Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Easy It Is

This time last week, David Cameron had a significant problem on his hands.  To much of the country, he stood accused of cold indifference to the suffering of tens of thousands of human beings at best, and of having assisted in the deaths of thousands of men, women and children at worst.

People all over the country were shocked by photographs of crowds of mistreated, desperate refugees and migrants.  People from all walks of life remembered the nation's summer-long immigration hysteria with shame and collectively, they called upon the Prime Minister to act.

A pretty thorny situation for a politician to tackle, particularly for a man that's spent years enthusiastically trawling through the nation's babbling undercurrent of spite, resentment and mad racist crankery.

What to do?

Neither you nor I would immediately think of responding to a humanitarian catastrophe by launching into an epic dick-measuring contest, but maybe that's why neither of us is Prime Minister, and David Cameron is.

And so it went.  When it came time for Cameron to address the great swell of miserable humanity in need of shelter, he took to his feet and announced that he'd had a couple of ISIS militiamen blown up with missiles, a few months back.  Look, he said, just look - gaze in wonder upon my throbbing war-boner for truly, it is enormous.

Which may seem like a non-sequitur to you and to me, but not to the nation's political or media class, who immediately launched into an impressively stupid series of semi-hysterical shrieks and screams.

In one of the nation's more incredible displays of dick-waving and chimpanzoid chest-thumping, public figures have spent most of the week falling over themselves to see who can proclaim the most loudly that

- the Government has an unlimited right to kill fuck out of any citizen who runs off to join a murderous militia, and that

- anyone who says otherwise is a traitor, and probably a Communist.

And that was pretty much that.  Note here that the throngs of needy people didn't suddenly go away, and that Cameron's previous ISIS-killing exploits have lessened the crisis not one jot...

...But the political problem really has gone away, unless something exponentially worse happens, and it probably won't return even if a thousand Kurdish kids wash up on foreign shores.  It will, after all, be old news by then.

Thus, was normal service resumed.  Just today, the Times felt so confident in its own boundless dickishness that it wheeled out Melanie Phillips* to bang her shoe on her lectern and swear that Britain can't take in all these ghastly Muslims no matter how bad a time they're having, because they'll jihad up Britain with their awfulness...  And that anyone who disagrees, is either showing off their personal virtue, or actively seeking to destroy Britain.

Yet the complete turnaround in this story, while astounding to behold and superficially simple, took a lot of people working in concert to achieve.

I think we have to acknowledge here that none of this could've been achieved without some truly awful human beings working very, very hard, showing the grit, guts and determination required to utterly dick off a disaster of this magnitude.  Those people - and I'm sure that they know who they are - can give themselves a pat on their scaly, reptilian backs for a tough job well done. 

But for everyone else, I don't think I'm doing much violence to this sequence of events if I summarise it thusly:

Ordinary people with basic humanity: Prime Minister, can you not find it in your heart to give shelter to some of these stateless, miserable human beings?

Cameron:  Hey yo, yo!  I totally blew up a terrorist on the other side of the world a few weeks back!  It was, like, well legal and shit.  Boom, motherfuckers!

Cavalcade of hooting idiots:  Awesome!  The Prime Minister's throbbing war-boner is truly magnificent!  All must now declare that blowing up terrorists is righteous and just, in precisely the terms that we demand, or stand exposed for all time as hated unBritish swine of suspect loyalty!

Ordinary people with basic humanity(Sad faces) 

And really, that's how easy it is. 

*For some reason, the Times decided not to go with Melanie's chosen wording of "The migrant crisis is where confused, demoralised Europe seals its fate".  

I suspect that they're a bit edgy about peering too closely at what's at the bottom of the pool that they're fishing in.


Anonymous said...

Cameron's plan to beat ISIS and then, six months later, get Assad to resign, leaves a lot of hostages to fortune.


Anonymous said...

Here is one of Harry's Place and Bloodworth's favourite foreign policy 'analysts' on the UK invading North Korea. It's not a parody.

organic cheeseboard said...

Sort of on topic, I noted your (justified) takedown of our Nick on Syria. Impressive that he managed to fuck up even his overview of the Syrian civil war and suggest that there are only 'two sides', one Assad and the other ISIS.

He however clarified his position on What Should Be Done (and implied in the tweet that it's obvious from his piece, when it really isn't, these things were listed as stuff that would have worked in the past) - that there should be a 'Safe Zone' (where? how would it be policed?), a No Fly Zone (where? and won't that just help ISIS?) and that Kurdistan should be recognised as a country (ok, and in an ideal world that'd be nice, but it will also involve majorly pissing off the govts of Iraq and Turkey, who are supposedly our key allies in this). So essentially Nick's done no further reading on the issue since Michael Weiss asked him to promote something in 2012:

That plan, of course (?), suggested that US/UK activity be limited to airstrikes, with Turkey providing the ground troops. So now Nick suggests that all along he was in favour of this plan, which is fine, but has added the bonus (unspoken in 2012) of recognition of Kurdistan, meaning that Turkey will definitely not take part and might not cooperate at all. Iraq, presumably, wouldn't either.

Nice to know, though, that 'realism' in foreign policy is such a bad thing. Better off Nick's peculiar brand of idealism, for which we might read, 'stuff that literally makes no sense at all and that he's not even thought through over the course of three and a half years.'

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd be defending David Cameron, but here goes...

The problem every European leader faces is that if they say yes, we'll welcome migrants displaced by the current conflict(s) in the Middle East, then naturally they'll head in that direction. Which, given the scale of the problem, is unsupportable, as the situation in Germany has recently evidenced.

In my view, Europe should not be supporting mass immigration from Syria on the grounds that the worst scenario all round would be that Syria is emptied of its population, seeking to create new lives elsewhere. In that situation Syria will never be able to rebuild itself, and extremism will prevail.

Instead, Europe should be lending major support to such countries as Jordan and Lebanon to accommodate Syrian refugees. They're already doing this, but they need help, and lots of it.

flyingrodent said...

Nice to know, though, that 'realism' in foreign policy is such a bad thing.

The odd thing is that there really is room to criticise the western response to Syria in Kissingerian realism terms - and Nick doesn't do it at all.

The calculation the US in particular has made in Syria is that if they announced that Assad Must Go, then fed just enough guns and support into the conflict to keep it going, eventually Assad would Go. It surely hasn't escaped anyone's attention that ourselves and the US have been far happier with an ongoing all-out civil war that was grinding down Iran's friends, than we would've been with e.g. a knock-out blow for Assad's goons and a return to some kind of normality. Call this strategy what you like, but it isn't "non-intervention" - I'd say it's ehat we used to call a proxy war.

This isn't what Nick is complaining about though, and he definitely is aware that this has been happening - see this bit...

Now western governments hint that they are about to commit the final treason. They will either drop their demands that the butcher Assad must go or, more probably, quietly accept that he is a man they must do business with.

...Because if there's one thing we can't do in this massive, godawful bloodbath, it's definitely "trying to end the war, on the grounds that less violent death is better than more". This suggests to me that while Nick is unhappy with the strategy of fighting Assad right down to the last Syrian, he too greatly prefers it to even a ceasefire that isn't on his terms.

He seems to think the "realism" he's talking about amounts to "not taking political risks on massive military adventures" and his chief complaint appears to be that Samantha Power teased and excited him with talk of decisive interventions and so on, then failed to deliver.

Nick isn't a military strategist, so I don't expect him to draw up battleplans or anything. On the other hand, if you insist on handing out ripe denunciations to people for refusing to do a thing which you won't or can't spell out, then how is anyone supposed to respond other than - what the hell are you talking about?

flyingrodent said...

In my view, Europe should not be supporting mass immigration from Syria on the grounds that the worst scenario all round would be that Syria is emptied of its population, seeking to create new lives elsewhere. In that situation Syria will never be able to rebuild itself, and extremism will prevail.

Cameron's free to say that, if it's his opinion. We could then discuss it on the merits, rather than a week-long piece of theatre about what a macho man Dave is.

ejh said...

Re: mass immigration, unless I'm mistaken then previous experience suggests that that a large proportion of refugees will want to go home when the conflict is over. Some will wish to stay - they'll have found new lives here that they want to maintain - and good. But most won't.

Phil said...

He's counterposing 'realist' to 'ethical', an ethical foreign policy being code for 'bomb the bad guys and hope for the best' (I think the phrase goes back to Robin Cook, poor guy). More and more I see the people who believe in this stuff as useful idiots for the people who are quite happy to see the world burn if there are profits and/or votes in it. Whether anyone in power is or has ever been a believer is an open question - GWB yes, Cheney no, Blair yes and no?

And yes, realism in foreign policy does involve putting up with dictators who kill loads of people, but dear God, it's better than the alternative.

Anonymous said...

ejh - Sadly, this is not the case. As Hubert Morsink notes in his book "When Refugees Go Home": "Throughout history, most refugee movements have tended to result in permanent exile of the displaced population", going on to cite studies by Norwood (1969) on religious refugees throughout history, Simpson (1939) on the inter-war years, and Proudfoot (1956) and Vernant (1953) on displacements brought about by the Second World War. Since then, by way of further examples, the massive transfers following the partition of India have become permanent, few Eastern European exiles living in Europe have shown any desire to go home in spite of radical changes in their homelands, and it highly unlikely that the Indochinese displaced by the Vietnam War will ever go back. And so on.

What we're seeing in Syria at the moment is an enormous brain drain, which cannot be other than hugely damaging to that country's future.

Anonymous said...

If you call for the overthrow of a regime, you have to have a strategy to build a new regime; a functioning state with a wide variety of functioning and trusted institutions that provide security and services that are essential to live and to earn a livelihood. A period of conflict tends to lead to a decay of existing institutions (and trust and social networks) and this make it more difficult to rebuild a new regime.

The US and the UK and other western countries failed to rebuild stable regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, which is the main cause of the widespread instability in the Middle East. It would be useful to see a strategy for rebuilding stability in the Middle East before getting too involved in overthrowing another regime.


ejh said...

Thanks to Anonymous - is some kind of name of handle possible? - for that. Very interesting and useful to be corrected. (I had taken my view from discussion of Belgian refugees during and after the Great War. Most of them, I believe, went back to Belgium.)

Obviously I would imagine that such elements as distance, period of displacement, state of one's homeland and so on would affect, perhaps drastically, the likelihood of people returning?