Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Back to the question of intervention in Syria

We have been here before, only last time the question was about intervening in order to overthrow Assad. This time the discussion is about intervening against ISIL from which Assad may benefit. The debate is set for tomorrow and it would be a foolhardy person who could predict its outcome. To me these debates show the futility of running a foreign policy according to popular opinion, which tends to change in response to media stories and pictures, something I discussed on the blog not so long ago.

Back at the time of people demanding that we go in to unseat Assad, who has remained considerably more tenacious in his grasp on some power than people predicted and who is still responsible for more deaths than ISIL (though that is probably merely because he has been there for much longer), I wrote this:
However, ladies and gentlemen who demand that we intervene in Syria, could you answer at least some of the following questions?

When you say you want us to intervene what kind of intervention do you have in mind and who, do you think, should carry it out? What precisely is a limited military intervention, as suggested by Senator McCain?

What sort of timetable do you have in mind? Weeks? Months? Years? A long occupation with no foreseeable end and if so, who would be doing it?

What would be the agreed aim of the intervention? Simply no more pictures of dead bodies? How can we ensure that? Regime change? I have no problems with that in principle (think Germany, Japan and Italy in 1945) but what sort of regime should we install and how long will it survive?

Do we have any identifiable allies?

And last but very much not least: what is the exit strategy?
With a few changes those questions are still relevant. Obviously, if we are talking only about extended bombing (people seem not to have noticed that we are already involved in it to some extent) then the urgency of those questions is not so great. Even bombing, as was carried out in Libya, now a completely dysfunctional state, carries with it certain consequences. What if we actually put boots on the ground in a civil war, which has many sides, all of them nasty and few potential allies?

Another update

Third Reading of the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Lords will take place this afternoon. It is described as a "final chance" to tidy up the Bill and there has been a good deal of tidying up already. However, it has also been amended on the question of voting rights and will, therefore, have to go back to the Commons. We are likely to see a bit of toing and froing. Here is the Bill as it is now.

Another loss to the Brexit movement

A friend called my attention to this obituary in the Daily Telegraph telling me about the death of Ronald Stewart-Brown, which I knew nothing about. As one is at times like that, I was shocked, having seen Ronald at one of the many Brexit meetings and discussions a few months previously. He did not look well but I had no idea just how unwell he was.

There can be few people in eurosceptic circles who did not know or had not seen Ronald Stewart-Brown at various meetings. A tall man with a forward leaning loping walk he had a ready smile, usually accompanied with a nod for all those many people he actually knew and any amount of time to discuss matters to do with the EU and, particularly, trade and what Britain's future might be if we come out.

One of my early meetings with Ronald was when I was working at the European Foundation. We had met and chatted before and one day he suggested lunch, mainly to discuss what his role might be in the eurosceptic fight. I don't think we came to any conclusion at the time but we resumed discussions in person and over the telephone on a number of occasions. Eventually, Ronald did find the right niche for himself: he set up the Trade Policy Research Centre and concentrated through research, published papers and discussions on building up a credible policy of an alternative trading network to EU membership. Inevitably, his ideas brought him into conflict with other people whose own ideas were just as strongly held if not always based on quite as much research. Ronald argued his case courteously but vehemently: his manners remained excellent but he would not be shifted from what he considered to be the right analysis. At the same time he was ready to listen to other people's opinions and there were times when I was embarrassed by his insistence on wanting to know what I thought on certain subjects.

At our last meeting we chatted as always and I expressed a certain amount of boredom with the whole subject of the EU. Having been involved in the debates for so long I did not think I could work up any enthusiasm now, though the situation was becoming critical. Ronald's response was characteristically complimentary and robust. First of all, he did not think that this was the time to give up or succumb to ennui. Of course, he added with a smile, you were so far ahead of us all those years ago, most of us are only just catching up. He intended to go on working and fighting as long as it was necessary and urged me to do the same. Alas, his time was considerably shorter than I realized.

We shall all miss his incisive and knowledgeable contribution to the coming debates.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lord Pearson's memorandum

About ten days ago I wrote about Lord Pearson's Memorandum, Shall We Talk About Islam?, and promised to put up a link as soon as there was one. It is now up on the website Can We Talk About Islam? and you can read find either through that site or just go directly to the document here.

This is a paper for discussion and people are encouraged to respond. Should any of this blog's readers want to do so on it, they are very welcome to do so. Obviously, courteous and rational comments are more welcome than the other kind. In fact, anything truly courteous and rational will be passed on to the authors.

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson has also been active in the House of Lords, as have a number of those pesky unelected members. On November 17 a Statement was made in both Houses about the G20 meeting and the Paris attacks, which took in various measures that HMG is proposing in order to deal with the problem of Islamic extremism that all too often leads to terrorism. It is probably worth reading the whole Statement and the subsequent debate. Naturally, these are only proposals and none of us can predict with any accuracy which, if any of them, will be implemented.

Lord Pearson asked:
My Lords, in that vein, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to inspect and shut down any educational institutions which teach Islamist intolerance and, I presume, violence. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this policy will include all evening madrassahs and, indeed, our mosques, where so much of the poison is spread?
To which HMG in the form of Baroness Stowell of Beeston replied:
My Lords, it will include any establishment where this kind of extremism — non-violent and violent — is being pursued. We can no longer tolerate a situation where it is okay for somebody to espouse extremist views and stop short of inciting violence. Because of that, we are committed to taking all necessary steps. As the noble Baroness said a moment ago, we have to ensure that people are not in a position where they are influenced by or attracted to this kind of ideology, which is so damaging and dangerous.
I am not quite certain what is meant by non-violent extremism but, as I said above, we shall have to see what is actually achieved.

There is no virtue in doing without things that are unavailable

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the ridiculousness of claims that the West is more materialistic and, therefore, somehow less virtuous than the old Communist system was.
Let us look at the argument: at least they are not obsessed with materialism and consumerism. To start with, what is the basis of Communism and Marxist Socialism but materialism, dialectic or otherwise? The whole political ideology, the whole basis on which state and society are to be built, purport to be materialistic, discarding religion, spiritual entities and "empty" intellectualism. Not only were the ideas discarded and banned, their proponents and practitioners were arrested, exiled, murdered or forced to convert to the worship of Materialism. Socialist Realism from which the artists in this exhibition fled one way or another is the glorification of materialism in art and its apotheosis heralded (or was meant to herald) the trampling down of all non-realist, non-materialist expression.

So much for the underlying ideological basis of Communism. The problem was that it could not provide the material goods that materialism promised to all. While theoretical materialism remained a good thing, its practical assumption had to become a bad thing since it did not exist in the workers' paradise. In particular, it had to be pronounced as bad by Western supporters (at a distance) of that non-materialistic materialist workers' paradise as they could not hide indefinitely behind the lie that consumer goods in the West were available to very few people. In fact, there is an odd correlation between growing contempt for consumerism and materialism and the wider spread of the actual goods.

Were people in Communist countries really not interested in consumer goods? Were they heck. No-one who has ever lived in those countries especially the Soviet Union and managed to communicate with the indigenous population can forget not just the queues for goods that might appear or might not but also the obsessive discussions of what might be available and where, what might be acquired at home or - blissful idea - abroad.

In Soviet cities directions were given by shops. Get off the bus at such and such a shop, turn right, walk to another shop, then right again and it's the second entrance. That sort of thing. Naturally, one had to ask the driver where such and such a shop was, which would cause great excitement on the bus: why were you going to that shop? Was there anything being sold there?
There is another aspect of the question that I recall explaining to a few people who talked rubbish about consumerism was one I recalled when reading a book entitled Medieval Tastes by the eminent Italian historian of food and food culture, Massimo Montanari. (One cannot spend one's entire time on the EU and Russia.)

In the chapter on monastic cooking (a fascinating subject) Professor Montanari discusses the question of fasting and ascetic rigour, explaining:
It should immediately be made clear that deprivation does not mean absence. On the contrary, one can only deprive oneself of that one has, of what one is accustomed to having: "privatio praesupponit habitum", Rabelais ironically remarks. On this, monastic culture is in agreement: there would be no value or merit in a renunciation that was obligatory in some way because of circumstances; it is necessary to renounce an available pleasure so that the choice acquires value and meaning. 
There is no virtue in eating nothing but cabbage and potatoes by way of vegetables with pickled cucumbers and tomatoes in the winter if the shops have no other vegetables.  This would be a virtue if people, say all those people who are advocating the consumption of nothing that is not local and seasonal, did it by choice. I have noticed that they do not ever do so; I have also noticed that as soon as it became possible in former Communist states to eat a more varied diet people immediately started doing so. Of course, they still pickle and salt cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms for winter but I do that quite often as well, adding jars of chutney and other home-made preserves. I happen to think they are better to eat than most shop-bought stuff but the important thing is that it is  my choice to do so.

Well now, which of all the economic systems that have existed throughout history in the world has made the making of those choices possible?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Baroness Morgan gets her Amendment through

Yesterday was the first day of Report on the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Lords. I have not yet read the Hansard record right through but anyone who wishes to get ahead of me, it is to be seen here. However, I do know that Baroness Morgan, whom I already described as being quite exceptionally stupid did put her Amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote to the House and carried it (Col. 180), 293 to 211. It is absolutely necessary to give those children the vote, according to her,"[t]hey will have to live with the consequences of the result for longer than anyone". Well, not anyone, surely. If we assume that they will all live longer than anyone who is old enough to be in Parliament now and anyone who votes in the General Election now (something of a stretch) then we have to assume that 14 and 15 year olds will live even longer with the results and 12 and 13 year olds even longer than that. Why not give them the vote?

Just to recap, if this Amendment is accepted by the House of Commons, which seems unlikely, we shall be giving the vote in this referendum and no other election to people whom we do not consider to be old enough to buy alcohol or tobacco, old enough to decide whether to continue with their education or old enough to be interviewed by the police without a responsible adult present. In fact, apart from having sexual relations we do not consider them to be old enough to make any decisions on their own since even joining the army can be done only with their parents' or guardians' agreement.

Possibly that is why Baroness Morgan and her cohorts are so anxious to give them the vote - they are not old enough to make a decision for themselves so are more likely to be influenced by the pro-EU garbage they hear at school. That may be a miscalculation but in the meantime we are left with a constitutional mess thanks to the Labour and Lib-Dem parties' anxiety to increase what they perceive to be the pro-EU electorate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What François did next

There is not much one can say about les événements on Friday in Paris that is not being said by many people in various forms. Immediately after President Hollande had spoken about an attack on the French state I wondered out loudly (i.e. on the much derided social media) whether he was now going to invoke NATO Article 5, which would be somewhat ironic, given France's historic ambivalence about that organization. To date he has not done so. Instead he has called for a meeting of the UN Security Council and has vowed to step up French attacks on ISIL. He has also proposed to extend the state of emergency for another three months and introduce some very sweeping reforms into the French Constitution. At present the only concrete proposal he has made is to have the right not to allow back "French citizens who also hold citizenship in another country ... if it's believed they are connected to terrorism", in itself not a very radical idea. What of French citizens who do not hold another citizenship but have gone to fight with ISIS?

I saw some discussion of whether France will invoke Article 5, mostly on the part of Americans who were wondering what President Obama's response will be if that happens, given his less than stellar performance at various press conferences since Friday. There is also a discussion of the alternatives in the Jerusalem Post. My own opinion is that, given France's ambivalent attitude to NATO throughout its history, Article 5 will not be invoked.

I wrote that yesterday but thought I'd not post till today though I did spend some time on other sites arguing just that - France will not invoke Article 5 as they will not want to have NATO fighting the battle.

Today it is clear: President Hollande is trying to use the EU though most probably he will require American fire power at some stage. But not through NATO. Oh no. That is not at all what France wants to see.

EurActiv tells us that France 'at war' inaugurates EU mutual defence clause, the one whose purpose it was to supplant NATO in defence matters. After all, who wants to be told endlessly that it was not the EU that kept peace in Western Europe all these decades but NATO, US troops and the nuclear umbrella?
President François Hollande said he will invoke the European Union's ‘mutual defence clause’ for the first time to combat the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, betting on EU support over NATO in the country's fight against the Islamic State.

Speaking on Monday (16 November) during a joint session of both houses of parliament in Versailles, Hollande said that "France is at war" and that the jihadist group is “not only an enemy of France but an enemy of Europe”.

Following the killing of 129 people on Friday (13 November), Hollande said that France is committed to “destroying” Islamic State.

In a surprise move, he told lawmakers that France will invoke article 42.7 of the EU Treaty during a meeting of EU defence ministers on Tuesday (17 November). The article “provides that when a state is attacked, all member states must bring their solidarity to address the aggression”, Hollande reminded.
Quite what that solidarity will consist of is not clear at this stage but it will be a famous victory (perhaps). It is possible that the various arrests that are being conducted in connection with les événements in Germany and Belgium and, soon, in other countries will be described as an example of Article 42.7 at work.

The story is picked up by EUObserver who also say
"The enemy is Daesh," he said, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.

"We shall not just contain it, but destroy it," he said, adding that France will "intensify its operations" in Syria following Monday's raids.

Hollande also wants to build "a large and unique coalition" against the terrorist group.
A coalition of the willing, in fact.
He announced that France has asked for a meeting and a resolution from the UN Security Council.

He also said that he will soon meet US and Russian presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, "to join our forces and reach a conclusion that has been too long overdue."
Does that mean that the sale of Mistrals will go ahead after all?

So, not NATO but the UN Security Council and the EU with American and Russian lifting power and France in charge.

There are also reports of NATO and EU promising to work together though why that should be necessary, given that the EU member states who are likely to do anything are also members of NATO is unclear. But it makes everyone seem important.
NATO and the European Union must work closely to prevent more attacks like those in Paris, the head of the Western military alliance said on Monday, underscoring the risks of unconventional warfare such as cyber attacks and radicalism.

European officials are struggling to provide quick answers on how to counter the threat from Islamic State and other militant groups at a time of falling defense budgets, the lack of a common EU security policy and an overlap with NATO.

"We will redouble our efforts and work even more closely ... to counter the rise of extremism, which can inspire such horrific attacks here at home," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Speaking alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Stoltenberg said NATO and the EU could no longer afford to develop parallel policies towards similar ends. They should work together "hand-in-hand".
This is not the first time France has tried to use a crisis to undermine NATO, push forward the EU and position herself as the lynchpin between Europe, the US and Russia (it used to be the Soviet Union). This time the stakes are very high, especially for France, who experienced the second organized terrorist attack in ten months.