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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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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The Bravery of Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame

While I was away in Morocco, a young Moroccan Islamist went on a murdering spree in the south of France, ending up in a supermarket where he took a woman hostage. A police officer on the scene, one Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, traded places with her in a move of monumental bravery that cost him his life:

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to the officer, saying that Col Arnaud “fell as a hero” after showing “exceptional courage and selflessness”, adding that he deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

The whole world, even. Note that Beltrame was a Lt-Col, and would have been one of the senior officers on the scene. When the time came to show leadership, he stepped up.

Mr Collomb told reporters on Friday that police officers had managed to get some people out of the supermarket but the gunman had held one woman back as a human shield.

It was at this point, he said, that Col Beltrame had volunteered to swap himself for her.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame was mortally wounded.

One may contrast the brave and selfless actions of Col Beltrame with those of the Deputy Sheriff who refused to confront the lunatic during the Parkland school shootings, even as children were being murdered, and with his superiors afterwards. We may also contrast the disregard for his own safety Col Beltrame displayed with that of the US police who dress for full combat and shoot unarmed people through “fear of their lives”. Cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, indeed.

That the French are cowards is a common slur on that nation*, one that is nonsense. French policemen have shown considerable bravery over the course of several attacks on civilians by Islamic lunatics, running towards the sound of shots even knowing they’re likely to be outgunned when they get there. Hopefully Col Beltrame’s sacrifice will put that stupid notion to bed forever. For my part, I’m rather glad I have French policemen around me, offering whatever protection they can.

*This mostly stems from their surrender to the Germans in 1940, and their reluctance to fight another war. Having been to Verdun, and knowing how much France suffered during WWI, their desire to avoid another war was understandable, particularly once their position on the battlefield had deteriorated so rapidly. Great Britain lost three-quarters of a million men during WWI, the French 1.1m. However, with much of the fighting taking place in France the civilian casualties were much higher and, coupled with disease, accounted for 4% of its population killed. Added to that were 4.2m wounded, compared with 1.6m British soldiers.

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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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