Thursday, 3 August 2017

Notes on Belarus 2017

Belarus rarely gets much attention in the Western media, other than when there is a disputed election and protests. Venezuela under Maduro gets fare more attention in Britain, partly as it's a major oil producer and Belarus is not. It was also regarded as a model '21st Century Socialism' until Chavez's death in 2013 by some on the left.

On reflection, this is bizarre when it is considered that Belarus is just to the east of Poland's border and that Poland was, until 2015, thought to be a fully integrated EU member, stable liberal democracy and staunchly Atlanticist power in Central-Eastern Europe, with migrant workers living across Europe.

Belarus, by contrast, remains relatively unknown and ignored. The left simply wasn't interested in an anti-Western republic which harks back to a forgotten and drab period of the Cold War. It lacks the exotic appeal of Venezuela and the idealistic appeal of its model. It's citizens are white and Slavonic, a cold land frozen out of the rest of Europe.

One reason, apart from the lack of oil, is Belarus doesn't have much history as an independent nation-state, being variously depicted as a land labouring under 'Europe's last dictatorship', a territory carved out of the collapse USSR that's remained largely indistinct as a separate and independent entity or 'The Last Soviet Republic'.

This interesting analysis below draws attention to Belarus' status as a geopolitical buffer state between Russia and the EU, one that under Lukashenko has tried to survive by playing of rival suitors vying for influence over this strategically located state, one that has resisted being drawn into the EU and NATO or Putin's neo-Tsarist state.

With the tug of war battle over Ukraine's destiny to the south leading to a major crisis in 2013-2014 and a civil war continuing growling away in the eastern provinces, Belarus has remained largely quiescent, though there are stirrings of protest given the deteriorating economy and fear of external political intervention.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Poland shifts towards a more authoritarian system under the PiS party. Under its new regime, Poland has sought to reconstitute itself as a rival Central-Eastern power bloc within the EU as counterweight both to a Franco-German dominated Europe to the west and Russia to the east.

Poland would hardly seek to promote liberal democracy quite as before over the border when it's not committed to it at home. Kaczynski is openly lauding the Turkish model of President Erdogan. Across a broad swathe of territory in what Mackinder called the 'rimlands' surrounding the Eurasian 'heartland', neo-authoritarianism is in.

One of the strange ironies of history could be that far from Belarus moving towards liberal democracy, as was once believed inevitable in every post-Soviet state in the 1990s and 2000s, it offers a model of neo-authoritarianism based on capitalism, a dominant party-state monopower and a minimal social security net.

This new 'model' would be touted as offering 'stability' through security from the 'disorder' of Western liberal freedoms, the threat of 'terrorism' and those hostile alien elements within supported by external powers to disintegrate society and cede control to sinister transnational interests that are conspiring to demoralise the nation.

Even so, this might not preclude both Poland and the Baltic States, as well as Russia, vying for geopolitical influence within Belarus, just as they have over Ukraine, out of nationalist competition and using the plight of ethnic minorities as a pretext for external concern. As this article shows, Russia sees it as a vital buffer state.

In that sense, Belarus is the European western end of the Eurasian landmass just as North Korea is the eastern Asian land tip at the other end. While Timothy Garton Ash refers to Belarus as 'Europe's North Korea', Belarus is hardly a nightmarish totalitarian state threatening its own citizens and the region as Pyongyang does.

Even so, it could be argued that Belarus was were the post-1989-1991 era of democracy rolling east from Europe first 'stopped' after a brief experiment. Lukashenko preceded Putin as an authoritarian strongman after a short and traumatic experiment in a neoliberal market democracy. His regime is a precursor of what was to come later.

Antonia Colibasanu sets out the strategic scene and dilemmas of Belarus' position in 2017 in Geopolitical Futures in Russia, Belarus and a Catch-22.

'Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow will “do its best” to prevent any destabilization that could cause a color revolution in Russia and its buffer zone in Eastern Europe. Putin’s remarks come after the media reported that Russian nationals were arrested in Belarus for taking part in anti-government protests in Minsk on March 25-26.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko used the arrests to send a message to Putin prior to their meeting on April 3. Lukashenko wanted to make clear that he is still in control of his country, despite recent protests and economic problems. And Moscow needs to keep Minsk on its side.

Russia’s essential strategic problem is its vulnerability on its western border. It is susceptible to invasions through the North European Plain and needs access to global trading routes via the Baltic and the Black seas.

Therefore, Russia needs to push its frontier or sphere of influence as far west as possible, creating a buffer zone between Western Europe and its borders. Ideally, the Russian buffer zone would comprise the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine. The Baltics have integrated into the Western alliance system since the end of the Cold War.

After losing Ukraine, keeping Belarus in its sphere of influence became even more important for Russia. Belarus is a key part of Russia’s security strategy because the two countries share a joint air defense system. They also have held joint military exercises every four years since 2009, and Russia hopes to strengthen its military presence in Belarus.

To maintain its influence over the country, Russia needs both a friendly government in Minsk and a stable Belarus. But to keep the government friendly, Russia relies on measures that can fuel destabilization. The poor state of the Belarusian economy has sparked anti-government demonstrations, which have continued for months.

The recent protests against the “social parasite” tax on the unemployed are some examples. After hundreds of protesters were arrested and 150 were jailed, fear has kept people from returning to the streets. But the economic problems remain. Belarus’ economy has been in recession for more than two years.

 Russia’s increasing economic problems since the fall in oil prices have had a negative impact on Belarus, which is heavily dependent on the Russian economy. Russia’s ability to support Belarus financially has declined. This has caused socio-economic problems in Belarus and and forced Minsk to seek solutions elsewhere.

...keeping Belarus in Russia’s sphere of influence is more important than Russian internal politics. Lukashenko doesn’t face a powerful or united opposition. Most of the businesses in Belarus are tied to, if not dependent on, Russian money, either through direct funding or the Russian market.

If Russian support is reduced, Belarus will look to the West, which could lead to a change in government that would not be in Russia’s favor. Therefore, this is a Catch-22 for Russia: It can’t afford to continue spending money on Belarus while it faces problems at home, but it also can’t afford to stop supporting Belarus since another government in the West might instead.

Bibliography and Further Sources on Belarus.

Belarus Digest.
Geopolitical Review.
New East Network, the Guardian,

Books

A Wilson, Europe's Last Dictatorship ( 2011 )
B Bennett, Europe's Last Dictatorship: Belarus under Lukashenko ( 2011 )
I A Zaprudnik, Belarus : At a Crossroads in History ( 1993)
G Joffe, Understanding Belarus. How Western Foreign Policy Misses the Mark ( 2014 )
L Bazan, A History of Belarus. ( 2014)
D Marples, Belarus: A Denationalised Nation ( 1999 )
A Applebaum, Between East and West ( 1994 )
N Davies, Vanished Kingdoms ( 2012 )
N Davies, Europe at War: No Simple Victory 1939-1945 ( 2007 )
T Snyder, Bloodlands, Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. ( 2011 )
T Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus ( 2009 ).

2011-Present.

A Wilson, Europe Keep an Eye on Minsk, Politico, March 17, 2017
A Sannikov, 'We are not slaves', Guardian, March 2017.
A Colibasanu, Russia, Belarus and a Catch-22, Geopolitical Futures, April, 2017.
A Fedirka, Belarus: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Geopolitical Futures, December, 2016.
R Astapenia, Belarus is no longer 'Europe's last dictatorship', Guardian, September 2014.
J Steele, Lukashenko's Way, LRB, September 2012.


2010 Election and Protests.

J Laughland, The Technique of a Coup d'état, Lew Rockwell, December 2010.
T Garton Ash, We have to confront Europe's Mugabe , Guardian, December 2010.
C Reilly, Belarus-Image is All, Open Democracy, January 2009.
P Hitchens, The Comb-over Soviet-style Tyrant, Daily Mail, July 2008.

2006 Election and Protests..

M Almond, Less Bizarre than it Seems, Guardian, 21 March 2006
J  Laughland, The Prague Racket, Guardian, November 22 2002.
A Mazhukhou, The Will of the People was heard in Belarus's Election , April 2006.
T Garton Ash, Don't defend the dregs of Soviet Socialism, April 2006.
T Garton Ash, What's real in Belarus ? April, 2006
T Garton Ash, Belarus Needs You, March 2006
J Steele, Europe and the US decide the winner before the vote, March 2006.

 


The British Media is Silent on Trump's Shift to Confrontation with Iran

When the Independent moved online and ceased its print editions in 2016, this was seen as the beginning of the end of an era. The June 2017 general election in Britain saw too the decline of the populist right wing tabloid media as a decisive force that could determine victories for the Conservative Party.

The rise of social media has fragmented traditional audiences and 'the reading public'. Roy Greenslade has predicted the demise of the 'reactionary' tabloid media in the Guardian. What he hasn't dealt with is the decline of 'mainstream' newspapers as a proper source of information on international power politics.

It's not clear what future the 'serious' quality newspaper heritage media has when it fails to make itself relevant by journalistic coverage of the global politics and events that matter, a tradition being continued at present by a diminishing number of real journalists such as Patrick Cockburn of the Independent and his despatches from Iraq.

The fall of Mosul was barely covered in the Guardian compared with the coverage east Aleppo received when it fell to Assad's forces and Russian airpower in December 2016. The 40,000 civilian casualties have not been even registered in public consciousness nor the roughly 5500 believed killed by Western air power.

By any objective criteria, the liberation of the largest ISIS held city in Iraq ought to have been a major news item. But it was mentioned as if the war against ISIS was largely one in a far off land with little connection to Britain or the US, a footnote in a struggle that has long ceased to have much immediate relevance.

The fact the destruction of the IS Caliphate was downplayed so much might have something to do with lack of interest in civilian casualties that could have been caused by Trump's determination to 'bomb the shit out of ISIS' and to 'let the generals off the leash'. This was raised in the US media, but in Britain-silence.

Also not reported anywhere in the Guardian is the decisive shift of the Trump presidency towards a confrontation with Iran. It got a fleeting mention in an Observer editorial with Iran's ballistic missile 'threat' regarded as one Trump simply wasn't 'dealing with' despite his rhetoric. Nowhere has the Iraq style plan for war on Iran been mentioned.

It might be that the pretexts for war are so flimsy now and, as the Iraq War has demonstrated the US and US publics won't be 'played' by the government and media again, that the emphasis is on a media blanket, in simply not putting anywhere near enough emphasis on reporting the facts or informing the public in Britain.

The Guardian featured one article by Trita Parsi a few weeks ago and one by Trevor Timms lambasting Trump for his 'bloodlust' on Iran: the line is that Trump is the problem more than the Washington elites , both Republican and Democrat, who would be prepared to align behind Trump is he decided on confrontation with Iran.

Parsi is one of many international diplomacy experts who have been writing in the last week of July about the Trump administration's determination to subvert the nuclear deal and project responsibility for its aggressive postures on to Iran. The New York Times has covered this and, to an extent, the Washington Post.

Parsi is clear as to the strategy,
'President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October—the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisors have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.  
The unmasking of Trump’s plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran’s fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster—eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October. 
Recognizing that refusing to certify Iran would isolate the United States, Trump’s advisors gave him another plan. Use the spot-inspections mechanism of the nuclear deal, they suggested, to demand access to a whole set of military sites in Iran. Once Iran balks—which it will since the mechanism is only supposed to be used if tangible evidence exists that those sites are being used for illicit nuclear activities—Trump can claim that Iran is in violation, blowing up the nuclear deal while shifting the blame to Tehran.
This decisive shift in the approach of Trump towards Iran was not reported in any British mainstream media outlet, despite the similarities to the build up of the war with Iraq and despite the fact Britain's government regards itself as America's 'first ally' and that any US confrontation with Iran could well drag the UK in.

The Guardian is in danger of becoming a lamer version of the Huffington Post. The international coverage throughout 2017 has been appalling. There is no news coverage of Trump's attempts to shred a deal that could prevent a major war breaking out. Just the mainstreaming information on twitterspats and outrage pieces.

On defence, Richard Norton Taylor seems to have retired and so the shameful concealment of the Saudi role in backing jihadi ideology in Britain simply has not been focused on nor the reasons why the Conservative government is intent on suppressing the 2015 commissioned report into the funding of terrorist activity from the Gulf States.

Those interested in foreign affairs, those wanting quality and balanced, objective reportage simply aren't going to want to pay for Guardian, though they would be if the coverage was better. The Guardian is fine for scanning the headlines, but so is the BBC or any other media platform. It's simply not outstanding on international affairs any more.

The Independent might not be soon. Cockburn is indispensable for understanding the Middle East. But it's disturbing that a large chunk of the shares have been snapped up by a Saudi businessman, Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel. While it might remain a 'progressive' media outlet, one wonders how long Cockburn might last.

Cockburn has done more than any other journalist in Britain to report the truth and reality of both the war in Iraq and in Syria, that Gulf State funding was a factor in the rise of ISIS and that the 'moderate rebel' propaganda trope recycled in the media was just that: the Free Syria Army had long been hijacked by jihadists.

Moreover, Cockburn is critical about the role of Saudi Arabia in funding global Wahhabi ideology and disseminating jihadi ideology-even in Britain. As he wrote just after the Manchester terrorist attack, the BBC and other media know Saudi Arabia is behind the funding the 'radicalisation' but refuse to report it.

As newspapers go online, British media is actually quite feeble compared to the US. If Trump went to war to Iran this autumn, few in Britain would have any idea that it had been brewing away much of the year or that Trump's administration had shifted towards confrontation or even some form of regime change option.

It's unclear how the US liberal media would react to Trump gearing up for a war on Iran, whether it would swing round to rally opinion behind the President, as it tended to before the Iraq War, or whether it would take a more confrontational and sceptical stance as once it did with Nixon's handling of Vietnam.

At least in the run up to the Iraq War, between 2002 to 2003, people were informed of a British government case for war they could be aware about and question. If war with Iran broke out and Britain predictably aligned 'shoulder to shoulder', it could happen very rapidly and appear as though it came 'from out of nowhere'.

Update Aug 5 2017,

The Guardian has reported more on the potential threat to the editorial freedom of the Independent,
'Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel works for NCB Capital, the investment banking arm of the National Commercial Bank, which is controlled by the Saudi government and is one of the biggest banks in the Middle East'. News of Abuljadayel’s stake emerged last week, sparking concerns that the website’s liberal political stance and hard-hitting coverage of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and foreign policy could change.  Saudi Arabia’s suppression of freedom of speech has been heavily criticised. It is one of several Middle Eastern countries that has demanded the closure of the broadcaster al-Jazeera in return for lifting a blockade of Qatar.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Britain's Humanitarian Mission in Somalia: Oil and Geopolitical Interests

More delicate questions of narrative and framing matter even less. So what if we stop talking about “aid” and start talking about “investment”? Doesn’t that just forge a more equal relationship between source nation and recipient?-Zoe Williams, The Guardian.
Aid,of course, is about Britain advancing its economic interests and, very often, gaining access to resources such as oil. This is clearly the case in Somalia. The UK pledged £100 million in 2016 and shortly later, Hassan Ali Khaire, a former director of British firm Soma Oil and Gas, was announced as the new prime minister.
Soma is also  directed by none other than Lord Michael Howard. Aid thus can help improve Britain's 'public diplomacy' in circumstances where British companies have been alleged to have provided kickbacks and bribes to government officials in order to lubricate the process of gaining oil drilling rights.
As with Serious Fraud Office investigations into allegations of corrupt arms deals made between BAE, British officials and Saudi establishment insiders, also bankrolled by taxpayer's money, all pursuit of the truth was dropped as Soma claimed investigations could cause a cash crisis as investors lost confidence.
The SFO has often found its work hampered when big oil and monied interests are at stake, as it's answerable to the Attorney General, himself often deeply interconnected to Britain's political establishment. Trying to find out if Soma bribed Somalian officials as it's the most corrupt state on earth, where Western aid often disappears.
The elections in February 2017 were actually funded by Western donors The annual London Conference, established in 2012, has been criticised as being neo-imperialist as 'the millions of dollars pledged either never arrived or were used as a slush fund by the previous political leaders and their international cronies.'
As Bashir Gith lamented 'instead of rebuilding Somalia’s national army, the friendly countries’ geopolitical goals had become detrimental not only to the need of Somalia to have its own army but also to the real sovereignty of the Somali nation.' It hastened Somalia's break up 'into bantustan-like enclaves'.
Abukar Arman, a former Somalian diplomat, was certainly not impressed by Britain's aid pledges and its ulterior motives. In a column on 'London Predatory Carnival On Somalia' in May 2017 he wrote the 'UK was far from being an honest broker, and it was the principle facilitator of a clandestine economic butchery and security dependency'.
As British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and PM Theresa May advocated humanitarian intervention, Arman complained, 
'..the UK is anxiously readying herself for an immanent economic hurricane following Brexit and the Conservative Party lead by Theresa May is eager to duplicate David Cameron’s legacy and zero-sum triumph. The successful delivery of Soma Oil & Gas had international predatory capitalists salivating and marching to the orders of the gatekeeper of the chamber of exploitation.
One reason for this jaundiced view is that Britain's geopolitical goal is to act as advocate for the military bases of its Gulf client state, the UAE, which gained access to 'Berbera seaport in the unilaterally seceded (but unrecognized ) Somaliland. It also secured a deal in Puntland and is negotiating for more. All independent of the Somali federal government.'
Establishing control over the Horn of Africa is considered part of a strategy to control the sea lanes between Somalia and Yemen, where Britain is backing the Saudi war against the Houthi rebels as part of a regional proxy war against Iran, which is seen as vying for control in the Gulf of Aden and over the Bab el Mandeb straits.
Humanitarian largesse is very much interconnected with a neo-imperialist Great Game for strategic advantage and hegemony in resource rich regions. None of this tends to get much attention in the Western media which prefers to rehash the convenient fictions about 'our values' as a way to gain the moral high ground in these struggles.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mosul: The Liberation that the Western Media Barely Covered

On the subject of propaganda, it might be worth pondering that Iraq's future is, perhaps, not best served by the way US and British use of air power in Mosul has become more lethal under President Trump. It could have contributed to around 5000 of the 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul.

None of which has been widely reported in the 'MSM'. In fact, it would almost appear there has ben a media blanket on reporting the civilian casualties as it was when Russian air power and Syrian and Iranian backed forces took east Aleppo and defeated the Sunni jihadist rebels in December 2016.

The Guardian has  focused on the real problem of Iraqi force retaliations against the families of IS fighters. Its contribution to a 'cycle of violence' that could well lead to a return of ISIS 2.0 or another Sunni militant force to protect Sunni Arabs against the Shia dominated state, one heavily influenced by neighbouring Iran.

As Patrick Cockburn of The Independent reported today ,
The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016.
Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign minister, told me in an interview last week: “Kurdish intelligence believes that over 40,000 civilians have been killed as a result of massive firepower used against them, especially by the Federal Police, air strikes and Isis itself.”
The real number of dead who are buried under the mounds of rubble in west Mosul is unknown, but their numbers are likely to be in the tens of thousands, rather than the much lower estimates previously given.
Cockburn, of course, correctly points out that ISIS was using civilians as human shields, a claim denied when it was made about jihadi groups in east Aleppo doing just that. The West has very little moral high ground over the wars in Syria and Iraq. If ISIS is going to be combated as 'an idea', this hardly helps.

Western strategies need drastic revision for if the Sunnis are going to be subjected to retaliation or sectarian dominance by the Shia again in Iraq, then the prospect of ISIS reviving or another jihadi organisation gaining ground once more would be quite probable, not least if the US and Iran clash in the region.
The figure given by Mr Zebari for the number of civilians killed in the nine-month siege is far higher than those previously reported, but the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government has a reputation for being extremely accurate and well-informed. Isis prevented any monitoring of casualties while outside groups have largely focused on air strikes rather than artillery and rocket fire as a cause of civilian deaths. Airwars, one such monitoring group, estimated that attacks may have killed 5,805 non-military personnel in the city between 19 February and 19 June. 
Cockburn also makes plain that Iraqi state force military action to take Mosul was indiscriminate too, rivalling Assad's forces for brutality. There were no open criticism in the Guardian as there had been over east Aleppo. In fact, the liberation of Mosul has barely featured that much in the mainstream Western media.
Much of the blame for the calamitous level of destruction in west Mosul has been put on air strikes, but it is evident at ground level that a lot of the damage was caused by artillery shells and rockets. This is confirmed by an Amnesty International report issued last week titled At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul, Iraq, which points to a greater and more indiscriminate use of its firepower by pro-government forces in the final stages of the attack on east Mosul, starting in January 2017 and continuing over the following six months during the assault on west Mosul. It says that Iraqi government and US-led coalition forces “relied heavily upon explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions). With their crude targeting abilities, these weapons wreaked havoc in densely populated west Mosul, where large groups of civilians were trapped in homes or makeshift shelters”.

Monday, 26 June 2017

2017: The Coming US War with Iran.

'There is a geopolitical conflict with Washington and Tehran on opposing sides of the chessboard. Trump is risking war not to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence, but rather to eliminate it. Knowing this, Iran’s missile strikes were in part to send a message: “We will not allow Syria to leave our orbit for yours.”'
-Reza Marashi of the National Iranian-American Council.
The war in the Greater Middle East has continued throughout 2017. While Russia gained the decisive upper hand in Syria by late 2016 after crushing the Sunni rebel forces there, the US accelerated its military response in Iraq and north-east Syria in bombarding ISIS in Mosul up through into the capital of the Islamic State in Raqqa.

While the Western media focused on east Aleppo as a humanitarian tragedy and carried daily reports of men carrying injured and dead infants out of dusty and rubble strewn streets, there has been almost no mainstream media attention on the civilian casualties of the US campaign, despite the UN claiming that war crimes had been committed.

One reason is that the Western led cause is regarded as a just war because while Russia's hit Sunni jihadists rebranded as 'moderate rebels', the US is attacking an ISIS that supposedly is not a splinter group from the very same pool of Al Qaida affiliated groups that Russia was fighting. The double standards require Russia's enemy to be 'moderate'.

The civilian casualties of Trump's decision to 'let the generals off the leash', which increased by 60% in 2017, are not considered worthy of such media focus as east Aleppo was. But the shift has been reported in the mainstream US liberal media, probably because Trump is attacking it daily and because of the 'collusion with Russia' theory.

USA Today reported,

 'A British-based human rights monitoring group estimated Friday that U.S.-led coalition strikes had killed almost 500 civilians in the past month —more than any month since... U.S. bombing began. A United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that coalition airstrikes have caused a "staggering loss of civilian life." The carnage is sufficiently embarrassing that "the Pentagon will no longer acknowledge when its own aircraft are responsible for civilian casualty incidents," Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations recently noted. U.S.-led forces are reportedly bombarding the besieged city of Raqqa with white phosphorous, a munition that burns intensely and is prohibited by international law from use against civilians'.

The increased bombardment is about Trump being able to pose as strongman alternative to the weak Obama. The second purpose is to build on the renewed affirmation of Saudi Arabia's status as first ally in the region that was witnessed at the May Riyadh Summit, where Trump accused regional rival Iran supporting 'terrorism'.

This was followed by President Trump supporting Saudi Arabia's declaration of diplomatic warfare and blockade on the tiny gas rich emirate. One he tweeted was about Qatar's support for 'terrorism' and 'extremism'. 'Extremism' tends to mean any violent military group that does not fit in which US geopolitical interests while 'moderates' do.

The Qatar-Saudi Crisis: Fears of a Qatari Tilt Towards Tehran.

The Saudi ultimatum to Qatar is of a piece with the scaling up of US military action in eastern Syria throughout June 2017 against Iranian backed forces and those of Assad. The Saudis have every interest in ratcheting up the pressure on Qatar as the crisis broke after Doha and Tehran decided to develop new Persian Gulf gas reserves.

This has incensed Saudi Arabia because Qatar put a moratorium in 2005 on developing the North field that it shares with Iran, which calls it the South Pars. Even before this, Qatar had been unwilling to supply its GCC neighbours with gas or to develop the field to supply them with discount price gas. It lifted that moratorium in April 2017.

The issue at stake is whether Qatar lifting it is connected to a geopolitical 'tilt' towards Tehran in co-operating with the development of South Pars. Contacts and talks between the two countries geared at boosting cooperation in gas exploration and production have occurred before when Rouhani was elected in 2013.

The moderate Rouhani was elected again in May 2017. Saudi Arabia fears that Qatari independence, based on its gas wealth, could lead to it taking over as a rival pole of regional power and thus act as a growing threat to Saudi led GCC hegemony, not least when set against the background of Iranian ascendancy in Syria and Iraq.

The lifting of the self-imposed ban came as Iran's extraction rates caught up with Qatar's and created a fear that Qatar had bended to Iran's concerns before in not developing the fields while under US sanctions and without the ability to draw on Western expertise to develop them. The Obama nuclear deal ended those sanctions in 2014.

Instead of pursuing nuclear power, the compensatory benefit was that corporations such as Total moved in to help Iran develop its South Pars gas fields. Given that Qatar was non-committal towards the GCC states and had rivalled them for dominance over the Sunni rebels in Syria until 2014, their defeat has led to Qatar dropping their cause.

Turkey, which is aligned in a rival Sunni axis with Doha, realigned towards Russia in Syria to balance itself between a German dominated EU critical of his consolidation of domestic powers and shift towards authoritarian rule on the Putin model in Moscow. Qatar balanced Turkish support with realigning towards Tehran against Riyadh.

The Saudis and other GCC states ranged against Iran have feared Qatar's support for Islamist groups in the region could lead to disaffected Shias rising up, as was clear in Bahrain back in 2012 after the Arab Spring broke out. They have also failed to contain Houthi forces in Yemen since 2015 which they regard as an Iranian front.

Hizbollah and Prospect of Third Lebanon War.

Hizbollah has been active in Yemen and in the clashes in eastern Syria. Nasrallah has already boasted that after defeating ISIS it could send 'hundreds of thousands' of Shia Islamist fighters to Southern Lebanon if war were to break out between it and Israel. A Third Lebanon War could break out in the summer of 2017.

Tensions have been ready to boil over throughout the course of 2017 as Trump has swung wholly behind Netanyahu's right wing Likud government while Obama had had frosty relations with Tel Aviv. Israel's position towards the Syrian conflict was hostile both to Iran's for backing Hizbollah and towards Qatar for backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel's stance was that the Sunni-Shia conflict was its problem: it had advantages in splitting the Islamist threat between Shia Hizbollah and Sunni Hamas and its attitude is quite similar to Henry Kissinger's during the Iraq-Iran War when he opined 'it's a pity they can't both lose'. But with Iranian backed forces ascendant, tensions have risen.

One reason seldom mentioned is the scramble to control the offshore gas fields off Israel and Lebanon which straddle the maritime borders and, of course, Southern Lebanon where Hizbollah has its power base. The US had previously mediated to prevent disputes over Eastern Mediterranean breaking out, but not now.

Israel could well see a US military push back again Iran in the region as a pretext for launching a Third Lebanon War to secure these gas reserves and destroy Hizbollah's rocket stocks, as well as to degrade its military out of fear it could grow as a disproportionate threat as Shia fighters refocus upon Israel with ISIS defeated.

The US-Saudi Fear of Russo-Iranian Regional Hegemony

The Hizbollah 'threat' to Israel and Yemen, in addition to the US fear of a land bridge opening up between eastern Syria, Iraq and Iran is one factor behind the escalation of US backed forces and fighters in that region. The Caliphate is crumbling and the Saudis are more concerned with Iranian and Qatari regional 'terrorism'.

The prestige and regional power of the Gulf States would come under threat from the construction of a 'Shia Crescent' stretching from Tehran through to the Eastern Mediterranean. For Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, this crystallises the new civilizational threat of Russo-Iranian hegemony.

'Arrayed on the other side of the great Muslim civil war are the Sunnis, moderate and Western-allied, led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan — with their Great Power patron, the United States, now (post-Obama) back in action. As the Islamic State is driven out of Mosul, Iranian-controlled militias are taking over crucial roads and other strategic assets in western Iraq. Next target: eastern Syria (Raqqa and environs).'

Krauthammer conflates the GCC states with 'moderates', as if to imply the 'extremists' were on the Iranian side and that the Sunni forces that lost in the course of 2015 were heroic democrats rather than jihadi militias. some aligned with Al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia is a leading exporter of  jihadi-salafist ideology of the sort that spawned IS.

Krauthammer claims Russia would be the 'outside hegemon' and Iran is in 'an alliance' with it. However, Iran has quite different ambition that Russia in Syria. One ambition behind Putin's military intervention was to block off a Persian Gulf gas pipeline between it and the Eastern Mediterranean either a rival Qatari or Iranian one.

The next part is the usual shifting op-ed line designed to justify US military intervention : 'The Iranian-Russian strategy is a nightmare for the entire Sunni Middle East. And for us, too. The Pentagon seems bent on preventing it. Hence the Tomahawk attack for crossing the chemical red line. Hence the recent fighter-bomber shootdown'.

What's interesting about Krauthammer's propaganda is that the Great Power political basis for the Tomahawk attack is admitted as being in reality about power political games rather than out of any humanitarian concern for the victims of any chemical weapons attack or actually establishing the truth as to what exactly happened.

The idea Russia and Iran are colluding to prevent the US plan for cantonisation of Syria as part of a peace plan is fiction. It was actually Russia that proposed this after the US in April 2017 used the alleged gas attack and dead infants propaganda asset as a pretext to fire the Tomahawks and place the US back as a player on the Syrian chessboard.

The loss of the Sunni jihadist groups in Syria in east Aleppo in December 2016 was a blow for Saudi prestige. The GCC alliance is feeling humiliated and has every interest in the US being lulled into a clash with Iran. Trump has failed to offset Saudi aggression by tilting towards Tehran as Obama did in order to defeat ISIS and rein in Riyadh.

Trump's staunch support for the Saudis saw him fall right into the trap they set for him in placing his credibility solely on support for an Arab NATO and leaning towards them and Egypt rather than the rival Turkey-Qatar axis. As Qatar leant towards Iran, and with Assad ascendant in Syria, Trump's administration is targeting Iran.

Despite the contradictory statements to those of Trump emanating from Tillerson and Mattis, in their determination to balance support for Riyadh with acting as honest brokers over its unfortunate diplomatic war with Doha, the Trump administration is unified in regarding the degradation of Iranian regional power as a major ambition.

At present, American foreign policy looks in disarray but Trump's administration is not prepared to have Iran determine any post-ISIS political settlement and, more disturbing, it seems utterly uninterested in engaging in diplomacy with Iran. This has led Iranian diplomats to question whether the nuclear agreement would last.

The Shift Towards a Regime Change Stance Towards Iran.

A US War with Iran in the summer of 2017 is a developing prospect. Russia remains a power it can do nothing about in Syria but it would be in a stronger position vis-à-vis Moscow if Tehran's regional power was diminished and it could try military strikes and support for the MeK as means to do so and promote 'regime change'.

Certain strategic analysts have seen parallels to Trump's approach and that in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003. Additional sanctions are being pushed through on Iran. Tillerson called in words for regime change', though 'peaceful'. MeK spokesmen are being courted in Washington warning of Iran's ballistic missile sites.

MeK supported Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War and carried out terrorist attacks inside Iran. It's on and off the list of official terrorist groups according to geopolitical circumstances. They are a well funded lobby group supported by the US which hosts speakers from the US political establishment and themselves in Washington.

Rex Tillerson in front of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee proclaimed 'Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government'.

While Tillerson has sought to reassure Qatar that the US stands by it, with the State Department even criticising the Saudi ultimatum, Trump has tweeted continuous criticisms of Doha's support for 'terrorism' to show Israel and Saudi Arabia that there is no shade of grey between Islamist terrorism on the one hand and them on the other.

This has been seen as evidence of a polycratic chaos within the US stimulated by Trump's administration and bungling amateur approach to world politics. But while there are contradictions and mixed signals, the idea the US is being 'sucked' into eastern Syria is facile. It's part of Trump's military first approach to power politics.

This was apparent from Michael Flynn's comment, as Trump came to power, that Iran was being 'put on notice'. Trump let the generals 'off the leash' so that they could bomb their way to victory and to smash ISIS in northern Iraq the way Russia and Assad crushed the Sunni rebels. Once destroyed, then Iran's militias would be next.

There is consistency in having Iran portrayed as the 'new threat' because, prior to Trump taking over in January 2017, the US had been humiliated over Syria. Obama's policy was in ruins as east Aleppo fell and the aim under Trump has been to reposition the US under him as credible heavyweight player prepared to wage absolute war.

Given that it cannot go to war with Russia in Syria, targeting Iran offers a way of reuniting the Gulf States together under a US aegis and to prove the value of the strategic partnerships. Meanwhile, Iran can be portrayed as the rogue state trying to draw Qatar into its orbit and destabilise the Middle East by its actions and 'threats'.

Any war with Iran would be portrayed as a result of 'Iranian aggression', of a new 'terrorist threat' emerging to take over from ISIS and being sponsored by Iran in every country in the region. The Saudis under the new Crown Prince Salman are already gloating about their ability to 'reach inside' Iran ( hint: through terrorist attacks).

The provocation is about forcing Iran to overstep the mark so that the US then would have a pretext to act against it in defence of both Israel and the Gulf States. Riyadh appears to be trying to push this, while flattering Trump's ego as a Great Leader. Analysts even think the stepping up of  military action in eastern Syria is designed to do this.

Trita Parsi refers to the 'explosive'. circumstances in the Greater Middle East 'An impression is given that this is an accidental escalation, but I'm not sure. Look at the totality of the Trump administration's statements on Iran – sanctions, hints of regime change, no diplomacy … these were the ingredients of the Iraq war.'
 

A War with Iran as 'Escape Forwards' for the US and Britain.

The war with Iran could be triggered in tandem with a Third Lebanon War between Israel and Hizbollah , clashes in eastern Syria, and the tilt of Qatar towards Iran being portrayed as yet more Iranian plots to break up the unity and regional hegemony of the Gulf States in partnership with the US and United Kingdom.

A full scale crisis could break out in July and then there would be in Britain the controversy whether to align with the US as a time of domestic political turbulence within over Brexit. May is weak and backed by the DUP in Northern Ireland, a party of Christian-Zionists who extol Israel as a Chosen State and People like their own.

Foreign Secretary Johnson visited Israel in February and concurred with Netanyahu's concern over Iran's ballistic missile capability. Already it has fired them in June 2017 against targets in eastern Syria that the Western media has doubted were 'terrorist'. If the US started a move to war, Johnson would support Washington.

Johnson's a right wing populist emulating Trump's readiness to do and say whatever's necessary for power. He had criticised Trump consistently for his demagoguery only to do a U turn after he became President, to praise his 'exciting agenda' and claim the special relationship was bigger that the particular PM and President.

One benefit of an Iranian threat and British military intervention would be to seal the US-UK partnership and for the Tories to be able to portray Corbyn as both unpatriotic defender of Sinn Fein, sympathiser with Hizbollah and Iran and to split the PLP over whether to align behind its US partner or to betray the 'special relationship'.

Into this renewed and fired up cultural warfare would come Michael Gove, who's returned back to the Cabinet and regards Iran as a 'mountain fortress of terror' and part of a global 'seamless totalitarian movement'. In late 2016, as east Aleppo fell, he castigated British 'appeasers' of Iran as 'Iran is Smiling at the Blood Spilt in Syria'.

Gove's neoconservative ideological fanaticism is a clear indication of where the Conservative Party hierarchy is as regards Syria and Iran. Gove is a close ally of Boris Johnson over the Leave campaign and a staunch Atlanticist of like-minded view to the Foreign Secretary and Dr Liam Fox.

Gove neatly encapsulates one Anglo-American worldview.

'For the Iranian regime, the West’s agreement to a nuclear deal was another sign of weakness, irresolution and short-termism. Iran will be free from any constraint after 15 years, and indeed it can prepare for the rapid acquisition of nuclear capability well before then. And all the time it can use, and has used, western danegeld to build up the armed forces now merrily slaughtering Syrian civilians...I strongly support any action to counter Iran’s advance and help Syria’s innocents but I fear that the moment of greatest opportunity passed in 2013. If Iran now wins its war in Syria it will turn its attentions more widely. It is already supporting the Houthi takeover of Yemen, fomenting unrest in majority-Shia Bahrain, funding Islamic State’s offshoot in the Sinai, extending its hold over Iraq’s political culture and seeking to radicalise Shia minorities in other states such as Saudi Arabia. Iran has rekindled its relationship with Hamas and will deploy Hezbollah to terrorise Israel from the bases that it will shortly control on the Lebanese and Syrian borders.”

Gove is a friend of media magnate Rupert Murdoch who lauded the Iraq invasion as one that would ensure petrol prices would go down and so would be as popular as a tax cut. He is also a middle man between both of them and President Trump. This, and the bid for Murdoch to re-take control over SKY News, would help war propaganda.

Gove is Environment Secretary but he is also a potential leadership contender for becoming the next PM should a weak May fall. She would need to defer to his views as well as those of Johnson, another contender who has considered himself to have 'The Churchill Factor', so much so that he wrote a book about his projected alter ego.

Britain is also toxically dependent upon the Saudi 'security partnership' after Brexit as a market for lucrative BAE arms deals and London as an investment destination for recycled petro-currency. Projecting the 'terror threat' on to Iran would deflect attention from the domestic failure to prevent jihadi-terrorist attacks in 2017.

The suppression of the 2015 government commissioned report into Saudi funding for jihadi ideology in British mosques, for containing material 'too sensitive', led to Corbyn demanding its publication. Being able to portray Corbyn as 'enemy within' for opposing war with Iran would be useful in upholding the sanctity of the national security state.

Donald Trump is likewise besieged by sniping critics trying to use his alleged Russian connection during his Presidential campaign as a pretext to impugn his patriotism and thus bring down a President who humiliated Republican contenders and Hillary Clinton, indeed, the entire Washington establishment by winning against them.

The only moment so far when the Washington establishment rallied round Trump was when he fired the Tomahawk missiles against Assad's airbase. A war with Iran is one of the few ways in which he could unite both Republican and Democrat politicians who have otherwise regarded him as pro-Russian as it's aligned with Iran over Syria.

Both the US and UK governments are threatened at home by enemies. Both contain 'patriots' ready to see military action as a way to 'escape forwards' and portray internal opponents and the hostile media as 'enemies within' and 'unpatriotic'. This was one of the reasons why the Great Powers blundered towards war in Europe in 1914.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit Ambiguity and the Idea of a National Government

Jeremy Corbyn keeps insisting he is a PM in waiting and for another election, though he would be best off not pushing that too hard at the present due to voting fatigue and because Brexit is a poisoned chalice. As Larry Elliott puts it 'the Tories own it', so it would be best to ascertain what's on offer from the EU.

The danger to Corbyn could that splits are opining up with the PLP over Brexit, as much of the 'right' of the party still resent his being leader and would prefer a 'soft Brexit' to soft that it doesn't amount to Leave. The voting base is divided between working class Leavers and middle class Remainers or Soft-Brexit 'Re-Leavers'.

Corbyn has hedged his position on Brexit. His middle class leftist populism has him as a radical totem pole for those wanting 'a different and better world' and to campaign 'as if' Brexit was secondary. He's offering a socialist commonweal as a substitute for a resurgent British patriotism and Global Empire 2.0 vision.

That is useful for fudging Brexit and tacking towards social and economic transformation as the only way forward to remove the grievances that led to Brexit. A socialist millennium would offer 'hope' and a substitute for the radical right wing populism of UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative Party.

The new bourgeois Corbynites in the PLP have embraced the vision as it's roused dormant youthful radical dreams. This is one reason Peter Mandelson celebrated the 'political earthquake' of Corbyn's relative success in challenging May. But much of the vote was about sabotaging Theresa May's 'give me the mandate'.

The scene is set in the second part of 2017 for some vicious cultural warfare. This is why the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling for a National Government to heal divisions over Brexit. The right of Labour would be positioning themselves in this regard with the left of the Tories to have a National Unity Government.

This National Government could be pushed by those comparing 2017 to 1931 and the impact of the Great Depression and the threats of dangerous political polarisation. The problem with it is it would be seen as part of a plot to downgrade and exclude not just the Tory right but also as a move against the anti-Establishment Corbyn.

Nick Cohen : Post -Truth Politics and Internal Exile.

'Internal exiles are still agitated by political ideas. They have little in common with the apathetic citizen who takes no notice of the news. Internal exiles back away from public life because they see no chance of their ideas ever winning, however much energy they devote to the fight. They are not apolitical but anti-political. Their former campaigning energy has diminished to sitting in front of the television and swearing at the news.'
-Nick Cohen, The Observer

Nick Cohen has an interesting point on the idea of 'internal exile' and how it differs from gormless idiotic apathy. There are those who don't vote who are very alive to current ideas and politics . But they regard themselves as permanently alienated from the absurd and outdated two and a bit party politics Britain has.

Cohen's an internal exile from the Leave referendum result, Brexit and the way both political parties have accepted the verdict. He lumps Corbyn together with 'radical Islam, Trump and Putin as illiberal threats to Western civilisation from within and without, the better to position himself and the centrist liberal consensus as 'rational'.

The problem is that it is not clear it was 'rational'. Cohen thought Tony Blair was rational when he launched the Iraq War with George Bush, because no matter the divisions between a liberal-left PM and a right-wing President, both were united in defending the principles taking out 'new Hitlers' such as Saddam Hussein.

Cohen is convinced Brexit and Trump's election saw the victory of post-truth politics. But his own obsession with spinning it this way is mostly about veiling his own role in supporting the irrational politics of Blair in the run up to Iraq, putting forward a fictionally simplified comic book world of global and baddies.

As John Gray has pointed out, post-truth politics preceded Brexit. It was in overdrive in the run up to the Iraq War with the WMD pretexts for invasion, the '45 minute warning', portrayal of the oil rationale as a 'conspiracy theory' and Blair's declaration in 2004 that 'I only know what I believe', that intuition and beliefs mattered, facts less.

The spin and deception accompanying the Iraq War was replicated numerous times thereafter. The Libyan War and Syria policy of aiding 'moderate rebels' ( Sunni jihadists ) is a piece with the idea of wish thinking, sincere at times, replacing intelligent fact based calculations and decisions. What mattered was the will to believe.

Britain has an infantile political culture that works against the idea of unwelcome truths and reality being faced. The majority of politicians have every self interest in colluding with illusions of either a resurgent UK as Global Empire 2.0 after Brexit or else as one that under Corbyn could End Empire and transition to a socialist commonweal.

Corbyn has surged as it appears as a genuine alternative and because this would have been on offer years ago in Britain at the time of the Iraq War in 2003 had Britain a proper representative democracy for the 21st Century. That way his ideas and party manifestos would have had proper scrutiny and he would have had to take responsibility.

As it is, his past positions that do not fit in with the image of a responsible statesman in waiting to be PM have been consigned to Orwell's memory hole. Corbyn's support for Hugo Chavez's 21st Century Socialism experiment has been disappeared from his website and his role in the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign ignored and downplayed.

With proportional representation, the Brexit referendum as a revolt against the Westminster elites would not have happened or, if it had, there would have been a more sensible and informed debate and a more effective representative democracy taking into account those not in favour of Leave. As it stands, millions feel disenfranchised.

Proportional representation would have ensured Corbyn was leader of a Socialist Party in Parliament. Farage would have been with UKIP instead of being the free floating political wing of the tabloid media, using his MEP status as part of a 'Daniel in the Lion's Den' act and resigning from leader of UKIP once it he'd used it to get Brexit.

Britain has an absurd nineteenth century system suitable for empire and a vanished period when Prime Ministers had to be global leaders. It produces absurd figures such as Tony Blair, dramatic ham actors obsessed with their 'decisive' and 'tough' political 'interventions' as shoddy mini-me versions of the US President.

Increasing numbers are fed up with the entire system and the childish lack of maturity it encourages. Few, even Tories, take seriously the absurd pantomime version of Dame Judi Dench's 'M' that Theresa May is playing. Though it's heresy to say it, those who are not fans of Corbyn are alienated from his secular saint status.

Those 'Corbynites' behind Him are so desperate for the socialist millennium, that any criticism that isn't demonization is seized upon and slammed as if the critic had a mental illness, is a 'secret Tory quisling', a 'crypto-Blairite', a relic of the past about to be 'beaten' and thrown into the dustbin of 'History' along with the 'bloody Tories'.

Cohen himself might want to go into 'internal exile' but many have been in such as place since the Blair regime was established in 1997. The contribution of this regime, one Cohen was critical of for its venality, to the current discontents on both populist right and left is clear, not least for its contribution to post-truth politics.

Progressive liberals bemoan Brexit and post-truth politics hypocritically when once they aligned behind 'the master' who was Blair. The Iraq War wasn't just a 'mistake' by Blair but the necessary consequence of his Presidential style of government, the use of spin and of 'shaping the media narrative' and other mechanisms.

The Brexit revolt was, amongst other factors, a rejection of the idea of that the electorate could be cajoled by fears and threats if they did not choose to align behind what their elite betters were telling them to do-or else the alternative would be a disaster. It was a rejection of this 'either/or' form of manipulation.

The snap General Election proved much the same. May was attempting to fight for an elite led populist Brexit by appeal to some non-existent centre ground that no longer exists as once it did under Blair. Cohen senses this has disintegrated, that the centre no longer holds but he simply blames it on politicians playing with populism.

Again, Britain has polarised between rightist and leftist populisms but populism is being used as if this was new and that Blair's regime was not based on populism either when it's clear it was, as evinced in the weird political cross dressing of the Millennium period, as with 'left-wing cases for neo-conservatism' and so on.

The result of the Blair era and successive incompetence in foreign policy and a failed economic order hitting home in the last decade, has been the desire for a new purified creed to identify with and baddies to fight. In this sense, Corbynstas are quite similar to those like Cohen with the baddies and goodies reversed around.

The Coming War with Iran as New Higher Cause of Western Unity.

Cohen might despair that the old control levers are snapping in elite hands. But the next shock to the existing system is going to be the looming prospect of a US war with Iran. Trump's administration is escalating the war in eastern Syria and heading towards a clash with Iran that could trigger off a direct confrontation.

The summer could end with stormy confrontations within Britain. If the UK could sit it out, the better but it has a special relationship, much of the PLP is Atlanticist and Corbyn is anti-war and, it is thought, pro-Iran. Both parties could be split over whether to align with Trump over Iran. Interesting, if bleak times.

It would be grimly amusing to witness how columnists who advocated the Iraq War, such as Nick Cohen, would then swing back around to the idea of backing another war against Iran as 'radical Islamist threat' as the IS Caliphate crumbles through Russian and US bombardment and Iranian backed militias seizing its territory.

Cohen is already toying with the idea he needs a higher cause to fight and write for, one linked to his his need to 'take a stance' and defend Civilisation as he knows it ' I should end with a rousing call to fight. I could do it because with Brexit, radical Islam, Trump, Corbyn and Putin, I have never felt a more urgent need to write'.
It's hardly as good as George Orwell's Why I Write. All these seamlessly integrated illiberal evil forces conspiring as one against the good and decent once more. What Cohen needs is a War that would  It's always like 1939, in fact it's been like we've been stuck in 1939 since 2003 or 2001 on the brink of a Global War against Evil.

Cohen need not worry too much. There is a war with Iran coming, so there's going to be a need for a new War of Civilisation, even if it's led by Trump, it should be possible to rummage around for some stock clichés such as 'a stopped clock is right once' or some other phrases calling for alignment with the US against 'Islamofascist' Iran.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Glastonbury: Britain, War and 'Empire is No More'.

'Tens of thousands gathered to watch Corbyn in the mid afternoon, a crowd of the size typically reserved for Glastonbury headliners. Almost all watching were fans; many wore T-shirts bearing his face or name, and there were banners of appreciation in the crowds. 
“When Theresa May called the snap election, going back on what she said previously, Corbyn had a right to challenge that,” said Danny Owen, 27.  
“He’s been challenged by his own party twice and over came it. He galvanised it and Labour made inroads because of Corbyn and his manifesto. He’s become a figurehead now. He’s relatable. People say he’s radical, but I don’t think he is – he wants fair wages and outcomes and well funded social services. The fact people see that as radical is a sad indictment of our society.'
Corbyn is radical in the fundamental sense of being a politician with an ideological vision of Britain that requires root and branch reform, even one of democratic social and economic revolution. This is to achieved by transforming Britain from a post-imperial state into a radical socialist commonweal 'for the many, not the few'.

Shelley was much like Corbyn, a radical anti-Establishment figure who himself came from the privileged class and rebelled against the class hierarchies and cruelties of the British Imperial state in the age of falling wages, impoverishment and huge debts racked up by involvement in the Napoleonic Wars.

Parliament, as in 2017 as two centuries before saw social hardships, mass demonstrations and a drive towards radical reform. This was an age of revolution and Corbyn is knowingly tapping into this vein of native British radicalism in offering his 'alternative vision', one appealing to students as much as heritage radicals.

Corbyn, after all, comes as the ultimate alternative to Tony Blair who came to power in 1997 and fought wars in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, fatefully, the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. It's been a period of war in the Middle East and what Corbyn has portrayed as a growing cycle of violence and 'inevitable' terrorist blowback.

Wars and the 'war on terror' are interconnected just as they were for radicals in the 1830s who were feared as surging mobs waiting to murder the elites and overthrow the existing order. As Adam Zamoyski has related, old regime states then conjured up exaggerated plots so as to justify increased police and surveillance powers.

This is very much true of Theresa May whose cold, pale and remote visage and 'dead eyed' callous demeanour is considered like those thundered against by Shelley in the Masque of Anarchy ( 1819 ). With riots predicted after the Grenfell Tower fire, London could well be heading for a time of violence and police repression.

Billy Bragg has long been an ally in this radical plebeian English challenge to 'the Establishment' Britishness he opposed in the early 1980s when he and Paul Weller launched 'Red Wedge'. He now plays at venues in Dorset celebrating the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1834 and then retires to his large village house.

Politics has been galvanised once more by Brexit towards issues of identity and power politics as well as the prospect of polarisation between rival left and right nationalism. May's Brexit is a post-imperial one that draws on Britain's supposed Great Power role in the world whereas Corbyn's Labour wants a socialist commonwealth.

Both visions are very British ones, though Corbyn's is anti-nationalist in so far as it is against the idea of Britain being an imperialist state one that 'turns swords into ploughshares' and through a great abnegation of its power would act to promote true 'internationalism' by ending empire and being a force for peace in the UN.

The irony of this is that it implies in no way Britain simply adapting after Brexit to the diminished position in the world both Leaving the EU and rejecting the US 'special relationship' would mean. The US is heading towards a war with Iran and this could mean rejecting Trump entirely and Saudi Arabia.

The vision also is antiquated because Britain simply isn't that important any more, so the abnegation and moral example setting advocated by radicals in the 1960s and 1970s by those like Tony Benn is even less relevant in 2017 than it was when Corbyn was his model pupil and greatest fan in Parliament.

Glastonbury as a concert and heritage spectacle harks back to the long peace after the Second World War and the 1960s spirit of youthful optimism. Wilson kept Britain out of Vietnam but this was back in the day when Britain did not have such a toxic and close connection with Saudi Arabia and integrated arms deal connection.

This summer is destined not to be 'one of love' but more like one of emerging terror and tension as Trump escalates hostilities towards Iran, Britain proceeds with Brexit and is faced with the potential for a decision as to whether back Trump or stay out. It's going to be fateful if this looks to be the case, not least as riots are predicted already.

Any attempt by Great Game playing politicians such as Foreign Secretary Johnson to align behind Trump would lead to direct confrontation on the streets between anti-war protesters, those angered and incensed by the decaying neoliberal regime of austerity and the fraying fabric of social infrastructure on the brink of collapse.

Trump has already put off a state visit to Britain through 'fear' of mobs and demonstrations that called upon a 'British resistance' to his 'regime' and May being an uncritical and slavishly obedient client. Tony Blair is universally loathed for the Iraq War and a war on Iran would be even more controversial given the effect Blair's war had.

Britain as a Tired Global Player.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, has come under fire for calling on broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” in their Brexit coverage.
Politics is a game, despite May's attempt to pretend it isn't while acting very much so as though it is. What Leadsom is doing is trying to play a slightly UKIP line about the media not being free and dominated by a sinister liberal elite. The accusation, then from Farron, that Leadsom is 'sinister' means then, that Farron is 'sinister'.

Calling for the media to be 'a bit patriotic' implies the idea it is trying to sabotage Leaving the EU, one which might have an element of truth as many liberals are very unhappy and resentful about it and so want to balance the right wing media bias for Leave with 'a bit' of its own bias in showing May in every photo looking deranged.

'But she is deranged and evil !' squeal the detractors. The point, however, is that it's a sign of a lack of confidence in arguments and reason for the liberal media and politicians to start playing the same subtle mass media conditioning mechanisms as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or other abysmal 'newspapers'.

May is a sinister authoritarian but the trend towards that was set in motion long ago by the Blair regime and its spin machine and post-truth politics. Brexit has only given an added impetus to the potential for a melding of media and political power towards a model that exists in Putin's Russia. But it wasn't the cause of it.

Certain liberal progressives are just in a tantrum because the politics of mass manipulation and conditioning of opinion on no rational and post-truth grounds has been seized upon with greater zeal by the populist right in Britain. When New Labour was at it, it was at best mildly criticised and seen as a regrettable necessity in modern politics.

Unfortunately, liberal progressives are reaping the consequences of the post-truth politics they pursued with patronising disdain for 'the masses' in their heyday during the Blair years. The lack of public confidence in a relentlessly bland and manipulative set on 'on message' clone MPs and the Iraq War discredited them entirely.

It set the way forwards for a populist 'tell it like it is' anti-liberal establishment politicians like Nigel Farage to rise and push Brexit as a 'solution'. The Iraq War was unpopular not only with the left and liberals who suddenly discovered Blair was into manipulation and deception but also with the populist right who saw him as 'Bliar'.

The hard truth is Britain's dysfunctional political system barely works any more and it could be heading for a crisis of legitimacy as economic volatility increases. The EU is not actually in broad sunlit uplands either and this could make for a period of political turbulence and also a renewed upsurge in nationalism, not least in Britain.

'British nationalism' is a paradox as Britain is actually the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is no 'British nation' but a dynastic state that unified multiple 'nations' together under one crown from the Tudor period onwards or, from arguably, an earlier time. Even so Britain is not a nation.

The UK, however, was an imperial state in which 'Britishness' was fostered as a project of unionism and as a Great Power to which allegiance and affection could be nurtured. The closer integration with the EU, for good or ill, had tended to water this down a lot by the 1990s with Blair's devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Leave vote in the 2016 referendum shakes all this once more. As Brexit proceeds in turbulent times, any deterioration of EU-British relations could well lead to a resurgence of Britishness once more. The indications are this could have been a factor in the Tory success in the June 2017 election which saw 'indyref2' decisively rejected.

Politics has been galvanised once more by Brexit towards issues of identity and power politics as well as the prospect of polarisation between rival left and right nationalism. May's Brexit is a post-imperial one that draws on Britain's supposed Great Power role in the world whereas Corbyn's Labour wants a socialist commonweal.

Both visions are British ones, though Corbyn's is anti-nationalist in so far as it is against the idea of Britain being an imperialist state and one that turns swords into ploughshares and through a great abnegation of its power would act as a Great Power promoting true 'internationalism' by ending empire and being a force for peace in the UN.

The irony of this, as AJP Taylor once pointed out as regards CND and the peace campaigners, is that it depends on Britain retaining this status as a Global Player. It might be that if Brexit, soft or hard or however 'staged', means a turn away from Great Power status through nuclear weapons and military power, then it effectively means no global role.

Britain, in other words, under Corbyn would be better off simply permanently renouncing its status as a Global Player and becoming a nation as insignificant as Switzerland or Norway. This would imply a certain determination to break with the post-1945 US led Western order and imply the final conclusive end to Britain's imperial story.

Of course, that isn't what Corbyn is openly calling for as it certainly is not want the PLP would want with so many of it having geared their careers and status up towards strutting around as Global Players. But, as Linda Colley has made plain, it is time that the British might have to learn to let go of their sense of entitlement in the world.

While that would appear to be clear with the stalling elite Brexit populist project offered by May, it seems less the case with Corbyn's alternative Bennite vision of the socialist millennium which implies it could afford both Brexit, though a 'soft one', a social and economic programme of nationalisation and social welfare spending.

The Labour manifesto, though 'costed', depended on the economy ticking along without the cost of Brexit. If that's on the agenda, then Colley suggests Labour would really have to consider whether it could really afford Trident renewal. Corbyn was against but he puts out controversial decisions to 'collegiate' ones when they threaten his leadership.

Britain is best by two competing visions of the future, neither of which from either party is connected much to the reality of priorities or of telling the British public that if it wants Brexit, it cannot remain a Global Player and its decline to a more insignificant offshore island means getting used giving up on a lot of its influence in the world.

Many in Britain might accept this as a cost for splendid isolation'. There is barely any appetite for military interventionism or the idea of making the globe safe for democracy elsewhere. The Blair, Brown and Cameron years and the folly and waste of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya Wars have put an end to this.

Even so, the elites are loath to give up on their status through self importance and obsessive arrogance and careerism, as well as the liberal idea Britain is an internationalist force, a microcosm of multi-culti harmony and diversity that could act as a model for how the world ought to be and could be if only we willed it into existence.

The irony is that Corbyn believes this just as much as any Conservative believes in it. It's just that the Tories realise a military is needed to sit 'at the top table' and be in a position to 'intervene' to make the world 'better' for the sake of those suffering under tyrannies that impede its geopolitical interests and those of its American partner.

The only possibility this could finally be ended would be is President Trump decides to scale up the drive towards a war against Iran over geopolitical clashes in eastern Syria, a Third Lebanon War between Hizbollah and Israel and the looming diplomatic crisis over Saudi Arabia's ultimatum to Qatar over its tilt towards Tehran in the Gulf.

With Corbyn as long term anti-war politician who rose to the top by being the ultimate nemesis of Tony Blair and opponent of his wars with the US, the stage could be set for stormy political confrontation over the 'special relationship' with the US and whether it would be prepared to oppose the US over military action against Iran.

The post-1945 US led order is beginning to fragment. Trump has already shown disinterest in the EU and of NATO and any multilateral model in international power politics preferring to strike bilateral deals with independent Global Powers. This indicates a reversion to a more nineteenth century approach to Great Power politics.

These sea changes are set to be dramatic and potentially traumatic. The US remains the Global Superpower but a Brexit Britain would be globally less able to play its old role as 'bridging power' between the US and EU. At best, Britain would become Norway or more like Singapore, a rich trading state but no diplomatic weight.

Shifting away from the EU might, in reality. mean deepening the military alliance as a mini-me version of the US and that would mean even more lack of manoeuvre in opposing US wars and willingness to go along with them, not least as the US-Saudi alliance is central to the US-UK military industrial complex of which BAE is part.

All these possibilities and drawbacks, some might argue new opportunities, are there but the realities need to be confronted clearly without illusions or even delusions. This means a return to proper political arguments, debates based on facts, evidence and putting the case of alternatives before the British electorate beyond media propaganda.

Britain needs a more 'grown up' political and media culture, one that isn't based so obsessively in 'shaping the narrative' and spin. If one good thing could come out of Brexit and the rise of Corbyn's leftist populism, it is that political discussion is going to have to revert more to logical and reasoned political arguments and less choreography.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Boris Johnson as Future Winston Churchill Replicant.

'Second favourite ( Boris Johnson ) remains Britain’s foremost stupid-person’s-idea-of-a-clever-person... If I understand this theory correctly, Johnson deliberately sabotaged himself this week because he knows that the favourite never wins in a Tory leadership contest.'
Boris Johnson is positioning himself to takeover as PM but circumstances and events will determine who steps in. The US at present is heading for a conflict with Iran, one that is not being reported in the British media at all, until it suddenly breaks as a main news item once the crisis spirals up 'out of nowhere' and dominates the agenda.

Then Johnson as Foreign Secretary would take centre stage in aligning firmly behind Trump as most of the Westminster establishment will over Iran's dangerous use of ballistic missiles and WMD threat. Depending on how the media tries to 'shape the narrative', Johnson could well pose as staunch patriot against Corbyn as 'enemy within'.

It would be reassuring the think that the majority of the British public would not fall for the pretexts about an 'Iranian threat' replacing that of the crumbled and disintegrated Caliphate. But given the 'special relationship' remaining popular, despite Trump being regarded as an unstable loon, it would depend on public opposition.

This is depressing but a war with Iran is increasingly probable and the evidence is pointing towards Trump's administration gearing up for conflict over clashes in eastern Syria. Saudi Arabia's ultimatum to Qatar, one driven partly by its tilt towards Tehran over their joint new gas project in the Persian Gulf, is raising the stakes.

The US is reported to be blundering in to conflict over Syria while escalating hostilities towards Iran over its ballistic missile program and for firing one at eastern Syria a few days ago. In February 2017, Johnson was sharing Netanyahu's concern over Iran's missile program and is firmly aligned behind Trump's foreign policy.

If a war were to break out later in the summer of 2017, Johnson, who sees himself as having 'the Churchill factor', would be at the forefront of the drum beat towards British military intervention and using it to present himself as an Anglo-American 'strongman' who is 'shoulder to shoulder' with Trump's administration.

In these circumstances, Parliament would see stormy sessions and it would be up to Corbyn to take the anti-war stance. The question then would be whether the PLP would all align behind Corbyn on whether they would see an attempt to express solidarity with the US as a pretext to discredit and bring down Corbyn.

All of this is extreme speculation. But it's worth getting psychologically prepared for as geopolitical and foreign policy experts are extremely worried about both the seemingly blind drift towards conflict with Iran and the way US politicians are starting to rationalise the prospect of conflict as a way of regaining hegemony.