Monday, April 25, 2011

Why the Libya intervention will end up as a messy stalemate, at best

In my latest piece for Pajamas Media I suggest that the intervention in Libya is bound to settle into a messy stalemate due to the conflicting aims of the various 'coalition' (I use the term loosely) members. While the participation of the United States is based largely on the aching need of liberals to 'do something' when bad stuff happens – at least when the bad stuff is being shown on TV – France and the UK appear to be motivated as much by the need to divert attention from economic problems and home and to shore up business interests as by concern over attacks on civilians. To varying degrees all the participants lack both the moral authority to intervene, and the resolve to see the operation through to a conclusion – and of course no one has any idea of what a conclusion might look like.
None of the above is to say that the U.S. and its allies should never intervene in national conflicts where civilian lives are at risk; no-one wants to see women and children being shelled. But we should only do so as a last resort, where action can be taken quickly and effectively, without the risk of being drawn into a civil war, and where we know the people we’re helping into power are the good guys (remember all the media excitement about those Tweeters and Facebookers in Cairo? Looks like that might not turn out so well). And we certainly shouldn’t act as a knee-jerk response to upsetting television pictures. If we can take out a Gaddafi or Assad regime with a few well-aimed missiles, and then offer support to factions who won’t lynch Western aid workers, all well and good. And if that sounds like a set of conditions so strict they’ll rarely be fulfilled, maybe that’s no bad thing.
And any such action should be embarked upon with as little regard for the UN and other transnational talking shops as possible. The fact that so many stars have to be aligned before anything can be done makes a mockery of so-called principles such as the “Responsibility to Protect.” If there’s a guiding principle for humanitarian intervention these days, it’s the Responsibility to Protect, as long as Russia and China don’t object and there’s something in it for France. Unfortunately as mentioned above, the Obama administration is compromised in this respect by its rejection of all things Bush, which means fudges and half-measures will be the order of the day until late January 2013 at the earliest.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dutch barns, grain silos, churches, flags in the yard... Yep, that's Obama country!

The only element they left out was a slack-jawed yokel with three teeth clinging bitterly to his shotgun.

The New York Times sees justice done in Mazar-i-Sahrif

So that’s it then. All done and dusted. Job’s a good ‘un, as we say in England. According to the New York Times, the burning of a Koran by the church of Florida pastor Terry Jones almost a fortnight ago has officially been avenged in an attack by thousands of protestors on a UN compound in Afghanistan which left 12 people dead, including seven UN employees; four Nepalese Gurkha security personnel, a Romanian, a Norwegian and a Swede.

But what the headline - Afghans Avenge Florida Koran Burning, Killing 12’ - and the ensuing story fail to make clear is whether the mob actually left the scene having satisfied themselves that vengeance had indeed been extracted, and that they now considered the matter closed, or whether it’s the Times editorial staff who have rendered that judgment. One suspects the latter, given the perils a US reporter would clearly have faced in attempting to obtain a quote from a member of the enraged crowd who, the Times assures us, first made assiduous efforts to locate Americans to slaughter – which, again, we can only assume is in fact true; no quotes from any official mob spokespersons are offered to support this assertion, so it’s either the product of some kind of mind-meld between the writers in New York and the collective, Borg-like consciousness of the mob, or an fictionalized editorial attempt to exculpate the perpetrators.

According to Merriam Webster, to ‘avenge’ means ‘to take vengeance for, or on behalf of’ or ‘to exact satisfaction for (a wrong) by punishing the wrongdoer’, and the examples they give suggest that it’s generally people that are avenged, not inanimate objects. Indeed, while I like my books as much as the next man, I would consider it at least mildly eccentric to do anything for, or on behalf of, any of them; and if, alternatively, the wanton butchery in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif was intended to exact satisfaction by punishing the wrongdoer, the Afghans missed by a mile; last time I checked, Pastor Jones was safely at home in Gainesville, Florida. Absent a beheaded pastor then, how many of the other random Americans the mob supposedly sought would have sufficed as equivalence? Or how many non-U.S. infidels? How does one weight Asians against Europeans? Gurkhas, courageous warriors whom I had the privilege of serving alongside in Afghanistan, are Hindus; and Scandinavia and Eastern Europe are not known as hotbeds of evangelical Christianity. If more foreign targets had presented themselves at the compound, would they too have been butchered; and if so, would the Times have considered this to be, er, overkill? The Times’ writers fail to show their working, as it were, as to how they were able to declare the Koran burning duly avenged.

But of course it doesn’t matter. Friday, which sees crowds of worshippers pouring out of mosques into the midday heat of the streets, has long been kill-an-infidel day in those parts of the Muslim world where imams are wont to whip their flock into a frenzy at the slightest pretence of a provocation. If such an attack had happened before the supposed Koran burning, the Times would have claimed that it was to ‘avenge’ the victims of NATO airstrikes. If it had happened elsewhere, it would have been a response to the Danish Mohammed cartoons (Denmark, after all, is adjacent to both Sweden and Norway...). Or the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Whatever. In the leftist pathology which exonerates everyone from graffiti artists to Osama Bin Laden by virtue of their relative ‘victim status’, sometimes you’ve just got to lash out – and Afghans, the Times helpfully reminds us, are “reflexively volatile”.

So that’s alright then.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Understatement of the week: BBC 'often notably adrift of the overriding national sentiment', says Michael Buerk

Reviewing former BBC colleague Peter Sissons' memoir When One Door Closes, Michael Buerk becomes the latest of the corporation's big names to highlight the institutional left-wing bias which BBC bosses would have you believe doesn't exist:
What the BBC regards as normal and abnormal, what is moderate or extreme, where the centre of gravity of an issue lies, are conditioned by the common set of assumptions held by the people who work for it. These are uniformly middle class, well educated, living in north London, or maybe its Manchester equivalent. Urban, bright thirty-somethings with a pleasing record of achievement in a series of institutions, school, university, BBC, with little experience of — and perhaps not very well disguised contempt for — business, industry, the countryside, localness, traditions and politicians. The Guardian is their bible and political correctness their creed. In the Corporation's collective eye, Tony Benn is a lovable national treasure, Melanie Phillips a swivel-eyed fanatic. It's all very well-meaning, and painstakingly even-handed, but often notably adrift of the overriding national sentiment.
More on Buerk's attack at the Mail, which also carried Sissons' own thoughts on the BBC's bias, and serialised When One Door Closes, including this extract on the BBC role as unofficial PR agency for the climate change lobby.