Monday 19 March 2018

Jeremy's Judgement

We've had two solid threads on the rights and wrongs of the nerve-gas business; and the actions and reactions; the knowns and unknowns, etc etc.  Our old friend Raedwald stirred up an even longer one  last week (- and it seems to have changed his mind on the matter).  My interest here lies in how May and Corbyn have reacted to it all, in base political terms.  I'll start by chipping in with three related points on the path to this realpolitik.

1.  Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways, displaying crass bad judgement and, often, to the detriment of their own interests.  Let us merely recall the sordid epsiode of the Rainbow Warrior, perpetrated by none other than our good democratic neighbours the French.  This cuts both ways.  It means that to claim Putin would never have done anything like that is daft; but at the same time, you can take it as the basis of any false-flag hypothesis you wish to dream up.

2.   As Misha Glenny said in an interview before the recent screening of McMafia, when you meet an educated Russian in a suit, he might be: a businessman; an FSB agent; or a gangster - or all three.  For many purposes, "the Russians" is a term lacking today in precise definition, but nonetheless means something for the purposes of geopolitics.  It is clear Putin's government is thus able (at a superficial level of plausibility), and willing, to disavow literally anything - including a corps-scale attack on a neighbouring country.  In such circumstances, taking measures such as May has done against "the Russians" seems rather more appropriate than is being asserted in some pedantic quarters.

3.   On the subject of legalistic pedantry, it's always easy to find fault with any type of reaction or retaliation if one adopts the standards of a court of law and requires the matter to be beyond all reasonable doubt.  This, I fear, is the tone of a good many comments, here and at Raedwald's and elsewhere.   OK, we've all read David Hume; we can all summon up a 'doubt', or hatch an alternative explanation for anything (see 1. above) if we put ourselves to the challenge.  But it's not a court of law, it's the court of public opinion.  And given the present situation in Russia (see 2. above), to indulge in lawyer-like hair-splitting on judgements about Russian actions is to misapply a concept - a waste of breath.

Mrs May's Response

We all know what she's done; and given her utterly dismal showing against Hollande over the Hinkley contract when she first came into office, I suggest it's been a whole lot better than one might have feared - not only in its speed and tone of delivery, but in the way she has enlisted Macron, Merkel and Trump.

Note, in passing, the Macron / Merkel aspect to this.  They are keen (very keen - trust me on this one) that future security cooperation with the UK isn't to become some sort of Brexit issue.  So it behoves them to stand up and be counted, right now.  As they have done.  And - be it further noted - both France and Germany have been known to shuffle to the back of the room on security matters in the past.  Credit where it's due: to them, and to May - for once. 

(And for what it's worth, the public seems to agree in the ratio 5:1.  How this translates into votes is anyone's guess.  An Iron Lady moment?  Let's not get ahead of ourselves.) 

Mr *spits* Corbyn's Response

Sorry about that, I was just clearing my throat.    Well yes, we all know his instincts.  UK Bad, Everybody Else Good.  Corbyn Always Right.  Corbyn Never Backs Away.  So off he goes, to be disowned immediately and publicly by his parliamentary colleagues in large numbers.  As I've read it described, this actually discomfited him acutely and visibly.  But still, no backing down, no disowning the reptilian Milne.

So (presumably with a weary sigh) his office is obliged to make the best of it.  More; they are required to give him a line that can be written down in black and white, released to the outside (and rather hostile) world.  More still; it must come across as Jeremy Undaunted, Corbyn Courageous.  Never backing down; always right.

Well, they followed their brief.  The neat line in truculent sophistry they came up with is this:  I vehemently and resolutely insist that either Russia did this dastardly deed, OR some of those nasty chemicals (that seemed once to be in their possession, can't think how that happened) did it without their knowledge.  And this stern and unequivocal accusation by me must be followed up with resolute and proportionate action.  See how firm and fair I am.  Did I mention how firm I am?  And unbending.  And always right.  You can tell, can't you, from my righteous demeanour.

The trick is transparent (and, by the way, demonstrates he is in fact afraid of being labelled a Putin apologist: because this isn't even remotely an unequivocal statement - either of what he really believes, or 'what he ought to say'.  He actually wants to be able both to pretend still to be an upright Englishman, and to be thought not to have changed his mind or agreed with the warmonger May.) 

But presumably it passes the immediate test of: does it allow Jeremy to blow hard and fearlessly in public?  In the sure knowledge that a veritable army of sock-puppets is just waiting in the wings to love him for it (whatever they think 'it' is), and swamp CiF with upvotes.  And everyone can point to the thousands of swooning acolytes gathering on the densely-laid astroturf and say to themselves: see, it does actually work, seeming to be sticking to your guns like that.  Brazening it out.  They love him for it!  Some people actually think it's clever strategy!   There you go, Jezza-boy: you can carry on with the foreign-policy posturing.

We may allow them their heady moment of relief.   On the quiet, earlier in the week there had been a string of red-on-red incidents, most notably the General Secretary row but also others documented by Guido:  Jezza vs Abrahams; 'Corbyn & McDonnell Spilt Three Times in One Week'; 'McDonnell Orders Labour MPs to Stop Going on RT'; 'Corbyn Slaps Down McDonnell Over Anti-Semitic FB Group' ... 

Yes, we must allow for Guido being in Murdoch's pay these days; but those tensions are there to be watched as they simmer.  (At the weekend, McDonnell made sure his way of mouthing the carefully-crafted Party Line came across as outright condemnation of Russia.)  Yes, there is a hard core of Jeremy-lovers for whom, quite literally, he can do no wrong.  Yes, it's hard for observers on the other side of the political spectrum to fathom what goes on in these people's heads, and easy to underestimate their numbers and their enthusiasms.

But a couple of hard facts stand out.  McDonnell is no idle 'politics-of-protest' dilletante; and four years is a very long time.



Anonymous said...

"the sordid episode of the Rainbow Warrior"

I well recall the international sanctions which brought France to its knees. Nearly as onerous as the current sanctions on Turkey for invading Syria!

dearieme said...

I don't really understand how any member of the public can be certain, or even highly confident, about who did it. We have no evidence worth mentioning, and we know that the word of our government is probably worthless (see the case of Iraq). We also know that the US Securitate is ruthlessly murderous, and currently engaged in a slow-motion coup against the President, by fabricating "links" between him and Russia.

The rational response is a shrug. Nasty people tried to kill a nasty man, without the least care about the harm caused to others. That means that the perpetrators could easily be ... oh, the Russians, the Yanks, the Israelis, and Lord knows who else. The Queen, the Pope, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Martians, the Mormons, the Ukrainians, and Uncle Tom Cobley. Add to that list any major country in the EU.

hovis said...

A fairish overview, I’d disagree, ( as you would expect) in several areas:
“Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways, displaying crass bad judgement and, often, to the detriment of their own interests. “
Of course, I don’t think anyone could disagree – joining the EU and May’s current response come to mind . Rejecting that the Russian state did this out of hand is daft, but that does not mean it was either. We simply have lack of evidence, and that presented by HMG looks to be a steaming turd which they are desperately trying to polish. I will refer you to the Craig Murray posts I referenced elsewhere (He may have been a liberal democrat supporter but his moral compass and grasp of reality is in the right direction, and on this, his knowledge of facts is greater than anything else I have read.)
Hence there looks to be no reason for May to take action as she has, and what she has done make her look foolish, so she has “Allies” but that just means doubling down on a bad bet.
It is not legalistic pedantry to question the actions of HMG but to question the evidence presented.
This might be the court of public opinion but this looks to be a vexation prosecution if you are relying on the evidence so far.

Talking of bodies taking judgement why haven’t HMG gone through the OPCW – after all Caesar’s wife should be above reproach.

On the realpolitik:
May’s actions – attempt to look “strong” playing an appalling hand, making her look weak and pathetic. That we now have “Allies“ all of whom have interest in trying to look “strong” and “statesmanlike”, as I said doubling down – but to what end? Iron Lady moment – please don’t make me laugh.

Corbyn – a stopped clock is right twice a day (Corbyn is likely to be a digital 24 hour clock so only right once). His pronouncements driven by his background – but saying more evidence needed is not treason (yet). The PLP faction saw a national security issue they can knife him with and merrily took it. All else is external posturing for internal positioning.

All in all HMG have tried to move away from any actual evidence and have just been repeating “Russians” over and over to try and move onto the next stage of a non “crisis” in which no one has actually died. So their the foolish knavery continues.

andrew said...

Quite right, it will be pretty nearly impossible to prove beyond doubt that the russians did it.

On the other hand, like you say, we know they did it.
To me the key thing is

The first job of a british (well, any) state is to keep the people who live there safe.
This includes being not being poisoned by by foreigner invaders.
Corbyn has made it clear this is not a priority to him.
People understand this at a visceral level.

I think we just passed through peak corbyn.

Anonymous said...

"The first job of a british (well, any) state is to keep the people who live there safe. This includes being not being poisoned by by foreigner invaders."

Also not being raped by foreigner invaders. How's the British State doing on that front?

It used to be that the prime function of a state was to stop foreign invasion, now its to stop people organising against said invasion.

dearieme - unless they've been even cleverer than we know them to be already, I doubt it was Israelis. All their overseas 'hits' that we know about seem to have been aimed at people directly attacking Israel, from that unfortunate waiter in Norway (mistaken identity) to that Hamas chief who had some very unpleasant chemical sprayed in his ear.

dearieme said...

"All their overseas 'hits' that we know about ...": aye, there's one rub. Another is that the Syrian war might give them extra cause to foment trouble for Russia. If they were to fear that it might be unwise to stage such a stunt in the US, then why not do it in the UK? I added Ukraine to the list when it occurred to me that it wasn't "Russia" that developed such weapons, but the USSR. There may well have been Ukrainian chemists involved. Or Estonian, or .........

Nick Drew said...

Hovis - OCPW: HMG is now doing exactly that. At the most trivial level it shows that Porton Down are confident in their own assessment (as well they might be, they know what they are doing)

(But, yes, it's easy to come up with an 'alternative thesis' on this, too...)

Andrew - just passed through peak corbyn

I nearly wrote those very words myself. My reluctance derived from recalling how last year I'd thought no large-scale vote could be mustered by a man who'd crouched down on the floor by a public toilet on a railway train ...

rwendland said...

hovis, I did much enjoy Craig Murray's latest post. Underlines how humour can be more effective than rational prose - wish I could dream up this sort of stuff. It's short enough to reproduce here:

“Comrade Putin, we have successfully stockpiled novichoks in secret for ten years, and kept them hidden from the OPCW inspectors. We have also trained our agents in secret novichok assassination techniques. The programme has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but now we are ready. Naturally, the first time we use it we will expose our secret and suffer massive international blowback. So who should be our first target? The head of a foreign intelligence agency? A leading jihadist rebel in Syria? A key nuclear scientist? Even a Head of State?”

“No, Tovarich. There is this old retired guy I know living in Salisbury. We released him from jail years ago…”

Anonymous said...

@dearieme - afaik Israel and Russia get on pretty well, but on the other hand countries have interests rather than friends, and I'm sure they prefer a chaotic Syria to an ordered one. Still think it less likely as they have no form that we know about. Russia has the form but I can't see the motive (any more than I could see Assad's motive in Syria in 2013, why bring the USAF on your head just when the tide's on the turn?), but its all a wilderness of mirrors.

Interesting LRB piece on the Mashal hit, not trying to make smoke but we don't have much info on how these things are done, in this case the perps were captured. Makes you wonder how many more successful ops there have been.

"The attack would take a matter of seconds – so quick he wouldn’t know it was happening. One agent would shake a can of Coke and pop it open to distract Mishal while another would spray levofentanyl, a chemically modified painkiller, in his ear. He would feel as if he’d been bitten by an insect; 48 hours later the drug would kill him, leaving no trace. Mossad agents rehearsed the assassination using water instead of poison on unsuspecting pedestrians in Tel Aviv.

The plot unravelled almost as soon as it began. Mishal’s driver suspected that he’d been followed by a green Hyundai. When he saw a blond, bearded man in sunglasses approaching his boss as he stepped out of the car, with a ‘bizarre instrument’ in his hand, he pounced on him – though not before the poison had been squirted into Mishal’s ear from that instrument, a nebuliser. The attackers piled into the Hyundai, but they didn’t know their way around Amman, and were chased by Mishal’s bodyguard, who did. Eventually they jumped out of their car, but got stuck in a crowded marketplace, where Mishal’s bodyguard wrestled them into a taxi and took them to the nearest police station. Mishal seemed fine at first, but a few hours later he realised that something was wrong: his ear was ringing, he was shivering; he suddenly felt exhausted and nauseous. As his aides rushed him to hospital, he lost consciousness altogether.

‘We did it . . . We sprayed him with a chemical,’ Yatom confessed to Batikhi after landing in Jordan: ‘There’s nothing you can do about it . . . He’s been poisoned and all his bodily functions will deteriorate. There’ll be no apparent cause of death . . . We’d better deal with the consequences."

Nick Drew said...

Anon @ 2:45 - another excellent example of "Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways, displaying crass bad judgement and, often, to the detriment of their own interests"

(notwithstanding Craig Murray's humorous attempt to assert Putin's rationality. As noted before, Putin has felt able to deny absolutely anything. "expose our secret and suffer massive international blowback"? Nope, he just dresses them in anonymous green uniforms by way of the merest fig-leaf. He really doesn't care)

Electro-Kevin said...

It smacks of someone stirring the shit.

I don't say the Crown Court test of reasonable doubt applies to state sponsored terror but for realpolitik it can when it suits us and right now I think it should.

There are many reasons why Putin is being made into a bigger bogeyman than he is.

Why would he do this then deny it ?

hovis said...

ND: on OCPW haven't seen that yet let us see.

Interestingly it will be Porton Down vs Consultant treating the poisoning victims

"Sir, further to your report (‘Poision Exposure Leaves Nearly 40 needing Treatment’), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. Several people have attended the emergency department concerned that they may have been exposed. None has had symptoms of poisoning and none has needed treatment. Any blood tests performed have shown no abnormality. No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved.’ Stephen Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. (The Times, 16th March 2018)

So the medics say one thing, the Govt. another..

Anonymous said...

I confess I'm scratching my head why people are actively looking for reasons why it couldn't be Putin.

My social meeja streams are filled with people who most certainly haven't had the wool pulled over their eyes, no sirree, and it surely can only be a matter of time before GCHQ extracts them from their career behind a supermarket cheese counter to make use of that amazing brain of theirs...

I mean, I don't exactly trust the government that much, but this is like watching Columbo and someone stating the guy who we saw commit the murder at the start, maybe didn't do it after all. Yes he fucking did, hit rewind, you'll see!

We have someone who has ordered several murders in the UK, has annexed a large chunk of another nation and is basically taking half off the remainder in all but name, and has a history of winning elections in less than trustworthy ways.

Nah. Can't be him. Must be Mrs May, she just reeks of the type of competent and evil politician who'd frame the poor Mr Putin, who just wants to be loved as the gay icon he is. Or maybe it is the Americans. Or the Jooz.

When did this country get so batshit insane that we'd rather dream up an X-Files plot than accept the bleeding obvious? Did all of Nu Labour's spin really get that bad we can't tell up from down any more?

Electro-Kevin said...

Then we have to accept this message

"You've dicked us around enough. This is what we think of you. This is what we think of your stupid PM."

We could have sidestepped it and 'manned up' our energy and military (by pure coincidence of course.)

Instead we get strong posturing when there is none of it towards the EU.

I wouldn't mind. Russia would have made a great natural ally but NATO didn't want it.

The real threat in the UK remains cultural Marxism and the fundamentalist Islam it protects. The British government invites assassins in by the thousands.

Bill Quango MP said...

Lol - anon ... “poor mr Putin who just wants to be lived for the gay icon he is.”

Anonymous said...

@hovis - many years ago I was a spectator at a "chemical incident" in an industrial plant - could have been nasty (nearby premises were evacuated) but lots of cooling water from fire engines prevented a big bang and nasty stuff flying everywhere.

As is SOP when there are toxic fumes about, all the crews were checked out for lung function etc at hospital afterwards, all OK.

Following day's paper - "15 firemen hospitalised after chemical leak". Press just love bigging things up.

Anonymous said...

"Nations do indeed behave in extreme and spiteful ways"

That should be "governments", not "nations".

Don Cox

hovis said...

Anon 4.26 You appear to be adding your own filter to comments.

Questioning what HMG are suggesting is 'evidence' is not looking reasons why it couldn't be Putin. It is asking if the evidence stacks up.

Why? Because when the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, starts sying things like “if not an act of war … certainly a warlike act by the Russian federation" Then you better be damn sure the evidence stacks up. So far no official documentation has said it was Russia. Only weasel words.

If you are going to pick a fight make sure you can win it. However the half wits and fellow travellers that populate HMG and the Press rush headlong without consideration. If there is any can only be of minds fevered madness.

Graeme said...

As a guide, who here believed in the WMD dossier that the mass media hyped back in 2003? Probably anon 4.26 and probably Nick Drew based on this risible post