Saturday, 30 August 2014

This government has tacitly acknowledged its failure on anti-extremism. But Labour should examine its own conscience

Last week in Iraq, American journalist James Foley was murdered by Islamic State.

He was murdered savagely and painfully, and he was not even murdered in supposed punishment for a crime; it was merely to send a message to the West. If that were not enough, they then put a video of the whole killing on YouTube.

It is difficult to find words for the psychotic nature of both the killer and the twisted ideology which drove him, not just to kill, but to kill a quite innocent victim in such a way.

Above all, we should be disturbed to know that the perpetrator, from his accent, is thought to be almost certainly British.

How did we end up here? It is dispiriting enough that you can grow your own terrorists to bomb you, as happened in the London bombings of 2005. But to export your terrorists is, well, a bit careless.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Jihadism – four wrong responses

As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, foreign policy is not something that tends decide one’s electoral success as a British politician. But it is surely a test of one’s statesmanship.

And if that is true, it pains me to say it but the only British political leader so far with a remotely statesmanlike response to current troubles in either Gaza or Iraq has been one David Cameron, who wrote yesterday – correctly – of the pressing need to confront the “poisonous ideology” of ISIS. And you can count on very few fingers the number of times that has been said on this blog. A comprehensive policy statement it is not, but at least it has not left him looking entirely foolish.

It is shame we cannot say that for the other party leaders. It is as if, rather than asking themselves "what can we do to resolve this major problem for the world?" the question becomes "what is my own narrow political interest, and how can I interpret the facts on the ground to defend that position?" Or rather, as we paraphrase below:

Saturday, 16 August 2014

How much Obama really cares about Ukraine

As Russia's tanks approach the Ukrainian border - and a different group of tanks have apparently already crossed it - in a supposed "aid convoy", I was struck yesterday by this fine piece by Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post, dissecting Obama's foreign policy failures (well, I suppose it's easier than trying to count his successes). The overriding point being the complete absence of strategic thinking. He notes, correctly, that:
To this day, Obama seems not to understand the damage he did to American credibility everywhere by slinking away from his own self-proclaimed red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons.
Quite. It's not just the shabby treatment of the Syrian people: it's the wider impact on the world.

As we have noted here before, the one thing you do not do as leader of the free world is to make a threat and then not carry it out. Because the next time your enemies will push harder, expecting you not to carry out your next threat. It's Geopolitics 101.

But the standout passage from Krauthammer is this one:
Vladimir Putin has 45,000 troops on the Ukraine border. A convoy of 262 unwanted, unrequested, uninspected Russian trucks allegedly with humanitarian aid is headed to Ukraine to relieve the pro-Russian separatists now reduced to the encircled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine threatens to stop it.
Obama’s concern? He blithely tells the New York Times that Putin “could invade” Ukraine at any time. And if he does, says Obama, “trying to find our way back to a cooperative functioning relationship with Russia during the remainder of my term will be much more difficult.”
Is this what Obama worries about? A Russian invasion would be a singular violation of the post-Cold War order, a humiliating demonstration of American helplessness and a shock to the Baltic republics, Poland and other vulnerable U.S. allies. And Obama is concerned about his post-invasion relations with Putin?
It is difficult to fully comprehend the depth of Obama's failure here, to grasp the danger to world order posed by Putin's manoeuvres. Or the fact that, until he gets a reaction from Obama, he will keep on pushing.

I may be wrong but I suspect that Obama is not a great reader of 20th century European history. If he were, he would be aware that his actions more than a little recall Chamberlain, struggling to repair relations with "Herr Hitler" in 1938. While we may reasonably hope that Putin is not as insane as Hitler, it is clear that he has learned something from his and Stalin's totalitarian playbooks. 

Putin, unlike Obama, does not want for strategy.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Labour risks being on the wrong side of history over Islamism

No-one could exactly accuse President Obama of rushing into military action to deal with the resurgent Islamists of ISIS in Iraq, currently massacring local Christians and Yazidis. No, if there were a perfect illustration for the phrase “dragged kicking and screaming”, this would surely be it.

But Iraq’s apparent political and military meltdown is, ironically, drawing the “troops out” Obama administration – and could yet conceivably draw our own – into some kind of ring-fenced, belated rear-guard action in the Middle East. Whatever the rights and wrongs of any such action might be, the cause is, again, the phenomenon which has dominated the first decade-and-a-half of this century’s foreign policy and may yet come to dominate the rest of it: jihadism, the extreme version of political Islam.

As the years have worn on from 9/11 and 7/7, it has been easy for the world to retreat into the comfortable delusion that the threat has gone. It has not. Taking a bit longer in the airport security queue has not made everyone safe. Islamist terrorism is still happening, just not on our shores. And the fundamental problem is not Islam per se, of course; it is Islam as the basis for an illiberal form of politics and government.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Labour is tying itself in knots over Gaza

Britain, it is regularly noted, is an island nation and often behaves accordingly.

It is a feature of modern British politics that, unlike some other countries whose very existence depends on their relations with larger, closer neighbours with whom they share a land border, foreign policy counts for little in the calculations of Westminster life. Elections are certainly not won or lost on it, mainly because polling shows that it features so low on the list of voters’ priorities.

So, a strange phenomenon occurs: since a governing party is chosen to govern based on everything but their foreign policy, one can find that, as the new tenants arrive at No. 10 and the FCO, what results in practice is a bit of a lucky dip. One can equally find the shrill nationalism of a Thatcher; the shameful isolationism of a Major; the strident interventionism of a Blair; or the “I want to, but I can’t” of a Cameron.

It’s a shame, because the world is clearly undergoing one of its most dangerously unstable periods since the Cold War. Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and now Gaza underline how the West is facing two serious threats simultaneously: the rearrangement of geo-political powers into a multi-polar world, its most notable feature the re-emergence of Russia as a foe rather than a friend; and the seemingly ineradicable virus of jihadism.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...