Who are we at war with? 4 January, 2010
In radical Islam's war with the West, propaganda and intellectual subterfuge have long been used as powerful weapons. Islamist spokesmen have been at pains to deny their jihadist ideology when speaking to the Western media, protesting instead at 'localised' grievances in Israel, Kashmir and Iraq.
This seems to fit very nicely with the Western intelligensia's current obsession with political correctness and multiculturalism. Our chattering classes are at pains to deny that Islam, on any interpretation, is a problem. They are careful to avoid terms like 'the war on terror' and 'Islamist,' believing that these offer incentives to demonising Muslims as a whole. Sometimes, even words like 'Islamic terrorist' are deemed beyond the pale and the word 'militant' is substituted.
Listen to the invective from Western leaders after terror attacks and you will usually hear that 'these militants' do not speak for Islam, that they have 'hijacked' the faith and cannot be called 'Muslims' at all. This failure or refusal to articulate the real enemy at war with the West could not better suit the purposes of the world's jihadists.
So Charles Krauthammer hits the nail on the head when he laments the Obama adminstration's refusal to identify the real enemy. In his editorial in today's Jerusalem Post, he shows just how far Washington has fallen in the last year, compounding the earlier intellectual failures of the Bush era.
'From the very beginning, President Barack Obama has relentlessly tried to downplay and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. Napolitano renames terrorism "man-caused disasters." Obama goes abroad and pledges to cleanse America of its post-9/11 counterterrorist sins. Hence, Guantanamo will close, CIA interrogators will face a special prosecutor and Khalid Sheik Muhammad will bask in a civilian trial in New York - a trifecta of political correctness and image management. And just to make sure even the dimmest understand, Obama banishes the term "war on terror." It's over - that is, if it ever existed.'
'In his first statement, Obama referred to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as "an isolated extremist." This is the same president who, after the Fort Hood shooting, warned us "against jumping to conclusions" - code for daring to associate Nidal Hasan's mass murder with his Islamist ideology. Yet, with Abdulmutallab, Obama jumped immediately to the conclusion, against all existing evidence, that the bomber acted alone.'
There is, in other words, a damning assortment of evidence pointing to a Presidential dereliction of duty: a systematic and lethal failure to spell out to the American people the real enemy they are fighting. For the enemy does not consist of 'militants', 'criminals', 'evildoers' or even 'terrorists.' None of those terms are specific enough. The real enemy is jihadist or radical Islam and terror is merely its weapon in chief.
One might regard this as a rather arcane debate about nomenclature. As the old saying might have gone, one man's jihadist is another man's criminal militant. As long as our intelligence community is working, as long as foreign troops are fighting this enemy, it matters little whether one description is used or another. But this is sadly mistaken.
If we treat people like Abdulmutallab as mere criminals worthy of a police investigation, they will use the judicial system to remain silent while an attack is being planned. And as Krauthammer says: 'Once we've given Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent, we have gratuitously forfeited our right to find out from him precisely who else was involved, namely those who trained, instructed, armed and sent him.'
Worse, our obsession with multicultural sensitivities provides incentives to avoid certain counter-terrorist strategies, such as profiling at airports.
The undisputed truth is that individuals like Abdulmutallab and Nidal Hussein are not 'isolated' extremists. They are part of a global movement to attack and destroy Western civilisation, replacing it with a global Islamic superstate ruled by Sharia law which would culturally enslave all the rest of us. The jihadists, out of earshot of the Western media, are
honest about their war with the West. It is time our leaders reciprocated that honesty.
Et tu...? (or the assassination that never was) 7 January, 2010
The Hoon/Hewitt ‘plot’ of 2010 is the putsch that never was. In fact, it was the third putsch that never was if we count David Miliband's disastrous flirtation with power in 2008 and last year's mini Cabinet revolt. The Cabinet heavyweights (Miliband, Johnson, Straw etc), many of whom agree that Gordon Brown is a liability, simply lacked the stomach to stand against their leader. Though it took some of them several hours to declare their support for Brown, they could not get themselves to bring him down. Thus Brown limps on for another day, a wounded animal maintaining his defiance to the end. If this was political theatre, the audience would have walked out after 10 minutes. Perhaps Hoon and Hewitt had been attending the Inspector Closeau school of political assassination.
But farcical as this is, this plot points to the unsavoury side of Labour politics. We are witnessing the ongoing feud between the Brownites and the Blairites; the latter still cannot forgive the Prime Minister for bringing the Blair project to an untimely end. For all their moral posturing, Hoon and Hewitt calculated that under a new Blairite leader, Labour’s electoral chances would be hugely improved. But this internecine strife is of little interest to millions of ordinary voters who are more concerned about the economy, jobs, violent crime and a plethora of other issues. By putting party before country, these inept would be assassins have just given the electorate one more reason to ditch Labour come the general election.
The Luton conviction: A sound decision for the wrong reasons 11 January, 2010
The conviction of 5 Islamists over their demonstration in Luton in March 2009 is correct - but not for the right reasons. The men were convicted of using 'threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour likely to cause harassment and distress.' They had placards with such insalubrious statements as 'British soldiers - go to hell' and others which compared soldiers to murderers and rapists. In commenting on this case, the judge said that their words were 'not just insulting to the soldiers but to the citizens of Luton.' No one, the judge said, 'has the right to be gratuitously offensive or insulting.'
Now, I am no lawyer but this seems to me to be the wrong way to look at this case. Firstly, it is dubious to claim that people should be protected from being insulted, even on a demonstration. This is part and parcel of living in a vibrant democracy where strongly clashing opinions are frequently expressed. Secondly, it is not entirely clear what it means to be 'gratuitously' insulting or abusive. Perhaps, as Peter Tatchell suggests*, it is time for the Public Order act to be amended as there are clauses that appear to prohibit freedom of speech.
What these men were surely guilty of was inciting violence, a much more straightforward charge. These men turned up and launched an appalling verbal tirade in close proximity to soldiers' families in the sure knowledge that it would lead to a violent emotional response. Here freedom of speech has nothing to do with it - one cannot shout fire in a crowded theatre.
But another question remains. Why did the police allow this march to proceed, especially if, as the defence team claims, the police knew in advance of the slogans? Could they not see that violent, extremist Islamists, who were entitled to have some demonstration somewhere, had no place being in Wootton Bassett. Is this not another example of the authorities holding a knife to their own throats in order to enforce their multiculturalist credentials?
Israel's Turkish riddle 14 January, 2010
Following a spat between Israeli Deputy Foreign Minster, Danny Ayalon, and Turkish ambassador Celikkol, Israel's damage limitation exercise appears to be bearing fruit. Ayalon has apologised to Celikkol after the latter complained that he had been humiliated by the Israelis in a meeting held only days before. The ambassador has been summoned to see Ayalon to explain why a violently anti Israeli show had been aired on Turkish television. The show had portrayed agents of Mossad as child murderers. Ayalon invited cameramen into his office and told them:
"Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair ... that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling."
Chiding an ambassador for his country's ills is one thing. Demeaning him in the full glare of the cameras and in violation of normal protocol is another. It was clearly a crass and heavy handed piece of diplomacy, unworthy of a great state.
But what makes this episode even more unfortunate is that it has deflected attention from the really big issue here: the declining relations between Israel and Turkey. (A diplomat spat is a tiny matter in comparison).
For years Turkey has been paraded as a model of moderate Islam. Here is a country whose democratic and liberal credentials give the lie to the notion that Islam and modernity can never mix. Here is an ally of the US, a nation with favourable links to European countries, a nominal ally of Israel, a purported model for the Arab world.
Yet this is also a country whose media have just aired a violently anti Israeli show. Israel had every right to confront their Turkish 'allies' about this. Could you imagine the response if an Israeli show had portrayed the Turks as child killers? This was actually small fry compared to last October's disgusting piece of bigotry on Turkey's state controlled TRT1 television network when IDF soldiers were shown executing Palestinians by firing squad.
This crisis has been building for some time. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been vocal in his criticism of Israel for some time. In recent months he has been an outspoken critic of Operation Cast lead, joining last week with his Lebanese counterpart, Sa'ad Hariri, to denounce the Jewish state's use of 'excessive and disproportionate' force. He once described the policy as a 'crime against humanity.' This is a true Islamist talking.
Last October, relations were strained further when Israel was barred from the Anatolian Eagle military exercise in Turkey.
Erdogan has also linked the termination of the Iranian nuclear programme with the dismantling of Israel's reactor at Dimona. His meetings with the Iranian backed Hamas terror group, from as early as 2006 when they won elections in Gaza, should hardly inspire confidence in Israeli circles
Certainly Israel should have handled Celikkol differently and their subsequent apology makes some sense. But Israel is not primarily to blame for her declining relations with Turkey.
Divided powers continue to gift Iran time 18 January, 2010
The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, has hailed the failure of the UN’s six key powers to agree on new sanctions. Well might he and his paymaster Ayatollahs be happy. The leaders of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are taking part in the latest diplomatic charade designed to tell the world that they are dealing with the Iranian threat. But once again this consists of tough rhetoric instead of resolute action.
At the United Nations last week, the five permanent members and Germany met to discuss a fourth round of sanctions against Iran but could not reach a consensus. Perhaps they should not have even bothered turning up. For while there is talk in Washington of more robust economic pressure, this is derided by both Russia and China. The Chinese sent only a lower ranking official at the weekend and he no doubt shared the sentiments of China's UN ambassador Zhang Yesui who had said days earlier that ‘This is not the right moment for sanctions.’
His country, don’t forget, has an insatiable appetite for raw materials and energy which will ensure the continuation of its gargantuan economic growth. It thus has a direct economic stake in the stability of the Islamic Republic. The mood music in both Moscow and Beijing suggests little appetite for upping the pressure on Tehran. In other words, what we are seeing is the same lack of decisiveness and divided opinions that have characterised the international community for the last decade.
For all the tough sounding phrases you hear in Washington and elsewhere, we are no nearer a credible international policy for stopping this totalitarian Islamist state from going nuclear. This is an unmitigated disaster for the moderates of Iran, the ‘moderate Arab arc’ in the Middle East, Israel and the West in general.
Haiti needs to be rebuilt by the US and its allies 19 January, 2010
No one can fail to be touched by the scale of the unfolding tragedy in Haiti. This tiny, impoverished island, a historic refuge for criminal despots and tyrannical rulers, has been reduced to rubble. Chaos and anarchy appear to have replaced the law of rule with armed gangs ruling the streets instead of police. Hundreds of thousands are dead or injured, their bodies piling up in the streets as if they were primitive refuse. No scene could better evoke the phrase ‘a hell on earth.’
It is heartening to see a full scale aid operation in action, not undertaken by the UN but by individual nations acting on their own initiative. One of the lead nations has been Israel which promptly dispatched hundreds of aid personnel and a state of the art field hospital to the island. This generosity came despite its relatively small size, limited resources and small population, to say nothing of its distance from the Caribbean. Another lead nation is the United States which has sent thousands of troops to Haiti in recent days.
Yet where the US (and its allies) lead, other nations carp in envy, particularly when they cannot share in the international spotlight. Perhaps that is why a disgruntled French minister administered his wholly ill advised comment about US ‘occupation’ this morning. Bernard Kouchner called on the UN to investigate the US role in Haiti after American forces temporarily turned back a French aid plane.
But the US role is not about ‘occupying’ Haiti in a pejorative sense but maintaining a semblance of law and order and facilitating the relief effort. Given the widespread devastation that has occurred, this island will need to be rebuilt root and branch – its roads, buildings, airports, markets and political institutions. Who do you trust to do this most effectively: the UN, condemned to lethargy by the dissension of its member states, or the world’s most powerful nation and its Western allies? As the Americans would say, it is a no brainer.
The National Association of Police: wrong on Islam, wrong on terror 21 January, 2010
The scale of British denial over the Islamist threat has been highlighted today by the comments from the National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP). The officers told MPs that ‘Islam’ was not the driver behind recent Islamist attacks and that the government’s counter terror strategy was ‘stigmatising’ the Muslim community.’
They continued: ‘It can be argued that there is a connection in the rise of Islamophobia and our Prevent programme as it feeds on the stereotypes that the media and some right wing parties promote, i.e. all Muslims are evil and non trustworthy.’
Some might be tempted to defend the government from these attacks. But in fact much of what NAMP is saying is the government’s own view. How often do ministers assure us that Islam is a ‘peaceful and loving’ religion that has no connection with terrorism? How often are we told that Islam has been ‘hijacked’ by ‘criminals’ and that 99% of Muslims are ‘on our side’ (David Miliband last year). NAMP’s denial about Islamist terror mirrors the government’s own confused thinking.
What we should do is to look at the facts. MI5 tell us that there are up to 2,000 Al Qaeda recruits in Britain, many of them indoctrinated in overseas training grounds and madrassahs. Some of Britain’s biggest mosques play host to a number of insalubrious figures from Saudi Arabia whose raison d’etre is to sow discord between Muslims and their ‘infidel’ colleagues. Universities, such as UCL, have become a breeding ground for radical Islamic groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
In this environment, it is fatuous to deny any linkage between Islam and terror. Al Qaeda is not actively recruiting Christians, Jews or Hindus in the search for a Muslim Caliphate. It is Muslims alone who are being signed up for the war against civilisation.
And they are being brainwashed with a not implausible interpretation of the Islamic faith. Clearly it would be wrong to stigmatise all Muslims as terrorists or to believe that ‘Islam’ is the true enemy. But the government never claimed this (nor has the mainstream media) so this is one gigantic straw man.
Having dismantled this fatuous nonsense, we should ask why an organisation like the National Association of Muslim Police exists in the first place. To divide up police officers on the basis of their skin colour, race or religious group is surely to encourage the very kind of separatist thinking that breeds racism in the first place.
It runs counter to integrationist attitudes which see the police as a unified group regardless of their members’ different backgrounds. Sectarian police organisations usually undermine confidence within the police force itself - witness the furore in 2008 when the Black police association called for a boycott of the force by black recruits.
Perhaps we are too desensitized by decades of multiculturalism to object to 'Muslim' or 'Black' police organisations. Perhaps we scarcely even notice. Maybe the left, with their victim centred narrative, have brainwashed the rest of us too?'
- Renewing contact with the MCB is a deplorable act of appeasement 25 January, 2010
Last week the government announced that official contacts would resume between Whitehall and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Rumours have surfaced about a political deal. In return for the MCB accepting a change in the universal jurisdiction law, one that would prevent Israeli politicians from facing arrest in the UK, the Council could once again maintain a dialogue with Britain’s leading politicians.
This dangerous tactic appears to have misfired with the government refusing to clarify whether the proposed law change will now proceed. But whatever its short term benefits, this olive branch to the MCB is completely unwarranted.
For one thing, there is no sign that the organisation’s offensive boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day will come to an end. Until 2008, they declined to attend, claiming that a commemoration of the mass killing of Jews was ‘insufficiently inclusive.’
Instead they advocated a ‘Genocide Day’ which would centre around the issues of Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir. None of these involved genocide but they did reflect the victim mentality so typical of Islamic extremists. It is hard to think of a more disturbing way to politicise genocide and poison Muslim-Jewish relations in the process. This year, Inayat Bunglawala will attend though only in a personal capacity.
But this behaviour is par for the course for an organisation with a dubious track record on Islamist terror. To their credit, the MCB’s spokesmen did condemn the 7th July bombers for their ‘indiscriminate acts of terror’ and claimed to reject all forms of Islamic violence.
But this sits uneasily with their glowing praise for Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual godfather of the Hamas movement, as well as their support for the Islamist Sheikh Qaradawi. The former MCB Secretary, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, was repeatedly asked on Panorama whether the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians was ‘terrorism.’ His evasive responses spoke volumes.
Worse, Daud Abdullah, the organisation’s Deputy Secretary General, signed the notorious Istanbul Declaration in 2009 after Operation Cast Lead. This document called on Muslims to fight ‘by all means and ways’ any nation sending its warships into ‘Muslim waters,’ specifically when those ships were helping to intercept arms for Hamas.
At the time Gordon Brown had suggesting just such a role for British troops, meaning that Abdullah’s signature was tantamount to treason. Hazel Blears broke off contact with the MCB but her successor, John Denham, has now adopted a more forgiving attitude. One wonders what Denham’s response would have been if the deputy director of the Zionist Federation had called for attacks on the British army.
The MCB is also in denial about the ideological basis of Islamist terror. Sir Iqbal Sacranie frequently spoke of ‘Palestine’ and ‘Israeli crimes’ as recruiting sergeants for violent extremism while Inayat Bunglawala decried the use of the term ‘Islamist.’
Bunglawala wrote that this categorisation was used to ‘denigrate and marginalize all politically engaged and active Muslims.’ He could not even bring himself to acknowledge the role of anti Semitism within radical Islam, claiming that the accusation was used to silence critics of Israel’s policies.
Instead of acknowledging the religious fanaticism emanating from the Islamic community, Dr Abdul Bari recently spoke of tackling ‘violent extremism’ while calling on ‘all members of society to eschew criminality.’
Yet the fanaticism that producers suicide bombers is not just criminal behaviour. It is rooted in an extremist interpretation of Islam which is propagated by radical preachers of hate within the Muslim community. In the face of a sustained holy war, the purported moderates are in a state of denial
Thus by renewing contact with the MCB, the government has shot itself in the foot and drowned out the voices of more moderate Muslims. It is an unforgivably misguided policy.
The Iraq war was about politics more than law 27 January, 2010
The appearance of Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, at the Chilcot inquiry, has added spice to the arguments over the legality of the Iraq war. The questions that have consumed commentators since 2003 have suddenly returned with a vengeance. Why did Goldsmith change the advice he gave to Tony Blair about the legality of the conflict? What pressure was put on him to alter his initial verdict that the war would be legal only with a second UN resolution? Who was leaning on him during March 2003 – Blair and his advisers or the Americans?
In the end he decided that force could be legally applied based on a particular interpretation of Resolution 1441. In essence, that Saddam’s failure to comply with the demands for disarmament would revive the authority to use force that was central to earlier UN resolutions, such as 678 and 687. These had given him 15 days to disarm his WMD after the First Gulf War. The technicalities of these resolutions could be pored over for days by a battery of international lawyers whose arcane arguments would be of little interest to the rest of us. How many of us would care what they said?
For most of us, the legitimacy of the Iraq war did not rest solely, or even mainly, on questions of legality. At most, this was but one dimension of an enormously complicated, multi faceted security challenge. For 12 years, the UN had failed to deal with Saddam’s threats to regional stability; the US and its allies were forced to take over.
In any case, the endorsement of the Security Council hardly provided an unchallengeable stamp of moral authority, as the 2003 Liberal Democrats were arguing. The Council provided no legal backing for the Kosovo war yet one could argue, with good reason, that it was morally justifiable to stop Serbia’s genocide. Yet few people condemn President Clinton’s ‘unilateralism’ with the same vehemence accorded to George Bush.
No, this was a debate about political judgment. Were Saddam to have posed a direct and immediate threat to his neighbours, and to Western interests, there was arguably legal and certainly political justification for the invasion in 2003. I personally argued then, as I argue now, that the case for regime change was dubious from the start. It was not that a second resolution was essential, though it would have been helpful for political reasons. It was that the intelligence assessing the risk from Saddam did not point to an imminent threat, nor did it prove a link between Saddam and 9/11 as some Americans claimed.
But as Saddam had violated his obligations to disclose full evidence of WMD’s, there was a case for more limited military action, as was the case in 1998.
Of course, some argued that there were humanitarian reasons for intervention, just as there had been during the Kosovo war. Saddam’s removal would see the green shoots of democracy spread the Middle East and de-baathification would lead to a new Velvet revolution. But these arguments had to be balanced against the risk that a lengthy war would give succour to Iran, the region’s more powerful and dangerous adversary. These are all political judgments, not legal ones.
In the end what we think about this conflict is unlikely to be changed by the Chilcot inquiry. No smoking gun, few shock revelations, the same old arguments. Now who can be surprised about that?
The left and the Iraq war 31 January, 2010
Listening to The Big Questions this morning, I was reminded of how morally obtuse the anti war movement still is. Time and again, they tried to lecture the audience on the evils of Blair's intervention in Iraq, citing the 'fact' that we had armed Saddam to the teeth, that we 'killed' 150,000 Iraqis (or was it 1million) during the war itself, that there was a political solution to Saddam's defiance of the UN, that this was a war for oil done by Blair at Bush's behest. I felt like I was in a time machine and I had gone back to 2003, listening to the Stop the War coalition disseminating their ignorance.
Whatever one's opinion on the war itself, it is easy to unpick this nonsense. First, did we arm Saddam between 1973-1990? If 'we' means the USA (primarily) and Britain, the answer is yes, though far less so than other countries. In fact, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US supplied about 1% of Saddam's conventional weaponry during this period. The overwhelming amount came from the USSR and its Eastern bloc allies, with most of the rest coming from China and France.
With nuclear and biological material, Germany and France led the way, again with the US playing an insignificant role. Endlessly repeating the mantra that the US armed Saddam to the teeth is a grotesque distortion of the truth. In fact, the countries that primarily armed the Iraqi dictator were those that most strenuously argued against invasion in 2003.
To the next charge, the deaths of Iraqi civilians after 2003 are indeed a blot on the allies' record. Blair, Bush and the Pentagon must take much of the blame for failing to provide a proper peacetime plan for securing the country from insurgents and terrorists. It was a criminal dereliction of duty.
That said, the notion that Blair had the blood of these people on his hands is equally monstrous and misguided. The vast majority of Iraqis who died since 2003 were killed by their fellow Muslims and to absolve these killers of any responsibility is to engage in a spurious form of moral denial. It is typical of the left to care little when non Westerners kill their own, yet to scream the roof down when there is even the slightest sign of American or British involvement.
Most nonsensical of all is the idea that the UN could have dealt with Saddam's failure to disclose his WMD programme. The UN had had 12 years and 17 resolutions to do precisely this. Its abject failure to deal with this security issue explains, at least in part, why the Bush administration felt compelled to act in the way that it did. (That it had other reasons too is a separate matter).
Of course, the case against war is more complex than this. Regime change was predicated on the assumption that in 2003, Saddam posed an imminent threat to his neighbours and to the West's interests and that, after 9/11, the world could not stand by on the pretext that he would not reconstitute his WMD programme and pass it on to a rogue terrorist faction.
This argument was undermined by false attempts to draw a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda and dubious evidence of an Iraqi nuclear programme. No links were ever found between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. Worse, we had the dodgy dossier. One had a right therefore to be sceptical about some of what the Bush administration was saying in 2003.
But what of the notion that Blair was a mere poodle of the Bush administration? Again, this idea does not stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, Washington was intent on military action whatever the prevailing opinion in Downing Street. Even Donald Rumsfeld admitted in early 2003 that the US did not need a British coalition partner.
Second, Blair's understandable insistence on a new UN Resolution irritated many of the hawks in the White House who lamented a continuation of the UN route. Third, Blair had been warning of the danger of rogue states with WMD since at least 1998 when he was formulating his doctrine of liberal interventionism. His frenzied efforts to build a coalition in 2002-3 must be seen in this context.
It was clear that Saddam had violated international law and his repeated defiance had to be dealt with in a robust, effective and meaningful manner. Taking all of the above into account, the arguments for and against, I placed myself then, as now, in the camp of 'very cautious supporter,' acutely aware that the long term effects of regime change (which may take decades to become fully clear) were going to be hard to predict. But one thing is for sure - if you want illumination on this issue, don't speak to the Stop the War coalition.
Don't count on Iran's mullahs unclenching their fists 3 February, 2010
Since his inauguration, the 44th President has pursued a strategy of conciliation to Iran’s mullahs, downplaying his criticism of their murderous regime in the hope of a diplomatic breakthrough. His sole reward has been endless Persian defiance. The Iranian fist has remained clenched, just as this blog predicted more than one year ago.
So the increase in America’s naval presence in the Gulf, together with her deployment of Patriot anti missile batteries in the Gulf States, may at last indicate a change of mood from the White House. Many will argue that this as a step in a better direction, considering that the Iranian regime is impossible to cajole through nice diplomatic sentiments.
As proof that this strategy has worked, many will point to Ahmadinejad’s statement today in which he agreed to export his country’s enriched uranium. Caution is needed, however. It is one thing to agree a plan and another thing to put it into action; words are not actions.
In any case, the decision on accepting this deal will be down to Ayatollah Khamenei in whom supreme power is vested, not the ‘elected’ President. So even if Ahmadinejad’s intentions are honourable (a highly dubious matter given that Iran has just test launched a new satellite), he may face an insurmountable stumbling block to his plans.
But America’s current position is not entirely satisfying because indicates a strategy of containment. America is prepared to ward off an Iranian missile strike by pre-emptively placing anti missile batteries in surrounding countries. In other words, instead of planning for destroying Iran’s illicit facilities, the Obama administration may be preparing for the day when Iran turns into a nuclear state, hoping that deterrence will thwart an attack on its regional allies.
But this would be a disastrous strategy. Leaving aside the vexed question of deterrence, an Iranian arsenal would seriously destabilise the region, leading to an arms race and the possibility of an arms transfer to terrorist groups. It would increase Iranian influence and power in the region, including in Iraq, the Gulf States, Lebanon and beyond. Iranian nukes would present a long term security problem of the highest order.
That is why containment and deterrence are not sufficient weapons in this crisis. We have moved beyond the Cold War and it is time that the Obama team realised it.
Universal jurisdiction should be scrapped 5 February, 2010
Remember Downing Street’s exasperation last December over the arrest warrant issued for Tsipi Livni. Remember all that faux outrage, the indignation at the abuse of the law, and the endless promises that ‘this will never happen again.’ Well, it all turned out to be so much New Labour hot air.
Jack Straw has led the opposition to any imminent change to the law of international jurisdiction. He does not stand alone. A significant number of his Labour colleagues also oppose a change in the law with an early day motion attracting no less than 108 signatures. There is every possibility of a highly significant and (for the government) damaging backbench revolt.
While not enough to defeat the Government, these 108 MPs might persuade Messrs Brown, Straw and Miliband to renege on the pledges made to their Israeli ‘allies’ only weeks earlier. In any case, Straw always has one eye on his Muslim constituents in Blackburn while the government has a collective eye on the forthcoming election.
Just to clarify, the universal jurisdiction law allows a private individual to demand an arrest warrant for someone who happens to be on British soil, even though that individual may not be British and his alleged crimes were committed abroad. While it was originally designed to hold to account those responsible for the most egregious abuses of human rights (torture, genocide etc.), it has since become a politicised weapon used by the enemies of the West. Israelis have been singled out by this legislation on several occasions, the latest being Tsipi Livni who was forced to cancel her trip to London after an arrest warrant was issued.
As things stand, opposition Israeli politicians or generals could face arrest the moment they touched down on British soil. And very soon, this deplorable situation could be tested to the limit. It was widely reported yesterday that Livni is planning another trip to the UK, which will test David Miliband’s promises of a change in the law to the limit.
But even an amendment to the law would be insufficient. For one thing, the power to issue arrest warrants should not lie with the Attorney General who is, after all, a politician first and foremost. The elephant in the room is the very notion of universal jurisdiction, a nightmarish juridical albatross slung around the necks of Western democracies.
At first glance, a law to arrest war criminals, torturers and mass murderers has some merit. Who would not like to see Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s Al Bashir brought to trial for their murderous policies?
But that is just it – they won’t. Dictators and masterminds of terror seem to be getting off scot free while their democratic counterparts are the ones being targeted. No one is proposing to arrest Chinese or Russian politicians despite the horrors being perpetrated in Tibet and Chechnya. The leader of Hamas would have an easier time in London that a former Israeli general. The leftward bias is hard to miss.
As a result, foreign judges could take it on themselves to initiate show trials of politicians, often based on the most spurious interpretations of what constitutes ‘a war crime.’
This is part of the reason why universal jurisdiction is so problematic. It allows judges to make decisions affecting other country’s citizens but without regard for accountability. Yet, as Daniel Hannan argues so persuasively, crimes are the responsibility of the state in which they take place. Tyrants should be brought back to the nation where their crimes were committed rather than being shipped off for a tedious trial at an ‘international’ court. And this cannot be done until they are militarily defeated by another power.
International jurisdiction is a powerful idea precisely because it tallies with the idea that nations are redundant. This is why the left adore it. Not only does it give them a stick with which to beat their favourite enemies (US, Israel etc.) but it bypasses the very ideas of national sovereignty and territorial sovereignty which are the cornerstones of Western politics. This new ‘lawfare’ is a threat to the West but, as so often, one that we have helped to create.
Amnesty's jihadi poster boy 10 February, 2010
The gurus of Amnesty International have spent years railing against the ‘abuses’ of Guantanamo Bay. They cited the fact that people were being held without trial, that they existed in a kind of legal limbo without access to lawyers (even military ones) and that they were experiencing torture on a regular basis.
One could certainly sympathise with part of this argument, even if one didn’t share the group’s decidedly left-liberal agenda. Torture can certainly be counter productive in dealing with terror while detention without trial is often problematic in a democracy.
But Amnesty’s claims to the moral high ground, rightly questioned in recent years, have been finally shot through by one of their own workers. Gita Sahgal, a senior officer for the organisation, has recently been suspended for criticising Amnesty’s collaboration with a group called Cageprisoners.
This group is headed by Moazzam Begg, a former detainee at Guantanamo whose incarceration has turned him into a figurehead for the oppressed. Sahgal has not questioned the wrongfulness of Begg’s incarceration. She has instead asked why Begg has been used as a figurehead for her organisation given his jihadi sympathies, hence his opposition to human rights.
Begg is a self confessed admirer of the Taleban who first travelled to Afghanistan in 1993. So impressed was he with the jihadi movement there that he went back with his family in the summer of 2001. Not only did he know about their barbaric policies, such as their denial of education to women, but he appeared to embrace them. Thus his comment on the Taleban:
“I believed that the Taleban had made some modest progress — in social justice and upholding pure, old Islamic values forgotten in many Islamic countries.”
Begg’s Islamic allies include radical preachers such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the man alleged to have influenced the failed Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Amnesty should also have a careful look at the Cageprisoners website. According to Begg, among the allegedly innocent Muslims held captive by the British state are such dignitaries as Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, two of the biggest recruiting sergeants for Islamist terror.
The site lists these captives’ various grievances against the state, leaving the reader with the impression that they have been falsely locked up by the ‘Islamophobic’ authorities. Yet even the briefest glance at their many utterances over the years gives a rather different picture. They are the subscribers in chief to the global Islamist jihad which seeks a form of cultural conquest of ‘infidel’ lands. This is what Begg believes in too.
Sahgal is therefore quite right to question Amnesty’s behaviour. If her organisation disagrees with homophobic murder, attacks on women and religious intolerance, they should have nothing to do with Begg, regardless of his previous treatment. Far from being a Muslim Martin Luther King or Gandhi, Moazzam Begg represents just the kind of medieval savagery that human rights groups are supposed to disdain. Amnesty’s leaders must be in a wretched state for not seeing this.
Flash Gordon and the politics of spin 15 February, 2010
When Gordon Brown came to power in 2007, he promised an end to the era of spin. No longer would government attempt to manipulate the media with cheap soundbites and phoney presentation.
Naturally, the idea that spin died with the end of Blair was foolish. Brown tried cheap media manipulation on a number of occasions, most notably when he visited Iraq during the Tory party conference to make quick diversionary headlines.
But he sought a different image to Blair: instead of slick media presentation and charisma, he promised he would remain a private individual. For good measure, he promised he would never use his family as ‘props.’
It might be overly cynical to suggest that he was doing that tonight during his interview with Piers Morgan. But then again, how else to describe it? Certainly he displayed real and very raw emotions when he spoke movingly of the death of his first child and how he and his wife had suffered afterwards. It was hard not to be moved by his account. No one could doubt the depth of his wife’s feelings as she cried for her lost child.
But surely it would have been more dignified to keep these emotions private rather than opening them up to media gaze. Did the public really need to see these raw feelings on display, as if we had a right to access the PM’s inner life? Some things ought to have remained beyond the realm of public scrutiny.
But actually this was not the most revealing part of the interview. For later, he spoke about his wife Sarah, how they met years earlier and how he proposed to her on a beach. Morgan asked if he proposed on bended knee and whether he was a member of the 'Mile High Club.' Truly vulgar, vomit inducing stuff.
If there is a strategy for ‘humanising’ Gordon and making him more accessible to the public, then it is utterly transparent. With an election looming, the PM’s dour image is an electoral disadvantage. If only the spin doctors can put a bit more flash back into Gordon, it will be harder for the Tories to portray him as a psychologically flawed creature.
But this is to merely re-assert the politics of image that has so disfigured British politics in the last decade. It also represents a U-turn on Brown’s own stated aversion to spin, revealing him to be nothing more than a slick opportunist who will do anything to stay in power. Perhaps this interview revealed more than Gordon intended.
Passportgate 18 February, 2010
OK, let's start with the obvious. We can be fairly sure that the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was carried out by a Mossad team, possibly with help from other recruits. That is hardly rocket science. The hit was carried out with the efficiency, planning and professionalism that we associate with the Israeli secret service while they alone had the best possible motive for the killing.
Al-Mabhouh was a Palestinian terrorist thought to be delivering a significant arms shipment from Iran to Gaza. In particular, he wanted to bring long range rockets into Gaza that would have threatened the lives of three million Israelis. His removal is likely to exert a deterrent effect on any Arab or Muslim plotter who is seeking to help Iran expand its nefarious influence around the Middle East. It may also make Iran think twice before using such intermediaries to smuggle weapons. The justification for this action should scarcely be questioned by a single Western democracy.
But there is of course more to this case than that, as 'Passportgate' has revealed. Now intelligence agencies forge passports routinely in order to carry out covert missions around the world. After all, their agents are trained assassins, not social workers. Mossad is no different, indeed they have the greater need to use forged documents given the number of Middle Eastern countries they must visit. Many of these countries will not accept Israeli passport holders.
Still, cloning the passports of your own citizens who, in a state of understandable panic, are then able to cry fowl, is an own goal. The golden rule of any intelligence agency is never to get caught and to prevent unnecessary public exposure of its operations. By operating in secret and denying a trace back to the home country, the agency can better leave its enemies guessing about who is after them.
In this case, the Israeli fingerprints are hard to miss. Hence the number of Israeli officials who are talking of an intelligence 'blunder' and who, in some cases, are calling for Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, to resign. That would be premature. Dagan is popular in Israel and his knowledge of the Iranian threat makes him indispensable to his government. Still, he may think twice before repeating this operation.
A voice of clarity in the military establishment 23 February, 2010
I had the pleasure last Sunday to hear Colonel Richard Kemp, a former Commander of British forces in Afghanistan, at the Zionist Federation annual dinner. Colonel Kemp has had enormous experience as a military man, having seen service in Germany, Cyprus and Northern Ireland as well as working with the Joint Intelligence Committee.
But the thrust of his talk was about the Israel Defence Forces, not the British army, and what he had to say was very illuminating. Colonel Kemp lamented the knee jerk condemnation, almost Pavlovian in nature, that routinely accompanied the IDF's actions when similar actions by the British army tended to go unnoticed. In his view, some of the criticism of the IDF was anti semitic and motivated by what he termed 'dark forces.'
He also went on to explain how much the British army in Afghanistan owed to the IDF. When he became Commander there in 2003, British forces faced the protracted threat of suicide bombings. He turned to a contact in the Israeli embassy who in turn contacted an Israeli Brigadier-General in the Golan Heights. The Israeli flew to London and spent 4 hours briefing the Colonel on Israel's tactics for countering terrorism. This advice subsequently formed a large part of the British army's manual for dealing with suicide bombings. Thus while the Iranian regime has armed the Taleban and killed British soldiers by proxy, Israel has helped to save the lives of British soldiers.
Then he spoke about the IDF in Gaza, repeating his view that Israel had taken extraordinary steps to prevent the deaths of civilians during the previous war (Operation Cast Lead). Israel dropped a million leaflets over Gaza, they issued broadcasts telling people to leave certain areas, they enforced a three hour ceasefire every day and they allowed aid to be sent into Gaza. Colonel Kemp was quite clear that the charge of war crimes, made routinely by the left, was as far from reality as you could possibly get.
This was the voice of a brave man in the British military establishment. There are others who have expressed similar sympathies, such as General Sir Mike Jackson (former Chief of the Defence Staff) and Colonel Tim Collins. If only you could find such intellectual clarity in the rest of the establishment.
Obama's latest betrayal 25 February, 2010
Well done to Toby Young in the Telegraph for pointing out how Obama, yet again, has sold out one of his former allies. Never mind his curious betrayal of Eastern Europe over missile defence, the Iranian people during the post election rallies and Israel over settlements, now America's Chamberlainite President has betrayed his very closest ally, Great Britain. By adopting an official position of neutrality on the question of Falklands sovereignty, an issue that has once more raised its ugly head following Argentina's hissy fit over oil exploration, Obama is actively undermining the special relationship that has been fostered for so many decades. Let us try to remember what is at stake. As Young spells out:
'The Atlantic alliance has been the cornerstone of British foreign policy since 1941, when Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt joined forces against the Axis powers. Dean Acheson may have declared that Britain had lost an empire and yet to find a role, but successive British Prime Ministers have know what their role is and, by and large, it has been to stand shoulder to shoulder with America, presenting a united front in a series of global conflicts, from the Cold War to the Gulf.
It is not just cynical realpolitik. Our two nations have more in common with each other than they do with anyone else. We share a belief in liberal democracy, in freedom, and it is largely thanks to our willingness to commit ourselves to the defence of those ideals that the world has not been engulfed by fascism, communism or Islamofascism. For this alliance to survive, both countries must recognise their obligations and, from time to time, that involves one of us setting aside more localised concerns for the sake of the cause.'
Indeed so. The last point explains why Reagan abandoned neutrality during the 1982 Falklands War and supplied Britain with much needed intelligence against Argentina. He recognised that, much as he did not wish to stir anti US resentment among former South American allies, he had an obligation to his closest ideological ally. But all a State Department official could muster yesterday was this somewhat risible line: 'The US recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the sovereignty claims of either party.'
But British sovereignty over the Falklands is not some irrational chimera. It is backed up by the fact that there has been a solid British majority on the islands for well over a century. British governments since 1945 have consistently declared that there should be no change in the island's status unless this has been agreed by the islanders themselves; and clearly they have no interest in being ruled by Argentina. This is a pretty powerful claim for self determination you would think.
Strange that Obama refuses to see things this way. On the other hand, is it really that strange at all?
Why the wheels are falling off the Conservative bus 1 March, 2010
Having acquired an imperious lead in the opinion polls, Team Cameron now finds its fortunes flagging. Recent polls suggest that the Conservatives enjoy no more than a 6 point lead with others suggesting the lead has fallen to two points. The very real possibility of a hung Parliament now confronts both major parties with the most pessimistic of Tories fearing an imminent electoral defeat.
The wheels appear to have come off the Conservative bus and the reasons should be obvious to all. Instead of galvanising the nation with a core political message, the Tories have opted for safety first. Cameron has flailed about in all directions, offering liberal sound bites to re-assure the modernising wing of the party while offering a sop to the traditionalists. The result has been an uneasy mix that points in no overall direction.
Thus in recent months, Cameron has pledged to cut the deficit, restrict public sector growth and make a significant cut in the size of the state. Yet he has simultaneously declared his support for the NHS and pledged to double the budget for international aid. This is a confusing message which makes no sense in such troubled times.
The Tories also made much of their support for marriage, only for them to declare that tax breaks for married couples was an aspiration rather than a concrete policy. But even this Conservative aspiration was diluted when the Tories proposed offering the same incentives for gay couples and went further by suggesting that those same couples could marry in church. What kind of conservatism is this?
The strategy is designed to alleviate the government’s claim that the Tories are out to destroy public services and that they are an ungenerous and heartless bunch of toffs. But the end result is that Cameron’s Tories merely parrot Labour’s own vacuous slogans, creating the impression that they are slick opportunists rather than principled opponents. Worse, Cameron’s flirtation with spin has cast him as the ‘heir to Blair’ which has been a tactical disaster. The resulting impression, namely that the opposition lack any coherent policies, is incredibly damaging.
All along, Team Cameron has needed some big ideas backed up by coherent policy proposals. This has required more than cheap slogans and convincing sound bites, much as these are vital in any election. Strangely enough, Cameron has articulated an ideological framework that seems both English and Conservative and which represents a philosophical challenge to the current government.
He has talked about social responsibility, localism and individual empowerment, all of which require massive public sector retrenchment, cuts in spending and greater freedom for the consumer. These messages have been progressively undermined, however, by the desire to move onto the much hallowed but mythical ‘centre’ ground of modernising politics, defined by social liberalism, high levels of public spending, welfarism and non judgementalism in lifestyle choice.
Yet this is exactly what we have had for the last 13 years under the infamous leaders of New Labour. If the public want another 5 years of this, why opt for the ‘Blue pretenders’ when they can have the real deal under Gordon Brown? Better the devil you know, as they say. So in a nutshell, this is what Cameron’s wishy washy modern conservatism really risks – the humiliation of failing to defeat one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in living memory.
Andrew Roberts tells it like it is 3 March, 2010
Do read Andrew Roberts' incisive, penetrating and scorching indictment of the intelligentsia's double standards on Israel in today's FT. In a concise article in the otherwise increasingly anti Israeli FT, Roberts lambasts those who single out Israel for opprobrium because it dares to defend itself and not surrender to its enemies. Here is a sample of what he says about the killing of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh:
'All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war – and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that – occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy.'
He was responding to 2 recent articles that had condemned Israel's “checkpoints, barbed wire and separation walls” which were purportedly “turning Israel from a democracy into an apartheid state." But as Roberts points out so skilfully:
"There is simply no parallel between apartheid South Africa – where the white minority wielded power over the black majority – and the occupied territories, taken by Israel only after it was invaded by its neighbours. To make such a link is not only inaccurate, but offensive."
Indeed. Israel is singled out for delegitimisation and demonisation by the 'right thinking classes' in a manner which is both bigoted and iniquitous and which has no parallel in the modern world. Roberts' article is a model of simplicity and clear thinking. Do read it all.
Wilders is less wild than you might imagine 6 March, 2010
'Islamophobia on tour' screamed a headline in yesterday's Independent, describing yesterday's visit to London of the maverick Dutch politician, Geert Wilders. It was a typical reaction from the bien pensant classes who instinctively recoil when anyone dares to question the Islamic faith. It is also the kind of reaction that the blond haired polemicist, famous for his short film Fitna, might have come to expect in Britain. The last time he came here, courtesy of an invitation from UKIP, he was prevented from entering the country.
Now one does not have to agree with everything that Wilders says. His call to ban the Koran is rather unrealistic while his view of Islam as 'fascistic' lacks a certain nuance and balance. Perhaps in his desire to (rightly) blacken Islamic radicalism, he has somewhat overstepped the mark. Nonetheless, he is reportedly on the verge of electoral success in Holland and it is not hard to see why.
His rise to fame coincides with an increase in Holland's Muslim population, elements of which have become increasingly radicalised and vocal in their demands for sharia law. The recent murder of Theo Van Gogh has reminded the Dutch that tolerating the fundamentally intolerant comes at a heavy price.
When you combine Islamist radicalism with rampant multiculturalism and political correctness, you have a politically toxic mix which can only play into the hands of far right and populist parties. These parties are making calls for restricted Muslim immigration, a ban on headscarves and minarets and the assertion of the nation's core Judaeo-Christian values. If some of these ideas seem unworkable or downright unfair, they must nonetheless be viewed in the context of Dutch fears of an identity crisis brought about by unrestricted immigration and an aloof political elite.
Wilders has exploited this crisis very skilfully. Were he to become Holland's next leader, it will send a devastating signal to our own political elite.
The children of Gaza documentary 16 March, 2010
Last night I watched Channel 4's documentary, Children of Gaza, which followed a number of Palestinian children whose lives were turned upside down by the recent Gaza war. Some of the stories of human loss and suffering, of lives torn apart by the deaths of parents and brothers, of houses destroyed, of businesses ruined, were incredibly poignant. One would have to feel less than human not to sympathise with these young children and their grieving relatives.
That said, this documentary was no neutral affair – it was manifestly (and appallingly) agenda driven. No context for Operation Cast Lead was offered, beyond the statement that ‘Israel claimed that its operation was designed to stop Hamas rocket fire.' Worded in this way, one is led to believe that the Israelis actually had no good reason at all for their ‘punitive’ action. With no Israeli spokesman interviewed, one is left with an utterly one sided and distorted picture of why the war happened in the first place.
Despite the undoubted tragedy for many Palestinian children, one simple fact must be stated over and over again: Had Hamas not launched an incessant barrage of rockets on southern Israeli cities for years, causing tens of thousands of Israelis to run to their bomb shelters every day, Operation Cast Lead would never have happened. Israel left Gaza in 2005 with no intention of returning; events forced their hand.
The children interviewed make statements such as ‘Did we do anything to hurt them?’ and ‘My father wasn’t a terrorist.’ Are we really supposed to believe that these youngsters were not primed by terrorist masterminds intent on maximizing PR? It stretches credulity to think otherwise. If Hamas terrorists know anything, it is how well these stories of suffering innocents play out on British television screens.
This documentary is lopsided in one other fundamental respect. It accepts that the civilian deaths were Israel's fault when we know from the vast amount of evidence collected that Hamas were using Palestinian children as human shields in order to blacken Israel’s reputation.
Indeed, Israel has just released a 500 page report produced by the Intelligence and Terrorism information centre showing how Hamas used these tactics throughout the war. Improvised explosive devices were placed inside homes, command centres were set up near Palestinian (and UN) hospitals and mosques and rockets were fired from schools. The video evidence (http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=171009) is quite compelling, though not for Channel 4 apparently. With Israel taking extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties, a point made repeatedly by Colonel Richard Kemp in recent months, the documentary’s political agenda is very distinctly pro Hamas.
The worst part of this film is its attempt to sanitise Palestinian society. You see children in Palestinian schools being told not to hate other Jewish children but to, in effect, adopt the moral high ground. The notion that an education system run by blood thirsty anti semites like Hamas could be trying to instill such liberal sensibilities is utterly risible. If schools and mosques in the ‘moderate’ West Bank glory in the killing and subjugation of Jews, how much more likely is it that such deranged blood lust exists in Gaza?
At the end some children are shown expressing their desire for ‘martyrdom’ while they are befriended by members of Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Again, the clear implication is that these future ‘suicide bombers’ will be motivated ‘understandably’ by revenge in a classic ‘cycle of violence.’ But this is the Hamas agenda to delegitimise the Jewish state. The reality is that from the earliest age, Palestinians are taught the ultimate value of jihadist warfare against the 'infidels,' a blinding form of hatred which may be exacerbated by war but is not created by it. Though Hamas’ aspiration to destroy the Jewish state is stated, this is largely a footnote to the documentary.
Yes, Cast Lead was a tragedy for innocent Palestinians, indeed all wars are tragedies for the non combatants who suffer because of them. But this should not cause us to lose sight of basic facts such as why the war was necessary in the first place. By removing any context and implicitly adopting the Hamas narrative, the makers of Children of Gaza do a disservice to truth and justice for both sides.
Catherine Ashton lays down the law to Hamas 18 March, 2010
An extreme Islamist group in the Gaza strip, Ansar-al-Sunna has today claimed responsibility for a rocket attack at a Southern Israeli kibbutz which killed one person, a Thai worker. The attack appears to coincide with the arrival of Catherine Ashton, the EU's new (and unelected) foreign policy and security supremo.
So it is nice to hear her offer a unique brand of vociferous, heart stopping condemnation to match this atrocity. Here is what she had to say: ''I condemn any kind of violence, we have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems.''
Wow! I am quite sure that Hamas terrorists will be quaking in their boots at hearing that. There was no mention of the fact that this was 'Palestinian' violence' and nothing to indicate that, far from being just an act of violence, this was actually yet another act in the long standing genocidal war waged against the Jewish state from Gaza. Quite tragic really.
The Obama doctrine: alienate your friends and reward your enemies 19 March, 2010
It has not been a good week for the Obama administration. Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton had a collective hissy fit over Israel's announcement of the imminent building of 1600 houses in Jerusalem, something that has left observers perplexed. Why is it that the administration reserves its harshest invective for one of its closest allies rather than for the corrupt Palestinian Authority?
Why is it that so much attention is devoted to settlements, a clearly peripheral matter, when issues of much greater significance (such as the PA’s continual glorification of terrorism, the incitement in the West Bank) are largely ignored?
Obama’s inverted priorities and his refusal to identify the real causes of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse appear to have given a green light to Palestinian extremists. Hence in the last few days, there has been an upsurge of rioting in Jerusalem, the pretext for which is the addition of a synagogue on a list of Jewish heritage sites.
Add to this toxic mix the comments made by Biden and others to the effect that Israel’s purported intransigence is harming American military interests around the world. Such is the level of hostile rhetoric that Abe Foxman, the indefatigable chairman of the Anti Defamation League, has called on the Israeli government to counter it. This is not being called a crisis for nothing.
Amid this diplomatic hysteria, it is barely surprising that Obama is blocking any attempt to stop the region’s greatest threat, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In today’s Jerusalem Post, Michael Rosen asks why the US government is acting as a stumbling block to a bill that would impose enormous diplomatic pressure on Iran to end its nuclear programme. The bill in question, called the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, would ‘bolster the White House’s power to sanction any company assisting Iran in importing or refining petroleum.’ As Rosen points out:
‘Despite its vast natural gas and oil reserves, the Tehran regime imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline. Severe sanctions such as these can be expected to bring the Iranian economy to a screeching halt.’
Both Democrats and Republicans have signed up to this bill; it recently passed with a thundering 412-12 majority. But as Rosen writes:
‘All that remained for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, to make the bill a law was to “reconcile” the slightly different language in the separate Senate and House versions into a single piece of legislation. But instead, Reid and Pelosi have bottled up the measure and refused to allow a blending of the bills. Why? Because the Obama administration asked them to.’
The President’s team are convinced that new UN resolutions can soften the mullahs’ hearts and reverse the apparently inevitable march to an Iranian bomb. But the big stumbling block is China which will likely veto any such resolution because of its strong economic interests in Iran. So what is Obama’s team doing about this dangerous Sino-Iranian axis? The answer is nothing.
More precisely, they are seeking to reward China by labelling them as a ‘co-operating country’ and ‘and carving out a gigantic exception for Chinese companies doing business with Tehran.’ Quite why China deserves this largesse is difficult to fathom. But it seems that Washington has turned its back on stopping the Iranian bomb. Containment will be the order of the day when the mullahs finally announce that the most prized of all WMDs is in their grasp. Worse, they have rewarded autocratic China which is the chief diplomatic stumbling block to eventual Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
Rosen gets the overall point brilliantly:
‘Obama and his foreign policy advisers have consistently shown themselves to be more solicitous of America’s enemies than its allies, more willing to provoke our friends than to challenge our foes. And so far, this approach has succeeded only in emboldening opponents of the United States while alienating its trusted partners.’
Indeed so. By alienating his friends and rewarding his enemies, America’s 44th President has shown himself to be a liability to the free world, rather than its most stalwart defender. What an unmitigated disaster.
With fair-weather friends like these, does Israel need enemies? 24 March, 2010
So these are the depths to which UK-Israeli relations have now sunk. The government's decision to expel a senior Israeli diplomat in response to the cloning of British passports is a hysterical overreaction, But, and this is a point missed by some, it is by no means an unpredictable overreaction.
Given this government's past form in regard to the Jewish state, it is barely surprising that it would have created such a drastic rupture in relations.
Indeed the most surreal element in this saga is the notion that Israel somehow betrayed its British 'ally' by the alleged misuse of passports. In recent years, this country has been no genuine ally of the Israelis, indeed no more so than Obama's Arabist administration.
Take just a few recent examples. We now know that there will be no change in the universal jurisdiction law to prevent visiting Israeli politicians from facing arrest. The government's promises to this effect were meaningless. Any Israeli politicians or generals associated with the recent Gaza conflict could still find themselves under arrest moments after landing at Heathrow.
This is the same government that failed to denounce the Goldstone report at the UN, indeed failed to even abstain properly.
Its ministers turned on Israel during the Gaza war of 2009 when it was engaged in self defence. Some have gone further and considered a dialogue with the terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah, as if these groups could ever become respectable interlocutors in the peace process. With such shabby and misguided behaviour from Brown's government, it is barely surprising that 'passport-gate' would erupt into this latest spat.
David Miliband called it an 'outrage' that British passports were cloned by Israel. There was certainly an issue for the British passport holders who felt understandable anxiety for their security. They had not been consulted about the operation after all.
But neither this government nor the EU should have been too vocal in their condemnation. The forging of passports, rightly or wrongly, is part and parcel of the murky intelligence business and is something that goes on around the world. Indeed it is hard to envisage how some intelligence operations could get off the ground without it. Mossad (if they killed Al-Mabhouh) are not unique in this respect and they should not be singled out for special treatment.
Still, Mr. Brown’s government sees things differently. It is his ministers who have betrayed an ally repeatedly (see above), not the other way round. London and Jerusalem should have the strongest diplomatic ties but relations have now been drastically weakened at a time of grave international uncertainty. Brown and Miliband should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
The UN Human Wrongs Council 31 March, 2010
Nothing better illustrates Obama's opposition to American exceptionalism, or his belief in utopian internationalism than his devotion to the UN and its Human Rights Council. Early in his presidency, Obama agreed to US involvement in the Council, arguing rather naively that American influence would be far greater on the inside than out. Presumably 'American influence' would mean tackling the perverse culture of selectively demonising one country (Israel) while ignoring the world's most grievous abusers of human rights.
But this has scarcely proved to be the case as UN Watch's Anne Bayefsky points out in a scorching article in Commentary magazine. Instead the Human Rights Council has engaged in one of its favourite pastimes: attacking Israel. Five anti Israeli Resolutions have been passed in the last year alone, more than those passed on some of the gravest abusers of human rights: North Korea, Burma, Congo and Guinea.
As Bayefsky points out, this is because the Council 'is the personal playground of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. They hold the balance of power by controlling the Asian and African regional groups, which together form a majority at the Council.'
She goes on: 'The other 187 states on the planet got a free pass from the Council, notwithstanding the pressing reality of Nigeria’s butchered Christians, Saudi Arabia’s gender apartheid, Egypt’s systematic torture, China’s iron fist, Sudan’s genocide, and Russia’s slain human-rights defenders. In fact, over the entire four-year history of the Council, more than half of all resolutions and decisions condemning any state have been directed at Israel alone.'
But in this session, the Council went further and set up a committee to monitor compliance with the Goldstone Report, itself the result of a diabolical, one sided investigation into the Gaza war. And this new body will be 'added to the existing collection of UN standing bodies already fixated on Israel-bashing, such as the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, and the UN Division for Palestinian Rights.' Even for an Israel bashing organisation, such an august collection of committees is quite some feat.
The Obama team argue that they can better influence the Council as members than outsiders. But the US has just one vote like any other member. Thus when America repeatedly voted against the Goldstone Resolution, they were defeated every time. And because of their desire to appease the Muslim world following the 'aberration' of George W. Bush, there was no US sponsored vote on the Iranian threat, despite the terrible and bloody crackdown on the Green movement last year.
None of this should be surprising. From his call to engage Iran's mullahs, to the infamous Cairo speech to the 'Muslim world,' and his sell out of allies in Israel, Europe and beyond, the 44th President has been gradually eroding American influence and credibility across the world in a vain attempt at apologising for the perceived sins of American unilateralism. It will take a heroic effort by the 45th President to win back this credibility.
Hague's blunder 1 April, 2010
Last week I attended the LJCC Q and A session with William Hague. The shadow foreign secretary stuck me as being a highly articulate, witty and affable individual with an interesting range of views on the Middle East conflicts. During the session, I asked him what was meant by describing Israel's actions against Hamas and Hezbollah as 'disproportionate.'
He answered by saying that he had used that term during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon though he had not used it during Operation Cast lead. The charge of disproportionality, he suggested, was related to his belief that Israel's actions would have a negative effect on the government of Fouad Siniora while he doubted whether the war would leave Israel in a stronger position.
What was interesting was the clanger he then made. Why did he not use the term 'disproportionate' in 2009? His answer was that at the time 'Israel was under rocket bombardment' from the terrorists of Hamas and the charge of disproportionality would not have been a fair one to make. But Israel was under fire in 2006 as well, even more so than in 2009.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 Israelis in the North were forced to flee South to avoid rocket attacks from Lebanon in an enormous and hasty national exodus. If anything, this made the full scale Israeli war against Hezbollah far more justifiable than Mr. Hague chose to make out. Perhaps the shadow foreign secretary had a poor memory of events in 2006 or perhaps he was being a tad disingenuous in his explanation. In any case, his use of the word disproportionate still needs clarification.
Two Labour MPs who are beyond the pale 2 April, 2010
How often have we seen debate on Israel/Palestine morphing into the ugliest forms of prejudice, bigotry and outright anti semitic hatred. The virus, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is not confined to Islamists and hard left Marxists but is now becoming mainstream, affecting the left/liberal chattering classes and the 'progressive' intelligentsia.
Some MPs now feel perfectly comfortable in issuing the most pernicious diatribes against Jews and Israelis, spewing forth their deranged hatred without even attempting to cover it up. Take the story in this week's Jewish Chronicle, also reported in the Telegraph:
The election campaign took a distinctly unpleasant turn last week as pro-Palestinian MPs suggested the “Israel lobby” would play a behind-the-scenes role in key constituencies.
Martin Linton, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, told a meeting at the House of Commons held by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Friends of al-Aqsa: “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.
The notion of a Jewish state extending its financial 'tentacles' to influence a foreign polity is not a million miles away from certain other forms of diabolical imagery that depict Jews as intent on world domination. In the Arab world, it is commonplace to believe in paranoid conspiracy theories linking Jews to subversion and financial domination.
Jews are depicted as hook nosed demons whose 'tentacles' are designed to capture the citadels of power in the Arab world. The imagery is taken straight from Nazi propaganda and then lapped up by Muslim populations across the globe. Whatever Mr. Linton's intentions, he was invoking dangerous cultural associations that would have resonated with his audience.
Worse were the comments then made by Sir Gerald Kaufman, a figure notorious in the Jewish community for his ill mannered outbursts against Israel. Sir Gerald outdid himself this week. At the same meeting, this is what he had to say:
The veteran Jewish anti-Zionist MP Sir Gerald Kaufman suggested wealthy members of the community would play a role similar to that of Tory “non-dom” peer Michael Ashcroft. “Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest,” he said.
Usually people using this language deny they are talking about Jews; it is Zionists, they scream. They shelter under the cover of the Arab-Israeli conflict and say their words have been taken out of context. Not Sir Gerald. He really meant what he said when he claimed that Jewish millionaires 'owned' the Tory party.
The JC's leader screamed that this was as bad as the BNP. Actually it is worse. You would expect a far right, fascistic organisation to indulge in pernicious diatribes of this kind. But for a leading member of the Jewish establishment to turn on his own community with such venom is inexplicable. It puts him completely beyond the pale.
How long before Gordon Brown expels Sir Gerald and Mr. Linton from the party?
Immigration - the unspoken issue 14 April, 2010
The Conservative launch appears to have clarified the Cameroons' big ideas of devolving power, decentralisation and empowering society. These ideas are welcome and merit closer scrutiny by the political class - they may yet prove electoral assets too. Yet as the venerable Frank Field points out in the Telegraph today, there has been little talk of immigration. As he puts it, despite being one of the biggest of voter concerns, 'immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name.' The Labour MP is more than aware of the scale of the problem that confronts this country:
'A continuation of mass immigration on roughly the present scale will bring the population of the UK to 70 million in 20 years – and the growth won't stop there, unless we are prepared to control drastically the size of net migration. Immigration will account for 70 per cent of this population increase. This is what needs to be tackled.'
Maternity units are struggling as 25 per cent of all births in England and Wales are to foreign-born mothers – in London that proportion is 50 per cent. Primary schools in some areas have to resort to portable classrooms to cope with new arrivals, and are forced to redirect teachers' time to teaching English rather than ensuring that the weakest pupils succeed.
Housing is another area where pressures have been allowed to build. Nearly 40 per cent of all new households over the next 25 years will form due to immigration – an average of nearly 100,000 extra households every year. We are not building homes to match this demand and that is why the waiting list for social housing in England has gone up by 60 per cent in seven years, leaving Britain's white and black citizens at the end of the queue.
The policy of uncontrolled mass immigration, as opposed to the policy of controlled and sustainable immigration, has put untold pressure on public services - on schools, on hospitals, on maternity wards, on housing stock and other areas. Left at its present levels, the demographic pressures, particularly in the South East, would exacerbate social divisions, further erode the quality of public services and entrench the ghettoisation of our cities.
In other words, this remains a massive 'state of the nation' issue that cannot be brushed under the carpet for reasons of political correctness. But do you hear the Conservative party launching a tirade against the government for 13 years of immigration mismanagement? Their silence is deafening.
The Tories are too scared of being painted as the 'nasty party' who have never reconciled themselves to multicultural Britain. So by keeping this subject at arms' length, they are preserving their carefully nurtured image of compassionate Conservatism while giving a golden opportunity to genuine bigots to exploit popular discontent. We all know who those bigots are, don't we.
- The TV debate 15 April, 2010
On initial reflection, the first ever televised debate in British history appeared to be a success. It offered a chance to see the three party leaders together without the raucous atmosphere associated with the House of Commons. But, and this is crucial, there were no thrills or unexpected answers, few verbal gaffes and no memorable lines. Most of us could have predicted everything that all leaders actually said on the night. The party scripting was clearly well done.
For my money, Cameron came across marginally best on questions of substance. His answers on immigration, education and crime were relatively convincing whereas Gordon Brown's attempts at self justification, particularly on immigration and army life, were more than a touch disingenuous. Hardly surprising when he told us how he could safeguard an economy that he has allowed to go to hell in a handcart!
If this was decided on substance, the points may have gone to Cameron. Instead it was settled on image and here Nick Clegg took centre stage. He won this debate, not so much because of what he said but because he communicated more effectively with the audience than his two rivals.
He distanced himself successfully from Labour and Tories, lumping them together as the two 'old' parties that had spent 65 years exchanging their hold over Great Britain. In the wake of the expenses scandal, Clegg's argument that only he could bring 'change' to Britain must have sounded the most convincing. No wonder he won.
The fact that Clegg's economic policy was not radically dissimilar from his rivals, that his immigration policy was unworkable, that his mouthing of CND policy was dangerous and that his policy on schools parroted Labour, all of this seemed to matter less than the fact that he had had no association with government in living memory.
Nothing better reveals the public's discontent with the political class as a whole and the cynicism with which mainstream politicians are held, a cynicism for which the Westminster elite must take ultimate responsibility.
Why not to fall for the Lib Dem spin - to follow.
The Clegg 'triumph' is as vapid as our political culture 19 April, 2010
So it seems that the country is awash with Clegg euphoria. The Lib Dem leader has surged ahead in the polls, capitalising on his success in last Thursday’s yawn inducing TV debate. One poll has even puts Clegg above both Brown and Cameron which, translated into an election result, would almost certainly spell a hung parliament.
No wonder the Conservatives are panicking. Clegg has now successfully presented himself as the outsider, the ‘real deal’ change candidate in contrast to his crusty political rivals. What a rich irony for the Tories that, having promoted the agenda of change to win over Liberal supporters, they are now being presented as agents of the old order.
All the efforts Cameron has made to ditch the image of the ‘nasty party’ and hook on to a false left-liberal agenda have blown up in his face spectacularly. In political terms, he has been hoist by his own petard.
But there is also something phoney about Clegg’s PR. His sanctimonious claim to be remote from the Westminster ‘establishment’ is a truly disingenuous piece of spin. Like so many others, he worked his way up through the political system, as both speech writer, political consultant, MEP and then MP.
He plays the ‘old’ game of politics as adeptly as Brown and Cameron. Given half a chance, does anyone honestly believe that Clegg would turn down a crafty deal with either party to win power and influence in government? Nonetheless, politics is scarcely always rational.
So if Clegg is just another traditional career politician, what does it say about the voting public that they would elevate him to such heroic heights? In part it is because he is the new boy on the block, making his first major appearance before millions without the raucous atmosphere of Parliament.
But it is also because the public know so little about his real agenda on key issues. The Liberal Democrats are in favour of Britain entering the Euro and offering an amnesty for illegal immigrants. These are highly damaging policies which rightly enjoy little public support. Yet these issues have barely surfaced in the pre election debate thus far.
Indeed how many people could seriously differentiate Conservative from Lib Dem economic policies, or ones on education or health for that matter? Indeed there are some key differences between the Tory and Labour-Liberal positions on social and economic issues but these have been glossed over by an unhealthy consensus elsewhere; hence the refrain that the main parties are ‘all the same.’ The Conservatives barely mentioned 'the big society' last Thursday despite it forming a central plank of current Tory philosophy.
In part the media obsession with celebrity is to blame for this. There is a relentless focus on politicians’ lifestyle choices, houses and spouses as if we were voting for glamourous film stars. Inevitably, policies and past experience are discounted in favour of soundbites, spin and image. Sadly for Cameron, Nick Clegg seems to do image better than the Tory leader.
But the politicians have also connived with this growing Americanisation of politics. They have invited the media into their homes, opening up a private world to incessant public scrutiny. If a vapid political culture is the result, it is barely surprising.
Cameron has yet to win over the British public 23 April, 2010
Happy St George's Day to all my readers.
Cameron’s supporters are already congratulating themselves on the Tory leader’s ‘fightback’ last night. In round 2 of ‘Westminster’s got talent,’ Cameron supposedly showed his leadership potential by routing the ‘lightweights’ Brown and Clegg.
If only this were true. The evidence from the most recent opinion polls only confirms that there was no overall winner last night, at least between the two young, telegenic rivals. Cameron’s victory, if there was any, was exceedingly slight.
He can now claim parity with the Lib Dem leader after being outplayed so badly last week. Quite simply, that means that he has yet to seal the deal with the British electorate. True, he looked much more comfortable yesterday, offering some of the passion that was absent in the first debate.
But on many of the key issues raised, there was once again another alarming absence of real debate. On Europe, climate change, Afghanistan, expenses and even immigration, an unhealthy consensus replaced a serious airing of fundamental differences.
True, they pretended that they were cut from a different political cloth when it came to foreign affairs. Thus Cameron adopted a Eurosceptic position, claiming that the other two party leaders were selling out ‘the people’ by refusing to offer a referendum on the Lisbon party. He wanted to ensure that Britain was ‘in Europe and not run by Europe.’
But quite how any country can be a fully paid up member of the European superstate and not be ‘run’ by Europe is a mystery of the highest order. And the Tory offer of a referendum lock on any future withdrawal of power rings hollow – it ignores the emasculation of power that Britain has already suffered since 1973! All three leaders (surprise, surprise) bought into the tired Euro-narrative that Britain was nothing if it was outside the EU.
On climate change it was the same. When asked what they were personally doing to tackle this terrible menace, the party leaders engaged in a clever game of one-upmanship, each vying to prove that he had the best green credentials. None actually questioned the strategy of de-carbonisation or whether the science of global warming might actually be flawed. The passionate climate debate was nothing of the kind.
Still, at least it provided the most hilarious moment of the whole debate. At one point, Clegg lumped together the Tories’ allies in Europe as ‘Nutters, anti-semites, people who deny that climate change exists, homophobes.’ In other words, to be a sceptic on climate change means you are like those who commit hate crimes. What a lamentable judgment from this ‘outsider’ of British politics.
On Trident, there was a clearer distinction between the party leaders. Here rather strangely, Brown appeared the most confident as he demolished the argument that Iran or North Korea could be confronted without a proper deterrent of our own. Still, there was no discussion of the Iranian nuclear threat and how it could be confronted through the use of force.
When it came to the expenses scandal, there was once again little to separate them. ‘The politicians have been treating the people like mugs’, said Cameron. For the offenders, ‘No punishment is too great’ declared Brown. What a shame that neither of these leaders were prepared to sack the most powerful miscreants in their own parties (Darling, Osborne, Gove to name but three).
The great immigration debate was also a fairly tepid affair. True, Cameron did say that immigration had been too high and that a cap needed to be placed on future migration. He also exposed the utter futility of offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants, a sharp rebuke to the ill considered proposals from the Liberal Democrats.
But Labour’s mass immigration policy has not merely been badly managed and chaotic. It has been a national scandal. Far from being the result of poor thinking, it was intended as a deliberate means of changing Britain’s social fabric and altering, perhaps permanently, the political calculus in Labour’s favour. None of this was mentioned. It was an obvious target for Cameron but he ducked it, despite the public being incredibly sceptical about mass immigration.
All three agreed that EU membership was essential to Britain’s long term future, ignoring completely that it is precisely this factor that prevents us from controlling all aspects of immigration.
Cameron seemed on safe ground when the discussion turned to the economy. He argued, in my view correctly, that a hung parliament would lead to political deadlock and potentially jeordarize the recovery.
But even here he failed to point out the economic nonsense in Brown’s claim that reversing the NI rise would ‘take £6 billion out of the economy.’ And where were the grand, expansive plans to slash the quangos, bureaucrats and non workers who are part of the behemoth that is Brown’s client state? For that matter, how many times did he mention ‘The Big Society?’
Acts I and II of the great TV debate have been distinctly underwhelming. One shudders to think what Part III has in store.
Brown is mendacious and two faced. So what's new? 29 April, 2010
The only thing more astonishing than Mr Brown’s verbal gaffe yesterday is that anyone can be remotely surprised about it. Is anyone really shocked that the Prime Minister feigned warmth and understanding towards Gillian Duffy, only to reveal his true feelings moments later?
Here we have an ordinary member of the public expressing her concerns about the state of public debt, education and levels of immigration in Britain. These are the kind of issues that are shared by millions of ordinary people, the voters whose support Brown claims to cherish so much. In public, he showed interest and that infamous faked smile of his. Yet in private, he regarded the interview as a disaster and the woman as a 'bigot.'
Like other progressive left-liberals, Brown has treated ordinary members of the public with contempt, dismissing their concerns on immigration, asylum, Europe and the economy as the ramblings of an ill educated rabble. For years he has encouraged the culture that condemns anyone questioning immigration policy as a bigot, racist or Little Englander. Ministers who refuse to tow the line have been compared to fascist sympathisers or BNP leaders. The damage for Brown personally will be catastrophic - obviously. Whatever the doubts about his leadership thus far, they will be magnified enormously afer this disaster.
But the episode will merely reinforce all of the public’s worst suspicions about the political elite – that they never tell the truth, that they care little for the electorate (except on pre arranged and tightly controlled speaking tours) and that they live in some isolated Westminster bubble divorced from the real world. Who can doubt that one of the biggest winners from the 2010 election will be the party called ‘None of the above.’
Last night's debate 30 April, 2010
I think we can conclude a number of things from last night's TV debate between the three party leaders.
1) Brown is truly finished as a force in British politics. Though he showed some fighting spirit after the debacle of 'bigotgate,' his scaremongering about a Tory victory did not wash. Cameron rightly derided his claim that abandoning the proposed increase in NI contributions represented 'taking £6 billion out of the economy.' As the Tory leader pointed out, this reflected Brown's statist (and rather arrogant) assumption that the state and the economy were the same thing.
The Prime Minister's attempts to take credit for the bank bailout were also disingenuous. Again, Cameron deserves credit for pointing out that it was Brown who lauded Fred Goodwin, the man whose hubristic behaviour nearly brought the British economy to its knees. He might have also reminded the audience about that phrase 'No return to boom and bust.' No, Brown's claim to economic competence is bunkum, pure and simple.
2) The Clegg shine has now started to wear off, which perhaps was simply a matter of time. Clegg came from virtual obscurity to take centre stage a fortnight ago, much to the surprise and consternation of the Conservatives. Now the novelty factor is disappearing, perhaps the result of some deft performances from Cameron. It is looking less likely that the Lib Dem leader will have a major say in the next government - which means the decreasing likelihood of a hung Parliament with all its deleterious consequences. Perhaps Clegg looks like just another member of the Westminster elite - which is what he is.
3) Cameron is now in the ascendancy, looking the most likely candidate to deliver on his 'change' agenda. But even his economic credentials should merit close scrutiny. The Conservative plans for deficit reduction remain vague and insubstantial, the result of wanting to avoid the charge that they will destroy front line jobs in the public services. As a result, they have been too cautious on the economy.
The thrust of Cameron's case for deficit reduction is that it is essential to avoid Labour's imminent 'job's tax,' which is a fair argument. But it is also essential to spell out how public spending will be cut in order to avoid other inevitable rises in taxation. It is not enough to repeat the mantra that 'waste' will be tackled in government.
For the Tories, victory may be just around the corner. Let us hope that success can follow soon after.
The start of Labour's latest civil war 4 May, 2010
The repercussions of Gordon Brown's attack on Gillian Duffy continue to reverberate with even Labour candidates now declaring open season on the Prime Minister. Manish Sood, the prospective Labour candidate for North West Norfolk, has called Gordon Brown 'the worst Prime Minister in history' with policies that have been 'a total disaster' for Britain. Mr. Brown’s authority is clearly haemorrhaging by the minute if a junior (and somewhat jumped up) Parliamentary candidate is prepared to launch such a brazen public attack.
Clearly there is no place for loyalty in the Labour party. For if Mr. Sood really believes his own derogatory assessment of the Prime Minister’s record, then why on earth is he standing for his party? Why is he not running as an independent instead and maintaining at least a modicum of integrity?
His constituents will conclude that this man is a backstabbing opportunist, devoid of principle and ruthlessly intent on seizing power by whatever means possible. Is there another Labour politician this reminds you of?
What Mr. Sood has said so openly is no doubt the privately held view of many a sitting Labour MP. Many view Mr. Brown as a political liability whose ruthlessness, moral cowardice and inability to connect with ordinary people have gravely damaged Labour’s prospects in the election.
There are rumours of a coup in the event that Labour suffers its worst defeat in a century. After Brown is forced out, there will be a period of internecine warfare as Brownites (led by Ed Balls) battle with disgruntled Blairites for the prize of Labour leadership. The prospect of Mr. Brown’s imminent demise, and the ongoing repercussions of ‘bigotgate,’ have naturally fuelled the antagonism towards Brown from within the Labour party. When Labour is duly trounced on May 6th, this is surely only a foretaste of the political bloodshed to come.
The day of reckoning 5 May, 2010
Over the last three years, I have been very hard on David Cameron. His brand of liberal 'Compassionate' Conservatism has struck me as a diluted, dumbed down version of the Conservative brand. Cameron has used his fair share of stunts, gimmicks and spin in order to prove his liberal, 'softer' credentials, resulting in a messy blue-orange fudge that has left traditional Tories in the cold. Judging by opinion polls, Cameron's Tories now have the same share of the vote as they did under the more right wing Michael Howard.
That has been especially disappointing when you consider this government's abject performance over the last 13 years. This blog has wasted no time in highlighting many of these failures, including the failure to reform the welfare state, the terrible legacy of public debt, the creation of a client public state, the decimation of our private pensions, the undemocratic surrender over the Lisbon treaty, mass immigration and multiculturalism, violent teenage crime, the terrible state of our state schools and a host of other problems. A bolder Tory approach would have taken a consistently different line on all these issues without the need to detox the 'nasty party.'
Nonetheless, Cameron has been consistent on a number of issues, such as his support for the family and his radical proposals for transforming the education system. His big society idea, when it is properly understood, offers an exciting vision for reducing the state in many areas of public life. True, Cameron has often cared more about style and image, resulting in him running scared over the economy and immigration. But he has also instinctively understood the cause of our current malaise and has been prepared to apply distinctly Conservative ideas for solving them. For this reason, he narrowly deserves to win this election. But he must remember that only a bold and imaginative approach to the nation's problems will see him crowned as a truly great leader.
We are seeing a terrifying glimpse of PR 9 May, 2010
In the last 48 hours we have seen worrying glimpses of a Britain living under proportional representation. After an election that had no clear victor, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have battled round the clock to reach an acceptable accommodation, while publicly pretending that their past differences were no more than political trifles. The last weekend has seen frantic horse-trading, backroom deals and behind the scenes concessions in an attempt to secure a stable government.
At the same we have been deluged by platitudes from all sides: that this is a new politics for Britain, the start of a fairer and more democratic society and a revolution that will shake Westminster to the core. We have even been told that electoral reform is the ‘will of the majority,’ as 65% have apparently voted for it.
This latter claim is of course pure hogwash. The Liberal Democrats were the only party that made electoral reform a key manifesto commitment. As only 25% of votes were cast in their direction, it is clear that the majority either had little interest in PR or decided it would not be fundamental to their voting choice. Supporters of PR have indeed spoken and, in party political terms, they have lost the argument. The idea that the views of a quarter of the population should dictate the electoral reform agenda is, well, undemocratic.
But in any case, PR is hardly a panacea for our current ills. Where it is practised, it almost always results in coalition governments, many of which are unstable and short lived because one party rarely wins outright. What results is a frantic attempt to accommodate a medley of parties, all vying for influence and usually extracting a price for their support.
The main argument for PR is that it produces governments that follow ‘the will of the majority’ rather than parties backed by minority support. Indeed if the Conservatives were to form the next government, their mandate would be 36% of the nation’s votes based on a 65% turnout i.e. around a quarter of the electorate. Under any PR system more parties are represented, purportedly making the system more representative.
But there are two obvious problems with this. The first is that a small party, sometimes an extremist one, ends up wielding wholly disproportionate influence when it acts as an electoral kingmaker. The Liberal Democrats, as the current kingmakers, are being wooed by the other two big parties yet they mustered fewer than 60 seats. They can decide if the second placed party with less than 260 MPs or the first placed party with over 300 becomes the dominant coalition partner in the next government. But if they were to choose Labour, what would one say to those who voted for the biggest party?
Secondly, any coalition requires deep and sometimes painful compromises from all sides. As a result, the parties involved inevitably diverge from their initial manifesto positions. David Cameron has already changed his entire tone towards the Liberal Democrats while his nod towards PR remains distinctly unConservative. He may find a number of manifesto commitments have to be diluted for the sake of forming a government. But none of those who voted Liberal Democrat wanted watered down PR any more than Tory voters were desperate for the Euro.
And far from being new politics, it is in one sense a victory of the old. The same old parties would resurface every time, jockeying around for a seat at the top table. Under first past the post, you are more likely to get the seismic shifts that really bring political change.
A referendum on PR may well be the outcome of these Lib/Con talks. Let us hope for all our sakes that people vote wisely when it comes.
Very well, alone! 11 May, 2010
Gordon Brown's resignation was hardly a surprise now, was it. The man came into politics with a ruthless desire for power and a visceral loathing for the Tory brand. Once it became clear that Clegg (and perhaps Mandelson) would not support a Brown led government, the PM knew he had one final card up his sleeve - his own resignation which might, just might, allow the Labour party to steal the Tories' thunder and scupper their proposed deal with Nick Clegg. Such is the nature of this audacious coup. This was a cynical, manipulative, shameful stitch up - utterly undemocratic and in keeping with Labour's total abuse of power.
As it is abundantly clear that the Lib Dems will ally themselves with whichever party allows them a glimpse of power, regardless of the 'national interest,' Cameron has only one viable option. He must go it alone and announce that he intends to run as the leader of a minority administration. Clegg is absolutely not to be trusted. True, he lacks the MPs for an overall majority but he could reach an understanding with the Unionists, giving him greater clout, and then rule on a bill by bill basis.
Of course the Conservatives continue to flirt with a Tory/Liberal alliance but even if one could be formed, it would barely last. The two parties are poles apart on so many issues - Europe, immigration, the economy, defence. Such a patched up marriage of convenience would scarcely survive beyond the honeymoon.
The alternative is a Lib/Lab pact, stitched together with the support of a number of smaller parties. Such a patchwork arrangement, however, is hardly likely to last either. We would soon be left with the prospect of a second election, one from which the Tories could benefit. They would not have soiled their brand by allying with a left wing party and might be seen as the only credible basis for strong, central government. By contrast, the Lib Dems would be seen as the shifty prop boys holding up a tired and discredited Labour party. For the Conservatives, a temporary absence of power could provide long term benefits.
There are certain moments when I am reminded of David Low's famous cartoon from 1940: a British soldier stands on the White Cliffs of Dover, shaking his first towards a subjugated France that has just surrendered to the Nazis. He declares with pugnacity: 'Very well, alone.' Those stirring words must now become the Tory motto. Cameron needs to show some character, bottle and, more importantly, a sense of principle.
A brave new world this is not 12 May, 2010
The generally respectful tributes paid to Gordon Brown and his ‘statesmanlike’ pursuit of ‘the national interest’ are likely to raise as many eyebrows as the new Conservative-Lib Dem government. The two parties have indeed decided to bed down with each other, ending the on/off flirtation that threatened to turn Westminster into a pantomine.
Yet the new ‘Tory democrats’ are indeed a pantomine government, a curious patchwork of ideologically opposed parties driven together in spite of their mutual animosity. It is not just that on a range of issues that are crucial to this country’s future, such as Europe, the special relationship, immigration and defence, the two sides are poles apart, it is that the last few days have demonstrated everything we suspected about Nick Clegg – that he is a venal and opportunistic office chaser willing to sell his party to the highest bidder. A coalition government needs trust to be stable but that commodity has been shattered in recent days.
But above all, the new partnership lacks the stamp of full democratic legitimacy. Already we are hearing that the Tories have been forced into major concessions: a commitment to fixed term Parliaments, a change to tax allowances and a delay in their own inheritance tax proposals. For their part, the Liberal Democrats have sacrificed their mansion tax and opposition to capping non EU migration. None of this reflects the will of the voters. Instead it represents the kind of horse-trading, back room dealing and concession hunting associated with the worst form of Westminster politics. A brave new world it is not.
With good reason the constitutional expert, Lord Norton, has described a hung Parliament as a ‘politician’s parliament’ where policy ‘is the result of post-election bargaining.’ As he puts it: “The people do not get a look in. Compromises are reached which may bear no relationship to what electors want, which were never placed before them, and which they may have no opportunity to pass judgment on at the next election if parties stand as independent entities: there is no one body to call to account.” Indeed, and one suspects that both parties may suffer at the next election.
Some of the commentariat are suggesting that Clegg is now Cameron’s prisoner, trapped in a Conservative embrace that is necessary for his own survival. But that presupposes that Cameron has the strength and ruthlessness to head off one of Clegg’s inevitable hissy fits on a matter of public policy. Yet the Tory leader’s willingness to make concessions, even after Clegg’s temporary flirtation with Labour, suggests he may not. One of the biggest charges against Cameron was that he was willing to say and do anything to attain power. If he abandons yet more of the Tory script in an effort to maintain the coalition, this perception will only gain strength.
The era of New Labour has come to a resounding end and for that, millions are understandably thankful. But what has replaced it is not a brave new world but a Westminster farce which insults millions up and down the land. If this is the new politics, get me out of here.
The courts hand another victory to the jihadis 18 May, 2010
While they were in opposition, the Tories regularly condemned Labour's blatant failure to protect the homeland from Islamist bombers. They had good reason to do so. Human rights laws, deriving from the Convention on Human Rights, gave our courts free rein to prevent the deportation of dangerous terrorists to any foreign land where they might face degrading treatment, including torture.
How well did the Tory opposition exploit all this, promising that in power they would repeal the Human Rights Act and deal responsibly with threats to national security. Well now another dangerous Islamist has been spared the 'horrors' of deportation by our overly generous courts, and on the Tories watch.
The Special Immigration and Appeals Commission has just ruled that Abid Nasser, the alleged ring leader of an Al Qaeda plot to bomb a shopping centre in Manchester, cannot be sent back to Pakistan because he may face ill treatment there. Yet the tribunal accepts that Nasser was behind an imminent terrorist plot and that he "poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom." Another man, Ahmad Khan, also won his appeal on the same grounds.
So a potential mass murderer, whose diabolical plots involve the killing of as many Britons as possible, will have to remain in the UK (at our expense) where he can remain a lethal threat, all because it would be a far greater evil to subject him to 'potential' abuse in his own country. Isn't human rights law wonderful!
What is sadder still is the government's response to all this. This is Home Secretary Theresa May's take on the affair:
"We are disappointed that the court has ruled that Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan should not be deported to Pakistan, which we were seeking on national security grounds. As the court agreed, they are a security risk to the UK. We are now taking all possible measures to ensure they do not engage in terrorist activity."
Sadly these measures do not involve tackling the very human rights conventions that breed these insane decisions in the first place. May's protestations are just a lot of liberal-Conservative hot air.
Cameron's anti democratic assault on his own party 21 May, 2010
David Cameron's emasculation of traditional Parliamentary privilege has taken a new twist. After steamrolling through his idea for a 5 year fixed term Parliament which can only be brought down by a 55% majority, he has now seen fit to walk all over his own backbenchers.
In a matter of hours he has forced through a vote that allows his own ministers and whips to vote on the 1922 committee. This committee is designed to allow Conservative backbench MPs a voice within the party and naturally, it acts be a forum for criticism of party policy. It is understandable that Cameron dislikes this arrangement but an independent party organisation is also part of the checks and balances of Parliamentary democracy. By undermining the committee's structure, he has shown his unwillingness to have party policy independently scrutinized and questioned by his own MPs.
Much worse is the manner in which he has done this. Instead of calling for a free vote of the 1922 committee, he has effectively forced the change through by allowing the ministers and whips in question to vote on the issue. The motion was carried despite overwhelming opposition (168 to 118) and it beggars belief that Cameron's own party henchmen would have been among the opposition. Tory MPs must be seething at this abuse of democracy.
Lord Tebbit, so often a light of reason in the wilderness, really understands what is going on here. As he writes in today's Telegraph:
One has to expect a little discord now and again among Ministers in a coalition, but the contrast between Deputy Prime Minister Clegg’s breathless calls for political reform to give power to the people and the Prime Minister’s putsch against his own backbenchers is really going too far.
Cameron pledged to decentralise decision making while he was in opposition. Indeed it is one of the big themes of the Big Society. But it seems that local empowerment and political reform will not apply to the Tory party. And they call this the new politics!
America's (former) allies turn nasty. And we know who's to blame... 24 May, 2010
Watching the West's lily livered efforts at curbing Iran's drive for nuclear status is painful indeed. The latest proposed sanctions resolution (which now has the assent of Russia and China) is inadequate for a number of reasons, not least because it does not prohibit the export to Iran of surface to air missiles or, more significantly, petroleum products.
It will fail to deter the mullahs from continuing their quest for the world's worst weapons. (More of this in my forthcoming article in the Jewish News). But another side to this story is also interesting. Just before Hilary Clinton cobbled together her coalition of the (less than) willing, Brazil and Turkey put the proverbial spanner in the works by producing their own nuclear deal: allowing the Iranian government to export half its enriched uranium to Turkey where it will be re-processed and sent back in harmless form to Tehran. Not surprisingly, neither Turkey nor Brazil are interested in sanctions.
Of course the plan is a clever ruse. It is not clear that Turkey has the facilities to re-process the uranium or that it would allow international observers to monitor the process. In any case, Iran has been increasing its stock of enriched uranium in the last year so accepting this offer does not guarantee that the country would be sufficiently divested of material to guarantee that it could not soon go nuclear. But as ever, Charles Krauthammer really gets the importance of the Brazil/Turkey offer. Here is what he writes in today's Jerusalem Post:
The real news is that already notorious photo: the president of Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, and the prime minister of Turkey, for more than half a century the Muslim anchor of NATO, raising hands together with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most virulently anti-American leader in the world.
THAT PICTURE – a defiant, triumphant take-that-Uncle-Sam – is a crushing verdict on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there’s no cost in lining up with America’s enemies and no profit in lining up with a US president given to apologies and appeasement.
Across the world, these leaders can see the detritus of US foreign policy. President Obama, in his radical quest to delegitimise American power and apologise for his country's perceived misdeeds, has repeatedly alienated his country's traditional allies .
He has sown suspicion among Sunni moderate states by appeasing their Shi'ite rival, Iran. He has distanced himself from London by supporting Argentina over the Falklands, he has sold out his Eastern European allies by reneging on the missile defence shield and has created endless resentment in Jerusalem over his shabby treatment of Netanyahu. Worse he has rewarded Syria's closer relations with Iran by sending back the US ambassador and ignored Palestinian support for terrorism in his Middle East diplomacy. As Krauthammer observes:
This is not just an America in decline. This is an America in retreat – accepting, ratifying and declaring its decline, and inviting rising powers to fill the vacuum.
Brazil and Turkey, once strong American allies, have been brazen enough to spit in America's face by standing with the world's most stridently anti American leader, Ahmadinejad. It would all be so funny if it weren't so tragic.
Obama's foreign policy is a gift to his enemies 28 May, 2010
Last night I attended an Intelligence Squared event in London which debated the motion 'This house believes that Obama's foreign policy is a gift to his (America's) enemies.' It was a fascinating occasion which was enlivened by the very high quality of speakers present. For the motion were Bill Krystal, a well known American conservative commentator, General Jack Keane, a four star American general and Con Coughlin, the Telegraph's foreign affairs editor. Against the motion were Simon Schama, Professor Phillip Bobbit and Bernard Henri-Levy, France's most famous philosopher.
I think the opposition won this debate hands down on style. Schama overflowed with energetic flourishes and verbal jousting while Henri-Levy delighted his audiences with comparisons between the American President and an obscure ancient Chinese philosopher. But none of the three adequately focused on Obama's actual foreign policies and the affect that they had had on his country's friends and foes. Schama, for all his intellectual brilliance, concentrated far more on the failings of Obama's predecessor.
This gave the three proponents an easy open target and they took it. Jack Keane focused largely on Afghanistan and pointed out that the President's announcement of a premature troop withdrawal represented a fatally flawed strategy. Coughlin reiterated this point but chose a more obvious target: Iran. He pointed out that the President's open ended offer to Tehran's mullahs had resulted in no reciprocal goodwill of any kind. Iranian fists remained very firmly unclenched.
All the while, Obama had made concession after concession to others, including Russia, with very little to show for it. Both Keane and Coughlin also mentioned the fact that Obama had deliberately isolated Israel in his radical quest to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and appease the Muslim world. Again, as both pointed out, the net result was Palestinian intransigence and Israeli deadlock.
The audience rejected the motion, though not by the margin one might have expected (a factor of 2:1 with many abstentions). Still, the most intellectually challenging arguments came from the proposition in what proved to be a highly engaging evening.
The (wholly predictable) unravelling of the Euro dream 28 May, 2010
Nothing better epitomises the incoherence and folly of the Euro-federalist dream than the financial crisis currently engulfing the Continent. The possibility that Greece will default on its debts, sparking a major loss of confidence in other Club Med economies (Spain, Italy, Portugal) and a subsequent run on Europe's banks, is rightly spooking global markets. There is the very real risk that the meltdown of 2008, sparked by a crisis in banks which held sub prime debt, could re-occur with a vengeance.
But as the Telegraph's Edmund Conway argues today, this time it could be much, much worse. It is not just that the figures for the governmental debt of the Club Med economies far exceed those for the sub-prime property market ($9trillion compared to $2trillion), it is that this time there is no backstop. As Conway says:
'Politicians temporarily solved the sub-prime crisis of 2007 and 2008 by nationalising billions of pounds worth of bank debt. While this helped re-inject a little confidence into markets, the real upshot was merely to transfer that debt on to public-sector balance sheets.'
Now those public-sector balance sheets and enormous budget deficits look as toxic as Lehman Brothers in 2008. But just as Lehman's bankruptcy precipitated a near global banking collapse 2 years ago, so now the fate of Greece threatens to bring down Europe's banking system. As Conway says, 'this is because 'the owners of the suspect European debt tend almost exclusively to be...Europeans.' No wonder the EU's leaders are so desperate to avoid a Greek default. But what appears to be a case of Continental excess is a British problem too. After all, half of our trade is conducted with Europe and the collapse of the Euro would precipitate massive degree of pain over here.
The root of this problem lies, of course, in the perversity of economic integration. It was always unrealistic to hitch together 16 disparate economies with a single currency and interest rate. As Conway writes:
'For years, the German and Dutch economies pulled in one direction (high saving, low spending) while the Club Med bloc – Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy (and their Celtic outpost Ireland) – pulled in the other. At some point, there was always going to be a problem...'
Indeed so, and we are seeing the baleful consequences of this perverse arrangement. Many German savers are apoplectic at bailing out their more profligate European cousins, something reflected in May's dismal regional election result for Merkel's Christian Democrats. Yet a German led bail out of Greece now looks all but inevitable.
Some European leaders now want the EU to have even greater financial powers, effectively snuffing out the remaining vestiges of national independence and sovereignty across the Continent. Perhaps the nuclear option of total federalism is the only way that the euro can now survive. The alternative is the collapse of the entire project and a Continent of nation states trading together - which was how the Euro dream was sold in the first place.
At least we still have our own currency. So for the time being, let us smile a little because we can still control our economy. Very soon, it may be the only thing we can smile about.
The world's first peaceful flotilla of terror 31 May, 2010
Well it wasn't long before the anti Israel brigade flexed their muscles and went into hysterical overdrive. Last night the Israeli navy intercepted an aid flotilla heading towards the Gaza Strip, killing a number of those on board. Already the deaths are being described as a 'massacre' and a 'disproportionate' response to provocation. The death of 16 people (that figure is disputed) is tragic and tragically unnecessary - but then the pro Palestinian groups knew this all along.
The fact is that Israel clearly informed the flotilla's organisers that they could not enter the Gaza Strip, as this video clearly shows. They were also told that the ships could enter the Israeli port of Ashdod so that the cargoes could be searched and the aid delivered to Gaza. Indeed Israel had even prepared a holding compound at Ashdod, in case the ships would need to be towed there. This despite the fact that Israel regularly delivers large consignments of humanitarian aid to Gaza, even though the government in power there is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Furthermore, the Palestinian activists knew their ships would be boarded if they refused to head to Ashdod or turn back.
The Israeli commandos only boarded the ships when the flotilla's organisers declared they were heading for 'Gaza'. The Israelis further say that when the commandos came on board, they came under sustained attack from protestors wielding a variety of weapons, including knives, clubs and axes. This was, in other words, a violent confrontation in the making, not just a small provocation. Many of those who were injured have been airlifted to Israeli hospitals where they are now receiving treatment.
These appear to be the most salient facts. Wait for the libels to start flying.
William Hague blunders again 1 June, 2010
The Foreign Secretary has got the flotilla affair badly, badly wrong. He told BBC News today that he deplored the loss of life in the incident, adding that there was a 'clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations.' An initial look at the incident, he declared, shows that there may have been an 'over-reaction.'
The clear implication of his comments was that the Jewish state had been gung ho and unrestrained in boarding the Marmara and killing some of the axe wielding thugs (sorry, peace activists) on board. Little thought was given to the mindless violence used against Israeli soldiers which created the very conditions in which lives would be lost later on.
In line with 'our European partners' Hague demanded a 'full and impartial investigation into these events.' He might perhaps call the UN (predictably in emergency session) as we all know that their witch-hunts against Israel (sorry, Middle East investigations) are scrupulously impartial and even handed.
For good measure, Hague then added that Israel had to allow 'unfettered' aid into Gaza, a position which completely ignores a) That Israel already allows thousands of tons of aid into Gaza every week and that b) There is a reason for the Israeli blockade, namely that the enclave is run by a terrorist entity intent on Israel's destruction which has for years been seeking the import of deadly weapons. It was for these reasons that the Israelis demanded that the flotilla sail to Ashdod where the humanitarian goods could be sent to Gaza. Yet the Foreign Secretary, judging by his comments, is oblivious to these facts.
By failing to slam the Islamist armada of terror, and by failing to stand with Israel in its defence against that terror, Hague is giving the jihadis the very oxygen they seek. More to the point, he is encouraging more mindless Palestinian violence in the future. All in all, a good day for Hamas.
The West is handing the Islamists a PR triumph 2 June, 2010
With the global outrage against Israel reaching epidemic proportions, one can only conclude that the Islamists have now scored a terrific PR coup. Instead of recognising that Israel had a right to blockade Gaza for its own security, that the Turkish IHH was a proscribed terror organisation with murderous aims and that Israeli commandos were left with no choice but to defend themselves on the Mavi Marmara, Western governments and their respective commentators have resorted to their usual craven pro Palestinian agenda.
Today we had Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the UN, calling on Israel to engage Hamas and lift the blockade. We then heard masters Clegg and Cameron calling for 'unfettered' access to aid in Gaza, as if the Israelis had no reason other than spitefulness for intercepting cargos of material bound for Gaza. William Hague for good measure has continued his somewhat vacuous criticisms of Israel's actions as disproportionate. One awaits tomorrow's pronouncements with trepidation.
The upshot of all this is that the Turkish Islamists now feel emboldened, as one would expect. Given that their aim all along was to create a violent international incident at sea, with Israel cast as chief villain and themselves as victim, they must feel that all their Christmases have come at once. Indeed it is hardly surprising then that there are reports of yet more Turkish convoys heading towards Gaza. One ship, the Rachel Corrie, is expected in the area imminently while the flotilla's organiser, Greta Berlin, has vowed to continue these operations until Israel sees 'sense.' This is attritional warfare by other means.
Israel remains in a lose-lose situation, given the dire nature of the diplomatic forces ranged against her. In political terms, she can hardly afford a second round of the international opprobrium unfairly levelled against her. On the other hand, she has to maintain a blockade of Gaza to ensure that prohibited weapons of war do not pass into the hands of her enemies. If one ship is allowed through, it will be followed by many more, some of which will be carrying an array of lethal weaponry.
Israel is therefore caught between a rock and a hard place. If her government stands up to murderous aggression, it receives censure and if it is passive in the face of jihadism, it suffers even more. Certainly, its own intelligence blunder in not anticipating the level of violence on board the Marmara was a serious blunder. But in the court of international opinion, Israel is being forced to confront her enemies with her hands tied behind her back and just at the point when the onslaught from Iran and her allies is reaching a critical level. Very worrying.
A voice of sanity amid the madness 3 June, 2010
With the British political class seemingly spellbound by Arab propaganda, and with fervent denunciations of Israeli behaviour growing daily, it is fortunate that there are some courageous British figures willing to speak truth to power. Colonel Richard Kemp, a man I have previously lauded for his timely comments on Operation Cast Lead, clearly understands the issues over the flotilla affair. Here are some of his recent comments:
"We should not forget that none of these deaths would have occurred if the people on the ships had not attacked the Israelis...The flotilla must shoulder the blame for this.” The IDF “went in bending over backwards to show they did not want to offer violence on the ship. There was a hardcore of people [on the flotilla] intent on causing violence."
True, these are not startling revelations but do you hear similar comments from Messrs Cameron and Hague? No, you hear the shrill cry from the Prime Minister that the Israeli action on Monday was 'unacceptable' while he says little about the 'unacceptable' IHH terrorist organisation that provoked this violent confrontation.
Mr. Hague is no better. He demands a 'fair and impartial enquiry' into the events that happened. But a UN led enquiry (who else would conduct it?) will produce another kangaroo court whose raison d'etre will be to blacken the Jewish state. It will be a form of extra judicial assassination of Israel's reputation in the eyes of international opinion.
You can pull the wool over the eyes of our political leaders but not over some of our military figures. Thank heavens for Colonel Kemp and others like him. They are voices of sanity amid the madness.
Israel's battle for hearts and minds 6 June, 2010
What is striking about last week's flotilla affair is just how easily the global media, the NGOs and Western governments were willing to swallow the lies of militant Turkish jihadists. Lakma TV's hilarious and inspired satire on these events seems so appropriate now for much of the world was indeed conned into 'abandoning reason.'
The victim nation that fends off a frenzied lynch mob is branded a bully; a terror ship containing mercenaries from the IHH is labelled a 'peace mission'; the attempt to inspect this ship is instantly condemned as 'illegal' while the blockade of Gaza (that of Israel, never Egypt) is seen as a barrier to peace. This hysterical demonisation of Israel spreads like a virus through the arteries of the global media, subverting truth and reason in the process.
It is now blindingly obvious that Gaza is the focal point of the Islamists' attempt to subvert and manipulate world opinion against Israel. It is part of a relentless propaganda war, one that the Arab and Muslim world feels it can win because of the spineless of Western governments and international organisations. But it is also a question of numbers. The deaths of 9 'shaheeds' matters little in the terrorist calculus when the number of recruits numbers in the millions. When you compare the relatively small (for them) loss of life involved in such an incident to the sustained global attention it brings, you can see the beguiling asymmetry involved.
And if one incident can cause Israel immense harm in the court of international opinion, why not another and one more after that? After the Mavi Marmama, came the Rachel Corrie and there are now reports that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards may accompany another vessel. You can understand their logic.
So how can Israel respond to this hysterical wave of diplomatic protest? First, they must not capitulate to demands to end the blockade. Allowing even one ship through will send a signal that Israel is not prepared to defend itself any further, something that will undoubtedly harm its deterrent posture towards Iran.
Second, their PR (which varies from adequate from woeful - and here it was woeful) must become strident and aggressive in the court of public opinion. Israeli leaders and spokesmen (and yes, satirists) have to tell the world what their fight is all about. They must show how they are on the front line of Islamic terror and demonstrate the linkage between Iran and its murderous proxies. Above all, they have to be swift with their message, repeating it endlessly until it becomes an unforgettable mantra. The failure to release crucial video footage in the first few hours after last week's incident was surely unforgivable. Yes, they face enormous obstacles, bigotry and preconceived agendas. But try they must.
As for the Anglo-American twins in the Special Relationship, Israelis should stop deluding themselves. Obama's desire to appease the Muslim world has led him to imbibe their twisted victim narrative. He seems to believe that Palestinian grievances lie at the heart of the region's ills and that Israeli intransigence must be punished at all costs. For this reason, he recently fixated on Jerusalem's settlements while ignoring incitement in the West Bank.
In Britain, the Conservative led coalition has proved itself a similar sucker for Arab lies, calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza. In effect, Cameron and Hague have retreated into fantasy land, pretending that a dose of Israeli goodwill will bring reciprocal Palestinian goodwill. It will not. Hamas, Hezbollah, the IHH, al Qaeda and the worldwide Islamist movement will interpret Israeli concessions as a sign of decline and weakness. And the perceived weakness of others is far more a tonic than their perceived strength. Ending the blockade strengthens the Iranian front against Israel.
The Israelis must improve their message and pursue it with vigour and without apology. For unlike previous conflicts, the battalions of this propaganda war are now virtual.
Jew hatred? that's only 'out of line.' 8 June, 2010
The Obama administration's delayed response to Helen Thomas' disgraceful remarks at the weekend is highly telling. Thomas, a veteran correspondent and dean of the White House Correspondents Association, had said that to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Jews had to get 'the hell out of Palestine,' adding for good measure that they should go home to 'Poland, Germany or the United States.'
There was a disgraceful, repugnant quality to these remarks with their suggestion that Israel should not be considered the home of its Jewish inhabitants and that two countries from which a campaign of mass extermination was launched should be their preferred destination. It was like calling for black Americans to return to their homes in Africa or American Muslims to return to Saudi Arabia or Iran. Her remarks were not only racist but ill informed. At least half of Israel's population are descended from the nearly 1 million Jews who were forced out of Arab countries in the Middle East from 1948 to 1967.
But it is telling that someone as well respected as Thomas has made these remarks. As the redoubtable Caroline Glick points out today: 'In other times, had the dean of the White House Correspondents Association expressed such hatred for the Jews, the White House would have immediately removed her accreditation rather than wait three days to criticize her. In other times, the White House Correspondents Association would have expelled her. In other times, her employer - Hearst Newspapers - would have fired her. But in our times, it took days for anyone other than Jews and conservatives to condemn Thomas's vile statements...'
Obama described her comments as 'out of line' and welcomed her 'retirement.' But she should not have been allowed to retire; she should have been sacked. This would have sent a signal that malignant racism, in whatever context, was completely beyond the pale. Unfortunately the Arab-Israeli conflict breeds such outright malice and bigotry, such irrational twists of thinking, that anti semitism becomes that much harder to condemn, unlike other forms of prejudice. And it is that double standard which is surely 'out of line.'
Reflections on Saville 16 June, 2010
After 38 years, it appears that Lord Saville's inquiry has finally established the truth about what really happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972. His conclusions are fairly unequivocal: one regiment within the British army shot dead 13 Irish civilians, almost all of whom were disarmed at the time, in a reckless, ill disciplined and unjustifiable manner.
Yes, the march was illegal and yes, the atmosphere was undeniably tense because three RUC officers had been murdered days before. But Saville, who heard witness testimony from 2,000 people, made a damning judgment on the soldiers who opened fire that Sunday morning. The events on that day cannot be justified at all, and the Prime Minister was right to say this.
The British army subscribes to the rule of law and to a vastly higher standard than any terrorist organisation. Soldiers should never be above the law in any conflict and must be held to account for their misdeeds, quite simply because the commitment to justice is part of this island's enduring greatness.
That said, this inquiry only tells us what we have largely known for the last 4 decades, that is if we had bothered to read the innumerable books and articles written on this event. £200 million and 12 years has been spent minutely dissecting witness testimonies (some of them very fragile after 4 decades) in order to reiterate a largely 'consensus' narrative.
What is more galling is that this inquiry came about only because of the shameful appeasement that was part and parcel of the Good Friday Agreement. The Blair government agreed to set up the Saville inquiry in order to please the blood stained Republican leaders, Adams and McGuinness. This process of appeasement was then accompanied by the controversial release of IRA murderers and criminals from British jails. There will be more than a few people fuming today at this lingering sense of injustice.
A nuclear Iran cannot be contained 22 June, 2010
In the latest edition of Commentary Magazine, Bret Stephens explains in detail why a nuclear Iran could not be contained by Western power. By doing so, he issues a devastating riposte to opinion makers and policy formers on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly those guiding the current administration in Washington.
Advocates of containment always point to Cold War parallels. America faced up to a nuclear USSR for over 40 years without once engaging its adversary in ‘direct’ military confrontation. Why therefore cannot a nuclear Iran be dealt with in the same way? But the differences between then and now are stark.
In the case of the old Soviet Union, a US led military attack would have brought mutual annihilation as there was an approximate symmetry of power. Iran by contrast could be challenged with far less damage to the West. As Stephens explains:
“Regime change” against Stalin was never a serious option, nor did the U.S. have the means to stop Russia from developing nuclear weapons. Neither is necessarily the case with Iran today, where both military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities and a broader regime-change policy are feasible options—at least as long as Iran does not have nuclear weapons.
Many argue that Iran can be contained because its leaders mix ideology with pragmatism. Though the goals of its founders are revolutionary and involve unremitting hostility to the West, America and Israel, it has never gone to war with a major Western power. But Stephens offers a rather different perspective, in my view correctly:
Iran has been waging war against Israel for decades via Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran also had a direct operational role in the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and of the Jewish community center there in 1994. The man chiefly responsible for the last of those attacks, Ahmad Vahidi, is today Iran’s defense minister. Iran has also carried out high--profile assassinations of its enemies on European soil; taken British sailors hostage; put U.S., Canadian, and French nationals on trial (and in jail) on patently bogus charges; and, famously, imposed a death sentence on British novelist Salman Rushdie. Moreover, Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 was a direct attack on sovereign U.S. territory and an act of war by any legal standard.
Iran is thus very far from being the pragmatic and mostly circumspect power depicted by advocates of containment. On the contrary, the regime has stood out since its earliest days for its willingness to pick fights with powerful enemies, to undertake terrorist strikes at great range, to court international opprobrium and moral outrage, to test international diplomatic patience, and to raise the stakes every time the world seemed ready to come to terms. In short, it has pursued policies that have seemed almost calculated to enshrine its status as a global pariah.
This is a brilliantly informed analysis, written by someone who refuses to indulge in the wishful thinking and Panglossian optimism of much of the intelligentsia. Iran is truly a paranoid, revolutionary and martyrdom obsessed state in a state of de facto permanent war with the West. Such a state, particularly one with the world’s worst weapons, cannot be contained through the usual tools of deterrence and diplomacy.
Was this a revolutionary budget? 23 June, 2010
In the end the 'bloodbath budget' was just as expected: a hefty tax rise for the aspiring middle classes with some minor pain for those in the public sector. This was not, as Harriet Harman claimed, primarily a weapon against the most vulnerable in society.
For starters, those on the lowest incomes will see tax thresholds raised by £1000, meaning that nearly a million people will be taken out of taxation altogether. That is surely something to celebrate. The charge that this is counterbalanced by the VAT increase is only partly true. Many of the items deemed necessities by the poorer classes are either VAT exempt (i.e. food) or have a low rate of VAT (domestic fuel). By contrast, the freezing of child benefit and reductions in child tax credits will hit middle class households the most. Harman's charge reflects a poorly informed understanding of economics.
As a way of reducing the deficit, Osborne's medicine may just do the trick. The key will be the rejuvenation of the private sector and perhaps here, the Chancellor was less successful. The reduction of corporation tax is welcome but the 50% tax rate for the highest earners is not. The revenue brought in will be a drop in the ocean (compared to GDP) yet it could also disincentivise overseas entrepreneuers whose enterprise is so vital for out economy. Similarly, the rise in CGT for higher earners will bring little financial reward and will hurt middle income families with investments.
Still the biggest news about this budget is not VAT or corporation tax or benefit reduction but the promise to slash every government department by 25%, a massive reduction in the size, power and scope of the state. If carried out to its logical conclusion, and that must eventually include the unwieldy behemoth of the NHS, it will amount to a revolutionary development.
For decades, it has been a guiding assumption that more and more of our GDP must be consumed by public spending. For the last 13 years, NHS and education budgets have doubled while social security has increased by nearly 20%. This has been utterly unsustainable in the medium and long term. If the size of the state is reduced without a detrimental impact on people's lives, then this will prove to be the single greatest legacy of the coalition government. Not that the people of Britain will be able to appreciate this right now. They are going to have to suffer for a long time yet.
The Tories go soft on crime 1 July, 2010
If there was one thing that used to identify the Tory brand, it was a taking hard line on crime and criminals. People might not have liked the Tory party or its leaders but they identified with this message above all others. It resonated with vulnerable communities blighted by crime, so much so that it was subsequently adopted by Labour when they came to power in 1997. One of their former Home Secretaries, Michael Howard, declared that 'prison works' before he went on to rapidly expand the number of inmates in British prisons. Now all this appears to have been shelved in yet another liberal rebranding of the Tory party.
In his big speech yesterday, Ken Clarke declared that there were too many people in prison, largely because there were more inmates serving short sentences. Prisons were becoming ‘warehouses’ for criminals and those on short sentences had little chance for rehabilitation. A new approach was needed which focused on treating criminals outside prison via community punishments.
He described he current prison population of 85,000 as “an astonishing number which I would have dismissed as an impossible and ridiculous prediction if it had been put to me in a forecast in 1992". He then observed that the record prison population and crime rate in England and Wales were among the highest in Western Europe.
Some of these observations are sadly true. In one sense, prison indisputably does not work if its purpose is outright deterrence. After all, a majority of offenders (approximately 65%) go on to re-offend within 2 years. But what the do-gooders always miss is that exactly the same is true of people sentenced to community orders. The difference is that the latter go on to commit more crimes in the community while the former remain behind bars.
In 2001, the Halliday report, Making Punishments Work, estimated that the average offender carried out 140 offences per year, including assaults, robbery, burglary, shoplifting and criminal damage. Locking up even more people will therefore further reduce the number of crimes committed against society.
Clarke’s belief that we should be locking up fewer people on short sentences wrongly assumes that magistrates rarely opt for lighter punishments. In fact, many of those incarcerated for short periods have already been subjected to a variety of ‘community punishments’ which have clearly failed. Under those circumstances, jail is inevitable.
Clarke might be less ‘astonished’ about rising prison numbers were he to acknowledge that crime has been dropping in the last 15 years. In fact, crime as a whole in Britain has fallen by over 40% since the mid 1990s, as judged by the British Crime Survey and other statistical measures. In part, this is a consequence of putting more people in prison, as studies always show a clear correlation between increasing the likelihood of both conviction and incarceration, and falling crime.
The Justice Secretary would no doubt claim that we lock up a disproportionate number of criminals compared to other European countries. As researchers at Civitas have shown, England and Wales (as of 2007) had 147 people in prison for every 100,000 members of the population, as opposed to 122 for the EU as a whole. But this is the wrong measure because what we should really be doing is comparing prison numbers to the actual crime rate, and that gives a very different picture. As Civitas reveals:
If we compare the number of prisoners to the number of recorded crimes, the EU (27) average was 20.7 and the figure for England and Wales was 16.1. In fact, 18 out of 27 EU countries had rates of imprisonment for every 1,000 crimes that were higher. Scotland also had a higher rate, 19.1 per 1,000 crimes.
In other words, we lock up a disproportionately lower percentage of criminals than do a host of other European countries.
Instead of sticking to a Tory agenda on crime, Ken Clarke has adopted a left wing mantra that ‘prison isn’t working.’ This claim is not only misleading but represents a clear betrayal of his party’s core principles. In fact, it represents a betrayal of everything David Cameron was saying on crime only weeks ago in the election campaign.
Mr. Clarke is often described as a maverick with colourful ideas – but that is far too flattering. He is in fact a dangerous maverick.
The warped thinking of the Israeli left 2 July, 2010
To gain an insight into the warped thinking of the Israeli left, you can do no better than read the latest diatribe from Larry Derfner, an op-ed contributor to the Jerusalem Post. Derfner has a real problem accepting that most Israelis want peace.
While opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis want peace with their neighbours, Derfner argues that his fellow countrymen are saturated with bigotry and prejudice. They are ‘blindly contemptuous of everybody and everything Arab, ‘drawn to confrontation’ and ‘intractably closed minded.’
He goes on: ‘If Israelis thought they could get away with expelling the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and the Israeli Arabs from Israel, they’d support it.’ This is an amazing diatribe, even by the perverse standards of the Israeli left. Just what evidence does Derfner actually produce to support such contentious assertions? Those who value evidence, facts and logic will be disappointed at this stage. All Derfner can muster from his 25 years of Israeli life is one anecdote. And here it is:
“Soon after I came to this country 25 years ago, I learned that among my relatives, “Tali” was the real Arab-hater, the most extreme right-winger in the family. “For Tali, the only good Arab is a dead Arab, right?” one of my cousins ribbed her one Friday night. “Wrong,” she said. “For me, dead isn’t good enough – he’s got to be buried 40 meters underground, too.”
He then goes on to say that the said relative would vote Labour, not out of a liberal conscience but because of pragmatism.
“Look,” she explains, “I don’t want to live with the Palestinians, and we can’t get rid of them, so the only thing to do is divide the land, let them live in their country and I’ll live in mine.”
In other words, the polls are misleading. Israelis want disengagement despite their bigoted view of Palestinians; the stench of prejudice is still there.
Now of course it would be wrong to pretend that all Israelis are saints or all Arabs sinners. Some Israelis are bigots, though most are not. But Derfner’s argument that the widespread support for peace comes from a hatred of Arabs is his assumption only. He provides no evidence to back up this claim and it is therefore of a piece with his left wing prejudices.
It is more likely that Israelis see the value of a two state solution on pragmatic grounds. They know that in the long run, the alternatives are just not viable. Yet Derfner leaves no room for this kind of steely pragmatism.
He assumes that Israelis have to want peace for the right reasons, namely out of a feeling of brotherly love towards the Palestinians. What planet is he living on? The Israeli nation has been subjected to years of unceasing, relentless bloodshed by Palestinian terrorism. As Derfner himself admits of Israeli cynicism:
It comes from traumatic bouts of violence and bloodshed at the hands of Palestinians who don’t accept the Jewish state by any means. Israelis have every right to be cynical.
Yet somehow for the left, none of that should be allowed to alter the Israeli mindset. Peaceniks should turn guns into plowshares despite all the suicide bombings. This is naivety of the most malodorous kind.
A court makes vandalism 'legal' 4 July, 2010
The English legal system, one of the great glories of this country, is being politicised before our eyes. The cause is Israel, or more specifically, the pungent anti Israeli bigotry that is coursing through the veins of the English establishment.
Five ‘peace campaigners’ have just been cleared at Hove Crown Court of causing £180,000 worth of criminal damage to a factory owned by the arms manufacturer EDO MBM. The seven, who admitted causing the damage, justified their actions by saying they were designed to prevent ‘Israeli war crimes.’ At the time they smashed up the factory, Israel was engaged in Operation Cast Lead.
The jury accepted their plea of ‘lawful excuse,’ which under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, allows a small crime to be committed if it is designed to stop a much greater crime from taking place. This jury were clearly spurred on by Judge George Bathurst-Norman who said in his summing up: ‘You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time.’
All this seems extraordinary, even surreal. In itself, the plea of lawful excuse is perfectly valid. If my neighbour’s kitchen was on fire, I would feel justified in breaking down his front door to prevent his house from incineration. If the house contained explosives that could destroy an entire street, the same action would have ample legal justification.
But the case above is different because the aggressive actions of foreign states involve crimes under international, not domestic, law. Israel’s operations in Gaza may seem reprehensible to these seven protestors but the Jewish state should not be held to account in a UK court. The ‘greater wrongs’ of Cast Lead are entirely a matter of subjective judgment, and a flawed one too for they admit Hamas propaganda as fact and ignore the terror campaign against Israel’s civilians.
The campaigners had specifically argued that EDO broke export regulations by supplying military components to Israel that would be used in the occupied territories. However, an independent information watchdog has said this claim is not confirmed by official records
But what has happened in this case is even more extraordinary. An ‘impartial’ judge has adopted a pro Palestinian viewpoint and then imposed it on the members of a jury, effectively predetermining the outcome of this case. This violates the entire spirit of the judicial process, at least in a functioning and mature democracy. It makes a mockery of the English legal system.
The jury also accepted the excuse given by Caroline Lucas, Parliament’s sole Green MP, that the campaigners had exhausted ‘all democratic avenues’ prior to their binge of violence. One supporter of the ‘smash EDO campaign’ put it this way: ‘The bitter experience of seeing millions of people demonstrate against the Iraq war, only for the Government to carry on regardless, inspired a redrawing of the rules of engagement.’
Of course, it this became a standard legal defence, it would be a recipe for judicial anarchy. Self styled peace campaigners could choose their favourite foreign policy bugbears (Palestine would be no. 1 naturally) and claim that because they had been unable to stop some alleged abuse from taking place, they had no choice but to resort to violent intimidation. This would require juries to decide which foreign policies constituted ‘the greater evil’ required by this legal defence, which is a wholly inappropriate power.
In this case, Israel’s perceived misdeeds have given the perfect cover for reckless and criminal behaviour. That an English law court should be complicit with such vandalism is outrageous and a very worrying sign of our times.
Lib-Con naivety in Afghanistan 9 July, 2010
Con Coughlin has launched a blistering attack on the Lib-Con military strategy in Afghanistan. He is quite right to do so for the Lib Dems, whose MP, Nick Harvey, is now the Armed Forces Minister, have made much of running down our defence forces and military commitments in an ideological bid to become more ‘European.’ Thus they have savaged the Trident nuclear deterrent as well as our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is in Afghanistan that the Lib Dem element in this coalition could do the most lasting damage. As Coughlin points out:
‘To grasp the sheer naivety of their position, you need look no further than a resolution they passed at their most recent conference. The motion said that the government's priority in Afghanistan should be the "pursuit of a ceasefire", which would then be followed by an immediate withdrawal. Nick Clegg, now Deputy Prime Minister, voted in favour.’
Talk of a ceasefire and a negotiated outcome to the Afghan conflict is ultra European because it eschews militarism and violence in favour of dialogue and lawful outcomes. There is only one problem though: the Taleban aren’t much interested in conflict resolution. Put more simply, they are only interested in a negotiated outcome that leaves them in control of Afghanistan and in a position to attempt the Talebanisation of neighbouring Pakistan – a country with nuclear weapons.
Yet that appears to be one possible outcome of what Mr. Harvey is attempting with our military. He ‘wants a sharp reduction in manning levels throughout the Armed Forces, with far more emphasis on sophisticated weaponry.’ Recent history shows how inadequate this approach is. Coughlin again points out:
‘The main reason the violence spun out of control in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime was the refusal to commit sufficient numbers of troops. The same has been true of Afghanistan, where it is only the recent arrival of extra American forces that has truly enabled the fight to be taken to the Taliban.’
One of the reasons why British troops are being withdrawn from Sangin is that there simply aren’t enough of them, leaving the Americans, with their greater troop strength, to fill the gap. That sounds fine until you realise that the Americans themselves are talking of a timetable for withdrawal from next year. This is great news for the Taleban who will count the days until troops start to leave the country, before declaring that they have scored a momentous victory against the 'infidel' superpower. Well might they believe that victory lies just around the corner. We should all be rather worried.
More UN impotence 14 July, 2010
Nothing better illustrates the impotence of the UN, and the folly of other nations relying on it, than the current build up of Hezbollah strength in southern Lebanon. In recent weeks, the Iranian backed terror group has massed up to 20,000 troops on Israel’s border in clear defiance of UN Resolution 1701 which has called for Hezbullah to be disarmed. In 4 years, neither Lebanese nor French forces have done any such thing. Under the watchful eye of ‘peacekeepers,’ the terrorist militia has been busy replenishing its strength at every opportunity. All that the UN could do in response was pass a somewhat lily livered resolution, calling for the ‘safety of UNIFIL and United Nations personnel’ to be respected. I am sure Tehran’s ayatollahs were quaking in their boots!
With its entrenched culture of appeasing tyranny, the UN has helped to guarantee another Middle East war. But the next war will be much more serious than the last. This is because once again the League of malevolent tyranny (sorry, UN) has looked the other way as Hezbullah has quietly imported a vast quantity of weapons into Lebanon. They are now believed to have some 40,000 rockets and missiles throughout Lebanon. Among these are up to 1,400 longer range scuds, each of which could bring down apartment blocks in Tel Aviv. The civilian death toll from such a sustained missile attack would surely dwarf that from the 2006 war and induce an unprecedented sense of vulnerability. Israel says it has made preparations for a future conflict with Hezbullah, a war that could, in the words of one general, erupt in a day or in a year. Let us hope so; this will be no ordinary skirmish.
Anglo-Jewry remains strongly attached to Israel 19 July, 2010
A report by the Institute for Jewish Policy (www.jpr.org.uk) has given a remarkable insight into Anglo-Jewry's attitudes towards Israel. On balance, there is a great deal to celebrate. Here are some of the key findings (summarized on page 9):
For 82% of respondents, Israel plays a ‘central’ or ‘important but not central’ role in their Jewish identities. • 90% believe that Israel is the ‘ancestral homeland’ of the Jewish people. • 72% categorize themselves as Zionists; 21% do not see themselves as Zionists,and 7% are unsure. • 87% say that Jews in Britain are part of a global Jewish ‘Diaspora’; just 19% regard Jews outside Israel as living in ‘exile’. •77% of respondents agree that Jews have ‘a special responsibility to support Israel’. • An overwhelming majority (87%) agrees that Jews are responsible for ensuring ‘the survival of Israel’— over half (54%) the non-Zionist respondents also agree.
In one sense, this provides cause for cheer. As the excellent Robin Shepherd points out, the findings are a riposte to those, such as Independent Jewish Voices, who argue that Zionist organisations, like the Board of Deputies, are not representative of the community. A clear majority identifies with Zionism and Israel while most Jews back Israeli measures of self defence, such as Operation Cast Lead. No longer can self indulgent critics of Israel, including those who write in the Guardian, claim to be the true voice of Anglo-Jewry. They are fringe critics.
But the report does throw up some worrying revelations. The most startling revelation was that more than 50% of British Jews believe it is right for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. (This will be the subject of an opinion piece to come soon.) Anglo-Jewry has mixed views on security issues:
Half the sample (50%) agrees that ‘Israeli control of the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) is vital for Israel’s security’, while a sizable minority (40%) disagrees. But a clear majority (55% against 36%) also considers Israel to be ‘an occupying power in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria). Two-thirds (67%) favour giving up territory for peace with the Palestinians with 78% favouring a two state solution. Again, this is all a clear riposte to those who believe that Anglo-Jewry is hawkish when it comes to the peace process.
Do read the entire report - it is truly enlightening.
Cameron makes two gaffes in 24 hours 22 July, 2010
David Cameron has made two tremendous gaffes in the space of 24 hours, which is impressive by the standards of any Prime Minister. His first was over the fraught issue of Afghanistan, where he stated that British troops would leave the country by 2015 while insisting that this could only happen if the job was done. But which is it? There is naturally no guarantee that Afghan forces will be competent to take over from NATO in five years time. So either British forces make a hasty and ill advised retreat or Cameron’s pledge is a hollow one. This mixed message can only undermine our forces and give much needed succour to the enemy. It is a recipe for policy confusion at the highest level.
Cameron’s second gaffe was his breathtakingly ignorant comment that Britain’s wartime role in 1940 was as a “junior partner” to the USA. He said this in the context of discussing the ‘special relationship’ where he affirmed that it was important to ‘tell it like it is.’ “We are a very effective partner of the US, but we are the junior partner,” he told Sky News. Now it is one thing to make a political statement of the obvious, albeit one devoid of warmth and sentimentality, and entirely another to re-write history.
Perhaps someone should remind the PM that in 1940, Britain stood alone against Nazism while American was isolationist. It was a year in which a British Prime Minister sought in vain to obtain America’s entry into the war or at least some level of financial assistance. America was nobody’s junior partner that year while Britain was the effective superpower.
Cameron’s comment will offend all those that remember 1940 with unashamed pride. He should apologise for this. Yet it is intriguing that he should make such a mistake in the first place. Does it not say something that an incredibly well educated man could make such a gross blunder? Does Cameron not realise the sacrosanct status of this year in British national identity? Or does he believe, like Tony Blair, that Britain is merely a young country and that its revered national mythologies matter very little today? Perhaps he was so desperate to emphasise our junior status vis the US that he retrospectively applied it to the past. Whatever the reason, his gaffe was revealing.
David Cameron's politics of McCarthyism 27 July, 2010
Any pretence that David Cameron is a friend of Israel has been blown to smithereens today. In his visit to Turkey today, the PM made a series of scathing anti Israel remarks designed to placate his hosts, and much of the world media. He reiterated his belief that Israel's interception of the Turkish flotilla was 'completely unacceptable' and added that "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." "Humanitarian goods must flow in both directions," he added.
There was no mention of the Turkish IHH terror group that set out to cause a major international incident, no mention of the fact that Hamas terror is the real reason why Gaza is being blockaded, no mention of Egypt's blockade, no mention of the humanitarian assistance already given by Israel to improve life for Gazans. No, these were one sided remarks calculated to win favour with a Turkish audience.
But why is David Cameron, normally a man of shrewd judgement, going out of his way to insult his Israeli ally?' The answer is that he supports Turkey's proposed membership of the European Union. Indeed he has even accused those who oppose its membership of blatant Islamophobia.
But this implicit charge of racism is nothing short of scandalous. Granted, some national leaders may oppose Turkish membership for irrelevant historical and cultural reasons.
But there are serious reasons for why we should be wary of Turkey joining the EU. For one thing, it has a massive population which would give Turkey the second larges voting rights of any EU country by 2020. It also has a large rural population which would test the EU's finances and a number of question marks about human rights and democratic governance. More importantly, this country is ruled by a hard line Islamist who has turned Turkey into an ally of Iran and Syria. Do we really want these two sponsors of terror as neighbours of an enlarged Europe? It is a serious issue that cannot be trivialised.
But by condemning his detractors as racists, Cameron is silencing debate in the most egregious fashion. He is mimicking the worst features of New Labour's 'thought police' who used to viciously clamp down on critics of immigration and multiculturalism. He is engaging in the politics of McCarthyism and this is worse than misguided; it is evil.
Middle East war games 5 August, 2010
Anyone who thinks that the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border was a trivial one off misunderstanding does not really understand the Middle East. This was more likely to have been a clear signal from Hezbullah and Iran of their willingness to start a regional conflagration at a time of their choosing.
Let us be clear. the IDF did not cross over into Lebanese territory. Israeli soldiers were chopping down a tree within their own sovereign territory though close to the border with Lebanon. This has since been confirmed by UNIFIL. A group of Lebanese soldiers (but it may have been Hezbullah in disguise) carried out a murderous and wholly illegal raid on the IDF, with the Israelis responding in self defence. There was zero provocation from the Israeli side of the border.
So why now? The obvious answer is that the special tribunal set up to investigate the Hariri assassination is soon to report its findings and there is a strong chance they will indict elements of the Hezbullah leadership, including their Secretary General, Shiekh Hassan Nasrallah. If Hezbullah are found guilty of conspiracy in assassination, it is highly likely that other Lebanese politicians will desert them, sparking another Civil war in Lebanon. Hence the diversionary tactic of sparking trouble with their southern neighbour, who will, of course, be blamed for any deaths that occur.
It is also in Iran’s interests to see some bloodletting between Israel and Lebanon. A repeat of the 2006 war (though the next one will be far bloodier) removes attention from Iran’s nuclear programme and shifts media focus westwards. Iran could well give the green light to Hezbullah to give it yet more breathing space as it plays cat and mouse with the West.
Amid this turbulence, it is at least encouraging to see Israel on the attack with Benjamin Netanyahu stressing that his country will deal robustly with any attacks on his soldiers. In coming days and weeks, this defiant spirit will be tested to the utmost.
Why was the US ambassador at Hiroshima? 8 August, 2010
The appearance of the US ambassador to Japan at Friday's annual Hiroshima commemoration will have raised just a few eyebrows from spectators. After all, the US does not normally send a representative to this event. But then this is the era of Obama, the US President with a radical agenda to apologise for American exceptionalism, diminish the unilateral exercise of US power (even though this has frequently been a bulwark of the world order) and subordinate his country's interests to international organisations like the UN, whose agenda he shares. Hence his often repeated comment that he seeks a world free of nuclear weapons.
It is actually no surprise at all that he would seek to involve his country at the Hiroshima event. Modern Japan views WW2 though the lens of victimhood and sees herself as the injured party, refusing to accept any of the blame for the years of horrific aggression meted out to the peoples of South Asia. This is brilliantly pointed out by Jonathan Tobin in Commentary Magazine. As he writes:
No previous American president has been at such pains to apologize for what he thinks are America’s sins.
Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s.
He goes on to observe the fundamental flaws in Obama's anti atomic drive with terrific precision:
The notion that nuclear weapons themselves are a threat to the world and must be banned is the sort of piety we expect to be mouthed at Hiroshima, but it betrays a lack of both historical and contemporary understanding of strategic realities. These weapons may be terrible, but the plain truth is that their existence kept the peace between the rival superpowers during the Cold War. America’s nuclear arsenal ensured the freedom of Western Europe as well as that of Japan after World War II.
He goes on conclude:
The greatest foreign-policy challenge facing Barack Obama is not how to dismantle America’s nuclear deterrent but rather how to forestall the possibility of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime's acquiring a nuclear device, which will allow them either to pursue their own genocidal agenda or to serve as an umbrella for their Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies.
Indeed this is the point. Apologising for your country and its perceived misdeeds is bad enough at the best of times. But when roguish dictators are on the move, and seek the worst means of terrorizing their neighbours, it is an utterly disastrous folly.
Andrew Roberts speech on Israel 13 August, 2010
Some weeks ago I went to the House of Commons for the British launch of the Friends of Israel initiative. I had little time to blog on this but I want to share with readers the text of the marvellous speech given by Andrew Roberts on that day. It was a truly electrifying piece of oratory delivered with passion and gusto. I reproduce it below without further comment:
I would like to speak to you today as an historian, because it seems to me that the State of Israel has packed more history into her 62 years on the planet than many other nations have in six hundred. There are many surprising things about this tiny, feisty, brave nation the size of Wales, but the most astonishing is that she has survived at all. The very day after the new state was established, she was invaded by the armies of no fewer than five Arab countries, and she has been struggling for her right to life ever since. And that is what we are here for today, to reiterate Israel’s right to self-defence, inherent in all legitimate countries.
From Morocco to Afghanistan, from the Caspian Sea to Aden, the 5.25 million square miles of territory belonging to members of the Arab League is home to over 330 million people, whereas Israel covers only eight thousand square miles, and is home to seven million citizens, one-fifth of whom are Arabs. The Jews of the Holy Land are thus surrounded by hostile states 650 times their size in territory and sixty times their population, yet their last, best hope of ending two millennia of international persecution – the State of Israel - has somehow survived. When during the Second World War, the island of Malta came through three terrible years of bombardment and destruction, it was rightly awarded the George Medal for bravery: today Israel should be awarded a similar decoration for defending democracy, tolerance and Western values against a murderous onslaught that has lasted twenty times as long.
Jerusalem is the site of the Temple of Solomon and Herod. The stones of a palace erected by King David himself are even now being unearthed just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Everything that makes a nation state legitimate – bloodshed, soil tilled, two millennia of continuous residence, international agreements – argues for Israel’s right to exist, yet that is still denied by the Arab League. For many of their governments, which are rich enough to have economically solved the Palestinian refugee problem decades ago, it is useful to have Israel as a scapegoat to divert attention from the tyranny, failure and corruption of their own regimes.
The tragic truth is that it suits Arab states very well to have the Palestinians endure permanent refugee status, and whenever Israel puts forward workable solutions they have been stymied by those whose interests put the destruction of Israel before the genuine well-being of the Palestinians. Both King Abdullah I of Jordan and Anwar Sadat of Egypt were assassinated when they attempted to come to some kind of accommodation with a country that most sane people now accept is not going away.
‘We owe to the Jews,’ wrote Winston Churchill in 1920, ‘a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together.’
The Jewish contribution to finance, science, the arts, academia, commerce and industry, literature, philanthropy and politics has been astonishing relative to their tiny numbers. Although they make up less than half of one per-cent of the world’s population, between 1901 and 1950 Jews won 14 percent of all the Nobel Prizes awarded for Literature and Science, and between 1951 and 2000 Jews won 32 percent of the Nobel Prizes for Medicine, 32 percent for Physics, 39 percent for Economics and 29 percent for Science. This, despite so many of their greatest intellects dying in the gas chambers. Civilization owes Judaism a debt it can never repay, and support for the right of a Jewish homeland to exist is the bare minimum we can provide. Yet we tend to treat Israel like a leper on the international scene, merely for defending herself, and threatening her with academic boycotts if she builds a separation wall that has so far reduced suicide bombings by 95 percent over three years. It is a disgrace that no senior member of the Royal Family has ever undertaken an official visit to Israel, as though the country is still in quarantine after more than six decades.
Her Majesty the Queen has been on the throne for 57 years and in that time has undertaken 250 official visits to 129 countries, yet has not yet set foot in Israel. She has visited 14 Arab countries, so it cannot have been that she wasn’t in the region. Although Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice is buried on the Mount of Olives because of her status as Righteous Among Gentiles, the Foreign Office ordained that his visit to his mother’s grave in 1994 had to be in a private capacity only. Royal visits are one of the ways legitimacy is conferred on nations, and the Coalition Government should end the Foreign Office’s de facto boycott.
After the Holocaust, the Jewish people recognised that they must have their own state, a homeland where they could forever be safe from a repetition of such horrors. Putting their trust in Western Civilisation was never again going to be enough. Since then, Israel has had to fight no fewer than five major wars for her very existence. She has been on the front line in the War against Terror and has been fighting the West’s battles for it, decades before 9/11 or 7/7 ever happened. Radical Islam is never going to accept the concept of an Israeli State, so the struggle is likely to continue for another sixty years, but the Jews know that that is less dangerous than entrusting their security to anyone else.
Very often in Britain, especially when faced with the overwhelmingly anti-Israeli bias that is endemic in our liberal media and the BBC, we fail to ask ourselves what we would have done placed in their position? The population of the United Kingdom of 63 million is nine times that of Israel. In July 2006, to take one example at random, Hizbollah crossed the border of Lebanon into Israel and killed eight patrolmen and kidnapped two others, and that summer fired four thousand Katyusha rockets into Israel which killed a further forty-three civilians.
Now, if we multiply those numbers by nine to get the British equivalent, just imagine what we would do if a terrorist organization based as close as Calais were to fire thirty-six thousand rockets into Sussex and Kent, killing 387 British civilians, after killing seventy-two British servicemen in an ambush and capturing eighteen. There is absolutely no lengths to which our Government would not go to protect British subjects under those circumstances, and quite right too. Why should Israel be expected to behave any differently?
In the course of researching my latest book on the Second World War, I recently visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. Walking along a line of huts and the railway siding where their forebears had been worked and starved and beaten and frozen and gassed to death, were a group of Jewish schoolchildren, one of whom was carrying over his shoulder the Israeli flag, a blue star of David on white background.
It was a profoundly moving sight, for it was the sovereign independence represented by that flag which guarantees that the obscenity of genocide – which killed six million people in Auschwitz and camps like it - will never again befall the Jewish people, to whom the rest of Civilisation owes so much. I said at the start that I was speaking to you as an historian, and so I say: No people in History have needed the right to self-defence and legitimacy more than the Jews of Israel, and that is what we in the Friends of Israel Initiative demand here today.
Ground Zero is no place for a mosque 16 August, 2010
President Obama has got the Ground Zero mosque completely wrong. Cordoba House, the name of the proposed mosque and cultural centre, should not be built at this site, period. It is deeply insensitive and crass and a slap in the face to the victims of terror.
It is not, as the President would maintain, a simple matter of religious freedom. No one is suggesting that there is a problem with mosques per se, except those that are used to foment religious fundamentalism. No one is suggesting that it is right to deprive peaceful Muslims of their religious liberty. No one, save the very most bigoted, would dare question America's sacrosanct freedom of worship.
This is about erecting an Islamic building on the site of the worst terrorist outrage in American history, one carried out by radical Islamists who were themselves schooled in mosques led by hate filled preachers. As Daniel Pipes argues with his usual clarity in today's Jerusalem Post, Ground Zero is 'hallowed ground' (in the secular sense). This means:
It belongs to those who suffered and died there – and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or misappropriated.
For this reason, he points out, 'Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place, it belongs to others.'
Some might argue that banning this mosque is tantamount to lumping all Muslims with Bin Laden. Of course, such a position would be intellectually and morally untenable. Most Muslims in America share the nation's liberal values.
But what if the imam, either now or in a decade, was a radical? What if such a person declared that the 3,000 victims 'had it coming to them' because of their country's 'dubious' foreign policy? Would this not desecrate the memory of the 9/11 victims, and on the very site of the atrocity that claimed their lives? Would this not be sacrilegious? Indeed the current architect of these plans, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has hardly been unequivocal in his denunciation of the September killers.
Cordoba House should be built but not at Ground Zero. This site should be left as a permanent monument to the grieving families and their terrible memories. If Sheikh Rauf was a true moderate, he would scarcely demur.
Panorama's documentary on the Marmara 17 August, 2010
Having watched the Panorama documentary about the Turkish flotilla, broadcast yesterday evening, it is clear that the BBC deserve to be congratulated. On the whole this was an insightful, balanced and very clear account of the events that night, eschewing the usual lazy lapses into pro Arab propaganda. In 30 minutes, a wealth of archive footage showed very clearly that the IHH, the terror group stationed the Mavi Marmara, were planning a violent confrontation when the IDF boarded the ship, and some were prepared to be shaheeds. An array of captured weapons was shown, including knives, guns and clubs.
The footage also clearly showed the Israeli naval commandos being attacked the moment they descended from helicopters. It is a great wonder that none of the Israelis were killed, such was the level of violence they encountered. Another revealing finding was that the medicines that were on board the ship, supposedly part of the 'aid' consignment, were in fact out of date, rendering them of dubious value if administered to the sick and dying.
But as Jane Corbin correctly concluded, this was not about aid. It was instead 'a political move designed to push pressure on Israel and the International community' or, at the very least, further demonise Israel in the eyes of the world. It was very much a win-win situation. In some respects the Turkish terror mob succeeded. But at least this documentary was prepared to take Israeli claims seriously, and for that it deserves some credit.
The latest footnote in the non-peace process 23 August, 2010
The clearest indication that Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in the proposed peace talks next month comes in his repeated remarks about Israeli settlements. Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Abbas has told the PLO to give the talks one month, and added that they will probably fail when the moratorium on settlement construction ends on 26th September.
Abbas has reportedly told the Quartet that "settlements and peace are two parallels that don't meet" and “If Israel continues with the settlement construction, we will withdraw from the talks.” Naturally he has been spurred on in his rejectionist attitude by the uncompromising hostility to settlements in the US, the UN and the EU. Obama made plain his feelings on the subject during Joe Biden's recent visit to Israel earlier this year.
Granted, there is a strong case for delaying any settlement construction in the West Bank. It is seen by the majority of Israelis as disputed territory and the process of disengagement will only be made harder by having to evacuate more of the civilian population. But the same cannot be said about east Jerusalem. If Abbas wants construction to stop there, he is effectively saying that this part of the city should be under permanent Palestinian control, presumably with its Jewish settlement blocs evacuated. This is clearly a demand that Israel would never agree to, a red line too far.
However, settlements are a red herring. The wider issues, which are notoriously glossed over by the Obama administration, are the unreasonable demands of Fatah, the weakness of Abbas (who would be seen to have sold out if he were to deliver the peace process), the growing power of Iran (with or without a nuclear weapon) and the continuing incitement to violence and Jew hatred in the West Bank (encouraged by Abbas). These constitute the collective big elephant in the room that the West chooses to ignore at its peril. For that reason, this latest attempt at conflict resolution will go nowhere very quickly. Not that that will bother the Fatah leader one little bit of course. Expect to hear a lot more about settlements in the days and weeks to come.
Obama's one way concessions 29 August, 2010
James Corum has written a timely article about the carcrash that is Obama's recent Middle East policy. As he points out, the central objective of previous American foreign policy has been to 'safeguard the national security and to further vital national interests.' That has now changed under a radical President, addicted to internationalism, and who apologises for his country's role in the world.
Thanks to the indifference of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, Iran is well on the way to become a nuclear power. This month, the Russians loaded up Iran’s nuclear reactor with high-grade fuel. That is nothing less than a disaster for the United States.
Now this event may or may not be a proliferation risk, depending on whether Russia uses the spent nuclear rods properly. The point is that America is reliant on Russian trust and goodwill, hardly the most stable foundation for American foreign policy. Yet as Corum points out, this is what the Obama administration has been reduced to:
Last year, Obama threw away a carefully prepared and negotiated missile defence of America and its European allies at the insistence of Russia. For this huge concession America got from Russia – nothing.
After forsaking defences, the other pillar of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy was to trust Russia and China to apply serious sanctions and pressure on Iran to stop its rapidly accelerating nuclear programme. And what happened? Russia and China have cooperated to block the UN from applying real sanctions that might work. Indeed, Russia went so far as to build Iran a nice new nuclear reactor and provide the fuel. China has also sold technology to Iran. Again, America got nothing for its misplaced trust.
In other words, Obama has made generous concessions himself with precious little reward. Eastern European allies have been sold out and Iran is a greater risk than before. China and Russia are the happy recipients of US largesse and they remain a danger to world security. It's hardly a bargain, is it?
Double standards over incitement 30 August, 2010
The White House has been swift to condemn the words of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas. Rabbi Yosef, known for his controversial views, had described Abbas as an' evil hater of Israel' and called for a plague on the Palestinian leader and his people. Accordingly, a State department spokesman said that his words were 'not only deeply offensive, but incitement' which 'hurts the cause of peace.'
There is nothing wrong with the criticism per se. Of course they were disgraceful remarks which seem designed to place added pressure on the Israeli PM as he travels to Washington.
But notice the double standards here. Every day in the West Bank, young Palestinians watch television programmes which demonise Jews and Israelis and which use the most vicious anti semitic imagery around. Palestinian imams vilify the Jewish state and describe the ongoing conflict with the Zionists as a 'religious war' (ribat).
Abbas delights in naming buildings after suicide bombers and terrorists who were responsible for the most heinous crimes in the past. This is an egregious form of incitement and a blatant encouragement to murder. It is also the antithesis of the spirit of reconciliation and goodwill that the region so badly needs. Yet do we hear a single word of criticism from the White House? Go figure.
Talks that will go nowhere quickly 2 September, 2010
The latest stage of the phoney political spectacle known as the 'Middle East peace process' has started. But in view of the barbaric murder of 4 Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists two days ago, it is hardly surprising that most commentators believe these talks will go nowhere quickly. This latest atrocity, followed by the attempted murder of 2 more civilians yesterday, is a deliberate act of sabotage engineered (as so often) by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is, in other words, the ultimate statement of rejectionism by the region's ultimate rejectionist power.
It is not a mere senseless act by extremists, as the Obama administration would have you believe. It is the handiwork of the one power that most directly imperils Israel's security and which threatens to scupper any peace agreement between the PA and the Jewish state. Iran, with or without nuclear weapons, has the power not only to derail any deal but to prevent that deal being finalised in the first place. It can unleash its proxies (Hamas and Hezbullah) when it feels its national interests are being threatened, thus forcing Israelis to defend themselves with all the opprobrium that brings.
That is why the administration's failure to curb Iranian power and its inability to deliver meaningful sanctions make any chance of Middle East peace that much harder. In fact, the failure to tackle Iran is the greatest strategic blunder of the Obama administration. But so too is its inability to connect the dots from a Hamas attack through to Tehran, a form of political myopia that makes US foreign policy naive, ignorant and misguided.
The Strong Horse 8 September, 2010
I have just finished reading Lee Smith’s ‘The Strong Horse: Power, politics and the clash of Arab civilisations,’ a powerful and thought provoking polemic about the Middle East crisis. Blending personal reminiscences, years of reporting and insightful historical analysis, Smith sets out to challenge the received wisdom about the Arab world and America’s role in the Middle East.
Posing the post 9/11 question, ‘Why do the Arabs hate us?’ he dismisses the idea that Zionism or US foreign policy is to blame for the pathological anger in the Arab and Muslim world. Indeed he refuses to subscribe to the left/liberal mantra that Arabs act only because of special grievances with the West while he also takes to task the neo cons who believe that at heart, all Arabs yearn for liberal democracy.
At its most basic, his thesis is that the Arab world is defined by warfare, tribal feuding and endless sectarian bloodshed. Throughout Arab societies, violence is the norm, not the exception, with popular support going to the ‘strong horse,’ a regional player that becomes the strongest power in the region.
Such strong horses use all means of coercion to achieve dominance, playing off other powers against each other in order to prop up their own authoritarian power base. The Islamist assault on the West is a way of opening a chasm between Arab rulers and their peoples, thus allowing Bin Ladenism to supplant secular nationalism as the dominant force in the region. The Middle East has seen a number of strong horses vying for power in the last century, ranging from secular nationalists such as Nasser and Saddam Hussein to modern religious Islamists, whether of the Sunni variety (Al Qaeda) or the Shiite (Iran and its proxies).
Far from decrying this illiberal attempt to seize (and maintain) power, the Arab masses support these despotic strong horses because they believe that politics should always be a violent enterprise. As a result, attempts to impose democracy are flawed because Arab societies do not engage in processes of rational debate, compromise and peaceful negotiation that are the essential bedrock of democratic institutions. Arab liberals who aspire to Western ideals are a powerless minority on the sidelines.
The region is currently divided, Smith argues, between ‘the resistance bloc’ (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas) and the pro Western Sunni bloc, as well as Israel. He correctly observes that attempts to wean Syria away from this bloc are futile.
So what role, if any, should the US play in the Middle East, according to this analysis? The author makes a convincing case for a benign regional ‘strong horse’, particularly one that can deal a mortal blow to Iran’s regional ambitions. The US can certainly play this role but in its absence, Israel is emerging as the more capable nation. Right now, the Sunni bloc has pinned its hopes on the Jewish state crippling Shiite fundamentalism, sensing perhaps that the White House has abandoned efforts at intervention. In public, they will decry Israeli intervention but in private, they will rejoice.
If so, Israel must remain (and be perceived to be) the Middle East’s benign strong horse. This means that she should not emasculate her own power in pointless peace processes and futile territorial withdrawals. This will only reduce her attractiveness to potential allies who are pragmatic enough to accept Israel’s role in providing regional peace and stability.
9/11 hijacked 11 September, 2010
September 11th is a day for solemn reflection on the worst terrorist attack on history. Yet what has dominated the airwaves today is a misguided apology for Islam from President Obama and the strange saga of a fringe Christian preacher called Terry Jones. In his sombre address at the Pentagon, the President paid tribute to those lost on that terrible day and some of his sentiments were dignified and noble. But he could not help issuing a politically correct apology for Islam, saying 'it was not a religion that attacked us that day, it was Al Qaeda.' He went on to describe Al Qaeda as a 'sorry band of men which perverts religion.' In his view, Islam on September 11th was essentially a peaceful faith which was going about its harmonious business until 'a sorry band of men' came along with their 'perverted' interpretation of the faith.
Yet that 'sorry band' were supported by an active network of imams and preachers who encouraged their anti Western hatred. They were stirred up by fiery sermons and racist rhetoric and in their subsequent hatred, found themselves lionised by millions of their co-religionists around the globe. This tells us that radical Islam, despite being supported by a minority of Muslims, is more than the preserve of a few sorry people. Indeed in some countries, radical Islam is the dominant expression of the faith (i.e. in Saudi Arabia). It is one thing to express national unity and another to pay lip service to PC platitudes.
Naturally the detestable bigotry of the Islamists has been grist to the mill of extremists everywhere, including the much publicised Pastor Terry Jones. This man has caused near national hysteria with his threat (subsequently withdrawn) to burn copies of the Koran on 9/11. Quite what he hoped to achieve by this action we may never know but he certainly appears to be both a fool and a bigot, rightly mocked by mainstream opinion. Of course, as with the Ground Zero mosque, this was never about his legal right to burn books, and far more about the propriety of his actions.
But perhaps that isn't fully the point. What is a mystery is that this misguided individual ever received such lavish and sustained attention. After all, the media has barely focused on the ongoing hatred and violence that is espoused every day by Islamists, hatred moreover that includes the burning of Bibles and non Muslim holy texts. Does it not seem inappropriate that Pastor Jones, with his 30 supporters, has been allowed to dominate the national media narrative on such a sensitive date? Is there not something amiss in the media's priorities?
In the meantime, let us remember those who were murdered on 9/11 and honour their memory.
The Pope's concerns should not be dismissed so lightly 17 September, 2010
The Pope is an important head of state and the leader of more than one billion Catholics worldwide. What a shame then that his visit should have attracted such sound and fury from his more militant opponents. The language reserved for the Pontiff seems to have been out of all proportion to his (alleged) misdeeds. There have been calls to have him arrested for his failure to deal with child abuse while his dogmatic position on sexuality has seen branded as immoral. This is hardly the attitude of 'live and let live' tolerance that we regard as so uniquely British.
Granted, some of the Pope's words are open to question. In his speech on Thursday, he attacked all 'aggressive forms of secularism' and explicitly condemned 'atheist regimes' for their elimination of God. It is wrong to blame 'atheism' for the misdeeds of dictators, just as it is wrong to argue that every religious society is a model of tolerance. Iran and Saudi Arabia are two theocracies that have repressed women and minorities because of intense religious fanaticism. As Simon Heffer argues in today's Telegraph:
Mexico is a country of devout and active Roman Catholics. It is also one of the world's most criminal, dangerous and failed states. Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, is half controlled by the mafia, half by its sleazeball of a prime minister, who despite being the wrong side of 70, drives a coach and four through his Church's doctrine of sexual morality.
But it does seem that the target of the Pontiff's attack was less secularism than the attitude of dogmatic multiculturalism, a pernicious doctrine that attacks 'majority' values as an imposition on all minorities. Here is some more of what the Pope said in Westminster Hall yesterday:
There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.
Sadly this is a perfectly fair comment. Today's multiculturalists regard Britain's Christian heritage as an embarrassing anachronism. There have been many cases where Christians have been discriminated against and where local councils have sought to eradicate the specifically Christian content of festivals (such as Christmas).
The Pope was also attacking the rampant egalitarianism of the last government's equality act. Here he talked about how Christians in public life were having to 'act against their conscience' which was symptomatic of a 'failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.' In other words, Catholic adoption agencies were supposed (until the opt out) to give babies to practising homosexual couples. Whatever one thinks about discrimination laws, it is clear that there is often a clash between such legislation and the demands of religion. Common sense would find a compromise whenever possible, something that is anathema to egalitarians.
In essence, the Pope's speech was a powerful call to recognise the contribution that Judaeo-Christian values had made to British society. His words should not be dismissed as lightly as his critics demand.
Walk out on Ahmadinejad? Why listen to him in the first place? 23 September, 2010
It is hard to know what is more risible: the predictable hatemongering from Iran's puppet President at the UN today or the subsequent walkout by US diplomats. President Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the General Assembly in which he suggested that Americans were behind the September 11th attacks and had engineered them in order to protect Israel. For those expecting an ill informed diatribe against the Jews, he did not disappoint. He talked of a 'small minority' that tries to 'dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks.' It's the Protcols all over again, in other words.
But it has now become standard fare for American (and British and European) diplomats to make a public protest whenever Ahmadinejad speaks. Not a bad reaction, you may think, except that it is based on the absurd premise that Ahmadinejad is actually worth listening to in the first place. It is as if they are saying: adopt a moderate tone and we will give you a decent hearing. What exactly are these diplomats expecting when the President takes to the podium? A peace poem for the West, perhaps? A change of heart on the peace process? An end to terror?
The Iranian leadership is intrinsically hostile to Western democracy, America, her allies and the Judaeo-Christian civilisation that has underpinned them. Ahmadinejad cannot repudiate this ferocious anti Westernism because it lies at the heart of the whole wretched system of Iranian theocracy. He is its pin up boy; the voice of the 1979 Revolution. That is why no Western diplomat should be listening to him and why no respectable international institution should be hosting him.
Yet the UN has a track record of hosting every terror regime on the planet. Syria was a member of the Security Council at the time of the Iraq war. Libya has served on the 'Human Rights Council' together with a host of autocratic regimes. Arafat's PLO was feted in the 1970s during its murderous campaign of violence. The UN remains one of the most morally compromised organisations in the world today.
That is why Obama's obeisance to the General Assembly today, in which he reiterated his 'hand of friendship' to the Iranian leadership, was a truly sickening spectacle. It is not just that Ahmadinejad is morally beyond the pale (which is obvious) but that the UN is the institutional embodiment of tyranny and dictatorship, and thus provides the perfect forum for extremists like Ahmadinejad.
What Palestinians really want 29 September, 2010
Last night I attended a fascinating discussion at the Henry Jackson Society on what Western policymakers can learn from Palestinian social media. Two members of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies offered a radically different approach to understanding prevailing social attitudes among ordinary West Bank Palestinians.
Their basic premise was that in order to get a grip on what Palestinians really think, you have to go beyond opinion polls. Polls are unreliable at the best of times (they offer a snapshot of opinion, the sample size can vary etc.) but in an autocratic state, they are even more doubtful because the answers people give are affected by considerations of personal safety. In 2005, polls suggested that the outcome of elections in Gaza would be a Fatah government, which was music to the ears of both Israel and the Bush administration. Instead it was Hamas that triumphed. Both opinion polls and intelligence data can be inaccurate.
An alternative approach is to use technology to monitor the conversations of people in various social environments, thus gleaning their actual opinions in real time. The researchers did precisely this, recording the conversations of 10,000 people in the West Bank over a 9 week period, and their results were fairly startling.
There was widespread scepticism about the peace process among even the upper crust of Palestinian society. Abbas was seen as a sell out for allowing Israel to build security in the West Bank and for attending peace initiatives in Washington. The comments on the improved security in the West Bank were also negative with the new Palestinian forces seen as unrepresentative Israeli 'lackeys.’ Indeed the most positive Palestinian reactions were to Hamas attacks on the peace process.
The root of opposition to the peace process was that it did not express the will of the Palestinian people, with many believing that the intifada of 2000-2 should never have ended. Many others called for a renewal of suicide bombings. As for the Hamas faction, the conversations revealed a great deal of support for Salafist and Al Qaeda groups, such as Jaish-Al-Islam. There was little desire for reconciliation with Fatah which was viewed as a heretical organisation. Some 75% of Hamas supporters said they rejected Israel outright and rather interestingly, none of the Hamas conversations showed any willingness to discuss Iran's economic influence in Gaza.
However, the researchers did say that there were some moderates in the Palestinian camp who were trying to find a space online, and one of these could form the next Mandela. That at least was the hope, but the overall picture was hardly positive.
Of course, we should be cautious with results like this: this is but a snapshot of opinion based on only 10,000 conversations. As the researchers admit, more work of this kind needs to be done in order to give Western politicians a fuller picture of Palestinian attitudes.
But this evidence, and much else to be found on the Palestinian media, stands in stark contrast to the assumptions of the Obama administration, namely that Palestinians largely back Mahmoud Abbas and the peace process, that Hamas and Fatah can be reconciled despite their secular/religious differences and that the only enemies of negotiation are ‘extremist’ factions. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a good peace process?
Wilders on trial for his opinions. How Voltaire would be spinning in his grave.
4 October, 2010
Geert Wilders may not be everyone's cup of tea when it comes to criticising Islam. The maverick Dutch politician has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf and described Islam as 'fascistic,' claims that will strike even the most ardent opponents of Islamism as somewhat overblown. His argument in Fitna, where he accuses Islam of stoking terrorist violence, lacks the nuance and sophistication that is necessary for such a sensitive subject.
Though he is a staunch defender of Western freedoms, Wilders' interpretation of Islam in such black and white terms is highly questionable. But surely that is the point: his views should be questioned, debated, scrutinised and discussed in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law. No one, certainly not a leading politician, should be criminalised for merely having the 'wrong' opinion.
Yet in the twenty first century, Western freedoms are being subverted to the secular religion of political correctness. Offend a minority (particularly one that resorts to violence) and you are in real trouble, as Wilders has found out. Prosecutors in Holland have brought 5 charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against the Dutch MP. His comments, according to the Dutch Court of appeal, rendered a 'criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers.' Notice the word 'insult.' In PC Europe, insulting Muslims by labelling the Koran 'fascistic' is tantamount to a hate crime. No wonder that Wilders has stated: 'The freedom of expression of at least 1.5 million people is standing trial together with me'.
If Wilders had called for Muslims to be killed, it would be quite right for him to be put on trial and convicted of inciting hatred against a minority. If he had called for mosques to be looted or burnt, the same sanction would apply. It is people and property that need protection under the law, not ideas. Islam does not deserve special treatment, nor can Muslims claim the right not to be offended. Has Richard Dawkins found himself in the dock for launching his scathing attacks on Christianity or calling for the Pope to be arrested? Certainly not, and quite right too. But then Dawkins has attacked a majority faith, and one which is castigated by the high priests of multiculturalism.
So in one of the most tolerant nations on earth, renowned throughout the world for its love of freedom and democracy, a leading politician is standing trial for his opinions, while Western politicians remain silent. How poor Voltaire would be spinning in his grave.
To Voltaire is attributed the quote: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'
Recognise Israel as a Jewish state? Nah, that's racist (apparently)
10 October, 2010
So the cat’s out of the bag then. The PA has now rejected an offer from Benjamin Netanyahu for a renewed settlement freeze in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Saeb Erekat has given a firm thumbs down, declaring that the offer constitutes a set of ‘racist demands’ that are not tied to a settlement freeze. In his view it is racist to declare that Israel is a Jewish state, even though it is also home to well over 1 million non Jews who are equal under the law in a democratic state. Is it also racist to declare that Palestine is an Arab state, or Iran a Muslim state? I think we all know the answer to that one.
His remark sheds further light on the outlook of the PA leadership. For if the Israeli request is racist, why should Abbas and Erekat ever make the concession being demanded? The left who argue that such recognition is a quid pro quo for a deal on settlements, Jerusalem or the right of return, have been shown up as phonies, not for the first time. For the point is that the right of return is non negotiable for the Palestinians if they cannot recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In other words, while they may not be about to launch intifada no 3, their mindset remains as annihilationist as ever with little prospect for an end to the conflict.
The commission for unfairness and stupidity
17 October, 2010
The noted think tank Civitas has torn apart the latest report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the absurd quango that has mysteriously escaped the latest quango cull. In its report which comments on whether Britain is becoming fairer, the EHRC commends Britain's progress in respecting diversity and equality but still says 'other long-standing inequalities remain undiminished; and that new social and economic fault-lines are emerging as Britain becomes older and more ethnically and religiously diverse.' It then outlines an agenda for fairness with 15 recommendations. Many of the organisation's complaints follow familiar ground and below is a selection:
*Men and women from the highest social class can expect to live up to seven years longer, on average, than those from lower socio-economic groups (based on life expectancy at birth).
*Black Caribbean and Pakistani babies are twice as likely to die in their first year as Bangladeshi or White British babies.
*Forty-four per cent of Black, Indian and Pakistani students are at ‘new’ universities compared to 35 per cent of others. Eight per cent of Black students are at Russell Group institutions, compared to 24 per cent of White students.
* Seventeen per cent of children with special educational needs get five good GCSEs including English and Maths, compared to 61 per cent of children without identified special needs.
*The mean gender pay gap for women and men working full-time in 2009 was 16.4 per cent; and progress today appears to be grinding to a halt. Women aged 40 earn on average 27 per cent less than men of the same age. Women with degrees are estimated to face only a four per cent loss in lifetime earnings as a result of motherhood, while mothers with no qualifications face a 58 per cent loss.
*On average, five times more Black people than White people are imprisoned in England and Wales and there is now greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons in Britain than in the USA.
Women represent less than a quarter of Westminster MPs and barely three in 10 councillors in England. Four per cent of Westminster MPs are from an ethnic minority background.
Yet these complaints about 'unfairness' are largely groundless. As Civitas point out:
More Pakistani babies die in infancy than White babies, not because of poor social conditions (Bangladeshis have similar living standards to Pakistanis yet their infant mortality rate is lower than for Whites), but because they suffer disproportionately from congenital defects which are probably due to high rates of cousin inter-marriage.
The well known 'gender gap' is not primarily the result of institutional discrimination against women (though this is hardly non existent) but of women's lifestyle choice in having children, a decision that forces many to forego promotion opportunities and to work part time. As for the educational 'inequality' this is again nothing of the kind. We would surely expect those who have genuine special educational needs to achieve much lower grades than those not similarly classified; why else would they require additional provision?
In any case, we could scarcely judge this unless we knew that average IQ levels were the same across the social classes, which they are blatantly not.And there are more black people proportionately in prison compared to whites because, presumably, there are more crimes committed proportionately by blacks than whites. Without evidence that this is not the case, the EHRC's complaint is meaningless.
In conclusion, Civitas state the obvious: 'The report equates 'fairness' with 'equal outcomes,' yet it is obvious that unequal outcomes can often be fair, and that forcing equal outcomes onto people could be very unfair.'
Indeed. But if the ECHR is on such dodgy ideological territory, why are we continuing to pay for it?
Political positioning spoils the cuts program 21 October, 2010
For a politician who prides himself on fairness, Cameron will have been hurt by the recent revelations from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The respected think tank announced that the coalition's cuts would hurt parents with children the most and most severely affect the poorest in society, a claim seized on with glee by the Labour government. But this is perhaps the least of the PM's problems.
Let's be clear: the axe taken to public spending is both welcome and urgently needed, not just because it is the only plausible way to deal with the deficit but also because it is ideologically sound. The public sector that consumes nearly half of national wealth and employs some 6 million people is absurdly large. In the long term, this cost cutting program is an important starting point for re balancing our economy in a more productive direction.
But Cameron's problem is that his economic judgement has been trumped by wanting to be perceived as a 'soft' Tory. What sense is there is imposing draconian cuts on his departments but ring fencing spending on the wasteful NHS? Does the Prime Minister assume that Gordon Brown wasted no money when he doubled spending on this behemoth over the last decade?
Does he seriously imagine that every person employed in the NHS does a useful and productive job? Worse, the government will increase spending on international development until it reaches 0.7% of GDP, despite the rampant corruption and autocracy in many of the aid dependent nations. How the government can justify this while simultaneously reducing our defence budget is beyond comprehension.
As Con Coughlin argues in the Telegraph, the government:
'has decided to throw bundles of aid cash at failed states, in the hope that this will persuade them not to harm our interests. Perhaps DFID could start by making a sizeable donation to the Revolutionary Guards' veterans' fund?'
The simple truth is that Dave is still obsessed with political positioning. He wants to deflect the charge of being the leader of the nasty party, and be remembered for creating a new brand of 'compassionate Conservatism.' This all sounds like a bad case of spin and an ill judged presentational gimmick for the media. If Mr. Cameron wanted to be the heir to Blair, he has gone about it the right way.
The PA continues its war of aggression 28 October, 2010
Now we have even more evidence of how 'moderate' Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, truly is. He has told an Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, that the Palestinians will declare an independent Palestinian state by August 2011. In his words, 'The deadline is next summer, when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank must end.'
There are two ways to look at this curious comment. The first is that this is a negotiating tactic, a clever ploy to get the Israelis to up their concessions to the other side. The second is that this is a statement of intent and that the Palestinian Authority, with UN connivance (of course), really will declare independent statehood next August.
The second interpretation is more plausible because the first suggests that the PA are actually interested in the current round of talks and are merely unhappy with what they have been offered thus far. But if the PA and their 'moderate' leaders are so desperate for a good deal, why did they reject the offers made by Ehud Olmert, a set of territorial concessions that went far beyond what any Israeli government (certainly the current one) could offer?
One also wonders why they evaded any direct negotiations for most of the 10 month settlement moratorium. The plain truth is that they sensed that there was an anti Israeli momentum in the White House and thus they had little reason to offer anything to the Israelis.
More likely, Fayyad is giving voice to the PA's intentions and this is yet more evidence of bad faith. For one thing, it shows how the PA are already reneging on their commitment to Obama (only 6 weeks have passed since Abbas promised bilateral peace talks with Israel). The key word here is bilateral.
Of course, a unilateral declaration of statehood would achieve nothing substantial on the ground. It would shift no settlements and change no borders; the status quo would remain in other words. But it would further demonise Israel in the eyes of the international community, which has of course been a prime aim of the PA/PLO for five decades. In other words, it would be a continuation of the Palestinian/Arab/Islamist war of aggression which has always been, and remains, the primary cause of this conflict. And yet we are still being told that the PA are moderate. Tragic...
As predicted - Abbas fixates on settlements 9 November, 2010
So it hardly took the Palestinians that long, did it? Several weeks ago I predicted that amid all the bloated Washington fanfare over renewed Arab-Israeli talks, the Palestinian delegation would effectively walk out on the pretext of Israeli settlement building. What has happened? Abbas has effectively declared that talks are dead and that they will only continue with a complete end to settlement building:
'We don’t want to be deceived with another moratorium or a half moratorium or a quarter moratorium. If they want us to return to the direct talks, the settlements must stop completely. Only then we will go back to the talks to discuss the issues of refugees and borders.'
I also predicted that he would be backed in his criticisms by the hostile Obama administration. He has indeed received succour from this quarter in recent days:
In response to an announcement of the imminent building of 1,345 homes in Jerusalem, Obama recently declared: 'This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.' He was followed by State department official, P J Crowley, who said that 'to suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.' He was backed in his view by the EU Supremo, Catherine Ashton, who said she was 'extremely concerned by the announcement that Israel plans to go ahead with the construction of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem.'
None of this is in any way surprising, except naturally to the deluded Democrats who believed that Obama possessed the magic wand to resolve this protracted conflict. As I predicted, Abbas was looking for a get out clause for talks that would have required him to make some concessions on vital issues: borders, the right of return and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The peripheral issue of allowing Jews to live in the capital city of their own country has assumed totemic significance, as if somehow in its absence, these talks would be on the cusp of success.
What is more worrying is that the Palestinians, having complained about Israeli unilateralism, are now resorting to their own unilateral strategy. The new Palestinian demand is for global recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, a strategy that was attempted by Arafat in 1988. As Abbas put it in recent days: 'If we fail in this, we want to go to the United Nations Security Council to ask the world to recognize the Palestinian state.'
In other words, without offering any of the guarantees that Israel would rightly demand on security, terrorism and incitement, the Palestinians want international recognition of statehood. Of course this would achieve little on the ground. No settlements would be removed or borders changed through an abandonment of dialogue. But it would represent yet another attempt to delegitimise Israel in the eyes of a hostile world that already blames the Jewish state for the Middle East impasse.
Patriotism is not evil, Mr Van Rumpuy 11 November, 2010
On the day when we remember all those who fell in the service of our nation, it seems that some people need reminding about the importance of patriotism. I am not referring to the hate filled Islamists who burned a giant poppy today but rather the EU' President, Van Rumpuy, and his incredibly ill timed remarks about Eurosceptics.
'The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war...Today's nationalism is often not a positive feeling of pride of one's own identity, but a negative feeling of apprehension of the others. Our Union is born out of a will to co-operate, to reconcile and to act in solidarity.'
At least he is honest enough to admit that nation states really are the enemy of the EU and that the overriding ambition of his organisation is to remove the powers of nation states in an attempt to create an anti democratic federalist utopia. The EU has imbibed the left wing belief that nation states, and the popular democracy that sustains them, are the cause of all the world's grief and that only transnational solutions can save populations from themselves. But this is precisely what Eurosceptics have been saying all along.
Of course Mr Van Rumpuy has simply created a straw man here. The vast majority of people who care for their countries and national traditions, and who believe that those nations have the right to govern themselves, are peaceful patriots, not violent nationalists. And as Daniel Hannan puts it:
A patriot doesn’t belittle other countries: he cheers their sense of national pride, and values their freedom.
This is why the Allied nations in previous world wars fought against hegemonic powers, both to defend their own national self interest but also to defend the interests of other subjugated nations. They fought against tyranny and we continue to commemorate the sacrifices that made victory possible. Now we have a new form of tyranny that is a blight on democracies across Europe.
It might all be less depressing if our self declared Eurosceptic, Mr. Cameron, was prepared to stand up for his nation. But we have seen over the EU Budget, Cameron's posture is fake and phoney. Not only has he acquiesced to a near 3% (as things stand) increase in the EU budget while his own government cuts spending but he has bowed to a demand to let prisoners vote. What a contrast between the armed forces who risk their lives defending their nation, and the politicians who are squandering it for the sake of an EU dream.
Fixation with settlements, not settlement 16 November, 2010
The Palestinian President is nothing if not predictable. Shortly after being dragged to Washington for the recently restarted peace talks, he threatened to end the talks unless the settlement moratorium was made a permanent fixture. He appears to have made good on his threat, declaring recently that ‘the settlements must stop completely’ for the talks to continue.
Instead of condemning this churlish stance, Obama has actively encouraged it. The President has added to the chorus of disapproval, citing the recent decision to build new homes in east Jerusalem as ‘never helpful’ for peace negotiations. In many ways, this is a win-win situation for Abbas. He has failed to make a meaningful concession while making Israel appear to be the chief stumbling block to peace.
Such is the irrational obsession with settlements that Obama seems to have persuaded Netanyahu to extend the freeze by a further three months in return for a number of security guarantees.
Does he actually believe that Abbas and co will use the three month period to facilitate the critical agreements that have for so long been lacking? Israel removed 7,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005 in its controversial pull out plan but received years of murderous rocket attacks from Hamas. The removal of these settlers scarcely satisfied the deranged, Jew hating fanatics who seized control of Gaza in their 2007 coup d'etat.
In the meantime, Iran continues to ratchet up the threat to the Middle East and Israel in particular. Its nuclear programme continues on a daily basis, the various sanctions employed by the international community proving demonstrably ineffective. Lebanese leaders are shaking at the prospect of a Hezbollah takeover, a likely prospect if, as expected, the Hariri tribunal indicts senior members of the terror organisation. And Hamas now reportedly has missiles capable of reaching 80 kilometers into Israel, including Tel Aviv. It is nice to know that the West's leaders have their priorities right.
The Euro's dysfunctionality 19 November, 2010
Ireland’s slow economic meltdown is yet further evidence of the chaos imposed by the single European currency. Ireland has a banking crisis of epic proportions, rather than a solvency problem, with banks stuffed to the hilt with bad debt. European leaders are rightly spooked by the fear that these debts could lead to insolvencies on the Continent, thus triggering a fresh economic crisis and another set of bail outs further the line. Hence we see their determination to force a settlement on Irish leaders.
This chaos is related to the Euro in two obvious ways. First, Ireland has been prevented from taking the steps necessary to avoid a deflationary spiral. Unlike in Britain, the Irish cannot devalue their currency, lower interest rates or print money. All these things have mitigated the effects of the UK's recent recession. Second, the very nature of the single currency has created a dysfunctional imbalance for by its nature it unites the high saving, low spending economies like Germany and the debt ridden, high spending Club med nations (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Ireland) with one interest rate.
The result is the weird dysfunctionality that we are seeing today where taxpayers of one country have to bail out those of another. The baleful political consequences can only be imagined - surely the patience of German Europhile taxpayers is limited.
As Peter Oborne rightly observes in today’s Telegraph, none of us is remotely surprising. Thatcher foresaw that the Euro would never succeed (it helped lose her the Premiership) and with her departure, much of the establishment settled on a pro European angle. Supporters of the single currency were respectable whereas ‘those who challenged this consensus were ridiculed.’ Now look at who has been ridiculed. How much longer, one wonders, before the stubborn, dictatorial leaders at Europe’s top table consign this economically illiterate experiment to history?
Schools for jihad 23 November, 2010
Those who watched yesterday’s Panorama documentary 'British schools, Islamic rules' will have seen yet further evidence of Muslim extremism in the UK. The documentary discovered that a network of 40 weekend Muslim schools and clubs were teaching the official Saudi national curriculum, one based on the country's radical Islamist ideology.
So it is hardly surprising that children as young as 6 were asked to list the most 'reprehensible' qualities of Jews, to dissociate with 'kuffar' (non Muslims) and to believe that the punishment for homosexuality was execution. Their textbooks were teaching students how to cut off the hands and feet of criminals according to the dictates of Sharia law. These hate filled statements were also found in the textbooks used at another Saudi school in 2007.
None of this is really surprising, indeed much of this has been reported before. Saudi petrodollars fund a vast network of mosques, schools and cultural institutions, all of which are imbued with the separatist, racist and homophobic ideology of Wahhabism.
What may raise a few eyebrows is that this hatemongering has gone undetected by the education authorities for so long. The reason is that part time schools do not have to register with the Department for education and, as such, they escape inspection. Michael Gove has promised that this will change and that there is no place in for anti Semitism in any of Britain’s schools. He is right, so let’s hope he threatens these schools for jihad with closure.
Footnote: I should add that I expect very little to change in the light of this report. For all of Gove's well founded protestations, it is the behemoth of Saudi financed schools, mosques and cultural institutions that is the problem and unless this financial support is cut off, the jihadist doctrines that the Saudis promote will continue to spread like a virus. It requires a level of will that is lacking in the British establishment - and we all know why.
Law falsely in the dock 30 November 2010
I have become quite a fan of that new BBC drama series, Accused. It offers powerful one hour portraits of individuals who find themselves in the dock after committing a particularly heinous crime. But yesterday’s episode, while featuring fine performances from the supporting cast, was a sad reflection of the sentimentalism that has enveloped British society.
In the story, a young man is killed in a warehouse on his first day of work, a victim of poor health and safety training from his employer. But the CPS decides not to bring charges against the company, leading to an unsuccessful appeal by the victim’s parents. The inquest delivers a verdict of ‘accidental death.’
The appeal fails because one of the witnesses, the victim’s friend, alters his statement which had initially vindicated the company’s training procedures, and is hence regarded as an unreliable witness. Afterwards, the woman takes her revenge on the unapologetic warehouse boss by setting fire to his premises, leading to charges of arson. After making an appeal to justice, and not the law, the jury unanimously finds her not guilty, in perverse defiance of the facts.
Now from a pure legal viewpoint, this is a contentious nonsense. The assumption is that the CPS is so slapdash in its investigation that it cannot prosecute a case successfully, creating the view that the entire legal system is suspect and that people have a moral right to rectify injustice through their own actions.
This might simply be a folly of television drama were it not for the fact that such decisions have already happened in other circumstances. That juries can reach perverse judgments in defiance of the law was established by R v Ponting (1985) when a man was cleared of breaching the Official Secrets Act despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Very recently, a group of 5 ‘activists’ who caused £180,000 of damage to the EDO MBM factory in Brighton in January 2009 were cleared of causing criminal damage, despite admitting to their crime. The jury, under the direction of pro Palestinian Judge Bathurst Norman, accepted the defendants’ plea that they had exhausted all democratic paths prior to their action, and that they had a ‘lawful excuse,’ namely to prevent the greater evil of Israeli war crimes. In other words, causing criminal damage is acceptable in the service of a political agenda. Yesterday’s programme, despite the different context, was offering a similar line of argument.
On our knees before terror 8 December, 2010
The Foreign Office has long had a reputation of sycophantism towards the Arab world. Perceiving that British economic interests are bound up far more with desert kingdoms than democracies, the FCO has pandered to the whims of dictators in a vain attempt to win enduring influence in Arabia.
But nothing better illustrates this slavish obeisance and genuflection to tyranny than the latest revelation from Wikileaks. Back in 2009, Britain's ambassador to Libya, Sir Vincent Kean, warned that the decision to continue incarcerating the Lockerbie bomber could have 'disastrous implications for British interests in Libya.' According to this erstwhile champion of British interests, a smarting Gaddafi "could have cut us off at the knees, just like the Swiss.” Back in 2008, Gaddafi took punitive measures against the Swiss when they arrested his son and daughter in law. Kean clearly believed that the same was possible unless Britain met the dictator's demands to release Megrahi.
Is this what the land of Nelson and Wellington has been reduced to? Are our diplomats so lacking in self belief that they are ready to lie prostrate before the puny dictators of the world? There is a word for such spineless diplomatic docility - appeasement. And Churchill would be turning in his grave.
The student protests mask some painful truths 10 December, 2010
Yesterday’s outbursts of violence have come to typify the student protests. It is now a matter of course to see ‘protestors’ smashing property, endangering the public, attacking the police and engaging in other acts of outright intimidation and brutality. This nasty spirit of subversion is long associated with the hard left who appear to have infiltrated the student body with alarming ease.
The student protests ignore an uncomfortable truth about higher education. Quite simply, there are too many young people going to university following the relentless expansion of higher education under previous governments. There are too many people doing second rate courses at university who are burdening themselves with unnecessary debt as a result. The system has to change.
But that is a separate issue. Many students will be rightly angered at the clear breach of promise by the Liberal Democrats. Some students will have voted for the party on the basis of a manifesto pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees. The party’s U turn fits a narrative of duplicitous politicians instantly reneging on pre election pledges for the sake of convenience. And these ‘turncoats’ have scarcely helped their cause by pretending that they were unaware of the scale of the financial disaster before the election, a narrative they have now changed.
The unpalatable truth for these students is that such promise-breaking is intrinsic to coalition government. In the give and take of a coalition, prized political positions are abandoned as a matter of course. And that brings us to the real elephant in the room. If the Liberal Democrats have their way, we would see a system of proportional representation replacing the centuries old first past the post system.
In other words, we would see a political arrangement in which coalition government would become a permanent feature of the political landscape rather than a temporary aberration. In the weeks following elections, we would see party leaders meeting behind closed doors, ready to discuss which of their prized policies would survive and which would be dropped. The charges of betrayal and treachery would become the regular chant of the nation’s discontented.
Amazingly, there are some Conservatives who favour a permanent Con-Lib alliance. John Major has talked about a ‘re-alignment’ in British politics with both parties staying together after the next election. There will be many Cameron supporters eager to maintain the present arrangement, if only because a left of centre party provides them with cover for unpopular policies. But if so, it is primarily Tory supporters, not those of the Liberal Democrats, who should feel most bitter.
For under the current arrangement, the Tories have been forced to water down some key pledges: the commitment to scrap the Human Rights Act and regain powers from Europe, the commitment on capital gains tax, the raising of the inheritance tax threshold and the pledge to lock up those caught with knives. What has resulted is a hollowed out Tory party defined by a left of centre approach to British politics. A permanent coalition arrangement will end up eviscerating British conservatism, creating an amorphous mass of centrist politicians all spouting the same message. It will be fundamentally undemocratic.
One of the messages from yesterday’s protests is that we do not need such a drastic alteration of the political landscape.
Shameful EU bigotry 15 December, 2010
Ill health has delayed some recent blogs, and I have only just caught up with the letter signed by more than two dozen European leaders calling for a boycott of Israel. The signatories, including former EU commissioners like Chris Patten and the former EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, say that Israel should be made to feel "the consequences" for breaking 'international law.'
Blaming the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian talks on Israel's settlement policy, the letter asks EU foreign ministers to reiterate that they "will not recognise any changes to the June 1967 boundaries and clarify that a Palestinian state should be in sovereign control over territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967, including its capital in East Jerusalem". The letter also asks EU ministers to tell Israel that if they do not comply with their requests by April 2011, they will seek a 'UN solution' instead of the US sponsored peace process.
As a piece of unadulterated anti Israeli bigotry, this is hard to beat. This letter contains a scarcely veiled threat to isolate Israel and treat it as a pariah despite the fact that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, that has been willing to negotiate for peace and reach a viable peace settlement. it is Israel that offered to give up nearly 100% of the West Bank, having already left Gaza, in return for a viable peace. That was not good enough for Mahmoud Abbas, just as it was inadequate for Yasser Arafat.
The Israelis left their settlements in Gaza and offered a deal on settlements in the West Bank. Again, there was no reciprocal goodwill from the Palestinian side, indeed there was an upsurge of terror from Gaza after 2005. So settlements are not the prime obstacle to peace between the two sides. The issue remains, as ever, the refusal of the Palestinians, and their Islamist allies, to recognise a Jewish state anywhere west of the River Jordan.
As proof, look at the latest statements in a Guardian op-ed (10th December) from Saab Erekat, the 'moderate' Palestinian politician, who talks of a figure of 7 million Palestinian refugees, before going on to accuse Israel of 'amnesia' for its deeds. His belief in 'return' is but the clearest sign of Palestinian rejectionism, yet it receives no attention from the 26 signatories.
How should Israel respond? As the esteemed Robin Shepherd points out, Israel should now go on the offensive and ban these 26 people from coming to Israel. It would send out a clear signal that they are persona non grata and will play no meaningful role in any negotiations that are to come. Israel should consider his proposal very carefully.