Sunday 31 August 2014

A self-serving public service

I am not cursed with a vast number of comments on these blogs, for which I am eternally grateful, but when I do I'm lucky to have useful and considered remarks than contribute to my knowledge and understanding - which is the main reason I bother. On the matter of Rotherham, "Tom Bola" has some very interesting thins to say:
What comes as no surprise, according to the policing watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is that officers in the Yorkshire police force spend a “great deal of time” trying to “disprove” the word of victims. But what its findings also reveal (The Yorkshire Post), is that "it found no evidence of performance pressures leading to failures in crime recording...", which takes some believing that performance monitoring and the existence of league tables has not impacted negatively on victims seeking redress.

Where performance indicators are in place to monitor a public body – which in this case, relate to failures in crime recording – it is reasonable to assume that the person responsible for managing the data would be perversely incentivised to falsely represent it. With this in mind it can be appreciated how officers may be pressured into palming-off victim's claims as unfounded. This, along with there always being a need to have an individual take responsibility for performance data that shows the department in a bad light seems a likely cause for those victims affected to be caused injustice.

It is of course in nobody's interest, least of all the person suffering injustice to have a system whereby recorded performance is directly proportional to the level of expertise a public body has in manipulating it. The victims of crime pay ultimately, because of this destructive system (fuelled by the existence of league tables) where recognising and addressing crime is given over to concealing and denying it to make figures look good. When the degree to how well an individual police force functions is judged on performance and target data, it is to be expected that the person responsible will be perversely motivated to exploit the system by covering up incidents and consider it their role (and a challenge) to do so.

Officers seeking to improve league table positions, have it seems, been cautious not to jeopardise this by excessively recording reported incidents which are only registered correctly as "crimes" apparently if every avenue has been exhausted to disprove a victims allegation. A system so obviously susceptible to abuse is fated to be exploited this way; rendering statistics meaningless and serving only to distort the true picture of how well or badly that police force functions. This doesn't come only at the expense of those whose injustices are ignored, but also to the public purse. The taxpayer is funding a non-functioning system, reliant upon self-reporting of data for which officers will not have resisted manipulating, hence false economy expecting value from gauging performance by a self monitoring system.

Unless radical changes are made to a system relying on meaningless target and performance data, it is foreseeable that the cover-up culture it created will continue in the same vein indefinitely. 
This is not at odds with my own experience and we see evidence of it practically every week. We have a gilded CEOcracy who frequently escape the consequences of their ineptitude and moral cowardice. The simple answer is is to scrap the league tables and make incompetence in public office a criminal offence whereby pensions can be nullified, and incompetence of this magnitude carry a jail sentence along with asset seizures. Watch how fast things change then.

Friday 29 August 2014

Answering critics

Growing a blog is a difficult thing to do. It requires persistence, self discipline and a lot of brutal hard work behind the scenes. The work Richard North and I did on the Somerset floods took weeks of solid investigation, consulting experts and locals alike, and cost money to go to the scene and evaluate just how little our media had noticed as they were guided around the photogenic spots, but lacked the critical skill or the time to investigate.

Similarly, my work on Israel is not the level of drive-by commentary offered by our media. Our criticism of the recent operation is informed by our evolving theories on counter insurgency and asymmetric warfare, of which we are not altogether unqualified to speak on, by way of spending more hours on this than most people spend at their day jobs. And we both have day jobs.

Both Richard North and I always look at a debate and look for the missing dimension, and sometimes this means splitting hairs that are not split. By doing so we often discover significant nuances that can often paint any current issue in a whole other light, especially when you pay closer attention to the history. This is what we are both trained to do.

Dad in his capacity as a public health specialist is a trained forensic investigator (and an accomplished one), in which he holds a doctorate, and I am an analyst with a particular niche in examining human behaviour so as to improve productivity. I presently work in aerospace and defence and have for some time, but have worked in utilities, public sector, banking and asset management. Between us we make a pretty good team with a broad array of experience to draw upon. At the very least it cannot be said that either of us are thick.

There are of course short cuts to growing a blog. We have seen bloggers come and go in no time, who trounce our hits even on a good day. If you suck up to the right people, align your blog to a party or cause and repeat dogmas without addressing inconvenient nuances, you will rapidly attract an audience of people who wish to be spoonfed their opinions, or have their own views mirrored back at them. There is a game to be played and there are rules - and it's not a game we play.

I rapidly learned this same lesson as a DJ, where I know full well that my live original material gigs were terrible, but I had a large world wide following of people who still refer to my vinyl mixes as being the state of the art for the time. Given the amount of effort that went into them, they bloody well should have been too. But getting the gigs was always difficult. You had to be in London, you had to be talking to the right people and you had to be out there all the time sucking up to promoters who you otherwise would not give the time of day to. I wasn't willing to do that to promote my music, and I'm not going to do that to further my writing.

I have had some articles published whereby the editorial slant and word limit meant being less specific than I prefer to be, and the main insistence on all of our blogs is that details matter, and in that, there are no shortcuts. Consequently, I don't see myself ever writing for another publication however original the work.

The recent Gaza conflict has chucked up the usual firewall of obfuscation, excuses and mantras as both sides talk past eachother, but nobody seems to want to step off and examine the timing, the intent, the means and most importantly, what it achieves. The result of doing so is to become an un-person. If you're a eurosceptic who attacks Ukip, a pro-Israel person who attacks the IDF and a libertarian who is skeptical of libertarian dogma you soon find yourself standing alone and talking to yourself.

I am told we come over as patronising and that our schtick is "nobody understands the world but us". Well, this criticism gets right up my nose, not least because it shows they haven't read either of our blogs in any great detail, but also because if there is one recurrent theme, especially lately on this blog is that we have little idea what is going on. We are clear to point out when we speculate, and we frequently point out where the gaps are in the media are - and where there are gaps in information which mean the certainties promoted by our commentatariat can be little more than speculation marketed as fact.

I'm not saying any of the things I say because I have a specific agenda, nor I am speaking in praise or detraction in my capacity as a blogger. I seek mainly understanding which will better inform decision making in future. What we find in media commentary is a lot of people who hold specialisms in politics but have a gaping ignorance of technical matters and those ever so tiresome details which most find to be too much hassle - when one can simply presume expertise.

My research on Libya has challenged just about every editorial slant I have seen thus far on all sides of the debate, and I have yet to conclude my work. This is inconvenient and disappointing to me because I now find myself on the wrong side of people I greatly respect. But I must go where dispassionate reading of the the facts leads me, having applied a particular kind of scrutiny that few others take the time to do. I have seen no other commentators even touch the angle I have taken on the Gaza offensive or the Libyan intervention. More to the point, I have listened to critics and addressed their points, and I have re-evaluated my own views on the basis of their indispensable inputs.

I make critical distinctions which are described as pedantry but I have gone to great lengths to explain why these distinctions matter, and the failure to inform the public of these distinctions is a failure of journalism altogether. We have arrogant and dishonest actors like Dan Hodges, idiots like Con Coughlin, the lazy and naive David Blair (with associated blowhards), along with many others who seek to paint a simplistic picture of complex and long standing conflicts - which are chaotic at best. We hold only some of the pieces of the puzzle, therefore those who cling to simple narratives and steadfastly refuse to acknowledge inconvenient and contradictory nuances are a disgrace to journalism. 

You can look at the facts in many different ways and come to entirely opposing conclusions both of which are mutually credible, and to take one side without acknowledging the existence or the plausibility of the other is not investigation. It is dogma. And not worth my time.

Meanwhile, we shall continue to toil in obscurity educating ourselves and if anyone else wishes to be the beneficiary of that process and join in the debate then it is their gain and to their credit. And for those who don't, well I need say nothing.

As I alluded to earlier, the work on Libya and Brexit still goes on, and the lessons that arise from careful scrutiny of the details will better inform any analysis we do on current affairs as they break. Those who gloss over such findings and then waft into the debate as they so typically do, unarmed with a sense of fallibility, will be mercilessly ridiculed - and if you think you have seen us be "uncooperative" and "arrogant" thus far, you ain't seen nothing yet. If in the process I end up upsetting and offending most of my readers then I, like Richard North, could not give less of a damn.

We have a long standing reputation for pissing people off but we have an equally long standing reputation for unearthing critical information from places where few bother to look. That will continue until our typing fingers wither and seize. If it sounds like we think we know more than you do, it's probably because we do, or are certainly heading in that direction, and unlike the gaping arseholes who occupy the pages of prestige titles, we will admit when we are wrong - if so proven.

Lite blogging

Furthering my studies on the Libyan intervention I have happened upon a seam of information that contradicts a lot of popular media narratives and I have not yet fully assimilated it in order to report on it. The more you learn the less you know, and if it looks like chaos, then it is chaos - and thus any article that explains it in simple terms is most likely completely wrong. Most of what I have written on the subject thus far has brought only more confusion to an already complex scenario. I'm having trouble making sense of it all.

Readers might be wondering why I am giving this such particular attention. Libya is about to come into sharp focus again for anyone interested in what is important, rather than what our media is obsessed with, and it has ramifications on our decision making for Syria, thus a thorough understanding of 2011 events is essential before one can wade into the debate.

On other matters, given this blog is particularly hostile to Ukip, you might wonder where my comment on the defection of Douglas Carswell is. I'm too busy and it is of marginal significance. What I will say is that I concur with Carswell's comments on the Conservative party, but I do not believe Ukip are agents for change either. I believe it is a lazy, arrogant cult of personality which is becoming increasingly parochial, and the commentary from Ukip supporters over the Rotherham affair shows that Ukip has a bigger problem with racism than it might like to admit. I won't be surprised if Carswell loses his seat makes a fool of himself, but if not, a victory will present complications for Ukip because Carswell will then be de-facto Ukip's leader. And Farage will be sharpening his back-stabbing implements.

As to the picture. It's an A10. Because A10s are cool - and it's Friday.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Where does the Telegraph find these clowns?

The stupidity of Con Coughlin and Dan Hodges has been surpassed by a country mile, just when you thought The Telegraph could not be any more pathetic.
Egypt and the UAE are two of America’s closest allies in the Middle East. Their military ties with Washington are particularly close, not least because most of their advanced warplanes are supplied by the US. In the past, I think it would have been inconceivable for either Egypt or the UAE to launch air strikes in another country without, at the very least, consulting or warning America beforehand.

In respect of the Libya raids, however, the US says that it had no prior knowledge. Only after the attacks had taken place did America work out who was behind them. This new willingness on the part of Egypt and the UAE to act independently is another sign of the retreat of US power in the region.
Does it ever occur to the Telegraph's Chief Foreign Correspondent (and former diplomatic editor) that the Septics know exactly what happened, exactly which aircraft were in NATO monitored airspace, and exactly which country is responsible, having gone to the enormous expense of gaining absolute air supremacy - and they're just not all that keen to tell morons like David Blair during a pivotal moment in the settlement of a post-revolution Libya? No. I expect not. But who am I to question the great wisdom of the Telegraph's Chief Foreign Correspondent?

Rotherham: here we go again

Oh well, I guess I have been sucked into this Rotherham debate. On the one hand you have the likes of Hugh Muir who puts it almost entirely down to systemic failings within the police, and on the other we have the somewhat superficial analysis of Brendan O'Neill saying this kind of obfuscation obstructs any kind of debate on the cultural aspect. Clearly there are serious debates to be had about both. But actually, the cultural aspect is fairly self-evident here as far as the men are concerned and such observations are nothing new.

All that has changed is that some of the more subtle arguments the BNP were advancing back in 2005 are now socially acceptable and accepted theories. This is actually progress. I don't doubt for a second that political correctness was a barrier to having an open and frank discussion on the subject, and no doubt it hampered the police in the course of the investigations, However, the culture aspect in that particular regard ought to be irrelevant since we are all notionally equal in the eyes of the law.

This is where I lean more toward Hugh Muir's position in that the similarities of council and police dysfunction mirror my own experiences trying to advance a complaint with reference to bailiff fraud and police misconduct, and the same culture of denial exists in the NHS which is why we got the Staffordshire massacres and the backlash against the whistle-blower. Not forgetting Baby P.

Not only are our local authorities rotten to the core, the police and health services suffer from the same bureaucratic inertia, where nobody is to blame and we simply expect a head honcho or two to fall on their sword then retire to a gold-plated pension and the systemic faults are never addressed. What follows is the usual boilerplate glib sentiment and we go around once more, moving from crisis to crisis. Nothing ever changes. That is where the serious debate needs to be had and I fear the cultural aspects are a decoy.

One thing O'Neill is right about is the welfarism aspect, in that we ought to be asking serious questions as to why these young girls are so at liberty to consort with these men in the first place. Most of these young girls know their rapists by name. I can make a strong argument as to how the welfare system has undermined parents and lead to an overall abdication from parental responsibility. In fact, I could go to town on the welfare aspect and still not be finished typing by daybreak.

Though there's a rather large hole in that, since it's a large assumption that all of these girls are working class and the product of welfarism. As it happens, many of them have been bright young things from caring, loving families. The stereotype is that it's largely poor working class people who fall into heroin addiction, but we know that isn't true - and the same applies here. I know of plenty bright girls from Bradford who got pregnant to a grown Asian man while they were still teenagers. Bradford Girls Grammar girls as it happens, which is a prestigious fee paying school. That brings us to the old arguments of permissiveness as a product of moral decay from the sixties and blah blah blah.

The bottom line is that stupid girls do stupid things and ultimately the fault lies with the predators (of whatever culture) and the authorities who fail to apprehend them.

Ukraine: You put your left tank in...

You put your left tank in, you pull your right tank out. You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around. That's what it's all about.

As far as I can work out, Russia is trolling us. Putin is hoping we will up the ante to give him the domestic support he needs for more a aggressive stance against the West. This is a regime in decay. We see half a dozen light tanks crossing back and forth and probing with convoys to try and get a reaction from us. We must not rise to the bait. If he wants to play silly buggers then it's up to him. As far as territory goes, we're talking about a very small corner of Ukraine, and a fairly inconsequential one at that, and the Ukrainian army will eventually get its act together and clear out the separatists.

But in the mean time if we are careless, we run the risk of giving Putin exactly what he wants - which is why we need to be vigilant, but keep a our hands off, and not step up the war of words or the military exercises. It appears that this is what we have been doing thus far (to our credit), but this NATO summit this week might well result in a "something must be done" mission, which looks to be ill-advised at this time. The danger is small if we play it right, but it is we who have the capacity to turn this into a long lasting and ugly conflict if we make irrational choices to inconsequential provocations, which are misinterpreted by our media.

It is just as well this conflict is beyond the wit of our media, for it is they who would likely make a run of the mill border dispute into something much more ugly. For all our sakes, let's hope Iraq and Gaza continue to be the media decoy. Perhaps Israel could do us a favour by keeping that pointless little exchange running for a few more weeks.

Rotherham: rinse and repeat

I said I wasn't going to get sucked into the Rotherham scandal debate but I said that about Gaza too. Ho hum. The reason for my lack of enthusiasm is that all we see is the same white noise and extruded verbal material from our media, which is nothing that couldn't have been written about any shithole Northern town, every year, for the last twenty years. 

It still goes on, the plod know who's responsible, and the establishment goes out of its way to marginalise anyone who complains. It largely has nothing at all to do with Islam and everything to do with a bloated, anti-democratic system of local government which has a culture of denial where complaints are concerned. My experience with South Gloucestershire Council taught me everything I need to know. It's the same dynamic behind the NHS Staffordshire massacres.

Hugh Muir is the closest I've seen to sense on this, writing about a similar scandal in Rochdale, while carefully avoiding the cultural aspects. Apart from that, all we'll get is a stream of pontification from London hacks who couldn't find Rotherham on a map and have panic attacks if they go North of Watford. You'll get an adequate but superficial analysis from Spiked Online, but The Harrogate Agenda has it right, and coincidentally, The Harrogate Agenda is what we need to stop this from happening. Anything else is is just the same bland waffle we have heard many times before, where we are assured that "lessons will be learned".

"According to reports"

Sinking even lower today, The Telegraph is in full fail mode, leading with the headline "US poised to ask Britain to join air-strikes in Iraq".

"The United States is poised to ask Britain and Australia to support air strikes in Northern Iraq, according to reports."

It neglects to specify which reports. It goes on to say:

"Joining air strikes, however, would represent a significant escalation in Britain's role in Iraq. A government source stressed that no requests from the US have been received."

So this non-story is a government denial of Telegraph invented innuendo. And then we get another unrelated report saying "A report in Spiegel magazine says German air force is weaker than previously thought and a funding crisis means scores of aircraft are not operational."

So a second hand report of a what a mainstream German magazine says is now news? This dear readers is what now qualifies as journalism. Read it and weep.

Intervention is an unsolvable puzzle

Fatuous comparisons are a recurring theme in Western punditry on matters pertaining to the Middle East. We have seen careless comparisons between Libya and Israel, and when it comes to the Arab Spring, similar contrasts are even more worthless. There is only one position from which to approach any such analysis: Algeria is not Libya, Libya is not Egypt, Egypt is not Israel and Israel is not Iraq and Iraq is not Syria.

The weak connection made between Algeria and Libya being that it was Western intervention that is primarily responsible for the ongoing fighting and Algeria is an example of what happens when we don't interfere. The suggestion being that if only we had left well alone then Libya would have followed Algeria in a near seamless transfer of power having swept away a corrupt and dysfunctional government. This is to compare chalk with a nuclear powered submarine.

First of all, Algerian society is mostly coastal, more Mediterranean than Arab, strongly connected with the Mediterranean trade circle, heavily influenced by it's French colonial past tending toward a culture of property ownership, rather than the traditional nomadic Arab culture. Though one brief look at Algerian election results in recent times and you see just how fragmented and tribal Algeria is, which means the culture is still very much unlike Western hierarchical structures. But Algeria was and remains a pseudo-democracy. In common with the French, they have voting rituals which shuffle the deck a little but when it comes to real change, it's masses out on the streets burning cars, tyres and the occasional sheep. The French stop short of self-immolation, which is rather a pity, but mass demonstrations are how things get done.

Libya on the other hand is considerably more Arab in geographic and sociological terms. Its population is a fraction of Algerias with nearly five times the GDP or thereabouts, with much higher concentrations of wealth. Population centres are built up around ports which are host to oil industry infrastructure which means highly valuable prizes for the victors in a post-revolution settlement. The end of the Gaddafi regime was always going to spark a space-race for control of oil infrastructure and the winners would be very wealthy, very powerful men. It is this that brings "Islamist" militias out of the woodwork, it is this that has Western corporates circling, and it is this that sees power brokers foreign and domestic joining forces to take control. Libya was never going to be a walk in the park.

If there is  a comparison to be made, it is that there are ISIS like militias operating within Libya, but rather than being part of a pan-arab jihadist uprising as some suggest, they are still very much the product of local and regional politics and have about as much to do with Iraq as Sheffield does.

This brings us to the question of whether our intervention in Libya created the mess we see today. The short answer is no. The NATO air operation was not intended as a means of regime change by force. It lacked that capability, but what is was was a message to both sides. To the Gaddafi forces the message was clear: follow these murderous orders from the regime and you will most certainly die. The message to the rebels was that if you are going to get rid of Gaddafi, now is the time to do it.

So in effect, what we accomplished militarily was to destroy Libya's air defences so that NATO retains total air supremacy whether it directly intervenes or not. The actual material effect of air strikes was at best inconsequential, at worst inconclusive. It is for this reason I call Operation Unified Protector a non-intervention intervention and what is happening on the ground is pretty much the battle for self-determination that needs to be had, give or take a USAF C130 full of M16s and rocket launchers.

It certainly can't be said with hindsight that arming the rebels with was particularly smart, but it does appear from the controversy surrounding it that the mess is more through incompetence than intent, and those who slammed the US for arming rebels are seemingly the same ones calling for the arming of Kurds to defeat ISIS. I know the two are not related, nor can we compare, but this is a tacit admission that there are no hard and fast rules for intervention, and that each case must be assessed on its own merits.

In the case of Libya, we have stopped short of overt political intervention and that is why fighting continues. For the moment the consequences seem to mainly affect Libya's fortunes which is something we just have to live with. But later down the line that war might start spilling out and treading on our interests as Syria's has in Iraq. It is at that point we shall have to decide whether the strategic interest or humanitarian interest takes precedence because the two are not always the same. What is certain is that whether we intervene or not, there will be consequences that do directly affect us and to say we shouldn't intervene at all is to say we should be passive spectators in matters that affect us.

James Snell offers an alternative perspective in the Huffington Post. He argues precisely the opposite of what many have been saying in that Libya is a consequence of not enough intervention, arguing that more direct involvement could have brought this to a faster resolution and at least restored some basic order (and presumably get the oil flowing again). In theory this seems plausible but in practice such an intervention would be resource hungry and require "security forces" to enforce the writ of any new government. The suicide bombings and uprisings in Iraq tell us that this would be a long term commitment, expensive and results in a weak government that few are prepared to fight for in the face of a constitutional crisis.

This is not a realistic proposition. We can't afford it, there is no public support for it and while the fallout mainly affects Libyans we can afford to ignore it as we did the Lebanon civil war. If we are going to get sucked into another war it will likely be Syria, and Libya is way down the list. That said, sooner or later, if no resolution becomes apparent, something will have to be done. What shape that something takes is anybody's guess. Whether you view it as a strategic interest or a humanitarian concern, eventually we reach a state where doing nothing is out of the question.

Monday 25 August 2014

Intellectually dishonest or just stupid?

I once had a great deal of respect for Melanie Phillips and she was a major influence in my formative years. Being from Bradford I had grown up in what some would call a "multi-cultural" city, but it was anything but. It was a binary city with a white working class population... and Muslims. That's it. I grew up with a misguided perception of Islam and Muslims, and I can completely understand why these places became heartlands for the BNP - and I can now see why I took Melanie Phillips entirely seriously.

But the problems we had in Bradford were more a consequences of mass and rapid immigration which continued as employment opportunities, even for immigrant labour, were diminishing, creating a whole generation of Muslim youth who could neither integrate nor succeed - and that is why, to some extent we see young Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin going off to fight the Jihad in places of the world which are nothing to do with them, but for the vague association with Islam.

These are very much domestic political problems that require domestic solutions and have nothing to do with Islam. But it seems to be a natural tendency of humanity to draw parallels where none exist. Melanie Phillips draws our attention on Facebook to this article in The Commentator, which itself is a dismal right-wing reactionary rag, which aligns itself with Ukip. Not surprising then that the content therein would be excremental in nature.

The piece attempts to conflate Hamas with ISIS saying that "the West" needs to defeat them both. The two cannot be conflated. ISIS is a loose coalition of jackals on a looting spree who smell weakness in Iraq having failed to take Syria. Now that the Iraqi army is getting its act together, ISIS will retreat back to where they came from (where Assad will slaughter them now they are no longer politically convenient). Assuming they don't turn on each other first. That they are Jihadi's is only a vague connection with Hamas, and the threat is overstated. 

The recent beheading is merely a tool ISIS use to enhance their reputation because fear is a great weapon. If their reputation precedes them, they don't need to fight battles because demoralised and disloyal army battalions just won't fight (and I don't blame them either). As much as it is a psychological warfare tactic, it is also a provocation to the West - and we should not take the bait. To conflate it with Hamas is intellectually dishonest because the politics are wholly different. 

Jihad is just part of the illusion. Their main weapon is fear and adopting the clothing of Islamic Jihad just adds to their mystique. But when you look at it closely, there is no cohesive fighting force, no single command, and it is a rag-bag of tribal alliances. Part of which was the same Sunni insurgency we saw during the Iraq occupation because Maliki had frozen Sunnis out of government. Now that Maliki has gone, Sunni officers are re-engaging and the Iraqi army is slowly coming back into the fight. We are witnessing nothing much more than the Croydon looting writ large, chased out of Syria and making hay in Iraq while the going is good. Just watch how quickly the tables now turn - and how they turn on each other as rebel groups are now doing in Libya.

This is nothing but your run-of-the-mill tribal uprising and the Western hyperventilation about it being a grave threat to the West is actually a little embarrassing, and it plays right into the hands of ISIS. To understand ISIS you need to understand that this is all about tribal dynamics and when it comes to Middle East politics you have to understand these dimensions. Religion is secondary to tribe. The moment you start conflating all these separate conflicts as "jihad" is the moment you depart from reality and drift into paranoid fiction.

The losers who claim they have established a caliphate no more control Iraq than I control North Wales by standing on the summit of Snowdon waving a black flag - and just because one or two rebel groups in Libya wave a similar looking flag and believe roughly the same thing does not mean their is a pan-Arab Islamist uprising, and not all Islamist groups believe even remotely the same thing. Insofar as "Islamist" is a useful and relevant term that is, which it isn't.

Those who seek to conflate these tribal dynamics with Hamas are doing so for dishonest political reasons, or they are merely paranoid and stupid. Yes, Hamas are Jihadists, yes they are scum of the earth, but no, it is not an existential threat to the West, nor is it a part of what is happening elsewhere. This is the same dismal ethno-nationalist spat it has always been and its importance is grossly exaggerated.

Libya: media extrapolations serve nobody

News reaches us today of further fighting in Libya, and it won't be too long before our media caravan gets bored of Iraq, moves on to Libya and blesses us with the benefits of their considerable expertise. As with Iraq, our media is focused on all the wrong things, and if we had little idea of what was happening in 2011 in Libya then we have absolutely zero now. That will not stop our media pontificating on it and drawing all the wrong conclusions, especially that this is a consequence of "Western" intervention. What we are seeing here is pretty much the usual script: a tribal uprising consisting of a loose coalition of allies now turning on each other. It could be no other way.

We have already explored on this blog how ineffectual the air operation was, but even a damning critique is to understate how useless Unified Protector was, with some rebel commanders criticising NATO for the complete absence of NATO during the critical battles to take Tripoli. By this time, in a highly fluid battle, forces on both sides comprised of convoys of Toyota pickups with improvised machine gun turrets and NATO couldn't be sure which side they were attacking. Some of this is confirmed by an uncharacteristically useful report from The Telegraph which casts doubt on some of the other certainties.

So sporadic was NATO air activity during the battle, a mere three bunkers were hit, two AA guns,  two "storage facilities" and one "tank", with the main concentration of firepower aimed at air defences which would have been a severe threat to the regime's non-existent air force.

But we are covering old ground here. Not enough has been said of the intervention on the ground. While we did not see "boots on the ground", we did see "military advisors" and various parties arming various rebels. But a simplistic extrapolations such as "the West" arming "Islamist militias" as is used by various sources including Prison Planet, Spiked Online, the Guardian, Times and Telegraph means we get an incomplete picture of what is happening now.

As we have seen with recent events, our perception of what is happening depends entirely on which prism you look through. I hesitate to say that Western media gives a single particular version when British media has a greater propensity for hyperventilation and inaccuracy that their US counterparts, though considering the Obama administration's low approval ratings, one must be careful how much weight we lend to US sources too.

American media is naturally US-centric and any stick that can be used to beat Obama will be used. But in reality, we have seen a more measured and cautious response to events in Iraq from the Obama administration than from the UK, and there is reason to believe that if we peel back the various layers of partisan exaggerations, the US and the CIA showed a great deal more care that EU participants in Libya. Initially that is. I'm no fan of Obama, but we must drop the presumption if we want to get anywhere near the truth.

What we see is the US arming "islamist militias and Al Queda" via Egyptian and Qatari proxies, with Qatar being responsible for a great many weapons going missing. We are told that Egypt's actions were independent of the US, with US diplomats urging Libya's neighbours to take a more active role. Make of that what you will. I'm not buying it.

To say that the US armed Al Qaeda is a hugely questionable statement and as to "Islamist militias", well, all militias in the region are Islamist to one extent or another. What matters is who, when, and what weapons. Unless we have comprehensive answers to these questions, any narrative based upon such interpretations are little more than supposition.

We have already examined the folly of describing the Libya intervention as Western foreign policy because we see a very distinct EU agenda, separate to that of the US, with Britain, seemingly mindless in its support of the French agenda who, as always, were serving only themselves - with the endgame of making Libya more a French colonial (for want of a better word) concern, and muscling Italy out of the picture. Hence why Italy refused to partake in Unified Protector if France retained command functions. That is why it became a NATO operation. You can hardly blame Germany for not wanting any part of it.

While the Benghazi incident absorbed the attention of US media (with little more than indifference from our own), it was the UK who's diplomatic efforts cleared the way for the French to arm militias, separate to the main effort, and it is those weapons which more than likely found their way into the hands of Boko Haram et al. US weapons are more than likely in the hands of the militias they intended them to be in, though those same groups are not now behaving as hoped. Curiously, French forces in Mali may well have faced weapons supplied by the French government.

The suggestion that the US armed elements of Al Qaeda is one of those less than accurate depictions and is more than likely a political concoction with which to beat Obama, and a stick with which the left will beat the US with in general, regardless of who is the president. What we see is rebel commanders who have worked alongside Al Qaeda, with Western weapons to fight the Russians and latterly have assisted US forces in Afghanistan in trying to combat various tribal surges.

The difficulty therein is that no counter-insurgency war or tribal uprising can be won solely through military means and the highly fluid tribal dynamics (which can change overnight) mean our diplomats and generals must work with people who only yesterday we might have called the enemy. The ISIS drama playing out at the moment sees us arming groups that only two years ago we were calling terrorists.

It is intellectually dishonest and lazy to use catch all terms to describe these various factions, and while it makes for easily digestible narratives, the lack of precision can rapidly warp our interpretation of events. There is no single Al Qaeda, the is no single ISIS, there is no single Taliban and there probably isn't a Boko Haram as such either. We see elements of Libyan rebels feeling left out and flying the flag for the caliphate, but to assume it is all a pan-Arab Islamist movement is a gross misrepresentation of barely related tribes co-operating for short term gains. So, insomuch as we need to stop talking about "Western foreign policy" we also need to stop talking about "Islamist militias" and "terrorist groups".

But this is not to say Libya would not have been a vacation sport of choice for Islamist groups since all civil wars are a weapons bonanza (I can't think of a single one that wasn't), and in fact more Libyan weapons likely ended up in the hands of hostiles than "Western" given NATOs ineffectual air strikes. A centralised state in an oil rich country is always going to be a crown worth fighting over. The "West" did not instigate the uprising, it did not create the political vacuum, and it did not do the fighting on the ground - nor lend any substantive support to it.

We can boil it down to a simple narrative that "the West" armed "rebels" but it cannot be said that Western intervention was instrumental in the fall of Gaddafi. This assumes too much competence on our part. These tinpot regimes only ever get by on the illusion of military supremacy and tribal alliances which were already fragmented long before "the West" chose to intervene.

What can be said is that if the West was to intervene then it could have done a great deal more to ensure a rapid and decisive victory and done more to support the provisional authorities in restoring order. But we haven't done that, which is just as well since that is precisely what Tim Black and Brendan O'Neill say we shouldn't do. What we are looking at is the battle for self-determination that it was always going to be.

But those same commentators have condemned the West for our support of the coup in Egypt, returning Egypt to a military dictatorship, the likes of which could stop an ISIS style tribal uprising originating from Libya destabilising Egypt in a similar fashion. If we had done this to support Assad, then perhaps we would not be looking at an ISIS invasion in Iraq. As it happens we did the exact opposite. The question then is... why?

Again we come to the question of "Western intervention". But was it? That is outside of the scope of this particular post, but given the complexities and falsehoods said of Libya, the Syrian question will be one to revisit with a similar degree of scepticism.

The only consistent thread throughout is that there are a multitude of conflicting agendas on both sides, with the US showing an equal lack of comprehension of their allies as the "enemy". All sides are looking to blame the US when other games are at play far from the eye of our media. The US is very much still fighting the War on Terror, but Europe has other ideas.

So then you might ask what my version of events is given the doubts I have expressed. Put simply, I don't have one. We are not in command of the facts, there is a famine of reliable news, social media adds only white noise, and our political commentariat deal only in absolutes and simplistic extrapolations which are lacking in detail and nuance.

While the end result looks very much like Western intervention gone wrong, I take the view that this is a mess of their own making, was always going to be a mess, and was always going to be flooded with weapons whatever the outcome. What looks to be superficially stupid policy making with hindsight is very often the best estimation given the available information at the time which was poor throughout. This dynamic alone should be the chief caveat that influences our decision to intervene.

My peers tell me I am far too caught up in the detail but I dislike these "big picture" estimations, because there isn't a big picture. It is not a jigsaw, it's a kaleidoscope where the picture never stays the same, and if it were, we certainly don't have enough of the pieces to tell what the picture is. These commentators might well be right, but if they are, it is entirely by accident.

This is not to say my opinion will not evolve further as I dig even deeper, but this is a complex and multifaceted conflict which is not unrelated to all the other conflicts were are presently seeing including Syria, Egypt and Ukraine to an extent. The moment you start picking at loose threads you begin to discover just how badly we are served by our media. But that is nothing new.

Friday 22 August 2014

A fair and necessary criticism of Israel

This blog has been in operation less than a year and readers will have noticed that when I pick up on a subject I don't let it drop until I have explored every angle. You will also have noticed that I've spend rather a lot of time strongly criticising Ukip, the Daily Telegraph and Israel. This is not because I'm a foaming lefty. Quite the opposite. I believe there is no room for tribal loyalty and I do not believe my allies should be immune from criticism.

This does not make me any friends. My line on the Gaza conflict has put the IDF under close scrutiny, which according to some makes me a Jew-hating terrorist supporter. But that is to be expected when wading into this debate, especially from reactionary right wingers. But scrutiny of the military by civilians is a vital and necessary exercise. As much as we should always suspect anyone who professes to expertise, the military themselves are not to be trusted either. The military wins battles, but it is people who win wars.

In the study of Iraq and Afghanistan we learned that military supremacy alone is not enough to win the peace. And if that was true of those conflicts then it is most certainly true of Israel. In Iraq, we have seen just recently how the tribal dynamics are critical in the fight against ISIS and all the latest US military kit in the world is not going to win that war without first addressing the political dimensions. The Gaza conflict is not immediately comparable for a number of reasons, but we must apply the same lessons.

Israel has an impressive military and shows great prowess in battle. It wins the battles but it suffers from the same institutional myopia as US and British forces. They do not understand that the shooting war does not happen in isolation of politics and media. So much so that Melanie Philips has noticed.

How things look is more important than how things are, and the politics is of equal significance. The IDF undoubtedly has hit Hamas hard. Their logistics and supply mechanisms have been hurt, their capacity to wage war has been hit badly, and their command structure decimated. If the recent incursion can be described as a battle then it has been won decisively by the IDF. But it has not won the peace. Just this evening we have seen yet more rockets. Meanwhile, Hamas shows a remarkable inventiveness when it comes to recovering their ability to wage war. That is the very nature of asymmetric warfare. We will be back here again having this same debate.

So what has been achieved? The IDF has scored a military victory, but it did last time and the time before that. All that is different now is that anti-Israeli sentiment is growing, Western support is faltering and antisemitism is running rampant. The military successes are undermining Israel's political capital. You might ask why should they care? My answer to that is a question. Can Israel afford to be cavalier about it? Israel still needs the co-operation of the West, it still needs allies in protecting its security interests and its economy depends on good relations with the world. It also matters for us here in the West. The consequences of these unnecessary operations have domestic security consequences for us too.

All these military incursions do is set the peace clock bag to zero while creating a media shit-storm that does not work in Israel's favour, while killing and displacing a lot of people, many of whom are innocent. Nothing is achieved by it. So what can be done?

Melanie Phillips thinks it is just a matter of presentation, but you cannot win the PR war with this kind of operation. Even the most sophisticated media management strategy cannot hide a dead baby or a black smoke cloud. But you can win a media war by not attracting the media. Big black clouds over Gaza, several stories high will always bump ISIS off the front pages. The answer therefore is not to use a munition that will create a big black smoke cloud.

The thing about combat engineering is that it is very mundane, low key and not especially newsworthy. F15s dropping GBU10s very much IS. So there are two choices. Either Israel understands the sea in which it must swim and applies a bit of strategic intellect to this, or just we keep going round in circles with these hugely damaging incursions. We need to be asking why the IDF thinks it will work this time when it didn't work the last three times.

We don't want Israel to win just battles. We want Israel to win the peace. So a bit of introspection is necessary because Israel cannot keep doing this forever. If this war is to be won the Israel has to understand that the military is only part of the solution.

I have written at length about the other options Israel has, but there is one aspect I'm missing here. This conflict is highly emotionally charged and Israel is not exempt from that. When Israel is hurt, it demands revenge, and Israeli's will vote for the leaders who will take it. We are no different.

Our weak leaders needed to respond to 9/11 with maturity, intelligence, patience and restraint. Instead we got Afghanistan and Iraq at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. 9/11 was not just an attack on America. It was a provocation. Our enemies want us to fight them. ISIS beheads in the hope of stirring the beast, Hamas fires rockets likewise - and they win when we are bogged down in expensive conflicts, conflicts that will turn the balance of power against us eventually. 

Each time we give our enemies exactly what they want. Our enemies reap the rewards as we slide ever further into debt (to some of the most unsavory regimes on earth) and our reputation and confidence in the world lies in tatters as we continue to fail. We must stop taking the bait.

The enemies of the West are weakening us. Each battle we fight and win through military means brings us closer to losing the war, and we haven't even begun to understand why. The answer really lies with ordinary Americans, Brits and Israelis who need to step up and demand better from our leaders, and demand that the tank and the missile are the last resort, not the first.

The strategic goal of Hamas is to delegitimise Israel in the eyes of the world. Their means it to provoke Israel into giving them what they want. And Israel falls for it every time.

ISIS: a matter of perception

2S1 Gvosdika: Beyond anything we have ever seen. Apparently.

Some have it that ISIS is entirely the fault of the west for not arming Syrian rebels. Some have that we did arm Syrian rebels but this was the provocation that focused Assad's attention on the Free Syrian Army, which strengthened ISIS. In either case, western commentators still possesses a myopic need to blame the West at any cost, regardless of the fact that Assad himself is still a power broker in the region. At least one Arab view has it that it Assad has deliberately allowed ISIS to thrive knowing it will cause expensive political consequences for the West in reprisal for the weakening of his regime. That is certainly a view worth considering. In typical Western fashion, we think it's all about us. It isn't.

The fight against ISIS is reported in terms of the preferred victims, ie the Kurds, and that is where the Western media attention is focused. You would think that the scale of Western media interest would mean we would at least be better informed about that part of the battle. But sadly, in the wake of the James Foley execution, all we get is speculation, hysteria and white noise. Meanwhile, we have little up to date information about the battle for Tikrit, with many Western outlets painting the offensive as a failure before the main battle has properly begun. It is impossible to call it a failure thus far in that we have no idea what the timescale is of local commanders, or the immediate military objectives.

The retaking of Tikrit would be a major propaganda victory for the US as they could point to a major engagement where the Iraiqis had fought and won a battle with only limited support, if any, from the US. But such is the myopia of the West that the critical details go unreported, and we are left with only more speculation and valueless conjecture. Also unreported are the political maneuverings behind the scene that have as much influence on the outcome of battle as the fighting itself. We have translated local media sources to go on and that's about it. It seems that not all of the battle to retake Iraq is politically useful in a domestic sense, and our media can only view global events in the context of parochial matters.

Thus we get such hyperventilation as ISIS is beyond anything we've ever seen. Meanwhile Al Jazeera reports show two absolutely ancient 2S1 Gvosdika self-propelled guns (SPG) which pre-date Gulf War 1, probably Syrian, which are "tanks" in the eyes of Al-Jaz. The problem being that SPGs are not front line vehicles at all, and unless you see the accompanying logistics and support trucks needed to operate the thing, then they're using it as a taxi and for propaganda purposes. ISIS knows as well as I do that these brain-dead hacks haven't the first idea what they're looking at - and won't bother to find out either. But why let a good media scare go to waste? The fight against ISIS may require additional budget funds says the Pentagon! Funny that.

So in the absence of anything approaching credible news, opinion formers would do well to refrain from witless assertions until we see what the Iraqi army has to say about it. Meanwhile Britain has ruled out the possibility of making an ally of Assad. This is probably an astute move given that one only ever enters a relationship with such regimes with the expectation of being stabbed in the back, but like it or not, the West is going to have to soften the rhetoric against Assad, because our rulers just got a lesson in why my enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend. But yes, that's a very long winded way of say "buggered if I know what's going on". As to Ukraine... fuhgeddaboudit!

Melanie Phillips missing the point

Melanie Phillips in the Jerusalem Post is in the right ball park but missing a few obvious points.
For four weeks during Operation Protective Edge, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and who has called Israel’s armed forces “the most moral army in the history of warfare,” was in Israel watching the conflict unfold. Over and over again he offered his services as an informed commentator to the BBC, Sky and other British broadcasting outlets. They asked him for his views about other world events – but not once did they ask this military expert to speak about Gaza.
Well there's something to be thankful for. His arguments are hackneyed and flawed and one should always be cautious of an "expert" actively hawking their rent-a-quote views, especially if they happen to be ex-British Army. For some reason Melanie has latched on to Kemp as some kind of counter-insurgency expert, when Afghanistan was an abject failure politically and militarily, and if Kemp is making these arguments in the context of the IDF then it is clear he does not know what he is talking about.

But Melanie is right. Israel has shown a willful refusal to learn the lessons of 2006 and I'm starting to wonder if they ever will. "This is where Israel has so badly fallen down." complains Melanie. "For it has not sought to fill this information vacuum. Of course, it is hard to dent the impact of horrific images of dead Palestinian children shown night after night on the TV news." Well exactly. You cannot explain away a dead baby. A dead baby is a dead baby whatever the circumstances. No buts.
I have lost count of the number of Brits – including Jews – who repeat the mantra that “the overwhelming majority” of the casualties of Israel’s “disproportionate” air strikes on Gaza have been civilians. But weeks ago, Al Jazeera reported that the majority of casualties were in fact fighting-age men – even though half of Gaza’s population is female and half aged under 18.

In other words, these air strikes were targeted to avoid innocent civilians. It was the relentless concentration on pictures of dead children which was disproportionate. But only those who followed Al Jazeera would have been aware of this.
This report addresses that first argument, but it's not just about the body count. Israel has shelled thousands of people out of their homes (how moral is that?). While we do see the use of Precision Guided Missiles we also see the use of heavy artillery employed for what some call "grid square removal". The intent of this is to ensure that not just the launcher is destroyed but also the rockets as well. Various techniques are employed to inform residents that a strike is about to take place, but given the propensity of Hamas to use human shields, there is always more than a 50/50 chance that civilians will be killed. The decision to call a fire mission on those odds might as well be made on the flip of a coin. So how then can you call it the most moral army in the world? The pilots of Operation Unified Protector would certainly beg to differ.

Melanie argues that Israel should have a public media rebuttal unit, but there's no rebutting a massive black cloud over Gaza and piles of concrete rubble in what is touted as a "security operation", nor is there much excusing of a GBU10 captured on camera hitting an apartment block. Such is the power of images in war. Richard Kemp spins the line well, but is unable to grasp that casualty reduction is not the only consideration in media driven asymmetric warfare, and that proper observance of even the basic principles is not happening in practice. The ignorance on display is almost forgivable from amateur commentators, but from a British Army "Rupert" who is supposedly an expert in such matters it is eye-watering.

The mistake that Melanie Phillips makes is to assume this is all just a matter of media presentation. You can spin all the clever sophistry you like but you can't very well gloss over footage of M109 batteries, and those will be the lasting images of this conflict.

Melanie laments the Israeli attitude to media presentation. "It contemptuously dismisses the need to win Western hearts and minds, and is afraid to puncture the lies told by its allies about the conflict. Given to machismo bluster, the only strategic thinking it understands is military. As a result, it is being beaten on a battleground it can’t bring itself to accept it is even on."

I could not agree more, and there is no conventional military solution, but something doesn't stack up here. Israel can pick the time and place of battle, and if the threat was real the day before Protective Edge then that was true a month and even a year before. So why now?

The best way to avoid these incidents (and win the PR war) is not to launch these wholly unnecessary operations in the first place. Israel has known about the tunnel network for a long time. These things don't pop up overnight. The best way of stopping the rocket-fire is to ensure Hamas have no rockets to fire in the first place. So why was the tunnel network not destroyed sooner with more intelligent means?

Why is it not a permanent security operation to ensure they do not re-open? And why has Israel waited until now to make a massive meal of it? Perhaps Israel is well aware of what it looks like to the world, and their strategic objectives are just not apparent to the likes of Melanie and I. Perhaps there really is a PR strategy and the motive is lost on us? Or perhaps they have simply concluded the PR war is a war that they can't win in any eventuality. I cannot say for certain.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Our Jihad moral panic and what can be done about it

As the media clamours to unmask the murderer of James Foley, many are beginning to ask what is it that we are doing so wrong that young British Muslims would go and join the likes of ISIS. Probably for the same reason people join the BNP. The politics of the "left behind".

Imagine growing up in a Northern slum town like Dewsbury, where the youth unemployment problem is acute, opportunities are few, the pay sucks and most of the people around you don't speak English. Lacking any kind of education, particularly English skills, thanks to a failing state school system, your chances of getting a foot on the ladder of the British way of life are somewhere around nil. Your life options are pretty much limited to a life on welfare, dealing drugs, money laundering, drug addiction or terrorism. Or all of the above.

That's bad enough but having to living such a dreary life spending six months of the year in thick Pennine fog makes running away with the jihad circus stack up as an idea. Plunder, firearms and sunshine. I'm almost tempted myself.

There are places up and down the UK where "social mobility" is essentially a skateboard, and it's not a barrel of laughs for young white working class boys either. It leads to a life of bitterness, resentment and frustration which is easy pickings for extremist vultures of any kind.

Some have it that it's just a matter of instilling British values, but most people hit a wall when they try to define what those are, and our token efforts thus far have been beyond satire. No statist propaganda from the government is ever going to have quite the same appeal as the murderous message of jihadis. The attraction is clear - adventure.

It's comes down to one basic equation. Kids are violent bastards. They are attention hungry, ill-disciplined, spoiled squirming bags of demands, and they are always seeking stimulation. Thanks to the creeping rot of learned helplessness instilled by the welfare system, kids get no discipline at home, and if it is not reinforced by parents then there's very little even the best teachers can do.

So how do we create a framework to focus on that? We had one. Cadet forces. They are a shadow of what they were with little attraction in them now, but if twenty years ago you were a cadet, you'd get helicopter rides in a Wessex or even a flight in a Tornado interceptor or a week on an aircraft carrier, weekends away, assault courses, sailing, gliding, swimming, marching up and down with rifles and... shooting.

There was a lot of discipline involved in maintaining uniforms, and there was a certain competition as to who could get their boots shinier and which squad could fall into line the fastest. We had class time where we would learn about field-craft, waterway navigation and flight theory - and I even remember an engineering course where we reconditioned the engine of a Rover 214 in the local college workshop.

Two nights a week at least and a weekend camp every now and then gave us opportunities we would never have had otherwise, and a rank structure which gave us something to work for. And nothing gives you a sense of Britishness like being around our armed services. The cadet forces themselves are run by ex-forces men and women. Our Chief Petty Officer could tell some tall tales and we loved him. We had leadership, role models and structure.

Of course I hated it. I hated having to iron my uniform, I hated being seen in public wearing it, I hated the other cadets, I hated the bullying, I hated the standing still for long periods of time holding a heavy Lee Enfield .303 and I especially hated freezing my arse off in some damp hut or tent in the middle of the woods, being forced to go for a long run at 5am having been rained on all night, and I hated eating field rations. I hated being shouted at all the time, I hated drill practice and I hated the mean spirited practical jokes. As for five hours in the back of a Bedford four tonne lorry down the M1 in the winter, well I hated that too.

And this is precisely why we should be forcing these spoilt little bastards into cadet forces, and giving these pig-ignorant little gobshites a good dressing down. But of course now that everyone is a suspected paedophile if they talk to a child, and there must be fire safety drills, insurance, and the threat of the ever watchful vulture looking out for a personal injury claim, none of this happens like it used to. And it's no longer fashionable to discipline kids. The lefty panty-waistes who run our education establishment think this is all militaristic brainwashing and too demanding for their fragile little egos.

So rather than kids spending the weekends sliding down a zip slide and shooting targets, flying gliders and marching, we now have kids left to go feral, with no skills, no discipline and no focus - abandoned to drink cheap cider in a bus shelter until they're old enough to spawn themselves a meal ticket - or bugger off to Syria to pillage, rape, plunder and decapitate.

It's not the whole of the answer I know - but it's a bloody good start. If these kids want to join an army, let's make sure they join ours. Even if kids never join up it still gives them some magical memories they will never forget, and will challenge them in ways that schools just can't. And at the very least gives kids an appreciation of the services and an instinctive understanding of them. 

It is all rooted in ritual, ceremony and tradition that is otherwise lacking in the rest of British culture. Islam has rigid structures and rituals and it's no wonder it's attractive to kids who lack any order in their lives, or any sense of place in society. We always think of youth being liberal but as it happens, kids are extremist little bastards and they need boundaries. Take those away and you get Lord of the Flies... ISIS.