The war against error


“We are in a war against terrorism,” French president Francois Hollande declared four days ago and three days after terrorist attacks by ISIS killed 129 people in Paris.  “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.”


To be honest, I thought Hollande’s words were more Hollywood-esque than statesman-like.  They reminded me of Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the Taken movies:  “I will find you and I will kill you.”


Anyway, we’re facing a War against Terror – again.  The last time we got a War against Terror was in 2001, soon after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC, when President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and the Sahara / Sahel part of Africa; and then, with the help of his good friend Tony Blair, Operation Iraqi Freedom against Saddam Hussein.  Research has shown that the number of people killed by terrorists in 2014 – just over 30,000 – was five times higher than the number killed in 2001.  So that last War against Terror worked out really well.


Mind you, the majority of people killed in 2014 were in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria – you know, Muslims – so I don’t suppose George, or his old partner-in-prayer Tony, are particularly bothered.




I didn’t feel like blogging about what’s been happening since those attacks in Paris and about what’s likely to happen as a result of them.  But it currently seems that every half-wit (and no-wit) with access to a keyboard is filling the twitter-sphere and Facebook-sphere and blog-o-sphere and every-other-sphere with his or her opinions on the topic.  These include Scott McDowell of Northern Ireland’s Progressive Unionist Party, who tweeted his support for nuking the Middle East and everyone in it, including the children, who are ‘bred’ to hate the West.  (For a member of the Progressive Unionist Party, he didn’t sound very progressive.)  Also having his say was John Rentoul, chief political correspondent for the Independent and according to Wikipedia a ‘slavish’ admirer of Tony Blair.  Barely had the gun-smoke cleared in Paris last Friday night than Rentoul used the atrocity to smear the British Labour Party’s current left-leaning (and Palestinian-sympathising) leader Jeremy Corbyn and tweeted: “Will Corbyn say France made itself a target?”


And let’s not forget various American gun-nuts who’ve been tweeting and posting about how the death toll in Paris would have been lower if ordinary French people were allowed to carry arms like ordinary Americans are.  I have to say that’s rich coming from citizens of the USA, a country where 129 people – the equivalent of the Paris death-toll – are killed by guns every three-and-a-bit days.


So I thought I might as well contribute my tuppence-worth.  Here is some advice I’d offer Mr Hollande and other Western leaders.  If they choose not to listen to me, well, it’s their funerals – and possibly a few other people’s funerals too.


One. Air-strikes alone won’t beat anyone


As journalist Iain Macwhirter has pointed out, declaring war on a country that doesn’t actually exist – ISIS might style themselves as ‘Islamic State’ but they’re more an evil miasma that wafts in and out of existence in various warzones and failed or failing states – isn’t very logical.  Neither is vowing to kill combatants who already see themselves as martyrs and death as their raison d’être.  But it looks like war is what we’re going to get.  Already, the French Air Force has blasted the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, and probably soon David Cameron will be asking parliament for permission to let British fighter planes join in. 


In many ways, air-strikes – unaccompanied by troop action on the ground – are great.  They spare the combatants on the air-striking side the traumas of war: bullets chewing into your body, bombs burning off your skin, other people’s blood and entrails and flesh-fragments making a mess of your fatigues and body-armour.  They also spare the politicians on the air-striking side the dilemma of having to declare war in the knowledge that, a week or two later, slain ground-troops will start to return home in body-bags.


No, air-strikes only involve targeting some anonymous-looking buildings or vehicles on a screen and pressing a button inside an aircraft cockpit or, better still, inside drone-control headquarters thousands of miles away.  Mind you, they’re less great for the people on the receiving end of the high-powered explosives released by that button – although because they’re ISIS terrorists, they deserve to be blown up.  Well, apart from the ones who are actually innocent civilians.  You know, innocent men, women and children who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Innocent people whose indiscriminate slaughter will soon have thousands of impressionable and enraged youths queueing at the doors of the nearest ISIS recruitment office.


I’ll bet ISIS love air-strikes too.  Which makes them win-win all round.


Indeed, the only people who don’t care for air-strikes (besides those blown-apart innocent civilians) are military experts and historians who’ll tell you that such strikes, unsupported by troops on the ground, don’t win wars.  In military terms, they’re a crap option.


Two.  This time, try having a game-plan for afterwards


I’m sure that in the mid-noughties, as post-invasion Iraq got increasingly bloodier, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and co. tried to comfort themselves with the old adage: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”  Although as those broken-eggshells translated into lots and lots and lots of dead people, it became clear that the American masterminds behind the invasion didn’t actually know how to make an omelette.  In fact, they didn’t seem to have a clue what an omelette was.  There’d been no research done, no blueprints drawn up, absolutely no thought given to how Iraq, after the invasion had been staged and Saddam toppled, would be managed.


This reinforces an observation made by Robert Skidelsky during a feature in the Guardian a few days ago: “The US deploys overwhelming firepower, either directly or by arming opposition groups, shatters local government structures, and then pulls out, leaving the country in shambles.”


So this time guys, please, if you have to wage war, at least devote a modicum of thought to what to do with the place afterwards.  Surely now is the time to get everyone with a stake in the future of Iraq and Syria – including the Russians, Turks and Iranians – around the table in heavy-duty negotiations about how best to run post-ISIS Iraq / Syria and how best to stop ISIS taking root there again.


Incidentally, Vladimir Putin might not want to hear this but, post-ISIS, the weasel-faced Bashar al-Assad can’t remain in charge of Syria.  The man has way too much blood on his hands.  As the following graphic shows, he’s responsible for many more civilian deaths than ISIS is (although I strongly suspect the number of deaths attributed to ISIS here is under-estimated).  It would be a mockery to eradicate ISIS without crowbarring him out of office too – for he and his ‘fragrant’ wife Asma al-Assad are two Syrians who deserve to be refugees.  Maybe Putin could accommodate them in Moscow.  He could stick them in the kennel with Buffy, his pet Bulgarian shepherd, or something.


From the Syria Campaign


Three.  And if you beat them – where will the survivors go?


You’d think people would be giving this serious thought after what happened in Mali in 2012-2013.  The collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya caused an influx of armaments and fighters (who’d been in Gaddafi’s employ before the revolution) into the north of Mali, which in turn caused the local Tuaregs to stage a rebellion, which in turn again caused the place to fall into the hands of fanatics like Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda-in-the-Islamic-Maghreb.  Squeeze a giant pimple and the pus is sure to spurt out somewhere.


Even if ISIS are defeated, it’ll be impossible to kill / immobilise / capture all its members.  That means a lot of them will be on the run and popping up, destructively, hither and thither.  What if, say, a good number of the 3000 Tunisians believed to be fighting for ISIS in the Middle East returned to their home nation and then became a threat to the only properly-functioning democracy in the Arab world?  That hardly bears thinking about – so it needs to be thought about, now.


Four.  Stop sucking up to the country that exports fundamentalism and finances extremism


Centuries from now – that’s if human beings still exist centuries from now – historians will find it mind-boggling that 21st century Western governments made such a song-and-dance about fighting Islamic terrorism whilst, simultaneously, performing diplomatic and economic fellatio on the country that’s spawned, exported and financed it all.  Saudi Arabia bears the same relationship to ISIS, Al-Qaeda et al that Mordor – the Land of Shadow, the Black Land, the Nameless Land – bears to the Orc armies in the Lord of the Rings books.


From the Independent–lJVRG3x4dg


Not only has Saudi Arabia used its petro-billions to spread the intolerant creed of Wahhabism – if you’re a fundamentalist who wants to set up a hard-line madrasa and radicalise young Muslims anywhere in the world, you only have to go knocking on the kingdom’s door to get your project generously financed – but it’s poured its cash into terrorists’ coffers too.  A secret memo signed by Hilary Clinton, which surfaced because of Wikileaks, identified the country as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terror groups worldwide.”


And on top of everything else, it’s a total horror story as far as human rights go.  Some 2000 people have been executed – beheaded – there over the last thirty years.  Meanwhile, as the founder of the Lonely Planet series Tony Wheeler has noted in his book Badlands, any country that treated an ethnic / racial group as hideously as Saudi Arabia treats its womenfolk would be subjected to an international outcry and to political, economic and cultural sanctions.


But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the UK seems to have a blind spot the size of a shadow cast by an eclipse.  No doubt that blindness is facilitated by the easy flow of oil heading one way and the easy flow of British-made armaments heading the other.  And no wonder the ridiculous Conservative MP Anna Soubry came out with spluttering gibberish on the BBC’s Question Time programme the other night when she was asked to explain why beheadings by ISIS were bad and beheadings by Saudi Arabia were, you know, alright.


Five.  Oh, and the best way to beat terrorists is…


Not to react to them.  To just keep calm and carry on.  Doing otherwise, curtailing your activities and those of people around you, cowering within a hastily-erected cage of security measures, bans, restrictions and curbs on individual freedoms is to gift the terrorists with what they want.


For that reason, I’m surprised that Boris Johnson – Mayor of London and the buffoonish comic-relief mascot of the Conservative Party – recently wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph arguing that the Paris attacks justified giving the security services even more surveillance powers than they have already, for example, the power to access anyone’s lifelong browsing history on the Internet.  That’s right, Boris.  To fight Neanderthal terrorists, we should abandon the liberties that make us better than those Neanderthal terrorists.


No, I’m in agreement with Charlie Hedbo, the French satirical magazine that, you may remember, suffered terrorist problems of its own a while ago.  Its cover this week shows a man determinedly enjoying himself regardless of the terrorist bullet-holes he’s sustained.  “Ils ont les armes,” declares the cover.  “On les emmerde.  On a le champagne.”


From the Washington Post


“They have the guns.  Fuck ’em.  We have the champagne!”  Quite right too.


Haughtiness and naughtiness


(c) Washington Post


January is drawing to a close and the dust finally seems to be settling on the month’s number-one salacious news story, i.e. that French President Francois Hollande has been cheating on his partner of a half-dozen years, Valerie Trierweiler.  For the last two years, it’s transpired, he’s enjoyed furtive ‘soirees’ in the company of actress Julie Gayet.  A few days ago Hollande issued a statement saying it was now all over between him and Ms Trierweiler.  Presumably, he’ll now be devoting his ‘amour’ to Julie Gayet alone, and doing so in a more open manner than he’d done previously, when he would sneak off from the Elysée Palace and visit her on a motorbike, his visage concealed under a motorcyclist’s helmet.  Cue the inevitable tittering in the British media about ‘Francois’ and his ‘helmet’.


So the media, at last, seems to be moving on to other tittle-tattle.  That’s the British media I’m talking about, not the French one.  Indeed, I suspect the Anglo-Saxon press has had its knickers in much more of a twist about Hollande’s infidelity than its Gallic counterpart.


Actually, it’s been embarrassing to see British newspapers wallow in the supposed scandal that’s befallen the French presidency.  They’ve wallowed metaphorically, of course, although I’m sure there are plenty of British journalists who’d happily wallow in a wheelie-bin of real garbage in the hope of locating used condoms, stained underwear or some other evidence of celebrity misbehaviour.  Their prurience is in contrast to the ‘sang-froid’ that many members of the French public have displayed regarding the shenanigans in their president’s personal life.  Indeed, over the years, I’ve met a number of French people who’ve told me, in a tone of haughty indifference, that they don’t care what improprieties their politicians get up to in their spare time, sexually, financially or otherwise.  All that matters to them is that those politicians do a decent job of running the country.


There’s much to be said for this ‘laissez faire’ attitude.  During World War II, Winston Churchill had a fondness for alcohol that some would consider a major character failing; but thanks to the account that Churchill gave of himself as Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, it would seem churlish to criticise him for being a pisshead.  And Bill Clinton may have done the dirty with at least one of his White House interns but, unlike his clean-living and God-fearing successor, he managed to avoid starting an illegal war that cost trillions of dollars and resulted in the deaths of (according to most estimates) between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians.


I generally don’t give a damn what naughtiness politicians indulge in during their private lives, then, but I think it’s fair to expose and pour scorn on them if they’ve devoted their time in office to lecturing us on how we should behave.  For example, I think it was reasonable for the press to declare open season on Iris ‘Mrs’ Robinson, who was a Northern Ireland Assembly member, wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister and someone who was never shy about denouncing homosexuality as being ungodly, when she got herself embroiled a few years ago in an extra-marital affair with a 19-year-old.  And when it emerged that former British Prime Minister John Major, who during his premiership had launched a campaign called Back to Basics to encourage greater public morality, had once enjoyed a secret affair with the silky seductive siren that was Edwina Currie, I reckon he deserved all the ridicule he got.


Incidentally, apart from inherent prurience, I suspect another reason why the British media has made so much about the Hollande fiasco is due to a deep-seated insecurity experienced by the British whenever they contemplate things French.  Or maybe more accurately, an insecurity felt by the English, as I don’t think the same Franco-obsession exists among the Northern Irish, Welsh or Scots.  (Indeed, a French visitor north of the border will, sooner or later, be bored rigid by some local havering on about the Auld Alliance, that glorious period in French history when they were lucky enough to have Scotland as a military partner.)


In some sections of English opinion, there seems to be irritation at the fact that France, no matter how serious its economic problems, and no matter how much embarrassment is caused by its philandering president, still does certain things better than dear old Blighty.  France has better cuisine (obviously); a better sense of style, which translates into better-dressed citizens; a more highly-rated health service; a functioning film industry; and cities and countryside that attract more tourists.  It also has a military that is still capable of staging an intervention in another country (e.g. Mali).  Over the next few days we’ll find out if the British military is capable of staging an intervention in Somerset.


And all this is despite the fact that France is, by the standards of our beloved Daily Mail, a ‘socialistic’ country – horror of horrors!  Of course, many of the right-wing columnists, commentators and polemicists in the British media, who constantly poo-poo the French way of doing things as not being ‘capitalist’ enough, pack their bags every summer and head for the rural south of France.  If a properly Anglo-Saxon capitalist outfit like Sainsbury or Tesco opened a branch in one those picturesque French villages where they hole up for the summer, and put out of business the pretty little boulangeries, charcuteries, fromageries, poissonneries and magasins de fruits et légumes from which they buy their local produce, I’m sure there’d be no end to their moaning and complaining.