Friday, August 12, 2016

THE BATTLE FOR ALEPPO: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?

"The encirclement of Eastern Aleppo by the Syrian military and its allies is a major blow to the opposition. It reenforces regime aspirations that it can manage, if not entirely destroy the insurgency over the course of the next five years. It signifies four important developments that have been brewing for some time.... The reconquest of Aleppo fits into the larger regime strategy by consolidating its grip on what has been called “Useful Syria.” More than half of Syria’s population lives in its four great cities: Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo. The regime is intent on retaking these four cities for they are the heart of the nation, certainly the urban nation. It should be remembered that Syria is a country of deep divisions, not only between religious communities but also between the classes and between urban and rural society. The upper and middle classes live in the cities. By restricting the rebellion to the poorer countryside and tribal regions, Damascus will have scored a moral and strategic victory. It will be able to turn rich against poor and city against village. Syria’s rebels have grown progressively weaker over the last year. Russia’s entry into Syria was key to this shift. But other trends also contributed. Jihadist bombings in the West, Turkey and Saudi Arabia eroded support for arming rebels. The refugee problem in Europe, also undermined the desire to escalate in Syria. Iraq’s destruction of its Sunni rebellion weakened Syria’s rebels. The rise of ISIS and Nusra to paramountcy in Syria, undercut those arguing for arming rebels. For all of these reasons, the future looks dark for the rebel cause. Assad’s encirclement of Aleppo is an important chapter in Syria’s ongoing struggle."
Joshua Landis, "What the Rebel Loss of Aleppo will mean for Syria?" Syria Comment. 29 July 2016 in www.syriacomment.com.
"Syria’s opposition has hailed rebel advances in the strategic city of Aleppo as a stunning success for ragtag forces, while the international community looked on as 300,000 Syrians suffered a weeks-long siege. But the offensive against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops may have had more foreign help than it appears: activists and rebels say opposition forces were replenished with new weapons, cash and other supplies before and during the fighting. “At the border yesterday we counted tens of trucks bringing in weapons,” said one Syrian activist, who crosses between Syria and neighbouring Turkey. “It’s been happening daily, for weeks . . .  weapons, artillery — we’re not just talking about some bullets or guns.” Two other rebels, who, like all those interviewed, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, described cash and supplies being ferried in for weeks. They and others believe the money and supplies came from regional backers, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and were sent in trucks across Turkey’s border with Syria. This was in spite of the fact that the rebel offensive — dubbed “the great Aleppo battle” — has been led and organised by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a jihadi group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Some rebels claim that US officials supporting moderate rebel forces intentionally turned a blind eye to Fatah al-Sham’s participation in the offensive to ensure the opposition maintains a foothold in Aleppo. “The Americans, of course, knew what was going on. They ignored it to put some pressure back on Russia and Iran,” said a western diplomat in contact with the opposition. Both Iran and Russia back the Assad regime, and Russian air power was critical to the government laying its weeks-long siege on rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Rebel fighters claim they broke the siege on their territory when they advanced into regime-held districts over the weekend and have vowed to retake the whole of Aleppo".
Erika Solomon, "Outside help behind rebel advances in Aleppo". The Financial Times. 8 August 2016 in www.ft.com.
The battle for Aleppo in some telling has all of the hallmarks of either the Stalingrad or Brunete of the Syrian Civil War. As Joshua Landis correctly points out, the fall of Aleppo will be a devastating set-back for the rebels, both of the so-called 'moderate' as well as the Muslim extremist variety. However, since Landis wrote his posting, the rebels have staged a comeback and have ousted the regime's forces from a portion of the city, and provided a land-bridge to the rebels outside of the city. Thus in essence breaking the regime's siege at least temporarily. The rebels success has lead to claims that Assad's opponents will be able to soon conquer the regime's held portions of Aleppo. I for one depreciate this given the fact that as the French analyst, Fabrice Balanche has cogently argued recently, the rebels successes should not be overstated due to the fact that:
"Since July 2012, all rebel attempts to hold the western part of the city, where the population does not favor them, have failed. However, in 2012-2013, the rebels were mostly nonradical Islamists, which today is not the case. Jaish al-Fatah is headed by a former Jabhat al-Nusra faction -- known before the offensive as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham -- and includes several jihadist groups, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Jund al-Aqsa, known for their great brutality. The recent radicalization of "moderate" groups like Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki does not reassure western Aleppo's urban middle classes. In Aleppo, the major divide between rebels and pro-government factions is not based on sectarian opposition -- except for the pro-government Christian minority -- but mainly on social class divisions and the historic urban-rural cleavage. Therefore, the chances for an anti-Assad uprising in western Aleppo are nonexistent. If the rebels want to conquer the government-held portion of Aleppo, it will be with a hard fight. Moreover, the Ramouseh victory took a great toll on the rebel ranks: five hundred killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 1."
In short, do not be lead by the rebels temporary success in breaking the siege to believe that Assad's forces are on the brink of defeat in Aleppo. Given the very heavy Russian air support, as well as Hezbollah, Persian and Iraqi militia forces on the ground to stiffen Assad's army, it is difficult to believe that the rebels will be able to follow-up their success. Indeed, it could very well be the case that in order to improve Assad's bargaining power in any upcoming negotiations with the Americans in Geneva over Syria, that Russia and its local allies will pour in more men, air support and material in order to win the battle of Aleppo and thus drive the rebels from the last major population centre it has a hold on. A victory of this sort by Assad, could very well, `a la Joshua Landis, be a 'game-changer' in this long struggle. Time will of course tell.
1. Fabrice Balanche, "Aleppo: Is the Turnaround Sustainable for the Rebels?" The Washington Institute. 9 August 2016, in www.washingtoninstitute.org

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

PEKING AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEA RULING: A COMMENT

"A UN tribunal has ruled unanimously in favour of the Philippines in its case against China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines first brought the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at The Hague in 2013, raising 15 instances in which it held China’s claims and activity in the South China Sea had violated international law, writes Hudson Lockett. In 2015 the tribunal decided it had jurisdiction on seven of those, though it said it was still considering the other eight. The tribunal’s decision applies not to sovereignty claims, but the maritime rights attached to such claims. Among the issues raised by the Philippines was the validity of China’s “Nine-dash line” asserting sovereignty over as much as 90 per cent of the region’s waters".
The Financial Times. "World News: UN tribunal rules for Philippines in South China Sea dispute". 12 July 2016 in www.ft.com.
"China reiterated it would ignore an unfavourable court ruling on its maritime claims in the South China Sea, and warned its neighbours it would “take all necessary measures” to protect Chinese interests there. In a day of sabre-rattling and veiled threats, vice-foreign minister Liu Zhenmin on Wednesday said China had the right to create an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, effectively claiming the airspace over the region. China’s claims to 85 per cent of the territory of the South China Sea were badly dented by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which on Tuesday ruled in favour of the Philippines in a case brought three years ago. The court said there was no legal basis for Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. Beijing sees control of the South China Sea as a vital national interest, and has embarked on an ambitious policy of dredging islands from coral reefs and rocks in support of its claims."
Charles Clover & Wan Li, "Beijing warns neighbors after South China Sea ruling". The Financial Times. 13 July 2016 in www.ft.com.
The ruling against China by the United Nation's tribunal and Peking's automatic denunciation of said ruling with its declaration that it will refuse to abide by it are all of a piece. It shows clearly and without diplomatic niceties that the ruling clique in the Peoples Republic understand only the logic of force. Legal rulings unbacked by the employment of force or the threat of force are something that it deliberately chooses to ignore. It is this once again verified factum, which shows how important it is for the Americans, the West and its local allies (South Korea, the Philippines, and even Vietnam) to present a united, diplomatic front vis`-a-vis the Peoples Republic. It is only via a consist pursuit of a Kennanesque containment policy that those many elements in the Chinese leadership who believe that the 'correlation of forces' both now and in the future favors Peking will be forced to moderate its policies in its 'near-abroad'. As was recently and wisely noted in a piece in the current issue of the Royal Institute of International Relations, flagship periodical ('International Affairs'), only by incorporating the views of its neighbors, and ceasing to base its foreign policy on the logic of force can China and its role in International Affairs acquire some degree of legitimacy and acceptance from its neighbors:
"The World is not just of China's own making-neither is China's place in it. For Chinese-generated conceptions of world order and Great Power relations to translate into real power politics in the ways envisages by Chinese thinkers, others will have to be persuaded to accept and buy into them. This might prove to be a rather difficult task. The second is that it is important for these debates to remain connected to reality. By this we mean that what is said and argued within China about its nature as a Great Power will be viewed by others alongside the track record of how key Chinese actors utilize Chinese power in international politics. In particular, the way this power is articulated in the country's regional relations might make the already difficult task of persuading others to accept Chinese views of China as a Great Power even more problematic" 1.
1. Shaun Breslin & Jinghan Zeng, "A G2 with Chinese characteristics?" International Affairs. (July 2016), p. 794.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

THERESA MAY AS PRIME MINISTER: THE ILL-FORTUNE OF TOO MUCH EXPERIENCE?

"The first hours of Theresa May’s premiership confirm she will be a breath of fresh air in Westminster. Her debut speech in front of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday focused on One Nationism, a shift away from the David Cameron years that signalled a more interventionist, possibly softer form of Conservativism. In short, a less austere, more caring government. Appealing to those who feel “left behind”, the finger prints of Nick Timothy, her chief of staff, were all over the address. His piece for ConservativeHome on working class conservatism shows the direction he and the prime minister plan to take. She has wasted no time with the first six major appointments to the cabinet. There were two key themes in Mrs May’s thinking behind these roles (as well as the subsequent ones to be announced on Thursday): unity and Brexit".
Sebastian Payne, "Theresa May’s premiership is off to an inspired start". The Financial Times. 14 July 2016, in www.ft.com.
"As Tory MPs gathered at St Stephen’s entrance in Parliament to await their new leader on Monday afternoon, a choir in Westminster Hall began to sing. The hosannas spoke to the sense of relief among Tory MPs: they had been spared a long and divisive nine-week leadership contest. A period of political blood-letting brutal even by Tory standards was coming to an end. The United Kingdom would have a new Prime Minister. More than relief, there was hope for the bulk of MPs who had previously not been marked out for advancement. Theresa May’s accession shows that the narrow rules which were thought to govern modern British politics are not hard and fast. May is not one of the shiny people. She isn’t a member of a gilded political set. Her success is the triumph of hard grind, perseverance and determination. She kept her head when all about her were losing theirs".
James Forsyth, "Why Tories are so excited about Theresa May". The Spectator. 16 July 2016, in www.spectator.co.uk.
"There seems to be something almost inevitable about the political career of Sir Anthony Eden. With the one exception of his resignation from the Chamberlain Government in 1938 his life has been strangely sheltered. Early marked out as a man of promise, he has seldom run risks, but has proceeded up the rungs of the political ladder in a decorous fashion, proving himself serviceable, to his superiors and with some spectacular exceptions urbane and courteous to his contemporaries and juniors".
Randolph S. Churchill. The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden. (1959), p. 13.
There is something to the example (one is tempted to say 'fatal example') of Sir Anthony Eden and after him Gordon Brown and before Sir Anthony Eden, Neville Chamberlain and at the beginning of the twentieth century A. J. Balfour. What example is that? The 'curse' (for lack of a better mot) of too much experience. Or should I say: the wrong type of experience in order to succeed as a British Prime Minister. It is not that 'experience' per se is necessarily a bad thing. Both Lloyd George and Sir Winston Churchill had enormous amounts of experience prior to reaching Number 10 Downing Street. Merely that both had a wide range of experience. Neither man spent their pre-Prime Ministerial career in one senior post to the exclusion of almost everything else. That was the case with all of the other individuals mentioned. Indeed fatally so in the cases of Sir Anthony Eden and Gordon Brown. Both of whom spent ten-years, yes ten-years in one senior Cabinet post (in the case of Eden the Foreign Office, in the case of Brown the Exchequer). One cannot tell of course if Theresa May will fall afoul of this 'curse'. She does share with both Eden and Brown tendency to be both boring (at worse) or uninspiring (at best) speaker. All three were and are not 'clubbable' and glad-handing sort of politician (Neville Chamberlain & Balfour as well), being for the most part, private individuals with few friends outside of their immediate family. The fact that May succeeded in winning the race to Number Ten by in essence avoiding taking sides in the BREXIT debate also does not bode well for her going forward. Equally problematic is the fact that like both Eden and Brown, May has surrounded herself at Ten Downing Street the same coterie of youngish aides who were with her at her departmental office. Aides who are both violently loyal to their chief, but unpopular with the rest of Whitehall 1. This is of course all in the possible future and mere conjecture. And it could very well be that six plus years at the Home Office is not as dangerous to a future prime minister's political skills as say being either Chancellor or Foreign Secretary for ten plus years. To-day Prime Minister May is the toast of the town, at least Westminster. Hopefully this will continue to be so. The portents for those who known their Prime Ministerial history is unfortunately, not the very best. Or as the ancient historian Tacitus once put it about the Emperor Galba: "Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset".
1. James Forsyth, "She doesn't do likes: Theresa May won't be exciting but she may well be radical". The Spectator. 16 July 2016, p. 12; George Parker, Kate Allen and Oliver Ralph, "Nick Timothy: Theresa May’s political ‘brain’". The Financial Times. 15 July 2016, in www.ft.com. As per the remarks of the British political commentator Bruce Anderson: "Mrs May cannot do everything herself. She will have to learn to trust her ministers. Central strategic direction from No.10: essential. Attempts to micro-manage every aspect of policy: futile and fatal. Assuming that she does want efficiency, she has made life unnecessarily hard for herself by two important appointments: Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, her new chiefs of staff. Michael Fraser, who eventually became Lord Fraser of Kilmorack, ran the Tory Party’s operations for a generation. He had a famous dictum: the back-room boys should stay in the back room. That is not how Miss Hill and Mr Timothy work. They will see enemies everywhere. When they do not find them, they will create them". See: Bruce Anderson, "Theresa May’s team is not built to last". Reaction. 18 July 2016, in http://reaction.life/theresa-mays-team-not-built-last/

Friday, July 15, 2016

THE COUP D'ETAT IN TURKEY: A COMMENT

"Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on his supporters to take to the streets and airports to fight off an ongoing attempted coup that’s left Turks unsure of who was in charge of the country. President Erdogan, whose location was unclear, used a video livestream on a mobile phone to respond to the military group which had two hours earlier seized key points in the capital Ankara and the main city of Istanbul. His appearance added to the confusion, without information on his whereabouts, and the reverberating counterclaims from the unidentified military officials who appeared to have taken control of television and radio stations and sent fighter jets into the skies and rolled tanks into the streets of Ankara, the capital.... He added that the “chain of command has been violated. This is a step against the higher ranks, and the judiciary will swiftly respond to this attack.” The military, which has toppled the government at least three times since 1960, said earlier that it had taken over the “administration of the country, to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged.” But the identity of those in the military who had issued the statement, and earlier ordered tanks into the streets and closed the major bridges connecting Istanbul’s Asian and European sides, remained unclear. Other statements read out on television channels were attributed to a previously unknown group called the Council for Peace in the Homeland.... “This looks like a well executed coup for the moment, though only by lower ranking military officials,” said Mujtaba Rahman, at the Eurasia Group. “The way Erdogan wants to resolve this is by getting civilians out to pressure the military, but this clearly risks seriously raising the stakes in the confrontation.” Mr Erdogan made his comments on CNN Turk, a private television channel, via the FaceTime video app on an iPhone held up by the newsreader. A journalist for the state broadcaster, who asked not to be named, said it had been “evacuated by the military” when its news broadcast was about to begin shortly before 8pm GMT. “They confiscated everyone’s phone on the way out,” the reporter said. “We all thought it was a hijacking of a plane at first [following rumours of an attack on Ataturk airport]. Everyone went home and as things unfolded, all TRT buildings were being taken over by the military at the same time.” As it took control of the state broadcaster, the military group announced a general curfew, and the highest level of security at ports, airports, borders. In Istanbul, Gazientep, and Erzurum, thousands of people were reported on the streets, but there were no credible reports of widespread violence. There were conflicting accounts of hostilities — the state-run newswire, which has been reportedly occupied by coup members, said a helicopter killed 17 police officers, while a source in the President’s office said a F16 had shot down a helicopter. Gunfire could be heard in the streets of Istanbul, with local mosques calling citizens on to the streets, and reports of raids on automatic teller machines amid the chaos."
Mehul Srivastava, Laura Pitel, David O’Byrne, Funja Guler, Demetri Sevastopulo, Joe Rennison, "Turkey’s Erdogan calls citizens to streets." The Financial Times. 15 July 2016 in www.ft.com.
The coup d'état in Turkey to-day is certainly a bit of a surprise. While there was in the past (circa 2006-2010) rumors of possible military plans for a takeover, there has not been anything resembling the same in the past five to six years. With the guiding assumption that the AK government of former premier, and now President Erdogan having in essence de-fanged the armed forces. Such now appears not to be the case. As far as one can make out, the coup leaders appear to be lower level officers (Brigadier Generals and below) rather than anyone in the upper reaches of the military hierarchy. In itself this appears to be at variance with the past history of Turkish coups, wherein the military as an institutional and coherent bloc, would intervene to overthrow a particular government. The other change from coups in the past, was that there is nothing resembling a societal wish for any such military intervention, per contra to both past examples in Turkey (especially those of 1960 and 1980) and more recent examples of both Egypt and Thailand. Without being anyway an 'expert' on Turkey, my own surmise for what it is worth is that this coup will fail. If not to-day then tomorrow, if not tomorrow then by no later than five to seven days. Turkey is (whatever else one may say of her, and I am the very opposite of a Turcophile to put it mildly), somewhat beyond the stage as a society wherein the armed forces can tout `a coup overthrow an existing government, which while semi-authoritarian and not wildly popular, has for the most part some degree of popular legitimacy. The example of Spain in 1981 immediately comes to mind. How matters will play out is of course unknowable at this time. It could be that some variant of 'people power' will force the armed forces back into its barracks and little or no blood will be shed. It is only if there is a sustained and consistent employment by either side of force that the chances that this unfortunate and unnecessary (whatever one thinks about the egregious President Erdogan and his hideous policies) coup will be foiled. The world has enough problems on is hands, especially Europe and its immediate neighborhood for the Turks to add to the mix.

Friday, July 08, 2016

THE CHILCOT REPORT: A COMMENT

The UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted....Military action at that time was not a last resort....It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged and they should have been....Judgments were presented with a certainty that was not justified....We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuits of its interests, regional instability, and al-Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
Henry Mance and James Blitz, "Chilcot report: the key conclusions". The Financial Times. 6 July 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Such a high price is already paid for this war-in diplomatic blunders, misunderstandings and increasing number of human bodies that one could only hope that it was not for nothing. Personally, I feel that I have miscalculated - I was thinking that the plan for the post war Iraq was rubbish but reality intervened and corrected (and continues to correct) my calculation and I now see that this so called 'plan' (building democracy out of thin air with a [sic] help of 200 Iraqi-Americans) is rubbish triple time. I have no doubt that American forces will take Baghdad (time and price - that's another story). But I do not know what will be accepted as American victory in Iraq in a month or better yet a year from today. Would it be a fact that only 47% of Iraqi territory would be controlled by Muslim fanatics? Or/and that Turkish army is only controlling 5% Or that Iranian sponsored military groups are only operating in a 'small' territory in southeast?...I had some hope that there would be something positive to slightly upset the high price paid - for example clarity of vision or swiftness in the execution of established goal. As you know one of my comforts was to think that the people who are intrusted [sic] with making all sorts of high-level plans are smarter than me. It is really unpleasant to discover that they are not".
Valery Olegovitch Avtukh, Private correspondence with Charles Coutinho dated the 2nd of April 2003.
Of course Sir John Chilcot was indeed correct. The Iraq War (or 'Second Gulf War')which began on the 20th of March of 2003 was launched needlessly and post-facto without reason insofar as Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. It was evident at the time, and the Chilcot report clearly lays bare the fact that the Bush regime with the help and assistance (admittedly more rhetorical than material) of British Prime Minister Blair, was hell bent upon a policy of regime change in Iraq and that the push at the United Nations to obtain Security Council approval of the proposed military campaign was merely intended as a fig-leaf pur et simple. And of course it was also evident at that time (as seen by the ultra-wise comments of my friend and correspondent above), that the 'plan' for post-war Iraq was (in Valery O. Avtukh's classical formulation) 'rubbish triple time'. And as time went on, the situation in Iraq, to everyone's amazement at the time became worse and worse as any concept of the Americans and their allies being able to establish anything approaching the successes of the post-bellum projects of Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945 were quickly cast aside. Although the numbers of dead and wounded and the civil trauma in American (and for that matter British) society do not approach anything near what occurred in Indo-China between 1965 and 1975, the psychological and strategic effects of the disaster that was the Second Gulf War for the Americans and their allies is a very close second to the American debacle in Vietnam. With the rise of ISIS in Iraq (admittedly not in the case of Syria) directly attributable to the overthrow of the Baathist regime by the Americans and the inability of the post-bellum Iraqi regimes to establish anything like consensual governance embracing the entirety of Iraq's population. With there being no end in sight to when anything akin to a normative society ethos returning to Iraq anytime soon.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

BORIS JOHNSON'S DECISION: A COMMENT

"The prophets were wrong then and they’re wrong now. London and the whole of the UK will flourish mightily outside of the EU since it is manifestly in the economic interest of our friends and partners to agree a deal that involves mutual and universal access to our markets with no tariffs and no quotas. Whilst we remove ourselves from the EU legal order and the supremacy of the European court and take back control of our immigration policy, with a points-based system that is fairer to all the talented and hard-working people who want to come here, whether they are the 7% of the world that are in the EU or the 93% of the world that is not. This is our chance to think globally again, to lift our eyes to the horizon, to bring our unique British voice and values: powerful, humane, progressive to the great global forums without being elbowed aside by a super-national body. And instead of being afflicted by nerves, let us seize this as our moment to stand tall in the world. That is the agenda for the next Prime Minister of this country. Well I must tell you, my friends, you who have waited for the punch line of this speech. That having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament I have concluded that person cannot be me".
The Spectator, "Boris Johnson: I will not be the next Tory leader". 30 June 2016, in www.spectator.co.uk.
"Per contra to Gideon Rachman, Boris Johnson has not in fact 'failed the Churchill test'. If by 'Churchill' he means Winston Spencer-Churchill, then yes he has. But, if by 'Churchill' he means Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill then Johnson has passed the 'Churchill test' with flying colors. Why so? Simply put the 'Randolph Churchill test', is that of the youngish, high-achieving, meteoric politician who unaccountably decides for reasons which never quite make sense, to (in the dogmatic expression) 'chuck it all in' and resign office or engage in actions which result in the very same. The list of those who have 'passed' the Randolph Churchill test include not only Lord Randolph, but Sir Oswald Moseley, and Enoch Powell. Note that all three were great orators who seemed to be cresting towards the very top of the 'greasy pole'. When each in an endeavor to reach the top of that pole in record time, did something which had the end result of ensuring that they not only never reached said pole, but were soon enough ousted from the very top rank of parliamentary politics. In the case of Johnson, given the fact that if he had succeeded to joining the 'in' campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, he would have had almost any office of state that he could possibly desire, including that of Foreign Secretary, one may only conclude that Johnson is not serious about parliamentary politics. And about the drab and boring work needed and necessary to make a success in British politics."
Diplomat of the Future, "Boris Johnson and the Churchill Test". 21 March 2016, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson's decision to not run for the position of the head of the Tory Party, and thus Prime Minister was both a shocking surprise and to a degree inevitable. The first of these was obvious, as Johnson's backing for the Leaver campaign no doubt made the victory on the 23rd of June possible. And with David Cameron's announcement of his resignation, the very next day, Johnson was seen to be in the pole position to be the next Prime Minister. Why Johnson's decision was 'inevitable' is simply that he has not in the entirety of his career shown himself to possess the needed and necessary skills to climb the 'greasy pole' that is the Premiership. He has never held any office of state worthy of the name (being Mayor of London does not fit this category), and is not by any means a 'House of Commons man'. The splendid amateurishness that is Johnson's modus operandi might and did indeed work in his London post, and it also worked in the referendum campaign itself. It most definitely would not work in Number 10 Downing Street. The prima facie evidence for this being his splendid inactivity of the past week. With other than his rather incoherent Daily Telegraph column, Johnson studiously refusing to say or do anything until to-day's surprise statement. Whether it was Michael Gove's announcement that he was going to run against Johnson, or simply a realization by Johnson himself that he lacked the requisite skills to be Prime Minister which caused to-day announcement is difficult to say. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. In any case, I myself am highly conflicted by Johnson's decision. On the one hand, I believe that Johnson and Gove have a moral responsibility to take the helm of state at this point in time given that they are the ones who have landed the United Kingdom in the fine mess that it is in at the moment. On the other hand, it is highly doubtful that Johnson's rollicking, 'sybaritic conservatism' (to quote the late great Maurice Cowling), is really what is needed at the present time (it of course being highly doubtful that Gove's ideological and less than thought through, 'leaverism', is what the United Kingdom needs now either) 1. On the other hand, Johnson's own impish, if not clownish and archaic persona are a delightful change from the very hum-drum, boring and banal nature of contemporary British politics. Au fond, Johnson is someone who unlike almost everyone of his contemporaries in British politics, can be easily pictured as operating in the House of Commons circa 1916 or 1815 or even 1716. Merely not as Prime Minister.
1. Maurice Cowling. The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933-1940. (1975), p. 235. Cowling description was in actual fact applied to Oliver Stanley, the 2nd eldest son of the 17th Earl of Derby.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WHY THE 'LEAVERS' WON THE REFERNDUM

"One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not. Also, one must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are founded on real differences of outlook. Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another. Hitler's June purge, for instance, could not have happened in England. And, as western peoples go, the English are very highly differentiated. There is a sort of back-handed admission of this in the dislike which nearly all foreigners feel for our national way of life. Few Europeans can endure living in England, and even Americans often feel more at home in Europe. When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?... And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you".
George Orwell. The Lion and the Unicorn. (1941).
"Whether it was meant to be or not, this referendum was in effect a vote on globalisation, and so pitted people generally in favour of multiculturalism and social liberalism against those opposed to it. Despite being on the wrong side of history the latter edged it, just as I imagine if Elizabethan England had held a referendum on the national religion in, say, 1580, Catholicism would still have won, with the few remaining papist toffs supported by large numbers of rustics who don’t abide with the new progressive faith. Imagine how that would have gone down in London or Cambridge among the angry righteous. One of the central tenets of today’s new faith is internationalism, which is why the arguments for sovereignty which appeal to older people totally misfire with younger voters. Middle class British people under the age of 45 generally have very little sense of nationalism, and I’m not sure nationalism can be entirely separated from patriotism. I wouldn’t say this was a result of post-imperial guilt, or indoctrination at school, rather it’s the inevitable end product of a very individualistic open-looking culture in which people are encouraged to look beyond family, clan and tribe. Or to be pessimistic, we’re at the end of the asabiyyah cycle. Internationalism is a high-status belief, and so it is held by high-status people. (One of the funny things about this whole referendum is that many of the laws in place to control the bad sort of immigration people object to do exist, such as ejecting foreign nationals who have not found a job after three months: Britain just doesn’t enforce them. So the issue is not that Brussels prevents us from controlling borders, but that our political class has lost the will to do it; I suspect the reason is that culturally the subject of border control is just considered embarrassingly low status.) This doesn’t necessarily make our younger generation of internationalists a tolerant bunch. As the slogan ‘refugees in, racists out’ indicates, they’ve simply switched one form of out-group for another, replacing nationalism with political sectarianism. This is what makes them seem quite terrifying, to me, for a moral community convinced that its opponents are devious is a terrible thing to behold. And as national feeling continues to decline in Britain, people will increasingly refuse to accept when they lose in politics".
Ed[ward] West, "Why we need a second referendum – on the EEA". The Spectator. 29 June 2016, in www.spectator.co.uk.
In the midst of the voluminous amount of commentary that I have read in the past six days endeavoring to explain way the British voting public chose to vote to leave the European Union [hereafter the 'EU'], the short commentary by Edward West in the London Spectator is perhaps the very best that I have come across. He is indeed correct in observing that au fond, the referendum without perhaps meaning to, was an up or down vote on 'globalization' and the concomitant issues of 'multiculturalism and social liberalism'. It seems very much the case, that most of those who voted in favor of leaving the EU are some variant of English nationalists `a la Orwell perhaps, who reject outright or are very ambivalent about all three of the above referenced tendencies. And accordingly, those who are in favor of the same three tendencies voted or were inclined to vote against leaving the EU. For those who voted in favor of leaving, the economic or 'scare' argument did not work, because for many of the self-same voters, the issue was not a economic one, but an emotional one, dealing with nationality, sovereignty and patriotism. The former including many who remember (mostly when young or very young of course) standing up at the cinema to 'God Save the Queen', and those for whom the very idea of the same seems unthinkable, no doubt voted almost entirely for the opposite. For myself, who am skeptical of globalization and positively hostile to both multiculturalism and social liberalism, the reason that I was not, and am not in favor of the leave argument is simply that those politicians who harnessed the leave campaign (in particular Boris Johnson and Michael Gove) were self-evidently either hugely opportunistic (Johnson) or confused and out of their depths (Gove). Not to speak of the reptilian Nigel Farage of course. And the fact that Gove's own wife has now reported in her Daily Mail column that she (and one presumes her husband) found the results of the referendum both ultra-surprising and 'terrifying', shows how completely unprepared were both Gove and Johnson 1. Something that the latter's incoherent mutterings in his own newspaper column this week, seems to support. The other reason for my non-support for the leave argument, is that per se there is nothing in the entire EU superstructure which prevents a truly nationalist and sovereign British government from acting in the way that it wants. Viz the current governments of Poland and Hungary. Which whatever one may say about them, are truly both nationalistic and members of the EU. Showing if nothing else that per se there is no incongruity between the two. Per contra to Messieurs Johnson and Gove, who at bottom are most likely not opposed to either multiculturalism or social liberalism, and probably in favor of globalization, insofar as that refers to free-trade, open markets for goods, capital and to a lesser extent people. With the end-result of a Johnson-Gove duumvirate being some hugely entertaining (unless you are British of course) climb-down, whereby controls on immigration are traded for access to the EU `a la Norway. A result which Martin Wolf in the Financial Times correctly calls simply 'mad' 2. A comment which I believe sums up the entirety of the leave position.
1. Henry Mance, "Michael Gove’s wife says Brexit result ‘terrifying’". The Financial Times. 29 June 2016, in www.ft.com.
2. Martin Wolf, "What a Prime Minister Boris Johnson should do next". The Financial Times. 28 June 2016, in www.ft.com.