soviet Union backing the popular Marxist Sandinistas who’d taken control of the country in a coup, while the US backed the hated Contras, who were basically a bunch of thugs. Insofar as America’s Cold War policies go, Nicaragua wasn’t one of their highlights. One of the claims lefties in the West used to make was that had the US not interfered, Nicaragua would have become a socialist paradise under the Sandinistas, who were led by Daniel Ortega. Asked to hold up an example of socialism that worked, they’d often point to Nicaragua – until the Yanquis got involved.

It was an interesting twist of history that, two decades after he was at the head of a Marxist Junta fighting US-backed forces bent on killing him, Ortega was democratically elected President of Nicaragua in 2007. The US had lost interest in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union, meaning this time around his government wouldn’t have to fight a devastating guerrilla war against right-wing rebel groups. This was his chance to deliver what, according to lefties, he’d been prevented from doing in the 1980s only thanks to US interference. Yet here we are, 11 years into his rule, and the country is in free-fall. Maybe he needs more time?

However, his critics accuse him and his wife of also behaving like dictators.

Now there’s a surprise, eh? In fairness to Ortega, I expect things would be the same no matter who was in charge.

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Not just corrupt, impotent too

Now there’s a surprise, eh?

The missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 belonged to a Russian brigade, international investigators say.

For the first time, the Dutch-led team said the missile had come from a unit based in western Russia.

All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

It was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine. Russia says none of its weapons was used.

But on Thursday Wilbert Paulissen, a Dutch official from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), told reporters: “All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces.”

He restated the JIT’s conclusion that the plane had been destroyed by a Russian-made Buk missile, adding that it had been supplied by the country’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk.

The bulk of this was known at the time of the incident. There were only three possibilities as to the origins of the missile:

1. Russian forces

2. Russian-backed militias in Ukraine

3. Ukrainian forces

The Ukrainians quickly stated they don’t possess this missile system, ruling out their culpability. My guess was the Russians had, with staggering irresponsibility, given the business end of a Buk anti-aircraft system to some poorly trained militia operating on Ukrainian territory who’d shot down the plane by mistake. However, I believed part of the system was still controlled by Russian forces, who would give the militia the nod to engage any targets. As it turns out, it was operated by Russian forces all along, and it was they who shot the plane down.

At a news conference in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the investigators also showed social media pictures which they said traced the route the missile convoy had taken to reach eastern Ukraine.

Shortly after the incident some investigators online worked out using mobile phone footage and satellite images exactly where the missile had been fired from. Nobody showed any interest, and the silence from what passes for western leadership over this incident was deafening. The Oilfield Expat explains why:

Considering the magnitude of the event, it is remarkable how quickly the world brushed it under the carpet and moved on, particularly the Dutch who lost the greatest number of citizens in the incident. But there are good reasons for this: it suited the interests of European and American politicians to do so.

For those who thought the shooting down of MH17 would prove to be a Lusitania event in the crisis in east Ukraine, proving beyond doubt the nature of the Russian government which the west is facing, it would have seemed unbelievable at the time that barely 6 weeks later Russian armour would be moving en masse into Ukraine whilst EU and American leaders repeat the same empty, lame, and downright pathetic bleating about “de-escalation” that has done nothing but embolden Putin thus far.

It is blatantly obvious in whose interests Obama, Merkel, Hollande, etc. are acting over this Ukraine crisis: their own. And I don’t mean their citizens, or their country, I mean their own personal interests. Any support they may receive from their citizens or corporations is purely coincidental, although in the case of Germany it is clear that Merkel’s interests have been identical to those of certain favoured German companies with large operations in Russia all along. She damned near admitted as much.

This is wholly consistent with these same individuals sucking up to Iran, and now even cosying up to Putin in the aftermath of Trump’s nixing the deal. So much for solidarity with Britain over the Skripal poisoning, eh? But it’s not just cynical commercial interests that caused the disgraceful silence over the shooting down of MH-17, it was also cowardice. There were reports doing the rounds that Putin was visibly shaken when news reached him of MH-17 being shot down, no doubt fearing a serious backlash. However, within a day or two he was back to his usual swaggering self, confident no response would be forthcoming, and the tidal wave of disinformation began. Quite simply, the feckless leaders in the west didn’t want to make any tough decisions. Here’s The Oilfield Expat once more:

In reality, the EU leaders are a bunch of shyster politicians who give a shit about one thing: their political position, and by extension the powers they wield and the personal fortune they amass. Like all politicians, they are a bunch of backstabbing, duplicitous, untrustworthy c*nts who you wouldn’t trust to look after a wet breeze block, let alone guarantee the safety and security of a nation of people they don’t know and give less of a shit about. The Ukrainians have probably worked this out by now, only it’s too late. The Baltic States should also be waking up to reality and realising that they are on their own and always were. There were times when this fecklessness wouldn’t matter so much as the US could be relied upon to step in when required (as they eventually did in the Balkans), but the current occupant of the White House is so out of his depth and so wrapped up in preserving his image that he makes the EU leadership look Napoleonic by comparison. The collective language of this gaggle of incompetents over the Ukraine crisis screams “Oh why did this have to happen on my watch? Why won’t the problem just go away?”

They want the status, salary, and trappings of power that come with the position but don’t want to take the decisions and carry the responsibility that comes with it.

At the time of the incident – and not much has changed, at least on one side of the Atlantic – the western leadership was not only corrupt, but impotent too. The results of the investigation will only serve to illustrate this fact.

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When the Unserious meet the Serious

This:

is more an indication of the intellect and general knowledge of British MPs than a criticism of the Israeli ambassador. Whether or not you agree with the IDF’s use of live rounds and accept Hamas’ claims of the number of dead and that some were children, shooting people with rifles under those circumstances is hardly the epitome of an unmeasured and indiscriminate military response. Machine-gunning them would be a lot worse, strafing them from the air even more so. When the Russian army took Grozny in 1999-2000, this is how they went about it:

The Russian strategy in 1999 was to hold back tanks and armored personnel carriers and subject the entrenched Chechens to an intensive heavy artillery barrage and aerial bombardment before engaging them with relatively small groups of infantry, many with prior training in urban warfare. The Russian forces relied heavily on rocket artillery such as BM-21 Grad, BM-27 Uragan, BM-30 Smerch, ballistic missiles (SCUD, OTR-21 Tochka), cluster bombs and fuel air explosives. (The TOS-1, a multiple rocket launcher with thermobaric weapon warheads, played a particularly prominent role in the assault). These weapons wore down the Chechens, both physically and psychologically, and air strikeswere also used to attack fighters hiding in basements; such attacks were designed for maximum psychological pressure.

This was the result:

If asked, perhaps the Israeli ambassador would cite the above as an example of what he thinks “unmeasured and indiscriminate” looks like. More likely, though, he’d have referred to Russia’s bombing of Aleppo in 2016:

The effects of Russia’s bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo — destroying hospitals and schools, choking off basic supplies, and killing aid workers and hundreds of civilians over just days — raise a question: What could possibly motivate such brutality?

Observers attribute Russia’s bombing to recklessness, cruelty or Moscow’s desperate thrashing in what the White House has called a “quagmire.”

But many analysts take a different view: Russia and its Syrian government allies, they say, could be massacring Aleppo’s civilians as part of a calculated strategy, aimed beyond this one city.

The strategy, more about politics than advancing the battle lines, appears to be designed to pressure rebels to ally themselves with extremists, eroding the rebels’ legitimacy; give Russia veto power over any high-level diplomacy; and exhaust Syrian civilians who might otherwise support the opposition.

This is not to excuse what the IDF are doing on the border with Gaza (although personally I don’t see they had any other option). It is merely to point out that British MPs accuse Israel of unrestrained and indiscriminate brutality only because they are utterly ignorant of what the genuine article looks like, even when there are recent examples of it. Either that, or they’re lying.

Whichever it is, it comes as no surprise Russia refused to take them seriously over the Skripal affair. You don’t have to like anyone’s policies or behaviour very much to realise the world is rapidly dividing into politicians and nations that are serious, and those that are not. Russia and Israel are clearly on one side; MPs like Wes Streeting are very much on the other.

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The Twin Gambles of Saudi Arabia and Iran

Based on recent posts, some readers may get the impression that I am somewhat skeptical that Barack Obama deserves his Nobel Peace Prize, and I’d like to correct that. I think it was thoroughly deserved, for reasons implied in the following tweets:

Now to be fair this was a complete accident on Obama’s part, but by showing America’s enemies he was not to be feared while undermining its allies he somehow managed to get Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperating with one another on security and regional politics. Since then, Bahrain and the UAE have joined in. However you cut it, this is an impressive achievement even if it was wholly unintentional; for that alone he deserves his Nobel.

I suspect what’s happened is the civil war in Iraq that followed the disastrous toppling of Saddam Hussein, the rise of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, and the nastier elements of the Arab Spring (including the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) have shaken a lot of sensible Arabs into accepting some uncomfortable truths. Chief among them is the fact that it’s not Israel that is their greatest threat but the opposite side of the Sunni-Shia divide. For any Sunni, that makes Iran-sponsored Shia their gravest enemy.

For years it was Saudi Arabia, via its sponsorship of Wahhabist madrassas throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world which was the main driver of radical Islamic terrorism, and many people quite reasonably asked why the US didn’t bomb Riyadh in the aftermath of 9/11 instead of Baghdad. The simple and honest answer was that the production from the Saudi oilfields was so essential to the functioning of the entire world (not just the US) that under no circumstances could it be interrupted. The second answer was that, backward and autocratic the ruling family was, the alternative was likely to be very much worse. Authoritarian strongmen always use the excuse of keeping the headcases from taking over to justify spending decades in power, but in the case of the Saudi ruling family it was probably true. A lot of Saudis supported the Taliban, thinking their way of governing was how things should be, and considered the house of Al Saud too liberal. Osama bin Laden’s biggest gripe with the US was that it stationed troops on Saudi Arabia’s holy sands before and after the Gulf War. He fell out with the Saudi government when they turned down his generous offer of defending Saudi with an army of lunatic jihadists he’d recruited in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, preferring instead to use the American army.

It is said that for a long time the Saudi rulers would whisper to western diplomats pushing for reforms words to the effect of: “We want to, but we can’t right now or we’ll have a revolution. We need to move slowly, and only when ready.” These words might have been self-serving much of the time, but they were surely based on truth. Any attempt to really crack down on the financiers of radical elements in Saudi would have likely instigated a coup, although this doesn’t excuse the government spending billions exporting Wahhabism around the world. I’m tempted to believe there was some sincerity in their words because the new guy in charge, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing through rapid and sweeping reforms aimed at weening the country off oil dependency, liberalising the society, and sidelining conservatives who preferred things as they were. Mohammed bin Salman has judged – rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out soon enough – that the majority population is ready to move away from tightly controlled, theocratic, Wahhabist rule and towards something resembling Kuwait or Abu Dhabi: hardly a liberal paradise, but a giant step in the right direction nonetheless.

This contrasts greatly with Iran which was in some ways the polar opposite. Rather than having a government that wants to reform but cannot because the people are hotheaded lunatics, the Iranians have a sensible population ruled by an ultra-conservative theocratic government which keeps a boot on their necks. If the Saudi government would have fled the country at any point over the past 15 years, the country would probably have fallen to extremists. Had the Mullahs done the same thing in Iran, it would likely have shifted very much towards liberalism. Despite both being sponsors of terrorism around the world for decades, it is this difference between the two countries now that is crucial, and explains why Saudi is being feted and Iran a pariah.

Mohammed bin Salman has gambled that the Saudi population is ready for reforms; the Ayatollahs are gambling they can keep ignoring Iranians’ demands for them. I suspect this will determine the shape of the Middle East over the next generation, rather than the outcomes on proxy battlefields in Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere. Obama backed one horse, Trump has backed another. History will show who was right.

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Finally, something Trump and Reagan have in common

A couple of months ago I had this exchange on Twitter with a lefty Irishman who I follow mainly because he is so consistently wrong on just about everything. The subject was Ronald Reagan:

I don’t doubt this chap did engage in several years of intensive post-graduate study of Russian history and politics, but I suspect he went in with his mind made up on Reagan and no amount of evidence was going to change it. If his research really did reveal that the Soviet decision-making process which led to the end of the Cold War was based on Carter-era policies while the election of Reagan only made things worse, he’d have written a book on it, and would be lecturing history somewhere. He didn’t, and he isn’t.

The left’s re-writing of history to deny Reagan any credit for ending the Cold War is important in the context of this story:

Friday’s summit between the leaders of North and South Korea was a “historic meeting” paving the way for the start of a new era, North Korea’s media say.

The North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea agreed to work to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons.

In a rare move, state-run TV and the official KCNA news agency hailed the talks and the leaders’ commitment to seek “complete denuclearisation”.

The summit came just months after warlike rhetoric from the North.

It saw Mr Kim become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The two men warmly shook hands and then stepped symbolically over the military demarcation line to the North Korean side.

Firstly, let’s not get carried away. I don’t believe for one minute that North Korea has given up its nuclear ambitions and so far nothing has been agreed. But in the context of the conflict between North and South Korea, these developments are huge steps forwardYes it might be just theatre but theatre has a certain importance, particularly when North Korea is involved, a country which is as much theatre as anything else. That the North Korean media are reporting this visit is extremely important, meaning this visit is not just for the benefit of western hawks and South Korean doves.

The two leaders said they would pursue talks with the US and China to formally end the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a truce, not total peace.

If that happens, it will be the biggest diplomatic coup of the century thus far. So how much of this is down to Trump? Well, quite a lot. It was he who refused to bend to North Korean threats, instead responding with threats of his own with a dose of outright mockery thrown in. And it was he, thankfully via mediums other than Twitter, who put pressure on the Chinese to reign in their rogue puppy, convincing them it was in everyone’s interests to do so. Others have played their role for sure, namely the South Koreans, Chinese, and even Kim Jong-un himself, but this would never be happening without Trump. If the Korean War officially ends as a result of this, he will have pulled off a geopolitical triumph orders of magnitudes more important than Obama’s sucking up to Cuba and throwing money at Iran in a desperate attempt to secure his “legacy”.

However, you can be sure the global elites, the media, and Trump’s ideological enemies at home and abroad will do everything in their power to downplay, ignore, or misrepresent Trump’s role in whatever progress is made on the Korean peninsula from hereon. Like those who can’t bring themselves to accept that Reagan’s policies were instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War rather than leading to nuclear Armageddon, those who claimed Trump was recklessly endangering the world will be incapable of acknowledging he’s probably made it safer. How much safer remains to be seen, but let’s recall Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing except winning the presidency after George W. Bush. Nobody is ever going to award the Nobel prize to Donald Trump even if he permanently eliminates war and suffering by tomorrow night, but Obama could at least gift him his.

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