Why are people making such a fuss about Russia?

The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government has alleged that the Russian government ‘hacked’ the US election in order to ensure that Donald Trump became president.

Several thoughts occur to me on reading this.

The first is: this production is brought to you by the same team that told you about the weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam Hussein, in order to justify the second gulf war and trigger the overall destabilisation of the entire Middle East that so many people are suffering from.

The second is: this production is brought to you by the same team that developed and financed a coup in the Ukraine which toppled President Yanukovych and triggered a long civil war that has immiserated the entire nation.

The third is: this production is brought to you by the same team that has – over a period of decades – sought to put sympathetic regimes in place throughout the world, in order that the interests of the US ‘deep state’ are catered to.

So, before thinking ‘the CIA said it, therefore it must be true’, let us simply bring to mind this history and ask ourselves not ‘was Trump helped by the Russians?’ but instead ‘why is the CIA seeking to undermine the outcome of this democratic election?

I believe it is because the CIA – rightly – perceives Trump to be an existential threat.

After all, one of the most salient differences between Clinton and Trump in this last election was their foreign policy. Clinton was the establishment candidate – the one that sought to continue the framework kept by GW Bush and Obama for the last sixteen years. That framework has several key features, such as: continued drone warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere, reliance on Guantanamo bay to hold undesirables (deplorables?), hostility towards Russia and China as rival great powers. In sum, this is the ‘neo-conservative’ agenda, as put in place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The principal locus for this struggle between the American intelligence establishment and other world powers has shifted from the Ukraine to Syria, for the simple reason that Putin’s Russia decided to intervene militarily (at the invitation of the Syrian President Assad). The media are full of stories about the tremendous human suffering that the people of Syria are experiencing, and it is appalling, yet what is not so readily apparent is that it is the Russians who are most likely to achieve a lasting peace. If the US establishment gets its way, the war in Syria will carry on for generations more.

Consider that the worst thing to happen to any country is for the rule of law to collapse. (There is a very interesting TED talk on why this is so appalling – search on line for ‘TED talk Gary Haugen locusts’ – it is well worth twenty minutes of your time).

The Syrian civil war is between President Assad (recognised as the legal ruler of the state, supported by Russia, also widely recognised as a very bad man) and ‘moderate’ Islamists (basically a branch of IS but supported by the US and Saudi Arabia, so we don’t get told such things). At this moment in time, with Russian forces fully engaged, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever for President Assad to be driven out of power.

Our choices are therefore: a) escalate the conflict by seeking to establish a ‘no-fly’ zone – the choice advocated by Hillary Clinton, and which would almost certainly have led to a shooting conflict with Russia, or b) allow Russia to cement Assad in power, ending the civil war, and concentrate on defeating IS – this is the course advocated by Trump.

There are those with a vested interest in keeping Oceania at war with Eurasia and with the astonishing election of Trump they can see that their desires are about to be throroughly thwarted. Trump is clearly planning to radically recalibrate the foreign policy of the United States, as can be seen by his various appointments to his Cabinet.

If we are concerned to preserve our way of life, we need to pay attention to what truly threatens it, the enemies both internal and external. Externally, the greatest threat that we face is located in the Middle East, not because of the ‘hard power’ controlled by IS, but because of the soft power. In other words, here is an ideology which cannot be compromised with, and which is steadfastly committed to the elimination of all that we value in our own ways of life. We need to take this seriously, and where there are clear allies in our struggle against them – and Russia is certainly that – let’s not get distracted.

Yet the internal threats are most evident at this moment in time. After all, if you believe that Trump is going to be a disaster, from where do you get this idea? Might it be from the mainstream media by any chance? The same media that – in addition to completely misunderstanding Trump – has consistently been used as a mouthpiece for the views that the CIA have most wanted to be accepted; as with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the ‘popular revolution’ in the Ukraine; the establishment of Pinochet in Chile… need I go on?

Truly, if we are to preserve our way of life, perhaps the most important thing is to exercise the values of our way of life more effectively in our own lives: to think critically about what we read, to exercise free speech (and notice what and whom can and cannot be criticised with impunity), to strive for the ways of peace and not war. Those things are only worth defending where they actually exist.

Beelzebub knows his own
Yes, I really do want Trump to win, and this is why

Let me begin by saying that I do not see Trump in the way I saw Palin, as someone of substance and virtue. There are many things which a Christian might see as less than ideal with Trump, which are too familiar to need listing here. However, I do wonder whether those things which seem such strong flaws, such as his narcissism, are in fact essential characteristics that shield him from the immense assaults that he is facing – that, in other words, if there was to be a presidential candidate who might succeed in taking on the entrenched principalities and powers that have so disfigured our world, it could only be someone like Trump.

I rush ahead of myself.

Clinton is the candidate of the establishment. That establishment encompasses both sides of the standard Rep/Dem divide. As an establishment candidate, Clinton embodies the policies that have become embedded in the ‘deep state’ since the collapse of the cold war, and would continue to implement them were she to assume office. These include: a reckless and ill-considered foreign policy that has caused havoc across the Middle East and in the Ukraine; protection for financial vested interests and ‘too big to fail’ banks like Goldman Sachs; and more power and protection for the surveillance state and torture.

Broadly speaking, if you believe that, in the light of the situation in Syria and elsewhere; the financial collapse; and the revelations about the NSA from Snowden et al; that the United States is a beacon of virtue lifting up the world towards the light, then Clinton is undoubtedly the best candidate. If, however, you believe that vested interests have taken charge of the United States and have led it away from its destiny, that have turned it into an oppressive Empire, and that it needs to reformed and returned to its foundational values – then, perhaps, there might be a question as to Clinton’s suitability for leadership.

Those questions have greater purchase when considering Clinton’s own character and fitness for office. The director of the FBI has assessed her as being extremely careless with state secrets, and quite clearly, were she not a presidential candidate, she would be in the midst of a prosecution and facing jail for serious breaches of security. Her actions throughout the Benghazi story are deeply disturbing for anyone who takes the idea of public service seriously. There is evidence that she has abused her office for the purposes of personal enrichment through the Clinton Foundation. There are serious questions about her personal integrity and the way in which she will mouth feminist platitudes whilst having protected her husband from all questions of sexual assault. In addition to these, there are serious questions about her health and her possible alcoholism.

Of course, these may all be considered simply as standard attributes of those who have sought and attained high office in the United States, and therefore unremarkable. I am not in a position to comment authoritatively on that.

However, it is possible to see behind Clinton the shape of the principalities and powers that are opposed to the Kingdom of God, against which all Christians are called to stand. That is, if we are to take our Scriptures seriously, Christians are baptised into a situation of spiritual warfare, where that spiritual struggle is necessarily political – and the political struggle is necessarily spiritual. To separate out the two is ultimately to deny the incarnation, and anti-Christian.

What Christians refer to as the ‘principalities and powers’ are the deep structural forces that keep human beings in subjection and oppression; that pursue and worship the exercise of power, eternally seeking to extend it; and which always seek to suppress dissent and the voices of the prophets. These are the forces of injustice which choose to crucify those that oppose them.

In today’s world, those forces can most aptly be seen at work in the ‘deep state’ of the United States. I say most aptly simply because they are most clear there – I do not wish to say that the United States is uniquely prone to wickedness. If pushed, I would rather say the opposite, that the constitution of the United States, the idea of a ‘proposition nation’ to which all are welcome – this seems to be a step forward in the history of humanity, an outgrowth of the gospel itself. My concern is that the United States has forgotten itself, and become captured. (For more on this, see here.)

This deep state would include what Eisenhower christened as the military-industrial complex, but also the mainstream media, which operates as a directed chorus to generate assent for what the deep state chooses to do. More broadly I would include within the principalities and powers all the habits of mind and speech that fall under the heading of political correctness, the ways in which we censor ourselves for fear of being excluded. It is such a fear which is the fuel that allows the principalities and powers to maintain their power within the world, subject only to the directions of the prince of this world.

That is the broad context in which I understand this election. That for the first time there is a candidate against whom all of the established principalities and powers are united. This should, at the very least, cause Christians to give sustained attention to that candidate and wonder whether the Lord is doing something particular here.

This does not mean that the person struggling against the principalities is a saint, let alone one without sin. The notion that a political candidate might be such is a reflection of both spiritual and political immaturity, and the failure to recognise Jesus as Lord. It can mean that we are called to pay close attention, and remember that God is able to use frail and weak human nature to accomplish something miraculous.

After all, what is at stake in this election? What is most at stake for the world?

In my eyes, the most important issue relates to Syria – the civilisational clash with ISIS, and the way in which great power relations are at stake. If this is handled wrongly – that is, if the United States continues to behave in the way that it has been doing – then what might have been an opportunity for all the civilised nations of the world to unite against barbarism will instead become a catastrophic war between great powers.

In the second presidential debate this issue was raised, and the differences between the candidates were very clear. One candidate spoke about ISIS as the most important enemy, and the need for cordial relations with Russia. The other spoke about Russia as being a greater threat than ISIS. One candidate sees the issue clearly and neutrally. The other sees through the lenses manufactured by the deep state and would act accordingly.

Those latter actions, in my view, would be utterly devastating to the world, and lead to immense misery and suffering. What most disturbs me about almost all coverage and analysis of this election is that these weighty matters are ignored in favour of the equivalent of celebrity culture and gossip.

I believe that all Christians have a duty to vote, and to vote in such a way that the Kingdom of God is brought forward. Those forces which are in eternal opposition to the Kingdom are now united against Donald Trump. The principalities and powers do not wish you to pay attention to the serious matters of life and death, of war and peace. They would far rather that people were concerned about lewd behaviour, potential rudeness, arrogance and egotism, vulgarity and bad taste. I do not see how any spiritually serious Christian could consider voting in favour of the principalities and powers. That is why I want Trump to win.

Or, to put it all into one single image: Beelzebub knows his own.

hillary-fly-head

Inside the mind of an Islamist

islamist

How does an Islamist think? Most especially, what is it that drives young British men to leave their homes and families behind and to trek off to Syria to join up with the crazies in ISIS? Or to stay in this country and perpetrate barbarities like the 7/7 attacks or the savage slaughter of Corporal Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich? To begin answering that question, I very much recommend reading ‘The Islamist’ by Ed Husain.

Husain grew up in Tower Hamlets, a child of devout and traditional Muslim parents. When he was a teenager he fell under the influence of more radical teachings associated with the East London Mosque in Whitechapel. As he grew older, his radicalism developed and he became a key recruiter for a group known as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), which is an Islamist group dedicated to the establishment of a Caliphate, in which Muslims might be enabled to live fully Islamic lives. If you think that sounds exactly like ISIS you would not be wrong – it’s just that HT is a competing ideology, and rather like with Protestant ideologies in Christianity, the smallest differences make for the bitterest rivalries. ISIS recently executed an HT preacher in their territory.

Husain’s work for HT eventually led to a personal crisis, when a close ally in HT made a violent attack upon a fellow student at Newham college, where Husain had become a student. This led to a process of self-questioning and further intellectual exploration of Islam. Husain learned to speak Arabic properly and spent time in Syria and Saudi Arabia, teaching English as a foreign language and working for the British Council. Over the course of several years Husain was gradually able to shed his Islamist beliefs and return to the form of Islam into which he was raised, one which is centred on a peaceable life and spiritual growth.

Husain’s story is a fascinating one, and one which had particular resonance for me as I spent several years working in Tower Hamlets before coming to Mersea, and so I was familiar with the various locations that he described, and the general culture. I was also reasonably familiar with the divisions in Islam that are the background to Husain’s writings. What Husain provides, and it is invaluable, is an extremely resonant portrayal of how those differences work out in practice. For example, Husain describes visiting Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Many traditional believers who visit that most sacred site do so with a desire to express personal devotion to their prophet. This, however, is complete anathema to the Saudi authorities, who follow a particular brand of Islam called Wahhabism. This brand is very much like the Puritans in our own history – and they violently disapprove of any expression of Islamic devotion that might be taken to imply ‘worship’ of Muhammed.

Husain writes, “While trying to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet, I realized that there was precious little left of his heritage in Saudi Arabia. In Mecca, all historical remnants of the Prophet’s life were destroyed with dynamite for fear of polytheism and in accordance with the Wahhabi mantra of ‘worshipping one God’. To visit the Prophet’s house in Mecca, or to view with awe the houses of his close companions, was now considered shirk or polytheism.”

One of Husain’s strongest emphases is that the Wahhabi form of Islam – which is that which dominates the Saudi nation – is a radical break with more traditional, and more peaceable forms. It is worth remembering that 19 of the 20 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals. Imagine that our own Oliver Cromwell had won the English Civil War, and that we had then had two hundred years of Puritan government. Imagine further that we had then discovered an immense natural resource under our land, which generated a wealth beyond imagining, said wealth then being used to export Cromwell’s brand of Puritanism – a brand of Christianity that banned the celebration of Christmas – to other nations around the world. Imagine further that this brand of Puritanism taught that Islam was heretical folly doomed to destruction, and that a clear sign of this imminent destruction was the way in which Islamic nations were slowly being converted to Puritan Christianity – and were paying for the privilege no less!

This is how Britain is seen – a moribund nation with no moral strength, which has been captured by the worship of Mammon and is therefore ripe for being converted. I cannot understand how our government can persist in financially and militarily supporting the Saudi regime. It is as if our government sold arms to Russia during the Cold War – these are people who are utterly committed to the overthrow of our pattern of life! Husain is very clear that this desire is in no way hidden in Saudi Arabia: “What I was taught in clandestinely Islamist mosques and cell meetings in Britain was being taught openly at universities in Saudi Arabia. Islamist extremism was nowhere near subsiding.”

After reading Husain’s book, I am left with a few answers and many more questions. I am reassured that there is a form of Islam which is compatible with British life, with which it is possible to have a mutually beneficial dialogue – a form of Islam which is associated with Sufi teaching. My concerns, however, are now even more sharply focussed. How does that traditional form of Islam relate to the more dominant form (historically and today) which has conquered vast territories, conducted indiscrimate slaughter, and now explicitly wishes to destroy Western civilisation? How does it link to the severely pathological cultural norms that have been imported into this country and which drive barbarities like the systematic child abuse taking place in Rotherham and Oxford and elsewhere?

I am persuaded that there are forms of Islam – possibly dominant forms – that are simply incompatible with being British. Unless we take active steps to engage with those forms – to resist them and overcome them – then our way of life will cease. Husain relates an extremely interesting story about the prophet Mohammed. He has been asked to pray for the area of Najd, which is the territory now occupied by Saudi Arabia. Twice he refuses to pray for that area, and in response to a third request he simply says “The horn of evil will appear from Najd”. In that, at least, he was correct.

Of Greeks, Barbarians and smooth ball bearings

barbarianI write this a few days after the resounding ‘Oxi’ from the Greek people to the demands from the Troika. In previous years the EU has been able to overturn the results of referenda when they didn’t go in the direction wanted (as with Ireland and Denmark); something tells me that this won’t be possible this time.

Which means that there is every chance that the Greeks will leave the common currency very soon; that will be a glorious and happy day. The setting up of the Euro as a common currency was a politically driven project. It was argued for as a step towards a single state, with a common fiscal and monetary policy. The fact that a common currency wouldn’t be able to function without a central authority implementing those common policies was pointed out at the time, along with predictions of disaster if a single currency was put in place without such a central authority. Sadly such predictions were ignored, and those making them were ridiculed and marginalised, and now we are where it was reasonable to expect us to be.

There is something about a common currency which is akin to a common language. Where there is a common language then the difficulties in communicating are (mostly) removed, and it is possible for speech to flow freely between different people. In the same way, a common currency removes barriers that hinder or prevent trade between different people. Those who share in the common currency share in a common pattern of life, a common civilisation.

The word ‘barbarian’ comes from Ancient Greek usage. It originally referred to a ‘tribal’ people, who were outside the ‘polites’, civilisation (think of it as ‘polite society’). So the barbarians were those who didn’t speek the Greek language and ‘babbled’. Over time it developed the additional meaning of someone who was simply uncivilised or uneducated, and it therefore became a term of abuse within Athenian politics. The barbarian was the person who didn’t share civilised values, who behaved like a monster – hence our inherited meaning of the word ‘barbarian’ today.

Yet who are the barbarians now? I notice, for example, that the cost of a full ‘bail-out’ for the Greek government is estimated at being some 320 billion Euros (I don’t want to say too much about the origin and responsibility for that debt, only to point out that it was accrued in order to save French and German banks, amongst others). Now compare that sum of 320 bn to the sums given in recent memory to the banking system, in order to preserve their private status. The UK government in September 2008 announced a total funding package of 500 billion pounds in order to preserve the financial industry. The US government’s total outlay on a financial rescue package, not including guarantees to institutions, is well over 5 trillion dollars. Barclays Bank alone, which boasted of not having to be bailed out, in the end received over £550 billion pounds of subsidy.

In other words, the actual cost of simply writing off all of the Greek debt would be small change compared to the enormous sums of money that have been used in recent years to prop up the world financial system. The decision on whether to help the Greek government out of its financial distress is a purely political decision, not a financial one. The decision is all about whether the Greek people are part of ‘us’ – the civilised world deserving of civilised care – or whether they are part of ‘them’ – barbarians, best left to their own devices, stewing in their own juice.

Clearly the mood in Northern Europe is to chastise the Greeks for borrowing profligately and spending recklessly, leaving those Northern Europeans to warm themselves with their own sense of pride in their fiscal rectitude. Of course, if we were thinking about proper fiscal virtue then banks that made reckless loans would be required to meet the costs of those loans themselves when they failed. A proper banker would exercise prudence and caution and assess whether someone who was borrowing money was in fact able to pay it back over time. This did not happen, for the simple reason that the Northern European economies did very nicely, thank you, out of an exchange rate that was much lower than it would otherwise have been, because it included less developed economies like Greece.

Surely it is now obvious to even the most obtuse observer that the EU is a system set up to further the interests of global financial capitalism? That it has very little to do with civilised values, and much more to do with making the world safe for the free flow of money? Rather than talking about barbarians, I keep thinking about ball bearings – those small, weight bearing spheres that need to be lubricated in order to keep the machinery working smoothly. That is what modern capitalism requires, to remove all the obstacles and friction that get in the way of the efficient workings of the market. Get rid of different languages, different currencies, different customs in order that the marginal cost of production can be reduced by the extra fraction of a percentage that maximises share holder value!

The suffering that this is causing to the people of Greece is starting to become clear. The people of Greece, not the bankers of Greece or the politicians of Greece, but the people of Greece are the ones who are going to be losing their jobs, deprived of medicines, worrying about where their food is going to come from. So where is civilisation? Do we really want to stay in such a system, that has such contempt for civilised values? Who are the barbarians now?

It amazes me when I hear progressive friends apologising for the barbarity that is the necessary consequence of the way that the EU has been structured. I only hope that enough people can see the truth about the beast that we also say a resounding ‘oxi’ when we get the opportunity.

The United States is channelling Daggett

This is from the screenplay of The Dark Knight Rises

INT. DAGGETT’S PENTHOUSE – DAY

Daggett bursts in, furious. Stryver tries to placate him.

DAGGETT
How the hell did Miranda Tate get the inside track on the Wayne board?! Was she meeting with Wayne? Was she sleeping with Wayne?

STRYVER
Not that we know of -

DAGGETT
Clearly you don’t ‘know of’ anything, do you?! Where’s Bane?!

STRYVER
We told him it was urgent -

DAGGETT
Then where is the masked -

BANE (O.S.)
Speak of the devil…
Daggett turns. Bane is already there.

BANE
…and he shall appear.

DAGGETT
What the hell’s going on?

BANE
The plan is proceeding as expected.

DAGGETT
You see me running Wayne Enterprises?! (Moves towards Bane.)
Your stock exchange hit didn’t work, friend. And now you’ve got my construction crews working all hours around the city? How’s that supposed to help my company absorb Wayne’s?

BANE (TO STRYVER)
Leave us.

DAGGETT
You stay right there! I’m in charge!
Bane places a gentle hand on Daggett’s shoulder.

BANE
Do you feel in charge?
Daggett is taken aback. Stryver leaves.

DAGGETT
I’ve paid you a small fortune -

BANE
And that gives you power over me?
Daggett considers the heavy hand on his shoulder. Nervous.

DAGGETT
What is this?

BANE
Your money and infrastructure have been important. Till now.

DAGGETT
What are you?

BANE
Gotham’s reckoning. Come to end the borrowed time you’ve all been living on…
Bane gently takes the terrified Daggett’s head in his hands…

DAGGETT
You are true evil…

BANE
I am necessary evil.
Stryver, on the steps outside the living room, flinches.

I think that the United States (by which I mean: the small group of profoundly naive and ignorant in the State Department guiding US policy, not the US as a people – see this) has lost its way in the world, and has placed its trust in Mammon. Whether it is Russia or China or ISIS that plays the part of ‘Gotham’s reckoning’, that moment of truth is closer every day.

Stop poking the bear: A secure and prosperous Russia is in our national interest

The more I read about the situation in the Ukraine, the more despairing I become at the utterly banal and criminally negligent incompetence of our Western leadership. These are just a few bullet points, as I don’t have the time to turn it into a proper essay – maybe my next Courier article will remedy that.

1. Russia has vital strategic interests in the Ukraine (see my earlier thoughts), and it is rational for them to pursue them. We don’t.
2. That means that escalation will have to go much higher if we are expecting Putin to back down on this. (Actually, I think the only way Putin will back down is if the oligarchs around him are facing bankruptcy – and even then, only if their fear of bankruptcy is greater than their fear of being stabbed with an umbrella on a London bridge).
3. The principal driver of this crisis is the United States, seeking to expand the borders of Nato to the edge of Russia. They are seeking to humiliate Russia. This is not a strategy of statecraft but of small boys in a playground.
4. The EU is following the lead of the US – even though it is becoming much clearer than the interests of the EU radically diverge from those of the US. Will the US regret bugging Angela Merkel?
5. Have a read of this article from Dmitry Orlov, about MH17. Are people really going to be taken in by the whipping up of anti-Russian hysteria? That would make me so depressed.
6. We are nowhere near as strong as we think we are in this conflict, especially financially. Clearly the US and the EU are going to try to cripple Russia using financial means rather than military means. There are two major problems with this – first, the dollar’s status as a reserve currency is not permanently assured, and the major non-Western powers have already been putting alternative options into position. Second, I really believe that when push comes to shove, the West is more dependent upon Russian energy than Russia is dependent upon Western finance. After all, oil can be purchased in currency other than the dollar, even by barter – but the supply of oil is extremely tight.
7. If I was Putin I would respond to the financial sanctions by saying ‘we are going to lower our oil production by 1 million barrels per day’ – he could offer a fig-leaf and say ‘we are concerned about the loss of pressure in our major fields’ but that doesn’t matter. The price of oil would immediately spike, returning the West to recession at best. There is a great chance that Russia would get as much income from a lower output, given that higher price – and other nations would be quite happy to pay them for it. The West thinks that Russia will play by Western rules!
8. All this time, the real ideological and civilisational threat to the West continues to hack its bloody way through Syria and Iraq as Obama – who was always an oblivious empty suit – spends more time on the golf course. A happy Russia, fully engaged with the West, a stable energy supplier and ally against ISIS and so on – that is overwhelmingly our national interest. Instead we are being led by incompetent and naive fools into a conflict which will lead the West even further into the dust. God really wants us to change.

Update: title amended thanks to an email from Ian

Let’s stay the hell out

Courier article, written in haste :(

So, here is a little nugget of information to start us off: “Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, has expanded its Board of Directors by bringing on Mr. R Hunter Biden as a new director.” There are two things to note about this nugget. The first is that Mr Biden is son of the slightly more famous Vice President of the United States. The second is that this is about gas in the Ukraine.

Those of you who have been reading my columns regularly will be aware of my concern about energy supplies. With regard to oil I view the ‘Peak Oil’ case as having been thoroughly vindicated by events. The supply of ‘normal’ oil has not significantly increased since 2005, and this is the primary reason why the oil price is now sustained at over $100 a barrel, rather than the $20 per barrel that was standard when conventional opinion believed that Peak Oil was nonsense. With gas – which is the hidden factor behind all the political posturing in the Ukraine dispute – the peak will come some 20-25 years after the oil peak, and that means that there is still a great deal of money to be made, and power to be harnessed, through exercising control of gas fields.

Consider this map, and then consider what Mr Putin’s overall strategy might be in this dispute.

ukraine gas fields
Ooh look – two large gas basins in Eastern Ukraine. I wonder how attractive to Mr Putin those might be. Senator John McCain recently described Russia as a ‘gas station with a nation-state attached’. He neglected to add the significant additional fact that this particular nation state possesses a vast number of nuclear weapons and is effectively immune to coercion.

Now over the last few years the United States has been seeking to exercise a great deal of influence within the Ukraine, and a plausible case can be made that the CIA had a hand in the overthrow of President Yanukovych, who was getting a little too close to Mr Putin for Washington’s comfort. We are, in other words, simply looking at a proxy fight for influence over the Ukraine and, therefore, over the gas supplies that are under Ukrainian territory. The fact that the son of the US Vice President is now in a key post dealing with such issues is, of course, a simple coincidence.

The question that I want to ask is: does Britain have a dog in this fight? I’m wary of saying that the Ukraine is a far away country of which we know nothing because in this modern age neither of those claims are true. Yet I’m sure I’m not the only person who is getting fed up with our government seeking to ‘exercise influence’ in world affairs when such influence only ever seems to be exercised in order to advance American interests rather than British ones.

What, after all, should a British foreign policy look like? What are the ‘British interests’ which such a foreign policy should serve? As a rough guess, something like: preserving the British people from direct foreign aggression or terrorism; ensuring a safe, stable and legal international system, so combatting piracy and so on; and finally, seeking to foster British values like fairness and tolerance wherever that might be possible, which may, in truth, be quite a rare occurrence.

If we apply that to the situation in the Ukraine, the first and most important element is clearly not applicable. There is no direct risk to British people whatever happens in the Ukraine. The second element is, in truth, rather embarrassing for the West, especially the United States, for Putin is simply following a script established by the West over the last two decades and, frankly, he is far more ruthlessly efficient at it than the empty suit presently occupying the White House. Russia has much more at stake, and it really does have a dog in this fight. Russian strategic interests are directly engaged, and the failure to take account of this is the most frighteningly culpable element of Western incompetence on the whole issue. In so far as there is a British interest it lies in there being a negotiated and peaceful outcome, which restores some legitimacy to international law and custom. My fear is that Western policy in this area is being driven by an overestimation of Western capacity and a corresponding underestimation of Russian capacity, interest and will. In other words, I believe that Putin knows that the West is not going to be able to do very much about his intentions in the Ukraine, and he is quite willing to push the situation forward until Western incompetence and impotence is fully on display for the world to see. Such an outcome would have very significant and unwelcome consequences for decades to come.

So am I arguing for some form of isolationist foreign policy? I’m certainly wary of ‘foreign entanglements’ but given our heritage and national character I can’t see isolationism as being true to who we are. I just wish that we could pay a little more attention to where we do have significant interests of our own. By way of comparison, consider the Falklands. Here we have British people who are being directly threatened by a foreign power that has attacked them militarily within living memory. This seems to me to fall clearly within the first priorities for our foreign policy; that is, we should ensure that our commitments to the Falklanders are fully resourced before we ever think about engaging with other military roles – and that includes Afghanistan and Iraq. (I’m not saying we haven’t done this – Mount Pleasant air base makes quite a difference! I am simply using the Falklands as an example of where British interests are directly at stake.)

In the Ukraine the East of the country is filled with Russian speakers who are supportive of Putin’s actions. It is much more closely analagous to the Falklands situation, where there are strong ties of culture and history, than to a form of foreign adventurism like invasions of Afghanistan. Any prudent foreign policy needs to make a stark and clear-headed assessment of the different levels of interest that nations have in any particular area. I don’t know what the right ‘solution’ to the crisis in the Ukraine will be, I only know that we need to stay the hell out of it, if we are to look after our own British interests at all.

TBTM20101017

Britain’s defence review and the end of NATO
8 reasons why the UK SDR must not savage the military

Capitalism saved the Chilean miners
Psychobabble didn’t

Judith Curry on the specific nature of IPCC overconfidence (part one)

My new favourite blog, Edward Feser with a brilliant analogy for humourless atheists
and a specific rebuttal to Stephen Law’s ‘God of Evil’ argument
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TBTM20101017

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My new favourite blog, Edward Feser with a brilliant analogy for humourless atheists
and a specific rebuttal to Stephen Law’s ‘God of Evil’ argument
More succinctly, Kim Fabricius with twelve swift ripostes to atheists

Cooking up conflict

One of my more barking posts, when I was in my salad days as a blogger, and green in judgement, was predicting World War Three by Easter (of 2006!). I’m very glad to have been wrong, but I still ponder those elements indicated. I think we have all the ingredients of a messy conflict in place – obviously it requires a certain sort of leadership to actually turn those ingredients into a conflict.

Here is a list of some ‘thinking out loud’ as to the ingredients:

- the US is strong militarily but weak financially; in essence it is a declining empire;
- in contrast, China is strong financially, regionally strong militarily, and is a growing empire.

Tension here is between a USA that won’t – possibly for good reasons – be willing to accept a smaller role, esp in East Asia, and a China that is rapidly asserting itself. You have a lot of other regional powers feeling rather nervous about China, who have traditionally looked to the US for leadership.

This part of the ingredients list is not necessarily conflict-inducing – it depends upon the nature of the leadership being deployed on each side.

Next major bit: Islam and the West. The Iranian situation becomes more scary every month, and it doesn’t just scare Israel it scares the Arab states too. Throw in the instability in Iraq (and the vast oil wealth there) and the problems in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the West’s options seem very restricted. (For what it’s worth I have a growing sense that the UK needs to come out of Afghanistan as soon as possible – the costs are getting larger and the benefits getting smaller the longer it goes on). This is a situation that could literally go ‘bang’ very quickly.

Will China stay out of any Islam vs West conflict? India? Russia?

The way that public opinion in the US seems to be developing is in a more anti-Muslim direction, with all the attendant dangers. I happen to think that more conflict with the khawarij is inevitable, the question is as to how it is done.

Underlying these two major areas of tension is the economic meltdown that is playing out – and will carry on playing out, along with the random acts of God like the Pakistani floods. Peak Oil will be the heat applied to these ingredients, and will likely make everyone’s experience worse.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if Argentina had another go at the Falklands…

OK, end of pessimistic train of thought.