Moronic speech of the day

Amidst hyperbolic, and it has to be said unsubstantiated, claims that the Syrian army is massacring civilians in Aleppo, the British House of Commons held a debate today to discuss taking action to protect the city’s inhabitants. MPs discussed ideas such as creating a ‘humanitarian corridor’ into rebel held areas, ignoring the rather obvious fact that these areas hardly exist anymore. The debate had a distinct air of unreality about it.

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t seem to feature much in Britons’ understanding of international affairs and their country’s role in them. After 20 years of failed military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, almost nobody in the upper echelons of British society seems to be willing to question the fundamental principles of the UK’s foreign policy. Perhaps the only prominent figure who does so is the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, and the general consensus is that this eminent good sense marks him out as an extremist lunatic. The problem, you see, is not that Britain’s military interventions have been wrong per se, but rather that they haven’t been pursued aggressively enough. The world doesn’t need less Anglo-American aggression; it needs more!

At least that’s what former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in today’s debate.  According to Osborne, the destruction/liberation (depending on your point of view) of Aleppo was a direct result of the British parliament’s prior refusal to bomb Syria. Osborne said:

We lack the political will as a West to intervene. … I have some hope out of this terrible tragedy in Syria, which is we are beginning to learn the price of not intervening.

We did not intervene in Syria: tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result, millions of refugees have been sent from their homes across the world; we have allowed a terrorist state to emerge in the form of Isis, which we are now trying to defeat; key allies like Lebanon and Jordan are destabilised; the refugee crisis has transformed the politics of Europe, allowed fascism to rise in eastern Europe, created extremist parties in western Europe; and Russia, for the first time since Henry Kissinger kicked them out of the Middle East in the 1970s, is back as the decisive player in that region.

That is the price of not intervening. … let’s be clear now that if you don’t shape the world, you will be shaped by it.

If by ‘we’, Osborne means only the United Kingdom, he is thoroughly deluded about the UK’s capacity to control international events. If by ‘we’, he means ‘the West’, then he’s just talking out of his hat. The ‘West’, in the form of the United States, has intervened in Syria from the start of the civil war there, providing arms, money, and training to rebel forces. In any event, Britain has not stayed out of the war, as reports suggest that British special forces have been operating in Syria. Britain’s Foreign Office has also been helping the Syrian rebels in their propaganda efforts.

Osborne’s claim that ISIS was a product of Western failure to intervene in Syria is also bizarre. ISIS is a product in large part of the chaos created in Iraq by the Anglo-American invasion of 2003 and of the subsequent failed counterinsurgency campaign. The British Army spent several years fighting to gain control of Basra province. Its efforts achieved absolutely nothing. Similarly, the British Army’s campaign in Helmand province in Afghanistan was a dismal failure, and several former British officers (most notably Frank Ledwidge) have credibly demonstrated that the British Army actually helped to destabilize Helmand rather than the opposite.

What good precisely did British intervention do in these cases? How did it help bring law, order, and good government to Iraq and Afghanistan? And how did it help bring any of those benefits in other cases such as Libya?

The recent dismal record of the British military is not an aberration. In fact, the overall historical record of British military involvement in other countries’ affairs is decidedly poor. In a study published in International Studies Quarterly, Jeffrey Pickering  and Mark Peceny concluded that of the all the cases studied,

Not a single target of hostile British military intervention liberalized or became a democracy. Hostile British intervention consequently drops out of [our model] because it predicts failure perfectly. Furthermore, hostile British intervention has a negative and significant impact on political liberalization.

Other states have been a bit more successful, but not a lot. As Stephen Walt points out:

Similarly, George Downs, and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University found that U.S. interventions since World War II led to stable democracies within ten years less than 3 percent of the time, and a separate study by their NYU colleague William Easterly and several associates found that both U.S and Soviet interventions during the Cold War generally led to “significant declines in democracy.” Finally, a 2010 article by Goran Piec and Daniel Reiter examines forty-two “foreign imposed regime changes” since 1920 and finds that when interventions “damage state infrastructural power” they also increase the risk of subsequent civil war. 

What then explains the continuing belief in the value of bombing, invading, and occupying foreign countries? I find I cannot easily explain it, except perhaps in terms of post-imperial delusions of grandeur combined with an arrogance brought about by the West’s victory in the Cold War and by the West’s belief in the universal supremacy of its own supposed value system. The combination of untrammelled military supremacy and a total belief in their own moral superiority has created an incentive to act which some find too tempting to resist, despite the fact that acting has been shown to fail again and again.

I registered as a British overseas voter in order to vote in the Brexit referendum. That means I will get a vote in the next general election (in East Hull). For the first time in my life, I will vote Labour – not because of the mass of Labour MPs, most of whom remain committed interventionists, but because in Corbyn they have a leader who actually realizes how counterproductive British policy has been. I disagree with just about everything else Corbyn stands for, but at least he’s right on this. It makes me understand why Americans voted Trump.

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19 thoughts on “Moronic speech of the day”

  1. “What then explains the continuing belief in the value of bombing, invading, and occupying foreign countries? I find I cannot easily explain it, except perhaps in terms of post-imperial delusions of grandeur combined with an arrogance brought about by the West’s victory in the Cold War and by the West’s belief in the universal supremacy of its own supposed value system. The combination of untrammelled military supremacy and a total belief in their own moral superiority has created an incentive to act which some find too tempting to resist, despite the fact that acting has been shown to fail again and again.”

    This is one of the best paragraphs I’ve read yet in succinctly explaining our problem in “The West.” The arrogance of Fukuyamanism (if I may be so bold as to add an -ism onto the name of a guy I don’t like) has certainly contributed – but in America you also have to remember our military-industrial complex. With profit above all else, you have to keep a justification for those industries and their profits. And if that justification is that our bombs only ever kill bad guys, then that’s what it will be.

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  2. “The recent dismal record of the British military is not an aberration. In fact, the overall historical record of British military involvement in other countries’ affairs is decidedly poor…”

    Rule Britania! The Best Empire!

    “What then explains the continuing belief in the value of bombing, invading, and occupying foreign countries? I find I cannot easily explain it, except perhaps in terms of post-imperial delusions of grandeur combined with an arrogance brought about by the West’s victory in the Cold War and by the West’s belief in the universal supremacy of its own supposed value system. The combination of untrammelled military supremacy and a total belief in their own moral superiority has created an incentive to act which some find too tempting to resist, despite the fact that acting has been shown to fail again and again.”

    ^This. Also – the “Einsteinian” (actually – not) definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Should we take the Western elites for dangerous insane maniacs or just honest imbeciles? In either case – they are no fit to rule and presentthe danger to the rule.

    So, it’s little suprsie, that a lot of people in Russia consider instead, that the West is doing it deliberatly in the name of “manageble Chaos” theory.

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  3. Some of my best friends are English, but I must say there’s definitely an air of superiority in the culture there. Even in the best ones I know. The “white man’s burden” is a well-ingrained attitude, where the “white man” is of course specifically the Englishman; all the rest are savages, in one degree or another. Oh well, I suppose it takes time, generations, to correct this sort of thing. Meanwhile, it would’ve been funny, if it wasn’t so dangerous…

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  4. “For the first time in my life, I will vote Labour – not because of the mass of Labour MPs, most of whom remain committed interventionists, but because in Corbyn they have a leader who actually realizes how counterproductive British policy has been. I disagree with just about everything else Corbyn stands for, but at least he’s right on this. It makes me understand why Americans voted Trump.”

    Ever since Corbyn, the party is overrun with Islamist apologists, fans of theocracy (Iran), and is beset with antisemitism scandals where the perpetrators keep getting pardoned after a few months. His financial policy is so unrealistic and more communist than China, it would be a disaster for the country. But I guess if you’re a single issue voter, then yes, Corbyn would probably lead to less foreign intervention. If I could vote, it would be a protest vote or vote for some independent in my riding.

    Actually, you’re better off still voting for the party with the most intelligent and capable candidates this time around, and that is not Labour this time unfortunately. Like you note in your piece, Britain is not in any position to intervene on their own, and will be doing so at the behest of the US, so you will be deciding to vote on an issue on which there will be no practical impact. It’s the US vote that matters here. But there are too many other important things that Corbyn could ruin by being generally incompetent (and causing an exodus of British Jews). Like GDP growth, research spending, health spending, etc..

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    1. ‘You’re better off still voting for the party with the most intelligent and capable candidates this time around.’ – East Hull is safe, safe Labour, so my vote isn’t actually going to make a difference. But as someone who has spent the last 16 years engaged in an intellectual and political fight against liberal interventionists, I will take the opportunity to register my lone voice on the matter at the ballot box.

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    2. Let me guess – you are a Jew, blatnoi? In that case, it’s ironic for you to acusing someone of being a potential “single-issue voter”.

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      1. Er… I’m going to guess that you’re a Russian, so since I don’t understand the depth of your mysterious soul, I have absolutely no idea what you mean. No really, I don’t mean that in any bad sense, I’m just kind of clueless here. Plus, if I’m going to volunteer one piece of information about myself, it would be that I’m not a voter at all actually. I’m a bad participant in democracy, but I like talking about it and giving others advice. 😉

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      2. “Er… I’m going to guess that you’re a Russian

        Yes I’m. Never denied that.

        , so since I don’t understand the depth of your mysterious soul, I have absolutely no idea what you mean”

        Oh, what a pity! Not understanding “depth of mysterious Russian soul” is not your only flaw, it seems. You are also extreamly trusting to every single piece of bad “reporting” about Russia. As if you wish for them to be true. Should I quote your comments on the “Between two worlds”? You known, where you recently complained about several of your past posts going poof? You aptly demonstrated that you are prone to bias – and proud of it:

        “For the record, I do speak Russian very well (and two other languages besides English), and my wife is Russian but she is very left-wing and anti-Putin. We don’t really talk about politics, but I think this means that I won’t be going to Russia anytime soon. Salary is not what I’m used to and there are not enough jobs in my field. And I’m not Orthodox Christian. Plus, I’m very cynical and based on news from the 90s I instinctively think it’s a bad place to live and people are nasty to each other (despite the improving social indicators that keep going up year after year I still think it’s below Western countries), not to mention the whole deep state thing. “

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      3. Guys, it would be better to debate each other’s arguments, not who each other is. That doesn’t prove anything. Besides, we want to be civil here.

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  5. Paul,

    This is an excellent piece. But actually in relation to the debate, the situation is even worse than you describe.

    The premise of Osborne’s speech, and of other contributions to the debate, is that the sarin atrocity at Ghouta on 21 August 2013 was the work of the Syrian government.

    The evidence in support of the claim by the veteran American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the April 2014 piece ‘The Red Line and the Rat Line’ that he published in the ‘London Review of Books’ that the incident was in fact a ‘false flag’ is now overwhelming.

    And his claim that it was frustrated because the then CJCS, General Martin Dempsey, was able to present Obama with the result of tests on ‘environmental’ samples from Ghouta done at the British defence science laboratory at Porton Down can be supported by a very substantial mass of publicly available evidence.

    (See http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line .)

    As it happens, some very interesting recently published material bear directly on these matters. An article published by the former CIA analyst Ray McGovern under the title ‘The Syrian-Sarin ‘False Flag’ Lesson’ on 11 December, discusses among other things the testimony in December 2015 by the Turkish MP Eren Erdem about the role of his country’s intelligence services in delivering sarin ‘precursors’ to Syria.

    (See https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/11/the-syrian-sarin-false-flag-lesson/ .)

    The really dramatic development, however, is the setting up of a new website, entitled Rootclaim, the Tel Aviv-based creation of two online fraud-detection experts, Saar Wilf and Aviv Cohen, who explain that they rely on ‘Openly crowdsourced evidence and claims’ and ‘Proven Bayesian inference models.’

    (See https://www.rootclaim.com/claims/who-carried-out-the-chemical-attack-in-ghouta-on-august-21-2013-8394 .)

    Their presentation on Ghouta, which claims the evidence indicates a 92.3% likelihood that the insurgents were responsible, shows every signs of being directly derived from the ‘crowdsourced’ internet investigation carried out, principally in the period immediately after it happened, on the ‘Who Attacked Ghouta?’ site.

    (http://whoghouta.blogspot.co.uk/ .)

    The figure who ran this used the name ‘sasa wawa’ – it may or may not be coincidence that the initials are the same as those of Saar Wilf.
    Be that as it may, the evidence presented on both sites ‘meshes’ perfectly with the claims by the Russians and Hersh that what was at issue at Ghouta was ‘cottage industry’ or ‘kitchen’ sarin that could not conceivably have come from the Syrian government arsenals.

    Also of great interest was Hersh’s elaboration of his arguments in an interview he gave to the ‘TeleSUR’ channel last August. In this, he suggested that the frustration of the attempt to use the ‘false flag’ to destroy the Syrian government was the result of a three-way collaboration, involving General Dempsey, General Sir Peter Wall, then Chief of the General Staff (head of the British Army), and a figure he describes as ‘the chief general of Russia.’

    It seems clear that the reference has to be to General Valery Gerasimov, appointed as Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation by Putin in November 2012.
    Is enough sane people in Washington, London, Moscow and Tel Aviv have decided that the lunatics – people like Osborne – have been running the asylum for long enough, we might be getting somewhere.

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  6. That’s true, I don’t really want to engage in personal attacks. I couldn’t find my older comments on the “between two worlds” blog because they disappear on the front page, and I’m not that blog literate. I guess they are still there. I just wanted to see if there were more responses.

    Plus, if I demonstrate that I’m prone to bias, the best way to correct that is by reading this blog. I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of months now, and I like Lyttenburgh’s comments usually because I can learn new things from them, but I don’t really read his/her blog. I don’t really care about people attacking me (for the record), as long as I learn something in the process. Huh… maybe I shouldn’t have started my commenting history on this blog by trying to convince the author not to vote for Corbyn… There are more important things going on in the world to worry about.

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  7. Open Livy’s History of Roman People on random page and you will find similarly deluded speech in Senate. That’s such institutions work.

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  8. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t seem to feature much in Britons’ understanding of international affairs and their country’s role in them.

    I’m going out on a bit of a limb, since I’m mainly talking from anecdotal observation here, but I wonder if flaws in the British education system might have something to do with this problem. A number of British friends of mine have commented on how relentless the drilling of WW2 history in British schools is, and the strange effects it can have (including a surprising amount of borderline racist Germanophobia, as if the war ended yesterday). Another aspect of this is that the war doesn’t seem to be being taught particularly accurately, as Britain’s role in it is being inflated rather significantly. If this is accurate, it might not be surprising that people who are raised on a narrative of how their country faced and defeated real-world Mordor, and how this is the most significant fact in their history, might be inclined to a) overestimate their own collective importance and b) have a tendency to interpret world events in simplistic good/bad terms. Kind of analogous to how many Canadians who grow up on a simplistic diet of anti-Americanism in their history classes grow up to be, surprisingly enough, somewhat simplistically and unreflectively anti-American.

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  9. There is no civil war in Syria. Outisde of al Qaeda,/ISIS/Deash/Bran X, the great majority of the rebels (also known as ‘carefully vetted moderate’ head choppers) are not Syrian. There are Europeans (eg British recruited by MI6), Chechens, Saudia Arabians (typically ex-prisoners once on death row given the alternative of fighting in Syria), Palestinians, Uighers, Pakistanis, Libyans, etc, etc, and even a few Kurds present in their ranks. On surrendering, the few native Syrians are given the choice of committing to non-violence or be sent to Idlib. The majority, all the non-Syrians, are bussed en masse to Idlib. This is a real war between the west and Syria/Russia, with the west using bona-fide head-choppers as their proxy force.

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  10. Well, perhaps it was the moronic speech of the day but the year is not finished. From the distant antipodes I could still manage a smile when I read of the Brits’ antics. On the other hand, I felt strangely uncomfortable when, earlier today, I read that the Americans had declared that Putin was personally involved in the Clinton “hacking” episode. That seems to be a different level of scariness. One thing that I don’t understand in all of this is the role played by Germany. (Is there any chance that the Germans think long and hard before saying… nothing?) In an earlier blog David Habakukk drew attention to the fact that many commenters showed scepticism towards MSM articles relating to Russia. I fear he would find very little evidence of such scepticism in Australia. When to my surprise a friend recently asked for a couple of blogs worth reading I offered this one and Robert Parry’s “Consortiumnews” Thanks, Paul.

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