Saturday, January 23, 2016

An Intolerable Enormity

Yet another week of screeching headlines that have actual useful lessons tip-toeing around behind them, I think.

Let's start with David Cameron's absurd plan to protect Muslim women by deporting the ones that don't learn to speak English.  Most of what needs to be said about it has been said already, so I'll just add the following -

- To anyone who has ever asked the rhetorical question "Why won't feminists say (my fucknut opinion about the Muslims)?", Cameron's ludicrous PR stunt provides the answer - Because they will then be used to justify whatever shit-thick policy proposal the Prime Minister decides will make him look good.

I imagine that the various campaigners for women's rights and secularism, and against honour killings, female genital mutilation and all manner of other religion-and-culture-related horrors, did not imagine that their principled efforts were ripe to be picked up by the PM and used to justify his latest Gosh I dislike the fucking immigrants just as much as the voters do nonsense.  And yet, that's exactly what has happened.

Much as it happened when feminists and other right-on types picked up on and publicised the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, people who commit great investments in time and effort to thankless tasks now find circles of (mostly) dudes demanding that they endorse the idiotic ideas of one very rich and powerful dude who is using their campaigns to boost his approval ratings.  Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose.

- Also, the Westminster inquiry into how Britain helped to hopelessly fuck up Libya to a state spectacularly worse than its previous fuckage has been going on this week, and has been unsurprisingly under-publicised.

I'll spare you the details, and note that the inquiry has revealed that the government authorised the Libya campaign without having the slightest idea what it was doing, what its allies intended to do, who it was helping or what the effect of their actions would be.  They understood almost nothing about the country or the various factions that they were supporting and displayed not a jot of interest in finding out anything more.

This being Parliament, there are excuses - mostly, these are of the "We made mistakes because we were so darned enthusiastic about peace" variety.  The message that comes across loud and clear is rather that they immediately decided on a gung-ho course of action and simply shouted down anyone who tried to advise them against it, mainly because they are extremely vain and confident in their own barely-existing common sense.

You'll note that all of this chimes almost precisely with the statements of those who strongly advised against the Libya War before it got underway.  Having watched exactly the same debacle unfold repeatedly, I don't now expect to see any apologies for either the wild war-fever or for the denunciations and condemnations which were so freely bandied about in 2011.

Which is just as well, because there are none and there never will be any, mostly because the people who were dishing out the abuse then are just as pompous and self-regarding now.

And while we're on the topic of people with big, crazy ideas for improving the lives of foreigners via military hi-jinks, let's note that that ball is still rolling ever-onward.

- Times columnist David Aaronovitch is this week demanding 300,000 troops to Syria, on the grounds that anything else is unrealistic.

Now, you and I know that nobody is going to send 300,000 troops to Syria.  Dave knows it too.  In fact, everyone who sees this understands that it's much like saying "We must deploy the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers to Syria, or else".  And yet, there it is.

Elsewhere, Nick has a grand idea for helping out the Kurds in their fight with Islamic State - why don't we just arm them to the teeth, to show our support for their cause?  And not only should we arm them to the teeth, but doing otherwise is a disgraceful failure that brings shame upon our ancestors.

As commenters point out, the obvious answer to this question is Because we would instantly make Turkey our deadly enemy, and would massively infuriate the Americans. 

This is so obvious that it shouldn't need saying and it'd be quite reasonable to acknowledge this, and to then debate the pros and cons of arming the Kurds anyway.  Since doing so would require Nick to actually think about the issue however, he decides instead to ignore it entirely.  Thus he achieves the remarkable feat of writing a column about the Kurds that actually leaves the reader more ignorant after reading it, rather than less.

- Which brings us to the miserable state of Syria, about which there has been much mounting of high-horses this week.

In amongst all the calumnies and excoriations, one simple fact has been true since the very start of the Syrian War, and it's this - everyone agrees that the war is terrible and unacceptable, and few of the people shouting loudest about it want the war to actually end.  Almost everyone commenting on the war instead wants their chosen faction to win.

Consider - shriekers and chest-pounders like James Bloodworth are perfectly well aware that victory for the Syrian rebels, whether we mean the actual Jihadist groups or the largely fictional armies of secularists, would involve precisely the same amount of artillery bombardments, seige-warfare and bloodshed.

And yet, few if any of them ever express a desire for the war to end.  This tells us that it's not so much the extreme violence and death that upsets our commentators, as it is the fact that it's mainly happening in the wrong postcode.  They're not so much upset that people are dying, as that it's the wrong people who are dying.

If it were in their power, few of our pundits and politicians would stop the guns firing, and would instead turn them upon the populations that they believe are more deserving.  And make no mistake, they'd find reasons to approve of the destruction, exactly as they've done in Libya and Iraq and god knows where else.

All of which is worth bearing in mind, the next time that some joker announces that the situation in some benighted country is an intolerable enormity, and that something must be done about it.


Harmain said...

Somewhere down the line, our government got this idea that we are responsible for the peace of other nations, that we have to get involved militarily. Interventionism is just a modern day extension of colonial thinking, the idea that we're the responsible ones required to bring peace and safety to the rest of the world.

I certainly approve of aid to help bring other nations to our level of progress on their own terms. I do not approve of funding conflict to install a new political system or dissolve a dictatorship. The past antics of the latter are what lead to many of the current situations around the middle east and Africa.

The guilt of our colonial past should not be "forcing" us to solve the world's problems through military action. To do so implies we still see the world as uncivilised savages to be liberated from their own primitive ways.

Gary Othic said...

It is striking that in among all the 'hurr durr why dursn't the lurft support inturventurn' that none of the people writing said pap ever do follow-up pieces on the places that we have actually intervened in and therefore actually have some kind of obligation towards.

"As commenters point out, the obvious answer to this question is Because we would instantly make Turkey our deadly enemy, and would massively infuriate the Americans."

Not to mention that the Kurdish forces are official listed as a terrorist organization.

septicisle said...

I've been arguing for a long time that the very purpose of Western policy in Syria has been to create a stalemate - we don't want Assad to win, we don't want Islamic State to win, we don't want the other jihadists/"moderate" rebels to win, we don't want the Kurds to win, and for a time that stalemate seemed to "work". Then ordinary Syrians realised the war wasn't going to end any time soon, that the Turks/Lebanese/Jordanians hate them/view them with suspicion and won't let them work, and the exodus began.

What's fascinating is that despite Germany alone receiving a million asylum seekers last year, it hasn't really changed that policy. The EU isn't pushing for peace any more than it has been previously. Aaro has the right idea in that the only way to end the crisis is to end the war, only of course his plan for doing so wouldn't work even if he could conjure 300,000 troops from somewhere. Think or say what you like about it, the Russian intervention at least makes some sort of sense: the difference between Islamic State and al-Nusra/the "moderate" rebels is so slight as to be negligible, the only other game in town is Assad, keeping him in place when the alternative are genocidal loons (the representative of the opposition at the talks is set to be the brother of the guy the Russians killed on Christmas Day, the one who said Damascus was to be cleansed and Alawites are worse than pigs and Jews, etc) who'll sell their grandmothers is a no-brainer for other ordered authoritarians instead of an 100x bloodier Libya.

Bit of a shame that, obviously, the Russian policy effectively maintains the stalemate. And, instead of saying pressuring the Saudis/Turks/Qataris to cease their funding of said "moderate" jihadists, which could help bring about genuine talks, we're helping them reduce Yemen to rubble at the same time. Foreign policy, eh?

Anonymous said...

I think Nick Cohen's position in his latest "back the Kurds" piece is more sly than you note - for all his demands for honest speaking, he often goes for these slightly oily moves - Essentially he is saying the UK should give more backing for autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan, which is, in fairness, a genuine argument in the region. However, when he says "the Kurds" who are battling ISIS, he very specifically means the Iraqi Kurds, not the Syrian Kurds - because the West's attitude to the Syrian Kurdish fighters is much more mixed, owing to Turkey's hostility. Nick is also forced to ignore the point of view of the Syrian Kurdish party, the PYD, because they are pretty open about saying they think a stability deal with Assad (perhaps with a view to negotiating his withdrawal in the longer term) is a good idea. A pragmatic approach that doesn't fit Nick Cohen's "I am moral, you are not" bloviating. So in short, Nick is picking the "good " Kurds he likes and ignoring the "Bad" Kurds he doesn't, even though both are fighting ISIS. The second sly move is of course Nick describes the nightmare of IRaq, with its growing Jihadists and useless armed forces, without ever mentioning how it got that way (usefully ingoring Nick's support for the Iraq invasion, occupation and "de-Baathification" that led to this nightmare)

organic cheeseboard said...

Everyone will be pleased to hear that Nick's column contains the requisite paragraph attacking Jeremy Corbyn, this despite its being an article ostensibly attacking the UK Government for allowing the crimes of UK soldiers in Iraq to go unpunished. It also begins thus:

I supported the second Iraq war. It seemed to me in 2003, and still does, that the world has a duty to find ways to remove regimes that commit genocide and use chemical weapons to gas their ethnic minorities.

I would have reversed every opinion I held, however, if David Cameron had been in power and his Ministry of Defence had announced: “British soldiers will be free to torture in Iraq, in breach of the Geneva convention and common law. We will cover up. When we can hide their crimes no longer, we will not pursue justice but, instead, pursue lawyers, who make claims against us, and seek to drive them out of business.”

Given, though, that the entire thing, from start to finish, was planned and executed by Americans whose opinion of the Geneva convention etc was EXACTLY the above, and who made this clear in public statements from the outset, I fail to see how Nick can even begin to think he can get away with this kind of bullshit.

Also note the present tense in Cohen's discussion of Saddam Hussein. Neither of these things was actually still happening when we attacked Iraq, of course, but hey.

Anonymous said...

It's an odd one, ain't it, slippery again , because Nick is right-ish about UK abuses in Iraq not being shoved under the carpet but (1) He's saying "punish the soldiers for being bad in the war I endlessly promoted", but very carefully avoids saying anything about the responsibility of the people who sent them into war and occupation (er, including himself) - Brit troops acting badly in a neo-imperial adventure hardly unsurprising and predicatable to everyone but Nick, apparently and (2) He's saying ;'I backed the war, but would not have done if Cameron was in charge. ' as if having Bush and all his cracked neocons on side wasn't enough of a warning. He's come a way from the time when he said " the British Army was the armed wing of Amnesty International" in Iraq, but carefully ignores his own record

Phil said...

You know how the US is supporting 'moderate' rebels in Syria? Well, you know support costs money...

U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels (New York Times)

"While the Saudis have financed previous C.I.A. missions with no strings attached, the money for Syria comes with expectations, current and former officials said. “They want a seat at the table, and a say in what the agenda of the table is going to be,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution."

But it's OK, the CIA have made it very clear where they stand. From Seymour Hersh's recent piece in the LRB:

In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting extremist fighters in Syria. ‘The Saudis told us they were happy to listen,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘so everyone sat around in Washington to hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up, and the moderates would win out.’ Brennan’s message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.’

Anonymous said...

Nick Cohen "It seemed to me in 2003, and still does, that the world has a duty to find ways to remove regimes that commit genocide and use chemical weapons to gas their ethnic minorities."

And it seems to me now, as it did in 2003, that this ignores the fact that removing a regime has to be followed by putting in place a new one, that is very difficult and the price of failure (especially in the present-day Middle East) is a safe haven for terrorists.


flyingrodent said...

Well, let's just note if Nick has been losing sleep over our wars, he hasn't often mentioned it. Those articles where he hemmed and hawed over the ticking-bomb torture question are about as much soul-searching as I can recall.

organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah, you don't even get the Aaronovitch/Geras 'We thought about this longer and harder than anyone else and have also suffered more than anyone' line from our Nick. In fact he still views it as the true test of whether you're really left-wing or not. Well, that and to what extent you obsess about the horrors of Jeremy Corbyn.

Anonymous said...

On another bit of Nick Cohen slipperiness, he wrote a recent thing for the Spectator saying posho lefties supported Corbyn because secretly wanted Labour to be unelectable so they could hang on to their money

He was basing his article on a Telegraph "revelation" that some Momentum guy was a public-schoolboy-Oxford-type

Coehn claimed "I have met and disliked too many of his kind". But the original Telegraph article said the Momentum-Lefty-Posho "had a highly privileged upbringing, " including going to Trinity College Oxford. But in Nick Cohen's version, all mention of Oxbridge-y privilege had disappeared ? Why would Nick (PPE Hertford College, Oxford), do that ?

And why would Nick fail to mention that he has himself, a number of times, been a posho lefty who has argued for Labour to lose ?

The old-style Nick argued don't vote Labour in 2001

the new-style Nick argued don't vote Labour in London (because Ken)

organic cheeseboard said...

Oh God, you've only gone and made me read that horrific 'how come you are left wing, you;re rich' article again, you swine.

SOOOO much wrong with it. The Howard Jacobson-style two-word paragraphs 'for effect' which actually detract from the force of the argument. Claiming to "have met and disliked too many of his kind", ie rich people (I think - quite hard to tell in fact), yet most of the people Nick counts as 'comrades' now are very well-off toffs who hate lefties, like Douglas Murray, and his main political source for many years was Comrade Denis MacShane, educated at, um, an independent school then Oxford.

We also get the ultra dodgy logic which we so love in Nick:

You may profoundly disagree with it, but you have a financial interest in keeping it in power. By supporting Corbyn and his fellow travellers, you are helping the Conservatives

But by talking down the Labour party at all times, as Nick has done now for almost ten years, you're clearly in fact opposing the, er, Conservative party, because logic. Also Nick has become noticealy less open about his own situation than in the past, when he made it clear how much he earned (70k a year about ten years ago, I think, and iirc he owns a house in Islington). Funnily enough for Nick it's only the background and current situations of the Corbynistas that is so shameful. Blairites - on whose side he now seems to be, irony of ironies - are exempt from the 'it's for where you're at it's where you're from' thing.

We also get this peach:

Until they have a concrete programme for removing the Conservatives from power – and there is no sign of one coming – poor little rich boys like James Schneider are no better than the right wing of the British rich.

I'd imagine that the first part of this programme would probably be, having some kind of party unity whereby one side of the party doesn't spend all its time briefing journos about there not being any plans etc. But equally, this from Nick 'Labour in 2010 should ditch Gordon Brown just before the election and run on an anti-Brown ticket otherwise a Tory landslide is inevitable' Cohen, and also Nick 'war in Iraq is a real votewinner in 2015' Cohen. What's missing from any of this is the fact - and it is a fact - that the Blairites have no real idea of how to oppose the Tories while also opposing Corbyn. What they - as opposed to Corbyn types - have done over the last year is to demonstrate opposition to the tories by, well, voting for Tory policies.

My favourite bit of all though is this, which does actually make the article worth reading forever:

I cannot find the quote, but Owen Jones of the Guardian once said words to the effect of

journalism fail right there, evidence-based rational Nick. If you don't have the evidence, you don't get to make the claim.

Phil said...

On the bright side, it was nice to renew my acquaintance with Nick "Vote Socialist Alliance To Save Labour's Soul" Cohen, and to read once again his savage indictment of the comprehensively awful record of the Blair government (of 1997-2001). Who would have thought that doing something even worse would be all it took to win him round?

Anonymous said...

It was presumably the lunch with the Iraqi National Congress that changed Nick Cohen's worldview.


flyingrodent said...

For general interest, and since it involves one of the subjects of this post - HP Sauce (for it is they) are currently hosting a Facebook post by Mr Bloodworth, in which he talks about almost coming to blows with a random nutter on the train.

Decent writers do seem to have quite bad luck with the public, I find. I've travelled on public transport most weekdays for about twenty years and the nutters I meet are usually just angry drunks or people with severe mental health issues. They don't usually e.g. announce that Israel created ISIS or spontaneously deny the Holocaust. In fact, I'd go one further and say that not once, ever, have I encountered a random nutter spouting off about any of the topics that HP Sauce normally post about.

Mind you, I'm quite shy and retiring and I live and work in central Edinburgh, rather than in e.g. London. Perhaps the capital is crawling with all manner of public zoomers.

Arctor said...

As septicisle points out, the aim of the war in Syria is to probably have a permanently failed state on Israel's borders. Probably so that the the forces of International Capital are free to
loot Syrian resources via companies such as Genie Energy.

Before anybody cries 'anti-Semitic conspiracy theory', just look at whom their Strategic Advisory board includes; Dick Cheney, Jacob (4th Baron) Rothschild, Rupert Murdoch, James Woolsey (former CIA director), and Larry Summers (former head of the US Treasury). Come on, can they make it any clearer than that?

flyingrodent said...

After many years having a mercifully quiet comments section, that's quite a surprising comment to have appear all of a sudden.

ejh said...

Perhaps the capital is crawling with all manner of public zoomers

On its day. Or try Oxford. Oddly, the same places the journalists tend to come from. As with Twitter, it's not always easy to work out which side of the mirror the hacks are on.

Arctor said...

On the previous thread it says;

Comment deleted

This comment has been removed by the author.

You've deleted me three times without even as much as a by-your-leave. Any reason I deserve such a lack of courtesy?

Chris Williams said...

I dunno exactly why your posts are down, but "because you are clearly into batshit crazy conspiracy theories?" has to be credible working hypothesis. If you could point to a couple of times where foreign oil companies have been happy to set up and run profitable operations in the middle of failed states with endemic civil wars, rather than, say, preferring political stability at nearly any price, that would also be nice.

flyingrodent said...

I dunno exactly why your posts are down, but "because you are clearly into batshit crazy conspiracy theories?"

That's about the size of it. I rarely delete comments based on their content, mainly because I don't often have cause. The recent one was to remove a double-post, for instance. Still, e.g. speculation on the role of the Rothschild family in the Syrian war, based on very little, is not at all welcome.

organic cheeseboard said...

Re that Bloodworth Facebook post. I can only think of one occasion when I've met anyone eager to share such stuff with me in public, and that was a taxi driver in Cyprus who self-identified as 'Rhodesian' and who told me that Saddam Hussein was behind foot and mouth. (and the only 2 cities I've ever lived in are Oxford and London). I was on a bus recently and a lightly loony bloke was trying to chat a woman up, and on learning she was Ecuadorian he proceeded to tell her how much he loves Assange, but I'm not sure that counts. (Incidentally that's the only time I've ever been near an 'Assangist', that supposedly influential group of people, but hey, I guess they're probably all Corbynistas now).

But also, surely if we take Decents at their word re: free speech etc, then our Jamie should have engaged this bloke in rational debate, winning via the Decent Debating Technique yada yada yada. Throwing people off trains, no matter how objectionable, also seems a pretty weird thing to do. Leaving this dude in the middle of nowhere surely means he'd be MORE likely to spread antisemitic guff rather than returning home to his friends and family. I wonder if it was in fact this bloke's stop anyway.

Funnier about that Bloodorth thing is his admission that he's reading the Weiss/Hassan book a full year after it came out. Given Bloodworth's self-styled status as an expert on affairs middle eastern, that seems a bit more than an embarrassing admission. In looking up when it came out, I found this Amazon review which seems pretty compelling, notwithstanding that I'm generally predisposed to mistrust anything Weiss produces precisely because he always blames a triumverate of Russia/Iran/nutter Muslims:

This is a curious book. It contains some good information about the inner workings of ISIS though fails to draw the parallels with the Taliban and Al Shabab which had grown district by district in a post conflict environment to dominate nationally in Afghanistan and Somalia respectively.
However where this book really fails is through its distortions about the reasons for the rise of ISIS and its external supporters/funders. For example, there is no mention or statistics of continuous Sunni-on-Shia violence through out the post-2003 period including the period of Sahwa (refer to Iraq Body Count project). There is no mention of support of ISIS either directly or indirectly by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE in the period prior to fall of Mosul and the role of Prince Bandar – Intelligence minister of Saudi Arabia and arch neo-con- in support of jihadis (refer to VP Biden’s speech to US Naval College in 2014). No mention is made of the support role of Turkey in maintaining supply lines and freedom of movement across her borders –especially with Syria (witness Turkey’s behavior throughout siege of Kobani and recent developments vs PKK). Instead curiously this book tries to insinuate that Iran is somehow responsible for the rise of ISIS. At its heart this book fails to connects the dots that (a) if ISIS leadership are mainly Saddam Hussain’s Baathists ex-army officers, then there would be no reconciliation with an Iraqi government lead by majority Shia no matter who lead it – Jaafari, Malliki, Alawi or Badawi, and (b) this majority Shia government is the first time Sunni’s have lost power in Iraq since 700AD and Sunni elites just can not countenance a political role commensurate with their share of the population (20%).
My suggestion is that if you want to get a better idea of who supported and probably still supports ISIS in corridors of power, this book should be read alongside, and probably after, Patrick Cockburn book.
Hassan Hassan should have also been transparent about who he works for which perhaps would have given some clue on the slants of this book. He is a columnist for the National in Abu Dhabi (UAE).

Anonymous said...

Israel has granted drilling licenses (in occupied Syrian territory and thus contrary to international law) to a company (Genie Energy) which both Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild are major shareholders(a joint 5.5 percent stake worth $11 million). The Assad regime are unsurprisingly opposed to the illegal misappropriation of their resources but are unfortunately tied up in an endless civil war. According to Amiram Barkat of Israeli business publication Globes, “The company (Genie) believes that its shale oil cracking technology can free the world from dependence on Arab oil and turn Israel into an energy powerhouse able to produce 300 billion barrels of non-conventional oil at a cost of up to $40 per barrel.”

But of course, any speculation that the purpose of war is to steal another nation's resources is not at all welcome. Move along now, nothing to see here.

Since you're probably going to delete this anyhow, I shall restate the point I made last night; Corbyn is despised and feared by the Decents not because he's unelectable or has crazy economic policies, but because potentially he would be a British Prime Minister sympathetic to the Palestinians' plight. And that would never do, would it?


Chris Williams said...

So, this civil war was kicked off and is being prolonged 'probably' so that the Israelis can make a bit of money on the side selling licences to neocons to frack the Golan, and Assad won't be in any position to send his army in (over the UN peacekeepers on the ceasefire line) and destroy the installations, which he clearly would so have done had this happened earlier?

Do you genuinely believe that, or is it merely the thing that was written on the back of the first card you pulled out of a handy pack labelled 'This bad thing is the fault of the Jews because...'?

septicisle said...

If you want to get into conspiracies that might have something approaching an element of truth to them, then it's worth looking at the Israeli relationship with the jihadists now sitting on the Syrian border. You might think that would be something they'd be deeply concerned about, but apparently not. Especially compared to how they bomb Hezbollah in Syria given the slightest excuse.

Also on Michael Weiss, one of his latest tweets is on how the "US is now acting as a proxy of Russia and Iran, pressuring rebels to give up". This after variously accusing the Russians of acting as Islamic State's air force and their campaign failing (when it clearly hasn't, slow moving as it is the Syrian army are taking back territory), which presumably means that the US is also now the equivalent of Islamic State's air force. Someone ought to write a book on how online "Syria experts" so utterly polluted and contaminated Western journalism on the uprising and then civil war.

gastro george said...

Considering the Israelis originally gave support to Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah, giving some kind of support to the jihadists, even if that was just ignoring them, would not be a surprise.

Al Roth said...

@organic cheeseboard

Actually, what Jamie should have done was hand him in to Quilliam and Maajid Nawaz could have deradicalized him.

flyingrodent said...

This piece by David Ignatius about recent anti-ISIS wargames is interesting, in light of recent comments...

The short version - the Israelis are happy to take a back seat on ISIS and let the US sort them out. To put it mildly, this isn't how the Israelis usually react to anything that they view as an actual threat. Note that they've been hammering Hezbollah whenever they get the opportunity.

What this tells me is that the Israelis are properly terrified of Hezbollah, and really not bothered about IS, and probably with good reason for both assessments.

Antagonistic states engage in espionage; stockpile actually dangerous weaponry, and scheme with better-armed nations, and so on.

IS, on the other hand, is a bunch of backwater yahoos charging about in pick-up trucks, with fuck-all offensive potential against a half-motivated army with effective air support. It's about as threatening to a well-armed modern state like Israel, as revolutionary war-era musketry would be. And given that any action against IS has to involve sending soldiers into very hostile territory, where they might get killed or captured - and the Israelis hate taking casualties worse than pretty much anyone, for various reasons - you can see why they'd be happy to let the superpower sort this one out.

All of this makes fine military and political sense, without speculating on whether ISIS is a false-flag operation funded by Murdoch, or whatever the idea was.

septicisle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
septicisle said...

Indeed it does, only as gastro george said, the Israelis have a record of thinking the enemy of my enemy is my friend, only for it to backfire further down the line. The Israelis of course are right to fear Hezbollah far more than the Sunni jihadists, as in a straight fight there'd be almost nothing to choose between them; if anything Hezbollah would probably have the edge. The number of IDF soldiers who died in Gaza in the last war was up by a lot proportionately, and that was against Hamas, who can't hold a candle to Hezbollah. One other fact that is worth remembering, regardless: al-Qaida/IS have never so much as attempted to attack Israel itself, bombing synagogues/launching missiles at El Al flights notwithstanding. This despite the jihadists always making reference to Jerusalem, Zionist/Crusader alliances, etc. It's distinctly odd, and it really can't be explained by better Israeli security/intelligence than in the West.

Sort of back on topic, ignoring the headline this is a decent piece by Juan Cole explaining the Russian/Syrian strategy and how it's working out, putting flesh on the War Nerd's thinking that the Russian intervention is about creating an Alawite protectorate.

flyingrodent said...

It's distinctly odd, and it really can't be explained by better Israeli security/intelligence than in the West.

It makes a lot of sense, if you assume that all the waffle about Jerusalem and driving out "crusaders and zionists" and so on is basically bullshit to rile up the rubes, and that the main goal for the last decade has been to retake Baghdad, and Iraq more widely.

AFAICS, ISIS is pretty much just the Iraqi insurgency of the 2000s with even more foreign volunteers, and its strengths are - wacky propaganda; taking and holding lightly-defended areas and backwaters, and fighting against forces that don't want to fight, or are composed of armed civilians. Groups like ISIS can't exist in countries that even slightly have their shit together. It's a vicious and scary militia, but it's still a militia, and its major assaults across country are still undefended convoys of the type that the US has been effortlessly annihilating for twenty five years.

This being the case, any concerted ISIS attack on Israel is going to end up looking like the road to Basra circa 1991 in a matter of hours.

The same goes for Al Qaeda in Syria and its various affiliates. They can take and hold relatively undefended territory, but as recent events show, they can't hold them for long against concerted assaults.

But really, there's no mystery here. I think that ISIS in particular isn't attacking Israel because their priority is retaking power in Iraq. Getting into a gang war with the IDF is actively and seriously harmful to that goal.

septicisle said...

Coincidentally Mark Ames and the War Nerd discuss Israel-ISIS with Patrick Cockburn briefly in their latest podcast.

Anonymous said...

But really, there's no mystery here. I think that ISIS in particular isn't attacking Israel because their priority is retaking power in Iraq
No, the real mystery is why Israel is not joining in the fight against ISIS. Given the three billion dollars they receive every year in military aid from the US, you'd think they might want to help out their allies.

flyingrodent said...

I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that it's probably better for everyone involved if the Israelis stay out of that particular fight, for a whole series of reasons that should be very obvious indeed.

Anonymous said...

Indulge me please Rodent. Why should the only democracy in the Middle East not stand with its allies in their fight against murderous theocratic barbarians? Why shouldn't they use the planes and missiles the US taxpayers bought for them, in a fight against a common enemy? Are they not grateful for the miltary aid and unwavering political cover that both the US and the UK provide? Why are they sitting out the fight against the fascists who are operating on their doorstep?

flyingrodent said...

I can think of lots of reasons, but the main one is this - Israeli involvement in the war would be a massive propaganda boost to every psycho jihadi group in the region, and one that would far outweigh their actual military contribution.

Anonymous said...

Strange that they never pause to consider the propaganda implications of slaughtering and imprisoning innocent Palestinians. And as you've already pointed out, psycho jihadi groups provoked into action against Israel will find themselves quickly destroyed. Why is it considered moral cowardice for the West to refrain from engaging in the ME clusterfuck, but just sensible practice for the Israelis? Especially since its a clusterfuck for which they bear a good deal of responsibility in creating.

flyingrodent said...

No point asking me geezer. I don't make the news, I just read it to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm still curious about the "whole series of reasons which should be very obvious indeed", of which I'm unaware and you're apparently reluctant to state.

Chris Williams said...

So reluctant that just stated one.

I've had this "Oh, I am an innocent, please can you O commentator tell me what you think the motives of these bad people are?" technique tried on me by decents. It's part one of a move which generally ends in "Commentator is clearly an apologist for the bad people because look at him justifying their position in this way." Like in War Games, the only way to win is not to play.

Still, nice try.

gastro george said...

As I pointed out previously, the Israelis are liable to back anybody that gives their most powerful enemies a problem, at least in the short term. The idea that they would feel any sense of obligation to back up US policy just because is risible - although they would do if they could see any immediate tangible tactical gain. In this case, ISIS are no threat to them, the Syrian war is stressing Assad to the limit, and keeping Hizbollah occupied. What's not to like?

Anonymous said...

Wrong, Chris. I've read Rodent long enough to know he's not an apologist for the Israelis, and have no wish to paint him as such. As george has more succintly pointed out, the Israelis always act only in their own self-interest, and in this case are de facto allies of ISIS, not the West.

organic cheeseboard said...

The only time I like to see the phrase 'de facto allies' is when it's being used to point out the hypocrisy of the person who's said it previously, e.g. when Nick Cohen calls anyone who opposes whatever war he loves as 'a de facto ally of Fascists' etc. Sharing an enemy doesn't make you an ally, de facto or otherwise.

But onwards. I've found this 'bunch of migrants' stuff very interesting this week. The coverage of it on the Guardian live politics blog suggested that the widespread revulsion it generated in Westminster and among journos is evidence of their not understanding how anti-immigration most of the country is.

I'm not sure I entirely agree, but I'd like to follow this line of 'outside-the-Westminster-bubble' logic for a minute anyway. We're consistently told that Labour under Miliband and Corbyn don't understand the Genuine Concerns of the Average Englishperson about immigration.

And, as has been said on here a lot, maybe this is true, but there's absolutely no way any Labour administration could pander to these kinds of prejudice sufficiently to win over the people who oppose immigration to this extent. Septicisle has noted that Labour could be making a show of how dismal the Tory record is on it, and fair enough, but they'd also need to say what they'd do to combat immigration - and it's quite difficult, really, to do that without sounding a) unrealistic - another problem people supposedly had with Labour in 2015, or b) racist - which would alienate more, albeit fewer swing voters, than being seen as soft on immigration.

But just to return to my favourite topic, the above also demonstrates the total incoherence of most of the anti-Corbyn-and-supposedly-left-wing commentariat. Nick Cohen for instance, during the leadership eleciton, specifically nailed his colours to the Yvette Cooper mast because of a (good) speech she made on the refugee crisis.

Yet had she continued this pro-refugee position if made leader, surely she'd also have been going against the Very Real Concerns etc etc etc, targeting the membership rather than voters, blah blah blah.

This is a long way round of saying more succinctly - the 'route to winning' that Blairites and their various newfound fans supposedly adhere to, when put into practice, looks at best incoherent and also a shitload like the ticket Ed Miliband ran on in 2015. Yes, with a 'stronger leader', they might have done a bit better - but if, as w're again being told, the policies and credibility were also a problem, where does that leave this supposedly infallible plan to get elected? Would cohen, Hodges et al honestly rather see Jeremy Corbyn standing with a big stop sign on the white cliffs of Dover? (actually, Hodges almost certainly would, but still).

Anonymous said...

Sharing an enemy doesn't make you an ally, de facto or otherwise.

No, but aiding their war effort (in this case facilitating ISIS oil sales along with Erdogan) sort of does.

flyingrodent said...

There are numerous reasons why the Israelis would stay out of the fight against IS, and why we’d want them to do so, including but not limited to…


- The propaganda value for the jihadis would be massive, and it’s surely unnecessary for me to explain why that would be;

- Israeli involvement would rule out co-operation with most of the other countries in the region, such as there is, both in this fight and in other matters. Most of these countries are happy to cut deals with Tel Aviv on the quiet, but won’t act with it at all in public. There’s a reason why Saddam spent Gulf War I chucking scuds in a westerly direction after all, as little good as it did him;

- There are very few targets to hit. The UK only managed about 12 bombing missions in Syria during its first month, mainly because the US has this covered and they don’t even need our help, let alone Israel’s;

From the American point of view, they’d view Israeli involvement as politically disastrous, and -

- If there was anything useful that the Israelis could do and they weren’t doing it, you’d have heard about it by now. Despite appearances, the US State Department is not on good terms with Netanyahu’s government and they would certainly be dropping severe hints, if there was serious friction about this, as they have done in the past on other matters. Note here – they’re not so annoyed that they’re cutting off the bajillion dollars in military aid, but then they never will be.

All this being the case, it should be clear that Israeli involvement would create massively bigger problems than it would help.
Also, seen from Tel Aviv’s perspective:

- Involvement would be politically catastrophic for any Israeli government, since - as has been noted – IS present no threat to Israel, but other actors do, and those factions are being ground down gratifyingly in the war. Their credibility is based on their ability to protect the country itself and no Israeli government in recent memory has, to my knowledge, gone off getting involved in wars for sentimental reasons, or to do anyone else any favours;

- And you can imagine how long Netanyahu would last, if e.g. a soldier in an IDF uniform was executed in a propaganda video. The Israelis are incredibly averse to taking casualties even by comparison with ourselves, and every death would be laid at Netanyahu’s door.

- Also, the Israelis are mad keen to keep the IS virus out of the occupied territories, for obvious reasons. People spent years telling Israeli presidents to make peace with the PLO because if they didn’t, they’d end up having to negotiate with somebody worse. They didn’t make peace, and so they wound up facing Hamas*. They then spent years ignoring recommendations to negotiate with Hamas, and are now scared that they’ll wind up with something like IS. They probably will, but they’re keen to avoid that for as long as possible.

And, on your specific question:

Why is it considered moral cowardice for the West to refrain from engaging in the ME clusterfuck, but just sensible practice for the Israelis?

Because our political commentators are absolutely full of shit.
*No need to repeat the history of extremist Palestinian politics to me here, folks. I’m aware of it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your engagement Rodent. I do accept your points, although I still don't agree with your jihadi propaganda one. I don't get why taking on the headchoppers would garner more support for the jihadis than their obviously cruel and unjust repression of the Palestinians already does. But I accept that may be more to do with where my own sympathies lie. Sorry if I've taken up more of your time on your day off than you would like arguing about I/P.

septicisle said...

Conversely, one of the reasons it's surprising al-Qaida/IS have never really tried launching an attack inside Israel is the huge propaganda gain it would hand them, not least since their fans spend most of their time criticising Hamas for having never instituted Sharia law/not being extreme enough. It would certainly win them a few more recruits, not that they're exactly short. Whether it would be worth the err, blowback, is debatable, but then again the Israelis unlike ourselves seem to have the learned the lesson that if you must engage in wars of vengeance/aggression they need to be short, and if they must involve ground troops there needs to be a swift exit plan. Otherwise who knows what you might give rise to.

organic cheeseboard said...

I'd imagine the chief reason why it's not happened is cos they've no real presence at all in Palestine - either Gaza or West Bank - and it's really hard to get into Israel for pretty much anyone. (E.G. explicit and in-depth profiling of people before flying there, most borders totally closed, etc).

In other news that is not entirely unrelated, we're now debating whether to send in boots on the ground in, er, Libya. Long-Term Foreign Policy Plan in full effect obvo:

organic cheeseboard said...

Re: my obsession with the way in which people compare Cameron and Corbyn as if it'll be them fighting the next election, and my obsession with pointing out how massively unpopular George Osborne, Political Genius and Heir Apapent (copyright every journo ever), is.

Fairly well-informed Tories now suggesting that Osborne won't even try to become leader:

Anonymous said...

Septicisle said, several days ago:- "Someone ought to write a book on how online "Syria experts" so utterly polluted and contaminated Western journalism on the uprising and then civil war."

There are a number of "Syria experts" peddling disinformation but they are able to do it because our governments are not providing useful information, and because journalism isn't very good at working out what is credible. I presume that Septicisle is thinking mainly of the two individuals who provided information backing up the UK government's claims about 70,000 moderate Syrian opposition fighters (which Septicisle critiqued so well); but the UK government had provided no useful information about this (except a bald assertion that there were 70,000 moderate fighters) and many journalists simply accepted this assertion and accepted the assertions of the two "experts" about how this figure had been calculated.

To some extent, all of us have formed our picture of what is happening in Syria on the basis of blog posts by "Syria experts". We always have to make a judgement about what the grains of truth are in what these "experts" are writing. That probably means that different people have come to different conclusions about what is happening. And in that context, what to one person may be a reasonable inference is, to another, a conspiracy theory.

One of the justifications for calling some of the groups in the 70,000 "moderates" was that the CIA had given them weapons so they must be moderate. Some of us would just laugh hollowly, but some people would find it difficult to accept that the CIA would arm jihadis or that Cameron would lie about this (or that some opposition MPs would pass up the opportunity to ask questions about this and instead do a bit of grandstanding about the late 1930s). Some of us were unsurprised that, with Libya in 2011, the UK government
"understood almost nothing about the country or the various factions that they were supporting and displayed not a jot of interest in finding out anything more" (FR op cit) and think that the same applies to Syria; other people presume that this was some temporary aberration (due to too much "introspection" about Iraq, perhaps) and it will never happen again.

So there's plenty of space for "Syria experts" who want to feed in disinformation. The wonder is that there aren't more of them.


gastro george said...

Not 70,000, it's more! :-)

Anonymous said...

No doubt Asaad Hanna thinks it reasonable to believe that Assad and ISIS are in league with each other, because cui bono?, while others think that this is a conspiracy theory. Aaronovitch's advice to use Occam's razor isn't much help, because constructing any kind of narrative about what is happening in Syria requires making a lot of assumptions about the reliability of sources of information.

But anyway: I wonder if Assad Hanna realises that saying that there are more than 70,000 moderate fighters does no good to his credibility.


ejh said...

I'm not a huge admirer of that Cole article: I wodner if it reconkons it knows more than it actually does, since a good rule where there's a war going is that nobody really that sure what's happening, including the people who are actually there, and that's one reason why there's so much Some Guy With A Website analysis since there's always somebody who does reckon they know what's going on who you can turn to.

Also, too many uses of "key".

Still, it's curious how few independent observers think the Free Syrian Army adds up to anything meaningful at all. I only mention this because their advocates in the UK have been going out of their way for some time now to be as unpleasant as they can to anybody who does't share their analysis of what's actually happening in Syria (Patrick Cockburn is an "Assad apologist", everybody is an Assad apologist). I don't mind anybody being wrong about what's happening in a war, for the reasons given above, and I don't mind anybody bigging up their side in a civil war, particularly when they're fighting a real bastard, but these people have been saying quite a lot of things that haven't turned out to be true and trying to make up the gap with abuse.

gastro george said...

One notable stat in Asaad Hanna's piece was that there are 74 "military factions", and that's just the "moderates". OK, I can make some allowance for counting people defending their own areas as separate units, but it raises a lot of questions about the coherence of the FSA - if it actually exists outside of some PR flannel. Not that I know anything.

organic cheeseboard said...

The current issue of Harper's has some excellent stuff on the middle east at the moment, though it's all paywalled sadly. Includes a piece from the ground on Iraqi Kurds (where the author has clearly spent longer than the 36 hours Michael Weiss managed with the FSA), and is pretty good on how they will never ally with the Iraqi govt - so much so that it's useless even trying to put the case to them, and by extension demonstrates that the main reason IS have been able to control so much land is that their opposition is a bunch of different factions who all hate each other; one on gay soldiers in Assad's army, which makes a decent case that the people fighting on his side are definitely not all Alawi/Assad fans, but generally 'patriots,' who tend to identify ISIS as their enemy (this isn't really queried enough, but still) - however a fair few of them, including the main focus of the piece, are upping and leaving because the situation across the country is so dire; and a nice piece of art/reporting on people stuck in Greece.

Re: Free Syrian Army, I agree. In FSA fans' defence, I think that they would collectively agree that the chance to have made the FSA a genuine contender - if it ever really was one - has passed (it was probably very soon after the anti-Assad uprising took place, but it's hardly like that seemed the most pressing issue in world affairs at the time, indeed all the usual bombing fans, including most of the current FSA fanclub, were doing their nut about Libya), so they'd undoubtedly be frustrated; but their behaviour is not exactly endearing.

septicisle said...

Sadly, it's fairly obvious why they dislike Cockburn and call him an Assad apologist: he's not permanently based in Beirut and just rewriting what the FSA supporters there/online are saying about what's happening. You can understand why there is still such a rapport between some hacks and the FSA supporters, not least because they are closest to sharing "our" values, other than the Kurds, and Assad is undoubtedly a murderous bastard. The problem is that the FSA lot were telling lies from the outset, were prepared to put journalists' life in danger if they thought it would advance their cause (remember the incident with Alex Thomson?) and still, even now, are trying to claim that their revolution is just as much a social one as it is political. Other journos haven't really changed their tune or re-evaluted that much since 2011, even when they know full well there are no real moderates left.

ejh said...

I didn't know about the Alex Thomson incident, no, ut I do now.

What I do remember, dating back about a couple of years, is that the FSA supporters were putting about a version of events that (if I am repproducing it fsirly) looked like this: "Assad is close to being toppled by the FSA, but they haven't got the heavy weaponry to do it with, so they need the Americans to supply them. This will not lead to escalation, because Putin will not intervene on the side of his ally, and nor will it lead to proliferation, because weapons will not be passed on tomad Islamist groups".

I don't doubt that this story was being told in good faith, but I also don't doubt that every elemnt of it was wrong except possible for Assad being close to overthrow, and if that was true, it wasn't especially the FSA who were close to overthrowing him.

As I said, I don't at all mind that it was wrong, people are wrong all the time. What I mind is that when sceptical observers said that it was wrong, simply because they found it an inaccurate account of events, they found themselves assailed as Assad apologists. And that in itself makes it clear that it wasn't any longer about Syria as such, it was the usual game of making screaming polemical attacks on other leftists.

septicisle said...

Which we're also going to see now that it seems the Syrian army is on the cusp of encircling the rebel held part of Aleppo thanks to Russian air support. What gets me more than anything is the cognitive dissonance that has become almost unremarkable in so many reports on Syria: politicians and others talking about how the Russians are decimating the "moderate" opposition, when only a few paragraphs earlier the same report relates how the Nusra Front has sent hundreds of fighters into Aleppo. Cameron did the same thing in the evidence he gave to the liaison committee, where among those 70,000 moderates, while refusing to identify any of them lest it tip off IS or Assad that they exist, he said there were some pretty moderate hardline Islamists, or as we'd call them, slightly less radical jihadists than our pals in IS. I wouldn't mind as much if they admitted these were the people that we've allied with, funded, sent heavy weaponry, and yet they carry on talking about moderates regardless.

flyingrodent said...

What gets me more than anything is the cognitive dissonance that has become almost unremarkable in so many reports on Syria...

This is about the size of it. The siege of and assault on Aleppo is going to involve horrific artillery bombardments and house-to-house fighting, and I imagine that we're going to see the destruction and the huge lines of miserable refugees in technicolour, accompanied by pundits crying - Why, all of this suffering is our fault, for not arming the locals to the teeth (more than we have previously done).

Of course, much the same thing would've had to have happened to different cities, if our Syrian allies had prevailed. But that would've been different because democracy, even if there's rather more jihadism than democracy involved, and there would be no shortage of amateur MacArthurs around to tell us how necessary all the suffering was.

It's worth noting here that the fall of Ramadi, during which ISIS were driven out - a pretty pleasing turn of events, I'd say - appears to have destroyed around 80% of that city, while almost the entire population was still in it (since ISIS wouldn't let civilians leave).

And this resulted in a civilian death toll of... ninety-three, maybe a few more, as best I can tell. Well, given that the Iraqi Army aren't exactly humanitarians, something smells a bit fishy about that figure to me.

I suspect that all of this bombardment and siege warfare has been more or less equally terrible for people on the ground, in whichever city has fallen under assault. I think we're only hearing about the horrors inflicted upon the civilians that we have - for whatever reason - decided are Our Pals. And I think that if the boot was on the other foot, all of the people currently dismayed by the endless violence would discover a sudden enthusiasm for house-to-house fighting.

As I said three years ago - all you need to do, to work out which faction is losing in Syria, is to look at which gang of white people is complaining the most loudly.

Anonymous said...

The UK government decided, three years ago, that the way to end the civil war and save lives was to arm the opposition. And I have seen FCO people spluttering with rage that anyone should suggest that sending more guns into a war zone was not usually the way to end a war and save lives.

And their strategy hasn't worked.

And it is now much harder than it was three years ago to bang heads together and stop the fighting.

I don't think there was ever any evidence that the opposition was on the edge of victory and a few more guns would do the trick. It was a "stone soup" strategy - just a few more carrots and this soup made of water and a stone will be lovely.


septicisle said...

Really sad is that the last week suggests both sides still think they can win - whether it be the opposition throwing their toys out of the pram in Geneva because they look set to lose control of areas they've held for years, knowing that even if the West abandons them that the Saudis certainly won't, while the Assad government looks to have fallen into thinking that the Russians are going to support them to the bitter end, when I very much suspect Vlad's help has always been about securing Assad and taking back the ground he needs to keep Damascus and the surrounding area supplied, and very little else.

Meanwhile our Turkish allies are refusing to allow those who have fled from Aleppo over the border, which is clearly not about further highlighting their plight to the world and by proxy proving the moderate opposition right. Not at all.

flyingrodent said...

Is there a noteworthy politician or hack in Britain - Corbyn aside, of course - who has pointed out the most obvious thing about the Syrian War: That the best solution for Syrian civilians would be for the war to stop?

I mean, I'm aware that there's precious little chance of the war ending without victory for one side or the other (or the other, or the other etc.). I just think that it would've been far, far less mental if we'd spent the opening phases of the war advising everyone to calm down, rather than e.g. urging them to march on Damascus ASAP.

ejh said...

I've got a feeling Simon Jenkins ,ight have, but on the other hand I don't read his columns because he's a doofus, so somebody else may have to confirm or rubbish that claim.

septicisle said...

Jenkins did indeed say in a column back in May 2013 that sending arms to the rebels was about the stupidest thing you could do, but then his anti-interventionism has always seemed the foil to his lolbertarianist we don't need no stinking white lines on the roads shtick. No others immediately come to mind, although I'm sure there are a few.

Anonymous said...

FR - "Is there a noteworthy politician or hack in Britain - Corbyn aside, of course - who has pointed out the most obvious thing about the Syrian War: That the best solution for Syrian civilians would be for the war to stop?"

Most politicians and hacks have wrapped up their pronouncements in a lot of spin so that it is not immediately clear what their position actually was. Thus they have straddled two positions: ending the war and overthrowing Assad, and claimed that they amount to the same thing. I suspect that the only lesson Cameron has learnt from the invasion of Iraq is to avoid getting into a position where you have to tell outright lies (which is where Blair found himself) and so far there have been plenty of hacks willing to produce the necessary smoke and mirrors that he needs.

I suspect that there would be hell to pay with the Saudis if the US and UK genuinely did try to stop the war. The Saudis were deeply annoyed that Iran ended up with an advantage after the invasion of Iraq and want the table tilted back the other way. This is a war that is partly about trying to put right the mistakes of another war that most of us deeply opposed!


flyingrodent said...

Thus they have straddled two positions: ending the war and overthrowing Assad, and claimed that they amount to the same thing.

It's been very reminiscent of our attitude to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, which was

- To ignore UN requests for a ceasefire, until a "sustainable ceasefire" could be achieved, i.e. until Israel had wiped out Hezbollah once and for all, and

- For Condaleeza Rice to announce that actually, the utterly needless and insane destruction heralded "the birth-pangs of a new Middle East". And in a way, she was right - the region looks quite different today, to what it did ten years ago.

septicisle said...

Much like the people who claimed the uprisings across the region were in part down to the installation of democracy in Iraq. 5 years on, both right and unspeakably, horrendously, terribly wrong.