Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

2018: The year of still living dangerously

04/01/2018, 11:03:44 PM

by Rob Marchant

If you thought 2017 was a disturbing time for world geopolitics, hang on to your hats. Last January we wrote about the potential bear-traps of a Trump presidency. One year into it, they are all still there and mostly look worse.

Current situations in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states all look like either remaining, or escalating into, serious conflicts during 2018. Worse than that, we live in genuinely unstable times where the historical precedents are not great.

Aggressive powers – mostly Russia and its client states – have been appeased over recent years in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way fascist powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) were appeased in the 1930s, also following a few years after a major financial crisis and world recession. And that decade didn’t end too well.

The problem that Jeremy Corbyn has is, of course, that he is on the wrong side of the debate regarding all these potential flashpoints. While he will equivocate and be plausibly deniable over his support or not in each case, let’s look at the facts.

  1. Iran: Corbyn was paid to present on the regime’s propaganda mouthpiece PressTV (note that this is not the same as appearing on it, although frankly even that is a questionable action, given its banning from the airwaves by OfCom for breaches of broadcasting standards). He appeared on it even six months after its licence was revoked. Further, he has yet to even comment on, let alone support the protesters in, the ongoing scuffles and their violent suppression of the last week, or criticise Iran’s despotic and repressive government.
  2. With North Korea, although he has superficially appealed to both the US and North Korea for calm and argued for them to disarm (a somewhat optimistic appeal in either case), Corbyn’s inner circle also contains known regime apologists such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. Until becoming leader, he chaired Stop the War Coalition (now chaired by Murray), an organisation which superficially advocates for peace but, strangely, never seems to criticise any governments apart from those in the West. Maintaining this disingenuous, “will both sides please step back” approach, while simultaneously implying that only one side is to blame, is typical of Corbyn’s “cognitive dissonance” approach to foreign policy.
  3. Similarly, in all his comments on Syria, he has never once criticised Bashar Assad, a dictator known to have committed mass-murder against his own citizens. He also said there was “very strong evidence” supporting the Russia-propagated position that the use of sarin gas was by the rebels and not by the Assad regime, later proven to be a lie.
  4. Finally, in Ukraine, Milne propagated the Russia-pushed (and blatantly untrue) line that the Euromaidan protestors in Kyiv were having their strings pulled by fascists. If Russia were to attempt a full takeover of the country, or march into one of the Baltic states (something not at all beyond the realms of possibility in the potentially limited window while Trump remains POTUS), you could guarantee that at best he would appeal for calm on both sides, rather than supporting Britain’s treaty obligation to respond in kind via NATO.For those who do not consider a Baltic invasion possible, by the way, please consider (i) the deep nervousness of the states themselves and (ii) the relative ease with which Putin has already browbeaten and manipulated the world into relatively passive acceptance of his invasion of three Ukrainian provinces. The cost so far has been only selective sanctions on Russian individuals, sanctions which Trump has already (unsuccessfully) attempted to lift. The only difference here is NATO: again, something which Trump is dismissive of.

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This is a competition between individuals who aspire to govern a country. It is not a charity event

17/06/2015, 10:35:38 AM

by Rob Marchant

We’re like that in the Labour Party, aren’t we? Oh, he’s a nice bloke, he deserves a shot at this. One of us. Can’t we swing it to get him on the list? Or, worse: we’d better put him on the list, or there’ll be hell to pay.

Never mind that the rules of the list are that you need to get 35 MP nominations. Nominations, note, not pity transfers. It is perfectly right that all sections of the party should be represented in this ballot. But those – and only those – which have earned them.

So when a bunch of MPs decide at the eleventh hour to switch nominations specifically to let Jeremy Corbyn MP limp onto the shortlist, it is against the spirit of the rules, even if it is not against the letter, plain common sense and the seriousness of a leadership election.

Then again, as Jonathan Reynolds MP noted on Monday, neither is this anything approaching serious politics. It is not.

In one move, a small section of the PLP has achieved three things. One, it has shown its contempt for its own rule-book, were it not clear enough already. It has reinforced the idea that, if the rules provide a result you do not like, pressure people to bend the rules and they will.

Two: it has strengthened the voice of its most extreme wing far beyond its genuine representation in the Labour Party (if you don’t believe this, wait and see how Corbyn actually polls in September, or recall Diane Abbott’s dismal poll in 2010).

Three: it has played right into the hands of a few hard-left clowns, whose strategy was to mobilise in order to hammer an online poll at LabourList, in the hope that its (at that point clearly meaningless) result would create unstoppable momentum for a Corbyn place on the leadership list.

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2015 is going to be a dangerous year

31/12/2014, 11:15:28 AM

by Rob Marchant

No, not because there is a general election coming and, given how balanced on a knife-edge the whole thing is, the stakes are unusually high and any false move will likely be enough to do for Labour’s hopes. Although that, too, is true.

At our year-end stocktaking, perhaps it behoves us to climb into the helicopter and look at where we are in time and place.

And if there were a year to bring home to European and US citizens that their current leaders do not really seem up the job of world statesmanship, 2014 was it. In terms of foreign events, it has been a fairly astonishing year.

First in the list of astonishing feats has been that the bullying leader of a major military power – and the world’s sixth largest economy – could take two sizeable bites out of a neighbour’s territory, with scant response from the developed world, other than an outbreak of gratuitous harrumphing and some fairly limited sanctions.

An action and reaction that reminded anyone with a sense of history of nothing so much as the gradual nibbling away of Czechoslovakia in 1938 by Germany, one of the main preludes to the Second World War. And of Chamberlain’s memorable response, that it was “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.

Second, that the US should delude itself that there was a realistic hope of sensible negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons, with the US negotiating hopefully that the country might see fit to give up something that international law said they were not supposed to have in the first place. The Iranians, surely, cannot believe their luck that it has gone this far.

Third, that the West’s abject failure to act in Syria three years ago has, predictably, come back to bite it in the horrific form of Islamic State, happy to assassinate the innocent merely to send us all a crazed message.

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Standard Chartered: these are the real ills of modern banking

08/08/2012, 12:31:21 PM

by Rob Marchant

Banks, eh? On the British left, we’re often so busy disliking them in general that we don’t always take the time to differentiate between their misdemeanours.

While we’ve been exercising ourselves greatly about irresponsible bankers who have largely been operating within the rules – and where arguably we ought to be looking first to governments, for not having done their jobs in regulating them properly – we miss something else.

And so, much less attention has gone, until recently, on a much more serious problem: those who actively flout the rules. In particular, the illegal transfer and laundering of money.

On Monday the stock of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), one of Britain’s oldest banking institutions, dive-bombed as it was accused of sanctions-busting with Iran. Accused, because the bank currently denies this. We shall see. If true, it is a sad and ironic tale, which I can perhaps help explain, because I used to work there.

SCB has been, in fact, a real British success story, formed from the merger of two old colonial banks in 1969, although its success was largely due to seeking its fortune in Asia. Although not so well-known to the British public, in Hong Kong and Singapore it is as much a high-street bank as NatWest is in the UK. And although it still keeps its legal HQ in London for regulatory – and perhaps historic – reasons, its real revenue and headcount is in these Asian hubs, as well as, more recently, China and India.

It’s an interesting place to work, because it has a culture which is international, and yet unlike many multi-nationals, not particularly American (its New York branch is actually quite small). Indeed, although it has modernised, and “Asianised”, its corporate culture since the stuffy 1960s, it might also be viewed as a microcosm of what multinationals might look like, had the sun not set on the British Empire during the 20th century: a British-Asian fusion, a latter-day East India Company.

For all these reasons, it surprises me not a jot that one of its British execs might utter the words “You f—ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?”

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