Tuesday, May 19, 2015


"The loss of the strategically important city of Ramadi has cast further doubt on Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s efforts to regain control of a war that is fragmenting the country. For months, Mr Abadi has sought to strengthen his position against the rising authority of the Shia militias some of them supported by — or loyal to — Iran as those forces played a key role in the campaign to retake the city of Tikrit. But the fall of Ramadi to the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on Sunday has forced Mr Abadi to lean on the Shia militia and volunteer forces he had until recently hoped to sideline. Mr Abadi on Monday met with their leaders to discuss what state television described as the “redefinition of the defence lines” in Anbar. “The fall of Ramadi is more of a commentary on the Iraqi government than on the strength of Isis. [The US] has a partner in Iraq that is very weak,” says Kirk Sowell, a political risk analyst who publishes Inside Iraqi Politics, a newsletter. Surrounded by Isis and other insurgent groups, Ramadi had fought off jihadi advances for nearly 18 months. But by all accounts Iraqi troops there performed poorly when Isis launched its offensive this weekend. Sunni tribal leaders have complained publicly about the way Iraqi troops’ withdrew from the city without putting up a serious fight — reviving memories of the army’s flight from Mosul last June. The tribes also say they lack the heavy weaponry to take on Isis — who are armed with millions of dollars worth of US equipment they looted when they over-ran northwestern Iraq last summer. For now, Baghdad, as well as Iraq’s Shia shrine cities to the south, such as Karbala, and the Kurdish controlled cities in the north, are well defended and out of Isis’s reach. The main strategic consequence of Ramadi’s fall will be to push back the timeframe for retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second city. But the battle for control of Ramadi also offers a sign of what a future Iraqi state might look like. .”
Borzou Daragahi, Erika Solomon, "Ramadi’s fall casts doubt on al-Abadi’s control of Iraq war". The Financial Times. 19 May 2015, in www.ft.com
"War plans cover every aspect of a war, and weave them into a single operation that must have a single, ultimate objective in which all particular aims are reconciled. No one stars a war---or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so---without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is the governing principal which will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and make its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail. We said in the opening chapter that the natural aim of military operations is the enemy's overthrow, and that strict adherence to the logic of the concept can, in the last analysis, admit no other. Since both belligerents must hold that view it would follow that military operations could not be suspended, that hostilities could not end until one or the other side were finally defeated."
Karl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 579.
The recent ISIS victory in capturing the Iraqi city of Ramadi highlights the fact that the Americans have not entire thought through their operational strategy for this particular military campaign. Regardless of what the Americans would ideally like to occur, it does not appear from current vantage point that a purely American air campaign will carry the day anytime soon against ISIS in Iraq. Not to speak of what is going on in Syria. The fact of the matter is that unless the Americans either: i) devote much more resources to the air campaign, with the concomitant greater likelihood of innocents being killed or wounded in occupied ISIS territories; ii) bring in some outside military force to assist the Iraqis (such as the say the regular Persian military). There at present being no readily available 'outside' force to so employ; iii) introduce American ground forces in sufficient numbers to quickly and effectively overthrow ISIS in a lightning campaign. If I had to choose which of the three above scenarios I would recommend the last one is the one that I would (reluctantly) go for. Which is not to gainsay the strictures that people like Anthony Cordesman have raised against putting American ground forces in harms way 1. Merely that having decided to go to war against ISIS (something which I was in favour of, albeit with scepticism as to how effective a purely air campaign would ultimately be), the Americans will be hard put to allow the continuation of a situation in which ISIS can boast that it is fighting the world's premier Great Power to a standstill. With all that implies in terms of the enormous prestige and the recruits and money following that ISIS will garner as a result. The sad and unfortunate truth of the matter is that the Americans have saddled themselves for a long time to come, with a burden which comes from having overthrown the Hussein regime back in 2003. Twelve years is not nearly long enough a time period to have absolved themselves from the consequence of their (admittedly stupid and irresponsible) actions....
1. See: Anthony Cordesman, "Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria". Center for Strategic and International Security. 13 February www.CSIS.org, wherein he argues that:
" It is important to realize that unless major U.S. combat forces are deployed in significant enough numbers to actually do all or most of all the fighting, local or host country forces will fail if they cannot get emergency support and reinforcements. They also face a very different challenge in large countries, when they face a dispersed force of nonstate actors that is on the scene and knows their weaknesses in detail, and where the real war is less one of short tactical victories and more one of lasting attrition in fighting for control of the population. And, these are wars that local forces must ultimately win. As was clear in Vietnam, and became all too clear in Afghanistan and Iraq, even the best U.S. combat units and a constant series of tactical victories can still fail if the United States and its other outside allies fully occupy an area or the country. Worse, doing it our way can deprive the local forces or host country of popular legitimacy, temporarily suppress sectarian and ethnic divisions, identify the United States as an occupier rather than an ally, and create a culture of military dependency where the local or host country forces never really learn to stand on their own".

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


"These days, on the subject of Islam, non-Muslims have mostly divided into two camps — though there’s a little wandering about between the tents. Camp one says Islam is a religion of peace, and points for proof to the millions of non-violent Muslims around the world. Warlike Muslims are an anomaly, they say, and fight not because they are religious but because they are politicised. Bad guys like Isis aren’t Muslims so much as Islamists, which is different. Most politicians and public figures belong to this camp, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Camp two is more furtive. Members look around before they speak. In this gang, sotto voce, everyone agrees there is something intrinsically violent about Islam and that Islamism — Isis, for example — is a natural offshoot of its angry soul. The Queen’s chaplain appears to be in camp two. He sent a wave of revulsion through the media last month when he suggested the Quran might incite violence. Round here they say ‘Islam was spread by the sword’, meaning that conquest is in its DNA. Though Allah has a compassionate face, war is in his nature too. Ploughshares must sometimes become swords. How else will the caliphate be established?.... Is that there really isn’t much in the Quran to suggest that Allah gives a hoot for non-believers. Muslims are encouraged to forgive one another, but it is not required to forgive infidels, the apostate or people who blaspheme. We’re not all in it together. That Pew study also predicted that sometime soon after 2050 the number of Muslims will begin to overtake the number of Christians worldwide. In England, nearly one in ten British children is now Muslim — and is that what they’re taught? No need to say sorry to an infidel."
Mary Wakefield, "Original sin makes us better people. I wish Muslims believed in it." The (London) Spectator. 11 April 2015, in www.spectator.co.uk
"Christianity’s doctrine is found in three sources: the Bible, Tradition, and the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. An unbiased and clear inspection will show that Christianity is a religion of peace. Islam, not so much. Christianity offers peace through redemption, freedom through penance, joy through forgiveness, perfection through sanctification, and charity as the crown and driving force of every Christian life. Nowhere does Christianity’s Divine Founder counsel violence, mandate war, or promise something sinful as a reward for fidelity. Yet a careful reading of the Qur’an, the “founding document” of Islam, reveals that these three elements are present in its pages. A sampling: - “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them; thereafter is the time for either generosity or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens…. But those who are slain in the way of Allah, he will never let their deeds be lost” (47:4). - “May the two hands of Abu Lahab [Muhammad’s uncle who betrayed him] perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots [firewood], shall have a rope of fiber around her neck” (111:1-5 sura). - “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued'".
Father John Perricone. "Christianity and Islam: morally equivalent?" The New Oxford Review. (April 2015), p. 24.
The wise mots of both Father Perricone and Mary Wakefield highlight something which any cursory reading about Islam quickly reveals: that notwithstanding the fact that most of its adherents are peaceful and law abiding, it is au fond a religion of violence. Akin to what Simon Weil thought was the major characteristic of pre-diaspora Judaism, Islam in its origins shows itself to be a religious belief system which incalculates a theology of warfare and violence towards all those who do not adhere to its tenets 1. Whereas the intermittent violence which one can associate with Christianity (the Crusades, et cetera), can be said to be at variance with the central tenets of Christianity, that is hardily the case with Islam. Its founder, the so-called Prophet Mohammed, was a figure who it is easy to see, from any unbiased point of view, had hands filled with blood of innocent people. It is not too far a thing to say, that from any humane standpoint, Mohammed was an evil man. Pur et simple. And unless and until the two billon plus human beings who claim some relationship with Islam, own up to this fact about their religion, the relations between these two billion and the other five million people on the planet earth will be filled with more violence. Because violence and hatred is something that Islam is filled with. To claim anything else is both idiocy and propaganda. Unless and until a true reformation of this religion of hatred takes place, the world can, must and will be on guard to stop in its tracks any more advances by this faith system.
1. For Simone Weil's rather negative view of pre-diaspora Judaism, see: Waiting on God. Translated by Emma Crauford. (1954), pp. 157, where she comments: "The tradition of Noah and his sons throws a startling light on the history of Mediterranean civilisation. It is necessary to delete what the Hebrews added to the story out of hatred....The Hebrews boasted of having utterly exterminated a number of cities and tribes in the land of Canaan when Joshua was leading them. Give a dog a bad name and you can hang him. After he has been hanged you can accuse him more than ever". See also: Letter to a Priest. Translated by A. F. Wills. (1951), p. 15, where she comments: "If some Hebrews from classical Jewry were to return to life and were to be provided with arms, they would exterminate the lot of us--men, women and children, for the crime of idolatry". For the recent historiographical discussion of Jewish influences on early Islam, see: The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume XIV. Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A. D. 425-600. Edited by Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins and Michael Whitby, (2000), pp. 684-697.

Friday, May 08, 2015


"David Cameron was last night back in Downing Street after a remarkable election victory and immediately began to address the two issues that could define his second term: the union and Europe. Mr Cameron defied the pollsters and his own expectations as the Conservatives won an overall majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons, routing the Labour party and his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats in the process. Voter turnout was the highest since 1997. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, who both joined Mr Cameron at the VE Day ceremony in London later on Friday, resigned immediately, but the election also revealed a United Kingdom under unprecedented strain, after a night of triumph for Scottish nationalists. The SNP won 56 out of 59 seats north of the border, prompting Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, to declare: “The Scottish lion has roared.” The SNP refused to rule out calling next year for a second independence referendum. Mr Cameron fuelled tension in the union during the election campaign by railing against the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. In an attempt to heal the wounds, Mr. Cameron promised on the steps of Downing Street to govern “for one nation, one United Kingdom” and to deliver new tax raising powers to the Scottish parliament “as soon as possible”. Boris Johnson has called for “some sort of overall offer” to create a more federal Britain and Mr Cameron’s allies said they “did not exclude” proposing an even greater transfer of powers to Holyrood. Mr Cameron completed a frenetic day of political activity by reappointing George Osborne as chancellor and as de facto deputy prime minister, with a key role in Britain’s proposed EU renegotiation. British officials said Mr Osborne, officially first secretary of state, would be a lead negotiator in talks ahead of the Conservatives’ planned EU referendum, scheduled before the end of 2017. Mr Cameron’s election has focused minds in Europe on the threat of “Brexit” and European leaders pressed for long-awaited guidance from Number 10 on how to answer the “British question”.."
George Parker, "Europe and union to dominate Cameron’s second term". The Financial Times. 8 May 2015, in www.ft.com.
"This general election will determine what Britain's place will be in the world in a way that no other general election has done previously, but the importance of this is chronically underdiscussed. Britain could look very different, could feel very different, and could be a different kind of partner to its allies over the next couple of years as a consequence of this election. As political elites become more navel-gazing and less engaged with the wider world, the UK’s international standing will diminish."
Richard G. Whitman, "Is Britain retreating from the World". Chatham House. 6 May 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org
"Now tell us what 'twas all about,' Young Peterkin, he cries; And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes; 'Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for.' 'It was the English,' Kaspar cried, 'Who put the French to rout; But what they fought each other for I could not well make out; But everybody said,' quoth he, 'That 'twas a famous victory....'And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win.' 'But what good came of it at last?' Quoth little Peterkin. 'Why, that I cannot tell,' said he, 'But 'twas a famous victory'."
Robert Southey, "THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM". 1796.
One does not have to be as cynical as Robert Southey was at the time of the French Revolutionary wars, to express some skepticism that the triumph of British Prime Minister Cameron and his Tory party will change very much in the British political and diplomatic firmament. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the victory of Cameron's Tories is on the whole a 'good thing'. While I would certainly not have actively supported a party which (among other things) voted for the Gay Marriage Bill, it is without a doubt the case that a return of the Labour Party to office, with or without the de jure support of the Scottish Nationalist Party, would have been little short of a disaster. Like Evelyn Waugh in 1959, I can very well remember the last term of office of the Blair & Brown regime, and (to quote Waugh) the Kingdom did indeed give the appearance 'of being under enemy occupation' 1. Something which the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition did not entire dispel unfortunately. With all that being said, it is the case that a Tory government will to a limited ( indeed very limited) extent be more conscious then previously of the importance of Britain's diplomatic position in the world. Something which indeed the Americans (and not only the Americans) were highly concerned about very recently2. Ideally, of course an effective Tory government will 'resolve' (as Cameron appears to realize) the twin conundrums of both the Scottish Nationalist challenge to the United Kingdom and the 'in or out' of the European Union question. With that being said, it is difficult to imagine that this government, nor indeed any future British (or English) government will have either the capacity and more importantly the will to exercise the type of diplomatic and military influence that was the norm for Britain since the early to mid-17th century. The fact that Cameron himself appears to be obsessed with channeling more money to international assistance at the cost of military spending is something which is quite illustrative by itself. Of course it is obviously the case, that the British people are to a degree 'exhausted' by the twin wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less clear is why these two wars were more exhausting to the British to-day then say the various 'emergencies' of the immediate post-bellum period from 1945 onwards: Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, and Aden among others. It would appear to be the case that in the past forty to fifty years or so, something which the late American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles stated in his hospital deathbed in the Spring of 1959, has finally come to pass in its entirety:
"Something has happened to the British. We can no longer rely upon them. For years we've had a very special relationship with them, an equality in partnership. We must now accept the fact that something has happened, not just to British politicians of both parties, but to the British people 3."
With the end result being that regardless of the talk of a 'Special Relationship', between the USA and the UK, all such talk is at present and most likely going forward no more than eyewash. The United Kingdom has now most definitely passed from being a Great Power of the second rank, or if you like a Great Power manqué to nothing more than a middle-ranking European power. Or as the mandarins of the Foreign Office perhaps best described it in 1958: "the neutrality and comparative isolation of the purely commercial Powers such as Sweden or Switzerland" 4.
1. Evelyn Waugh, "Aspirations of a Mugwump". In: The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. Edited Donat Gallagher. (1984), p. 537.
2. Steven Erlanger, "Britain’s Drift From the Global Stage Becomes an Election Issue". The New York Times. 27 April 2015, in www.nytimes.com
3. John Foster Dulles quoted by Livingston Merchant (a high State Department official). As per Merchant, this swan song was Dulles' 'Foreign Policy Testament'. See: Livingston Merchant papers, Seeley Mudd Library, Princeton University.
4. Quotation is from: "The Position of the United Kingdom in World Affairs: report by officials". 9 June 1958. In: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire. Series A, Volume 4. Edited Ronald Hyam & William Roger Louis. (2000), p. 44.

Friday, May 01, 2015


"For all his flaws, Mr Abe is on balance a good thing for a country that has drifted too long under a succession of fleeting, nondescript leaders. Yet Washington should not back him under all circumstances. That is especially true when it comes to relations with China. Above all, Washington must not give the impression that it wants to use Japan as a tool of containment. If it looks as though the US and Japan are ganging up on China, Beijing is likely to conclude that there is no peaceful path to its legitimate ambitions. The debacle over the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank — boycotted by both Washington and Tokyo — is a case in point. During Mr Abe’s visit, the joint attitudes of Japan and the US towards China will be tested in three broad arenas. The first is history. In his speech to Congress, Mr Abe will reflect on Japan’s actions in the second world war, which ended 70 years ago. Mr Abe is among those on the Japanese right who think the country has apologised enough. He has hinted that he wants to drop language used in previous apologies referring to “colonial rule”, “aggression” and “remorse”. Any manifestation of “Abenesia” would be a big mistake. Of course it is galling for Japan to be lectured by China, which has whitewashed much of its modern history, on the importance of historical accuracy. But as the aggressor in the second world war, Japan does not have the luxury to decide when the apologies end.... Second, and related, is defence. Mr Abe wants to reinterpret Japan’s pacifist constitution to give Tokyo more leeway to participate in international affairs. The Pentagon wholly supports this. So do some of Japan’s neighbours that are worried about growing Chinese military power. This week, the US and Japan will issue new guidelines for defence co-operation designed to bring contingency planning up to date. There is no harm in this so long as it does not look like an anti-Chinese pact."
Leader, "US should back Japan but not at any price". The Financial Times. 26 April 2015, in www.ft.com
"Kennedy was well to the fore in the Times’s endeavours to support Chamberlain. The sacrifice of Czechoslovakia seems not to have bothered him in the slightest. He seconded Dawson’s turning of the paper into an organ of the Prime Minister and his henchmen. With Dawson’s backing he wrote the leader of 1 April 1939 that prepared a way for pulling the rug out from under the guarantee just given to Poland, just as the rug had earlier been pulled out from under Czechoslovakia. None of this fancy footwork was of any avail. Hitler continued the cleverer; and unappeasable. Kennedy didn’t change his mind. The penultimate entry, written six weeks after the war began, finds him and Dawson concurring in the astounding opinion: ‘There was no statesmanship in our foreign policy between the two Chamberlains – Austen and Neville".’
Geoffrey Best, "Heiling Hitler" [A review of The ‘Times’ and Appeasement: The Journals of A.L. Kennedy 1932-39 edited by Gordon Martel]. The London Review of Books. 21 June 2001 in www.lrb.co.uk
The recent leader in the Financial Times on the topic of China and Japan is to put it quite bluntly akin to something that would have appeared in the Geoffrey Dawson's London Times circa 1936. With Japan of course in the role of France and China in the role of Hitler's Germany. The fact of the matter is that contemporary China, however much bien-pensant minded people like the leader writers of the Financial Times, or greedy and unscrupulous businessmen like Jim Rodgers or ex-statesman like Hank Paulson or Henry Kissinger, is au fond a revisionist power pur et simple. And will seek to expand its power and influence as much as it can get away with if not actively opposed. The idea that the PRC will of its own volition "seek to be integrate (sic) China more closely into a rules-based system", bears no relationship with reality 1. The regime in Peking is an insecure, authoritarian state, who uses an aggressive foreign policy to appease and divert its citizenry. Id. est., Chinese foreign policy is primarily governed by considerations of Primat der Innenpolitik. The aggressive stance that the regime in Peking has taken towards almost all of its neighbors in the past five to six years, is of a piece with the above analysis. And however much the leader writers of the FT, think that Peking is truly interested in being 'integrated' into the existing American-lead world-system, it is difficult to believe that a regime which the heroic, emigre dissident, Chen Guangcheng has aptly described as: "a barbaric dictatorship masquerading as a government", will ever willingly abide by the rules and laws of the current international system 2.
1. Leader, "US should back Japan but not at any price". op. cit.
2. Chen Guangcheng quoted in: Jonathan Mirsky, "He Fought the Law". The Literary Review. (April 2015), p. 22.