Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Snippets; the Rise of ISIS, Existential Threats, Small Businesses Going Bankrupt, Humans as Quite Typical Birds, Rebekah Brooks Not Convicted, Buddhism Misbehaving in Burma
If you kick a hornets’ nest and then complain that the hornets are behaving badly and irrationally, this suggests you don’t know much about hornets. Likewise with Blair and Iraq.
Just in case there is anyone out there who still takes the man seriously, please note what he was saying back in 2001. This was after 9/11, when the USA was shocked and outraged to find that violence could come home to them after they had spent years spreading it all round the world. Naturally Blair was supportive. He enthusiastically fed into the process that later led to the invasion of Iraq:
“Tony Blair yesterday turned his battle against the terrorists who ravaged New York into a far wider struggle for a new world order that would uphold human dignity and social justice ‘from the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan’.
“In what was almost certainly the most powerful speech of his career, the prime minister used his speech to the Labour conference to synthesise an uncompromising hostility to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network – and the Taliban if they do not give him up – with a vaunting promise to remake the world as a better place…
“‘Our way of life is a great deal stronger and will last a great deal longer than the actions of fanatics, small in number and now facing a unified world against them.'”[A]
No serious source claimed any connection between Saddam’s secular regime and the hard-line Islamists of al-Qaeda. But it turned out that the public confused the two, particularly in the USA. So since Saddam’s Iraq had unexpectedly survived all of the misery inflicted on it since 1991, a variety of falsehoods were used to justify a full-scale invasion. Bush Senior had sensibly concluded that occupying Iraq would be a quagmire and that the USA should avoid trying to occupy. Bush Junior in 2003 decided otherwise, in the face of a lot of sensible advice telling him this was foolish. Tony Blair was an enthusiastic supporter:
“A country always has to know its place in the world. For Britain this is of special importance. At the end of the 19th century we were an imperial power. A century later the empire was gone. Naturally, and despite the pride of our victory in world war two, our definition seemed less certain. Our change in circumstances affected our confidence and self-belief. Yet today I have no doubt what our place is and how we should use it…
“Fundamentalist political ideology now seems an aberration of the 20th century. But religious extremism through the misinterpretation of Islam is a danger all over the world, not because it is supported by large numbers of ordinary people but because it can be manipulated by small numbers of fanatics to distort the lives of ordinary people.”[B]
There’s a fine old US saying: ‘it isn’t ignorance that makes you a fool, it’s what you know that ain’t so’. Tony Blair acts foolishly, not because he lacks cleverness, but because he devoutly believes all of the nonsense that is currently fashionable in the media and among the intelligentsia. ‘Fundamentalist political ideology’ must mean Leninism and Fascism – but both were reactions to the massive aberrations created by liberal capitalism and the senseless fifty-two month slaughter of the Great War. Both Leninism and Fascism insisted on much better welfare for ordinary people, though fascism rejected ‘brotherhood of man’ and upheld unequal rights on the basis of sex, colour and presumed racial origin.
Liberalism before World War Two was divided whether equality of sex, colour and race was a good idea. Even when such universalism was officially favoured, liberalism was slow to implement it. Most methods that had a chance of being effective could also be rejected as ‘threats to the liberty of the individual’. Very few liberals in positions of power would uphold ‘liberty of the individual’ when they saw a major cost or threat to people like themselves. British and US judges are notable for not doing so on matters of spying and security, for instance. But when it is merely the welfare of the lesser breeds, ‘liberty of the individual’ becomes all-important.
Britain only gave votes to women in 1918, but not to women under 30 until 1928. The USA first gave women votes at a national level in 1920. Radical and republican France only gave women the vote in 1944. The USA only established functional voting rights for Afro-Americans in the South in the 1960s, alienating Southern Democrats and enabling US Republicans from Nixon onwards to collect their votes without giving them anything of substance. The British Empire mostly did not give meaningful voting rights to non-whites in places where there were enough of them to matter. India got a parliament, but the Viceroy appointed by Westminster took all of the important decisions, including taking India into World War Two. Britain also locked up Mahatma Ghandi and other leaders of the Indian Congress Party when they refused to support this without some promise that the powerless Indian Parliament would get real powers after the war. Britain and the USA also only moved to outlaw racial discrimination at home in the 1960s, and the context was the Cold War. The Soviet Union had an imperfect record on racial and sexual equality, but it did loudly uphold the idea and was attracting a lot of radical-female and non-white support at the time.
Blair admires radicalism of the pre-1914 variety, and has expressed regret that it split into socialist and non-socialist parties. A major reason was that non-socialist radicals were mostly weak upholders of sexual and racial equality (though many socialists were also most imperfect by modern standards). Most radicals and some socialists also wanted Imperialism to continue for the foreseeable future: George Orwell supported the standard imperialist line that India was unready for independence.[C] The Radicals who dominated the Spanish Republic in the Civil War had no intention of granting independence to Spanish Morocco, which might have influenced the Moroccan troops who did a lot to ensure General Franco’s victory.
By modern standards, mainstream Western politics before World War Two was as much an aberration as Leninism and Fascism now seem. The big difference was that it was highly respectful of the rights of white males who were not overtly homosexual and who claimed no more than was considered proper for their position in the class structure. It was a feeble sort of freedom by modern standards, but many are nostalgic for it.
During and after World War Two, the Western mainstream borrowed a lot of policies that only Leninism had previously been serious about. They also threw out a lot of the ideas that they had shared with Fascism. It would be nice to suppose that this was some sort of inevitable progress, but it seems at least as likely that it was due to a string of political accidents. Plus a lot of ruthless cunning by Stalin as the main leader of Leninism.
It is an observable fact that Leninism lost its effectiveness wherever it tried to deny that Stalin was a natural produce of Lenin’s system, and a very efficient operator of that system. China took a wiser path, not denying its origins in Mao’s version of Stalin’s system, but simply moving on and doing similar things much more mildly.
Fascism and Nazism had been widely admired by the centre and centre-right in Britain and the USA before they became enemies in World War Two. Spain and Portugal, broadly fascist but neutral in World War Two, were tolerated until internal forces changed them. Portugal was a member of NATO: Spain was excluded from NATO until after Franco, but was strongly supported by the USA, which had bases there.
Blair accepts the New Right line that claims continuity of Western values before 1914 and after 1945, without noticing how much these values were influenced by Leninism. Or how easily they might have compromised with Fascism had world politics gone otherwise.
Continuing with the same misunderstandings, Blair in 2003 said:
” First, we should remain the closest ally of the US, and as allies influence them to continue broadening their agenda. We are the ally of the US not because they are powerful, but because we share their values. I am not surprised by anti-Americanism; but it is a foolish indulgence. For all their faults and all nations have them, the US are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud.”[D]
Really? US history includes plenty they should be ashamed of. A global cult of commercial vulgarity. Bad education for the majority, meaning that 42% of them believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.[E] And while Britain has largely integrated its non-white minorities, the USA has strong unofficial segregation with black and white audiences mostly watching different television programs, among other things. Overall, the worse side of the USA, the US South, has become increasingly powerful in the culture. The North had an almost unbroken string of victories until the Vietnam War: the South had experience of failure and loss and proved it was robust in the USA’s post-Vietnam recovery.
The USA maintained slavery until the 1860s, even though most northern states outlawed it on their own territory. The US South were the only substantial body of people in the modern world who fought a war to maintain slavery. The tale about it being ‘state rights’ is nonsense: Lincoln specifically stated that he had no power to end slavery in properly constituted states. He was unacceptable because he did intend to limit the further spread of slavery westward, to territories not yet recognised as states and where Federal authority was dominant.
The seceding Confederacy felt it necessary to entrench the legality of slavery for blacks in its newly adopted Constitution, saying “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”[F] Also “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”[G] And “The Confederate States may acquire new territory… In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government.”[H]
If some individual Confederates would have liked to end slavery eventually, the things they say in their Constitution shows that elected politicians took a different view. [I] And like most nice sentiments in liberal societies, Confederate anti-slavery views tended to be weak in practice and come second to self-interest. General Robert E. Lee was one of those who expressed verbal support for getting rid of slavery: but when his wife inherited a large estate with numerous slaves at Arlington in a portion of Virginia close to Washington DC, Lee proceeded to work those slaves ruthlessly in order to improve the value of this rich but debt-burdened property. It caused a scandal at the time, which was shortly before the war, but did not prevent Lincoln from trying to persuade Lee to command the Union forces. Lee initially tried to stay neutral, but then joined in and became the Confederacy’s best general, most likely prolonging the war by a couple of years. Had Stonewall Jackson lived or had Grant been killed early on, Lee could easily have delivered victory for the South. As simple a matter as not losing the ‘lost orders’ before the Battle of Antietam could have changed history.[J]
During the war, the Union government used various shenanigans to confiscate Arlington. If the South had the worse cause, the North was dirtier in the way it fought the war. They insisted that General Lee must in person pay taxes due on the estate, which would obviously have involved him making himself available for arrest as an enemy soldier and even possibly a traitor. (In the end no one was prosecuted for treason for serving the Confederacy, but it was freely discussed and urged at the time.) They refused to let his wife pay the tax on what was after all her property, and then seized it for non-payment. Correctly suspecting that this governmental shysterism would eventually be reversed, the Army began burying soldiers there, some of them African-American, hoping to ruin its value and desirability. That was the origin of the much-revered Arlington Cemetery: the original confiscation was ruled illegal, but Lee’s family understandably chose to sell it back to the government.
The Confederacy was in no sense an aberration, whatever US liberals and overseas admirers might like to think. They were closer to the original Founding-Fathers’ concept of the USA than the North: an all-white small-property community with males dominant and a minimum of foreign influences. Yet the North was also racist, though it could not stomach slavery. Most Northern states denied the vote to non-whites. Blacks were seen as inferior, but still too close to whites to justify treating them like animals. The Union army initially refused to accept African-American volunteers, who had been accepted for previous wars. It only accepted them when it started running out of suitable white men.
With the war won, the North soon allowed the South to use intimidation and trickery to deny African-Americans the voting rights that the 15th Amendment had given them. In this and many other ways, US traditions are a lousy example for the rest of the world to follow.
Blair in 2003 was also pushing the rumour of illegal weapons, despite plenty of people telling him that Iraq had in fact obeyed UN demands. He insisted it was unsafe to let Iraq work out its own destiny: “So when as with Iraq, the international community through the UN makes a demand on a regime to disarm itself of WMD and that regime refuses, that regime threatens us.”[K]
Saddam had actually suppressed the various forms of Islamism that have since flourished after the West smashed the Baathist state. The Western invaders could have taken over most of it and in the longer run did so. But their initial idea was to smash what existed, in the damn-fool belief that values familiar in the West would emerge spontaneously:
“In the end, all these things come back to one basic theme. The values we stand for: freedom, human rights, the rule of law, democracy, are all universal values. Given a chance, the world over, people want them.”[L]
No, you fool, these are post-1945 developments of Latin-Christian culture and its various offshoots. They have been successfully copied in places like Japan and South Korea, because the elite decided that this was a good idea and introduced them in stages – which was also how they came about in Britain and most other European countries. The USA opted for a version of the British system that was already familiar, and was not fully democratic even for white males until the 1830s. In France, the old elite tried to stifle the gradual liberalisation that had happened in Britain, resulting in revolution and a drastic break with the past. But this didn’t result in anything stable: there were numerous swings between parliamentary, monarchic and autocratic rule across the decades. It needed de Gaulle as the final autocrat to give France a reasonably stable political existence – and the current austerity-induced crisis in Europe could yet pitch France into another cycle of instability.
The best hope of implanting something like the Western system in the Arab world would have been to persuade the existing rulers to allow it by stages. Saddam Hussein, Mubarak and Assad Junior all seemed open to some such compromise, but the West congratulated itself on taking a hard line on overthrowing them. Blair was one of many who ignored what had worked historically and demanded that foreigners with alien traditions should dance to the tune of a Western fantasy.
People complain about the existence of brutal dictators, as if this were an isolated problem. Yet it is unavoidable if the society is already brutal or is a brutalised society, or a collection of tribal elements with a fragmented and broadly brutal outlook. Or if differences between potential governments are enough to make people brutal or murderous, which has applied in Iraq for the differences between Religious Shia and the rest. And applied in Sri Lanka to differences between Tamils and Sinhalese, despite an unbroken tradition of Parliamentary Democracy since independence.
The West’s much-vaunted Open Society is a clearing in the thicket of human possibilities. There was a lot of chopping, burning and brutality to establish the clearing, after which new generations might grow up and see an orderly and ruthlessly imposed system as natural. And then to suppose that these are ‘universal values’ that would automatically spring into existence when there were no bad people behaving oppressively. You even find people in Ireland believing this, though the Irish should know better than any other surviving culture the degree of brutality that was actually involved in establishing Global Britishness as the closest thing we have to an agreed global standard.
Saddam Hussein, Mubarak and Assad Junior were all broadly sympathetic to Global Britishness, though mostly in its US version. And it has become convenient and pleasant to forget just how much the USA is an offshoot of Britain. The USA imagines itself as an Immaculate Conception arising spontaneously on conveniently empty territory in North America: which if true would make it easy to reproduce the same thing elsewhere. I’d assume that the old elite in the USA knew that this was window-dressing, because they certainly acted in ways that suggest a very different outlook. But from Reagan onwards, people started taking power in Washington who could best be called ‘New Backwoodsmen’, proud of their ignorance and determined to learn nothing and forget nothing.[M] They acted as if the window-dressing were true, and don’t have it in them to learn anything different. And such was the prestige of the USA that the New Backwoodsmen acquired swarms of foreign admirers, most notably Thatcher and Blair in Britain.
In typical nice-liberal fashion, Blair also expresses his desire for fairness, without being very specific about how this is to be achieved:
“But they have to be pursued alongside another value: justice, the belief in opportunity for all. Without justice, the values I describe can be portrayed as ‘Western values’; globalisation becomes a battering ram for Western commerce and culture; the order we want is seen by much of the world as ‘their’ order not ‘ours’.
“The consensus can only be achieved if pursued with a sense of fairness, of equality, of partnership. Our role is to use all the strengths of our history, unique in their breadth for a country our size, to unify nations around that consensus.”[N]
That’s the man who allowed the rising inequality of the Thatcher era to get worse, and who privatised stuff that Thatcher had left alone.
“One last thing we, Britain, need: confidence in ourselves.”[O]
Confidence that you can do what you’re actually not capable of is hardly a virtue. Nor is shifting the blame after things have gone wrong.
I mentioned earlier that Blair devoutly believes in nonsense that is currently fashionable in the media. This gives him some semblance of sense against those who take a similar view but are wobbly about it.
After Sunni Iraq rose under ISIS leadership against a sectarian Shia government, Blair was quite clear why he was not to blame:
“Though the challenge of terrorism was and is very real, the sectarianism of the Maliki Government snuffed out what was a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive Iraq. This, combined with the failure to use the oil money to re-build the country, and the inadequacy of the Iraqi forces have led to the alienation of the Sunni community and the inability of the Iraqi army to repulse the attack on Mosul and the earlier loss of Fallujah. And there will be debate about whether the withdrawal of US forces happened too soon”.[P]
The real error was smashing the Baathist state, which was based on Sunni Arabs but did have some Shia Arab supporters. The USA’s New Backwoodsmen believed that it had been a terrible error for the USA to have worked with the old regimes in West Germany, Italy and Japan. If they’d said ‘better to fail by clean methods that succeed by ignoring evil’, that would have been noble. Those characters are not noble, just ignorant and dishonest. They brought back Baathists after everything else had visibly failed, and they allowed extensive torture by the shabby trick of denying that it was torture.
Blaming Maliki is easy for the West. The New Backwoodsman attitude seems to be “we know our system is the best possible. So if things are going wrong, we need to replace the guy in charge, who must be to blame”. Obama seems to have swallowed this nonsense as practical wisdom, while trying to be mild where he can. And mostly he can’t, for as long as he does not throw out the New Backwoodsman as complete nonsense
Nouri al-Maliki has a background in the Shia religious underground, and has been linked to the people who did a wave of terrorist bombing in Kuwait in 1983. That was at a time when Saddam was attacking Iran with Western backing and Kuwaiti funding. Returning to Iraq after the US invasion, he became the deputy leader of the Supreme National Debaathification Commission of the Iraqi Interim Government, formed to purge former Baath Party officials from the military and government. In May 2006, he replaced Ibrahim al-Jaafari both as Prime Minister and as leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, the largest of many rival Religious-Shia factions. I don’t know enough about him to assess him in detail, but he obviously occupies a very uncertain position at the top of a worm-bucket of rival factions of Religious Shia. He has to allow corruption just to stay in power, just as all British Prime Ministers did in the 18th century and all US Presidents in the ‘Gilded Age’ after the US Civil War. Anyone likely to replace him would be unlikely to be better.[Q]
Iraq was invented by Britain to serve British interests. It is being destroyed by stages by Britain and the USA in a massively miscalculated effort to make it more subservient to Anglo interests.
We in the Ernest Bevin Society said as far back as 1991 that Iraq was an unnatural creation formed from three unconnected provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Saddam’s brutal rule was a result of trying to rule this diversity. Replacing him would in the long run mean someone equally brutal and much less to Western tastes. All of this has proved dismally accurate.
I deal at length with Blair, because it would be all too easy for the current crop of political leaders to wash their hands of Blair and Bush Junior but keep much the same outlook. Bush Junior is mediocre, Blair quite gifted, but it was their world view that caused most of their errors.
Blair’s fate seems likely to be that he will leave behind a despised memory, managing ‘ To Leave Some Dirty Footmarks and Bloodstains on the Sands of Time’. I’d also like to honour him with the term ‘Bliaring’, to cover the case of statements that are in a limited sense true, but which are intended to make the listener believe something that the speaker does not regard as true. Blair’s notorious statement about Saddam being able to deploy ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in 45 minutes was one such: he had credible reports that Saddam had some poison gas suitable for short-range deployments on battlefields, though even this was not true. But it’s hard to believe he wasn’t intentionally playing on the ambiguity in the term ‘weapons of mass destruction’, to make people in the West think they were at risk when Saddam never in fact had any weapons that could touch them.
I don’t know if anyone suggested to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that it would have been a good idea to let the relatives of the deposed Ottoman Sultan carry on as hereditary Caliphs, rather than abolishing the office in 1924. He was certainly operating in the spirit of Western liberalism in removing the top layer of the old political order and hoping that the rest would gradually wither in the absence of official recognition.
Yet as Professor Tolkien said, ‘the old that is strong does not wither’. Belief among Sunni Muslims that there should be a caliph was immensely strong. Just as strong as a belief in Monarchy and Bishops in Britain, which the pioneering liberals under Cromwell got rid of and the more pragmatic liberals of the 1688 Glorious Revolution co-existed with and gradually reduced to insignificance. The USA managed for a time without such things, but had absurd hyping of the Constitution, and also the President until the ugly reality was exposed under Nixon. It also has a gigantic survival of Christian Fundamentalism, of the sort that collapsed in England and Wales in the 20th century.
Christian Fundamentalism in the USA relies heavily on the support of a few rich enthusiasts, and so is subordinate to their wishes. Islamic Fundamentalism is something else, competing with Secular Nationalism as a force to re-assert Arab dignity. And currently doing quite well at the job, after the West helpfully slapped down every Secular Nationalist who dared get uppity.
At the time of writing (noon on 2nd July) it is impossible to predict what will become of the proclamation of a new Caliphate. We’ve been told that the advance of ISIS involved a coalition of many forces, some tribal and some former Baathists. They might fragment, if they are fools, and they have been foolish many times before. But they might also see this new Caliphate as the least bad outcome.
Remarkably, it seems that the Turks have decided to co-exist with Iraqi Kurdistan. They have now given it an independent outlet for its oil, via Turkey and independent of the Sunni and Shia parts of Iraq.[R]
There are also suspicions that the USA is not as hostile as you’d have expected to the ISIS advance. ISIS was funded by Gulf State and Saudi interests, normally friendly to the USA. Which reminds me strongly of Germany’s traditional right-wing making Hitler Chancellor in the belief that they could control him. Definitely, the USA is happy to go on funding anti-Assad forces in Syria, making a distinction between Moderate and Extreme that has failed before and is likely to fail again.[S]
Even more remarkably, Israel has been suggesting that it would support a formal declaration of independence by Iraqi Kurdistan,[T] which I’d see as totally crazy. It would help break the Iran / Iraq / Syria / Hezbollah alignment. But most Muslims and most Palestinians are Sunni. The idea of a new Caliphate could catch fire among them.
Would Kurds help defeat the new Caliphate? I’d expect the big fight to be for mixed Sunni / Shia areas further south. Especially Baghdad, historic centre for the Sunni caliphate. The Caliphate and the Kurds have a common interest in seeing Iraq fragment, since the Shia are a majority and will go on winning elections that are conducted on the basis of seeing Iraq as a single unit. So I’d expect Caliphate / Kurd fights to be limited and local, based on overlapping populations and minorities that might opt for either side. Neither side wants the other side’s core areas.
Note also that the Kurds in Iraq are relatively strong, precisely because they have mostly relied on themselves and not outsiders. It tends to be the successful formula in the long run, with outside aid a seductive path that mostly leads to disaster.
The policies of the USA and Israel in the Middle East strongly remind me of what’s called control-freak behaviour at a personal level. Someone who keeps on ruining relationships by making excessive demands and not being respectful of other people’s right to be different. Someone who’s not even capable of a selfish calculation of how much they can get away with: they always have exaggerated expectations and never accept blame for failures.
It may well happen that Turkey is willing to tolerate Iraqi Kurdistan, which will be dependent on Turkey to export its oil. But they have no reason to like Israel: they are Muslims and the current Turkish government is strongly religious. I’d expect them to stand aside and do nothing if things got hot for Israel. I’d expect them to stay out of fights between Arabs.
If the new Caliphate survives, its next move might be to push into Jordan and then start a border war with Israel. Assuming the current fighting with Shia Iraq bogs down, the two sides might agree a cease-fire on the basis of this being their intention, and something that Iran would like to see happen even if they are not able to do it themselves. Or we could even see a joint force of Shia Iranians and Sunni Caliphate forces uniting to win back Jerusalem and other Holy Places for Islam. Stranger things have happened.
Unlike the secular regimes that Israel defeated before, the Caliphate are people who have come from the extremist margins and may well feel that they have nothing to lose. And would probably see Israel’s nuclear weapons as part of ‘God’s Plan’, a purgation of corrupt elements within Islam and a short-cut to paradise for the devout.
Meantime Obama is determined to give enormous military aid to “moderate rebels” in Syria. Missing the elementary fact that war is always radicalising and has a way of turning marginal extremists into national governments. True of both Fascism and Leninism, with a second wave of Leninism helped by the Second World War, even in places the Soviet Army never went. Indeed, the most durable Leninist states were those created separately from the Soviet Army and in response to the chaos unleashed by the war.
But that gets to the heart of the false history that the New Right etc. believe with great fervour. Fascism and Leninism were irrational and occurred for no good reason, not as a result of chaos unleashed by liberal capitalism. This isn’t just propaganda – it may have begun as a Big Lie, but the trouble with Big Lies is that people may start believing them. With competitive electoral politics, the people who knew it was propaganda may be replaced by True Believers.
Obama and many others show every sign of having swallowed this part of the New Right message. Which is anyway compatible with the more anarchic and anti-Soviet elements of broad-liberal and New Left thinking.
I’d see it as leading to widening war in the Middle East, and the possible overrunning of Israel. The end of the US hegemony. But probably not a world war. China has no reason to get involved and has major Islamic friends, notably Pakistan. It has a small partly-Islamist insurgency among Uighurs in Xinjiang, but most of them are secular and doing quite nicely as part of China’s general rise. Also China has armed forces that are larger than there are Uighurs of military age, yet has a relatively small army compared to its enormous population. In any case, there seem to be plenty of Uighurs loyal to Zhongguo. (Zhongguo is the Chinese state, quite distinct for its citizens from the majority Han nationality, even though in English the term ‘Chinese’ is used for both.)
China and Russia may well be calculating that it is a good time to step back and let the USA ruin itself in a war with Islam. This may explain Putin’s decision to definitely rule out any possibility of sending the Russian army into East Ukraine.[U] Let this new Orange Revolution run its course and discredit itself, as the old one did.
I’d expect the chaos to be confined to the Middle East. At a personal level, we in Europe will not suffer much, unless enough Israeli nuclear bombs are detonated to start a Nuclear Winter, which is conceivable. Especially if they go after the main oil fields, setting them alight as Saddam did but on a far vaster scale.
We should also anticipate a few million Jewish refugees from Israel and other non-Muslims from the wider Middle East, as well as secular Muslims from what is likely to be an increasingly violent and intolerant Arab World. I’d be in favour of letting them in, and I assume most readers of this magazine would feel the same. But a large majority in Europe and the USA are likely to be against, including a lot of those currently supporting Israel’s doomed policies.
If the government of Israel were sensible, they would be acting now to see if there is somewhere that would take several million displaced Jews if all else is lost, with both Australia and New Zealand worth considering. But I think it very unlikely they would be that sensible or defeatist.
Intelligent action by the USA or an independent line by the European Union could still avert disaster. But there is no real prospect of this. Anyone who might see the need would lack the power.
The spectacular rise of the Sunni Caliphate has overshadowed news from East Ukraine. Not that you get much of that from the BBC, which pulled out most of its reporters when it became clear that what they’d see was heavy weaponry being used by the Kiev government on ordinary people who wanted to keep up their links with Russia.
Governments don’t use bombs and shells on their own people. If they do it within their own sovereign territory, they obviously don’t view the people living there as ‘their people’. True in East Ukraine, for both sides in the Syrian Civil War and now for the Shia government trying to retake Sunni territory in Iraq.
In Iraq, Maliki is the current winner in the immensely complex power-struggles within the Shia community. Given his background, it seems unlikely he wants to be moderate, but in any case he would find it very difficult. It was a reasonable prediction back in 2003 or even 1991 that a system of Competitive Electoral Politics in Iraq would produce someone like that.
In Ukraine, the first few years had fairly normal politics, not polarised between West and East. But then the USA stirred up the Orange Revolution and polarised it. When it was almost normalised again but the European Union offered Ukraine a bad deal, the West stepped in again and made things much worse. Further deterioration is likely, since the deal is bad for Ukraine. The European Union is under great strain and not likely to give out any sweeteners.
If anyone in the new global elite had a good idea of what was really going on, it would be George Soros. He’s vastly superior to the New Backwoodsmen, taking a broadly European view of the world. But I always suspected he knew little outside the narrow area of financial speculation, and now I’ve got objective proof:
“After all, a single sunspot experiment was sufficient to demonstrate the deficiency of Newtonian physics and establish the credentials of Einstein’s theory of relativity. But there is a big difference between Einstein’s theory and mine. Einstein could predict specific phenomena: the Michelson-Morley experiment proved the invariance of the speed of light and the perihelion confirmed general relativity. I cannot predict anything except unpredictability – and that is not enough to cloak my theory in scientific respectability.”[V]
Some of us can predict a few things besides unpredictability, such as the improbability of the invasion of Iraq actually working as the USA hoped. And the high probability of characters like Soros loud-mouthing about matters they don’t properly understand, and not bothering to check their hazy notions with scientists. People who would surely be happy to politely advise a potential source of research funds, but who do not have billions or even millions of wealth and must therefore be of small account.
A lot of people would have a hazy memory of Einstein’s General Relativity being supported by measurements made during a Total Solar Eclipse. Measurements of stars close to the sun, which were expected to show that light was being bent by the sun’s gravity, as predicted by General Relativity. You don’t need a deep knowledge of astronomy to realise that Total Eclipse is not a good time to observe sunspots. Sunspots are giant storms on the face of the sun and can usually be observed in detail by projecting the image of the sun onto a screen through a telescope. (The sun is far too bright to be safely viewed through telescopes or binoculars.) But of course sunspots become invisible when the moon is in the way at Total Eclipse. With luck you do get a nice view of the solar outbursts associated with sunspots, but these say nothing at all about Einstein’s theories.
Incidentally, a nicely-acted BBC dramatisation of the matter called Einstein and Eddington made a goof of its own, though less obvious than Soros’s. Supposedly there were two outcomes: either the stars would appear displaced in line with Einstein or else unchanged according to Newton. There was actually a middle possibility: that light could be bent by gravity, but gravity still worked as Newton had proposed, which would have meant a smaller displacement. The results favoured Einstein, but it was not as clear-cut as the BBC program made it out to be. I suppose the BBC too look down on those who merely know what they are talking about and lack the exalted incomes and connections of BBC folk.
Mosul, the first big gain by ISIS / Caliphate, is an ancient city that sits on the Euphrates opposite the site of far more ancient Nineveh, city of the Assyrian Empire. This reminded me of Kipling’s 1897 poem Recessional:
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre![W]
Tyre is dominated by Hezbollah and its allies. Globally, there is a general feeling that the New World Order created by the New Right is not worth dying for. Shia soldiers from what was once ancient Babylonia don’t think that solidly Sunni territory in ancient Assyria is worth dying for – though they probably will stand and die for their own holy places, and for the capital Baghdad. Meantime Sunni Muslim youths in Britain find the ISIS / Caliphate cause exciting and well worth dying for, whereas nothing the British Army currently does seems important, quite apart from it being unwelcoming to non-whites. It is a general malaise, the same feeling that produces school shootings and mass drug addiction.
Meantime there is a very clever spoof of how the USA will avoid giving arms to its bitter foes. It’s from the magazine New Yorker and can be found at [http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2014/06/moderate-syrian-rebel-application-form.html]
When I first came across the phrase ‘existential threat’, I thought it must be an error by someone with a poor grasp of English. Or perhaps something to do with existentialism. I imagined a headline like “President Obama gravely concerned after six noted French philosophers declare that the USA does not actually exist.”
I’ve now seen enough uses to understand that it is taken to mean ‘threat to our existence’, as distinct from mere interests. But when did it begin? I was sure it has not been around long.
Quora is always a good place to ask, so I did just that.[X] It seems it arose among foreign policy insiders in the 1980s, and became widespread in the administration of Bush Junior. Another buzz-word to signal that one is an on-message insider, and thus worthy of being taken seriously, whereas those who merely know what they are talking about should be ignored.
I’m not kidding: it seems that people around Bush Junior really did think that reality was something they created at will, rather than something they were in a position to influence if they behaved sensibly. A journalist reported a Bush advisor as saying “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[Y]
Which explains a great deal.
You don’t hear so much nowadays about small businesses going bankrupt. But it carries on, though at a slightly reduced rate. Perhaps because there are not so many left.[Z]
As I’ve said before, the New Right are dominated by big corporatist interests and ignore everyone else. Losing allies on the assumption that the wonderful ruling stratum does not need such lowly people. Very much a feature of a hegemony in decline.
“‘Humans are not very typical mammals, but they are quite typical birds,’ quips Hanna Kokko at the Australian National University in Canberra. In about 90 per cent of mammals, the male’s role in reproduction stops at fertilisation – he couldn’t care less what happens after that. ‘Birds, in contrast, have pair bonds, extra-pair copulations (as we call them politely) and divorce. They have all kinds of complicated social relationships, not so unlike humans,’ says Kokko.”[AA]
Rebekah Brooks Was Not Convicted, OK
She maybe got the benefit of the doubt. But Andy Coulson, who was her deputy as editor of the News of the World and then her successor, was found guilty of phone hacking. Was she a poor manager and lousy judge of character, unaware of criminal activities?
Back in the 1960s, a lot of people saw Buddhism as a wonderful alternative to corrupt Western values. I never felt that, but I did at least think they were more sincere.
It seems now that there is as much of a mix of the noble and the corrupt in Buddhism as in Christianity. Burma has seen appalling violence against Muslim refugees from Bangladesh. And now in Sri Lanka, the backwash from the long fight between majority Buddhist Sinhalese and minority Hindu Tamils is now hitting the neutral and peaceful Muslim minority.[BB] The government is at least trying to suppress it, but Buddhist monks are the main driving force for intolerance.
Religion is a part of most cultures, but not really a solution for human ills.
[C] This is mentioned in his famous wartime pamphlet The Lion and the Unicorn, among other places.
[F] [https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America], Article I, Section 9(4).
[G] Ibid., Article IV, Section 2(1).
[H] Ibid., Article IV, Section 3(3).
[I] See [http://www.jjmccullough.com/CSA.htm] for a detailed comparison of the two documents.
[J] There’s a series of books by SF writer Harry Turtledove that supposed just that, see [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Victory_Series] for details. Having a mainstream US world-view, he has history broadly similar to what actually happened, including the South willingly giving up slavery after its victory.
[M] ‘Backwoodsmen’ was a US term for people from the raw frontier, very different from the sophisticated populations on the coast.
[Q] As of 2nd July, the Iraqi parliament is bogged down because the Kurds and Sunni believe just that, see [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/01/iraqi-parliament-session-collapses-death-toll-isis]
[V] Soros, George. Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism, page 82. Little, Brown 2000
[W] The entire poem, which is worth reading, can be found at [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176152]
[Z] [http://www.wilsonfield.co.uk/insolvencies-4th-quarter-2013/] and [http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php]