Sunday, 25 October 2015

Tony Blair is Yesterday's Man, but His Spirit Lives On inside Britain's Ruling Elite

[A version of this article appeared in The Mail on Sunday (25th October, 2015): ]

Sorry never was the hardest word for Tony Blair – at least before Iraq.

For twelve years until his carefully choreographed interview with America’s CNN, Mr Blair had presented himself as the innocent victim of bad intelligence who at least had made the world a safer place by toppling Saddam Hussein. No need to apologise then for the consequences of his actions in 2003. Long before the ex-Prime Minister adopted a new profile as prophet-in-chief at his not-for-profit Faith Foundation (modelled on the not-so-transparent Clinton Foundation), his messianic self-righteousness left little room for acknowledging his own faults, but plenty of energy for addressing those of others.

Symptomatic of Mr Blair’s peculiar mindset was his willingness from the arrival of New Labour in Downing St. in  1997 to apologise for dark episodes in Britain’s past, while refusing to take the blame for any bad consequences of his own policies, least of all for the ever-expanding chaos in the Middle East, Mr Blair was happy to glow with a perverse pride by apologising for the Irish Potato Famine in 1846 and ended his term as prime minister expressing his shame about the slave trade abolished in 1807. To be he even let slip his regrets for his pre-PC spanking of his children, but only to draw attention to what a paternal model he was now setting!  

But this happy scapegoat for Britain’s past sins was remarkably tight-lipped about his own responsibility for squandering British lives, not to mention Iraqi ones, from 2003. Nor until now has ever admitted that his policies have made people in Britain less safe.

Tony Blair used to taint anyone who said his actions had played into the hands of hate-preachers here and had helped fuse the bombs which hit London in July, 2005, with the brush of apologists for terrorism. Yet in his cosy chat on CNN, when the subject of the emergence of the most brutal terrorist threat yet in post-Saddam Iraq came up, he let slip, “Of course, you-you can't say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

That double-negative is the nearest TB has ever got to admitting that he helped to fuel the flames now licking Britain’s doorstep.  What is now clear [from the Mail on Sunday’s reporting] is that IS is not only an immediate threat to millions of people in Iraq and Syria, but the jihadi terrorists are burrowing away inside Britain. Funds are being raised here by a spooky convert to Islam for IS’s global ambitions but also to provide support to potential killers being recruited here and now to go out on our streets and repeat the butchery of Corporal Lee Rigby on a wider scale. The terrifying blowback from Tony Blair’s blithe commitment to President Bush to go into Iraq whatever the circumstances is gathering pace. Saying sorry is hardly going to stop that momentum.

Maybe we can sympathise a bit with Blair’s unwillingness to come clean. All of us confront the dilemma from time to time that conscience prods us that we have behaved shabbily but our self-esteem tries to silence it by whispering, “I couldn’t have done that, not me”!  As Prime Minister of “Cool Britannia” Tony Blair embodied the “Me Generation”. If only we knew how sincere he was, nobody would doubt his motives. A mental block stopped him following his spin doctor, Alistair Campbell’s advice always to kill a bad story by fessing up straight away and urging people to move on. Instead Blair’s pride insists, “Don’t hold me responsible. I was only Prime Minister.” He denies that he can be faulted for believing – if he did – faulty intelligence as though the tenant of Downing St. just swallows what is served up by his staff. (Since Blair was clearly dependent in his interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on the flow of scripted responses through an ear-pierce pioneered by Ronald Reagan and perfected by Barack Obama, maybe he was never more than a mouthpiece.)

Although “Better late than never” will be the kindest response that Tony Blair will get from the widows and orphans created by his feckless policy in the Middle East, in reality this was not an apology but a pre-emptive strike to dull the impact of criticisms likely to be contained in the Chilcot Report, which may even appear within months after years of careful drafting to meet Blair’s replies to his critics. What formed the Semtex in his interview was his admission that the spreading cancer of Middle Eastern terrorism is a result of his policies.

Even with Blair in perma-tanned retirement,  his poisonous legacy still threatens us here at home and abroad because too many policy-makers can’t shake themselves free from him as their role-model for success in modern Britain. Until Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader there was no official opposition to Blair’s approach to foreign policy  which was embraced by most Labour MPs as well as the majority of Tories.  

For the future, even a fulsome Blair apology for past errors will be a dead-letter if the government still clings to the Blairite approach to foreign problems. David Cameron and his peers belong to that long Blairite generation that knew only peace and prosperity as they grew up in the security of the Cold War. Tony Blair casually launched Britain into a succession of hot wars. Kosovo worked out bloodlessly for us in 1999, but it seduced Mr Blair into thinking any casualties would always be Theirs not Ours.

Sadly, despite the our forces’ heavy toll in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where nothing has been achieved worth the blood of a British grenadier, Tony Blair’s deadly political legacy to his successors in power today is a knee-jerk reliance on military force to grab today’s headlines even if no planning for tomorrow’s consequences has been made. It is also that for all the talk about terrorism, no responsibility is taken for policies which help to promote it.

So let’s not heap all the blame for Iraq and terrorism on Blair. Too many are still anxious to share the guilt - or claim the credit for another misguided war after one more poorly-planned intervention. 

Just as he demonised Saddam Hussein as the root-and-branch of all Iraq’s problems and argued that deposing him would transform the country for good, so critics of Tony Blair tend to blame him as the sole villain in the sorry tale of our futile involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. But remember how the self-proclaimed “heir to Blair”, David Cameron casually sent the RAF to bomb Libya in 2011 without a thought for the morrow, despite  the experience of Iraq since 2003. Let’s face it, the same mindset which saw a majority of MPs vote for war in Iraq in 2003, now sits in a majority in Westminster today.

Until now Tony Blair has refused to apologise for anything which went wrong in Iraq, but it is much worse that the House of Commons is still teeming with MPs, on both sides, who have learned nothing from it. Do those who want to bomb Syria as a panacea for the problems caused by invading Iraq really know what will come next?
The Blairites blithely insist that there was no alternative then or now to their failure to consider what might go wrong and that anyone who doubts that theirs was the only choice are friends of dictators like Saddam, Gaddafi or Assad. Complacent Blairites never have to face the brutal reality that life in the terrifying uncertainty of civil war is far worse than under a dictatorship. Instead in the USA as well as the UK, promotion and prosperity are the wages of waging dead-end wars in the Middle East.

The Blairite default position of bomb now and improvise if things go wrong compares badly with how past leaders dealt with their policies going pear-shaped.  In 1997, many commentators compared the photogenic Blair with his smart wife and young children with Jack Kennedy entering the White House in 1961. But no-one can imagine Blair responding to the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs with President Kennedy’s frank admission, “Not only were our facts in error, but our policy was wrong because the premises on which it was built were wrong.” Over Iraq, Blair blames his subordinates for briefing him wrong: it wasn’t his job to get the facts right, merely to spout spurious justifications on the basis of “the intelligence crossing my desk.”

Like many neo-conservatives, Tony Blair like to posture as a Churchillian figure who would never had truck with appeasement. Could there be a sharper contrast than that between “Bombs Away Blair” and Neville Chamberlain? Chamberlain’s appeasement is universally condemned today as the folly it was, but, however flawed his foreign policy, unlike Blair Chamberlain prepared for the worst even while dealing with Hitler. His fiercest critic, Winston Churchill, noted that Chamberlain had drafted detailed plans to mobilise Britain’s economy for war, to prepare evacuation and rationing if – when - Hitler cheated him. Without Chamberlain, there would have been war anyway, but Britain  would have been even worse prepared for it than was the case. Blair sat on his sofa in 10 Downing St. preening himself as the new Churchill but failed to dictate a memo about what to do after his anticipated triumph brought British troops back to the Euphrates. (Of course, as briefers of Blair admitted, the Prime Minister clearly did not know that British troops had been in Iraq after the First World War until well into his war preparations, but then in 2001 he knew not that he was embarking on Britain’s Fourth Afghan War!)

Marching into Iraq in 2003, or parachuting into Helmand three years later, Blair operated on the principle that our forces would be welcomed. There would be no need to fire a shot. Muslim tribes would settle down to adopt a New Labour lifestyle overnight. 

Past prime ministers were voracious readers of history. Think of Churchill living a soldier’s life on the North-West Frontier and reading by candlelight as much as he could in that university of life. That kind of self-education taught past prime ministers how to avoid old mistakes – even if they couldn’t avoid new ones. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron give the strong impression that their lives were shaped by a Harry Potter version of Britain. Instead of being places of learning and inquiry, Oxford, like Eton and Fettes, was just a stepping stone on that effortless path to the top.  Reality, past or present, plays little part in their showman’s version of history. Both have claimed that in 1940 the USA was fighting on our side during the Battle of Britain! A Disney version of history clutters their minds with sound-bites of battles fought on the back-lot at Hollywood. People used to sneer at the Prince Regent’s account of  how he led cavalry charges at Waterloo, but Blairite virtual reality – with only the squaddies and towel-heads shedding actual blood – is loyally repeated by BBC and SKY News.   

Since their careers were facilitated with magical ease as they rose to the top, perhaps Blair and Cameron should be forgiven for assuming that their touch, like that of medieval monarchs, could heal the sick and transform every problem they handle. Their good intentions are so self-evident that any doubt is malign or mischievous. Words of warning are insults.

How could anyone have thought that the only alternative to the dictatorships of Saddam or Gaddafi would be democracy? Shouldn’t chaos have been on their radars?

Even if chaos had been avoided why should anyone have expected thanks from Iraqis or Afghans for our intervention. Stendhal, who was a soldier in France’s revolutionary armies, noted with a novelist’s eye how bitterly humiliating Italians found being liberated by foreigners.

Think of General de Gaulle’s taunting of the British and Americans after the war. He knew that France’s liberation in 1944 was due to the “Anglo-Saxons”, so he spent the next twenty-five years trying to expunge that shameful dependency by twisting our tails whenever he could just to prove France was truly independent – even of its liberators.

Many Iraqis or Libyans had to die so a Blair or a Cameron could pose briefly before a carefully selected adoring audience of locals singing exactly the same songs of praise with which they had adored yesterday’s fallen dictators. Little wonder that resentment boiled up among the rest of the population.

Should we be surprised that after Blair’s admission that he had helped spark the rise of the murderous IS cult tearing Iraq apart that so many Iraqis today are making eyes at Russia that did nothing to topple Saddam? After all, the Russians also didn’t create the security vacuum into which fanatics like IS stepped. With local rulers either blaming us for spawning IS or actually funding and arming the radical jihadis, the situation is running out of control for us in the West.

An apology from Tony Blair won’t unmake the mistakes since 2003. Worse still it may act as an alibi for carrying on with the same policies only without him at the helm of state. As the sinister hand of IS spreads into suburban Britain from the anarchy spawned by intervention in Iraq, parliament needs to think more about defending us at home rather than hoping that a re-play intervention abroad will produce a better result.

Maybe it no longer matters if Tony Blair is never going to learn from the terrible human costs of wars blithely entered into. But David Cameron has paid no political price for helping to plunge Libya into chaos. Luckily, so far no British dead there. But what about sending our Tornadoes tearing away into Syria? Has a House of Commons which forgets that it voted to invade Iraq in 2003 and which  had no problems imploding Libya, really escaped from the shadow of Tony Blair? It is not only the PM of the day who should examine his conscience and try to learn lessons. A lot of MPs need to think before they vote to bomb. Even a good cause needs more than a knee-jerk reaction. From Afghanistan in 2001 via Iraq and Libya, our rulers have failed to ask what comes next – and then feign innocent surprise when it’s chaos. 

One truth Tony Blair likes  to repeat is how interconnected the world had become and he insists there is  no escape from globalism. But by creating conditions for the log-rolling growth of global jihadi terrorism, his legacy has left us at home and the world at large in a daily more dangerous place.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Royal Video from 1933 Shows How Lucky Britain Was to Lose Edward VIII

Opening Royal Archives from 1930s and 1940s Won't Damage the Queen's Reputation.

By Mark Almond

“Long to reign over us” sings the national anthem. And its prayers have been answered. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned successfully over this country since 1952 with every indication of many more years to come.

But longevity has its price.

Skeletons can fall out of long-forgotten family cupboards. Yet the irony of the current fuss about the 1933 holiday video showing the royals larking around doing fascist salutes seems to me that its 20 seconds encapsulate how lucky we are to have our current royal family.

What makes the video controversial is the behaviour of the future Edward VIII not his niece. Our Queen and her parents had no truck with the Nazis but her uncle did.

The man who became merely Duke of Windsor in December, 1936, after a brief reign was the black sheep of the royal family. It was his paying court to Hitler in 1937 and keeping in contact with pro-Nazi German royals even after the outbreak of war which casts a shadow over his reputation.

Let’s be fair to Edward VIII. The mass murder of the Holocaust was in the future then. The mass killing on people’s minds was the blood-drenched trenches of World War One. The future Edward VIII was painfully aware of the human cost of that war.

Responding to the plight of unemployed ex-servicemen during the Great Depression, the then Prince of Wales shocked British  politicians by declaring, “Something must be done.” He wanted to rescue the ragged veterans from the dole queue. The problem was that the most seductive answer to mass unemployment was offered by Adolf Hitler.

The Nazi leader knew how to play up to foreign leaders who had seen the horror of war, 1914-18. Wasn’t he a frontline veteran, too? Hitler’s success in conquering mass unemployment owed a lot to his massive rearmament. Naïve souls like the ex-Edward VIII were gulled into thinking he wanted peace and prosperity not war and plunder.

The ex-King had several close German relatives who had been toppled from their thrones in 1918 when Germany became a republic. They shared is resentment against democratic politicians and hoped Hitler would reinstate them. But Hitler used ex-royals like Philip of Hesse and the Duke of Coburg to butter up their English cousin. 

In 1937, now an ex-king himself, Edward visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden. He had been taken on a tour of the new Germany’s developments. He saw and travelled on the autobahn
network and apparently even met some of the forced labour being reformed in concentration camps. The Duke of Windsor wasn’t alone in taking the political equivalent of a guided tour. Another ex-insider now in the political wilderness, Lloyd George, had a similar experience and uttered the same sort of compliments on the Nazis’ ability  to put people back to work. But most of all, men like the Duke of Windsor and Lloyd George came away convinced that the Hitler, who knew trench warfare first hand, was as anxious to avoid a re-run of the horrors of war as they were. Probably each hoped that Britain would recognise that they still had great services to offer, particularly when compared with the pedestrian establishment in power in London by then.

Effectively exiled from Britain, the Duke of Windsor was prey to the world of snobs and spivs hoping to cash in on his celebrity and loneliness, but he was also the target of German agents of influence like Hesse anxious to use him as a potential ally inside Britain as appeasement gave way to a resolve to defy Hitler by early 1939. Even after the war broke out, Edward met Hesse in Lisbon in 1940. He was there to sound out the ex-King on what would happen if Britain surrendered. 
This was foolish behaviour even if Hesse was a close relative. Even though there is no evidence Edward committed treason, doubts about what he might have let slip to his German cousins lingered as the Allies brought the war to a victorious close. He was known to have expressed strongly anti-Communist views, let slip a few anti-Jewish slurs and so on after his abdication. In 1945 the royal family sent a trusted courtier to Germany to retrieve correspondence from the Hesse family archive. Ironically, it was the Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt, who was a wartime MI5 officer, who was sent on this delicate mission.

The royal household wanted to protect the secrets of the ex-King as fiercely as the Crown Jewels. But whatever Blunt found was no secret from the Kremlin during the Cold War. If there was dynamite in the Hesse papers, surely Blunt’s Soviet masters would have ignited it in an anti-Western propaganda campaign at the height of the Cold War.

In any case, the ex-king’s naïve and irresponsible behaviour was in stark contrast with his brother’s. Whatever the self-centred faults of the Duke of Windsor, George VI and the Queen Mother rose to the challenge of the Blitz magnificently. By rallying the nation they completed the process of creating a genuinely British royal family. The German dynasty which inherited Britain in 1714 finally became thoroughly British. Unlike previous queens, the wife of the future George VI, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, wasn’t a foreign princess. The future Queen Mother was apparently more closely related to Macbeth than any German princeling! Marrying subjects for the royal family is now so normal that it would be a surprise if a future King or Queen married “out”.  

It was Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha which had given the royal family an awkward long-winded German surname. In fact,  Albert himself was a model liberal reformer who used his influence behind the scenes, for instance, to oppose any blimpish support by Whitehall for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. But with the outbreak of war against cousin Kaiser’s Germany in 1914 put George V on the spot. The adoption of Windsor as the official name of the dynasty in 1917 was part of distancing itself from the legacy of Queen Victoria’s litter of foreign reigning and now deposed grandchildren – and certainly from the ill-omened and executed cousin Nicky of Russia, murdered along with his wife Alexandra of Hesse and their children by Lenin’s Communists.

It was George V’s very wooden public persona which made him such a suitable figurehead for a modern democracy with the Labour Party increasingly challenging for power. He pioneered  many of the public relations activities which royals still engage in. Their frequent lack of natural vim when meeting the public ironically fits their role very well: they are royal celebrities but by birth rather than as natural entertainers or skilled sportsmen. Fitting in to their role rather than dominating it requires a dedicated ordinariness in modern democracy. Edward VIII was not willing to subject himself to the demands of the new royal role.

It was one of Winston Churchill’s glaring inconsistencies in the 1930s that he chose to champion keeping Edward VIII on the throne in December, 1936, even though the King was a potential political liability in the looming atmosphere of political crisis abroad. Churchill’s decried political appeasers of Hitler but romanticised the royal one. Churchill’s anachronistic view that hereditary right trumped other considerations when it came to who was Britain’s head of state ignored the role of his great ancestor, the founder of the Churchill dynasty, in pushing James II out because he was politically and religiously unacceptable in 1688 and helping the Hanoverians in in 1714 because the Stuarts with a better claim to the throne by birth couldn’t satisfy the political elite here that they would stick to the newly-entrenched system of Parliamentary government.

Nothing of those sort of machinations is likely to be revealed by any papers or videos from the 1930s. Opening the archives hardly seems likely to damage their standing with the public. Elizabeth II’s long life is a living thread uniting the nation’s history and it has been lived in the limelight. Remember even before her uncle abdicated as King Edward VIII in 1936, she was his heir because the future Duke of Windsor had no children – and never did.

In many ways it was the disappearance of Edward VIII into a sad twilight which paved the way for making the monarchy a truly British institution. From wartime in the 1940s through the end of empire and the birth of the welfare state, the royal family’s standing has prospered despite their courtiers’ obsession with keeping the people at arms’ length.

In recent years even tragedy in the royal family has been treated with more openness. Buckingham Palace learned from the death of Princess Diana and quickly reached out to the British people. The marriage of William and Katherine and the births of their children have strengthened its popularity. Traditionalists cluck about taking the brand down-market, but so far it has worked and dampened the fears for the monarchy’s future which were so evident in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

Unlike fly-by-night presidents, the Queen’s long life means that she straddles history and the present. The archives of her personal story are inextricably bound up with national history. Maybe there are fears of the monarch getting drawn into party politics. The recent fuss about Prince Charles’s letters to ministers over issues of his particular concern to him which was brought into the public domain by the Freedom of Information Act requiring their publication even though they were written to the last Labour government. Such recent interventions were inherently controversial and, in my view salutary, because the monarch should be cautious about treading into divisive areas where inherently significant groups of British people will disagree.

But opening up aspects of the Queen’s early years is not going to damage public respect for the monarchy now. It is admittedly awkward to mix the personal and the public, but a hereditary royal family embodies that uncomfortable chemistry. In the end the public role of the monarch takes priority as the Queen herself has suggested by making clear that her coronation oath was a lifelong commitment.
The grainy cine film from summer, 1933, comes from very early in that long life of service. It was a time of looming crisis which could have shattered British society and toppled more than the monarchy. Far from discrediting our Queen, the video from 1933 should reminds us of how many challenges this country has overcome over the last eight decades under the Windsors.

Having performed  her role as a constitutional monarch impeccably for longer than most can remember, opening the archives can only reinforce the Queen’s standing. What the horse-play in summer 1933 reveals is how lucky Britain was in those years of crisis that Elizabeth II’s parents, and not her uncle, were in Buckingham Palace during the Blitz. 

This is an edited version of an article by CRIOx Director, Mark Almond, from The Sun on Sunday (19th July, 2015).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Greece, the Frontline of Putin's New Cold War

Oxford, 21st June, 2015

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Mail on Sunday)

With all eyes on Athens watching to see if Greece’s left-wing government blinks tomorrow in its stand-off with the EU over its debt mountain, let’s not lose sight of the bigger political picture.

 Greece’s cash crisis is a moment of opportunity for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. As Athens’ EU partners weary of subsidising Greece, energy-rich Russia is eyeing the Balkans as a  strategic route to weakening the links between Europe and Russia. Putin is offering the region the carrot of a lucrative gas pipeline and other incentives to draw countries like Greece and Turkey away from the West.

Manoeuvring for position for any “Grexit” from the Euro is part Russia’s deepening rift with the West over everything from Ukraine to the Middle East. Greece has become one of  the exposed nerves in the New Cold War between Washington and Moscow. Remember Greece’s civil war in 1947 sparked the old Cold War as President Truman took one side and Stalin  the other. Today, Greece is at the heart of renewed East-West rivalry as well as the Eurocrisis.

On Friday,the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, dropped a meeting with the EU’s current President, Poland’s Donald Tusk,  to travel to Russia’s old imperial capital,  St. Petersburg, to meet President Putin instead.

There, in a highly symbolic tribute, Tsipras laid a wreath at the statue of Kapodistrias, the ethnic Greek who acted as Imperial Russia’s foreign minister and did much of the diplomatic spadework which would eventually bring about a pan-European intervention on the side of the Greeks during their war for independence after 1821. Another ethnic Greek, Ypsilantis, an officer in the Imperial Russian army actually ignited Greece’s War for Independence in 1821. He was the forerunner of today’s Russian “volunteers” in the Donbas. Tsipras was paying homage to the idea that Russia not the West has been Greece’s true patron. Putin himself emphasised Russia’s deep ties of culture and religion with neighbours like Ukraine and Balkan countries like Greece.

Of course, Britain has been at odds with Russian imperial ambitions in the region before.The Crimean War was fought to stop them. In 1878, jingoism got its first outing when  London’s music halls echoed to the sentiment “We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do”  before listing what the Russians wouldn’t be allowed to grab in the Balkans. But the current standoff between Moscow-backed rebels in the south-east of Ukraine and the US-supported government in Kiev is why relations between East and West are so tense now.

Ukraine seems to be a reversion to the kind of Cold War proxy conflict between the Kremlin and the West which was normal in the decades before 1989. Then each superpower engaged in a hardly covert struggle for influence backing their local allies from Africa via Vietnam to Afghanistan, and trying to undermine the other side’s allies.

But let’s not be seduced too easily by old Cold War stereotypes. Of course, Vladimir Putin’s much publicised early career in the KGB has been to give him a sinister glamour, at home as well as abroad, but he long abandoned any commitment to Communism.

The old Cold War was a clear rivalry between Communism and Capitalism. Capitalism won hands down – not least in Russia itself. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin  and his close circle of ex-KGB ministers, advisers and cronies have abandoned any allegiance to Marxist ideas. Their Russia is not a socialist state any more. If anything post-Communist Russia has had a more cut-throat capitalist economy than anything seen in the West since well before the First World War.

Putin is often misquoted - or at least incompletely quoted – as promoting nostalgia for the USSR and a desire to restore it when he said that Russian who did not regret the break up of the state and society into which they had been born lacked a heart, but he added – something usually overlooked - that anyone who wanted to recreate the Soviet
Union lacked a brain. His preferred historical models are to be found among people and  policies before the Bolshevik Revolution.

It is to pre-1914 Imperial Russia and its culture and traditions that Putin most often looks for symbols to bolster his politics today. So he has declared the last tsar's reforming prime minister, Stolypin, his political hero, not Stalin. Of course, he  savoured the anniversary of the Red Army’s victory over Hitler in 1945, still the biggest badge of pride for Russians from their tarnished Communist past, but he by the Soviet Communists. Strikingly, even his defence minister, a Russian Buddhist by has committed himself to the country’s Orthodox Christian heritage so despised origin, nonetheless made the sign of the cross in the Orthodox way on the spot where the renegade seminarian, Stalin, had celebrated Hitler's defeat. 

Imperial Russia’s Nicholas I prefigured Putin’s hostility to “People Power” revolutions, seeing the upheavals of his day – Poland in 1831 or Central Europe in 1848 – as the result of liberal machinations promoted from Paris and London as Putin sees Washington's hand behind the crisis in Ukraine.  Nicholas I made an exception in his support for Orthodox Christians in Greece rebelling against the Muslim Sultan.

For many Greeks and Russians being an Orthodox Christian is essential to their national identity. Putin’s emphasis on traditional values puts him at odds with the West, where  tolerance and individual rights are now sacrosanct. Putin’s government has put a lot of  effort into rallying cultural conservatives in the West to Russia’s side as the bastion of family values. Cynical propaganda it may be but it is very different Soviet Communism’s anti-Christian diatribes.

Putin emphasises Russia’s the thousand-year old ties with the Greek Orthodox  Church which brought Christianity first to Ukraine then Russia itself. In 1947, Greek Christians were anti-Communist and so anti-Moscow. Not any more.

As in the early nineteenth century, Graeco-Russian solidarity is based on religion which was very different from British sympathy for the Greeks then which was a liberal cause.

Britain’s most famous contribution to Greek independence was Lord Byron’s quixotic  sacrifice of his own life fighting to revive the glories of  ancient pagan Athens. Byron was no friend of Christianity, Orthodox or Anglican. Imperial Russia backed the Orthodox Christians who actually lived in modern Greece. Today Putin plays up his role as a born-again Orthodox Christian to Greeks, though let’s remember George Bush liked that in him too. (Another Western born-again Christian, Tony Blair made the pilgrimage to Putin in St. Petersburg on the same day as Tsipras but whether as acolyte or to spy out any weaknesses in the Russian government for his rival patrons in Kiev has yet to be revealed.)

But Putin backs up appeals to cultural solidarity with incentives in hard cash.

If Putin  dreams of a revived Orthodox Christian alliance reaching deep into Europe’s backyard in the Balkans, this is because he calculates that Greece is where Moscow could split the EU and NATO.

Russia’s vast energy resources are the tool to prize apart NATO states from America. Already, Russia has signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline to Turkey. On Friday, Tsipras added Greece’s signature to the project. Both Turkey and Greece are attracted by a gas pipeline supplying them with energy at a favourable price and giving them a share in the profits of transporting it further West, ultimately to energy-hungry Italy, the big prize at the heart of the West from Russia's point of view. No-one needs reminding that Greece could do with a few billion euros in transit fees, whether there is a Grexit or not.

Tsipras may calculate that he can use the Russian bogey to frighten Brussels into  continuing the bail-out, but if the Germans refuse to pay up, Russia can at least tide Athens over for a while it sorts out an orderly  return to the drachma.

Putin has not, however, got limitless resources to play with. Oil and gas prices are well below where the Kremlin needs them to have the tens of billions to throw around which would really buy friends and influence throughout the Balkans if the West plays tough.  
Brussels and Washington see the Russian-sponsored pipeline as a Trojan Horse. They have  already twisted Bulgaria’s arm not to participate in Putin’s project. Orthodox Bulgaria had had the reputation as the most pro-Russian country  in the region so its backing away from Putin’s embrace shows the limits of cultural traditions in the Balkans. In neighbouring Macedonia, street protests against the government where only quietened when the prime minister said his country would not join Russia's pipeline project without the consent of Brussels

But Greece has had a long history since 1945 as the most truculent member of both NATO and then the EU, so it could prove a tough nut for Western pressure to crack. Greece's obstinate refusal to acknowledge "Macedonia" as its neighbour's name and therefore the  country's candidacy to either the EU or NATO is just one symptom of Athens' ability to block its allies when it chooses to.

Today’s Russia does not have the resources of the West but nor is it the basket-case  which the Soviet Union had become by the 1980s. Putin is playing on the economic realities which make the New Cold War so different from the past. During the Cold War  alliance with Washington was the high road to prosperity for Western Europe. After 1948, America’s Marshall Plan helped lift post-war Europe out of misery. Communism’s inability to match the West’s economic boom from the 1950s sealed its unpopularity in Eastern  Europe and Soviet Russia itself. 

But today the White House is asking its European allies to make economic sacrifices to counter the Kremlin.  

For four decades, Western Europe had a free-ride on Washington’s coat-tails. Now  sanctions on Russia hit European businesses hard. Particularly in rural Greece and the ex-Communist states of the new EU members, losing agricultural sales to Russia has bee a  body-blow. But big German and Italian manufacturers have taken heavy hits too.

Putin plays up the argument that President Obama is setting the anti-Russian sanctions policy but the price is paid by austerity-hit Europeans. Gnawing away at European support for sanctions on Russia over Ukraine are the losses of valuable exports to their vast eastern neighbour. Greece is least able to afford such losses.

Putin is able to sit out the sanctions because ordinary Russians blame the West rather than him for growing hardship. That is a very different state of affairs than the cynical attitude towards the Kremlin in the last years of Communism.  He hopes to chip away at EU solidarity. Let’s face it, there are a lot of divisions inside the EU and not just over Russia. Newly-elected governments here in Britain and in Denmark want to cut back the rights of migrant workers flooding west from Poland and the Baltic States which see themselves as the frontline of the New Cold War.  In Warsaw, plans in London to change migrants’ rights to benefits are seen as a stab in the back of NATO’s eastern allies.

Greeks demand solidarity from NATO allies in cash. As that dries up, Greece could be the first domino to fall. Turkey could follow as its own political and economic crisis is pushing President Erdogan eastwards.

Nothing in history is every exactly a repetition of past patterns. The New Cold War has different dynamics from the one before 1989, but, by jingo, it seems that traditional British fears of Imperial Russia’s dream of dominating the region could have life in them yet.

Mark Almond is Director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford (CRIOx). 


Monday, 16 February 2015

UK supplies Saxon APCs to Ukraine which promptly sells them

There are times when even Jonathan Swift's sense of satire would be silenced by reality. After a lot of huffing and puffing by the "Arms for Ukraine Now!" neo-cons like General Sir Richard "Helmand" Dannatt over the weekend ridiculing Britain for only supplying Saxon Armoured Vehicles, a Kiev-based company is already offering them for sale! For the specifications: But remember it is a cash-only transaction (NO Western Union or ProCredit drafts) on the normal terms offered by Kameron, Klegg & Krony (Kyiv) Ltd.

Saxon AT105 4x4 тактическая полицейская машина

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Saxon AT105 4x4 тактическая полицейская машина

Saxon AT105 4x4 предназначен для проделывания проходов в заграждениях, подъема и перемещения грузов, растаскивания завалов и других операций, необходимых для обеспечения действий Внутренних войск в городских условиях при проведении специальных операций по пресечению массовых беспорядков

Кроме того, Saxon AT 105 оборудован приспособлением для отстрела гранат со спецсредствами, системой жизнеобеспечения экипажа, пожарно-техническим оборудованием, раздвижной лестницей, дополнительным электрооборудованием и электрооборудованием специальных систем (системы внешнего освещения, громкоговорящей установки, радиосвязи и видеонаблюдения) Возможна установка отвала для разрушения брикад.
Выдвижные бронированные с бойницами панели для спецназа. Водяная пушка повышенного давления.

Saxon AT 105 создан на базе известного БТР ΜAMBA сочетает лучшие качества легковых автомобилей и бронетранспортеров. В наследство от армейского прошлого ему достался сварной бронированный кузов несущего типа с V – образным профилем днища для минной стойкости. 

В активе Saxon AT105:

-сварной бронированный кузов с круговой защитой класса B7, том числе и стекол 
-V образный профиль днища для защиты от противопехотных и противотанковых мин
-мощный дизельный 8,2 литровый мотор мощностью 205 л.с. 
-автоматическая коробка передач
-внедорожное шасси 4х4 с блокировками дифференциалов 
-удобный и вместительный салон на 10 человек или 2 тонны груза
-боковые ящики ЗИП создают дополнительную защиту
-все оборудование находиться внутри защищенного отделения
-башенка кругового обзора с возможностью эвакуации 

Силовая конструкция машины несущего типа сварена из листов бронированной стали с рациональными углами наклона для улучшения баллистической защиты. Броневая сталь гетерогенного типа с поверхностной цементацией и вязким основанием. Saxon AT105 4x4 Инкассатор оснащен боковой дверью и задними 2-х створчатыми дверями. 
Развитое V-образное днище с дополнительной защитой успешно противостоит минам и фугасам. Машина оснащена 6 смотровыми приборами из многослойного поликарбоната с уровнем защиты В7. Колеса пулестойкие. Бензобак протектированый взрывозащитный, пулестойкий. Полная защита от любого ручного-автоматического оружия при выстрелах в упор с малого расстояния.

Двигатель с трансмиссией компактны и находиться внутри отделения и соответственно защищены по полному классу. Радиаторы системы охлаждения защищены лабиринтной броней. 
Система полного привода 4х4 с пониженным рядом в раздаточной коробке передач и блокировками межколесных и межосевых дифференциалов. 

В комплектацию входят Saxon AT105:
-покраска в цвет и логотипы заказчика
-приточная вентиляция фильтрующего типа
-автономный отопитель двигателя и салона
-переговорное устройство салон-улица
-крепление оружия 
-система пожаротушения 

Дополнительное оборудование Saxon AT105:
-Водяная пушка повышенного давления
-система кругового видео обзора с выводом информации на ЖК
-оборудование для ночной езды
-система постановки дымовой завесы
-вентиляция изолированного типа
-обшивка кевларом салона
-дополнительна светотехника
-передний отвал или заградительная решенка повышенной жесткости
-планировку салона по индивидуальному заказу

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Oxford Honours Blair with his own College

Passers-by along Woodstock Road on Saturday, 14th February, 2015, were delighted to see that Oxford University's long love affair with Tony Blair had been consummated on St. Valentine's Day by the re-naming of St. Antony's College in his honour.

Ever since Tony Blair dazzled the assembled scholars with his Romanes Lecture in March, 1999, with  his stimulating and complex argument, "Education, education, education - That's what I'm about" which echoed around Wren's Sheldonian like no ideas before, despite being otherwise preoccupied preparing to bomb Yugoslavia on the basis of "the best intelligence available at the time", Britain's most entrepreneurial prime minister since Walpole has seemed the kind of intellectual colossus to give Oxford the reputation for Shock & Awe that the University's provincial past left it sadly lacking.

But it has taken sixteen long years for slow-witted dons to immortalise their greatest graduate in stone - or to be precise composite, concrete and steel.

Originally founded by an arms dealer, Antonin Besse, who had a strong claim to have facilitated more deaths in the Middle East than any other College benefactor before Tony Blair, ex-St. Antony's makes the natural scholarly forum for Blair studies. The soon-to-be completed Blair Building designed by the exciting and innovative Baath-Likud Partnership will combine elements of the architecture close to the patron's heart. Above ground, a striking glass exterior epitomising Blair's commitment to open government will provide a dramatic sound-proofed covering  for the padded and double-locked underground Enhanced Tutorial Room in which elite students will be able to learn some of Tony Blair's innovations in intelligence gathering and peace-making.

Visitors are welcome to come and see the newest Oxford College as soon as possible before Tony Blair's popularity requires the installation of reinforced concrete bollards, steel security fences, and non-transparent smoked bullet-proof screens around the site.

CCTV and drone surveillance are for your own security and the tranquillity of the scholars working in the bunkers beneath St. Tony's College.  Photography not allowed - except by College security (provided by Mukhabarat & Mossad plc as quid pro bono service).

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Turks won’t do the West’s dirty work & Beware our allies in MidEast as much as IS enemy

From The Daily Telegraph (9th October, 2014)

Turkish military intervention against Isil in northern Syria looks like a neat solution to the West’s dilemma in dealing with the threat from jihadi terrorists. In London, Washington and European capitals we want to destroy Isil – but without getting our feet dirty. Boots on the ground are taboo for President Barack Obama and David Cameron, so all eyes are turning to our old ally in Ankara to solve the problem. As a neighbour to both Iraq and Syria, our leaders ask themselves, hasn’t Turkey got a direct national interest in stability across its borders?
What’s more, with Nato’s second largest army, Turkey could easily strike a deadly blow against Isil in what is no-go terrain for her Western partners. But for days the serried ranks of Turkish tanks have been marshalled a few hundred yards from the bitter fighting in the Syrian border town of Kobani, like Stalin’s Red Army outside Warsaw in 1944. Despite repeated pleas for action from John Kerry, Ankara’s troops remain spectators to the crisis.
Kobani is a Kurdish town. That’s the nub of the matter. Kurds, both in Turkey and across Europe, have been demanding action: the Dutch Parliament has been besieged by Kurdish-led protests (which were promptly followed by the Dutch Air Force joining Nato attacks on Isil in Iraq); meanwhile, as many as 14 Kurds have been killed in confrontations with the Turkish police. But still Ankara watches and waits.
The reasons are clear. For Turkey’s Nato allies, Isil is the problem and arming the Kurds part of the solution. For Turkey, however, Kurdish ambitions for a state are a mortal threat. Nor do Sunni adversaries of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria want to see a Kurdish state carved out of their country. And the reality is that, although a long-term Nato ally, Turkey has been diverging in key respects from its Western allies since 2002.

For 12 years, Turkey has been ruled by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has its roots in an Islamic reaction to the tide of secularism that swept the country after Ataturk abolished the Ottoman caliphate 90 years ago. Ironically, since being elected president in August, AKP leader Recep Tayip Erdogan has achieved a political dominance unparalleled since Ataturk’s death in 1938. But Erdogan is the antithesis of modern Turkey’s father-figure.
Ataturk wanted to distance the new Turkey from the Ottoman Empire’s involvement with Arabs and Muslims. Europe is the future, forget the past was his motto. Yet neo-Ottomanism is the grand name of Erdogan’s foreign policy today. Although AKP leaders have publicly remained loyal to Turkey’s application to join the EU, the lure of religious solidarity with Sunni Arab movements from Hamas in Gaza to the Muslim Brothers of both Egypt and Syria has had a stronger emotional pull.
Since 2011, when the civil war began in Syria, Erdogan has called for the fall of Assad, an Alawite ally of Shia Muslims, and backed Sunnis in Syria who are no friends of the local Kurds. For those Kurds, the Turkish president’s demand that they subordinate themselves to his Sunni allies in Syria if they want the Turkish Army to advance south has been an unacceptable ultimatum. They are well aware that Sunni fundamentalist violence against Kurds in Syria predates 2011. Isil’s actions today have simply exaggerated it.
All of which is further complicated by the fact that the sectarian splits brutally on display in Syria and Iraq, are festering below the surface in Turkey, too. Roughly a quarter of Turks are Alevi Muslims, with the majority Sunnis. Although scholars remind us that Turkey’s Alevis should not be confused with Syria’s ruling Alawites, the AKP has routinely dismissed Erdogan’s critics as sectarian Assad-lovers, so that poisonous confusion does exist. Turks of Alevi background, including in the army, find intervention in Syria against Isil fundamentalists one thing; but pushing on to Damascus against Assad’s Alawite regime quite another.
That might be one reason that Erdogan has been slow to act in Syria. But given his almost messianic sense of mission, which has overcome every obstacle on his way to the pinnacle of power, it is more likely that he’s pursuing another strategy – bargaining with the West.
What will he be demanding in return for a decisive Turkish strike at Isil? He is sure to insist that Kurds remain not only stateless but also defenceless. Meanwhile, will European members of Nato swallow their opposition to Turkish entry into the EU? Even so, without being allowed to replace Assad with a Sunni regime not in the least friendly to Kurds, Erdogan still may not act.
His is a tempting offer, though. Turkish military intervention would solve the West’s immediate problem while avoiding discontent over casualties in Britain and the US. But any Turkish action would, in effect, be unilateral. Ankara – not Washington or London – will dictate the outcome of this diplomatic dance. For though the Isil problem might well disappear under the weight of Turkish firepower, the Middle East’s snake-pit of conflicting rivalries will remain. Will Israel, for instance, be happy to see allies of Hamas brought to power in Damascus by Turkish troops?
We must be clear about this deal. Leaping at the possibility of crushing Isil, and quickly, via Ankara, will seem cause for celebration today. After the party is over, however, we will wake up with a new Middle Eastern headache.
On 27th September, 2014, The Mail on Sunday  published:
How can we win this war when our allies despise everything we stand for?: recent experience of building democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is not encouraging."

No government could refuse the challenge after the bloody provocations of Islamic State. But having decided by a huge majority to embark  on what David Cameron warned would be a long campaign, the House of Commons vote on Friday did not make clear what the endgame would be.

Without knowing what victory will look like, have we embarked on a war we cannot win?

Our model of victory is what happened at the end of the Second World War when the West successfully established democracy in defeated Germany and Japan.

But recent experience building new democracies from faction-ridden Afghanistan to disintegrating Iraq is not encouraging.The US Army thought it had kept George W. Bush’s promise to bring democracy to Iraq. But ‘winner takes all’ at the polls in countries riven by bitter religious rivalries means democracy has a sour taste for losers.

Things went wrong in Iraq despite the presence of so many US and British troops and billions of dollars in aid, training and equipment.

Now David Cameron tells us to ‘forget’ the last Iraq war. This time things will be different. No ground forces. Just air power to back up local and regional allies who share our hostility to IS.

That all seems straightforward enough. The enemy is obvious, almost a caricature of evil. But though knowing your enemy is vital in war, knowing what your allies’ real aims are is equally important. 

It is our allies who frighten me almost as much as IS.

On the ground, the West has friends who have daggers drawn with each other. And they have contempt for our values.
Even leaving aside the oil-rich Arab despots who have signed  up for the anti-IS campaign for their own reasons, inside Nato, its key regional member, Turkey, is not fully on board.
Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria and has Nato’s  second-largest armed forces after America.

But precisely because Turkey is right in the thick of the Middle East, its government has a very different take on the crisis.
In London and Washington, the Kurds of the region seem natural allies against the common IS enemy. Arming the Kurds to fight the jihadis seems a neat way to get local boots to do the fighting on the ground in Northern Iraq and Syria.

But to Turkey, Kurds are not natural allies.

With so many Kurdish people living in Turkey itself, Ankara fears arming Kurds to fight IS today will provide them  with the weapons to fight for independence from Turkey tomorrow.
Given how much expensive American weaponry fell into IS hands earlier this year as the Iraqi Army disintegrated, is Turkey unreasonable to harbour suspicions that defeat of IS by the Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas could be the signal  for a well-armed war for independence by its Kurds?

But the Islamic-led Turkish government has been drifting away from the West in any case. President Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal critic of Israel and his open border policy to Syria has let foreign fighters, including hundreds from Britain, flow into the ranks of the jihadi forces fighting the Assad regime, but also taking Western aid workers hostages.

Syria’s civil war is key to the crisis. But there, too, Western values and the West’s allies are  in conflict.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours say they support the American-led alliance but they don’t want the victory of Western democracy in the Middle East. What we see as the best way to guarantee a future for peace and freedom, our Arab allies see as a mortal threat.

The Sunni fundamentalist monarchs tolerated their rich subjects funding IS-style  jihadis to fight Assad and other allies of Shia Iran, which they hate and fear.

But when upstart jihadis like the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began to get too big for their boots, the ruling sheikhs were happy to join in cutting him down to size.

But promoting democracy, human rights, respect for women and religious minorities are not their war aims.

Chaos breeds enemies like IS. It is not the solution.

If anarchy is the problem, and democracy doesn’t take root easily, is dictatorship the answer?
Given how unsavoury and unreliable some of our allies in the Middle East are, it is remarkable how reluctant Western leaders have been to  join up with the regimes of Syria or Iran, who have very good reasons of their own for hating and fearing IS.
David Cameron, like Barack Obama, has pronounced Assad beyond the pale. So it looks like the West is undertaking a three-sided war in the Middle East, fighting Assad and his allies as well as his enemies.

This may be consistent, but is it wise?

If the West isn’t prepared to cooperate with the forces fighting IS in its main strongholds in Syria, then mission creep by our troops seems inevitable.
A case exists for special forces operations against specific targets, like ‘high value’ IS targets or safe houses where hostages are held.

But large-scale deployment of Western soldiers on the ground would be an admission of failure.

This is a war which we cannot win for the locals. Maybe they can’t win it for themselves. Barring a lucky strike which knocks out the IS leadership and demoralises their supporters, air power is not going to produce rapid results.

Nobody should anticipate a Victory in the Middle East Day 1945-style.

The crimes of IS give us the right to fight it, but the war cannot be won by the West without local support.

Tragically for us, the enemy and our dubious allies will decide the terms of victory or defeat.