The outpouring of sentiment about Fidel Castro from the political Left in the UK and around the world has been much criticised, as it has often either failed to mention his horrific human rights abuses, or sought to minimise them.
Realising how open to ridicule this position has become, as the hashtag TrudeauEulogies trended on Twitter in honour of the statement of Justin Trudeau, many on the Left instead made the comparison between the eulogies for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the condemnation of Fidel Castro.
So we can ignore Castro’s murder of his own citizens in his zeal to cling to power, simply because there are other evil people with whom we are allied?
I didn’t hear the Left ignoring the crimes of Augustin Pinochet simply because he happened to bring economic improvements to Chile. Why should the Right ignore the hypocrisy of the Left simply to avoid shining a torch on its own hypocrisy.
The Left does like to virtue signal, to suggest that it has a greater observance of Human Rights than the Right does. To suggest that it is more committed to Social Justice than the Right is. To suggest that it is more Moral.
The most brutal murderers of the 20th Century – Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot – were all of the Left. They were all held up at one time or other as examples to be followed by those on the Left.
Brutality exists on both the Extreme Right and the Extreme Left. Though there are more examples of extremism on the Left.
As it happens, I know the regime in Saudi Arabia is an abomination, which most Tories I know believe is doomed to be overthrown – though that revolution is something we should all fear, given what will no doubt replace it. There were a number of articles in the Right wing press when King Abdullah died suggesting that it was high time for a reassessment of our relationship with the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, because of the presence of oil, and because of their adherence to the Wahaabist death cult, we need a good relationship with the Government of Saudi Arabia. They are a critical partner in our foreign policy strategy; they are vital to our security apparatus; and they have the very real ability to cripple our economy by turning off the pumps.
That doesn’t mean that we can ignore the human rights abuses – indeed it may be that by being close partners, we are better placed to influence the Kingdom in private than those who forever scream from the outside. It was, for instance, that close relationship with the Republic of South Africa that led directly to F W de Klerk realising that apartheid must not and could not continue, as Nelson Mandela himself acknowledged. It was that close relationship that allowed Margaret Thatcher to persuade the South Africans to release Mr Mandela from jail.
I find it interesting that those who put forward the idea that we shouldn’t insist that Castro’s faults are considered as part of his legacy suggest that this is because others are worse. To suggest that we cannot consider Mr Castro’s barbarism because others are also barbarous is, to my mind, a rather elastic view of the world.
Following his bizarre pilgrimage to New York for a photo opportunity in a gold plated lift with the latest abomination on the world stage, Nigel Farage is now demanding to be appointed to some official Government role to negotiate with the United States.
Mr Farage is the temporary leader of the UK Independence Party, having resigned after the Referendum and sworn he was done with politics because he wanted his life back.
Five months later he is swooning at the sight of a racist misogynist moron being elected to one of the most powerful positions in the world. The meeting with Donald Trump was weird from the point of view of Mr Farage, but another huge blunder from the out-of-his-depth President-elect.
[This article isn’t about Mr Trump, but one does rather get the impression that he wasn’t really sure what the President does until his 90-minute meeting with Obama, and is now terrified as he realises how out of his depth he is.]
Mr Farage, meanwhile, demands that Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, appoints him to an official Government role to take advantage of his relationship with Mr Trump. I’m not sure what is more of a shock – that he has the chutzpah to suggest such a thing, or that Tory MPs as respected as Sir Gerald Howarth would think that it was a good idea.
Mr Farage is the temporary leader of the UK Independence Party. This is another political party, not a fringe of the Tories, no matter how much the left likes to suggest otherwise. UKIP candidates stand in elections, take votes that could otherwise go to Tory candidates, possible cost the Tories an overall majority in 2010, and certainly hold Council seats that were once Tory – Suffolk County Council would not be a hung council were it not for UKIP.
To suggest that a majority Tory government would appoint someone from another political party to such a vital relationship is bizarre enough, but what exactly does Mr Farage claim qualifies him to do the role? A political career spent sitting on various EU gravy trains while railing against the very organisation whose cash he is busy trousering?
The best person to lead the British Government’s relationship with the US Government is a professional diplomat, namely the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch. At a Governmental level it will be led by Theresa May, and Boris Johnson will negotiate with whoever Trump picks as Secretary of State, be it Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie or Sen Bob Corker.
Nigel Farage has nothing to offer the British Government; his time is past, his links to the vile racist elements of the Brexit campaign harmed that campaign and while they may endear him to the “Senior Counsellor to the President” Stephen Bannon – a racist white supremacist – they exclude him from ever having a role in any British Government post.
He should shut up and return to the obscurity he claims (from in front of the nearest TV camera) to crave.
I’m still very uncertain about the right outcome from tonight’s vote in the House of Commons on expanding military action against Daesh from Iraq to Syria.
It is a bit of an odd position for me to be in. Barely a year or so ago I was fully in favour of air strikes against Bashar al Assad and the Government of Syria, with the aim of supporting the Free Syrian Army. Assad had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons, but the move to war faltered when Ed Miliband whipped Labour MPs against the plans. When the British Government lost the vote in the House of Commons, the US Government also pulled out of plans to bomb Assad.
Now we’re bombing a group who were not around in these numbers back then. Daesh, or ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, or whatever they are called today, took control of half of Syria and a third of Iraq almost overnight.
It is important to note that this is not a new war – this is instead a war which only 43 MPs voted against when we started it. This is instead mission creep. This is the expansion of our military strategy in Iraq.
The House of Commons debated the extension of war as though it were a new war, for the most part, with many of the questions now being asked perhaps more properly aimed at the vote last year. There were powerful speeches from former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and an historic speech from Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn. There were some less helpful interventions, including the summing up by Philip Hammond, which misjudged the mood of MPs after Mr Benn’s terrific oratory.
The convention of House of Commons votes on military action has been brought about because of the opposition to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Before Tony Blair’s adventure, the Prime Minister would use the Royal Prerogative to authorise military action. Why does it matter that this is no longer how it is done? Well because the last time this Prime Minister, David Cameron, went to the House of Commons and asked for authorisation to take military action against Syria, back when he wanted to bomb Assad, the House of Commons said no.
It was that no that led to today. Firstly, you can draw a direct correlation between our failure to deal with Assad and the rise of Daesh. Secondly our allies, especially the United States, began to question whether we had become an unreliable ally. It was as much to deal with that perception that the Government wanted to extend military operations.
This particular operation has the benefit of being legal – whatever Len McLuskey might want to suggest – by virtue of an authorising resolution by the United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2249. I think that it is also warranted; Daesh are, in the words of Hilary Benn, fascists. Just look at what they have been doing in the territory over which they hold sway.
Mr Benn summarised it thus: “We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.
“We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.”
These people are modern day Nazis. And just like the Nazis they must be defeated. It is right that the world – including Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Qatar and Bharain – take action against them.
There are those who say that we shouldn’t take action against Daesh in Syria because it will make things less safe for people here at home. I hold absolutely no truck with that argument. Seven times this year the security services have disrupted advanced attempts by Daesh to attack us here. We’ve been bombing Daesh positions in Iraq for a year. It is luck, and good policing, more than anything else that has kept them from attacking us in London. With luck we will stay safe; but the terror threat in the UK has been “a terror attack is likely” for at least ten years.
Daesh are actively trying to attack us here at home, where we live. It is for this reason that action against them is legal under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the doctrine of self-defence.
So the law says that we are justified in attacking them where they live. Certainly humanity suggests that we are justified in assisting attempts to remove these fascists from their mastery over so many people. But this is where my support for our military operations falls apart; I simply do not believe we have the capacity to make an effective difference.
Our military campaign in Iraq has been successful. Despite the fact that our aging Tornado fleet barely has half a dozen operational aircraft, we have used our Brimstone missiles alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army to push Daesh out of Sinjar, and back away from Baghdad. But crucially the only way you can take and hold territory is with ground troops. You cannot win anything with air power alone. And in Syria the ground offensive is very different to that in Iraq.
Militarily of course it is ridiculous to say that if Daesh fighters cross an imaginary line in the sand, they cannot be attacked by British aircraft. That ruling has no doubt caused real problems for the coalition. If an aircraft is providing close air support to troops on the ground, who are in pursuit of Daesh fighters, yet that aircraft is British, there comes a point when suddenly it has to break off any attacks. It will take a while for another aircraft to arrive on station, so that then allows the Daesh fighters to melt away across the border.
It must also be frustrating for pilots who are flying missions over Iraq to see Daesh fighters who are the wrong side of a line on a map that Daesh don’t recognise, and not be able to attack them.
All of this is improved by the decision taken by the House of Commons tonight. Where the Government’s strategy falls down is the mythical 70,000 ground troops who will take on Daesh in Raqqa.
Without ground troops the air campaign cannot work. But the ground troops simply don’t exist in Syria. Sure, if you exclude the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Al Nusra, and any element of the Free Syrian Army with whom we will not work you still get a figure of around 75,000. But these fighters are not an army, like they are in Iraq. They are a disparate band of tribesmen who mostly hate each other more than they hate Daesh. These tribal hatreds run deep in Syria, and the wounding of the Assad regime has allowed them to boil over.
The Government will come to regret using the number 70,000. It will end up being like Tony Blair’s infamous 45 minute charge against Saddam Hussein. It simply isn’t credible to expect them to discontinue their fight to the death with Assad’s Government troops and turn around and attack Daesh.
Given the flaws of the Government’s strategy, I cannot support active targeting of military targets in Syria. Last night the Government made a mistake, and embroiled us further in a fight that cannot be won, where the best outcome is unclear, where our strategic partners have differing objectives, and where military strategy is at best confused.
We should not be bombing Syria.
Sanctions never work. That is the consensus of opinion around the military hawks in Western military-industrial complex. To be fair, they have a lot of evidence for that – in Iraq, Zimbabwe and Serbia, sanctions failed (and continue to fail in Syria) to damage the dictators in charge of the country, instead merely harming the people who we hope to protect.
Yet the sanctions imposed on Russia after their “support for Russian separatists” in Crimea and the Donbass regions of Ukraine, where many believe Russian troops are actively involved in a military attempt to alter the agreed international borders of a sovereign nation, appear to be working.
Not on their own, but combined with a collapse in the price of oil, sanctions are having a direct effect in Moscow. Putin is having to decide whether to continue with his hugely expensive refit of the Russian military – replacing all that 1970s Soviet era kit with modern equipment – or to defer some of it in order to pay for ongoing operations.
For instance, Russia was committed to buying 52 Sukhoi T-50 aircraft, their response to the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Yet in March they announced that they would instead be buying just 12, to allow the Russian air force to evaluate them and decide “how many they can afford to buy.” This may be, in part, related to India’s complaints that the plane is pricey, sloppy, under-powered and hated by their air force.
The same has happened with the new Main Battle Tank. The Russian army was expected to take delivery of the T-15 Armata MBT, initially buying 2,300 of the powerful battlefield weapons. But at £4.4 million each they are significantly more expensive than expected. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yury Burisov has already announced that the delivery is expected to be delayed, despite Putin insisting that all 2,300 will be delivered by 2020.
Russia’s clear priority remains its nuclear force. Any cuts will have to come from the conventional weapons, because the Russian Navy is already being re-equipped and Putin announced only this week that they will take delivery of 40 new nuclear missiles. The navy has received a number of new nuclear submarines in the last couple of years, and the Borei class Alexander Nevsky shipped the full complement of 16 Buclava nukes.
For the Russian military to keep on track with its ambitious re-equipment programme, given the 5% budget cuts the shrinking Russian economy has forced on them, there will have to be cuts in the operational budget. This will mean fewer Tu-95 Bear bombers skirting the edge of UK airspace, fewer massive exercises across Eastern Russia, and hopefully less support for the Ukrainian insurgency.
None of this stops Vladimir Putin spending his time throwing his weight around. Ultimately the reason the West has done nothing about Syria is less to do with Ed Miliband’s “leadership” in the House of Commons and more to do with Putin insisting that we would regret overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. This week he has even announced that he will build a gas pipeline through Greece, which offers him no strategic benefit – except that Greece is a NATO partner and anything that drives a wedge between NATO, Europe and Greece helps Putin.
But it does show that sanctions do work. Ultimately the West has to remember just how Ronnie & Maggie destroyed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR collapsed because the fragile command economy was unable to provide the funds to keep up that military edge. Capitalism has the ability to beat communisim in that way. But we can force Putin back in his box if we can keep his economy too small to build up his armies. We might regret it if we don’t.