Intervention and Syria

August 27, 2013

There have been calls for Western military intervention against the Ba’athist regime in Syria since it began its murderous repression of the protest movement. These calls have escalated in the last week since the regime (again) used chemical weapons on its own population. Yet, I have to register my deep concerns that intervention is a most unwise course of action to counsel.

My first concern is with the outlines of any military intervention. We have yet to hear, from the advocates of intervention, what would be the desired political objective of the campaign. Is it to be removal of the chemical weapons arsenal held by the regime, the removal of the regime or an Iraq-style solution whereby the entire regime is uprooted and a colonial administration establishes a new regime by force?

The first objective is actually difficult to achieve with a air campaign. Targets would need to be assessed, the regime might simply go into full scale attack on rebel-held areas or, worse, result in al-Qaeda et al gaining control of these weapons. This would likely be politically successful but would not bring down the regime. Arab regimes boast that survival is a form of victory.

The second objective could potentially be achieved, although our erstwhile allies might attack us while doing so and would certainly run into other issues.

The third objective would require a massive military and economic mobilisation on the part of the Western powers. If the mistakes of Iraq are to be avoided, massive combat forces would need to be committed to take control of the cities, the borders and the road networks to ensure security, close down the militias and destroy the resistance and terrorist networks. I do not believe for one minute that there is the political will for this level of commitment and certainly not for the length of time that this would require.

The other issues are critical to evaluating any such decision and need to be raised.

Whom are we supporting? Even if we merely attack the regime, we are objectively supporting the Syrian rebels, yet these are not pro-Western forces. Dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the best troops of the rebels are in fact al Qaeda Islamists. These have already been enforcing strict sharia law and have been conducting ethnic cleansing against the Kurds who have remained neutral. If the regime is toppled, do we then intervene to prevent unrestrained communal warfare? Do we remember what happened in 2006-2007 in Iraq? That took place with our forces trying to stop it (eventually successfully). We cannot engage in warfare and expect a reasonably secular, multicultural regime to magically appear in Syria given what we know is happening and what we know of the actors.

Russia and China, especially the former, have been actively backing the Assad regime. Iran has been doing likewise, but we’re not really scared of Iran. Russia is the real support for Assad. Furthermore, Russia has banked heavily on sustaining the regime. If the West moves for war, will the Russians up the ante? Will we see Russian troops intervene? Russian aircraft operating over Syria? Or Russian SAM crews appear around Latikia and Damascus? Are we willing to risk open war with Russia? What about China? Prestige is at stake here and we are operating in the realm of empires.

Finally, we have a major obstacle in Syria to an Iraq-style solution. There is no political grouping which is either acceptable to Western interests or strong enough in Syria to provide a stable regime.

We need to be engaged in a rational, hard-headed discussion of strategy, options and outcomes. We should not be engaged in an emotive discourse dominated by pictures of dead children. That is not conducive to good statesmanship.

The LSE and Leftist thinking

February 17, 2012

A professor at the LSE, James Hughes, in a December lecture said:

I can’t think of a more radicalised government than the Bush administration….well…maybe North Korea.

I cannot think of a more stupid statement from someone of age, experience and learning. Compare this to the Russian doctrine on the use of military force in foreign policy:

Alexei G. Arbatov, The Transformation of Russian Military Doctrine: Lessons Learned from Kosovo and Chechnaya, Marshall Centre Papers 2 (Garmish-Partenkirchen: George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, July 2000).

The main lesson learned is that the goal justifies the means. The use of force is the most efficient problem solver, if applied decisively and massively. Negotiations are of dubious value and are to be used as a cover for military action. Legality of state actions, observation of laws and legal procedures, and humanitarian suffering are of secondary significance relative to achieving the goal. Limiting one’s own troop causalities is worth imposing massive devastation and collateral fatalities on civilian populations. Foreign public opinion and the position of Western governments are to be discounted if key Russian interests are at state. A concentrated and controlled mass media campaign is the key to success.

This is classical Russian thinking, redolent of Clauswitz: massive force, the irrelevance of the question of legitimacy and the need to have an objective and to stick to that aim. The result might be a hard war or massive civilian casualties but the aim of a war fought for clear national interests is to achieve the political objective set. And the result is that Russian borders states, though turbulent in places, are subservient to Moscow’s interests and even Chechnya has seen the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Now compare this to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both were fought with the aim of overthrowing a hostile regime deemed to threaten US national interests and both were fought to rapid and successful conclusions. The occupation stages saw a transformation of US military tactics and strategy towards a much more decentralised, “boots on the ground” mode in order to defeat a dangerous insurgency, which broke into civil war in Iraq. The US was able to defeat one insurgency and has badly damaged another without adopting the Russian doctrine of massive force.

So how is the Russian doctrine as applied in Chechnaya, Georgia and the salient states less radicalised that that of the USA?  Perhaps the professor was referring to international law?

Well in this case, we can compare Iraq, which is cited as the most egregious example of US aggression and Georgia. Russia justified its intervention on the grounds that the South Ossetians were Russian citizens – yet those citizens DID live in Georgian territory and even if the territory was de facto independent, Russia had no grounds under international law to go to war as this did not count as self defence. By contrast, the US argument that Iraq was in breach of obligations, which reactivated the UN Security Council Resolutions dating back to the Gulf War, made use of international law and precedent.

In the language of the time, Russia was behaving as a rogue state. Yet, it attracted very little criticism beyond a short period after the fighting in Georgia ended. By contrast, the rancour over Iraq has yet to fully cease.

Russia has actively pursued and murdered dissidents and critics around the world including an attempt to kill a US journalist in New York. By contrast, the US since 2001, has actively pursued, captured or killed Islamic terrorists around the world. The differences in these two imperial policies ought to be stark to anyone. The Russians have hunted down internal opponents, including the case of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The US has pursued active enemies belonging to terrorist groups.

If James Hughes meant internal politics, he could not be more wrong. He accords the US administration under President Bush second place in the most radicalised state on the planet, reserving first place for North Korea. I cannot think of a more stupid comparison or one which reveals his own prejudices more starkly than this.

By radicalised, it is clear that Professor Hughes means “on a path towards totalitarianism”. North Korea is the most totalitarian and vicious state on the planet. The US had the Patriot Act. You could probably number on one hand, the states which are less totalitarian than the USA.

This brings us to the title and the implicit question: why do leftists in general, and leftist academics in particular, view a Republican administration in the US as a totalitarian (radicalised) force?

In part, I believe, this stems from an inability to analyse Republicans in any but the most prejudicial terms. Republicans are characterised as “neocons”, “warmongers” and “Christian fundamentalists” and this attitude is so ingrained in leftist prejudice, that any calumny can be associated with Republicans and believed. For a comparison, note the language used about the Tea Party movement (racist, religious fundamentalist, angry white men etc) and the language used when examining the #Occupy movement (protesters, progressives, grass roots). Both terminological sets are not descriptive but prescriptive: the Tea Party is conservative, it must be racist etc.

The language is motivated by a desire to demonise and the same desire is present in the lazy presentation of the US under Bush as only less totalitarian than North Korea. The aim is not to describe a reality but is one of wish fulfilment. A Republican administration is routinely watched for signs that it is about to turn into a totalitarian fundamentalist regime, hence cries even in 2002 of “Take our country back!” from the radicalised wing of the Democratic party. Note that I am using radicalised in relation to the Democratic party as a reference to the leftist radicals and activists who dominate the socialist/liberal wing of the Party.

A fantasy is being routinely acted out, even by people who should know better (academics) and here I am forced to turn again to Richard Landes’ theme of millenarianism. Demonisation forms a part of millenarian beliefs and doctrinal structures. If believers value the ideas which will lead to a better world (even if these consist of the wished for absence of something), then doubters, sceptics and political and cultural opponents are deeply ignorant (of the Truth) or deeply wicked (for rejecting the Truth).

There is another aspect to this as well. What we broadly call leftist or left-wing ideologies have largely collapsed, though Marxist prejudices retain a very strong hold in academia (especially in the USA) and left-wing political thought is, by and large, reactionary, in the sense that it is against secular developments. So a leftist can be against capitalism or against globalisation or against war, but except in the latter case (a nebulous belief in ‘peace’), this system does not require the believer or activist to be for anything in particular. In a certain way, this is very appealing as it returns the individual to the ‘dream’ stage of political thinking in which the object (political objective) becomes subliminal and thus immune to criticism, even if it remains too vague to articulate.

Thus an OWSer activist in New York can campaign against “the banks” or against “capitalism” and still retain a sense of destiny because what replaces the present wickedness will inevitably be better. However, unlike classical reactionaries, the political object remains future-orientated and not located in a past which is shared both historically and in folk memory. These are not conservative reactionaries. Indeed, one might call them radical reactionaries as they wish for change as an end because they no longer are able to imagine the means without becoming subjected to scepticism or doubt. Analysed through a millenarian perspective, this is a resort to preaching as a format, naming that which is desirable and that which is wicked and calling upon the faithful to take this knowledge into their hearts.

It is possible to understand leftist prejudices constituting a series of articles of faith, forming the basis of a pseudo-religion with a common set of assumptions, prejudices and moral precepts. And as a community bounded by a religious or customary set of moral principles, precepts, abjurations and evocations, the leftist political community is as many other political and civil communities are, partly defined by opposition. Yet, as outlined earlier in this piece, the leftist community places itself in opposition to a vanished or even fantastical opposition and applies the demands of fundamental resistance to its own attitudes towards those who do not share their beliefs. In part, this would shed some light on why leftist political groups are highly inclined towards internecine warfare and splitting into new political factions.

Given these weaknesses as a community, the sense of oppositional definition in times of weakness is accentuated as a subconscious means of protecting the political community on the Left. Hence, James Hughes described a Republican administration as the nearest thing to a totalitarian regime in the West. A domination of the political world by a political faction which is not a part of their community (i.e. not Leftist) is treated as a catastrophe of gigantic proportions and one which cannot be reconciled with the assumptions, prejudices and beliefs of the Leftist community. Given that Leftists routinely treat conservatives as moral and intellectual degenerates, there can be no questioning of Leftist superiority complexes and the Left must then go over into rhetorically violent opposition, when criticism of a Republican president becomes in the hysteria of the day, an act of patriotism and of “speaking Truth to Power” in which the Leftists fall into two not incompatible roles: those of prophet and of revolutionary opposition.

Yet, given the absence of political programmes and articulated beliefs (it remains my contention that much of what is expressed as opposition is a reaction to another’s rejection of their subliminal political tropes) and in the aftermath of the political emasculation of the Left, all that is available to the Leftists is overt opposition and insistence on the primacy of shared narratives. This can be seen in the fantasy of peace in Palestine, in the dissatisfied sacralisation of international laws and institutions, the reaction to political arguments which do not place the state at the centre of economic and social life and the confusion over collectivism and individualism.

The utopian dreams of the Left have not collapsed as such but aspects of the articulated forms of these have subsided back into the collective unconsciousness of the Left. The appeal is still strong to the believers but the ideas are in flux or increasingly irrelevant to the present. The superiority complexes of the Leftist political community have left them dangerously vulnerable to cognitive dissonance and perilously tempted by a series of sentimental political tropes and certainties which collectively represent a political dead end. I will end with an analogy: even a stopped clock, tells the correct time twice a day. Thus it is with the Leftist political community.

The stupidity of moral isolationism

January 28, 2011

Once again, Peter Oborne demonstrates his complete flight from reality.

The Algerian Civil War had nothing to do with the West and everything to do with a society divided between a dangerous Islamist opposition threatening to rule as an Islamic tyranny and the existing authoritarian regime. It was a war brought about through internal tensions and political violence current in that society.

He confuses anti-government protests and groups with democratic ones. The regimes that fall might well be replaced by regimes fundamentally hostile to our interests. We’d all like to see those countries liberalise but liberalisation in authoritarian societies is a dangerous development if the authority of the state is attacked. These regimes have pent up a great deal of radicalism, often stoked by the same regime and directed against Israel and Jews, and when the regime falls, these movements are revolutionary and violent.

Can we imagine what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood which is the dominant movement in Egyptian society were to come to power? Egypt is a military power of no mean proportions; its army is equipped with M1A1 main battle tanks, the airforce has 300 F-16s. This would be Iran all over again but on the Mediterranean.

There is no social or political appetite for reforms of the kind which the liberals cheering the protests would like to see. The Egyptian Copts would not find themselves full and valued members of Egyptian society – a campaign of expulsion would begin similar to that seen in the Palestinian Authority. Women would find that the legacies of the revolutionary days of Nasser would disappear and they would become confirmed second class citizens, while honour killings would be encouraged by authorities taking their lead from misogynistic clerics.

Above all, the peace treaty with Israel would not last long. War would be on the agenda and it would not be long before voices called for it in the Arab world.

What we should be calling for is reforms to the civil bureaucracy, to the law and to freedom of speech where this does not subvert the state. We can force Egypt to start this process through withholding financial aid but work with the regime to help it safely liberalise.

You cannot expect democracy to materialise from revolution. Revolution is antipathetical to the rule of law, settled civil society, and the institutions of an strong state where the rulers give up power after electoral defeat. No Arab country with the possible exception of Tunisia is ready for such a transition. To encourage this in Egypt would encourage a strategic political disaster of the highest proportions.



It appears that Christina Odone is doing the same thing. She is transposing a Western notion of democracy on to the Arab world but does not include the ingredients that make a successful democracy possible, instead believing that these will grow out of free speech, free press and tolerance of protest in a society that does not tolerate protest. She shows no understanding of how Islamism as a political model works; if you provide an open door to them, they will subvert the state.

Dr. Samy Cohen and Asymmetric Warfare

November 18, 2010

The real flaw in Israeli military-political thinking with regard to Operation Cast Lead was the failure to occupy the ground. Too often the regime that sponsors the attacks remains in place.

Dr Samy Cohen is very wrong here. He’s taken the COIN doctrine but he’s not fully applied it. In order for COIN strategies to work, an alternate polity has to be developed and supported in order to wean the people from the terrorists.

Here Israel has not, even in its years of military administration of Judea, Samaria and Gaza until 1993. Instead it has not faced the problem of Arab irredentism, choosing to ignore or turn away from the problem of “how does Israel choose to defuse the hatred facing it”.

In a way, this flawed response can be seen in the depths of the Oslo process, poisoning the water. We rightly point out that the PLO/PA had, and has, refused to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, refused to renounced the “right of return” and remained fully committed to terrorism and its aim of genocide.

But Israel has too often pushed the problem of Arab anti-Semitism and political terrorism onto others. It did so with the PLO, making Arafat responsible for dismantling the terrorists and making peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and was dumbfounded when Arafat proved false.

Perhaps the poison in the well is the intellectual and cultural ideology of anti-imperialism. If Israel had any sense in 1967 after the Arabs refused to make peace, it would have annexed Gaza, Judea and Samaria (as well as the Sinai) and slowly absorbed the Arabs there into the Israeli polity. Strip away the hatred that was taught to two generations of the Arab inhabitants, promote economic growth and good governance from the village upwards and the new Israeli Arabs would have forgotten their hatred and become something different today.

Israel has relied on deterrence but not in COIN warfare. That disappeared in the 1960s with the last of the reprisal raids. Deterrence is still works and is required against states like Syria and against the budding Hezbollah state in Lebanon.

The conventional wisdom tells us that the 2006 war was a failure. Yes and no. It did not destroy Hezbollah – I have covered this in a different piece – the strategy was not matched to the (declared) political aim. But from the view of deterrence, it worked. There has been no more than a handful of attacks from Hezbollah or other Islamist groups since, though war is brewing once more.

Dr Cohen is right in one respect. When a true COIN war is fought, the policy of minimum force may well prove fruitful. But Israel’s only COIN war to date (the Second Intifada) was not marked by deterrence but by a combination of counter-insurgent battles and a minimum military presence sufficient only to control the ground. The PA remained in place, teaching the same hatreds and organising the attacks against Israel, the IDF and the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as against those who might advocate a different course for the Palestinians.

The flaw is political, not military. Clauswitz remains the supreme guide to war.

Waiting for good news

October 8, 2010

“Taleban on verge of collapse after surge success, allies insist” according to the Times.

I truly hope this is true. We saw this begin to happen in Iraq about six months after surge troops went into place and the reports sound similar in so far as the enemy’s infrastructure is falling apart under pressure and critically reports state that the locals are deserting the Taliban. Again, if this is so then this is a major breakthrough but a number of questions remain which render this apparent progress null and void.

1. Pakistan. It is well know that the Pakistani intelligence services and part of the Army are either sympathetic or “fifth-columnists” in regard to the Taliban and the Islamist insurgency. Pakistan is unable to control, let alone defeat the Pakistani Taliban, and for the NATO alliance the Pakistani government has shown itself to be unreliable and treacherous.

2. The Obama problem. The moron also known as POTUS has decreed that by November next year, US troops will start to withdraw from Afghanistan. The danger this presents takes on manifold possibilities.
a. The Taliban will be better able to infiltrate back into the south of Afghanistan into a population, which however sickened by Taliban atrocities, unless protected by security forces will be logistically supporting the Taliban (either willingly or through the nexus of terrorisation).
b. The Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are not in the slightest bit able to stand up to the Taliban at present. They need constant “corset-stiffening” by NATO forces to hold ground and there are constant worries about infiltration into the ranks.
c. If the Republicans are not able to win enough seats to at least regain the House of Representatives in November, the Democrats may be emboldened to begin running the war down in terms of funding.
d. If the Republicans do win enough to take the House and (please!) the Senate, will Obama simply dig in and refuse to be budged from a position of retreat? I don’t know on this point but there is a danger of a Democrat refusal to allow anything to continue the Afghanistan campaign especially as the liberal-socialist wing of the Democratic Party has been campaigning actively against this war.

3. The Allies. How long will our allies be able to remain in the field in Afghanistan? The Canadians are leaving next year as are the Dutch (to both courageous nations, we owe a great deal), what of the British Army? How long will the will in the Army and in Cabinet remain to continue with the war? These are questions which cannot be answered with any certainty.

What lessons can we draw from this now? Well, the news of progress and a turning point are being backed up by reliable sources, notably Michael Yon (who covered Iraq) and from David Petraeus himself. If the reader also follows the Long War Journal, then there is a great deal of good micro-news (small events) which indicate a good trend.
For the British Army itself, I can only hope the institution has begun to correct its horrible assumptions made in Iraq and for most of the Afghanistan campaign but that requires a much larger leap of faith!

Israel’s next “war” should be pre-emptive.

August 4, 2010

As per DEBKAfile, this fits into a pattern that I’ve been observing for sometime. Israel’s politicians and General Staff should be considering launching the next “war” (they’re still in a state of war with Lebanon, which doesn’t recognise Israel – basic diplomacy!) pre-emptively in order to defeat the armed capabilities of the Hezbollah aligned forces in Lebanon.
Classic military doctrine. Fight a war on their soil!

Phantom Fury and Cast Lead

February 8, 2010

Good analysis here.

Oh deary me…

January 13, 2010

Good analysis on a controversial subject here.

Why ideas of a Two State Solution are flawed…

January 17, 2009

The best and simplest source for this argument is to be found at Wikipedia. I’ve run this point in a Harry’s Place debate before but it bears repeating since so few people have actually ever made a similar point.

If the democratic  will of the people is expressed in their political choice, then let’s look at the Palestinian Legislative Elections of 2006.
We all know that Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) won this election (by 3%). But what no one has ever pointed out is the broad choice of the electorate. Let’s line up the parties : next to each will be either “War” , meaning fight Israel, or “Peace”, meaning at least abandoning violence for peaceful political negotiation.
Hamas (War)
Fatah (War)
Independent Palestine (Peace)
Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa (War)
Third Way  (Peace)
The Alternative (War)
Wa’ad (Peace)

A wide and varied list? Indeed. How about the vote? The expression of the Palestinian people was for…war. The parties whose platforms called for peace gained 5.13% of the vote… Barely 1 in twenty of Palestinian voters on a turnout of roughly 75% actually voted for a peace process.
Not very impressive is it?

What does this mean for how the West and Israel should view and deal with the Palestinians? We have drop this bloody illusion that there is a two state solution. Fatah have made quite clear that they view the two state as a means to arm and prepare for the “liberation” of Israel. Hamas want war now and permanently. The various leninist and marxist groups want war.
Against a people who want war, we are deluding ourselves to treat with them as peacemakers.

The West’s reaction to Russia’s aggression

August 10, 2008

There are only two possible broad reactions to the aggression by Russia against Georgia, which appears in design and intent to be that of an imperialist aggression with the intent of subjugating the Georgians.
The first is to ignore it and blame Georgia for getting into the current situation, in other words, how dare you make us have to choose! This reaction is typified by the Guardian newspaper.
The second is to calmly state to Russia that the aggression will not stand and that unless Russian troops are withdrawn by a certain date and time, then the military nations of the West (USA, Britain, France and those reliable allies) will declare war.

In my view, the second is absolutely necessary and that we should begin preparations for a long war at the moment of the refusal of the ultimatum. In Britain this will mean moving to a war footing in finance so as we can double the size of the army over the next five years, doing the same with the Royal Navy and the RAF. At the same time, we should use our existing resources to strike hard against the vulnerable points in Russia: its civilian infrastructure, the military bases and above all hit the oil and petrol industry to shut down the Russian ability to wage war.
Even if Georgia is lost, we must declare firmly that we will recover that nation’s independence by force unless regular and paramilitary Russian forces and administrators withdraw from Georgia in its entirety. Russia right now is a cross between Tsarist Russia in the 19th Century and the Soviet Union; it is an aggressive, paranoid but vulnerable nation and we must be prepared to pay the price in blood and treasure to defeat that aggression.