IS is on the shores of the Med. Putin is rampant. Does anyone in British politics even care?

by Rob Marchant

As if it were not enough that the EU’s two principal member states – in the form of their leaders, François Hollande and Angela Merkel – spent much of the last few weeks happily handing to Vladimir Putin parts of another European country on a plate in return for “peace”, chickens have now come home to roost in another benighted country only a few hundred miles from the EU.

It was not, as some have tried to maintain against all logic, that the West intervened in Libya and provoked a reaction against it. It was self-evidently that it did not intervene enough. In timidly restricting itself to a no-fly zone, it did not remotely attempt to help set up a functioning democratic state in the aftermath or prevent a power vacuum being filled by jihadists. In fact, NATO left early, against the wishes of the new government.

It is by now painfully obvious that wherever there is unrest in the Muslim world, jihadists will not be slow in moving in. The trick is not to let them get established. Proactive, not reactive; a stitch in time.

There is very little about Iraq on which critics and supporters of intervention agree, but most would concede that the Allies carried out a fairly effective military action and then botched the peace. For all the current crop of world leaders criticised their predecessors over that episode, it didn’t stop them repeating the exact same error in Libya.

By the time it got to Syria, of course, the alliance which had helped free Libya of Gaddafi had lost its appetite even for that kind of limited, genocide-preventing intervention. Hear no evil, see no evil. And what was the result of that? Well, genocide, naturally: 220,000 dead and counting.

Syria was also memorable because it largely spelt the end of David Cameron’s pretensions to world statesmanship. He heard the whispers of his backwoods backbenchers; he saw mixed feelings in the country; he felt the breath of UKIP isolationists on the back of his neck, and he was sore afraid.

Since then, he has often talked a good game. Rather than joining in the Merkel-Hollande farrago, he has at least uttered words of defiance towards Vladimir Putin and sent military advisers to the Ukraine. But his heart is not in it, and he knows that without support from the White House there is little more he can do.

And so, two highly dangerous forces lie at the gates of the European Union: one eyeing it with sly, colonial ambitions and one with merely an unfocused, burning hatred of the people living within its borders. While Britain, Europe and America look on.

It is not that the barbarians are at the gate. They are practically in the living room and helping themselves to your mother’s silver service.

Cameron is not looking like initiating serious action on either of these fronts. But, at some point, one imagines that some long-buried patriotic spirit may get the better of him, as it finally dawns on him and his party that the peace and prosperity Europe has enjoyed these last seventy years might just not last indefinitely, if it continues to feed the bullies and turn a blind eye to the murderous mob.

As for the modern Labour Party, it’s hard to be sure even of that level of commitment. Our foreign policy seems best defined as having started like Cameron’s, only waxing gradually more feeble as time goes on.

Miliband backed Cameron over the original Libya bombing. He did not over Syria. On the Ukraine he has been remarkably quiet. Whilst hardly directly to blame for Putin’s boldness, as some idiot Tories averred, that action certainly contributed to the general isolationist apathy gripping the White House and the chancelleries of Europe. The signals these actors have sent over recent years have hardly said, we are here and we mean business. It has been rather, here’s my dinner money and I’ll be bringing more tomorrow.

We are not in power, of course, but we could conceivably be soon. Once upon a time, a Labour front bench might have argued for internationalism and solidarity with the downtrodden. We could really do with some of that now.

And that is not just because it is the right thing to do: it is also, to be brutal, about enlightened self-interest. Because tied up in the position of isolationism is the arrogance and foolhardiness of thinking it can never be you.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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10 Responses to “IS is on the shores of the Med. Putin is rampant. Does anyone in British politics even care?”

  1. Tafia says:

    If you feel so strongly Rob, you can go and join the volunteer battalions in Ukraine or the Peshmerga or other anti-IS groupings.

    You’re not scared are you? They make decent prosthetics these days.

  2. Henrik says:

    Rob, I get that you’re an old-school internationalist and would like to show some kinetic solidarity with the repressed brothers in the Ukraine and Syria and it does you much credit that, despite the utter abandonment of international thinking by the Labour Party, you keep banging the drum.

    Unfortunately, it’s the wrong drum and I’m afraid you’re banging it wrong as well.

    The only proper justification for using military force is in promotion or defence of the national interest. I can’t think of anything much we could do in, say, Syria, which would either discomfit the Queen’s enemies – in fact, further Western intervention (“crusading”), short of violent and determined occupation, conceivably for a generation, will do much to comfort the bad guys and lend weight to their narrative. I’d note here that Daesh are a vile and unpleasant crowd, but that their primary issue is with their fellow Muslims; the umma seems generally agreed that it is not the business of the West to intervene, or even comment, on their internal troubles and I am inclined to agree.

    What does concern me is the key point you make, which is that Blair’s wars and their unhappy outcomes have rendered both the defence and the foreign policy debates toxic in UK politics. We are a global power, still and retain global interests and hence need to preserve the hard and soft power capabilities we retain; we also need to have a very clear perception of what our strategy is for engagement world-wide. I worry that the toxicity of the issue – and the lack of anyone much thinking about the issue in any of the parties – is leading both to an erosion of our overall capability and a decline in the influence we need, globally, in order to retain our advantage.

  3. Madasafish says:

    If you want to be the world’s policeman then double the size of the navy and Army and raise Defence Expenditure from its current 2% of GDP to say 4% – the same % as the USA.

    The extra £30B will of course be raised by taxation:raising VAT from 20% to 25% will just about raise it all exactly. (You can’t use bankers’ bonuses or a mansion tax etc as they are already spent.. several times over).

    It will do wonders for unemployment – an extra 150,000 – plus the Defence Industries will be busy.

  4. Tafia says:

    Madasafish – The problem is not only that we reduced the size of the regular forces, but just as importantly we disposed of all the surplus barracks, married quarters, training areas, ranges etc etc and in Germany the schools etc.

    Just one light role home-based Infantry battalion of 650 men requires a barracks complex about the size of a dozen football pitches along with around 250-300 married quarters for the families of the married soldiers. In addition the local schools, doctors and dentists need the ability to take on up to 300 wives and usually around 300 pad brats.

    To give you an idea, this is a light role battalion on the outskirts of Chester – to give you an idea of the size if you look to the right, just before Chester Zoo, you’ll see a car park full of cars.

    Heavy infantry battalions, tank regiments, artillery etc etc need far bigger complexes because of the extra kit.

    If the government decided tomorrow to reverse the cuts of the last 5 years it would take a decade at least to build what was needed before they even got round to recruiting.

    That’s the problem with a regular armed force – it’s easy to cut it, but it takes a very very long time to reverse it.

  5. Helen Richardson says:

    Hey Rob Every decent person is concerned about IS. To blame reaction on the different political parties plays into their hands they are devicive .
    I don’t have a party persuasion but Ido know from family friends that the Labour government handed .over Rhodesia to Mugabe and left out people to be bullied and massacred and every party has some very dodgy involvement in history.
    If our people and politicians came together we could obliterate IS. But as long as we alloy them to divide us they may win!

  6. Ex Labour says:

    You raise several issues Rob, so let me try and deal with them.

    Firstly Russia had been in dialogue with the EU for sometime asking them not to extend the EU project into the old Soviet block. This was according to a BBC radio interview with an ex Russian diplomat involved in the talks. Of course the EU socialists ignored their request with the resultant situation in Ukraine. It was avoidable, so the EU now blaming Russia is a little disingenuous don’t you think ? On top of that there are millions in that region who still consider themselves to be Russian and will only speak Russian.

    On Syria there are several issues. The progressive liberal left all jumped on the bandwagon of the Arab Spring, with little or no knowledge of the local politics. This was championed by the BBC as usual in its role as left wing cheerleader. Cameron tried an initiative which was defeated by Miliband’s desperation to show some kind of leadership which clearly backfired. Assad was fighting an enemy backed by Islamic terrorist, but everyone in the west ignored this fact until recently. Now the politicians have finally woken up to the real situation it’s a bit too late to do anything. We have refugees crossing the med and now the left (even on here) are screaming that it’s our (UK) responsibility to save them and then bring them here.

    We see today that Jihadi John is in fact a Kuwaiti and a naturalised UK citizen. We see from the BBC survey (although they didn’t really want you to know) that 800,000 UK Muslims have some sympathy with the attackers of Charlie Hebdo. When are the political classes in the country going to wake up to the fact that we the population have had enough of their multi cultural experiment taking in all and sundry with no knowledge of their background?

    I sincerely hope the US capture Jihadi John, because if we do, Miliband and Labour will want to bring him back here and put him on a diversity training course before reintegrating into society on benefits with 24 hours police guard and attendant HR lawyer on call.

  7. Rob Marchant says:

    @Henrik: I always enjoy our sparring here, however, as you can imagine, I’m not going to agree with you on taking no action. If our politicians had more balls, we would be busy pushing for an international coalition to take some proactive action in a situation which, if not acted upon, will get immeasurably worse. I think your are taking a somewhat complacent path if you think that IS will simply take out their wrath on fellow Muslims and leave the West alone. On the contrary, they are desperate to hurt Western countries and have shown this time and again.

    That said, I agree with you completely on the gradual diminishing of both influence and capability. Whatever one thinks on a specific geopolitical issue, such as Syria, that is a reality which our politicians seem to have no desire to change. That to me is a tragedy.

    @Madasafish: I rather agree with you in that it is hard to build up forces once cut. But I’m afraid we do need to build them up again. Putin has been doing this for years, and we don’t seem to care.

    @ExLabour: On Russia, I see that you must have been watching Russia Today, as this is exactly the propaganda it is coming up with at the moment. You seem not to be bothered about the invasion of a sovereign state on the borders of the EU. I wonder what you’ll say when they invade the Baltic states? And problem with your point on Syria is that Assad *wasn’t* fighting an enemy backed by jihadists at the beginning. A stitch in time, as they say. We wait until the last minute and wonder why things are already twice as hard, or impossible, to correct.

  8. Tafia says:

    Thoughts from The Slog. Makes you wonder how a politician can even remotely be referred to as ‘skilled’ or ‘professional’.

    The EU ‘annexed’ former Soviet satellites in central and eastern Europe without giving a thought to what the effect might be in terms of cheaper goods and lower-cost workers.

    The EU and US conspired to meddle in Ukrainian politics, and as a result were given a bloody nose by Putin.

    The EU created one currency across 18 cultural divides without giving any exit door, and as a result the Greek population is paying for the crimes of the pro-EU oligarchy.

    The EU is imposing a mad scorched earth policy on the Greeks in the bizarre hope that the grass will regrow two minutes after the fire goes out.

    The EU trampled all over Cyprus, and as a result Putin has completed a bailout deal with them….in return for naval bases there.

    The EU created a government structure in which unelected functionaries have all the ‘ideas’ – and the elected MEPs get to rubber stamp them – and hoped that democracy would flourish.

    The US blundered into Iraq twice, supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, bombed Iraq for a third time, supported the rebels in Syria, and then changed its mind to support Bashar Assad and bomb the rebels…all in pursuit of energy control, without ever trying with any consistency to develop beyond fossil fuels.

    The UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in Ankara heaping praise upon closet Islamist Recep Erdogan and referring to Gaza as “a concentration camp”….while Erdogan was busy supplying the unfortunates living in the small State with arms.

    Cameron hired Andy Coulson despite being warned by a dozen well-placed people that he’d committed myriad crimes while at Newscorp.

    The UK supported Bush in the Gulf War without any thought for the jihadist consequences…leading directly to 55 deaths in London and a wholesale radicalisation of British Islamics.

    Successive UK governments allowed immigrants to pour into Britain over a 40 year period, dismissing all naysayers as racists – but without a thought for where they were all going to live….and now dismisses all opponents of their radical house-building policy as tree-huggers.

    The UK government supports fracking – despite the calamitous fall in the oil price and the obvious threat to Britain’s already compromised water supply…and thus also increased lack of land on which to build homes to house the migrants they thoughtlessly let in after 1970.

  9. Henrik says:

    @Rob: I can’t, offhand, think of any conceivable coalition which, if it included us and the US, wouldn’t piss off far more people than it comforted. Come to that, I don’t know where we’d get the getting-on-for-a-hundred-thousand-strong force we’d need to take and hold the areas currently either controlled or dominated by Daesh. Any occupation would be a disaster, as our own doctrine and adherence to specific codes of conduct would mean we were unable to use tactics and techniques which would have a chance of working.

    I don’t have a problem with the use of force at all – I was a soldier for a very long time, myself – but I have a huge problem with misdirected, pointless and wasteful use thereof.

    The cure for Daesh speaks Turkish or Arabic, Farsi at a pinch.

  10. Ex Labour says:

    @ Rob

    As for Russia I said the information came from I gave my source of information i.e. BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme which as you well know is the morning valium for the progressive left middle classes. Incidentally, did you see Hitchen’s on Newsnight Storyville or whatever its called last night ? He spoke on the same issue and tore your side of the agruement to shreads, which was put forward by some EU supporting apologist from The Economist.

    On Syria, it depends on where you take your information from doesn’t it? If you take it from the BBC, Guardian and other left wing rags it would of course be “freedom fighters fighting Assad’s oppression”. But if you get it from those living in the country and seeing what is happening, I think thats a bit more reliable dont you ?

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