Sunday, 27 December 2015

Why Norway is the only leave option…

I am not really a proper blogger – I do very little primary research myself and this is the third post I’ve written, as well as the first on the EU. I don’t tend to include a rather abortive attempt to oppose gun control in America – I decided on a provocative title and then forgot to write the rest, resulting in two random internet people out there who now associate me with ‘Maybe it is better to let the odd loser commit an unspeakable atrocity’ without any of the qualifying nuance concerning the Mexican drug cartels, etc. Please don’t judge me too harshly – I'm not an intrinsically bad person, just new to the whole blogging industry. I had this insane idea that if I wrote like Katie Hopkins but never revealed my identity, I would make big. I can only hope that this will not come back to haunt my future burgeoning political career in ten or so years’ time.

And of course there is the other fact in my anonymity that I am only a 20 year old history student – I feel slightly self-conscious that I am even interested in these issues to the extent that I am, at an age where my life should be confined to drinking too much too often, or at most a bizarre form of leftwing activism that revolves around throwing fire extinguishers through the windows of the Tory Party HQ twice a year around budget time. Even the Lisbon Treaty was just something that my dad got slightly angry about at dinner, way over the head of my innocent 12 year-old self. I suppose part of my interest is personal – my grandad was one of the Tory ministers who campaigned hardest to get us into the EU. I naturally feel that I am morally obliged to right this wrong that my family has wrought upon the world. I’ll forgive him, for the 70s were an odd period where many things that seemed like good ideas at the time turned out later not to be (e.g. Socialism, Agent Orange and new-age music) – supranationalism is just one of these silly ideas with which we still have to deal.

Anyway, back to the topic. I am essentially trying to write something that will hopefully convince eurosceptics that the only viable option for Britain leaving the EU is the Norway option. There are more or less two types of eurosceptics. There are rational, right-thinking people of all political persuasions who value democracy and self-determination. And then there are the ‘others’, people who inhabit a warped perception of reality, whereby we now live in the 4th Reich while shady UN bodies commit genocide on white Britons by the means of an invasion of brown ‘Musrabs’, greedy bankers purposefully plunder the economy to help their friends and Murdoch utilises mass mind-control to swing elections (and ironically enough, Sputnik and Russia Today are the only beacons of light, the sole guardians of truth – and of course Vlad the Lad is the subject of grossly unfair western targeting – as is The Nigel, because the establishment are scared of him).

I think that everyone has come across these latter types on the shadier parts of the Youtube and Breitbart, where, to paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse, holocaust-denying, tinfoil-hat wearing nutter calls to holocaust-denying, tinfoil-hat wearing nutter like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps. These people are idiots – ask them what a city-worker does all day, and they won’t have the slightest clue – keep probing and they will start talking about Eton. If, by some infinitesimally small chance they are actually right in some of their odd ideas (I saw one who even argued that the Japanese tsunami was actually caused by a new Israeli bomb), they won’t help win this referendum because no one will believe them anyway. If you are one of those types then please, with the greatest of respect, go away – emailing me death threats in illiterate doggerel is frankly a waste of time for both of us.

I should probably define what the Norway option is. The Norway option entails leaving the EU to join EFTA – thus keeping access to the single market, but in return, compromising with the EU by keeping the four freedoms. The advantage of this is that it is quick and straightforward, an off the shelf deal – able to be negotiated within the 2 year time frame that Article 50 allows – meaning that the transition would be certain and painless. Cited disadvantages are that it keeps freedom of movement, it would mean we keep EU laws (75% according to Cameron) and we would have to still pay in to the EU.

However, on closer inspection, it becomes clearer that we would only be subject to 21% of EU laws, and that most of them we would be signed up to anyway because of international regulatory bodies that we would be on. Take Cameron’s ‘economy with the truth’ as an indicator of his desire to keep us in the EU – telling such overt, falsifiable lies to trash the only reasonable exit option shows both the weakness of his position and his commitment to the EU cause, regardless of the outcome of any negotiations which may or may not be happening. Furthermore, Norway pays a lot less than we do, and most of this is in voluntary contributions to certain schemes – either way, this isn’t really a money question for me and the sums are relatively insignificant (it is all debt anyway); it is a question of self-determination and our guaranteed future independence. And, of course, freedom of movement only matters if you get really hot and bothered about immigration – I don’t, many other people don’t, but even if you did, the Norway option would give slightly more power to the government, such as an ‘emergency brake’. So, while far from ideal, it is a solid, workable foundation on which to build for the future.

This makes it far better than all of the alternatives, which are by and large laughably poor. On the one hand, we have (UKIP et al.), telling us about some mythical deal we’ll be able to sign – of course, Norway is unacceptable to them because of the immigration question (UKIP could never win an election without spouting off against immigrants – but then again, they can’t really win elections anyway [by the way I’m being flippant – there is literally no need to remind me that you won the European elections in 2014 – for the purposes of a joke, I have to approximate, because a three line caveat like this one really does kill delivery and comic timing]). The fabled ‘deal’ approach would be an unmitigated failure, should we ever attempt it. Article 50 is a weaponised clause – aka, the 2 year time limit was put there on purpose to hold a shotgun to balls of anyone trying to leave. There is literally no chance of being able to arrange a comprehensive deal in 2 years – Switzerland took more than a decade to secure a deal, which is falling apart at the seams now anyway, while others such as South Korea took 18 years. The clause was almost certainly designed this way to give the EU the upper hand over any state trying to leave – the period cannot be extended without unanimous agreement. If the time expires with no deal, the seceding party gets thrown out with no access to the single market – and so it doesn’t take a genius to see how the EU negotiators would use expiry as a threat to improve their negotiating position (or just kick us out).

Still, UKIP et al. feel that this is the way to go to stop immigration, with the vague fig-leaf that ‘they sell us more than we sell them so we’ll be able to impose a deal.’ Seriously! They are dealing with the same fuckers responsible for Greece and the general economic devastation haunting the rest of the Mediterranean. Using hundreds of billions of euros and the combined might of the world’s most powerful economic institutions in order to buy up the economy of a destitute, corrupt, irreformable cesspit of a state where sound finance goes to die for a few more years only goes to show the ruthless political megalomania of the parties we will be dealing with. And UKIP expect these people to give Britain a better deal leaving than staying because we buy German cars, even though everyone on both sides knows full well that this could lead to a rising political demand for independence across Europe that the EU establishment will neither want nor tolerate. If the EU institutions were that politically committed to Greece, would they really get too worried about jettisoning Britain without a trade deal, a position strengthened and made even more possible by WTO rules signifying that EU countries could probably trade favourably with the UK anyway? Luckily, an alternative option, Norway, does exist – and this would be the route probably taken if we did vote to leave.

So what we end up with is the bizarre situation where UKIP feel comfortable with the EU’s Article 50 shotgun, casually informing them to shoot the left one first – simply because they cannot backtrack on freedom of movement without losing support from a cadre of immigration-minded fanatics (one of them once suggested to me that a 10% drop in GDP, significantly larger than the 2007 recession, would be a price worth paying to reduce immigration – it is this replacement of pragmatism with a sheer bloody-minded zero-sum approach which makes UKIP such a terrifying prospect).

The lack of pragmatism is indeed striking. All of the evidence says that the conservatives are pretty pro-immigration – immigration runs at record levels and little effort has been made to curb non-EU migration, which is doable under current laws. Indeed, some evidence even suggests that Osborne is dependent on immigration for 1% of annual GDP growth. Either way, this is the government that will be in power after 2017, and this will be the parliament that negotiates Brexit over the next two years, presumably ending in 2019 or 2020, before the election (and it is doubtful that UKIP would gain huge numbers of seats then anyway). There is no evidence whatsoever that this composition of politicians would suddenly backtrack on all form to date and suddenly put immigration high up on the negotiating agenda (creating an intractable issue that would block any progress towards a deal). Therefore, it is totally nonsensical for UKIP to sacrifice rational options like the Norway Option on the altar of their projected vote share, because all they are doing is providing an obstacle to us leaving the EU in the first place by preventing the formation of a consolidated leave narrative. A far more rational, pragmatic approach (from their point of view) would be to accept this state of affairs, blame Cameron for immigration and stress the need for future UKIP MPs, campaign to leave the EU under the Norway option, and then launch a concerted effort for freedom of movement reform in the 2020 elections from outside the EU (although I can tell you now that this would fail - UKIP are not going anywhere unless they ditch Farage).

The only idea that is worse than the UKIP mess is Vote.Leave’s idea. Elliot and a group of MPs/businessmen are attempting to run a traditional establishment-centred campaign for Brexit, under the direction of the well-paid Grand Master of Strategy, Dominic Cummings (the temptation to alter his name is almost irresistible). Their plan is that after a referendum victory for the leave side, Cameron, the person trying to keep us in the EU until that point, should present his own exit plan (with another vote). The utter idiocy of this is clear to anyone with a brain – it allows Cameron to totally define the debate, effectively delegating future design to the arch-enemy. He will be at total liberty to trash all of the exit options, many of which are indeed foolish (and, as with the Norway option, he can lie, relying on his prestige as prime minister to bluff his way through).

One of the leave campaign’s greatest challenges is going to be to convince enough of the public that a painless exit is possible to swing the vote – Cameron, under the Vote.Leave model, would have the freedom to make this impossible. The Vote.Leave campaign is undoubtedly pursuing this death wish in order to mask huge splits among many of the big egos attached to the group. Either way, they really should know better. Historians tend to doubt whether Wellington would have been able to prevail at Waterloo had he given Napoleon an advance copy of his dispositions, carefully colour-coded so that he couldn’t miss anything. Similarly, the consensus agrees that D-Day might not have gone particularly well had Churchill briefed Rommel on where/when he was attacking, or indeed, even asked for Rommel’s input into the plan. Strategists from Sun Tsu to Von Clausewitz have all unanimously agreed that withholding your plans from the enemy is generally a good thing – obviously Vote.Leave knows better than all of them (who really cares what Napoleon thought, anyway?) – not only do they propose giving Cameron the details of their plans, but they want him to help draft them as well. Either Cummings is some kind of a genius who holds the rare gift of super-rationality, or he is a colossal, egoist moron who may have a disastrously disproportionate effect on the future and freedom of Britain.

Yes, you will probably have guessed by now, I am a follower of Dr. Richard North and his Flexcit plan, but I suppose the blunt truth is that no one can top his analysis. Time and again, he has been right, and while the vague assertions of Farage and Hannan might satisfy you if you have no desire to really know what you are talking about (a dark period in my life), Dr. North presents an utterly watertight case in which all aspects are addressed and assessed. While Farage can say that the Germans sell lots of cars to Britain, Dr. North provides an astute analysis of how global trade works and how future trade would work within this framework after a Brexit. While Hannan can say exports to the EU have declined as a share of GDP, Dr. North models how future exports can be safeguarded, providing certainty to businesses before a referendum. Dr. North is simply streets ahead of the either Vote.Leave and, and while some other analysts are doing a creditable job, Dr. North’s is a good place to start if you actually want to get beyond the soundbites to where the real arguments are raging (it is also where I sourced the material for this post - in future, I will hyperlink individual points, but I'm bloody tired , the internet isn't working properly and the stuff really isn't hard to find in the search bar).

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Don't Bomb Syria

First off, we are treating the entire Syrian situation as if it were an eschatological war between good and evil (ISIS being evil, us being good, and Assad something to be dealt with later). This insane view that ISIS is the be-all-and-end-all in enemies that the West faces is literally moronic – it is the same thinking that led to such poor strategy in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Libya, we supported an opposition because they were good and Gaddafi was evil – we only found out afterwards, once they had split and started killing each other, some even becoming an overseas presence of ISIS, that the situation was not as simple as all that. In Iraq, we destroyed Baathism and sought to eradicate all traces of it from the country because, of course, it and all of its adherents were evil – we only found out afterwards, when the entire Iraqi state collapsed into ethnic chaos and we ended up fighting against people we had just liberated, that the situation was not as simple as that. In Afghanistan, we liberated the country from the Taliban because it was pure evil, only to find ourselves fighting more Taliban than we had started with (mainly drug interests and tribal militias who had had no previous ostensible links to the original Taliban) – we found out after dropping copious daisy cutters on any ‘evil’ person who showed themselves, for the first time in a fateful decade, that the situation was not as simple as that. Yet even now, four years after the publication of E. L. James’ seminal book Fifty Shades of Grey [joke], we still have not got it. Now we are being told by our political classes that the situation is as simple as that – ISIS are the ultimate form of evil and that only good can come of bombing them.

So, then, if not black and white, what is the situation? The situation is that we are about to launch ourselves headfirst at one of the participants in a multi-party civil war. Roughly speaking, ISIS hold the east of the country (and a third of Iraq), Assad holds the west and various rebel groups hold pockets around the country, most significantly in the north around Aleppo and the Kurdish region.

Now, what does each party want? ISIS’s aims are fairly straight forward – attack everyone, more or less, to gain territory. However, underlying their clear-cut aims is a ruthless pragmatism – they will not attack who they can sell oil to and will deal with the most unlikely allies to pursue their aims, which means that they do not militarily attack surrounding states such as Turkey or Israel and tend to focus on weaker rebel groups, barely attacking Assad at all (with whom they have a lucrative oil trade). Assad’s aims are slightly counter-intuitive. Backed by Iranians and Russians, Assad is seeking not only to defeat the rebels but ensure the indefinite security of his own regime thereafter. This means that he is focussing almost exclusively onattacking the non-ISIS rebels. By leaving ISIS in place, he gives the West the black and white choice, the only thing that we understand – Assad or ISIS. Clearly, in that situation, we would be forced to root for Assad against ISIS. A map of Russia’s airstrikes clearly shows this (above) – they symbolically attack Raqqa as a token, directing the bulk of their strikes at the other rebels. Moreover, Assad’s regime is content to buy ISIS’s oil, giving the insurgency more funding. Meanwhile, the Kurds want to strengthen their ethnic autonomy, and the various other rebel groups have varying aims – all involving the overthrow of both Assad and ISIS. Hence, there are three major players on the ground, with many more contributing in some form or other.

The foreign situation is almost as complex. Russian/Iranian involvement has caused other Middle Eastern countries to intervene on opposing sides. Because Iran has brought Hezbollah fighters in the region, the most unlikely alliance imaginable has been formed around the Golan Heights – there is evidence that Israel is providing some assistance (feasibly airstrikes) to local ISIS fighters in order to bury as many Hezbollah fighters as possible. Similarly, there is a plethora of evidence to suggest that Turkey is providing assistance and some air support to ISIS and various northern rebels in order to bury as many Kurds as possible (as well as potentially buying some of ISIS’s oil, preventing the west assisting the Kurds directly as a fellow NATO ally and seeking to safeguard rebel groups of ethnic Turkmen origin). Further involvement is seen coming from the Gulf States, funding and arming ‘moderate’(jihadi) rebel groups when not directly helping ISIS. This is to counter the growing influence of Iran in the region, and because many in the Gulf States sympathise with the radical Salafi doctrines that ISIS follows (not necessarily their governments). From a Saudi Arabian point of view, the Syrian Civil War is one proxy war in a region of proxy wars – see Yemen. Against this backdrop, the West (France, USA and several others) are bombing ISIS, partly as a response to terror attacks and partly as a perceived overhang of responsibility from the Iraq War for the atrocities being committed. This is the scenario that our elected representatives are being asked to, and probably will, vote for.

My point about the complexity of the situation is that it simply raises too many unknowns and too much uncertainty to allow us to have a concrete plan of military action, and too many interests are at stake to make our sought after outcome likely (many actively backing ISIS). Moreover, there is no clear Western interest in this mess – obviously, peace would be nice, but that is all but totally unachievable in the face of all of the other actors who for various reasons are determined that the other side cannot win the war. We cannot do as that sage of war and scourge of evil, Donald Trump, says, and ‘bomb the shit outta them, and then take their oil.’ If we wanted to make our voice heard in this clamour, we would need a lot more than a few bombs.

Quickly, two misconceptions about ISIS. Firstly, they are not exceptionally bloodthirsty and dreadful by Middle Eastern standards. Bear in mind that Assad has killed many, many more people than ISIS has. In the first half of 2015, Assad’s forces and militias killed 7,894 people while ISIS amassed a paltry 1,131 murders according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Not only this, but regime loyalists have committed almost every type of atrocity that ISIS has committed (and then some – Syrian airpower allows them to barrel-bomb, which ISIS cannot do for all their intentions). Assad’s fighters have crucified people, massacred innocents, beheaded people, used chemical weapons, burned people, etc. – the list goes on. What they have not done is produce glossy propaganda videos detailing all of the gruesome atrocities, including the murder of Western journalists, as ISIS does frequently in order to attract like-minded followers from foreign countries. ISIS propaganda, backed up by the pro-Assad Russian alternative media which dominates sections of the internet, has skewed Western thinking to categorise ISIS as in a league of its own, the most uniquely evil thing that humanity has produced in the 21st century, comparable to the Nazis. This is abjectly wrong – ISIS were not even the first to produce glossy propaganda videos of journalists and enemies being tortured and brutally murdered. Just look at the stuff which comes out of Narco-ridden Mexico - not if you're sqeamish. ISIS were far from the first people to dress up in balaclavas and shout at a camera while about to commit some foul atrocity. In fact, the cynic inside of me thinks that ISIS may have copied the Narcos in their execution videos (incidentally, the Narcos have definitely killed more Westerners than ISIS ever will through drug trafficking and gang-crime - why are we not planning to bomb them?). Barbaric ISIS may be, but not exceptionally barbaric.

Secondly, ISIS are not that much of an existential threat to Britain. In the wake of the Paris attacks, a feeling of hysteria has gripped the West, with the Daily Mail comments section repeatedly comparing ISIS to the threat that we faced in our finest hour in 1940, against Nazi Germany (and also mistakenly praising Mr. Putin’s actions in Syria). However, even if ISIS could reproduce Paris in London (I personally think that the security services have the threat more than covered, but I don’t want to go into that here), there is literally no chance that it would spell the end of Western civilisation. One hundred and thirty deaths is a terrible and senseless crime, but it does not weaken the West one single bit. Therefore, in between these two points, there is no point our dealing with ISIS militarily beyond what we are doing because they simply do not merit our attention to such a degree – indeed, by giving them such attention, we fuel ISIS and make such attacks more likely not less because the threats originate far more in our own countries than Syria.

Finally, I just want to make a point about the efficacy of Western airstrikes. Google ‘highway of death’ (or just look at the above image) and you will see what US airstrikes can do - the death toll was anything between 200 and 10,000 for a two day bombing campaign, according to wikipedia. The slaughter and destruction rained down on retreating Iraqi forces in the 1st Gulf War stands in clear contrast to our own military capabilities in this day and age. What we are really talking about when we say that we want airstrikes on Syria is six decrepit, ageing Tornados. Even if we did have the power (as the USA does), the evidence suggests that ISIS have adapted to airstrikes too much for it to be useful. The President of the USA blocks 75% of strikes in Syria for fear of collateral damage – this means that even with a full airforce, we could only attack 25% of ISIS targets identified. This will not even come close to defeating them – it can only be a mere inconvenience. Launching our battered jets at ISIS is not a game changer. We cannot provide a significant enough deployment of force to merit any change in the ground situation at all. That, ladies and gentlemen, is poking a hornet’s nest with a tooth-pick (at £100,000 a pop) – it will make potential jihadis here in the UK more likely to plan attacks without making any material difference to the state of the Syrian Civil War whatsoever, and that is why we must not vote to bomb Syria. Much more powerful air forces have been bombing Syria for a year now without defeating ISIS – why should our paltry contribution be the one that counts?