Monday, 30 November 2015

Britain Enters the War in Syria : Cameron's Vote on Military Intervention and Corbyn's Defeat.

'Jeremy Corbyn is to offer a free vote to MPs on David Cameron’s proposals for UK to bomb Isis in Syria but will make clear that Labour party policy is to oppose airstrikes'.
Corbyn really had little choice, otherwise he would have potentially lost authority by trying and failing to exercise authority over the party so full of those prepared to back air strikes, not least because this issue was one that both they and Cameron sought to use in order to oust Corbyn from leadership of Labour.

While British military intervention was something Cameron has wanted in order to reaffirm Britain as 'global player', the rapid movement to join in the battle against IS is primarily about Britain's credibility as a world power, one capable of shaping a post-Assad Syria and to sit at the 'top table' when this diplomacy is going on.

To that extent, Corbyn offered an obstable to that which was then turned into a 'national security threat'. The British national security state created during the latter part of the Cold War on the US model is not there to be challenged by anything as unpredicatable as democratic accountability and so 'Corbyn must go'.

Those Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn are so because 'Britain as global player', no matter the actual dangers of the Syria 'strategy', is a fundamental interest both for their own careerist ambitions and also from an understanding that military action in Syria reassures the Gulf States that Britain is pledged to their defence.

Saudi Arabia is a source of huge investments in London and arms deals. Qatar is set to be an ever more important supplier of LNG ( liquefied natural gas ) for EU markets as European sources deplete-including Britain's North Sea reserves-and the Western Powers look for energy diversification away from Russia.

The real reason Syria has become a strategic battleground and such a brutal cockpit for regional and global proxy wars, is its position between the South Pars Persian Gulf gas field and the Eastern Mediterranean. Both Iran and Qatar want to run a gas pipeline through Syria in rivalry with each other.

With sanctions set to lifted on Iran, as a consequence of the nuclear deal and Iran's vital role in shoring up a Shi'ite dominated Iraqi state based in Baghdad and rolling back IS, the stakes in Syria have been raised further. The US risked alienating Saudi Arabia by seemingly allowing Iran to sell oil freely again and ceding control in Iraq.

Hence in Syria, Washington and London have sought to maintain the geopolitical fiction of a 'moderate rebel' force that should have a stake in determining a post-Assad political settlement. This has become even more important to maintain the Gulf States onside and to check Russia's recent direct military support for Assad.

Russian military intervention on October 29 2015 was the last straw for an increasingly humilated Cameron whose defeat in Parliament in a vote for air strikes on Assad halted the momentum towards Western intervention back in September 2013. Reversing that verdict -and the humiliation-is in part a vanity project.

Moreover, the IS role in blowing up the Russian airliner over Sinai and the Paris Black Friday Attacks provided the 'public diplomacy' opportunities ( pathologically referred to in the media as 'game changers' ) for Cameron to use the IS global threat as a pretext to enter the power contest in Syria as a military player.

Cameron is not naive enough to believe his own verbose memo about Britain's ability to 'make a difference' against IS or the fiction of 70,000 'moderate rebels' waiting in the wings to rally behind Britain's air strike in a massive assualt on Raqqa. It is more about being a 'global player' in determining events in Syria.

That clearly means not allowing the collapse of the 'moderate rebels' or 'third force' capable of checking Assad and defeating IS ( in theory ). With news of US special ops forces already fighting IS and William Hague calling for British ground troops, there are shades of the early years before US involvement in Vietnam.

As Patrick Cockburn drily pointed out with regards Cameron's case, ' In Syria, we are to look to 70,000 “moderate” fighters whose existence Mr Cameron revealed to the House of Commons, but nobody in Syria has ever heard of. Isis is not going to be defeated by these phantom armies which are to be Britain’s allies in Iraq and Syria.'

Britain obviously wants IS defeated but it is not the only priority. If it were, then Britain would have waited to see whether the Vienna agreement and the ceasefire between Assad and the 'moderate rebels' would first be put into place and, then, wait to see if it would stick before contemplating military action.

As it stand in the first week of December 2015, at least a month before the ceasefire was to have been acheived ( January 2016) , Britain's air strikes are about tilting the balance in Syria away from Assad back towards the 'moderate rebels' by backing unnamed militias first against ISIS.

Yet, unlike Assad's forces, the 'moderate rebels' consist of fissiparious militias that have proven incapable of working together. The Army of Conquest is dominated by militias whose ideology is not that dissimilar from IS. The real, more moderate secular forces, are concentrated in the south near Damascus.

The great danger is that, in contrast to Russia, the Western Powers would have to commit more ground troops in future to work along with rebel groups that have proven again and again incapable of being effective as a fighting force. Corbyn could have argued this, but reduced himself to platitudes.

Such is democracy. Corbyn will be defeated as communication and PR politics means that there are few who attempt to treat the British public as full of citizens capable of listening to or grasping coherent arguments as opposed to reacting to knee jerk policies designed to 'solve' the IS threat.

While Corbyn's arguments were not put as forceably as they might have been, his caution and arguments that the case has not been proven are far more convincing than Cameron's evasive and slimy spinning based on a media agenda and exploiting the fear of terrorism.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Vienna Agreement and Cameron's Drive for British Intervention in Syria.

Cameron is already building up the 'public diplomacy' momentum behind winning a vote on air strikes in Syria for December 2015 without having first outlined any realistic strategy that would make them much more than part of his obsession with 'standing tall' and reaffirming Britain's status as a 'global player'.

This was clear after the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai. Then Cameron muscled in to claim IS had been involved and that he was at the forefront of protecting British citizens through emergency measures and privy to intelligence about IS threats that the rest of the world was not. It was as much about getting the necessary headlines.

Then, in line with the media management strategies Cameron is expert at as 'heir to Blair, a few days later Fallon started on cue to big up the case for British air strikes in Syria lest anyone forget what the larger aim of the British response to the blowing up of the Russian jet. All of this was carefully choreographed.

The danger with this sort of 'public diplomacy' is that it is inherently manipulative and is directed at exploiting public fears into stampeding public opinion and so MPs into supporting a policy for which there has not been a rational debate about the merits of firs. In fact that is the very purpose of this political culture of spin.

The Labour opposition, with the exception of its leader Jeremy Corbyn, indicated that it would not be prepared to swing decisively behind air strikes unless a coherent strategy was outlined by the government. Corbyn would seem to think there is no need to press the government on what, if any, strategy the government has.

The reason is because he is opposed to any military action without a 'political settlement'. This statement of the obvious that has potentially been invalidated by the Vienna agreement and the prospect of a UN Security Council backed war against IS in the wake of the Black Friday the 13th terror attacks on Paris.

Corbyn needs to scrutinize Cameron's proposals for joining air strikes in Syria and start asking hard questions about whether the PM really has a strategy other than just bombing Raqqa. For example what guarantees there are that the ceasefire by January 2016 will hold ( not least as Cameron wants air strikes before Christmas ).

Corbyn has flopped as an alternative leader. He is the unexpected leader of a party in crisis across Britain as it struggles to find an identity after Blair and Brown's years and the failure of Miliband. Corbyn does not seem to have made much impact at a time of heightened fear as IS goes on the rampage across the Middle East and into Europe. 

As John Gray summarised it,
"In a performance reminiscent of Peter Sellers’s Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There, the Labour leader has emerged from the walled garden of the hard left to wander around the country, dispensing gnomic observations about peace and kindness. It’s a surreal kind of theatre rather than a new type of politics. There is no risk to Cameron"
The timing of the vote of air strikes for December 2015 shows that Cameron is less interested in whether the political and diplomatic settlement agreed on in Vienna sticks first before wasting the 'game changing' usefulness of the Paris attacks to rush through to a vote on air strikes that would make any opposition appear as though 'soft on terror'.

The ceasefire agreed at Vienna is for January 2016. Timing a vote for December means that no problems with not having first halted the proxy war between Assad and the Sunni insurgents not aligned with IS could delay Britain entering the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia declared it would convene a meeting of all Sunni groups on December 15th 2015.

Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam were invited to this convention, however, in an act that seems to challenge Russia's intentions in a paragraph of the second Vienna meeting’s final statement on 14 November. After discussing which groups are to be designated as 'terrorist', the communique continues:
“All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence. The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist“.
Cameron's drive towards war in Syria would appear to be more principally concerned about power politics and making Britain a 'global player' on a par with Russia after it intervened militarily in Syria on September 29 and pushed the Great Powers into discussing a deal to focus more on IS once it was clear Assad would not go.

There is no indication Britain has a strategy apart from joining in as part of air strikes in the hope it is would be seen to be playing a part and showing the Gulf States how it is dedicated to their defence as well as testing out British military hardware and signalling its commitment to the Gulf States.

As Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond put it after announcing the new British military base in Bahrain 'your security is our security''. It was necessary for Britain to revive its old East of Suez role when the US was refocusing and shifting its military weight towards containing China ( the Pivot to Asia ).

To that end the Defence Secratary Michael Fallon has repeated the line that Assad has to go, despite the fact Russian intervention means he would not at least before elections are due to be held, as set out on paper at least in the Vienna agreement, by 2017. On November 23 2015 he made it plain, that despite Russia and Iran's backing for Assad,
“There is international agreement now that Assad has to go and there has to be a more comprehensive government.”
There has been no international agreement at all on Assad's status which was pointedly left out of the talks at Vienna because it would have made diplomatic progress impossible. Saudi Arabia would appear to have stepped in to take control over the Sunni opposition to Assad and has maintained that he should not stand in future elections.

As a consequence, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the case for British air strikes is not about defeating IS only so much as positioning Britain, in advance of any diplomatic settlement, in a better bargaining position in trying to ensure it can determine the fate of Syria for the benefit of its Gulf State clients.

In that sense, there is a similarity between this diplomacy and that which happened between 1812 and 1815 when all the powers sought those decisive victories that would give them the decisive influence in reshaping the map of Europe ( through the Congress of Vienna ). It is very old fashioned Great Power politics of the old style at a global level.

The problem with that is there is no guarantee the Gulf States would honour the peace process and stop ratcheting up the proxy war with Iran through backing Sunni jihadist groups in the Army of Conquest as it has since March 2015. There has been no let up in the proxy war to the south in Yemen for a start.

Without that happening, because Russia is already supporting Assad, there would be no joint effort or coherent strategy to focus Syrian ground troops on IS. It would that should Assad and Russia advance too quickly against IS, other Sunni jihadist groups could start attacking Assad to the west in order to 'tilt' the balance of power away from him.

There is no indication which ground forces Britain would work with in defeating IS. It could be the Kurdish peshmerga as with the US or Arab-Kurdish forces including the YGP militias. Yet Turkey is intent on air strikes against PKK militias fighting IS because of its fear of Kurdish irredentism spreading across the border.

Cameron seems to have decided on commiting  Britain to a larger security role in the Greater Middle East and to defending the interests of the Gulf States at a time when their policies are making it ever more likely that the war against IS would not succeed without a durable ceasefire with Assad. The dangers of this are clear.

Not only would British air strikes make London a target for IS terror reprisals, they would lock Britain further into a war with no firm diplomatic end game in sight now that the Gulf States have demonstrated, in word and deed, that they are not that concerned with IS but more with Iran and with Assad in Syria.

Given that the November 23rd Strategic Defence & Security Review involves increasing Britain's 'special ops' forces for dealing with IS, it is clear this would leave open the way for being dragged in directly into a ground war with the Caliphate with all the potential for "mission creep" that could well involve if the strategy is flawed.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Britain and Resource Wars in the 21st Century.

Norton Taylor has drawn attention to the fact the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states would be a feature of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due to be unveiled on 23 November 2015. Yet it is vital to draw attention to the increased emphasis both NATO and the Britain has put on energy security.

The last SDSR in 2010 made plain that real threats to Britain's security are considered to be rising
'due to ourgrowing dependence on imports of fossil fuels at  the same time that global demand and competition for energy is increasing. Falling UK production of oil and gas, coupled with sustained demand, will make us increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports'.
While Britain gets on a fraction of its oil from Saudi Arabia, with most coming from Norway or Russia or African OPEC nations -mostly Nigeria and Algeria-it imports an increasingly significant amount of LNG from Gulf States such as Qatar. Indeed Michael Fallon in 2013, as Energy Secratary, made this reliance clear.
"We are looking for more long-term gas supply contracts with Qatar – they have proved a very reliable partner...It's very important we strengthen our relationship with them. Already over half our gas comes from abroad and by 2030, it'll be three-quarters" LNG accounted for 28pc of the UK's gas imports last year, 98pc of those from Qatar.
In respect to Britain's geopolitical strategy, which involves building the base in Bahrain, supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and supporting "moderate rebels" in Syria, in alignment with the Saudis and Qatar, the ambition is to secure crucial strategic chokepoints in the Persian Gulf and between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

This is precisely why Philip Hammond is not that interested in the humanitarian consequences of Saudi Arabia bombing civilian targets in Houthi rebel held urban areas. The threat to the flow of oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Red Sea trade was a major concern for Saudi Arabia fearing Iranian proxy influence.

Even if Iran would be unlikely to cut off oil flows from Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, the pathological competition for influence and power in Syria is about the competition between Iran and Qatar for two rival gas pipelines between the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU energy markets.

The construction of Britain's Bahrain base is about reassuring Britain's Gulf allies that they are pledged to their defence in the event of any threat, not least that of terrorist attacks from within, Iranian backing for Shi'ite rebels or the looming spectre of ISIS As Hammond put it '“Your security is our security.”

By pledging Britain so unconditionally to the defence of the increasingly unstable Gulf states, Hammond has determined that Britain would be pulled into a regionwide conflagration should this happen, as appears increasingly probable rentier regimes incapable of diversifying from oil faced with Islamist militancy.

The Saudi oil price war with Russia, one spurred on by the US shale oil 'revolution', was intended as a means to reconfigure global geopolitics and use galling oil revenues to cripple those powers opposing US world domination such as Venezuela, Iran and, most obviously, Russia itself.

Far from promoting 'stability', the strategy could end up destabilising Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies which have blamed Riyadh for plummeting oil revenues. The Saudis have been drawn into a Yemen quagmire and costs have escalated as revenues to buy off discontent fallen drastically.

ISIS has made repeated incursions into Saudi oil producing regions and in the Bastra region of Iraq as well as Al Qaida into Algeria. An oil price shock would boost their as yet relatively meagre oil revenues greatly and send the global economy into a tailspin as the East Asian economies are dependent upon Middle East oil.

The Russian Factor.

The next cause of global instability is that sanctions have helped drive Putin into entering Syria in order to combat both ISIS, a threat to the Russian Caucasus and its oil and gas pipelines in the region, as well as to decisively back Assad's state army against Qatari and Saudi-backed "moderate rebels".

Russia sought to tilt the balance away from their prospective gains because of the threat a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline would pose to Russia's control over energy supplies into the EU, its oil revenues and its global power projection. This was threatened in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest militia formation being created.

The Russian intervention would seem to be a ploy to increase oil prices and shore up Putin's oil revenues. It is more probable the move was about blocking off the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and retaining a strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean so that it could gain a stake in offshore Syrian and Israeli gas projects

This had been threatened by Army of Conquest gains in north-west Syria as the Gulf States and Turkey upped their supply of weapons to it, a formation that includes Al Qaida affiliated militias such as al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, militant Sunni jihadists wanting a Caliphate not so dissilimar from that of IS in Raqqa.

Western propaganda, via a pliant media, replicates the untruth that Assad faces 'moderate rebels' Yet it is unclear how far either the West would go in defending their interests should Russia succeed in 'degrading' the military capacity of the Army of Conquest, backed by a NATO member in the form of Erdogan's Turkey.

The Gulf States have put pressure on the Western Powers to back them in Syria. Meanwhile Saudi-Russian relations have continued to deteriorate amidst suspicions that Riyadh is covertly backing jihadists against Russia in Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as NGO groups in other strategic transit states in the Caucasus.

So Britain is pledged to defending the Gulf States. Even if the US is more focused the rise of China in 2015, the Saudi lobby and Republicans are staunchly for the alliance and a direct proxy war with Russia over both Syria and Ukraine.This could stimulate tensions in a region the SDSR cited as crucial to energy security-the Caspian.

There are all sorts of dangers that are being created by the adherence to a Cold War era alliance system in the Middle East. There needs to be a change in strategic thinking and a greater emphasis on energy independence through nuclear power and in energy saving measures.

These are the chilling realities of the world in the 21st century. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Britain Uses the Sinai Air Crash to Advance Power Political Ambitions.

“I’ll obviously discuss all of this with President Putin and explain to him why we’ve taken the action we’ve taken. But obviously the action he takes about Russian tourists, that will be a matter for him.”
“It’s obviously a matter for the Russians about whether they continue to fly,” the prime minister said. “If you look at what other countries have done, the Americans have changed their travel advice to Sharm el-Sheikh – they did that after seeing particular intelligence and concerns that they had.
Earlier, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said there was a “significant possibility” that a bomb brought down the Russian plane, in the light of the claim of responsibility by IS Sinai.'
Flights have been suspended from Sharm el-Sheikh. An emergency meeting of COBRA convened. Cameron emerged from 10 Downing Street, his face contorted in the usual rictus of 'concern' claiming that he had a piece of 'sensitive intelligence' that the rest of the world, other than the US, did not presumably have access.

Britain's ramping up of the terrorist threat in response to the downing of the Russian airliner serves a number of political aims. It insinuates that Russia was responsible for endangering the security of civilian airliners in Egypt and that Britain too, as a consequence, faces the threat of its holidaymakers being threatened.

The other useful part of Cameron and Hammond's 'public diplomacy' is that it diverts attention away from the criticism of the government for welcoming General Sisi to London for clinching lucrative trade deals, despite the murder and imprisonment of political opponents of the regime in Cairo.

The emergency measures being taken to protect British holidaymakers also serves as a way of building up the momentum to push for air strikes against ISIS in Syria and to thereby, in the process, trying to discredit Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a 'national security threat' and, of course, 'soft' or sympathetic to terrorists.

So Cameron could use the terror attack to insinuate how his alliances with dictatorships are about the need to keep British civilians safe, launch those aircraft and drone strikes on ISIS and stand tall in the region and on the global stage. Basically, this is the sort of 'public diplomacy' on the 9/11 model he took from Blair.

No other national government other than Ireland has suspended flights from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Britain, of course, has no respresentatives in the official crash investigation and so is trying to make the best of spinning the air crash in ways that would benefit the governments national security state agenda.

Civilian deaths and the threat of ISIS terror plots on the Al Qaida model are too good an opportunity to miss if revving up for military intervention in Syria, one reason Britain, as opposed to all other countries, is seizing on the catastrophe to score political points about how it and not Russia, is dedicated to protecting civilians.

It's a power game.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Syria :The Energy Stakes and the Vienna Peace Talks

Crispin Blunt has written in the Guardian, 
“There should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating Isis and of ending the civil war in Syria.”..Doing something to make ourselves feel better is beside the real point of defeating Isis and ending the Syrian civil war.
True but it would appear to have been part of the drive towards intervention in Iraq on Blair's part in 2003 and, certainly, Cameron's over Libya and Syria back in 2011. Yet, there are other rationales left out by Blunt such as the determination of Britain to align with the Gulf States over Syria due to energy interests and arms deals.

When it comes down to it, there are major geopolitical ambitions and interests at stake that are interconnected with the egos of politicians who have staked their 'credibility' on removing Assad both in France and Britain. In fact, the US is actually more pragmatic than either of the two European military powers.

For the US has shale oil reserves and the EU has valued the overthrow of Assad as a mean to expedite the construction of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline. Even if the scale of the conflict, chaos and carnage has set back this ambition, allowing the Russian blocking strategy to prevail is anathema to Britain and France.

Turkey under a re-elected and more authoritarian Erdogan has no reason to climb down over his grand plan to re-ottomanise northern Syria; he has proved able to use Syrian migrants, by allowing and encouraging them to move into Europe, as a a diplomatic bargaining lever with Germany and other EU powers.

Erdogan's cynical tactics have clearly worked spectacularly in goading feeble and guilt ridden Western politicians such as Merkel into further concessions over EU membership and visa reforms. He can be sure that his policy on Syria will be supported as the EU powers prove incapable of managing their borders.

Then Saudi Arabia simply also refuses to budge on not making the overthrow of Assad its main foreign policy goal along with other Gulf states. So it is difficult to see how Cameron would take any diplomatic initiative whatsoever over Syria in order not to affect preferential British trade ties, investments and Qatari LNG supplies.

Cameron is more intent on using Britain's role as a 'Global Player' to tout its firm support for the war against ISIS in such a way as to ingratiate himself with the Gulf states and demonstrate how it is pledged to their defence. Using drones and air power tests out the technology and upgrades Britain's profile as an ally.

As a consequence Cameron need only spout soundbites about the "butcher Assad" and maintain the position he has to go at some hypothetical stage rather than outline a coherent strategy for ending the Syrian Civil War. Syrian lives are balanced off with lucrative interests and the geopolitics of energy flows.

Such interests are seldom mentioned in public because the Syrian war is only portrayed as 'crisis management' and not in terms of old fashioned Great Power politics. The same 'liberal interventionist' tropes are rehashed because 'public diplomacy' in democracies requires that Western ambitions are portrayed as humanitarian.

To an extent this is true, but it means Western policy over Syria is based on selfish greed at one level and on geopolitical wish thinking about there being a third force between Assad and ISIS at another. Greed mixed with guilt is a lethally weak basis for a foreign policy and Erdogan knows how to exploit this.

The European powers have far less influence than is supposed: the idea they have decisive influence over Turkey and other regional players in the Greater Middle East is farcical. EU nations are far too dependent upon energy from outside the EU and the Ukraine crisis has led to a frantic quest for diversification.

The failed geopolitical lunge to drag Ukraine towards both EU and NATO membership, so as to secure Black Sea resources and control over pipeline routes has been matched by Russian determination to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and secure Russian influence over Eastern Mediterranean gas flows to the EU.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington but the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

Ultimately, what happens to bring peace to Syria is going to be decided by Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States. Britain is unlikely to go too far in opposing Washington and the US itself seems incapable of pursuing a coherent strategy other than containing ISIS, thus safeguarding Iraqi oil producing zones.

While the nuclear deal has given the opportunity for Iran to be involved in peace talks over Syria, it has made Saudi Arabia even more determined to prevent it extending its influence both in Baghdad and Damascus. It is becoming more unstable as it gets dragged further into the Yemen War.

Time is short as if a new Republican administration were to enter the White House in 2016, then it is highly likely it would reaffirm its steadfast alliance with Saudi arabia and even be tempted into a revertion to a 1980s style attempt to back a mujahadeen in Syria against Russia and Assad.

Britain's position in this is more than hopeless: Cameron's government is attached to obsolete geopolitical calculations and ways of thinking and acting that also date back to the 1980s and Cold War stances regarding the supposed benefits of the Saudi alliance and the innate evil of Russia as a Great Power

Unless there is a decicive change with this foreign policy and emphasis on the need for diplomacy, in which the Western states does not treat the Greater Middle East as a theatre in which they alone is the decisive actors, then the stage is set for a potential proxy conflict and widening war of catastrophic proportions.